Running-Advice.com -- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English
Imagine that you are standing at the start of one of the the new series of obstacle and mud races, surrounded by people ready to run, jump and crawl through a 5K or 10K race. You look to your right and left to see men without shirts on, women with paint on their faces and one or two guys in full combat fatigues. The announcer is going through the pre-race briefing and you begin to pay attention when you hear the words “fire”. Did he just say “fire?”This was the scene yesterday at the Terrain Series Mud Run outside Portland, Oregon where I engaged in my first obstacle event. This growing new type of race has been made popular with series like the Warrior Dash, Spartan Race and Muddy Buddy series. I really started paying attention when the announcer was talking about fire and he kept my attention when going on about the electrified fences (these were not part of the course, it was a warning to stay away from the electrified fences on the horse properties surrounding the course.)
Having run countless running events, I can now tell you that these races are a little more like a triathlon than a road race. I say that because in triathlons your mind can focus on “what’s coming next” and this makes the experience more dynamic and fun. But these events are also very unique in that they challenge your body in physical ways that pure endurance sports don’t. These are not “steady paced” efforts in which you put it in gear and leave it there. You are constantly speeding up, slowing down, stopping, dropping, climbing, pausing. And that’s what makes them fun.
View more photos from the Terrain Series Mud Run Portland 2012 on our Facebook page by clicking here.
In my experience yesterday, I noticed a few things that I thought I would share for those of you thinking about doing your first race. Some of these tips come from my running and multi-sport experience, as applied here. Others are things that I discovered as I slid, splashed and crawled through the mud.
Tip 1 — Warm up on the obstacles — I’m a big proponent of warming up at races and I’m often a little shocked at just how few people actually get warm before tackling a running event. But here you have the opportunity to really get yourself mentally and physically ready by climbing, swinging and jumping over a few barriers. I found it fascinating that as I climbed over the cargo nets and walls at the start/finish area it attracted a crowd — a crowd of people WATCHING me practice. But no one else seemed to want to get up there and try them. I learned a lot from climbing over those walls that I wouldn’t have wanted to find out under the pressure of the race. For example, climbing over one wall I found that it was very wobbly in the center and much more stable on the outside. I also found that getting yourself over the tops of the walls was a bit tricky (finding your footing on the down side). So my advice is IF THE COURSE IS OPEN, go out and try as many of the obstacles as you can.
Tip 2 — Don’t be afraid to get dirty — I asked one woman who was looking at a jungle gym whether she wanted to try climbing over it in warm ups. She said no and I asked her why. “I might fall in the mud,” she answered. Here’s the thing. You are going to getting dirty and muddy. It’s just like going swimming. The first jump into a cold lake is always the hardest. Getting yourself dirty for the first time is also the hardest. But it is going to happen, so break that cherry and get in there. It’s going to happen any way.
Tip 3 — These races are tough on gear — I saw a number of people with sparkling running shoes that I knew (and they knew) were going to get trashed. That’s not such a big surprise. But you may want to consider that these races are going to be tough on your clothes and other gear as well. I had thought about this before the event in picking out a shirt to wear. I figured that climbing over the barriers might potentially rip or scratch up a shirt. But during the event I realized how tough the mud was on my sunglasses. For those of you that wear persrciption glasses, be mindful that the gritty mud may scratch the lenses.Tip 4 — Pace yourself — Perhaps even more so than a standard running event, you need to pace yourself in this type of race. You will not only be running, but pulling yourself over barriers, crawling, sliding and jumping. It is very important that you are not going at your maximum running intensity early on as you will suffer on barriers later in the race. The race winner yesterday told me that he needed to walk up two of the large hills — because he was so winded and out-of-breath from the obstacles and early fast pace of the race.
Tip 5 — Leave your pace watch at home — For those of you that use a Garmin or other pacing device, you probably could just leave it at home. For one thing you don’t need to drench those devices in water or mud, but the real reason is that the pace is so all over the place. You want to run comfortably and strongly, but it will be difficult to use the pacing features that you may be used to on the road in this kind of a format.
Tip 6 — Fast runners or Fit People? — Whether you do well in this type of event is going to depend on a combination of your physical skills and the make-up of the course. What I found is that I pulled away from people on my running strength and they caught back up to me during the obstacles. In the case of my race there was a heavy bias toward running (meaning there was a lot more running than anything else) and so I did well. There may be courses that have more time consuming obstacles that will change that balance away from true running speed. For example, there was a maze in my race. The race leader said he got lost three times making it through the maze. This type of obstacle becomes a great equalizer that allows fit people that may not be as fast to perform better in these races.
Tip 7 — Don’t take yourself too seriously — These events are really meant to be done for fun. I found it refreshing that there were no award ceremonies or even results posted at my event. Take these events on as a physical challenge, but have fun and enjoy the day. Slipping through mud and climbing over walls is fun. As any five year-old. So don’t forget to have fun out there.
I hope that you have a great time in your event. I’m going to try more of these. I’ve heard that there is a foam race and another “color” race (where they throw paint at you) coming up. I’ll be sure to be at both!
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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