In October 2018 Veloforte were fuelling the 2018 Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Championships - 3 days of brutal, brilliant and filthy endurance, deep in the countryside (and Nuclear Bunkers!) of Kelvedon Hatch, Essex.
Obstacle course races, such as Tough Mudder, Mudstacle, OCR World Champs and Spartan have risen in popularity in recent years. For some they are a first introduction to competitive sport, an alternative to running a marathon or entering a cycling sportive, but for others this is a profession.
As the official nutrition partner to the OCR World Champs we know the level of strength and fitness needed just to participate, let alone compete, in this exhilarating sport and were seriously impressed with what we saw across all athletes that weekend!
What’s the appeal of OCR racing?
So, as the official nutrition brand of the OCR World Championship we decided that this winter we would give it a go for ourselves - who else wants to come along for the ride?
Here at Veloforte most of us run, cycle, swim and occasionally dabble in all three as triathletes but the idea of swinging over walls, belly sliding through mud pits and scrambling over obstacles with battered hands and sodden, muddy feet is a new one - it's seriously hard work, but a lot of fun too!
It is interesting to try and understand the psychology of a Spartan, an OCR competitor or a Tough Mudder-er. Why would you immerse yourself in ice, slide under burning tarpaulin, and skin your knees and hands trying to climb impossible walls? We think the answer lies in our generally safe, sanitised and comfortable office lives... Many of us don’t have a job or a lifestyle that challenges our ‘comfort zone’, not just physically but mentally.
Experiencing a little bit of hardship and overcoming it gives competitors a huge endorphin rush and makes them feel alive.
So, how long will we need to train for our first Tough Mudder?
We're a reasonably fit bunch of regular cyclists and runners - how long is it going to take to train for our first Tough Mudder, OCR or Spartan Race?
Well, that depends on where you're starting from...
No sport: Your experience of sport is mainly watching it on TV. Running for more than a bus is out of the question and you can do neither 20 push-ups nor one clean pull-up. Tough Mudder say if you are starting from nothing you need to “give it all you got and make no excuses, 3-4 workouts a week will get you to the necessary level within 16 weeks. You’ll start with workouts of 20-30 minutes and increase the time as your fitness level improves.”
Occasional exerciser: You run or cycle when you feel like it but don’t follow a regular plan. Running 3 miles would be hard but you could do it. You can do at least 20 push-ups and ideally at least one clean pull-up. Tough Mudder’s verdict on you is “You still have a long way ahead of you. Ideally, you have at least 12 weeks to prepare with 3-4 workouts per week.”
Regular exerciser: You keep yourself fit and have done tough events before as either a runner or cyclist. You could go out today and run 6-miles. You can do at least 40 push-ups and at least 5 pull-ups with good technique. The guys at Tough Mudder still think you have a long way to go though: “You haven’t reached competition form quite yet, but you have a solid basic fitness. Train 3 times a week for 8 weeks, and you’ll be well prepared.”
Looks like we have some work to do then!
The 4 best Tough Mudder training disciplines to try
Tough Mudder and OCR racing is a combination of strength and endurance; if you come from a gym and free-weights background you may well have the strength and power, but not the aerobic fitness.
Cyclists and runners have great endurance and strong legs but pretty weedy, tyrannosaurus-rex-like upper bodies. At first attempt none of us could do much more than one clean pull up!
That’s probably one of the attractions of this type of racing, it gives a whole-body workout that few other sports do.
Here’s the new fitness mix that we are looking into.
1. High-intensity interval training - HIIT
We’ve been doing HIIT training in various forms to improve our fitness for running and cycling, as it’s a great way of developing top end aerobic fitness in a short time frame.
However, it’s even more important in obstacle racing as HIIT simulates exactly the kind of needs of the race - obstacle, run, obstacle, run, obstacle.
This means we have to learn to sprint hard between obstacles and then use our power and strength to overcome them before sprinting again. There is little opportunity for recovery so HIIT training will help to develop that ability to lactate buffer and keep going.
2. Core body training
For anyone coming from endurance sport this is the real toughy - upper body and core strength just isn’t in our programme normally. OCR, Spartan and Tough Mudder courses can see you have to swing your whole body weight with one arm or haul yourself over an obstacle with just your core and upper body strength. Time to hit the gym.
