Obstacle races are the new craze
You've probably seen ads for them in magazines, television and online, featuring the delighted faces of competitors covered in mud, jumping through rings of fire, decked out in full running gear – and the occasional pink tutu. Welcome to the world of adventure racing, where your typical running race takes an atypical turn when interspersed with obstacles involving mud bogs, rope ladders and monkey bars, just to name a few.
They are growing in popularity around the country and right here in New Hampshire as well with running distances and obstacles varying from one event to the next. One series in particular, The Renegade Playground Challenge, bills itself as a "5k-ish run that takes place on an off-road course over rough and rugged terrain … with obstacles like mud holes, water, trails, walls to climb, beer, (more) mud and music." Racers can share the fun by recruiting teammates to run with and add to the "playground" feel of the event and groups start in waves, so not everyone goes out at the same time.
And while the RPC's main goal is fun, you will not want to show up on race day unprepared. While the running will be a challenge unto itself, the obstacles will put even the fittest among us to the test. Adding some upper and lower body strength training, or a fitness bootcamp program to your running routine will improve your performance, making the challenge that much more fun.
An opportunity to let your inner child run wild, the Renegade Playground Challenge with its all day festival atmosphere takes place at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on October 6, and a portion of the proceeds helps to support Speedway Children's Charities. These events tend to draw all sorts of people, from runners and other endurance athletes to thrill seekers and to folks who just want a chance to taste some of the adventure themselves.
The ages of Renegade participants varies greatly, from folks as young as 14 to as old as 72, and 65 percent of participants are women.
While they will look great when you first don them, don't expect these cross-country racing shoes to stay clean for long. The Saucony Kilkenny XC4 ($49.95) is a lightweight racer, featuring midsole protection that will have you leaping through mud with as much ease and grace as can be expected.
Featuring the sweat-wicking properties of Dri-FIT fabric, the Nike Pro Combat Fitted 2.0 T-shirt ($30) works as a great base layer or stands up against whatever the obstacles throw at you, and because it hugs your body, it's less likely to get snagged on any barbed wire you might find yourself climbing under.
Depending on the obstacles you'll need to complete, you may need to get a good grip here or there. Be prepared with the Original Mud Gloves ($15), which are essentially gardening gloves with rubberized grips.
Comfortable feet will be important for any running obstacle race. These Powersox ($12) featuring Coolmax will keep your tootsies as dry as can be expected under the conditions, though you may consider ordering them in black.
Our Experts: Thomas and Christine Sjolshagen
Bio: Thomas and Christine Sjolshagen reside in Goffstown. Christine owns and operates Wicked Strong Chicks LLC, home of Wicked Strong Fitness Bootcamps (for men and women). She enjoys training clients to meet their goals and has fun by participating in mud obstacle runs, road races, mini triathlons and playing soccer. She hopes to soon finish her eBook on the subject of prepping for your first obstacle mud run using the interval-based functional training that got her and Thomas through their first race. Thomas works in the IT industry and is, contrary to the common stereotype, preoccupied with eating healthy, exercising and having fun while doing so. He keeps fit with running, resistance-based interval training and soccer. This January he'll be doing the "Goofy's Challenge," a half-marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon on Sunday, at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The first Renegade Playground challenge in June of 2011 was their first obstacle mud race.
Whose idea was it first to do the Renegade Playground Challenge and did the other think it was a good idea or not?
Thomas: It was kind of a shared idea. We happened to know the people who created the Renegade Playground Challenge and we volunteered to help. It was natural to run it on the day as a consequence.
You're both runners but how were you able to train and prepare for the obstacles in this event and did you even know what you were getting into?
Thomas: I didn't really train explicitly for this. We have both been involved in interval-based functional training for years. Basically the exercises in and format of our small group personalized training (Fitness Bootcamp) classes have given us the functional strength and endurance to complete a mud race like this. Additionally, Christine is a certified personal trainer and the owner of a small group fitness bootcamp business (Wicked Strong Fitness Bootcamps, wickedstrongbootcamps.com) and is completing a book on the subject of training for your first obstacle mud run.
Christine: The first time I was more prepared for the obstacles because of fitness bootcamp than the running. The second time I participated in the RPC, I was also training for the Manchester half-marathon through the Runner's Alley training group. I started heavy lifting and not only did it change my body composition, but it gave me an extra boost in jumping, crawling, pulling, pushing and running my way through the course.
What was the thing that surprised you most about this race and was it at all like you expected?
Christine: What surprised me was how much fun it was. It was so different than running a road race. The mental part was much more engaging. You have to really be present. But more than anything, it was the demographic and popularity. When reading the various information about the other races they do a pretty good job of making it sound as if the typical participant is a mid-20s, soldier-like, type-A personality. But it stands to reason that the average participant is somebody who wants to try something different and doesn't feel like "another 5K run," so in hindsight it makes sense that we were just another couple of people our age who were curious about the race and what it was going to be all about. Who'd have thought jumping out of the emergency exit of a school bus and into mud would be so much fun?
Thomas, you took first place in your age group. How do you think you were able to accomplish that? Was there anything specific in your training that made that possible?
First of all, nobody was more surprised at that result than I was. But that said, I think it was predominantly the functional interval training in the form of Christine's Wicked Strong Fitness Bootcamp classes three to four times per week that gave me the endurance to maintain a reasonable pace. Truthfully, I hadn't done any running at all during the month leading up to the event at Stratton Mountain Resort.
What was the best part of the whole event for you? The hardest?
Thomas & Christine: Best part of the event is watching our clients achieve their goals during the race. Also, the joy people seem to experience whenever they participate in events like this. Getting to see them climb out of the school bus mud pit in order to run the last few feet to the finish line with huge grins on their faces (unless their faces are too caked over by mud!) is pretty priceless. Makes you both appreciate and realize what a difference physical activity makes in the lives of people. The hardest part of the event were the hills. Never fun to run a lot of steep hills!
So will you do it again, or another like it?
Thomas & Christine: Definitely! We've been signed up for the October Renegade Playground event at Loudon since the day it was posted!