Playing in the Mud – Debunking Obstacle Course Racing Myths

There are many myths and untruths within the world of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). These myths, which usually prevent people from signing up for their first events are:

“I can’t do it alone.”

“Every race has mud.”

“You have to be a gym rat.”

“I could never finish a race.”

These myths have been said to my face. I say they are myths because I know they are not true. Every racer who has ever been on a course knows it as well. But, convincing those who have never been on an obstacle race course is a whole other story.

RussSince my first race nearly three years ago, I constantly ask people to race with me.   I consistently encourage people to get out on a racecourse, any racecourse. Everyone I know has been asked to race with me. I have even asked my wife! I have offered to run alongside people every step along the way. However time after time, one of those four statements above is the “excuse” I am given. I also hear, “I will definitely sign up” but the application never gets submitted. After the fact, it is one of the four myths above that prevents people from signing up for a race. Why are these myths untrue and why should you get out on a racecourse? That is today’s subject of “Playing in the Mud”.

“I can’t do it alone”

You want to participate in a race, any race. Something interests you. Whether it is the inflatables, the mud, the obstacles or just the atmosphere you heard about, you are interested. You ask around but no one wants to join you.   You feel alone. You have never raced before. You think you will feel uncomfortable being at a race alone and you let the opportunity pass you by. Being alone at a race can be intimidating. However, you will never be alone.

Let me let you in on something that you will not learn until you are on a course. Unless you are an elite competing for money or a complete self-centered a-hole, no one wants to see anyone else fail. No one wants to see you fall, trip, not try, back away or sit in the corner in the fetal position crying. No one. Nearly every person out there wants everyone else to succeed. People want to see others completing the obstacles and completing the race. Why? Simple, they have all been there before. They know the feelings of the first-timers and the fears they can have. They have all come across the person who cannot get over the wall or is scared to try. And, nearly every single person has stopped to give a pointer, offered help or encouragement. On the course, we are all part of one family.

Three quick stories.

My first ever non-stadium Spartan Sprint was at Tuxedo, New York. I had no idea what I was doing or what I would find. But, I signed up and I went. I didn’t know anything. I just knew I was there and I was ready for anything. I was at a wall that I could not get over no matter how hard I tried. There were three guys running together at my pace (slow!) so I asked if I could get a hand over the wall. Not only did they help me over the wall, we stayed together the rest of the race. It was a simple gesture to a first timer by a group of guys.   That simple “come join us” helped me cross the finish line and showed me that the OCR world was a fun experience.

A group of my friends and I were running a Spartan Super in New Jersey in 2014. It was about 90 degrees. It was hot and brutal and there was no shade. We were a group of eight or so and we came along this kid. He could not have been any older than 22. He was totally unprepared for the race. But he was constantly moving and didn’t stop. We all encouraged him and did not let him stop. Having a group find him and adopt his helped him. He wasn’t alone. He realized it and it gave him the energy to keep going.

Lastly, this past year I ran something called the Bone Frog Tier-1. This is a 12.1-mile race consisting of two races back-to-back. I knew one other person there and she is a star in the OCR world to me and she went off like a rocket. I kept my slow and steady pace and during the race I met a guy and we both realized were at the same pace. We were two guys out there, bonding and staying together for the last 7 miles of the course. We had different experiences and different levels of abilities and it just matched up well. We had a great time, helping each other through the rest of the race and more importantly, it gave each of us a battle buddy for the day.

“Every race has mud”

While most of the OCRs have mud, not all of them do. There is a genre of races that are based on inflatables and fun.   Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge (ROC Race or Wipeout Run) and Insane Inflatable 5k are race brands that are national and have races all around the country. There are also many local races that are not mud based. While the OCR world’s most publicized races are mud based, there are many that are not.

Most of these non-mud races are 5k with obstacles in between. For example, Insane Inflatable 5k features obstacles called The Mad House, Wave Runner, Jump Around and Mattress Run. The Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge features obstacles called Cool Running, Foam of Fury, The Hippo and The Drop. Both of these races want people to have fun and just enjoy themselves. These races are not about time to finish the race, but about having fun.

If you want a challenge that does not include mud, there are longer races such as City Challenge, Urbanathlon, and the Spartan Stadium Series. These are all races that do not have mud and have city obstacles to standard OCR obstacles.  My point is when people say that obstacle course races only have mud, it’s just not right. Most people make assumptions and do not look for races that do not include mud. They know of only two or three brand names and just assume there is nothing else out there. Believe me, there are TONS of races out there.

The first OCR I ever participated in was a Spartan Stadium Sprint. It wasn’t the mud that attracted me (because there was none), I was attracted to it because I wanted to challenge myself. It was a long race (to me at the time) and it was hard. At the end, I walked out with a medal and knowing that I completed my first OCR. I had a blast, a ton of fun and I could not wait to race again. This was an OCR without mud and it was just as fun as any other race. This April, I will be doing the Stadium Sprint at Citifield for the 4th time and I guarantee you that I will be doing multiple laps. There is no mud, but there is a challenge and there is fun. That is what racing is about, fun.

Not everything in OCR is about the mud. While mud makes the races more enjoyable to some, it scares away others. Not everyone wants to roll in the mud or crawl in it. There are people who do not want to be covered from head to toe at the end of a race. That is perfectly understandable and acceptable. However, know that not wanting to play in the mud is not an excuse to not try an OCR. Look around, find your challenge and attack it.

