Apart from being custom-made for bragging rights, the modern obstacle course race is a much better test of full-body fitness than your typical 10K or cyclosportive. The blend of walls, pits and bars is designed to tax your upper body just as much as your cardio. So consider this your call to (stronger) arms: sign up for one of our event picks below then and, rather than aiming to coast on the day, use our training sessions and essential exercises to get through in style.
The UK’s Best Obstacle Course And Mud Races Of 2018
Best For Teamwork: Tough Mudder
The biggest, if not the toughest, mud run in the UK. Mudders eschew timing chips and competition in favour of teamwork: some obstacles are impossible to get through unaided, so helping each other through mud pits and over walls is key. Typically it involves 16-19km of hilly racing, with chunks of deliberate unpleasantness like the Arctic Enema (a plunge into icy water) and electric shocks alongside the more physically challenging stuff. As always there are new obstacles on the agenda as well, including the biggest OCR obstacle in existence – the Happy Ending, which requires participants to build a human pyramid to get to the top of a 10m slide. A 10m slide into a water pit, naturally.
And new for 2018, Tough Mudder has introduced 5K races that take place in city centres in the evening, which should ensure a party atmosphere.
- 28th-29th July, Skipton, Yorkshire
- 10th-11th August, Manchester (5K)
- 18th-19th August, Badminton, Gloucestershire
- 25th August, Edinburgh (5K)
- 8th-9th September, Malpas, Cheshire
- 22nd, 29th-30th September, Crawley, West Sussex
- 12th-13th October, Clapham, London (5K)
RECOMMENDED: Tough Mudder Training Plan
Best For TV Obsessives: Rough Runner
We’ve all done it: sat motionless on the sofa, daydreaming of conquering the obstacles on Ninja Warrior or, if you’re older, Gladiators with cat-like grace. Well, here’s your chance to have your dream come true, or find it doused with a bucket of cold reality. Rough Runner peppers its 5K, 10K and 15km courses with obstacles “inspired” by these shows (we’re sure the rights cost a pretty penny). There are plenty of Wipeout-inspired challenges housed in oversized inflatable paddling pools, so expect to take an unwelcome dip at some point. The big finale isn’t inspired by anything, though – it’s just the Travelator from Gladiators, basically a long treadmill on a steep incline which must have elicited more “why is he falling over? My Gran could do that” boasts than any other game show obstacle.
- 21st-22nd July, Lambton Estates, County Durham
- 18th-19th August, Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland
- 8th-9th September, Finsbury Park, London
- 13th-14th October, Easter Compton, Bristol
Individual entry from £41, roughrunner.com
Best For A Test Of Mettle: Reebok Spartan
It’s a fixture of the mud run racing calendar for a reason. The Spartan’s sprint, super and beast options offer everything from an hour-long jaunt to a half-day of barbed wire crawling, tyre dragging and carrying heavy things. Complete all three race types in one year to earn your place in the Spartan Trifecta Tribe. Failure in obstacles means punitive burpees, so it’s a good idea to get your rope-climbing technique locked in now.
- 13th July, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
- 15th September, Perth
- 6th October, Windsor, Berkshire
Best For Off-Roading: Wolf Run
If you prefer your obstacles to be a little more natural – think muddy woods and icy lakes – then sign up for a Wolf Run. It’s a more challenging endurance event than most others – there’s a fair bit of ankle-threatening terrain, as well as one of the few genuine swim sections in obstacle racing. Genuine maniacs will want to sign up for the Winter Wolf, which the organisers call a “noticeable” step up in difficulty, because it’s really, really cold in the lakes at that time of year.
- 1st-2nd September, Welsh Road Farm, Warwickshire
- 29th-30th September, Pippingford Park, East Sussex
- 3rd-4th November, Stanford Hall, Leicestershire
From £45, thewolfrun.com
RECOMMENDED: How To Make It Through Your First Wolf Run In One Piece
Best For A Muddy Good Time: Total Warrior
Like Tough Mudder, Total Warrior is not strictly speaking a race, although if you sign up for the five-hour Ultra Warrior the person who completes the most laps or half laps during a five hour period will be crowned the winner. Otherwise, just go along for a good time with friends and muddy strangers who’ll help you over the obstacles that dot the 10K, 12km or 10-mile route options. There’s also a 2km Junior Warrior run, if your kids fancy getting muddy too.
- 23rd-24th June, Bramham Park, Leeds
- 4th-5th August, Shap Abbey, Cumbria
Best For An Inflatable Adventure: Gung Ho
Not everyone wants their obstacle course race to be a gruelling mudfest. If you’d prefer to bounce your way through a series of inflatable obstacles, sign up for one of Gung Ho’s 5K fun runs. And it will be fun, because it’s almost impossible not to have a good time when there’s this much inflatable action on offer.
