Training Tips for Obstacle Race Success

By: Ross Macdonald of Inov-8 OCR

Even if you haven't heard of Tough Mudder, there's a good chance you know someone planning to tackle this kind of event this year. Obstacle course endurance challenges have become one of the most popular tests of physical fitness, grabbing the attention of thrill-seekers and training junkies alike. But before you go ahead and sign up to challenge your body and test your mental limits, there are a few things you might want to consider...

What is obstacle-course racing?

Obstacle-Course Racing (OCR) has grown over the past few years as we look for challenges beyond that of the ‘easy’ marathon or the ‘common’ triathlon. The number of events has increased as organisers attempt to build bigger and better obstacles, pushing people to dig deeper and to get dirtier! Whether running and jumping as part of a team, or crawling and climbing as an ‘elite’ racer, OCR is an event that everyone should attempt, and will most likely become hooked on.

What event should I enter?

The UK is second only to the US in terms of the races you can take part in. The majority of events have races as short as 6km whilst there are now a couple of marathon OCR’s for the more experienced. The majority of courses are manageable, especially with help from a friend or teammate. There is no shortage of events to enter and if you are willing to travel, you could easily race every weekend. OCR is spreading across the globe so you can quite easily book a holiday around an event, such as the Toughest in Scandinavia or a Spartan Race in Barcelona.

OCR options:


Rock Solid Races
British Military Fitness’s ‘Major Series’
Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest


Dirty Dozen Races
Nuclear Races
Judgement Day
The NUTS Challenge
Tough Mudder


Spartan Races - Spartan Beast
Rat Race Dirty Weekend
The Eliminator Marathon

How fit do I need to be?

If you can run the distance of the OCR you are entering, you will be able to complete the OCR. Whilst some events take you through mud, over walls and under barbed wire, no event will attempt to prevent you from finishing. The majority of events have ‘forfeits’ for not being able to complete an obstacle and these normally consist of a sandbag carry or burpees.

How do I train?

Running: With OCR’s between 6km and 42km, you should be able to run (or walk) that distance and so you will need to train to run. This can involve interval running, hill sprints, tempo runs (such as a parkrun) and long endurance runs.

Circuit training: Circuit training sessions, such as those run by British Military Fitness or at a local gym, develop explosive power, strength and speed. Press-ups, sit-ups, squats and burpees are all excellent exercises for OCR training.

Cross-training: Swimming and cycling are great additional sessions to include within your training. There is less impact on your legs when swimming and cycling so they are also great sessions for when you have small niggles that prevent you from running.

What should I wear?

Clothing can be an important factor when racing in OCR. One minute you will be crawling, the next you will be wading through waist-deep water. It can be cold and it can be hot. Whilst protecting your knees and elbows can be important, it is often the cold that prevents people from enjoying the event. Compression layers and merino wool are a great help, as are a pair of gloves that provide plenty of grip. Shoes are probably the most important decision as a normal pair of trainers will not provide enough grip and it is no fun to be slipping and sliding all over the place. A pair of trail shoes, such as the inov-8 x-talon 200 will provide the perfect amount of grip, and they look the part too.

What if I become hooked?

If you become hooked, then great! There is an extremely sociable scene in the UK and many of us meet up to train together and see each other at events every other weekend. Mudstacle should be your first point of call for race information as well as details about the UK OCR league, which is becoming increasingly competitive. The OCR and Spartan World Championships are held in the USA each year and you can qualify for these events. The reigning Spartan and OCR World Champion, Jon Albon, is from Great Britain and a large number of us will be joining him in the USA this year.

About Ross Macdonald:

Ross races OCR for the inov-8 OCR team and is consistently on the podium at UK events.