When many hear about obstacle course racing and mud runs, one of the first concerns is usually the likelihood of injury. They hear about the fire jumps, tall walls, mud pits and electrified wires and get concerned with the unknown. As with any sport, injuries happen. However, the occurrence of injury is low at events and there are several ways to help decrease your risk on race day and in training.
BEFORE THE RACE
The first way to decrease your chances of injury on race day is to prepare for your race ahead of time. OCRs and mud runs both involve lifting, carrying, jumping, climbing, crawling and running. If you are a beginner in your fitness journey, the best thing to do is body weight exercises to strengthen your muscles: push-ups, burpees, lunges, pull-ups, squats, box jumps and step-ups are all great exercises to help you begin to use your body in different ways. Even the advanced runner will want to incorporate these exercises into their workout routines as OCR’s and mud runs require you to constantly change pace, cut different directions and use explosive power. A comfortable running pace rarely occurs for long period of times in races.
For the more advanced racer, an often-overlooked part of race preparation is weight training. Specifically, heavy weight training mixed into a high intensity workout. CrossFit is currently the most popular models of high intensity weight training, and it is a great compliment in your training for OCR and mud runs.
All levels can practice lifting and carrying. Almost every race or run includes a carry of some kind—usually a piece of wood or a sandbag. This is one of the easiest obstacles to practice, as you can buy or make your own sandbag. While practicing, be sure to pick up objects using the power in your legs and not your back. Take an object for a walk or repeatedly pick it up over and over. Once a week practicing this skill will greatly increase your strength race day.
Race day morning you can greatly decrease your chances of injury with a good warm-up before the race begins. Whether it is a jog or walk and dynamic stretch, a good warm-up will get your muscles ready to jump into action as the race begins. As well if you have a weak ankle or knee, tape it before you get to the race. Sprained ankles are the most common injury among participants. For those who know they have weak ankles, a preventative wrap can be the difference between a great race and a visit to the medical tent.
Know your limitations. OCRs and mud runs are all about pushing your boundaries, but at the same time, you need to know your limits. It is perfectly acceptable in most events to get help from other participants. If you need assistance getting over a wall, it’s okay to get help. In some events such as Tough Mudder, there are electrified wires that participants run through—know your limits. If you have heart issues or other medical limitations, skip the obstacle. (If you are racing in an elite heat or for a cash prize, skipping an obstacle is not acceptable). In the case of water pits and muddy trenches, do not jump right into them. Unless you know the depth of water, don’t jump in.
Finally, if you see an obstacle and are concerned about whether it is safe, bypass it. The majority of event organizers work extremely hard to ensure obstacle safety, including employing structural engineers to design and build the structures. However, a few of the very small local races do not have the same budgets to hire these professionals. So when in doubt, use your best judgment and do what’s best for you and not what everyone around you is pushing you to do.
AFTER THE RACE
After the race, don’t rush back into training or doing another race too quickly. Our bodies need rest to recover from races. For a few days after the race, just do light workouts, such as a spin on a bike, an easy jog or rowing. Many people are too eager to jump back into training and do not give their bodies the proper rest to recover and regenerate. The secret to an injury-free racing season is truly all the work you do before the race and the rest you take afterwards.
With a little bit of preparation and planning, your race experience and season can be a successful injury-free experience. I’m in my forth year of racing, and I have never suffered an injury other than an ankle sprain while racing and a minor IT Band issue in training. Not bad for having completed over 40 obstacle course races, mud runs, trail races and ultra marathons. It’s all about the preparation and the recovery.
That’s the dirt for this week! Next week, I’ll share a high-intensity workout that you can incorporate into your training routine.