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OCR, or obstacle course races, might not be the most familiar thing unless you’re already part of the fitness community. Even then, you might be more familiar with them under a different moniker – mud races, Spartan races, or extreme sports are all commonly used pseudonyms here. Obstacle course races are pretty much exactly what they sound like – you pit yourself not only against a physical distance that must be covered during the race, but also against physical and mental challenges along the way. It’s a rewarding experience, but not for the faint of heart.

obstacle course race training guideWhat Is OCR?

Obstacle course racing is actually the fastest growing sport in the country, and is currently a $250 million industry. At just over four years old (officially), OCR sees millions of participants over the course of a year. In 2010, there were only 20 events, and just 41,000 competitors. In 2014, that number rose to 1.5 million participants, and more than 150 different events held across the nation.

At its most basic, obstacle course racing combines a road or off-road race with obstacles similar to those found during military training. These can include walls, netting that must be climbed, ditches that must be traversed and more, and often under adverse conditions. The races can be as brief as a 5K (3.1 miles), or they can be marathon length or even longer.

Some races can be much more extreme. Participants crawl through mud and water under strands of barbed wire. They jump through fire, or race through electric fields.

You’ll also find the competitiveness of OCRs differs from standard races. In ordinary events, you race to finish ahead of your competitors. That’s usually not the case with OCRs. In fact, many of these events actually put a focus on racers helping other racers to overcome the obstacles in their paths. It’s not about where you finish, or how quickly you compete the course. It’s about finishing at all.

With that being said, some OCRs do have a different level of competitiveness in that they require qualifying in local or regional events in order to compete.

The Big Three OCRs

While there were 150 different OCRs in 2014, not all were of the same caliber. In fact, there are only three that claim the rank of “top events”. These are the Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash. There are other very popular races as well that don’t have the same level of severity in terms of obstacles – R.O.C (Ridiculous Obstacle Course) races are often as much about fun and zany obstacles as they are about challenging participants. However, obstacle course race training is necessary to compete in all of them safely.

Spartan Race: The Spartan Race was held 91 times over 25 states and 9 countries in 2013, with 58 sprints, 18 super races, 13 beast races and 2 ultra beast races. 300,429 individuals participated in those events, with 285,313 finishing their races.

Tough Mudder: Tough Mudder beat out the Spartan Race in terms of participants, garnering 700,000 in 2013 alone. Each Tough Mudder event averages 10,000 to 15,000 individuals, so while there were fewer Tough Mudder events than Spartan Races, they were far more crowded (which leads to a significantly higher risk of injury).

Warrior Dash: The Warrior Dash race has seen something of a flattening of membership with the rise of other races, including Tough Mudder. Still, the race can boast 50 different locations around the world, and 66 separate races, 49 of which took place in North America. The average race distance was 3.1 miles, making these 5K events, and there were 12 obstacles per race on average.

Facts about OCR

On the Lighter Side

While there are three main heavy hitters in OCRs, there are also a few lighter events. One of those is R.O.C Racing (Ridiculous Obstacle Course). It was inspired by a TV show, and pits racers against some of the most outlandish challenges out there – think wrecking balls and the world’s largest water slide, for instance. These races are certainly about endurance, but they’re also more about fun and camaraderie than Tough Mudder or Spartan Races.

Another example is the OCR World Championships, based in Ohio. The first ever event will be held in late 2014 and will have both individual and team competitions at the end of October. Participation in the OCRWC does require qualifying in another event.

On top of these, there are dozens of smaller local events – you might see them listed on a flyer or on Facebook. Local mud runs, paint runs and the like all fall into this category. However, before you attempt to enter these races, it’s important that you prepare yourself mentally and physically through obstacle course race training.

Why the Interest in OCRs and Obstacle Course Race Training?

What is it that makes obstacle course racing the fastest growing sport in the country? Actually, there are several reasons for this. Let’s break them down into more easily digested chunks:

Sponsorships and Profitability – For both racers and race organizers, there are tremendous opportunities in terms of sponsorship and profitability from the races. Successful OCR athletes can earn sponsorship from any number of extreme-sports or performance oriented companies (think X-Games sponsors). Race organizers earn a significant chunk of change from race enrollment (almost all races require an entry fee).

