Which race should you run…and how to prepare for it!

So with an influx of new OCRs popping up everywhere, the common questions seem to be “Which shall I run?” and “How do I prepare?” Well lucky for you, I have run a few different kinds and am going to give you a rundown of how to prepare as best I can. Now there are roughly 3 types of OCRs that I have personally come across. You have the hardcore races such as Spartan Race and Battlefrog Series (which I haven’t run but am signing up for the one in March of 2015). Next you have what I would call the Fan Favorites which include Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder. Finally, I bring you the Fun Runs like Insane Inflatable 5k and Foam Fest 5k (recently shut down). Let’s see what race catagory you fall into!

As stated, in what I described as the “Hardcore races”, you have Spartan and Battlefrog. In a race like Spartan, one thing you need for sure is upper body strength. With obstacles like the rope climb and Hercules hoist, upper body strength really comes into play. There are other obstacles that require full body explosiveness as well. You can count on some sort of dragging obstacle, that pits your explosiveness against a large tire or concrete block that needs dragging. In my opinion, the more overlooked areas need for a race of this caliber would be balance and grip strength. Balance is put to use in log hopping obstacles and the traverse wall. The traverse wall is, believe it or not, a KILLER on the grip strength. Rope climb, Hercules hoist, object drags, all of these play on your grip little by little. Be sure you are really working on that area of fitness before one of these races. Endurance would be the last thing I want to mention. These races tend to run longer then they normally portray, so be prepared to run a 5 mile “5k”. Also, if you are not already, get to doing some burpees. These are the “punishment” for not successfully completing an obstacle. Yes I said “punishment”. What did you expect from a Hardcore series race?? A thanks for trying? Ha not here! You will be rewarded in your shortcomings by the great equalizer, burpees!

So, how do you prepare for these style races? Well as I mentioned, you need to focus on 5 key areas: Upper body strength, full body explosiveness, grip strength, endurance and balance. As far as upper body goes, you could hit the gym and do the typical exercises: bench press, curls, flys. That type of stuff. Push ups and pull ups are fantastic for this. (pull ups also give you the edge of working grip as well) Burpees are a great workout for all of these categories.  Full body explosiveness (FBE) can come in pieces, or if you have the right equipment, can be done in a single exercise. As far as piecing together FBE, you can do circuits that involve thrusters to deadlifts for instance. If you have one available, a pull sled works wonders. I currently have a 250 lbs tires rigged with a homemade harness that  I use to drag. Tire flipping is also a phenomenal exercise for FBE. You can get a large truck tire from most any heavy equipment shop. They normally have a tire graveyard in the back full of large tires. Give them a call and see if you can snag one. Grip strength is a tough one. You can do the old “squeeze a medicine ball 1,000 times a day” technique. Beyond pull ups and towel pull ups (holding the pull up bar in one hand a a towels draped over the bar in another) I don’t have much help to offer. If you have one, you can climb a rope, as that will work the muscles you would need for that obstacle. Mud & Obstacle Magazine has a phenomenal article on developing grip strength. (If you have never grabbed a copy of their magazine you are missing out!) Balance is another tough one to truly work on. You can stand on one foot and toss a ball around. I have noticed that during my plyometrics, box jumps work on my balance. Endurance, well get out and run! But running is not the only thing you can do. Try High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. This is an all out effort for 20 seconds followed by an immediate 10 second rest. That is done for a series of 8 rounds, make sure you do 4 sets! That covers what you should be doing to prepare for a Hardcore Series race!

Now, on to Fan Favorites! Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder seem to be the two biggies in this category! Many people that I have talked to, in regards to how they started in OCRs, usually tell me one of these was their starter race. You may remember in my first blog, The Maiden Voyage, that even my own first race was a Warrior Dash! This style of race has become fan favorites for a number of reasons. Costumes, no punishments, great festival areas…combine all of those with the actual mud run and you have a fan favorite for all ages and skill levels! In my opinion, not saying anything against either races, but these races are not nearly as hard as the Hardcore Series races, and for good reason. I know many people that feel threatened by the thought of a Spartan race and having to do burpees simply because of a failed obstacle. So they sign up for a less intimidating race. The Fan Favorite series seems to focus more on balance and very little physical strength. I noticed in Warrior Dash, and especially in Tough Mudder, that there is a mental aspect to this race. In Warrior Dash in particular, a 30 foot wall stood between you and finishing the race. Physical? No. Hard? Not really. Mentally taxing? When you hit the top it sure was! Tough Mudder has a platform that you must jump off and a cargo bin full of ice water to swim through! Nothing screams NO!!! to a person then a fear of heights and an ice bath!

