Ross Macdonald is one of the UK’s top obstacle course racers. He has been a podium regular at the biggest OCR events within his home country and has gone into battle with the international elite at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships. A super-skilled triathlete, Ross transfers these strengths into getting over/under/through/past obstacles as quickly as possible. He’s also worked extremely hard on improving his OCR-specific skill set to ensure he remains at the forefront of events.
Ross reveals his top-10 obstacle course racing tips for everyone from beginners to regulars:
1. Run up, run down, run slow, run fast
As part of your weekly training try and incorporate at least one long, slow run, one shorter tempo run and one hill interval session. Hill intervals/repetitions can be completed anywhere and will give you that extra stamina, leg strength and speed needed to carry you to the finish on event-day. These short repetitions should be run faster than race-pace and repeated a dozen times. They should be done in addition to your other runs, taking up a maximum 30% of your weekly run volume. Try to get off-road for as much of your running as possible. Add in some off-road downhill interval sessions for extra confidence come event-day.
2. Try outdoor circuit training
Mimic your event-day experience as best you can by attending outdoor circuit training. During these sessions you will do bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, planks, sit-ups, burpees and squats, thus working the same muscle groups as you will on event-day. These are all fantastic exercises to incorporate into your training. One further tip: Work hard when running between the different exercises and try to get up your normal running speed as quickly as possible. Your legs will hate it and feel like jelly, but it’s worth it!
3. Technique matters – so work on it
New, innovative obstacles are introduced at almost every event, but there are also many common obstacles which appear time and time again, and which you can master the technique for. These include high walls, monkey bars, net climbs and crawls. Very often technique is as important, if not more important, than strength. There are plenty of online videos, specialist training centres and elite athletes who will help you learn how to negotiate obstacles effectively and efficiently. This will save you time and energy on event-day, as well as reducing the risk of injury.
4. Wear the right shoes and Get A Grip
Ditch the road running shoes. You need underfoot grip – and lots of it. If you don’t have a decent pair of off-road running shoes then make the investment… it’s well worth it. It’s no fun slipping and sliding around on the mud, unable to make progress through trenches and watching others swiftly move past you. Purchase a comfortable pair of grippy off-road running shoes and get training in them. I’d recommend the X-TALON 212 shoes.
5. If the sun’s not out, don’t get the guns out
It may seem common sense to wear the appropriate clothing for the weather conditions, but this is a regular mistake. If you’re going to be doing a lot of crawling, then wear leggings to protect your knees. If it’s freezing cold, don’t go shirt-less, wear a base layer. If it’s hot, don’t wear your thermals. In addition, if you’re going to be using your hands a lot, especially on a cold day, wear some thin neoprene gloves with plenty of grip. After you’ve grabbed your finish-line beer, your next thought should be to get some warm clothing on. If you’re wet, get your race-kit off as quickly as possible and put plenty of dry, preferably insulated, clothing on.
6. Help your friends, help a stranger
There’s a real camaraderie in obstacle course racing. At some point you will likely want help to conquer a troublesome obstacle, while at another stage a stranger may need assistance. Unless you are racing, stop and help if you see someone struggling. Encourage them on. Some people will run around the course in a large group, while others will take part alone. Group together wherever possible and spur each other on.
7. Make sure you fuel up
The day before your event you should think about getting on board the correct fuel. Have a decent meal the night before, but avoid anything that will sit heavy on the stomach. Try and avoid alcohol before getting to bed early for a good night’s sleep. On event-day morning, ensure you eat breakfast. Banana, toast and/or porridge should do the trick, then stay hydrated by sipping on fluids until you hit the start line. During the event itself consider carrying one or two energy gels, which you can quickly eat should you feel your energy levels dropping.
8. Get in the pool and practice your swimming
As well as being an excellent form of low-impact cross-training, swimming can really help when obstacle course racing, not least because some events now incorporate small swimming sections into the course. Hit the swimming pool – or if you know what you’re doing, the open water – and practice swimming with your head up. Imagine you’re trying to get sight of a buoy ahead. Lifting your head up like this will reduce the risk of you swallowing water, which will likely be dirty on event-day. By spending time in the water you will grow in confidence, so if you have to jump into it from a height on event-day you will be less apprehensive.
9. Strengthen your fingers
Whether you are traversing a rope or clinging to a wall, finger strength can be the difference between completing the obstacle or falling off it. People who climb or boulder on a regular basis normally find obstacles like these a breeze, but for others it can be more troublesome. A little training will go a long way to helping. Stress balls and finger-strengthening gadgets are available, but one of the best ways to train your fingers is to hang on a pull-up bar for as long as possible.
10. Embrace the mud, push yourself and keep smiling
You are going to get muddy – accept it! There’s no point trying to skirt around the mud. Get in there nice and early and then keep on going. It will get everywhere, trust me, but the best way is just to embrace it! Keep smiling, no matter what. Muddy, cold and tired? Smile. Plus it will make you look all that bit cooler when you’re posting your event-day photos up on social media! It’s also important to make the most of your opportunity by attempting every obstacle. If you fail have a second attempt, providing there is an option to do so. There is nothing wrong with failing an obstacle, but you will kick yourself afterwards if you don’t have a good crack at it.