What Is Obstacle Course Racing?

Obstacle course racing, also known as OCR, has become extremely popular over the past decade, where people from all walks of life participate.

Many people reap the physical and mental benefits from this endeavour and the lessons from taking part can you apply in other areas of your life.

Obstacle course racing is a sport where individuals travel, mainly on rugged terrain, on foot and must push themselves both physically and mentally through a variety of challenges. You’ll most likely encounter climbing over walls and on cargo nets, running through mud, crawling under and jumping over fences, swinging on monkey bars, hoops, or rings, and moving through varying levels and temperatures of water. This sport is influenced by military obstacle training and is one of the finest athletic endeavour’s you’ll ever see. Each course will test participants on their speed, physical and mental strength, their agility and ability to adapt to whatever situation is faced in front of them. 

Why do people participate in obstacle course racing?

1) Something to tick off their bucket list. 

For many, obstacle course racing is something different and looks fun to try. Just have a look at any highlight video for a Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Mud Runner or Rat Race series event. There’s a thrill of adventure. OCR can become highly addictive. If you’re into adrenaline sports, your first mud run could become an obsession. 

2) Have something to train towards 

The beauty of training for an OCR race is there’s a wide variety of ways to keep yourself ready. Of course, running is a massive part of this sport. For many runners, OCR can be a natural transition. 

You’ll also be using a lot of upper body strength when out on course, from pulling yourself over walls, carrying weighted items such as logs and even team members. In the gym, I like to use the monkey bars, deadlifts, kettlebells, even climbing ropes. All of this keeps me very active and more interested in training. 

Having an event booked is going to keep you fired up and more determined to stay on track. Honestly, I find that without having any obstacle events scheduled in my diary, I’m less motivated to train and wouldn’t have a stronger purpose to do so. 

3) Build mental grit and perseverance 

Jumping through a skip of icy cold water isn’t high on anyone’s fun list. It takes a lot of guts and drive to do this obstacle. The insane ice bath is known as “Arctic Enema” is Tough Mudder’s gut check!

It’s always best not to think about Arctic Enema. It’s easier said than done and especially when you’re waiting in the queue.  

Instantly, you’ll feel the cold, and it’s critical to keep moving and get out of the water as fast as you can. This obstacle, without question, builds mental grit!  

Have a watch of this video below. This is me preparing for Arctic Enema at 11.52 pm at Europe’s Toughest Mudder, Grantham, England. https://www.youtube.com/embed/w3cUF3WNNrc

 The temperature outside was around 4 °C, and I didn’t have a wet suit on at this time, but I wish I did. I was wearing standard running leggings at the time and the cold went through to the bone. However, on lap four, around 2 am, when I had to deal with Arctic Enema again, I was in a wet suit, and this wasn’t an issue at all. It was quite refreshing. 

During the offseason, I prepare for Arctic Enema by having cold showers in the morning. Don’t worry! Your body gets used to cold showers overtime. Gradually, you’ll build up the mental toughness and discipline. Now imagine what you could do with this discipline in other areas of your life. So, for instance, you want to learn to play a musical instrument, work out more or learn a new skill.

Reaching your goals takes discipline and mental grit. There are going to be times when you don’t feel like doing working towards your goal. So if you can overcome an Arctic enema, jump out of an aeroplane or whatever you’ve done in your life that’s out your comfort zone, it’s certainly going to help!

4) Improve overall fitness and health 

For those looking for a lifestyle change, preparing for a season of obstacle course races can help.

To perform at the best levels, you need to work hard. So, go running three to four times a week and add a couple of strength training sessions to your plan. 

As mentioned earlier, you will combine running, endurance, strength, climbing, crawling and agility training into your physical activity. It’s essential to focus on stretching so that we can reduce any aches, pains or niggles.

Consider this, a lot of people will invest time and money into a hobby, a business, a relationship, a family and sometimes health and fitness can be the last thing on the list.

I suppose it can be down to having everything on convenience and doing what’s easy now. I’m not here to preach, in a busy world it’s easier to look for instant gratification at the moment, than focus on the long term. 

For instance, living on convenience food doesn’t always give us a healthy balance, whereas cooking from scratch may help with us maintain a healthy, sustainable weight. My point is by training for an event, you can make conscious decisions. Ultimately, you’re on the plan for a healthier and more active lifestyle. 