So is there a special way to prepare ourselves mentally? I believe so. As far as the physical game goes, follow the advice I gave for the hardcore series. Push ups, pull ups, burpees, all that jazz. I would really focus on the balance aspect of these races. It is so overlooked in our everyday, sit at a desk or couch, culture. We are no longer as limber and swift as when we were kids. Find a balance beam and walk it, walk on the curb, do something to regain that balance. Now mentally, that comes down to the individual. I personally like pushing my workouts to an extreme, which pushes my mind outside of my comfort zone. Now that could be as simple as getting out and saying “I am going for a 2 mile walk”. Or it could be, for the more advanced, “I am going to go for a 12 mile run”. Either way leave what you “think” you can do at your door on the way out, and forge new expectations through the fire in your legs and lungs! Add burpees at the end of your next workout, when you are exhausted and ready to quit. Push past the wobbles and hit that new personal record push ups! Find your limit….then blow it away! Then, when you see a 30 foot wall to climb, and your mind is telling you “It’s too high” you can push that thought aside and conquer that which you feared!

Last but not least, The Fun Runs! Fun Runs are just that…FUN! No competition…no punishments…no hard challenging obstacles…just lots of fun anyone-can-do-these kind of obstacles! I have enjoyed a few of these so far, and have to say that if anyone is on the fence about running a race, take them to one of these! Again with no real obstacles to speak of, just get ready to go out and enjoy yourself. I do have one teeny tiny disclaimer. Be careful which race you sign up for in this series. Unfortunately, with so many races going on in the country there are a lot of sling together races. Be careful and try to find a reputable company, perhaps one that has held an event there before? Also, be careful as some of even the reputable companies seem to go under in this category. Foam Fest 5k just shut its doors not 3 weeks after I ran in it. But enough of the doom and gloom, get out there and have a great time!! You may be wondering how to prepare for such an event? Well that is easy… 1) Research a good company and a cool race to run. 2) Get friends to agree to run as well. 3) Find your wallet/purse. 4) Fill out your registration form. 5) Pay for that bad boy! There you have it! You are all ready to run in a Fun Run! HAHA! Now get the heck out there and find the one that suites you the best, and blow it up! Leave me a comment telling me how you did, which one you did, or just to say hey! Have fun out there no matter which one you choose! Stay strong friends!


A women’s view inside the OCR world

In a sport that seems to be geared more towards the male athlete, it seems that the women are making a big splash! In the most recent episode of Spartan Race on NBCSports, the spotlight was certainly on some of the top women in OCR, Amelia Boone and Rose Wetzel-Sinnett. It showed these two grind out an exciting 5 mile course, going back and forth the entire time. I had the privilege of watching this race in its entirety, only to have Amelia finish furiously while Rose was trying to steal the win at the end. Unfortunately, Rose had a mishap on the final barbed wire obstacle, crashing into it full force. Rose did however manage to “Chick” (a term used in the OCR world as being beaten by a woman) the majority of the elite field. With all of that being said, I would like to dive into how some of my female race mates view the OCRs we have run together.

My first interview is with my very own lovely girlfriend, Tanisha. She has accompanied me on one of the tougher Spartan Races that was held in Conyers, GA. She has also competed in a local 5k, coming in one place shy of medalling in her age bracket. She is also heavily involved in managing my social media pages. The second is my mother. I mentioned her in the last blog as Mama OCR. She has run 2 total OCRs. The first of which was the Foam Fest 5k, which has unfortunately closed its doors, while the other was the difficult Mud Endeavor. Here is an exclusive Q&A with the two:

Why did you decide to do an OCR?                                                                                                                                     

 Tanisha –“I decided to do an OCR because I wanted to challenge myself and push myself to do something I’ve never done before.”                                                                                                                                                                            

 Mama OCR –“I guess I just worked hard to get into shape and wanted to see if I was strong enough to meet one of these challenges…and my son urged an OCR.”

