Developing the physical and mental skills necessary to conquer obstacle racing's biggest challenges will make you a better all-around athlete, even if you never tackle an OCR. Presenting five of the world’s most epic obstacles, straight from the demented minds of boundary-pushing obstacle innovators—and how to prepare for them.
World’s Toughest Mudder, Las Vegas
Tough Mudder is known for it’s elaborate and super-engineered obstacles. But Mother Nature provided the series’ most mentally challenging obstacle to date: a 35-foot cliff jump, created at the series’ year-end event, World’s Toughest Mudder, a five-mile, 24-obstacle, 24-hour circuit. Elite racer Ryan Atkins won this event in 2013 and 2014, completing 19 laps (that’s 95 miles) in 2014.
“From the first time the TM team set foot on the property at Lake Las Vegas, we were intrigued by the possibility of a cliff jump,” says Brady Archer, Tough Mudder’s Senior Operations Supervisor. “The height and the sheer drops of the bluffs surrounding the lake lent themselves perfectly to creating The Cliff. It is definitely not a jump for the faint of heart.”
Train for it: So, apart from cliff jumping, there’s not a great way to train for The Cliff. But once you get there, Archer has some sage advice: “Secure any loose items, step to the edge, look straight ahead, cross your arms. Don't lean forward or you will smack your face, and don't open your legs for obvious reasons. Then bask in the glory of defeating The Cliff, until you meet again in five miles.”
World’s Longest Traverse
ABF Mud Run, Berlin, New Jersey
ABF Mud Run is a permanent, four-mile race with over 50 obstacles. Chad Mason, a former Marine and landscaper/hardscaper, is the event’s owner and designer. While many of his obstacles are noteworthy—including a massive 36-foot long Rig—it’s his 125-foot Traverse Rope over a pond, located around mile two, that stretches the boundaries of sanity. “It will feel like a mile long on your arms,” Mason says. “You will get through it quicker by hanging upside down and using your ankles to slide across the ropes. This obstacle requires some serious upper body strength.”
Train for it: “During our training sessions we use a smaller traverse rope and have the runners drag their feet on the ground and use their arms to help them across,” Mason says. “This will get the runner used to working hand over hand to pull them through.”
World’s Highest Slide
Dirty Bird Mud Run, Snowbird, Utah
Slides might not be the most challenging obstacle in a race, but they’re often the most fun. Perched at an elevation of just above 10,500 feet, the new slide at Utah’s Dirty Bird Mud Run, which debuts on July 11, will be the world’s highest. Not only that, it’ll also be the longest with about a three-quarter mile descent down the slopes of Snowbird. Participants will exit the tram at the top of Snowbird and immediately face this extreme version of a backyard slip and slide.
Train for it: Like the Cliff Jump, training to take on the world's longest water slide is tough. But if you're so inclined, find a good backyard hill, line it with tarps, get some water running down them, and practice your best moves.
The Sandbag Carry
Spartan Race Beast, Killington, Vermont
One of the most challenging races of the year, the Killington Beast also happens to boast the most brutal sandbag carry in the sport. This sandbag carry covers almost a quarter of a mile up the steepest part of a black diamond ski trail at Vermont’s Killington Ski Resort. As if the terrain isn’t challenging enough, elite racers have to carry two 60-pound sandbags up and down the mountain. For those racing in the open heat, tackling one sand bag is enough of a challenge. “Even today just the mention of this obstacle has people's legs cramping and hearts racing, like crack to an OCR addict,” says Ryan Atkins, 2014 Spartan Race World Champion.
Train for it: You have to train like you race says Atkins. “The best way to train for it is to find a big steep hill, minimum 300 feet of elevation, and carry a 50 to 60 pound sandbag up and down during a hard run.”
World’s Longest Monkey Bars
Rat Race Dirty Weekend, Burghley, UK
In United Kingdom, a fight for the title of world’s longest monkey bars is underway. On Aug. 22, 2014, the Guinness Book of World Records bestowed Nuclear Races with the title for its 120-meter long setup. However, this year Rat Race Dirty Weekend constructed monkey bars that are 138-meters long, breaking Nuclear’s record. To put that into perspective an American Football field is 91 meters, and a FIFA soccer pitch is 110 to 120 meters. The question now: will Nuclear make theirs longer yet again to take back the crown?
Train for it: Anna-Lee Markstedt O’Dwyer, a Ninja Warrior Sweden competitor, has taken on both sets of monkey bars and said the best way to get through them is with good technique. “Find a good swinging momentum forward. You can't be tense, you can't muscle through it with bent arms. Grip and forearm strength are required for such lengths, as well as the willingness to sacrifice some skin—almost everyone blisters just a little.”
To develop your grip and forearm strength, O’Dwyer recommends doing farmer’s walks, and making cycling movements with your legs while hanging from a bar, if you don’t have easy access to monkey bars for practice. Bouldering or climbing also help to strengthen your grip and full-body strength.
Reigning OCR World Champion Jon Albon also notes that sometimes you must change your technique depending on the conditions. “If your hands are really cold and the bars are slippery, its good to turn sideways and move along like that,” he says. Another technique: move one hand forward then bring the next one to meet it at the same bar before repeating. “If you are super confident and the bars are grippy, you can swing like a monkey skipping bars out.” he says.