5 Tips To Help You Conquer Your First Obstacle Course Race

September 26, 2013

Obstacle course racing has become a national phenomena. There are now tons of obstacle course races, mud runs, fun runs and other forms of races where you have to jump over fire pits, climb over walls and crawl through mud.

Sounds like fun, eh?

They are designed for a certain type of person… someone who is not afraid to push themselves and get a little dirty.

After doing my first obstacle course race, the Warrior Dash, this weekend I realized that things could have gone a little smoother and more enjoyable.

So if you are preparing for your first obstacle course race than learn from my mistakes and you’ll be sure to conquer the race with style and enjoyment.

So here they are…

5 Tips To Help You Conquer Your First Obstacle Course Race

1. Do A Lot Of Cardio Training Weeks or Months Before The Event

The Warrior Dash that I did was a little over 3 miles which is normally not something I would even have to blink an eye at. However, after running through water & sand and doing all the other obstacles it makes the running portion a lot more challenging.

I occasionally do sprint training at the local track but haven’t run distance since my last 5/3 River Bank Run last summer. Doh!

What would lead me to believe that I would be fine for this one? Ego. I thought to myself, “I’m the Adrenaline Man! 3 miles will be a piece of cake!”

Don’t make my mistake. If you want to do well for something you must train specifically for the event. Yes, cross training does carry over into other activities but not as much as you might think.

Do specific cardio workouts before the race and pay attention to these other 10 obstacle course training tips.

2. Don’t Open Your Eyes In The Mud Pit

So this is a big no-no. At the end of the Warrior Dash they have a mud pit with barbwire right over it. You can see me in the mud pit here. This last barbwire was higher above the mud so you could simply crawl but the others were just over it so it forced you to dive in the mud (if you wanted to maintain speed). As the title alludes I got a ton of mud in my eyes. Normally you would think, “Ah, who cares. Just flush it out. You’ll be fine.”

Well, 30 minutes after finishing the race my eyes started burning like crazy. I could barely see where I was walking as we made our way back to the car.

After getting home and flushing them out with lots of water they still were throbbing. I think they ended up getting infected because for all of Saturday there was white and yellow ooze coming out of both eyes and they were very bloodshot and inflamed.

Lesson learned: Warrior Dash mud pits have 1,000s of people that go through them. Don’t expose the mud to sensitive areas like your eyes. Your eyes will thank you for it.

3. Push Yourself During The Race

I was signed up to start at 11:30am. Emma woke up around 8:30am and we could tell that something was wrong. We took her temperature and it was 102.7! Yikes! This has been the first time that Emma has been sick and we didn’t quite know what to do.

We called our holistic doctor and he told us to give her Belladonna until the fever subsides. At the time I didn’t know what Belladonna was but this is where trust comes in. Our doctor has been right over and over again and is one of the most knowledgable natural doctors I have ever met. We followed his advice and the temperature dropped quickly. We gave Emma a bath and she was even laughing! She was feeling a lot better.

Score another point for Dr. denBoer! Only afterward did I research the plant and found quite a bit of negative review on it. Next time I see denBoer I’ll have to ask him about it.

What’s my point?

My point is that I didn’t start with my normal heat at 11:30am. We wanted to make sure Emma was doing well and decided to wait until a much later heat. So I ended up starting the race at the back of the pack.

Most everyone that was in front of me weren’t in very good shape so I couldn’t find someone to pace with. I had to simply push myself. Of course, pushing yourself isn’t a bad thing. No matter where you start you should be pushing yourself and not falling in line with people around you if they are too slow.

But this DOES lead me to my next tip…

4. Start Off In The Front Of The Pack

If you follow this site you are probably not a newbie to exercise. You may be looking for advanced tips to build muscle or perform better in whatever sport you play.

When you decide to run your first obstacle course race start off in the front. Seriously.

Since Emma was sick we ended up going at a much later time. So I had to jump into a random heat and I ended up starting at the very back. They typically break it down into two waves: faster and slower people.

I was in the wave with the slower people and it was a bit frustrating.

If you are a fast runner than get to the starting line early so you can bypass the slower folks. If you are a bit slower than start off in the back because you’ll have lots of people to run with and the energy of the other people will help you perform better.

5. Bring Someone To Support You

Probably the most enjoyable part of running in an obstacle course race is the fact that you have people cheering you on. Its not easy diving through mud pits and crawling under heavy cargo nets.

When you can look out into the crowd and see your loved ones rooting you on it gives you an additional sense of pride and energy.

