Wading through mud. Dragging 200-pound tires. Crawling under barbed wire. Swimming across freezing-cold ponds, jumping through fire, and throwing spears as far as you can. This is not your typical, steady-as-she-goes 5K fun run.
It’s obstacle-course racing, the masochistic, military-inspired brand of blood-and-guts contest that’s risen from the muck to become America’s fastest-growing sport. Events such as Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash are tapping into something primal, urging regular dudes out of their comfort zones and onto hilly, obstacle-littered courses to test their strength, endurance, and willpower.
This year, as many as 5 million people will accept the challenge. To be near the front of the pack, you need to train hard and race smart. We enlisted five of the sport’s top athletes to coach you through it, from workouts to race-day tips.
Our Panel of Experts
We rounded up five of the most elite and schooled athletes in obstacle-course racing (OCR)—they’ve run nearly 300 races combined—to share their training tips, obstacle-beating tricks, and (very) hard-won racing advice. Here’s who they are:
Jonathan Albon, 25, is the current OCR world champion and Spartan Race world champion. Unbeaten for nearly two years, this Briton is the world’s most dominant racer.
Ryan Atkins, 27, is a mountain biker and ultrarunner from Canada and one of obstacle racing’s most talented athletes. The World’s Toughest Mudder for two years running, he also won the impossibly sadistic Winter Death Race early last year.
Junyong Pak is another two-time World’s Toughest Mudder. Pak, 37, is a 2:32 marathoner and a regular OCR podium finisher. And he manages to do it all standing only 5’8″ tall and weighing a mere 140 pounds.
Margaret Schlachter, the first-ever woman pro racer, splits her time between consulting on races and running her website, dirtinyourskirt.com. Last year, the 31-year-old published Obstacle Race Training (Tuttle), one of the sport’s most trusted guides.
David Magida, 28, was one of Spartan’s first pro racers and ranked in the top 10 nationally for the past three years. He still does obstacle contests but focuses most of his time on Elevate Interval Fitness, his boutique group training facility in Washington, D.C., where he teaches OCR classes.
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