Why the Heck Would You Do an Obstacle Race?

By: ATLX Expert Brett Stewart


Why the heck would you do an Obstacle Race?



Obstacle races and mud runs have something for everyone and are wide open to anyone willing to sign up, show up, and never give up.It’s a primal desire inside of all of us to go outside and play in the mud, get dirty, and have a blast with our friends. The barriers to entry are very low or relatively nonexistent at many obstacle races and mud runs, and so much easier to compete in when compared to nearly every other organized event you can sign up for.

Obstacle races and mud runs are the ultimate Weekend Warrior events. People of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and athletic abilities come together to play in the mud, have fun, and push their limits.

Most aren’t showing up to win—the simple glory of competing is a triumph in and of itself.


Q: Can I really do a mud run?

A: Um, yeah. In the immortal words of Patches O’Houlihan, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” Let’s expand on that sound logic a bit:

“If you can run, walk, or even crawl from the start to the finish, you can complete a mud run.”

Basically, if you can walk approximately 3 miles in muddy clothes, you can complete your first mud run. It may not be pretty, but that first taste of victory is usually all it takes to turn your average couch potato into an addicted mud runner. That’s why this sport is ballooning to epic proportions, with new events being added worldwide nearly every day.

The very first thing you should do before signing up for any event is to get your lazy butt checked out by a doctor. Seriously, no one wants to see you get carted off the course by EMTs because you weren’t healthy enough to sign up in the first place. Once you get the green light from your doc, spend some time checking out the event’s website. Review the distance and conditions to get a good idea of what you’re in for when you show up on race day—if you still have the guts to sign up.


Q: How “in shape” should I be?

A : Aside from extreme invite-only events, all obstacle races and mud runs are suitable for most athletes of any size, shape, and ability. Of course, you’re required to sign a waiver that states you’re healthy enough to participate and have been checked out and cleared by a medical professional before attempting any event. At any race you’ll see a diverse cross-section of fitness levels and body types.

If you have the willpower to finish, there’s a spot for you at nearly every starting line.

Getting your body and mind ready to compete is the most important element of pre-race preparation. Some events are a fun excuse to get mud in a few hard-to-reach crevices of your body and afterward have a beer with your friends, while others are extremely challenging endeavors that’ll test your physical and mental fortitude. If you’re signing up for the latter, it’s important to prepare for some of the rigors you’ll encounter on race day by running, exercising, and even taking an ice-cold shower or two.


Q: What is the easiest type of event?

A : “Easy” is a relative term, but the majority of mud runs are less demanding than obstacle races and feature far fewer (if any) barriers other than mud, terrain, and more mud. That being said, every single course will feature terrain or challenges that are unique and will test your mental and physical toughness… or at least your ability to laugh at yourself!


Q: What’s the toughest course out there?

A : All of them. Every single course is a challenge and, based on your particular strengths, even the shortest course may be particularly demanding based on the obstacles laid out by the race organizers. Toughness is also relative to the individual racer: If you struggle with running, the longer distances may prove to be extremely daunting; if you have weak upper-body strength, events that require a lot of hanging, swinging, or rope climbing could be your undoing.

A well-rounded course will have plenty of barriers standing between you and an “easy” run.

Every single course is so dramatically different that there’s no effective way that I know of to rank them against each other in terms of toughness. With the sport of obstacle racing constantly evolving, new obstacles are created daily and added to the repertoire of talented (and somewhat masochistic) race directors. Joe DeSena of Spartan Race (which features courses in a multitude of lengths) confided in me that the shorter the overall course distance is, the harder they make each of the obstacles!


Q: Are there events for first-timers?

A : Yes—every event is for first-timers!

The enormous growth and popularity of the sport guarantees that there’ll be hundreds—if not thousands—of first-timers at most events. Even if you’ve raced another mud run or obstacle race before, each course features different obstacles, distances, and terrain. So every time everyone shows up for an event, it’s arguably everyone’s “first time.”

As a first-timer, the best advice is to pick a start time that’ll give you the opportunity to scout the course—if you’re allowed—and surround yourself with other racers who are of the same general ability as you. When lining up for your start, move toward the back of the pack so you can observe others tackling each obstacle. Build your confidence as you conquer the race elements and then you can pick up the pace. Sprinting out of the starting gate isn’t the best option—take your time and absorb the lessons from the competitors in front of you. Let them wade into the mud first and you can pick your path based on immediate feedback from their results.

ATLX Expert Brett Stewart is the author of multiple fitness books including Ultimate Obstacle Race Training: Crush the World’s Toughest Course.

And be sure to check out Brett’s blog, MudRunGuide.com for all things Mud Runs & Obstacle Races.

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