In 2012, I beat nearly 17,000 other people to win a Warrior Dash – my first obstacle race ever.
I had no previous experience with any of the obstacles, I never studied the course, and I had no idea what to expect. And when I started, my only goal was just to have fun!
I didn’t do any particular exercises to get stronger (like CrossFit) or practice any of the obstacles. Today I’ll show you how to train for Warrior Dash – and potentially even win.
How to Execute Your Race Strategy
The majority of Warrior Dash courses start on a narrow trail that requires a more strategic start than road races. Start near the front of the pack – you don’t want to get caught behind the masses of runners causing bottle necks at each obstacle. Start fast and get out front to avoid that bottleneck.
Obstacle courses are almost always on technical trails or uneven grass fields. The varying terrain and footing will definitely slow you down and present challenges, so pay attention to where you put your foot.
The first rule of tackling the obstacles is to take your time; you don’t want to get cut by barbed wire or suffer a running injury from one of the obstacles. You won’t gain much time by hurrying over an obstacle, so relax and focus on completing it once without hurting yourself.
You’ll probably encounter a combination of many obstacles:
- A three-story cargo net
- A vertical wall with just a rope to pull yourself over the top
- A series of enormous tires to navigate (don’t trip!)
- Tunnels, pools of water, and other walls to cross
- Fire, mud, and more barbed wire than a federal prison. Excited yet?
Let’s not also forget the hills – the many, many hills! Almost every obstacle course race, particularly Warrior Dash, are on rolling hills and technical terrain. In fact, many courses bill themselves as “mountainous.”
An event with these types of challenges requires a methodical, smart approach. Here’s how you can accomplish your Warrior Dash goals with the same approach.
Warrior Dash Racing & Training
There are six ways to race and train effectively for Warrior Dash:
1. Stay healthy and don’t get injured
The obstacles are real so slow down and take your time over each one. Crawl low enough under the barbed wire, jump high enough over the fire, and go slowly over cargo nets and high walls.
If you have long hair, wear your hair low but put together so it doesn’t get caught on ropes, wires, or other obstacles. Remember: the time you gain by rushing is negated if you fall, get hurt, or have to repeat an obstacle.
2. Always start close to the front
If you start at the back of the pack you’ll be stuck behind hundreds of other runners. Get out in front of everyone else so you’re not wasting time at a bottleneck. Plus, navigating an obstacle without any other competitors is a lot easier.
3. Boost your strength
You don’t need to spend hours in the gym or join a CrossFit box. But working with relatively light weight, will make traversing all of the obstacles faster and easier.
4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
If your goal is to run fast, you have to run fast during training. Running a variety of paces during training – including 1-2 faster workouts per week – will help you run fast between each obstacle so you can finish higher up in the field.
Since most courses are on hilly terrain, it’s also helpful to run a weekly hill workout so you’re comfortable running fast uphill.
5. Run more trails
Since most OCR’s – especially Warrior Dash – are on dirt trails, paths, grass, and other technical terrain it’s incredibly beneficial to have experience running on these surfaces. Give yourself an enormous advantage by running more trails and you’ll improve your balance, proprioception, agility, and your comfort level with running fast on uneven terrain.
6. Run more weekly mileage
The “dirty little secret” as to why I was able to win a Warrior Dash and beat almost 17,000 other competitors is that I was running more. My preparation was almost entirely endurance training – and that fact alone helped me most when I won by over a minute.
Other competitors likely had more strength, power, or speed over the obstacles. But in between each obstacle I was able to run very fast. And that’s way more important.
If you train like a runner, there’s no doubt that you’ll run faster in any obstacle race you enter.
Smarter Training = Faster Racing
Almost anyone can enter and complete a Warrior Dash. You don’t need to specifically train for a short-course obstacle race.
Here are several other ways to prepare for an OCR:
- Enter several trail races. The hills and technical terrain will better prepare you for Warrior Dash than road racing.
- Spend 20-30 minutes doing bodyweight strength exercises several times per week. This type of general strength approach is all you need to succeed at short-course obstacle racing.
If you’ve gotten tired of “normal” road races and need an exciting new challenge, a race like Warrior Dash presents a different way to run. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
But always remember that those who train like runners will always be on the podium at Warrior Dash.
Have fun, train smart, and race fast!
Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, USA Track & Field certified coach, and the winner of the 2012 Maryland Warrior Dash. He is the creator of Strength Running where he helps runners get faster and prevent injuries.
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