“You have to be a gym rat”

If you know me and you know what I look like, you know that the above myth is not true. I could stop typing there and move on, but I will add more.

If you go to an OCR and look around, there are definitely people there that are in shape. There are folks that look chiseled and look like they spend most of their time working out or training. However, if you also look again you will see people who look a little to a lot overweight. You will see very thin people and everything else in between. You will see people who look “average”. Every type of body runs OCRs. The sport of obstacle course racing does not have the requirements that you have a certain Body Mass Index, or your can bench press a certain amount. It does not matter what you look like. It matters that you are there.

You have to have heart. You signed up. Whether you think it was a dumb move (as I have at times) or not, you took a chance and signed up for your first OCR. Some would call it guts and others would call it nuts, but it is heart. It takes a strong will and a strong desire to attempt something when you have no idea what it is front of you. I tell people that it is better to have a DNF (Did Not Finish) than a DNS (Did Not Start). There are many reasons why you would not finish a race, but at least you took the chance. How many of your friends did not?

You have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone. You do not have to look a certain way or be able to life weights. There is no requirement about how many squats you can do or even if you know what a gym even looks like. All it takes is desire and saying to yourself, “I can do this”.

Muscles? No. Desire. Yes.

I am not a gym rat. I wake up 4:30am to go to work and I have two year-old twins to play with so I get home as early as possible. By the time I am ready to work out, it is 9:30pm and I spend about an hour exercising. I call it training. I exercise when I can and I do it, not for races but because I was once 300 pounds and I never want to be there again. I know many people who never step in a gym and run in OCRs. I also know many people who work out daily. Know what they all get at the end of the races? They get the same thing, usually a medal and a shirt. The prize is the same no matter how often you work out. I race to finish. I race to test myself and I race to see if I can complete the course in front of me.   When you look at me, you see a guy who has extra baggage around the waist. I have a keg, not a six-pack. You see a guy with arms that…well, are not too big or chiseled. But, what you will see is someone who will not quit and will not stop until he crosses the finish line.

An OCR is not about how you look or how much you work out. It is about starting a race and finishing it.   It is about the journey in between and what you make of it. Make it fun.

“I could never finish a race”

Before you say that you could never finish a race, let me tell you that you can. I have no doubt in my mind that you can. I truly believe that anyone can complete a race. There are people in wheelchairs that complete races. There are people on crutches that complete races. There are people that are going through cancer treatments and other disease treatments that complete races. Am I telling this to you to make you feel bad about yourself? Not at all. I am telling this to you to show you that it is all in your head. By telling yourself that you cannot do something, you never will be able to. Earlier, I wrote that a DNF is better than a DNS. In my view of OCR world, it is better to try and fail than to never try at all. If you think that you cannot finish a race, odds are that you will never, ever start a race. Basically, you can never finish anything that you do not start.

I hope by now you are realizing that I believe that OCR is mostly mental. Yes, of course there is a physical portion to it. If you cannot lift things or carry things you will have some trouble with some of the races, but not all of them. Any deficiency that you think you may have will not prevent you from finishing a race. Should your first race be a World’s Toughest Mudder, a Spartan Beast or a Battle or Bone Frog? Probably not. But, there are many races out there that you can start, challenge yourself and finish.

I personally do not believe in “I can’t”. I have seen too many people on racecourses that have said to me, “I can’t get over the wall” or “I can’t carry it”. What did those people do? They got over the walls and the carried whatever it was. It is not too hard to change your thinking around. Change that “I can’t” do “I do”. When you start to believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything. It snowballs after that. You overcome one obstacle and then another. Next thing you know you are killing it out there, confident, happy and looking ahead to getting that medal around your neck. I can’t, becomes I did!

I can remember a race I was doing outside of Boston, a Spartan Super. One of the first obstacles was something called an Inverted Wall. There is a friend of mine who could not get over the wall. She tried and tried but could not overcome it. She kept saying, “I can’t do this” and she just wanted to do her burpees and keep on going. I wouldn’t let her. I showed her how to get over the wall and she did. She got over the wall and gave me a great hug. To this day, she reminds me every time I see her that I helped change the way she sees herself at the races. She was never able to do that obstacle before that moment. However, since then she always says to herself, “I can.” She does.

Finishing a race is about “want to”. You want to finish the race. You want to succeed. You want to try. That is all you need. Killington 2015 took me nearly 12 hours to finish. I could have given up many times during that day. However, I wanted to finish. I needed to finish and I made sure that I finished. Some compete against others. I compete against myself. I say to myself, can I do it? I always make sure the answer is yes.

There are so many misconceptions about obstacle course races. Many people think that they are impossible. Races are not impossible. Races are just like anything else in life. If you want something in life, you strive for it, you reach for it and you do all that you can to achieve it. That is OCR as well. You want to finish it, you strive to finish it and you do everything you can to finish it.

No myths. Nothing to stop you. When is your next race?

Russ Blatt is the author of “Playing in the Mud”, a little piece of the world to introduce you to Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). While not being an elite or having the opportunity to race as often as he has liked, he has completed approximately 25 races in 30 months. He is a member of the New England Spahtens racing community and is the owner of OCR Buddy, the world’s first calendar app for OCR enthusiasts. For comments, questions and article ideas, contact him at Russ@ocrbuddy.com.

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