5 Ways Obstacle Course Racing Can Make You a Better Athlete and Person

Whether you call them obstacle races, mud runs, or survival runs the idea is the same: 3, 6, or more miles of running, climbing, crawling, swimming, and a whole host of physical challenges to test you in every way possible. Whether it’s the 10 foot walls or the giant tub of ice water, these events are sure to have a mix of mild dread and extreme fun. At the end, you come out tired, muddy, and ready for a meal & a nap, but you also come away a better, stronger person.

1. They give you an attainable goal

All too often people set goals that have no way to be realized, because they don’t set an end point. Saying, “I want to lose weight” or “I want to run more” doesn’t give you a concrete end you can visualize. At the same time, it can be daunting to decide to lose 20 pounds or run 3 miles per day. Many people never make the jump from abstract goals to concrete goals because they’re afraid to fail.

An Obstacle Course Race is a happy medium between abstract and concrete. Making the commitment to “finish aWarrior Dash” and then signing up online feels very ephemeral and far off, but at the same time the end result is very clear: finish. This “concrete but feels abstract” goal can give people the push they need to make other, even more fruitful goals going forward.

2. They show you where your weaknesses are

Sure, you can do a couple pull-ups, but can you pull yourself over a 10-foot wall? You’re a good runner, but can you balance walk across a 4-inch, wobbly wooden beam over water?

Too often, we train in the gym but neglect to take our fitness out into the world and actually do something with it. An OCR lets you test, in the most functional way possible, how well your training has been preparing you for the possible challenges that life might throw at you. Choose a 5k or a half marathon, either option will provide a myriad of chances to succeed and to fail. At the end, you’ll know exactly what you’re missing, and have the makings of a plan to fill in the gaps.

3. They’re fun

At the end of the day, mud runs are just plain fun. You get dirty, play on a giant playground, hang out with other people just as “crazy” as you, and have the chance to accomplish something very tangible. If you haven’t run one, it’s a hard feeling to explain. You see this daunting task of physical challenge ahead of you, and a group of 50-300 people surround you at the starting gate. You struggle, fail, struggle, succeed, struggle, and keep on pushing as the tide of others helps push you along from one wall to the next, one mud pit to the next, until you’ve crossed the finish line. At that point you go from “I might die” to “holy crap that was awesome” in the blink of an eye and you won’t even know how it happened.

Plus, they normally include a beer as part of your race entry reward, and after 13 miles of “suck” that’s always nice!

4. They help you learn to embrace the “suck”

Life is not easy, and there’s a whole lot of “suck” to wade through in order to get to the good parts. What an OCR teaches you is to embrace and push through the suck, because you can see the good parts on the other side. Applying this idea to physical challenges is easy, because generally you can see the silver lining waiting for you once you overcome.

Taking this from the realm of the physical into the emotional and mental is what creates the most benefit from learning this lesson. People who can transfer a resilience to physical discomfort into the same level of resistance to the more ephemeral challenges in life will find they are happier and more successful in the long run.

5. They provide a community

Few people complete an obstacle race on their own, because the nature of the challenges are usually bigger than one person. The first time someone you don’t know steps up to help you over a wall made of logs, or pull you through a muddy pit after you get stuck, your feelings of belonging will sky-rocket. You’l get to the next obstacle and instead of being the “helped” you’ll be the one doing the helping. Obstacle races are one huge game of paying it forward time and time again. Kindness and community take you further than your quads and biceps ever will.

So, if you haven’t gotten out there and run in the mud with friends, it’s about time you get on it!