[In this mini-series of articles, we explore the training regimes of our team members and ambassadors. There is no "one" way to get you to your goal and as you will see in this series on training regimes no two TUSA members take the same approach. From climbing over fences, to lower-for-longer, we look to expose a number of approaches to training in the hopes that you might find some tips, tricks or advice to help you reach your goals and improve your training regime]
TRAIN FOR THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION
‘I don’t think I’m ready for this race.’
My friend was only a few days away from running her first Spartan when she was hit with those pre-race preparation doubts that toy with our confidence. You know those.
My reply was simple: ‘You’re a farm girl. You’ve been training for this race your whole life without knowing it.’
Although my response was a little simplistic (meant mainly to squash her pre-race jitters), training for an obstacle course race (OCR) is literally like training for the movements and activities we do daily: pulling, carrying, lifting, climbing, crawling, short bursts of cardio. We’ve all slung 8 full bags of groceries over every inch of our shoulder/arm/wrist/individual fingers and sprinted to our vehicle because we don’t want to have to take the cart back, and we’re late for the boys’ hockey practice. There’s your carrying, lifting, grip strength, and cardio all in 45 seconds.
MY ONE AND ONLY RULE
My training program (and I use the word program loosely, as I don’t follow a super regimented or prescribed schedule) has only one rule: VARIETY.
The only way I can ensure that I have a relatively decent shot at completing all the obstacles in a race is to pack a crap ton of variety into my workouts. The odd time I’ll redo a workout if I’m benchmarking or just really like how a circuit felt. But most often, my workouts change daily and even the exercises to target specific muscle groups or movements change as well.
No two obstacles in a race are the same, and no two races are the same. So the more I can get my body used to ‘new’, the better prepared I will be. So variety in my workouts is key, even for running training.
My most common workout is an interval style workout (say, 6 different exercises for 4 rounds for a total of 24 minutes). So incorporating variety is really easy to do. Some days I’ll focus on upper body, some days lower body, and other days core and cardio. Some days that cardio is in the form of mountain climbers and tuck jumps, while others it’s sprints, stationary bike, rowing machine, or skipping. Variety, variety, variety. You get it.
Having said that, there are similar components to each workout. These are no different than what most people strive for in any fitness program, but here are a few specifics that seem to work well for me when training for an OCR.
I do bodyweight and weighted exercises to increase muscle mass. Within the common moves like squats, pushups, and shoulder presses, I adjust them so that each movement builds muscle AND hopefully increases agility/stability/endurance at the same time. So a typical squat becomes a squat with a 40 lb sandbag on my shoulders with a jump squat or side lunge. Or drop the sandbag and do a burpee, then pick it up and back to a jump squat. You get the idea: multiple movements targeting multiple muscles AND agility/stability/endurance.
Obviously the big muscles (quads, glutes, biceps, pecs) get lots of air time (that’s a media term…weight time? Let’s go with weight time). But often overlooked elements like grip strength is a huge factor when rope climbing or traverse wall navigating. So lunges might incorporate holding 25 lb plates in each hand to help build grip strength. And one of the 6 exercises in my circuit often includes hanging of some sort: burpees with a pull up or hanging knee raises to target core simultaneously. I have no idea how my 7 year old can blow through monkey bars with nary an increase in heart rate, but as an adult, I train, and train, and train, and train for the obstacles that require grip and upper body. Still sometimes it’s not enough and I wind up doing burpees (the penalty for failing an obstacle in some races).
You can’t run an OCR without, well, running. So for as much as I love interval and weight training (and exactly why I have yet to be convinced to ditch OCRs for a 70.3), running is equally as important as crushing a 20 foot rope climb.
In an OCR, there’s really no point in ever getting ‘settled’ into a pace or head space while running unlike the running leg in a triathlon or a running-only event. Consider that in a 5k race, there could be 10 obstacles. So every half a kilometer or so, you’re stopping to complete an obstacle. Some people HATE the idea that they can’t settle into their run. But it’s one of the elements of OCRs that I love. And my running training reflects that and as such, incorporates….yup, I’ll say it again: variety.
Once a week, I’ll try to hit a longer steady pace run anywhere from 3k – 8k ish to build my endurance (and to help train for the trail races I’ve planned for this year). Usually twice a week, I incorporate sprints or some form of shorter distance running interrupted by a strength building exercise at regular intervals. I live in the country and have the perfect little circuit around my property that provides some inclines/declines, uneven trail-type footing, obstacles (natural and manmade like the kids playhouse), and enough terrain that I try to simulate a mini OCR at least once a week. My favorite part about the simulated race sessions is often the company from one of my boys who joins alongside and, of course, totally sails through every single obstacle (damn youth stamina!).
Strength and speed will get you through a race. Being agile will make it easier and quicker. I’ve seen competitors who are ridiculously fast at running but lose time at obstacles because they are as graceful as Kung Fu Panda (at the beginning of the movie, of course). They have trouble balancing or maneuvering their body easily in/around/over/through tricky places. And that often leads to burpees.
In past races, I’ve climbed through culverts, scaled up and over tire walls, shimmied under low hanging barbed wire, teetered on a balance beam over a mud pit, and scooched through over/under walls. So the more climbing, scaling, shimmying, teetering, and scooching I can do at home, the better. It’s fairly easy to incorporate a little of this in an exercise or two in my interval training (bear crawl pushups, bench jumps, single leg work for balance), or the simulated mini OCR (through fences, balance walk on fallen trees).
REST IS BEST
No training program is complete without rest days. Usually, one day a week is a rest day. Sometimes my schedule just doesn’t allow a workout, sometimes I’m sore and respect my need for muscle repair, and sometimes I literally just want to have a beer on my deck and take the day off from working out. All valid reasons for rest.
LOVE THE JOURNEY
While it’s always easy to feel like I could have sweat just a little more, lifted just a little heavier, or ran just a little farther in prep, I train hard enough to perform well but not so hard that I come to dread it. Will this approach get me on the podium in the elite class at an OCR? Probably not. But as an amateur OCR and trail race enthusiast in my mid 30s jetting from client meetings to boys hockey and karate to laundry and meal prep, I’m absolutely cool with that.
I believe loving the journey always trumps crossing the race finish line. Don’t confuse loving with easy, though. Loving sometimes has more to do with discovering self motivation on the earliest of mornings during a max incline treadmill session, or having a solo celebration for a significant increase in dead hang time after weeks of consistent training.
For me, the destination is a bonus. If I trained just for the finish line, I would have quit many sweat sessions ago. Loving the journey matters more.