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TIME TO GET MUDDY!
By Ruth Frost
A shorter version of this article appeared in Vale Life magazine, Dec/Jan 13/14 edition
Do you know any Spartans? Or Warriors? How about any Tough Mudders? If the answer’s currently ‘no’, that’s likely to change soon.
Obstacle course racing – of which Spartan and Tough Mudder are leading names – is set to be huge this year. Participant numbers boomed in 2013 and suddenly, hauling oneself through pits of mud, climbing up 20-foot ropes, vaulting over giant hay bales and leaping pits of fire – all in the course of a five, 10 or even 20 kilometre run - seem like a great idea, rather than sheer lunacy.
As a personal trainer, I also highly recommend this kind of race, and the training required to get fit for it. Standard running has a multitude of benefits, but it is lower-body dominant and, if done at a steady pace, taxes only your aerobic energy system.
Obstacle course racing requires full-body fitness, works all your energy systems, and pushes your heart rate up then down again. You may be running for five minutes across level ground; then have a 60-second pause while waiting your turn at an obstacle; then need to haul yourself up a steep slippery slope with the help of a rope then control your drop down the other side; then sprint up a hill. Developing the kind of total-body fitness that requires is amazing for the health of the body and for the mind too.
Feel like you’re nowhere near there yet? ... Don’t be put off, you’ll achieve far more than you had dreamt you could, and the helping hands and words of your fellow racers will be there for you through the moments when you need a bit of extra support.
To prep for the obstacles, where possible replicate them, or find a gym or studio which does. If your planned race has rope-climbs, find somewhere with a rope; if it had tyre drags, find somewhere with tyres (we have both and more at our Workshop location in Stewkley). Try to become a master of your own bodyweight – practice press-up, pull-ups, burpees, and sit-ups where you carry on upwards to standing. Kettlebells (round cast-iron weights with handles, which you swing in combinations) are fabulous for developing core strength, co-ordination, muscular strength and endurance, and body awareness, as well as pushing your heart rate right up.
When running, vary your speed (known as fartlek training), adding some sprints and some short walks into your run. As race day approaches add pauses for press-ups and other bodyweight exercises; use your environment, so if there’s a handy gate, stop your run to climb or vault over it a few times.
Obstacle racing is a mental as well as a physical challenge though. Even more so than for straightforward running races, being rested and well-fuelled is vitally important. Get plenty of sleep in the nights before the race, eat good nutrient-rich foods and drink plenty of water. You’ll need brainpower as well as muscle power on the day.
Tough Mudder run races in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, and Spartan in London and Cambridgeshire; but if you’re a local reader of this website and fancy having a go, you don’t have to venture far out of the Vale.
The Chiltern Warrior (www.chilternwarrior.com), at the Chiltern Open Air Museum (COAM) site at Chalfont St Giles was formerly a run, but in 2013 changed to an obstacle race. Sally McIver, Development Manager at COAM, says “Last year was our first muddy obstacle event - we had previously run 'runs' successfully, with great feedback so we wanted to build on this to reach a new audience.
Whilst you’re getting fit in beautiful Bucks/Beds terrain, there’s the added feel-good bonus of supporting local charities. The Rugged Radnage raises funds for the local school, the Chiltern Warrior for the Chiltern Open Air Museum and the Swanbourne Endeavour for Armed Services charities in Bucks and local charity Medial Detection Dogs.
Hopefully this article has whetted your appetite to give obstacle course racing a try; for fun, for fitness and for Bucks charity. If so, I have one final piece of advice... Don’t wear your best trainers – did I mention the mud?
Copyright Ruth Frost, January 2014
The racing setup may sound hardcore, but obstacle racing appeals to a wide range of people looking for fun and a challenge along with a fitness boost. At the races’ core is still running; but people who consider running ‘boring’ are attracted to these new events, as are established runners looking for a fresh challenge.
Obstacle racing also appeals as a great bonding experience for friends – you may not be able to scale that six-foot slippery wall on your own, but with a leg-up from your best mate you know you can do it.
I ran my first Spartan in 2013, and it was the best fitness experience of my life so far. The adrenaline rush was incredible and my perceptions of what my body is capable of were totally blown out of the water. As a confidence boost I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Swanbourne Endeavour
GETTING FIT TO RACE
So how do you get fit for an obstacle course race? Building your running distances up to the race distance, slowly and steadily, is an integral part of the pre-race prep. There are lots of good running plans online at sites such as www.RunnersWorld.com, or get a personal trainer to write a plan for you which will fit into your lifestyle. Where possible get off-road, as running on rough terrain is much more taxing to the network of supporting muscles in your feet and ankles than running on the road (whilst also kinder to your joints), and you’ll need to have them strengthened ready for race day.
Yours truly in the ice pit at the Spartan 2013
“We designed the course to blend with our landscape, using natural materials found on site as much as possible. So think of our run in terms of a 'wild running obstacle event'.” The next event (with 5k and 10k options) is on Sunday March 30th, and I’m already signed-up.
The Rugged Radnage meanwhile, in the Chiltern Hills near the village of Radnage, whilst not a deliberate obsctacle course race as such, features enough of nature’s obstacles to deserve a mention. This 10k mixed-terrain race takes in woods, fields, plenty of mud, and punishing off-road ascents and descents. The next race is on Sunday 16th November (www.ruggedradnage10k.co.uk), and features home-made cakes at the finish line.
The Swanbourne Endeavour is becoming an increasingly well-known adventure race featuring mud, hay bales, nettling, water… and more mud! There are 5 kilometre and 10 kilometre options and a kids’ race too. This year’s events take place on Sunday 19th October (www.theswanbourneendeavour.co.uk).
And the Dunstable Warrior Adrenaline Race (www.warrioradrenalinerace.co.uk) is set to be massive this year – stunning views and undulating running terrain coupled with wonderfully hardcore obstacles.
The Chiltern Warrior