Over the past several years, the popularity of adventure races – like Tough Mudder, Urbanatholon, Spartan, etc. – has soared. Once restricted to a few diehard fans and organizations, these extreme races test all manner of athletic ability with man-made and natural obstacles designed to challenge the body and mind. But as these races have grown in popularity, so has the complexity of the obstacles they feature. This is both an exciting and worrisome prospect for any athlete planning on competing in one of these races. After all, the risk for injury is high and these races have come under fire for safety issues, including the accidental deaths of racers.
Every athlete wants a challenge, but it’s important not to expose yourself to unnecessary injury. When it comes to the obstacles in adventure races, as with other athletic endeavors, the proper training can help you stave off many common types of injuries (although they won’t save you from the wall of fire). If you are planning to run an adventure race and want to stay healthy, here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare.
- Work your whole body. Adventure races require more than the ability to run long distances. Most obstacles challenge you with some combination of strength, balance, and agility tests. You will need to be conditioned well enough to run distance, but also strong enough to lift and control your body weight (and possibility the weight of your teammates). For that reason, your exercise routine should include cardio and strength training.
- Get used to awkward movements. Although these types of movements frequently cause sports injuries – like sprains and ligament tears – training for the odd movements of an adventure race requires that you prepare to make such movements. The best way to do this is with slow, controlled movements during training. For instance, practicing lunges on a somewhat narrow edge can help you train for the balancing beams that so many races set up. If you do your lunges in a slow, controlled manner, you’ll have the strength needed to cross the balance beams at higher speeds, even if you have to stop suddenly.
- Vary your training speed. This includes running intervals (alternately fast for a few minutes, then slower for a longer period of time) and practicing more explosive movements that require you to accelerate quickly and then stop. Simply running long distances will not adequately prepare your muscles for the rigors of an adventure race.
Even with all the right training techniques, it’s still easy to get injured on one of these obstacle courses. Always remember to be mindful of what you’re doing and look out for dangers on the course. After all, there’s a reason these races require a legal release form before they let you participate.