What did you like about your first OCR?                                                                                                                               

 Tanisha –“I loved going through the obstacles, trying to figure out the best and easiest way to do them. I enjoyed the feeling I got after I completed one successfully.”                                                                                                                                     

Mama OCR –“Being with my ‘young men’.”

Would you do another?                                                                                                                                                         

 Tanisha –“Yes I would! It’s good to challenge and push yourself, and OCRs are a great way to do just that.”                           

Mama OCR –“Sure if I had company and could afford it.”

How did you prepare for your first OCR?                                                                                                                             

Tanisha –“I prepared for my first OCR by running and doing a lot of burpees. I also did other exercises to get my body prepared for the race. I also did some trail running, which made a huge difference and helped a lot.”                                       

Mama OCR –“I really didn’t. I had been working out and getting in shape for over a year already so I felt like by doing that daily was my training. As far as my second (Mud Endeavor) I did do more upper body stuff.”

Now you have run an OCR and a local 5k, which of the two did you prefer and why?                                                  

Tanisha –“I preferred the OCR because I’m not a fan of running, but the obstacles (of an OCR) make it fun, and it takes challenging yourself to a new level.”                                                                                                                                     

You have run a foam fest 5k and a Mud Endeavor. Which did you prefer and why?                                           

Mama OCR –“That’s hard to say. Although the Foam Run wasn’t as physically challenging, I feel like I pushed myself harder in that race running all be it slowly the whole way. The Mud Endeavor was fun too because it was nearly a complete family thing and it was more challenging. I hated not being able to complete some obstacles though.”

During your OCR, what were you thinking? Before? After?                         

Tanisha –“During the race I was thinking ‘How am I gonna get through this?’. I was freaking out because I didn’t know if I could get through all of the obstacles or not. Before the race, I was scared and didn’t know what to expect, like what kind of obstacles would there be? I was so nervous and I didn’t know if I would be able to complete the race because I started to second guess myself as it was definitely out of my comfort zone. After the race, I felt awesome that I had completed the race when at first I thought I couldn’t. It was a lot of fun and it’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it!”                  

Mama OCR –“I was nervous both times. I didn’t want to let my partners down by not beating an obstacle or slowing them down too much. Afterwards, I felt proud of myself and my partners and that I had a good time working out.”

Have either of your races changed anything about your everyday diet? Or perhaps your workout routine?           

Tanisha –“Yes, starting to do these races make me want to change my eating habits so that they are healthier. This means that I am in better shape to run future OCRs. As far as workouts, I started to run and do some easy workout routines at home before I ran my Spartan Race. Right now I am trying to keep up with running and doing exercises like burpees, situps, and lunges.”                                                                                                                                                                                

Mama OCR –“Not really. I liked to burn max calories in minimum time. I consider myself more of a cardio girl.”

What did you realize you needed to work on, especially in Spartan (Tanisha) Mud Endeavor (Mama OCR)?               

Tanisha –“I realized I needed to work on running. Also my upper body strength, which was needed for some of the obstacles. I also needed to learn how to do the rope climb correctly, since I didn’t know how to do that.”                                   

Mama OCR –“Upper body strength and confidence.”

What are you looking at next?                                                                                                                                               

Tanisha –“I am looking at doing another Spartan Sprint as well as other 5ks. OCRs were definitely not something I would have done on my own, but since I finished my first one I really enjoy them! Definitely gives you that confidence boost to do other things outside of your comfort zone.”                                                                                                                                 

Mama OCR –“I would like to complete the Insane Inflatable 5k with my whole family or friends. I am not too interested in doing a Spartan Race. A good charity makes a difference to what I will run as well.”

Final words?

Tanisha –“Since I started running these races they have really boosted my confidence. I have learned that in order to build that confidence, you need to step outside your comfort zone because when you set your mind to do something you can always accomplish it. And accomplishing something that you never thought you could, well that’s an awesome feeling.”

Mama OCR –“I spent a lot of time working out alone. Busy lives ect. These races give me an opportunity to work out in a fun way with people I care about. This makes me more motivated to do them and stay fit. in added bonus is what the money can do for others.”


