Photo Credit: Spartan Race

5:33 AM

“It is so cold. Why didn’t we bring jackets? Why would agree to be here this early? We didn’t even get coffee! This is madness. Let’s go home.”

“You’ll be fine! When the run starts it’ll be great, I’m sure.”

“…That’s three hours from now.”

Getting a significant other or friend who’s new the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) excited about a run is sometimes a hard process. Before you’ve done it, understanding just why you would pay someone to be subjected to the elements, mud, pain, bruises, cuts, exhaustion, and possible serious injury can be challenging, to say the least – as I am sure someone must have said, “You can lead a person to mud, but you can’t make ‘em race”. After significant trials and tribulations, I hope to offer you some basic advice on making your first partner run a success and turn “that weird thing you do on the weekends” into “that weird thing we do on the weekends!”

Recently, I had the opportunity to take my wife on her very first Spartan Race, a 4-mile sprint on the steep hills of a converted motocross course. It wasn’t easy, especially the anticipation leading up to the race, and of course, dealing with the enormity of it all –

I can be a bit of a whiny diva on cold, coffee-less mornings.


8:44 AM

The starting line congregation and hoopla swirls around us like the beginning of a war dance, but we’re both looking up the enormous hill that lies before us – what appears to be a track constructed straight up a custom-built Mt. Everest, ready to be conquered by ripped Sherpas in headbands and compression gear howling in unison. This is gonna suck.

“Man, this is going to suck.” Rachel said.

“Na, this is gonna be fine!” I lied.

“Just take short little steps, stay on the balls of your feet and keep moving. Long steps are like doing uphill lunges.” The advice from Matt, the Spartan Elite who ran his first race and decided to run it back with us for fun (What? Ok.), echoed hollowly. Keep the smile plastered because the absolute most important thing is to remain positive.


Rule 1: Constantly exude positivity, to the point of being an annoying doofus, because it helps. A lot.

If you aren’t a pro or a highly conditioned athlete yourself, OCRs are going to be physically demanding. However, the person you are introducing to the sport is likely having even more demanded from the physically, while being subjected to a whole new layer of weird, mentally. It is your burden, then, to remember that OCR is done for fun; because getting muddy and tired and bruised leaping over walls is exhilarating, and push that out to your partner. In the heat of the moment, they will likely call you lots of rude names, but a smile, encouragement, actionable advice (little steps here, use an underhand grip on the monkey bars because your biceps are stronger, etc), and not stopping are absolutely invaluable to keeping new people motivated. You can, of course, commiserate that things will be challenging (because man, sometimes they really, really are) but don’t let that become negativity that starts to sap the fun. Matt, the shirtless human version of a mountain goat running with us, is the pinnacle of this rule. Anytime my positivity flagged, or really anyone else’s on the course, he would talk them up, give advice, crack a joke, and generally just be a reminder that this is an opportunity, not a penance. Your partner, not knowing exactly how this all works, will feed off of you like a dilapidated mud-drenched energy vampire. Set the example and keep moving. Smile. Hurting is fun.

We’ve crested the hill, jogged a mile or so, and I have absolutely freaking eaten it getting over one of the hurdles, did my best penguin-sliding-down-a-feces-slathered-iceberg impression on the barbed wire crawl, when we get to the first fallible obstacle – the Z-Wall. Slithering around slippery sharp-angled walls with subpar footholds is hard and, surprisingly, gravity care not one whit about my ego. We both ended up on butt-planting in the muck as the grim realization settled over me: it’s time to do burpees.

Rule 2: Don’t do burpees, or enact any other cost for failure.

