You signed up months ago and have been training your ass off to make sure your obstacle course race experience is awesome.
What could go wrong?
Besides failing an obstacle there are many things that can detract from your experience. The good news is you can plan ahead of time to reduce the chance these itmes ruin your race experience.
1 You Forgot Something
There are so many things you need to run a race. I know Bear Novakovich famously said an advantage OCR has over other athletic events is you just need a pair of running shoes to participate.
I wish it were that simple.
I have a packing list to help me remember the items I need to take to the venue. Even with this list I still forget something. Heck, I remember to take things, like nutrition, and forget to use them sometimes.
The first thing that can go wrong is forgetting your photo ID. No ID, no race. You need a photo ID to verify your identity, so you can get your timing chip, bands, bib or headband.
Make a list and check it while you are packing. And don't leave a bag sitting in the hallway as you head out the door.
By the way, make sure you take a garbage bag, just sayin...
2 You Don't Eat a Good Breakfast
I thought about adding a poor night's sleep before the race, but everyone has that one. What I find more difficult is eating a good breakfast. Even when I am home this is a problem. The closest race venue to my house is over 30 minutes away, which is great. There are a few within a 2 hour drive, but most require overnight travel.
If I have good luck the hotel has a refrigerator in the room and I can grab something at a local grocery store the night before.
I don't want to eat heavy, but I want enough to make sure I won’t get hungry before I can eat after the race. I like to have a fruit parfait and maybe some toast the morning of the race. And according to Amelia Boone Pop Tarts are a must as well.
Unfortunately, it seems a McDonalds breakfast sandwich or something similar is what I settle for. A little heavier than I would like.
Plan ahead and try to eat something that will provide energy without being too heavy on your stomach. Remember you may not be able to eat a real meal for 5-7 hours. If you are doing an Ultra-Beast then it may be 12 hours before you can sit down to a real meal.
3 You Lose Race Gear
When I run a Spartan Race I have more bands around my wrist than a hospital visit. There is the timing chip, the start time, bag check and the wrist band to indicate elite or age group status.
What happens when you lose one of those?
For the timing chip and start time you can go back to registration for a solution. If you put your timing chip on incorrectly there is an information tent near the start line. They can cut it off and give you a replacement band.
I am not sure about bag check. I assume you could go back to the table, maybe show some id and get a new band for you and your bag.
All these take time and can interrupt your pre-race warmup.
4 Your OCR Friend Missed the Race
OCR is a social sport. It might be the #1 reason it has become so popular. Races are as much about running the race as they are about connecting with fellow racers and helping each other out.
Maybe you planned on doing that special OCR with a friend or family member and something happened, and they could not make it.
Or you are like me and started going to races on your own and know no one.
It’s easy to make friends at the race. I should know I am very introverted and find it difficult to connect with strangers. Somehow the race environment tears down those mental barriers and I find it much easier to connect with fellow racers.
Now that I am three years into the sport and workout at a local OCR gym I typically have friends at races. I love seeing them before and during the race. But even when I am all by myself I make new friends.
Even when your special friend misses the race you should be able to make new friends and enjoy the experience. Trust me, you will make new friends either way!
5 Bad Weather
Sometimes the weather does not cooperate.
Rain happens, and we can deal with that. It adds an extra challenge to the race. And I bet you secretly love getting all muddy. I know I feel like a kid that never wanted to come in for dinner when there is extra mud and water on the course.
But then there is bad weather that cancels a race. This happens a few times each year. I know Spartan has had to cancel a pair of races so far this season, Austin and the Blue Mountain Sprint. It looks like the Hawaii Tri-Fecta weekend may get washed out by a hurricane.
I know Spartans that planned on doing both the Austin and Palmerton races this year. For the most part they were mostly disappointed. The good news is Spartan lets you defer your registration to another race or in some cases get a refund, minus the insurance fees.
I know it sucks, you plan for months for that special day and then....nothing. You travel to the venue, which is not around the corner for any of us only to be turned away.
My advice is, make the most of it and be ready for the next race.
6 Bad Traffic
All my races have had early start times. Even running in the Age Group waves you start before 9AM. This means I need to get up and leave early. Sometimes 3AM early.
This means the chances of traffic delays is minimized. There could be overnight construction or an accident that brings the road to a standstill. This is where a little planning is your friend.
