Fitness Event Training (Obstacle Course Racing)
I’m often asked how to make a training plan for obstacle course races and various outdoor fitness events.
‘I signed up for a tough mudder… I’m doing a 3 hour cross country cycle with work… I’m doing a charity hike… it’s the company summer sports day… what is the best way to train for it?’
Usually the people asking me about these events can be placed into one of two categories regarding their goal for the event they’ve signed up for:
Category 1 — General Health and Fitness Goal
I want to avoid dying, either literally or of embarrassment at my fitness levels.
I'm using the fitness event as motivation to improve my general health and fitness.
Category 2 — Competitive Goal
I want to do really well because:
I did the same event last year and want to improve my time.
I want to beat arrogant Angus from floor 5.
I’m trying to impress a work colleague.
I’m going for a promotion and I know my boss values champions of charity events.
My ex-boy/girlfriend will be there, winning the egg and spoon race will show them.
My boss said I lack focus, winning the egg and spoon race will show them.
I need a legitimately impressive chat up line, the egg and spoon medal will work a treat.
I said at my interview I ran a sub 2 hour marathon, my bluff has been called.
I don’t believe in fun, I believe in competition.
Training for fitness events is best kept simple. Assess the demands of your event (what are you going to have to do on the day), determine the physical qualities you need to work on and then work on them.
You can do this by asking yourself three questions:
1. What Movement Patterns and/or Skills are Involved?
Are you going to be running, jumping, throwing, climbing, kicking, balancing, scratching, speeding up, slowing down, changing direction, pulling, pushing?
This will influence the content of your training sessions.
For example, if you’re training to swim the channel, using only cycling to train probably isn’t the most effective approach.
Similarly, if your event involves a long period of one activity, say running, interspersed with a highly skilled activity, say archery, then it's smart to have your training reflect this.
Also, be aware that technical movements and skills become more difficult under fatigue and stress. Factoring this into training is smart.
It's one thing to have technical mastery of the egg and spoon within the confines and safety of your kitchen, but can you replicate that mastery in the heat of battle when under the physical and mental demands of the Panthera Performance annual staff race?
2. What Intensity Will You Have to Work at and for How Long?
This will determine the energy systems you’ll need to train. Basically, assess how long your chosen event will last and whether it involves moving quickly, slowly, somewhere between or a combination of speeds. This will then determine the general durations and intensities of your training sessions.
For example, if you are training for a marathon you’ll need to do lower intensity and long distance running sessions as the event will take hours.
If you are training for a 100m egg and spoon dash, the intensity will be much higher, the stakes much greater and the duration much shorter. You will also have to factor in training for the technical element (steady hand).
3. How Much Time can I Dedicate to Training? This will help determine the structure of your weekly training. The more time you have to dedicate to training, the more holistic an approach you can take. If you're short on time, focus on the main task at hand.
For example, if you’re training for a 20km cycling race and can dedicate five sessions a week to your training, you can afford to include one or two non-cycling sessions. If you’ve only got time for two training sessions a week, then these sessions are best spent on the bike.
What About 'Cross Training', is that Effective?
Can swimming help a runner with general cardiovascular endurance and recovery? Yes, absolutely, it can also help with injury prevention, provide variety and help avoid overuse of the same muscles. BUT, the main focus of your event should be the main focus of your training.
Disciplines other than the main one involved in the event can augment your training but the majority of training for a swimming event should revolve around the swimming pool, just as the majority of training for a sprinting event should centre around an athletics track.
Side Note: If you're using a fitness event as a way to motivate yourself to improve your general health and fitness then cross training is an excellent idea. Stimulating your body through different types of training (running, swimming, cycling, rowing, weightlifting) and improving multiple physical qualities (strength, speed, endurance, mobility) is only a good thing. For those seeking to improve on a time or win the Panthera Performance annual staff race, a slightly more targeted approach is required.
My Priorities Are
Once you know what your event involves you can assess:
Where you are in comparison with where you’d like to be
What you need to work on
How much time to dedicate to each aspect of your training.
For example, if you’re doing a triathlon and you already do lots of running but no swimming, you should probably focus more of your training on improving your swimming.
Similarly, if an event involves a combination of endurance and strength, you might determine that your endurance is good but you need to work more on your strength.
Put it All Together
You’ll now have a note of what the event involves, how many sessions per week you can train and what you need to prioritise. All you have to do now is fill in the blanks...
Event Involves: Cartwheeling for 2 minutes, running for 20 minutes and climbing for an hour.
Time Available: Three sessions per week
Current State and Priorities: Cartwheeling: excellent. Running: ok. Climbing: not good.
Monday: Climbing session 1
Wednesday: Running session
Friday: Climbing session 2
Weekend: Occasional cartwheel to keep the wheels ticking over.
Often the plan on day 1 has to be adapted on day 2. This is absolutely fine.
You might take to climbing like an egg to a spoon, or you might need to dedicate a third session to it for a few weeks. Plans are always adaptable and can be changed week on week.
Don't stress about this, use your intuition and have fun with it!
There are so many different ways to train for the same event. Plan your training by focussing on what duration, intensities and skills the event involves, how much time you have to train and what you need to work on most. Keep it as simple as possible and enjoy it. Good luck for the event!
Please share the article with fellow egg and spooner fitness eventers. Thanks!
The Ultimate Fitness Race
For those wondering, the Panthera Performance annual staff race is the ultimate test of endurance, strength, speed and skill. A 1500m run followed by 30 basketball free throws, one caber toss and a 100m egg and spoon dash. For every free throw scored, a second is taken off the final time. The four tasks are completed one after the other, as fast as possible, on Christmas morning. Fastest time wins.