Mud: fertilizer for the soul
Kids are anarchic athletes. They climb over, under and through pretty much anything they came across, lug about things that are heavy in proportion to their small frames, and have a core strength that would make a gymnast envious. In this way, kids are far more rounded athletes than adults, who tend to focus more on economy of effort and training repetitive motions rather than exploration of their environment and capabilities. It’s funny that while kids can get down and grimy without any kind of pretext, we adults need to find an excuse to do so. This may be one reason why mud runs and obstacle course races (OCR) are becoming popular these days. If is an official, sanctioned event, then we have permission to get our clothes dirty, right? Another for their success is the amazing camaraderie of these events.
What’s involved in an OCR
OCR organizers generally keep the exact details of the race vague right up to the event to make it difficult to prepare. But you can take an educated guess at what will be involved and you won’t be far off. All OCRs are likely to incorporate the following:
- Running – lots of it
- Dragging weights – logs or tires
- Carrying weights – sandbags, logs or other “companion” weights
- Crawls – under nets and barbed wire; through tunnels, water, and mud
- Climbing – over walls and A-frames; up cargo nets and ropes
- Monkey bars
Tough Mudders is one of the most well-known brands in the OCR business. Here is a good breakdown of the main Tough Mudder obstacles. Other courses are likely to be simpler than this.
The 2017 Wairua Warriors OCR
It occurred to me that my training and play tend toward repetition and I spend my days in far too hygienic a state than is healthy. I also wanted to know how my fitness level would measure up against the eclectic demands of an OCR. So on a whim I entered an OCR put on by the Wairua Warriors, New Zealand’s first OCR Sports Club.
Given that I train regularly and identify as a “runner,” I thought that my fitness level would be more than adequate and I entered the 12 km option. Heck, I even went so far as to enter the Elite category.
Well, the day arrived and I rolled up to the registration desk. Here was my first red flag: While the race packs for the Open and Teams categories occupied three tables, the Elite race packs amounted to one solitary box in the corner. In fact, there were only 21 competitors in the elite male category out of a total of 600 in the entire event.
The race began with an opening war dance given by local Maori. This was impressive and got the adrenaline flowing. It also gave me the opportunity to size up the competition. In general, they seemed to be larger and more muscular than me. This is a contrast to trail run events where most people are thin to the point of being nothing but skin, bone and sinew. What was the same was their incredibly low body fat percentage. Second red flag. I felt out of shape and out of my depth and said as much to the guy next to me. “Don’t worry about it; just have fun,” he said with a grin and a shrug. Sage advice and applicable to all areas of life, I thought.
As I note above, the thing you should expect in an OCR is mud and wet. We crossed a river several times, ran upstream, and jumped into marshes, bogs, and specially-manufactured pits of mud. The crowd loved it, but I couldn’t figure out if they were cheering or jeering.
- Avoiding the penalty is worth losing a little time over. Take your time and collect yourself before attempting single-try obstacles that require balance or focus.
- You will get soaked. Wear artificial fabrics – NOT cotton. This goes for everything including your top, shorts, underwear and socks.
- By the end I was carrying quite a few pebbles in my shoes and even inside my ankle-high socks. I recommend knee-high running socks for a serious competitor.
So, have you ever taken part in an obstacle course race? How did you find it? How did you prepare? It seems to me the simplest form of preparation would be to go hang out at a play park for a few hours a week and mimic whatever the kids there are doing, but did you use a more systematic method!
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