I always leave early, giving my travel some elasticity in case there is a traffic issue. If I get to the venue early I take a nap. In fact I like getting there before registration opens and curl up in the back seat for a little cat nap.
Knowing I am there helps me relax. I also know I can use that extra time to scout the course, stretch and get a decent warmup in.
If you arrive later, you will see more cars and trucks on the highways. There will also be more racers convening on the venue. Some venues do not have onsite parking. In those cases, you catch a shuttle bus to the venue.
All these things add up to take time away from your actual race experience. Leave a little early and enjoy the extra time before your start time.
Remember, if you are in the elite or age group waves and you are late your time does not count. You can still run, but your time won’t be included in the results of your competitive wave.
7 Bonking and Cramps
Unfortunately, I know this experience all too well. Managing endurance nutrition has proven to be more of a challenge for me than I ever anticipated. Blue Mountain has been the worst.
I think I may be getting a handle on this one, but not after suffering greatly at a few races each year.
I sweat a lot, I mean gallons of sweat during a race. It is not uncommon for me to lose 10-12 pounds in an hour workout. My electrolytes get severely depleted. This leads to painful cramps and just plain running out of energy on the course.
To counter these issues, I started taking electrolyte supplements for endurance athletes. This has made a big difference even in my day to day life.
I now take them before and after every stadium lap and at least after every workout. On a trail course I may take one during a sprint and multiple during a super and beast. I had three at Blue Mountain and probably should have taken two more.
The other side is eating during a race. My first Spartan trail race was a beast. I had no idea what I was doing. I made it fine, but I was starving as I crossed the finish line. I devoured the finish line banana and Cliff ba.
You won’t be able to take a sandwich on the course with you, but you can take Gu and similar nutrition designed for long distance runners and hikers. These tend to be gooey sugar substances. They taste great but can upset your stomach so make sure you train your body to process them during your training.
I can't guarantee you won’t cramp and run out of gas, but I can attest you will feel much better on the longer, more challenging courses.
8 Your Race Photos Suck
Admit it, part of the reason you race is the cool photos taken of your on the course. I mean who doesn't want to show off themselves fearlessly crawling under barbed wire?
If you are smart you can plan those race day photos, so they look great.
But sometimes they just don't work out, like my sandbag photos at this year's Blue Mountain. I knew the photographer was about to take my photo so I reached deep to put on a great smiling face. You know the face that says you somehow enjoy carrying 120 pounds of sand up a double black diamond.
Instead the shutter snapped seconds before I mustered that strength. It captured the true agony and frustration I was in. Not the best tool to sell these experiences to my friends, but I admit it was honest.
Other times the photos they take just don't come out well. They are somehow boring or flat. It is just a roll of the dice as to when things work out.
I have some great photos of me on the course. Some of my favorites are just running around stadiums like Lambeau Field and Dodger Stadium. I would love to have a good rope climb photo, but they never seem to have a photographer.
9 You Fail
If you are like me, you set goals before every race. I want to finish in X time, not fail the X and Y obstacle, etc. I think I am batting around 5% on my pre-race goals.
I get a little upset with myself. But that is nothing to get down about.
Everyone has a plan, until you get hit in the mouth according to Mike Tyson. I think every race goes a little sideways as soon as the hype man says GO! I don't start as fast as I thought, the low crawl was through me for a loop. Later in the race I lose my grip on a rig or can't get my legs to move fast enough after the sandbag carry.
Something, everything, will go wrong, deal with it. Accept it as part of the adventure.
If you do the race will be fun and rewarding.
You did many things over the course of the race you may have thought were amazing just months before. I failed the rope climb my first race but have made it a signature obstacle for me now. I still get excited every time I slap that bell.
Let every victory on the course be big. Smile, you did it. Put all the failures on the other side of the fire and know that medal represents not just finishing but a celebration of thousands of victories on and off the course.
Knowing what to expect is an important part of OCR success. You won't know everything ahead of time and you don't need to worry about that. Knowing what might go wrong and having a plan B and C will go a long way to make your race an amazing experience.
A good way to prepare for every obstacle course race is by reading The Normal Guy's Guide to Obstacle Course Races. Over 230 pages of information about everything you need to get the most out of every OCR experience.