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How to Attack Your First Obstacle Race

Are you eager to try out an obstacle race, but don't know where to start? Check out this guide to making the most of your first time on the course.
You've probably seen social media pictures of your friends posing at the finish line of an obstacle course race, drenched in mud, sweat and a sense of accomplishment. You may be wondering what the hype is behind these types of athletic events. Over the past several years, obstacle races have seen enormous growth in popularity, garnering attention from the dedicated cross-country runner to the self-proclaimed couch potato. What's great about these types of courses is that you don't have to be an extreme athlete to complete them and have a good time. People of varying levels of fitness finesse can find enjoyment in these races, as they range in difficulty and often include aspects designed specifically for beginners or those in less-than-spectacular shape. If you've already registered for a race or are just trying to decide which one to sign up for, continue reading for some tips to help you best prepare and increase your chances of completing the course successfully and with a smile on your face.
Choosing an Event
Your first step is to settle on a race. Each event features different obstacles, ranging from mud crawls to running through fire pits to scaling cargo nets to lifting crazy-heavy objects or weights like a real-life Superman, and everything in between. The first thing you need to do is consider your athletic ability. Can you walk to your mailbox and back without dropping to the ground, gasping for air and shouting obscenities? If so, congratulations! You'll most likely be able to tackle an entry-level obstacle course if you take it somewhat easy. If you regularly run or bike miles on end with ease and feel like your body can handle the added stress of strength events and muscle usage, then you will probably do fine at an event that is moderately challenging at the least but can be extremely difficult if you decide to really push yourself. If you consider yourself a beast in regard to your athletic ability, then you will likely flourish at one of the "difficult" courses, or an event where you will be pushing your body well beyond your limit as you are tested in strength, endurance and agility. Whichever event you settle on, remember that you can typically approach most courses in a way that is easiest or hardest for you. So don't fret if you want to attempt a course but aren't sure if you are fit enough; you can take it at your own pace.
Physical Preparation
If you are seriously competitive and into the idea of pushing your body and athleticism to the max, then there are certain steps you should take to prepare. If you have a more relaxed mindset and are simply racing for fun, then you don't have to be as strict in preparing, or even prepare at all. But for the serious athlete, there are a multitude of exercises you can incorporate into your training regimen, starting at least six weeks before your event.
  • Practice off-road running on uneven terrain for a more realistic idea of what you'll be doing during your race.
  • Visit your local playground, park or backyard swingset and engage your upper body by swinging and lifting on monkey bars.
  • Start perfecting your burpees, push-ups, pull-ups, crawling and climbing in between intervals of running.
  • Incorporate weights into whatever exercise that you can.
  • Familiarize yourself with the art of kettlebell swinging.
  • Do some research on your chosen course, analyze the obstacles and do your best to recreate them and practice for what you'll be doing on race day. This is easier for obstacles like crawling, gripping and climbing.
Nutritional Preparation
Obstacle courses require a lot of energy from you, so it is essential to fuel your body. These are several foods and nutrition products that may be beneficial to add to your regimen.
  • Raw or grilled vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, peas, spinach and carrots provide vitamins, antioxidants and fiber
  • Whole grains and fruits like bananas and apples provide good carbohydrates
  • Grilled chicken, salmon and eggs supply protein
  • Water and electrolyte-rich sports drinks replenish and rehydrate
  • Whey protein powders
  • Energy-boosting supplements
The Day of the Race
If you're racing for enjoyment, you don't have to be as worked up as those who are racing to win. All that is required in the way of mental preparation is acquiring the mindset of arriving on the course, giving it your all and having fun. If you want to kick some tail on that course, you're going to want to have laser focus, concentration and endurance. Practice meditating and deep breathing before you head out to the course, and remind yourself that if your body doesn't want to cooperate, you shouldn't push it too hard. Drink lots of water or sports drinks and fuel your body with a light meal, like a protein bar/shake or a banana with wheat toast and peanut butter—then make sure you're energized and get going.
The most important thing to remember before you head to the starting line is that it will be fun. Exercising your body and mind is an achievement of its own, so be proud of yourself for both attempting and finishing the course. When you cross that finish line covered in mud, sweat and possibly tears, give yourself a pat on the back. And take a shower.
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