- 21st July, Southampton
- 1st September, Aberdeen
- 15th September, Norwich
- 22nd September, Crystal Palace, London
- 29th September, Hull
£60, early bird offers available, begung-ho.co.uk
Mud Run Training Sessions
Stop-start racing means bursts of speed beat steady-state cardio. Plan your PB accordingly, with advice from Dr Andrew Murray, ultra-runner, sports medicine consultant at the University of Edinburgh and Merrell ambassador
“Obstacle races are very stop-start, so when I trained for Tough Mudder I played an activity that mimicked that pace once a week – like five-a-side football or squash. If that’s not an option, do intervals that mimic the pace of your race: 400m repeats with relatively short rests will work. Or you could simply do a quick 5K with occasional bursts of speed.”
RECOMMENDED: Interval Sessions For Runners
Even if all you’ve got is a pull-up bar, you can still train to take on the obstacles. Do four rounds of the session below – or intersperse the moves with burpees for hand strength and conditioning
Reps As many as possible
Hang from the bar with both arms, then let go with one hand and reach down to tap your knee before grabbing hold again. Repeat on the other side. You’ll build single-arm strength as well as the co-ordination to switch your grip quickly.
Time 30 seconds
You’ll want a sturdy bar for this one, but it’s the best way to prepare for the monkey bars. Hang from the bar and bring your knees up, then extend your legs to start your body swinging. Repeat on each swing to increase the amplitude. If you’ve got the space, practise dismounting with a leap.
Time 30 seconds
Hang from the bar with both hands and then swing slightly from side to side, gathering momentum with your legs. The hand on the side you’re swinging towards become will seem to become lighter. As you get more experienced, take a hand off the bar at the top of the move.
“I did some hill reps once a week. This can help build speed and stamina, in addition to the physical and mental strength you need.” Find a 50-100m hill, run up it and walk back down. Repeat five times, and add a rep or two a week.
Explosiveness is useless unless it gets you over the obstacles. Add these moves to your regular routine to build sport-specific power
Use Sprints To Conquer The Quarter-Pipe
You’re unlikely to find one to practise on, so train on the flat. You’ll want to be as fast as possible over 50m to stand a chance of gripping the lip unaided. Do 6x50m repeats with a couple of minutes’ rest – and when it comes to the real thing, lean back just slightly to convert horizontal momentum into vertical.
Use The Step Vault To Beat Under-Overs
Getting over chest-high fences (and, occasionally, under nets) is easy enough, but adding efficiency will make it faster and less tiring. Practice on your gym’s plyo boxes. Approach at a jog, plant one hand on the top and take a quick step with the opposite foot as you sail over the box.
Use Cat Hang Pull-Ups To Help Get Over Walls
These build upper-body strength combined with the co-ordination needed to bring your legs into play. Hang from a wall with your knees raised. With your toes pressed to the brickwork, pull yourself up to the edge, then lower again. Once you’re confident, push up to straighten your arms at the top and climb onto the wall.
“It’s tempting to spend all your time on training for mud and obstacles, but don’t neglect the running element in your race – some of these races can be of half marathon distance or even longer. The general principle is to do one longer run a week. Build it up gradually so that two or three weeks before the race, you can run the distance of the actual race. This is a must, as on race day having to go over obstacles and through mud will make it feel further, although to counter that you have the support of the others taking part.”
Functional Fitness Workout
Curls won’t help on the course – you need a strength regime that mimics the demands of the real thing. Use this routine once a week
Sets 4 Reps max
If you haven’t got a rope, sling a towel over a pull-up bar. If you have, work on technique as well as grip by practising the lock-off, where you grip the rope between your feet and slide them up to take the weight off your arms.
Sets 5 Time 30sec
Carrying heavy objects is a staple of races whether it’s a log, jerry can or fellow human. Hard pressed to find them in your gym? Improvise with a heavy farmer’s walk – one dumbbell in each hand – or a Bulgarian bag across your shoulders, taken as far as possible.
Sets 3 Reps max
It’ll help with cargo net-based obstacles, but also build core strength for wall traverses. Set up underneath a waist-height Smith machine bar, or use a TRX, lying flat on your back. Pull your chest up to the kit, pause and lower under control.
Sets 5 Distance 20m
The Spartan Race calls it the Hercules Hoist – hauling a heavy weight over a pulley with an arm-over-arm pull. Mimic it in the gym by borrowing a battle rope and looping one end around a sandbag, then pulling. Use your back, not just your biceps.