The Rise of Gen Y – Until recently, Gen X dominated most areas, but Gen Y is making their presence felt. OCRs are seeing a significant number of Gen Y enrolling because they’re looking for nontraditional activities and extreme sports. They gain a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from completing a standard road race, and there are cool rewards after finishing the race. They also get bragging rights for their achievements.

Pros and Cons of Obstacle Course Racing

Like any other sport, there are several pros and cons to OCRs. The pros are significant, and most of the cons can be mitigated by completing obstacle course race training. However, it’s important that interested racers understand what they’re getting themselves into here.


  • OCRs can be completed alone or as part of a team, offering flexibility, as well as multiple options to compete, which can be very enticing to some athletes.
  • OCRs have their roots deep in military training, with very similar foundations to boot camp. That’s appealing to a wide range of athletes, both with and without previous military experience.
  • OCRs have an unparalleled physical challenge, combined with significant mental challenges. You won’t find anything like it in the world of conventional road racing, and the sense of accomplishment after completing an OCR is immense.


  • OCRs are dangerous, and they’re dangerous for a wide range of different reasons:
  • The actions you take during an OCR are nothing like what you do on an everyday basis, making these races the perfect recipe for disaster and injury. Jumping, pulling, crawling, and continuous high-energy effort over long periods of time can be disastrous for those who don’t spend more than 45 minutes a day working out. Consider the fact that some 5K OCRs can take over 2 hours to complete, and you’ll see the significant need for obstacle course race training.
  • The sheer number of competitors is another danger factor that impacts safety. Tough Mudder events can see up to 15,000 people at a single race. The ultimate injury, death, has already occurred in the OCR world, but there are numerous non-life threatening injuries sustained by thousands in these races due to trampling and crushing from other competitors. Racers often jump on top of one another, slipping and sliding in mud challenges, and there’s always the chance of twisting an ankle in muddy water because you weren’t able to see where you were stepping.
  • You’ll also find the long wait times involved in these events a hindrance. It’s a very stop and go process, with lots of waiting in line at each obstacle before you can move on. That increases the time required to complete the course, and if there’s significant heat, humidity or aridness, that can also pose health risks.

Risk vs. Rewards

There are significant risks to undertaking any OCR. Going through obstacle course race training will help mitigate those risks, and improve your risk vs. reward scenario. For racers who don’t have adequate training, or lack the proper gear (or both), the risks far outweigh the rewards, which usually consist of personal gratification and bragging rights.

Lack of Quality Training

Searching online won’t really net you much in the way of results for obstacle course race training, particularly with those specific words. The industry is only four years old, and while there are training options out there that can help, they’re often not called what you would think they would be. Even those training programs supposedly developed for OCR racers can be of dubious quality.

The Problem of Measuring Results

Completing an OCR is fun, when you’re doing it just once. However, if you want to test yourself time and time again, then you need a yardstick by which to measure your results. You can’t measure your times, because you’ll be waiting in line at each obstacle. Since most races have no time limits or results to compare from one race to the next, it can be impossible to determine if you’ve become fitter from year to year or even from event to event.

Boot Camp Is the Ideal Obstacle Course Race Training

While there might not be an “official” OCR training format out there, that doesn’t mean there’s no way to get fit, get prepared, and get ready. In many ways, boot camp is the ideal option. There are several reasons for this, including the fact we already touched on – OCRs are almost identical to military training, and boot camps are the same.

obstacle course race training philosophy
Boot camps also tend to focus more on functional fitness, rather than on power lifting or traditional types of exercise that do you no good when race day rolls around. You’ll find that boot camps are ideal for building overall fitness, and they vary workouts daily to provide the right mix of cardio, strength building, and flexibility training. Finally, boot camps can even provide yoga, ITT, Tabata, station training, Crossfit and obstacle course training during each session.

With the right obstacle course race training, the right mindset and the right precautions, OCRs can be not only fun and adventurous, but immensely rewarding.

The only way to see the difference that Custom Fitness Concepts boot camps can make in your life is to try it. So, if you’re interested in trying us out and perhaps signing up for one of our very affordable memberships, then call us today at 877-598-0530.

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