3. Hill sprints
We’re back on familiar ground here, running up short, steep hills is a regular part of our running training but if you come from a gym background it could be completely new to you.
Lean into the hill slightly and while you need to run hard at the bottom try to save a little bit of energy to attack the top as that is where you will make up most places.
4. Flexibility exercises
When it comes to some of the trickier obstacles it’s not just strength you need, but flexibility, to twist your body through some interesting ranges of movement in order to pull yourself up, over or through the challenge.
We think yoga and pilates is probably the best way forward for this. As it is something that will benefit our overall fitness and physique this is something we should be doing anyway.
Tip: Have a plan of how to combine all of these elements into your regular training. As there are so many different aspects it might be beneficial to work on a two-week training plan instead of seven days.
Remember to keep challenging your body with variety and most importantly don’t forget to rest! Look our for our Obstacle Racing /Tough Mudder training plan to learn more! - Coming Soon
Fuelling your training
Regular Spartan racer Dan Fernandes described his training and nutrition to us, “it’s not all about running, one must mix and match between hill repeats, sprint training, fartlek running, interval training, circuit training, climbing (bouldering and lead climbing) and to top it all having a good nutrition and recovery supplement.”
Making sure your body has enough energy to train and recover is super important, without fuel you will not be able to complete the high intensity sessions that Obstacle Course Racing and Tough Mudder demand.
Eating for recovery is just as important so your body has the building blocks it needs to get fitter and stronger.
With split-session days and high-intensity back to back training we know our appetites go through the roof, so it is really important to have healthy fuel to hand for when hunger pangs arrive. Turn out any of our desk drawers and kit bags and you will find a range of Veloforte bars, especially our protein bar, Forza - these are really delicious and nutritious ways to manage your appetite and fuel your next session.
Eat for lean muscle strength
Being lean and lightweight is critical to help you move your body easily through the many challenges of these races - every ounce of fat slows you down. However, weight loss should never be achieved at the risk of damaging your training or strength so it is a hard line to balance.
At Veloforte we very much believe in real, wholesome delicious food in its natural state. This gives your body what it needs whilst also stimulating your taste buds - eating well shouldn’t feel like a chore - that is why we prefer to fuel our training with our energy bars rather than gloopy synthetic gels and the same ethos carries over to all our meals.
By eating food in its natural state, with as little processing as possible except for home cooking, you are able to avoid a lot of added fats and sugars making it easier to control your weight.
A balanced, healthy diet for training for Obstacle Course Racing, Spartan, Mudstacle or Tough Mudder events will have the best and healthiest choices from the food groups below - we suggest some of our favourites:
- Sweet potato
- Dried fruit especially apricots and dates
- Veloforte bars and bites
- Grilled chicken
- Grilled salmon
- Fat-free Greek yogurt
- Nuts, especially almonds and brazil nuts
- Veloforte Forza protein bar
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Nut butters
All our bars contain something from each of these lists which makes them a well-rounded, healthy and tasty choice at any time, but especially as fuel before, during and after training.
By eating whole food bars, instead of highly processed bars, we are also ensuring our gut (and gut health/ microbiome) is getting the quality of ingredients and fibre it needs to process food properly and help us to stay healthy.
Bars combining fibre, protein and fat also give a longer feeling of fullness - helpful if you are trying to manage your appetite and weight.
Hydration is something we need to be aware of all the time, not just when we train, so make sure you have a bottle of water on your desk and in your hand most of the day.
Dehydration can easily be confused with tiredness or fatigue so staying on top of your drinking during your working day makes it much more likely that you will have a productive training session in the evening.
This crazy brand of racing requires you to be seriously tough mentally and physically and you can’t just switch that on when it’s race day.
Train yourself to handle discomfort by never skipping a wet or cold session - run through puddles whenever you see them and deliberately pick the hardest, steepest part of the hill (are we sounding crazy yet?). Get used to cold showers and wading through waist-deep icy water in your training time so it is not a shock on race day.
Learn to love the suffering and you won’t dread any part of the races, as Dan Fernandes told us “I like all training but sometimes the hard part is waking up at 5am.”
It isn’t going to be easy, but the buzz of finishing one of these super tough events is worth it!