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How to Survive an Obstacle Course: 8 Tips from a Former Newbie

BY: Andy Seifert | Apr 30, 2018

If you've never tried running an obstacle-course event (think Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, or Warrior Dash), then the whole ordeal might look overwhelming: What if you don't finish? What if you come in last place? What if you throw up all over the course? A prospective amateur might have too many butterflies to even try.

That's about where Eddy Pawula was a few years ago. Once a newbie at obstacle courses, Pawula has since participated in several endurance courses throughout Chicagoland and southern Wisconsin, and he plans on competing in two more this summer. To help mud-race recruits hit the ground running, we talked to Eddy and asked for obstacle course tips (both physically and mentally) for completing the race.

1. Don't Be Intimidated

This is Eddy's number-one piece of advice. For him, the mental obstacles are more likely to keep you from finishing (or even starting in the first pace) than any physical barrier.

"You're going to go there, and if you're anything like me, you're going to see a bunch of guys that are huge and ripped and gigantic," Eddy says. "And you're thinking, 'aw man, they could do this with their hands tied behind their back.' And some of them probably can, but that doesn't mean you have to be up at that level. If you're just starting out at that point, it should be something you're doing for fun."

2. Go In With Other People

One strategy to help you deal with the jitters is to recruit other people to join you.

"I think it would be a lot easier with other people," Eddy says. "Just because you'll then have people to support you when it gets tough, to give you some motivation. Alot of times, between the obstacles, it might be 5 or 10 minutes before you see anything. ... So if you've got someone there to keep you motivated, that's a good thing. "

Motivation is one thing. But there are also practical reasons why having a teammate is beneficial.

"For some of the obstacles, it also helps to have someone physically there to give you a hand," Eddy asays. "Some of the obstacles you have to swing your leg over the top of the wall or something, it's easier to have someone there to help you out."

3. Don't Get Too Competitive...at Least at First

While you can usually ask race organizers to track your time, Eddy recommends skipping this for your first go. A good goal for first-timers is just be to enter the race and finish it.

"If you're someone who's really in shape, go for it," Eddy says. "But if you're someone who's not in the best shape, just going to have fun, then you're probably just setting yourself up for disappointment if you do that, especially if you're not used to some of the obstacles, or what to expect."

4. Prep With Cardio Training

So you've decided to do this. How do you prepare for its physical rigors?

"I would say the biggest thing is to get into a good cardio routine," Eddy says. "Do a couple of jogs here and there, something so that you won't be out of breath after 5 minutes."

And be sure to at least practice running the full distance of the course. "As far as I know, the shortest one they do is 5k, which is over three miles," Eddy says.

5. Dress Comfortably (and Bring Gloves!)

Eddy recommends wearing something comfortable and not too tight, and to bring gloves to help grip the slippery obstacles. Not that these clothes will get dirty, even if you're not doing a Mud Run.

"Even the ones that aren't specifically Mud Runs, there's going to be certain obstacles where you're going through mud or around mud. Every single one that I've done, you're going to get dirty, so don't go buy a nice new pair of sneakers and wear those for the first time."

6. Don't Overeat...But Don't Not Eat

When the weekend of the obstacle course arrives, it's important to eat and drink correctly. Eddy recommends saving the pizza and beer until after the race.

"A good thing is to eat light the night before, so you're not going in with a full stomach," Eddy says. "What I do is, in the mornings...I'll make a protein shake and I'll mix a pre-workout powder with some water and I'll down those on the ride. By the time I get there, I have something in my stomach, so that when I get halfway through I'm not ready to pass out."

7. Pace Yourself

Once you're out there, you'll be tempted to start motoring through the first mile. Feeling aggressive is a good thing, but make your to save some of your energy for the last mile.

"Pacing yourself is a good thing," Eddy says. "You don't want to overdo it, you don't want to push too hard for the first mile so that you're completely dead for the next two. Don't go overboard."

8. Don't Plan Anything for the Next Day

The race is over. You've finished and you're enjoying a celebratory drink. We hope you don't have anything too serious planned for tomorrow.

"I don't think I've ever not been sore," Eddy says. "They take a lot out of you, at least for me. The number one thing I do is go home and take a nice, warm shower, and try to relax."


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