If you don’t live on the west coast, in the southwest or in Florida, then the triathlon offseason is hitting you full force. Personally, I have mixed feelings on it. It’s nice to slow down a bit and not have an early wakeup Sunday morning to race. Don’t get me wrong, I love to race events, but you have to fuel the fire with SOME sort of down time.
But, like all things, too much can be detrimental. I find myself needing a goal to keep me on track for maintaining winter fitness and increasing intensity to get better. Luckily I was approached to run an obstacle course race.
I have never ran one, and here in Kansas City, we had two people die from heat related injuries from a summer race. They didn’t exactly have the best reputation around the Midwest and I just had no idea what to expect.
I needed a goal. Ruckus Sports offered me an opportunity, and the rest is history!
If you’re considering an obstacle course race, but have no idea what you are doing, here’s some good pointers I learned from my experience.
I used trail running shoes for better grip, but it didn’t matter after 0.25 miles with caked on mud. They stayed on well but the extra tread was worthless. Just as good to use old running shoes.
Liam Brenner, Ruckus Sports founder, reported that Vibrams five finger wearers were doing rather well with the course. They had good grip when you were able to curl your toes to get traction. They also don’t have the sole that has a wide bottom that grips and holds when you burry your shoe in the mud and create a suction force. Five fingers have a lot less suction issues and stayed on better. Reportedly there were around 100 shoes stuck and left for dead on the course.
Another thought would be cleats. Outdoor soccer cleats have deeper tread/spikes to work through caking mud. Tie them tight so they don’t get sucked off in the mud. The disadvantage would be comfort factor. They are not nearly as comfortable as running or trail shoes and most people don’t have cleats sitting around their house.
It all depends on the time of year. We had the KC Ruckus in November. The Warrior Dash was in August. You will be crawling through brush, cargo nets and through tunnels. You want enough protection for exposed skin, but not so much you collect mud and water. Compression shorts only, too little. Cargo pants, too much. Tri kit, it will get destroyed. Less is more. Even if it’s 40’s and cloudy, the race will get your heart pumping and you won’t notice the cold. Just bring some warm post race clothes. Also, don’t wear anything you will want to do more than mowing the lawn in later.
I was able to salvage my clothes as I went with black MvT shirt over and UA long sleeve, UA compression shorts with black running shorts. After an hour hosing them off at home and a run through the washing machine and they are good as new. My Asics trail shoes.. not so much. They are clean but not as flexible as they once were. Socks are important, too. They will be covered in mud and completely drenched by the end. One thing to think about if you do not wear long pants, wear long socks. They help limit rope burns for army bars and the like. Compression socks would be handy, but they may get destroyed and that’s a pretty costly proposition unless you have an old pair sitting around.
Some went with nothing, some used batting gloves, some used work gloves and some went with gardening gloves. Count on anything you wear being trashed, as I mentioned in the clothing tips. I’d recommend using SOMETHING. When you end up bear crawling through a mud pit, grip is a mute issue as the mud counteracts any grip the gloves had. The benefit is protection. You will be encountering wooden obstacles (splinters), ropes (laceration possibility) and brush (crawling up stream embankments). If you want to avoid cuts and scrapes on your hands, wear something. I ended up with generic and cheap gardening gloves I had sitting around the house. Worked like a charm. I can safely sit at my desk job and type on the computer and I had enough grip in the race to climb ropes, walls and cargo nets.
If you’re not first, you’re last
Most races have a little bit of open run before the obstacles start. If you want unimpeded obstacle tackling, put the gas on early. Some obstacles were limited to 3 or 4 ways through at a time. If you didn’t get in the front 10% at the start, you might be looking to wait 10 minutes to get through an obstacle while those in front of you take their turn. Going anaerobic in the first half mile is worth it to have a clean shot with no waiting. You can catch your breath walking through mud pits.
Catch the wave
Most obstacle courses have wave times. It’s not based on age or ability, just when you sign up and which fill up first. It’s a toss-up which is better. If you go for early wave time, you will avoid muddy sections that get churned up with time and abuse from participants. There will be less mud on the obstacles and better grip. But, you will miss out on seeing others run the course to get ideas on how to tackle it. You will also miss out on parts of the course where a path has been established of least resistance. Huge mud piles with water pits are easier to navigate when foot holes are already established and packed for solid footing. Personally, I was a noon wave runner and the first wave was at 9am. The obstacles were muddy, but not impossible. Overall I wouldn’t have been persuaded to choose one time over the other.
Give-a Give-a Garmin... a break
I know, 99% of endurance athletes are all about pace, time and timing. Resist the urge to take your garmin. Anything that is not waterproof will be toast. Think about it. Do you really need to know your splits running over wooden x barricades and through rope swings? These races are for fun, so leave the Garmin at home. They have timing chips, you'll get a finish time. It's all good.
If you are looking for a respite from structures triathlons, the generic 5k or an event to keep you focused in the off season, obstacle course racing may be a viable option for you. It’s as competitive as you want to make it, but relaxed like a mountain bike race atmosphere so you can go out, challenge yourself and have a good time. Personally, the Ruckus Kansas City race had the last mile and something on the order of 12 obstacles that circled the spectator area so it was nice to be able to see my daughter and wife more than just at race start, T1 and T2. I had a great time and thankfully the opportunity came up to race the event to keep the competitive fire going during the cold off season!
*Writer’s note, Ruckus Sports distributed a complimentary race entry to Ryan and in no way influenced reviews and recounts of the event.
Ryan Falkenrath writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. Ryan has participated in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans. Ryan is also the Kansas City Endurance Sports Examiner and you can read more of his triathlon thoughts HERE and he collects race reviews at www.Triathlon-Reviews.blogspot.com. Contact Ryan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.