There’s a reason why our Very Personal Trainers are so good at helping you reach your fitness goals. It’s because they’re always setting/reaching/crushing their own on the regular. For Farringdon favourite George Edwards, he’s pushed his mind, body and hip flexors to the limit on some of the world’s toughest Obstacle Course Races. Now, he’s sharing some of his experiences and tips on how you can get involved too. Spoiler: you don’t have to be a sadist, but it definitely helps.
If you hadn’t noticed, OCR or Obstacle Course Racing is booming these days. Men and women of all ages and abilities are throwing themselves into muddy trenches, over 10ft walls, along ropes and across Ninja Warrior-type rigs – all in the name of fitness.
This blog is going to give you all of the finer details about the sport that social media built – from how to train, to what expect and some of the races I'd recommend. (Race season is pretty much January to November in the UK with an August break being the quietest month.)
All about OCR
OCR is the governing body that makes up all obstacle course races (apart from Tough Mudder and Spartan race that hold their own annual championships.) OCRWC also hold an annual world championship – and I've been lucky enough to attend the last 3 championships in both Spartan and OCRWC.
Races are between 3km sprint 15/20km championship course and 100km ultras, depending on your stamina and ability to enjoy suffering. Other than that, there can be a bit of a different vibe to each race. For example, where Spartan prides itself on individual racing, Tough Mudder shouts about camaraderie and team.
My class at Gymbox Farringdon is a mixture of everything – so expect a lot of carries and grip fatigue before you hit the rope climbs. You’ll also hit the main rig with a mixture of rings and bars that you have to swing between without touching the floor. I like to get creative by mixing up the attachments. Team work is also a strong part of the class so it's perfect if you’re interested in meeting new people and having a laugh while working out.
First things first: how's your running? While most people worry about the obstacles, you’ll need to address your base fitness before anything else, so start preparing yourself for the distance of the race you're entering.
Secondly, how long can you hang on a bar for? Grip is important as most obstacles incur a penalty if you cannot complete it first try. Get practicing by holding different objects from kettlebell to towel grip pull ups – even bouldering helps.
Not sure if you’re fit enough? Well, you won't know until you try. Over 400 million people globally have entered an OCR event. What makes you so different? Try a Spartan sprint race that’s around 5-6km with 15 obstacles – that’s a good target to set your sights on.
How did you get into racing, George?
Well… my friend Joe Brigham worked at Gymbox about five years ago and I'd just broken up my girlfriend at the time, so he suggested I get involved. So I signed up for a Spartan Beast which is about 13 miles, and I finished 144 out of 4000. I was immediately hooked. For me, the high of finishing completely exhausted was exhilarating. Running through forests and crossing streams and swimming across lakes for 3 hrs was torture but looking back I loved it.
Five years on and 80 races completed, I’ve entered some sadistic challenges. The one that sticks out the most was in Andorra, September 2017 at the Spartan European championships. It was -6, the mountain above us covered in thick snow and a 7.30am start time. 180 of the best Spartan athletes huddled like children on the start line. The total elevation was like climbing Snowdon three times over – but chuck in 60 Burpees at altitude for 2 missed obstacles and I was broken.
I remember sulking and being angry, climbing the final hill as my hip flexors cramped with every step, collapsing at the finish line. I made the top 50 a huge milestone for me. I swore I'd never do another race as I watched others cross the line in over the course of the next six hours. Then five days later I was back home and training for the world OCR championships in Toronto. This sport is addictive, soul-destroying, euphoric, humbling – but oh so sweet.
A lot of us rarely get to start, do and then complete anything in one day. It's a mirror for life in some aspects, as it's often painful with so many obstacles in your way. When you do cross the line you don't realise how much you enjoyed it and that it really is a gift to take part in a race.