Yesterday I took part of my first obstacle race, the Toughest. It’s an 8km race through a very varied terrain – hills, mud, streams, a river – and 40 obstacles along the way.
Most obstacles were either crawling, climbing over walls or beams and hanging/upper body strength stuff of some sort – monkey bars, rings, peg board, rope climb, rock climbing type of holds on a slippery wall.
There was a 5 storey slide into a lake, the one obstacle I was truly nervous / truly excited about. Sadly this obstacle along with one rope climb one was not in use as someone had broken them in the night before. What kind of a person would do something like that is beyond me.
When my little group got to the slide and were told it was not in use, all my excitement and adrenalin kind of left the building. We continued to run uphill though and the beautiful views soon enough made me enjoy the race again. I really regretted not having taken my GoPro.
Once we got to the last obstacle right before the finish line, there was a very large crowd there, all trying and trying and trying again and then again to run up a massive wall. There was not enough room to run and not enough people at the top reaching out and catching people so after waiting around for a go for a long time, we decided to skip it, do the penalty run with a tyre and then walked across the finish line. Very anticlimactic. There wasn’t even a photographer at the finish line. But thank the lawd, we were done!
Here’s what I learned about obstacle races:
- Wear the right kit
Fitting wicking leggings/long sleeve fitted shirt, quick drying socks (my Innov8 merino socks were great), trail shoes. Lots of men were wearing shorts but your legs would get very scratched up.
- Gloves are not necessary
Lots of people were dropping them, they just don’t help your grip. Also – they stay wet & muddy longer than bare hands so they make the obstacles slippery for those who follow.
- Crawl on all fours
There’s probably lots of crawling, don’t do it sliding on your stomach. Keeping your upper body dry for as long as possible will mean that you start freezing later rather than sooner. Plus it’s also faster to go on all fours.
- Don’t jump into the middle of shallow (anything up to knee deep) ‘swamps’
The sides are a lot less deep & muddy, there’s no need to jump into the deepest bit in the middle.
- Don’t rush the obstacles
They will be slippery, don’t rush it or you’ll end up doing penalty runs. Rings and monkey bars, etc. are all doable if you take your time and don’t faff around and try to look like a leaping monkey (men: I’m mostly looking at you).
- Wear your GoPro it on your head, not chest
On your head it has a chance of staying clean (unless some egomaniac jumps into a muddy pond next to you and splashes you). If your GoPro is muddy, you will not be able to clean it as you won’t have a dry piece of clothing to do with with.
- Don’t bother putting the race number on
With all the crawling and climbing over things, it’ll come off very quickly and just be litter. Write your number on your forehead/arm/neck, the marker washes off afterwards.
- Help each other out!
Some of the beams and bars to get over are very high for women, push and pull others when needed. Just don’t push and pull men unless they ask (it looked like male egos don’t deal well with receiving assistance).
- Waist deep freezing water is ok
It really is, as soon as you get out you won’t feel cold as long as you keep moving. I didn’t think that was possible but it is possible.
- Neck deep freezing water is not ok BUT YOU WILL NOT DIE
Once you’re wet all the way, you will feel it for the rest of the race so it’s even more important than before to keep moving (if you’re waiting for team members to catch up, just run back and forth or jump around). Note that if you’re on the shorter side, you might have to swim in rivers, I’m 168cm and the river we went through yesterday came up to my neck.
- Bottoms of streams and rivers are soft and creepy but not sticky
Turn your toes up slightly as you step and you should not loose a shoe. Short, small steps are safer/more efficient than large deep steps.
- Have someone at the finish line to give you something to wrap around you asap
Even an old towel will do. Don’t make the mistake we made – we didn’t run in the same group as the person who had the keys to the car our stuff was in. Waiting for her to finish for 40 minutes in wet clothes was the worst part of the experience. Thankfully someone gave me a blanket – saved me from hypothermia for sure. If you can, buy a dryrobe. I definitely will IF I ever do one of these again.
- You will feel tired afterwards
From a short obstacle race you may or may not have DOMs but you will definitely be tired. It took my group of 5 women 2:33 to finish the 8km course. There was quite a bit of walking and waiting for others to catch up but it’s still 2 and a half hours of being out in the elements and on your feet. Be prepared to just eat and be horizontal for the rest of the day, the fatigue is something you can’t ignore i.e. don’t make any plans to go out in the evening :D
So what’s my verdict? Am I hooked?
Short answer – I’m not hooked. I loved the obstacles and doing it with a team but I find the mud and the freezing water so unnecessary. It doesn’t really have much to do with fitness. I would have LOVED this race if it had been just running in the same setting + all the dry obstacles.
As for Toughest in particular – every major obstacle should have had a photographer, there should have been a goody bag at the end, there should have been blankets at the end. Other than that it was ok for something as crazy as this. Other than that one marshal at the first tyre carrying obstacle, she was rude and constantly yelling stuff like “Get the fuck moving!” was not encouraging. The British Military Fitness guys at most obstacles were much nicer.
This new decade of mine has already started with a new experience. I wonder what’s next? ;)