I seriously have lost account of how many emails and messages I have received from people asking me how to start training for a Spartan Race, so it was about time that I published this post.
First of all, I have to be honest and say that anyone with a minimum fitness level can run a short distance obstacle race. How can I be so categoric? Because of the tempo. Anyone can finish a race as long as you are not running for a concrete tempo. But thats the value of the whole thing; its not the same to finish a race in 45′ without any help than finishing it in 2 hours with the support of others lifting you up the walls or holding your feet as you climb. Its normal to be in this second group if you are just starting, if you but your aim should be to compete and take it as what it is: a race.
As I would like to share my experience and knowledge in the most detailed way, I have decided to split the posts and kick off with a general view of the whole concept.
Being “gym fit” doesn’t fully translate to “obstacle course fit”
We can spend our time training in a clinical environment with controlled repetitions and we can really improve our fitness levels but when it comes to the natural and wild environments that often host obstacle course races, our bodies have to learn to adapt.
Many people laugh at me when they see me training in the gym, jumping around, being creative and carrying a bank on my shoulder simulating its a lodge or even practicing the bear crawl. But guys, it is how it is.
Training for an obstacle race isn’t just about pure strength. You should learn to be more adaptable, flexible, co-ordinated, agile, fit, strong, powerful with increased endurance. A complete package. Everything is entwined in order to make someone complete as a person and, in the case of OCR, a better contender or racer. It is not about bulk (muscles) it is about refining the body to work more effectively, efficiently and productively. Never train specialized, always train with an emphasis on multilateral training as this will prepare you for the unknowable aspects of OCR.
The best example? Grip. In order to strengthen it, one has to train with uneven logs rather than uniform metal bars.
I have experienced how good I can be at training in regular smooth bars in a gym and then seeing me fail in the practice because bars where not as the ones I had trained with (and thats the way it should be… because the whole OCR experience is meant for people who are fit and ready for the unexpected). Thats why you should work on improving your skills and be prepared for whatever may come.
Condition your body and mind to adapt to natural terrain
You are not inside a gym my friend. You will have to learn to be alert and react rapidly.
Being vigilant and planning your footsteps is a valuable skill. Likewise, when we were wading along a river we had to adapt to the constantly changing and unseen ground beneath the river bed and to be prepared for the unexpected, like hidden branches beneath the surface.
Therefore, it is important to focus on posture and balancing up both sides of the body: training with a bosu will be incredibly useful. At races we spend a lot of our time running on very uneven and unpredictable terrain that could turn an ankle in an instant. Yoga postures in which you have to train your balance by standing on just one foot and bending down, will help your body to adapt.
At the end, you will learn that it is not all about physical exercise and fitness. As an obstacle racer, you will have to understand the connections between the physical body, the mind and the energy system. Everything is entwined nothing is separate. Become ambidextrous in day to day tasks and training can help you to adapt to the obstacle and terrain rather than expecting it to adapt to you.
I have learnt so much about myself by stepping out of my comfort zone and putting myself in extreme situations during these kind of races. I have learnt how important the mind is and what a huge impact thoughts can have on the physical aspect. I have tolerated freezing water, thirst, fatigue…just by training my mind.
The basic techniques that make it all easier
Obstacles like rope climbs, rope crossings and wall climbs can be challenging. However, as with most things, there’s an easy way and a hard way to get the job done. I encourage everyone to try different techniques and to travel in different directions. At the end, it all resumes to the importance of practice. No master was ever born this way. It is vital to practice, fail and try again until you master the technique. Practice is the only way to become proficient and develop the obstacle race specific skill. All the functional natural movements – climb, jump, throw, lift, carry, run, balance and crawl can be practiced at home, in the park or in the woods. These are these principal movement skills that will also develop your strength, power, flexibility, coordination and endurance skills.