What Is Obstacle Racing?

The physical and mental benefits of obstacle racing are huge. In this episode, Get-Fit Guy talks about 3 compelling reasons why you should try an obstacle race.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #187

I knew I was in trouble when my muddy hands started slipping off the rope as I dangled 19 feet above an icy cold pit of water. Every muscle in my body twitched and strained in an attempt to keep from falling, but it was too late..

I splashed in a giant, exhausted wet heap into the black hole below the rope. As I emerged for air, I heard the booming voice of the obstacle racing referee: “30 burpees!”

This would be my third penalty in my very first Spartan race experience (my other two burpee penalties coming from narrowly missing a 20-foot spear throw and falling off a sideways traverse wall climb).

But I didn’t care. Even though my lungs were burning, my upper and lower body were spent, my skin was scraped with gravel and punctured with barbed wire, I was caked in dirt, sweat, and blood, nonetheless,  I was having the time of my life.

I finished the 30 burpees, clambered over a wall, dove through 4 mud pits, leapt over a pile of burning logs, and fought off 4 weapon-yielding gladiators to finally cross the finish line in a little over an hour and 40 minutes. I’d finished my first “Super Spartan” event.

What Is Obstacle Racing?

In case you hadn’t noticed, obstacle course races and mud runs like the Spartan, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash are sweeping the nation. From 20,000 participants its 2010 debut year, the Tough Mudder logged nearly 700,000 participants in 2013. With 350,000 participants in 2012, 60+ events in 2013, and over 100 events planned worldwide for 2014, Reebok Spartan Race is one of the fastest growing events in the world.

Obstacle racing is a sport in which, traveling on foot, you must overcome various physical challenges. Obstacles include, but are not limited to, climbing over walls, carrying heavy objects, traversing bodies of water, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping through fire. With a history of heavy military influence, it’s no surprise that many obstacles are similar to those used in military training. But other obstacles are unique to obstacle racing and test endurance, strength, speed, mobility, and mental toughness. Races vary in both distance and challenge level, combining trail running, road running, and cross country running in distances ranging from 1 mile arena sprint events to 26.2+ mile “death races”!

When I finally took the leap earlier this year and completed my first Spartan event, I realized that the physical and mental benefits of obstacle racing are huge. So here are 3 compelling reasons why you may want to try an obstacle race:

Reason #1: Increased Tolerance to Physical Discomfort

I’ve done plenty of triathlons (over 80!), including 5 Ironman World Championships. Triathlon is certainly a tough cardiovascular and musculoskeletal endeavor. So I thought I was in pretty good shape and had a decent pain tolerance until I actually did my first obstacle race.

In my first Spartan I found myself sucking air while crawling on my stomach sandwiched between barbed wire on my backside and gravel under my belly. I felt my back completely lock up and every tiny muscle in my hands cramp as I struggled to carry a 50 pound bucket of gravel up the side of a mountain. And I experienced the icy shock of diving into water that was a good 10-15 degrees colder than any I’d experienced in my 10 years of racing triathlon.

I had the sudden, shocking revelation that even after 5 Ironman World Championship triathlons on the lava fields of Hawaii, and some of the toughest triathlons on the face of the planet in places like Israel, Thailand and Chile, perhaps I wasn’t quite as tough as I thought. And because of that experience – that chance to raise the ceiling of what my body and mind are physically capable of achieving – I guarantee that everything I do in life will feel just a little bit easier (and this includes family challenges, mental challenges, physical challenges, and career obstacles).


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.