Obstacle Races: Why They Are the Perfect Change of Pace

How to get down, get dirty, get fit and have fun

Obstacle Races: Why They Are the Perfect Change of Pace

Contributor: Anne Rex, DO, FAOASM

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Whether you want to break the monotony of your workout routine or you’re searching for a new challenge, look no further than an obstacle race. Increasing in popularity these days, these races mix trail, mud and terrain running with a series of mentally and physically challenging obstacles. They create the perfect change of pace for recreational athletes.

There are a variety of races from which to choose, including Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Spartan Race. They vary in number and difficulty of obstacles as well as distance, but all emphasize teamwork, camaraderie and fun. They share a common goal of creating that memorable “check off the bucket list” type of experience with less emphasis on winning.

Working with other teammates and competitors, each obstacle provides a challenge — think mud pits, fire, barbed wire, water or heights— that often get more difficult as you proceed. While you are able to skip obstacles or drop out at any time, each participant becomes more vested in finishing as the race goes on.

Signing up for one of these races is easy. Finishing is another story! Celebrating the completion of the race covered in mud, sweat and tears is a major accomplishment, with most events providing a post-race party at the finish line.

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What you need to know

It can be extremely motivating to have a goal and reach it. However, preparation is key. Keep in mind that these are physically exhausting races with course design modeled after the U.S. military and/or British Special Forces. You don’t have to train for them like a marathon, but at a minimum, you should be acclimated to running the distance you sign up for.

To get ready to tackle these fitness challenges, you ideally should combine running with strength training, core strength and balance to optimize performance. Many obstacles require strength to climb, pull, crawl, jump or reach. Besides physical challenges, other obstacles can be mentally challenging, like jumping from a height or running or crawling while trying to avoid low-current electrical wires.

Understand that you assume all risk — and will sign an extensive waiver prior to participation— so you need to know your limitations. If you have a known underlying medical condition, current injury or fear such as heights or water, use your common sense and skip obstacles or drop out to ensure your safety. Accept all offers for assistance from fellow competitors along the way. And seek medical attention if needed. Sustaining an injury would certainly ruin the fun and could seriously sideline your regular exercise routine.

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Photo finish

If you go online, you can find these races in many U.S. cities and international locations. Part of the fun might be signing up for one in a place you’ve never been. And some of the adventure races also offer scaled-down obstacles for kids ages 14 and up.

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All in all, these races are a challenging form of exercise that combine teamwork, mental toughness and fun.

Sign up with friends, coworkers or family and proceed together as a force to be reckoned with. Look out for one another, help each other through the obstacles and make sure everyone is safe. Get a picture at the end, and don’t forget to get your swag helmet or headband once the race is over — you’ve earned it.

More information
Sports health guide

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