Get Fit the Fun Way: A Beginner’s Guide to Obstacle Course Racing


The sport of obstacle course racing has exploded in the last few years, with several new races popping up every year. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash are likely the ones you’ve heard the most about if you’re just getting into the sport.

In the Greater Toronto Area you can also try Mud Hero, Met Con Blue, Rugged Maniac, 5K Foam Fest, Prison Break, Badass Dash and Mudmoiselle.

If you’ve never tried a mud run or obstacle course race, I would suggest starting with a shorter distance race (5k) in your area and giving yourself a month or two of training before hand.

They’re even more fun when you participate with a group of friends!


How to Train

This will change depending on the race you choose, your current lifestyle and what your goals are for the race.

The most obvious would be to develop a cardio base before going into any of these races, but you absolutely can walk if you are not prepared to run. The more you can train off the treadmill and paved roads and mimic race day conditions, the better.

If you’re planning on tackling a Spartan Race, keep in mind that every failed obstacle means you must complete 30 burpees. You may want to embrace the suck and incorporate burpees into your training regardless of the race you choose. They’re a great full body workout!

Obstacle course races generally require a lot of functional upper body strength, so I would recommend mixing up traditional weights and machines with sandbags, rocks, weighted packs and buckets to also address your grip strength. Practice monkey bars and dead hangs.

Find a personal trainer in your area to work with if you’re not comfortable training on your own with proper form. Alternatively, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and more offer free training plans and workouts you can try.

Note: You should always check with a trusted healthcare professional before starting a new workout plan.


What to Wear

The most important tip I’ll give you here is to AVOID COTTON.
I repeat, do not wear cotton.
This is especially important if you’re doing an event with water or getting completely covered in mud. The cotton will weigh you down, and you’ll spend the rest of the race trying to hold your pants up.

Instead, opt for spandex or wicking fabrics. The less clothes you wear, the less you’ll get weighed down when you are wet and muddy. Make sure your bra, underwear and socks are also not made of cotton. I typically wear Under Armour capris and a singlet.

You will get dirty, so don’t wear anything white if you plan on keeping it white. Everything is washable, including your shoes but the lighter the colour is, the more likely it will turn a greyish colour after washing and remain that way.

I highly recommend wearing trail shoes instead of running shoes, as they will provide traction on the trails, in the mud and on slippery obstacles. You also want to make sure your shoes are light, because they will get heavy when they get full of water and mud. If they drain, it’s even better! Never race in brand new shoes.


Race Day Nutrition

For a 5K you likely don’t need special nutrition strategies, unless you’ll be on the course for an hour or more. It’s never a bad idea to pack an energy gel or gummies in your pocket or hydration pack just in case.

Always come into a race well hydrated, making sure you are drinking plenty of water a day or two before the race. Most races will provide a water station on course. I usually don’t carry hydration unless a race is over 10K or it’s going to be a very hot day.

Running an obstacle course race is a lot different than your average 5K, 10k or half marathon. While a 5K road run may take you under 30 minutes, the same distance at an obstacle course race might take you an hour or more depending on the terrain and obstacles. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just be prepared.


Extra Info

Here is a list of gear I like to bring with me on race day. Most races offer bag check for $2-$5 or you can choose to leave your bag in your vehicle.

  • Plastic garbage bags to cover car seats (you will be muddy) and to put all your dirty clothes in afterwards
  • A large beach towel to dry yourself off after you shower (and to hide behind while you change)
  • Full change of clothes that are easy to get into
  • Flip flops
  • More water to rehydrate post-race
  • Post race snacks
  • Cash to pay for parking, pay for bag check, buy food or race merchandise
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Extra hair elastics
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Melissa Boufounos, C.H.N.

Certified Holistic Nutritionist & OCR Athlete Coach at
Melissa Boufounos is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist who coaches OCR athletes to optimize their performance and improve their race times by making sure they are nourished on a cellular level.
Through her passion for health and wellness, Melissa became aware of the connection between the food we eat and its impact on our health, and in the case of athletes, the way they perform.
By providing nutritional counselling to athletes, Melissa shares knowledge and personal experience with her clients and works with them to find real solutions to their health concerns that are hindering their performance and appearance goals.
She has competed in over 30 races, including the 2016 OCR World Championships, a top 15 finish in her age group at Battlefrog Toronto in 2016, a top 10 finish for females in the elite heat at Prison Break Toronto in 2015, a top 5 finish in her age group at the Spartan Sprint Ottawa in 2014 and a top 20 finish in her age group at the Spartan Beast Ottawa in 2014. She has also completed two Spartan Trifectas (2014, 2015).
For more information on how to prepare for an obstacle course race, local training camps, or personalized nutrition strategies contact Melissa directly.
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