How You Can Train for Any Race, No Matter How Challenging

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A petty officer competes in a Tough Mudder event.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Wall, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., slides into a puddle of mud during the mud mile portion of the Tough Mudder event at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J, Nov. 20, 2010. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lindberg/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Most hardcore obstacle races share common denominators: mud; water; and obstacles you climb, crawl under, jump over, and run to and through. Most also throw in a few curveball obstacles as a surprise. These are usually terrain or race events that include sliding down hills, dealing with fire, rope climbs, swings and many more. 

But much of the fun is not to have a mapped-out course and list of obstacles, thus challenging your mind and body.  Here is a list of obstacle course races that are growing in popularity:

The Spartan Race

A race complete with miles of obstacles, mud, fire and more, along with a variety of distances for different levels of fitness. This race has taken off and has venues around the world.

Metro Dash

A short sprint-type race full of 15 obstacles and events. You only run 600 meters in this race, but you lift, pull, climb and push through so many events that you wish you could rest with a mile jog.

Tough Mudder

Designed by British Special Forces, this 10- to 12-mile run is mixed with many obstacles that will challenge any competitor.  

BRAVEHEART Challenge

This is a three- to four-mile course featuring 10-12 obstacles, along with fun, beer, mud and live music. Designed with the help of firefighters.

SEAL TOUGH Challenge

"The Baddest Challenge on Earth," this is a 10- to 15-mile course with 18-24 obstacles. It is designed by our team of Navy SEALs, SEAL Team ONE and SEAL Team TWO (extreme SEAL experience).

Run for Your Lives

This is a shorter 5K race, complete with obstacles and mud, but you run from the zombies chasing you.

There are many, many races that are out there and some likely very close to you. See the U.S. Race Calendar for more information about races in your area.

The training plan below is specific to the Civilian Military Combine,  but you can use this training program to build your abilities and strengthen your weaknesses for any race.

For this training program, a 7.5-mile race -- complete with obstacles every mile and a six-minute burnout PT in the PIT for a pre-race warmup --  will build a foundation of obstacle course fitness you can take to any race. The Pit consists of four exercises, and you have 1 minute, 30 seconds to do as many reps as you can at each station. There is a 30-second rest and rotation between each station.

The weight is not super heavy but it will allow for most levels of fitness to complete the 90-second set:

Exercise 1: Thruster (front squat into overhead press)

  • 75 pounds for men

  • 45 pounds (the bar) for women

  • (30-second rest)

Exercise 2: Kettlebell swing

  • 40 pounds for men

  • 20 pounds for women

  • (30-second rest)

Exercise 3: Burpee -- max reps for 90 seconds

(30 second rest)

Exercise 4: Box jump

20 inches universal height

(30 second rest)

These exercises are full body and highly anaerobic events. Train each exercise for 90-120 seconds to get used to the exercise for that time, but also adapt to the 30-second recovery period. Make sure in your workouts that you practice the 30-second rest period for optimal performance gains in the PIT.

Another option if you are not into lifting weights is to add the 8-Count Push-up/Pull-up Pyramid into your training routine once a week for a few months.

To train for any event, I highly recommend getting familiar with these four exercises in sequence and following this quick workout with a longer run of 6-7 miles to get a solid foundation of the distance required for this race. 

Yes, this race is on a ski slope so prepare by running hills. Mix these PIT workouts 2-3 times into your weekly workout with 3-4 runs per week totaling the six- to seven-mile distances (long, slow-distance run and interval speed work). 

If you do not currently run that distance, build up to 5-7 miles over the next several weeks. Perhaps adding a mile per week to your runs for 5-6 weeks will help you, depending on your current mileage. 

Here is a sample running plan. Arrange to fit your personal schedule and fitness level, as needed:

Wk

Monday Mile Intervals

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday Mile Interval

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

1

3 miles

2 miles

off

3 miles

off

2 miles

off

2

4 miles

3 miles

off

3 miles

off

2 miles

off

3

4 miles

4 miles

off

3 miles

off

2 miles

off

4

5 miles

off

off

5 miles

off

5 miles

off

5

6 miles

5 miles

off

off

off

5 miles

off

6

7 miles

6 miles

off

off

off

event

off

*Note: The above distances assume you already jog regularly in your workouts. If you are a beginner or currently do not run, see the optional beginner plan. Another training method to help with your speed is to mix in mile intervals with exercises that are from the PIT or that mimic the obstacles in the run. 

For instance,

Repeat 3-4 times.

  • Run one mile timed

  • Kettlebell swings for 90 seconds or box jumps

  • 30-second rest

  • Burpees (90 seconds) or thrusters

  • 30-second rest

  • Pull-ups max (mimic pulling obstacles)

Since there is an obstacle at every mile, doing more one-mile interval work during the week will enhance your times, but building a base of 5-7 miles per running session will help you with endurance. You then have one minute to the start line, where you funnel off into a 7½-mile steep mountain race.

Obstacle 1: Low crawl

75 feet wide x 150 feet long. 20 inches off the ground

Obstacle 2: Ladder walls

750 feet of ladder walls

10 feet tall, 75 feet between each wall, 10 rows

Obstacle 3: High low poles

40 poles spread eight feet apart

Every other pole is 42 inches tall and 20 inches tall.  Competitors must go over and under each pole for 40 poles.

Obstacle 4: Steep hill climb

Competitors must scale 300 yards of a pitch that will make them get on their hands and knees

Obstacles 5: Log carry

400-yard log carry with both decline and incline

Men 35 pounds

Women 15-20 pounds

Obstacle 6: 100-yard belly crawl going downhill

Obstacle 7: River run

1,100 feet long by 16 feet in width. Competitors must run through waist-high water for 1,100 feet to the finish line. Competitors will have to bob under wooden planks, making them submerge themselves in icy water

Here is a sample week of workouts to prepare for these events. You will have to get creative with simulating these obstacles, but it can be done with relative effort.

Monday

Repeat three times.

  • (90 seconds each)

  • Thrusters

  • Burpees

  • Box jumps

  • Kettlebell or dumbbell swings

  • (rest 30 seconds for each exercise)

  • Mile interval runs

Tuesday

Distance run -- mix in hills, stairs

Wednesday

Obstacle Course Simulation Pull-up/Burpee Pyramid

Mix in low crawls, jogs, log carries, hurdles, etc., during the 20-meter run between exercises.

Thursday

Mile interval runs

Rest with lunges (10/leg), 20 squats, 20 kettlebell swings and 20 burpees between each one-mile timed run.

Friday

Makeup day or day off

Optional non-impact aerobic activity like rowing, swimming, biking, etc.

Saturday

Distance run -- mix in hills and stairs

PIT workout

Test:

Sunday

Day off or makeup day

The week of training above is just one of many ways to pre-train for this event.  Creating a strategy for success in the Civilian Military Combine race requires you to practice the events, adapt to the recovery and exertion levels, pace your miles to your level of fitness and abilities, but most importantly - have fun doing it. Enjoy the workouts and preparation and good luck with the race!

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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