Training guide for the next generation OCR racers

Obstacle Race Magazine Interview with Michael Cohen
Obstacle Race Magazine

Training guide for the next generation OCR racers

by Michael Cohen

Issue 3
May 2014

As OCR racing is establishing itself, we are starting to see the next generation of racers stepping up to take on the elite at their game. We ask our Training Expert Coach Michael what advice does he has for the 12 –17 yr old who wants to get into obstacle racing.

The first thing as a coach I must reinforce is the matter of safety. Obstacle racing has its risks due to the very scale of some of the man-made and natural obstacles along with the arduous trails, hills and mud that every racer is exposed to. As a parent you may question whether you would want to let your son or daughter enter such an event. Well, from a parents point of view I can tell you that last year at the age of 14-yrs-old I let my son Ross, not only enter his first Spartan Race, but he went on to compete and became the youngest Spartan Race Trifecta by completing a 7k Sprint 25 obstacles, 14k Super 35 obstacle & a 24k Beast 50 obstacle race. He was tested to the bitter end, but as a proud father he crossed the finishing line where others gave up or couldn’t even contemplate starting.

So how does a teenager prepare for an Obstacle Race?

Field & Track Athletics – Most high schools have athletics. For those who don’t or those that have limited facilities, then it is worth checking out your local athletics club to develop some key OCR skills. Most include track events such as: short & long distance running and of course hurdles and the steeplechase. Running is a key aspect to racing, so it is good to explore some short-distance running to develop fast-twitch explosive muscle development and longer distances to develop running endurance. Field events include: the long jump, high jump, triple jump, javelin, hammer throw, pole vault, discus throw and shot put. Each of these events help to develop: co-ordination, balance, agility, dexterity and flexibility.

Combined together the field and track events form part of a series of ‘natural movements’ that are vital for OCR racing: lifting, throwing, catching, balancing, running, jumping and landing.

Cross Country Running – This is the closest form of running you can do to simulate the running aspect to obstacle racing. If you can’t do it at school then definitely check out your local athletics/running club. Most clubs and schools enter local cross country leagues, which will be a great opportunity to test your running in a race environment on muddy, cross country and forest trails. Just remember when it comes to OCR racing, you will not be able to wear spikes. So I would recommend testing out some trail shoes. My current favourite, which all my TEAM Wild Forest gym OCR Athletes are wearing are the awesome Inov-8 Off Trail Range.

P.E. and Gymnastics – Similarly at school or your local gymnastics club. Good apparatus to check out is the: trampoline, balance beam, vault, uneven bars, horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar. Even some floor work will be great for balance, co-ordination and agility.

Forest Trails – The forest is the best environment to train as it has it ascents, descents, mud, roots and rutted trails. Plus there are natural obstacles. For safety reasons always be accompanied by a competent adult as accidents do happen. It is the very nature of trail running that it will bite back at you. when you loose focus or concentration on the terrain. Trail running will teach you how to adapt to the terrain and obstacles around you. Plus it will start to develop your ankles, knees and stability muscles, so as to enable you to reduce the risk of such injuries.

Indoor Rock Climbing – Here’s an opportunity to have fun and develop hand strength, co-ordination and upper body strength. Many leisure centres have a boldering wall where you can go along with your friends whilst learning some vital skills, build your strength.

Ross Cohen Spartan Race

Safety Skills – Marital arts and judo teach safety rolls and falls. In judo they are known as Ukemi. Check out this link They are so important when you do not have the luxury of paddied gym mats to break your fall. Just remember when you race, you will fall, however good you are. So learn some basic safety falls, so that you can respond to falling forward, to the side and backwards. The most important one is a break roll.

Crawling like an animal – Yep its time to get on your hands and knees and get a bit muddy. Often known as the bear crawl, this hand ‘n’ foot crawl is a necessity when going under camo nets & barb wire, going through pipes and tunnels or just for getting up the hill when the its too muddy or steep to stand, or you are just fatigued. For full instructions visit this link

Kit – You don’t need much, but having the right kit is the difference of being safe, comfortable and you enjoying yourself. Most importantly is a good pair of trail shoes. For a suggested kit list visit

Parental Support – Before your parents have the opportunity of telling you ‘no way – its too dangerous’ then I suggest you have a strategy!

1. Tell your parents not to worry, as one of them can do an obstacle race with you. What a great parent & son/daughter thing to experience. Umm. But seriously, you could do it together. Although I let my son Ross do the 7k Spartan Sprint on his own, a raced with him doing the Spartan Super & Beast. Not only did he need me, but it was the most amazing father and son experience for any dad’s or mum’s out there. All in all there are some races I will let him race on his own, now at 15-years-old. But similarly at the Nuts Challenge this year we raced side-by-side because it was 100 obstacles over 7k, which was daunting and challenging. But seriously parents I was happy to let him race, because I was there to look out for him, whilst his mother was cheering from the sidelines. So be sensible. Get them on your side and make it a family thing.

2. Don’t bring loads of mud and dirt into the house. This will be the biggest turn off for your mum in particular. So don’t throw your dirty kit around the place, ask mum or dad what’s shall I do with my muddy shoes……rather than be shouted at, and them saying enough is enough. So Ross, if you are reading this article, you can clean your own shoes after your next race!

But seriously be safe, have fun, get race ready and bring your friends along. Plus you could find a good cause to raise money for.

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