5) Improve strength training 

I’m sure we’ve all seen videos of people doing 20 to 30 odd pullups in a row, lots of press-ups and deadlifts. Strength training is an integral part of obstacle course racing. Not only is strength training good for the body physically, but it also helps to develop discipline and mental grit. 

When out on your OCR event, you’ll be climbing up obstacles and the grip strength you’ve developed from lifting barbells will come in handy! 

6) Try new ways to train and apply this new-found knowledge on our next OCR event 

When I started obstacle course racing, I was more attracted to the obstacle side such as climbing over walls and jogging through the mud. One of my favourite Tough Mudder obstacles is Leap of Faith. 

This obstacle requires agility, timing and balance. I decided to learn to get good at is box jumps. This exercise formed an integral part of my agility training, as I’m able to jump higher and further. 

Rope climbing can be intimidating. However, the benefits of rope climbing as you improve your grip strength and mental toughness. The reason I’m telling you these different types of exercises is you can apply these into your training and be well prepared for your next event. 

Staying on a treadmill can be a tedious form of exercise, so mixing it up every time can help you to stay engaged. 

7) Character building 

When people go through tough times, and they’re forced to grow – no doubt this shapes their character. Obstacle course racing is about having fun, but when you put yourself into an environment that’s out of your comfort zone – you’ll adapt.  

Overcoming obstacles is a part of life and how you deal with them shapes your character. When your battling through an obstacle that requires strength and courage, just remember your shaping your personality. 

8) Fundraising 

Some people will do an obstacle course for the first time to raise funds for a worthy cause. Many charities benefit from people doing things out of their comfort zones such as marathons, obstacle course events or even sky diving. If something has impacted your life, and you want to give back, fundraising can be an excellent way to show your appreciation. 

9) Feel like a kid again 

As a country bumpkin, I was outside playing in the mud, making dens, jumping ditches and taking our mountain bikes through farmer’s fields. As an adult, this is still a lot of fun. At an OCR event, there will be thousands of people having fun. Some participants dress up as their favourite superhero and others have a proper mud fight on course. You’ll make lots of memories and have some great photos at the end. 

10) Make some amazing friends 

There are lots of groups and teams that go out on course and help each other through these events. The people in these teams will camp and travel together, help everyone out on and attend events around the world.

Over time, you may be lucky enough to be part of one of these groups. Social media is an excellent way to reach out to others in the OCR community. There are lots of Facebook Groups and OCR racers and athletes on Instagram. I bet that you if reach out to these people that eventually you could meet them at your next OCR event. 

11) Sense of personal achievement 

When you conquer something outside our comfort zone, there is always a sense of personal achievement and success. 

Doing an obstacle course race has its challenges. You’ll be pushed mentally and physically throughout. There may be times where you want to give up. At the end of the course, when you get your medal, headband or T-Shirt, you’ll know that you’ve come on a journey that you won’t be the same again! 

 What type of obstacles could be in an event?

 Climbing based Obstacles may include: 

  • Walls 
  • Hay bails
  • Ropes
  • Rope ladders 
  • Inverted walls 
  • A-Frame cargo nets
  • Hurdles

Upper body Strength obstacles 

  • Monkey bars
  • Multi-rigs
  • Tarzan swings
  • Rope swings
  • Fireman’s carry

Crawling Obstacles

  • Army crawl
  • Crawling on ropes
  • Through tubs
  • Through mud
  • Crawling under hurdles
  • Through trenches
  • Crawling under cargo nets

Water-based obstacles

  • Running through lakes, ditches, ponds, rivers and streams
  • Swimming
  • Jumping into ice baths

Agility obstacles

  • Tight rope walking on beams
  • Over and under hurdles
  • Jumping over hay bails
  • Jumping across streams, ditches, and small rivers
  • Balancing on tight ropes

Mental Grit Obstacles

  • Jumping into an ice bath
  • Jumping over fire
  • Running through electrical wiring
  • Try running at night for the ultimate challenge.

James King has competed in multiple OCR events including Europe's Toughest Mudder from 2019 to 2022, multiple mud events, 10k runs and currently for his first marathon. James includes useful tips and experiences about OCR on his blog mudrunlifestyle.com.

James King has competed in multiple OCR events including Europe's Toughest Mudder from 2019 to 2022, multiple mud events, 10k runs and currently for his first marathon. James includes useful tips and experiences about OCR on his blog mudrunlifestyle.com.