Tell your family to come watch you in the race.

I also highly recommend to get friends to run with you in the race.

I didn’t work very hard to get a group to do the Warrior Dash and I regret it. On the one hand I could run as fast as I wanted but on the other hand running with a group or another person would have added to the enjoyment of it.


Don’t put off your first obstacle course race. I almost didn’t do this one because Emma was sick but as a family we decided to push on and we had a blast.

I’m looking to tackle a Tough Mudder the next time they are in Michigan and I’ll definitely train more for that.


Show/Hide Comments (12 comments)
  1. Zachary R. Coppess

    Hi, Todd. We live in Lewiston, Idaho, and I would absolutely love to participate in something like this. Do you know if there is anything like this nearby? I will be start doing some research, but if you know anything off the top of your head around California, Washington or Idaho, I would greatly appreciate it. I would like to know age requirement, cost (for individual/team if they have them), schedules, team shirts/equipment (do they do that?), can you participate to raise money, and what kind of events are these, really? I see there is running, mud crawls, rope climbs, and probably more obstacles like tires, right? I have never participated in such a thing, but I would absolutely die to try it and get started. CrossFit seems like something that could really do a competitor well in this, but whether this is for endurance building, more so to be fun (though challenging) or what, I would love to receive some feedback on if there are any of these around (Lewiston,) Idaho. All we get are “Snake River Run”s, mini tri-athlons, swim competitions, etc. One more thing, have you heard of the adventure/endurance race, “Raid deGalouise” (spell check)? If you have read, “Inside SEAL Team 6” by Don Mann, he talks about it. It’s like the ultimate race, “like 10 Iron Mans in succession,” I believe he put it. Anyways, I truly would appreciate the feedback. Have fun with your future events!

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Zachary,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I’m sure there are things nearby. I would search for Warrior Dash or “Mud Run” in your area. I live in Michigan so no idea on specifics but a google search will bring back a ton of things. Here’s a good article to get some ideas of what to search for: https://ashotofadrenaline.net/10-obstacle-course-races-you-have-to-see-to-believe/.

      I’ll have to look up that race. I have heard of the Epic 5 but have never heard of one where there are 10 races!! Wow!


  2. tim_lebsack

    I’ve dealt with mud many times but not in an obstacle race. Is it permitted to wear goggles??

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Oh yeah. Warrior Dash is more of a “fun run” so people were dressed up in costumes and other weird outfits. Goggles would have been totally fine.

  3. Cecilia

    Hi Todd

    Thanks for your article and those are useful tips. I just recently finished one in France that was a 13.5 km obstacle race in the Alps. I trained for about a year . I finished it in 4 hours- however my legs were wasted because I certainly did not run enough! in fact, before this race, I’ve never even run 5k.

    What helped me were bodyweight exercices like you’ve demonstrated on this site.

    • Todd Kuslikis

      That’s cool Cecillia. Yes, bodyweight exercises are very effective for prep. I’m sure the race through the Alps was a beast with all the terrain changes in high altitude. Nicely done!

  4. Mike

    You are spot on about the cardio. I did the Warrior Dash and had no problems with the obstacles but the running kicked my butt. I had to walk a lot more than I wanted to.

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Yep, that was my problem too. I didn’t end up walking but wanted to several times. Definitely was a mental game.

  5. Bethany Lee

    PS–I also had white goo coming out of my eyes afterwards. It cleared up after a day, but it scared me a little. Didn’t want to go blind. 🙂

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Yeah, its probably some type of bacteria that infects the eye. If you think about it you have thousands of people that are really sweaty enter into a bunch of mud that is baking under the hot sun. Its funny, when we were driving in I commented to Allison that I was surprised to see people’s upper torso totally clean. Now I know why they proceeded slowly through the mud.

  6. Bethany Lee

    Todd–love the post. I too did my first mud obstacle course this year. I chose to do the Tough Mudder–it was a 10.5 muddy muddy mess! And tons of fun! I had another blogger friend that I did this with and we met for the first time at the event. We had a great time. Fortunatly, both of us trained for it so we were ready. I can’t imagine ever doing one of these without training, so you must be rock solid fit! Anyway, glad your daughter is better and I love the picture of your wife and baby there to cheer you on. 🙂

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks so much Bethany! Yes, Emma is doing well and I’m so glad I did it. Tough Mudder is very impressive. That’s definitely one I want to conquer at some point soon. 🙂

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