The Maiden Voyage

Hello everyone! welcome to the brand spankin’ new blog, Obstacle Junkie! This will be a blog about all things OCR (obstacle course racing) related. I have been debating on what to do for the first issue, post, “blog”, or whatever we call it? I have decided first and foremost to actually, in my best words, answer the commonly asked question in our sport, “What is an OCR?”

I would like to give you a little background as to who I am first. Ever since I was just a little tyke, I LOVED to play outside and in the mud! When I came of age, my parents let me play organized sports. I started by just participating in baseball. That soon turned into soccer and baseball. I eventually turned down baseball in pursuit of soccer and basketball. Basketball soon became my obsession. I would eat, sleep and breathe basketball. I dabbled in football for a bit, simply for a new challenge. My high school did not carry a football team, and i quickly out grew the city league. Basketball was my wheelhouse however! I won numerous MVP awards (6 to be exact, but whose counting??) many All-tournament 1st team awards, and a number of other accolades. I was never able to make it to the next level, although I believe I had the drive and competitive nature to do so. Outside of high school, I really lost my competitive drive. I put on some weight and became slightly depressed. That was when I was first roped into organizing a getaway and run a Warrior Dash!

Lets fast forward past all the boring details of reserved hotel rooms and last minute money gathering. It is race day. Myself and 5 friends from work now stand in the starting pit at our very first OCR, the Warrior Dash! The man on the mic was delivering a speech of courage and bravery, I however didn’t hear much of it. I was in a familiar place. A place where my heart was thumping, my world quieted to my own thoughts. I was back in the heat of battle. A place long lost since my days on the court. I was going to WIN this race! The gun went off and the fire shot 20 feet into the air. The heat I could feel on my face 50 yards away. As we approached the first obstacle I remembered then, my teammates. One by one we crossed over the wall. I could see person after person passing me as I watched my time wash down the drain. My entire team did do well. We all crossed the finish line as one. The looks on their faces, and mine, spoke more words then we had strength to say. We had done it. We had really just accomplished that! It was then that I realized that the win was not in the fastest time, but in the faces of my trusted friends. The looks of pride that had suddenly swelled their chest, when just moments ago some were ready to call it quits. The excitement in our voices as we recanted every single obstacle as if only the one of us had seen it. The stories of how we helped other racers over walls, through mud pits, and across balanced posts perched just above the water. I saw then that  the victory can be in more then that fastest time. We had FINISHED! And to us THAT was the victory!

That was my very first race, and since then I have run 6 more OCRs and a regular 5k. In each of those races I have been privileged enough to have a new racer with me. I have even had a few that continue to run with me. My mother, shall we call her Mama OCR, has run in 2 separate events including the Mud Endeavors Run Under the Lights. She even recruited my Dad to run that one with us! My entire family, save my littlest brother who has just started to diet and workout to compete in an OCR in the very near future, have run at least one race!

I said all that to revert back to the previous question “what is an OCR?” At first I thought it was nothing more then another competition. I couldn’t have been more wrong. An OCR is a decision to better yourself and those around you. It is an OPPORTUNITY to do something great. To push yourself to the limits of what you think you can do, and find that those limits were merely a suggestion. It is the camaraderie among friends and family, and frankly, complete strangers try to accomplish the same grueling task that lays before you! An OCR is the motivation to better your life both mentally and physically. This I learned from a friend that ran my very first Spartan Race with. His name is….Jorge (per his request). He has been through the wringer so to speak. He however, has been my motivation to continue to ask, bug, plead, and even drag people to these races with me. The transformation I have seen in him has been astounding! He has lost a ton of weight, and gets almost anyone he talks with to do burpees with him?! BURPEES?! He has been very inspirational to me, and has had my back in every and all races I have done to date. This was all started by a simple Spartan Race.

That, in a nutshell, is how I can best describe an OCR. They are a ton of fun. They can break you down, and help you rebuild. They can motivate and inspire. And last but not least….they can change you! But hey, don’t take my word for it. Get out there and run one…or two…or as many as you can! You tell me what you think an OCR is all about! Don’t let fear, doubt or anything else keep you from it! And maybe, just maybe, I will run into you on the course! Stay strong My friends!