All of the purists put down your pitchforks, shoo shoo. Unless the first-timer running with you is a Navy Seal who graduated top of his class and is trained in guerilla warfare, a masochistic Crossfitter with a sub 4:00 Fran, or a fraternity pledge you are really enjoying hazing, just don’t do burpees or whatever your particular OCR may imply is the cost of failing an obstacle. Nothing crushes morale for a new person than stepping up the challenge of a strange apparatus like the Z-Wall or Multi-Rig or Tyrolean Traverse, failing, and then being told that you have to already tax your exhausted body and mind to punish you for failing. This first run is about fun, building a comfort with the style of race and obstacles, and showing your new compatriot what progress entails – “Don’t worry about burpees, this is your first try. Let’s wait for this crowd to pass and try the Z-Wall again if you want. Who knows, when you’re an elite in 2 years you might be skipping all the burpees anyways!” It may seem like a broken record, but this is fun – let’s keep it that way until they are just as nuts as you are and relish the opportunity to face-dive the grime.

We keep on trekking, work through a couple more obstacles, teamwork our way over the 7-foot wall, and arrive, a little shell-shocked, to the very unanticipated 8-foot wall. Matt leaps the minor hindrance without a second thought, only to walk around to come find us because we’re trying to figure this thing out. There is a group next to us helping a panicking girl up the wall who clearly does not want to do this, but succumbing to the pressure of the moment. She freezes at the top of the wall, clinging, definitely and loudly expressing her unhappiness with the current situation, and was up there until her friends could coax her down.

Rule 3: Encourage them to try things, but if it makes them cry, they probably aren’t ready.

Encourage people to try all these obstacles! With a moderate amount of fitness, most of them are pretty reasonable to attempt. The absolute infinitesimal minority will finish them, but right now, that isn’t important. If they are scared or skeptical, use that opportunity to help a lone wolf runner complete the obstacle, talking them through it loud enough for your partner-in-mud to hear, and give a clear example of how conquerable it actually is. Dare them, help them, inspire them, whatever – but don’t pressure them into something they will regret. That overwhelming negative feeling, whether it be  an embarrassment, failure, or fear, will stick with them post-race and overshadow the good parts of the day. You want the thrill of victory mingled with the soreness of accomplishment covered with a dash of raw endorphins be the dominant feeling from this event. Use your knowledge of your friend / spouse / significant other / frenemy / disguised android on an all-terrain test run to see if what they are saying is lining up with their body language – are they hurt and fighting through it, but saying they’re alright? Are they excited to try the obstacle or fearful? Scared enough to try, or scared enough to scar? Really, truly pay attention to them and base your recommendations on what to try include your assessments about their wellbeing, ability, and current mental state. Avoid injury, both physical and mental, but keep on going.

Make them crave the next one, not worry about what might happen.

Multi-Rig. More barbed wire. Monkey bars. Sandbag carry. That Effing Hill (their name, not mine, but oh how apropos). A live reenactment of actually being Sysiphus Bucket Brigade. A-Frame Cargo. Spear Throw. My best Indian Jones impression Tyrolean Traverse. Dunk Wall. Water Jump. Finish Line. Snack, Swag, and Shirt Table. We made it, and it was good.

Rule 4: Celebrate! You’ve earned it!

Don’t go look at your times. They weren’t awesome. That doesn’t matter because you did it and you did it together and survived and had fun. Pound all eleven protein bars (and maybe a banana) you managed to snag, go rinse off, drink a beer or two, and grab a meal large enough to make race-day Michael Phelps wrinkle a concerned brow. Talk about all the fun you had, all of the cool things you got to do, the funny falls, the near misses, the heroic feats of you and your compatriots. Bask in the glow of embarking on an adventure and actually succeeding. This is the moment of truth – was the good greater than the bad? The rush better than the fatigue? The thrill more delicious than the pain distasteful?

For us, it was, and I hope it will be for you too. Obstacle Course Racing is an event to be shared with your loved ones and friends. Bring them out, push yourselves in ways that most of our low-risk lives and jobs rarely do, and feel that primal thrill together. It builds camaraderie in a way only blood, sweat, and tears can. Although this was not the sagest advice, I hope it gives you a foundation to introduce a partner or friend into mud runs successfully. This is a sport worth sharing, so go out there and get it – together.

AROO, AROO, AROO!

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