Obstacle racing has been picking up steam as a sport lately and it’s undeniably added a certain edge to the world of ultra and running competitions. This could be attributed to the ‘back to the roots’ nature of obstacle racing, which gives office people a chance to ‘be a marine’ for a day. To experience what would be considered crazy or at least highly unconventional in their day-to-day routine.
There are thousands of races worldwide, happening almost every weekend. Some probably very near you. But why should you, or anyone else, consider signing up for such an adventure? How can it benefit and enhance your lifestyle?
The fact of the matter is, obstacle racing involves the kinds of limits you will at some point confront in your other pursuits, such as career development, social interactions, mental and physical integrity. More importantly, obstacle racing helps you develop mental frameworks to deal with these challenges and to prosper. All through heavy involvement of untold perseverance and the crushing of the self-set limits holding you back.
1. Acquire leadership skills
Obstacle racing can make you a better leader. Regardless of whether you prefer racing alone or in a team of like-minded individuals, you will have to employ some challenger personality type traits in order to overcome obstacles. Most importantly, the obstacles aren’t just physical barriers you have to climb over. Often they are mental thresholds, just like the ones you have encountered in other areas of your life.
Just like your team members wouldn’t listen to a bad leader or someone who doesn’t convey good leadership values, likewise your body won’t take you far unless you have mastered self-control and self-discipline, which build a strong foundation for leadership.
2. Practice grit and perseverance
Although grit is widely used as a synonym for endurance, its definition is entirely up to you. What we do know about grit is that it’s a good way to measure how far you can push your body before it wants to give up. There’s an emphasis here on ‘wants’, because having grit is also how you can ensure your body doesn’t give up until it has to. Taking on the challenge of completing an obstacle race can help you learn not to give up too early, especially when your body is still able to go further.
Thomas Edison famously wrote that many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up – the same applies to obstacle races. During most races you might see yourself reaching the finish line, but chances are you will not know how far you have come and how much you still have left to go. The finish line is rarely in sight until you’ve passed the very last obstacle.
So you’ll have to fuel yourself mentally to persist and keep going – from personal experience, I can tell you that you will need plenty of grit in your pockets. However, once you’re done with the race, this reserve of grit doesn’t deplete and you can rely on this mental strength to help you persevere through life’s other unpleasant experiences: the boring work ‘grind’, frustrating social situations, and other overwhelming and stressful dead-ends.
3. Learn to overcome the mental obstacles
In the gritty and muddy trenches you will encounter the unexpected. Depending on the length of the race and the number of different obstacles, your stress responses will be triggered a number of times. Primarily your response to the monotony of the so-called ‘daily grind’, the main mental obstacle you will encounter in your life.
In the field however, failure is not an option and the only way to finish the race is to embrace the challenges and the chance of failure. Running mile after mile, crushing one obstacle after another, swimming out of the murky waters and jumping into the mud, carrying your tired body – you will want to stop numerous times for numerous reasons, questioning yourself ‘why am I doing this?’.
This question might be something you ask yourself in your everyday life too. It is the same question. The only difference is that, in the field, you can actually train your response to this question by putting yourself in a different environment. While training for one of these races, and during the actual race, you will push your mental boundaries. Other things in life might become easier as well and you might stop coming up with so many excuses for not doing things or finishing them.
4. Soak up the sense of achievement
Everyone enjoys a confidence boost and the boost that follows a completed race can never measure up to your selfie becoming popular on Instagram.
At the finish line, you will be rewarded with a shiny medal, a shirt or sometimes even a beer (which after a truly demanding course will taste better than any other beer you’ve had). However all of these pale in comparison to the emotional experience. You’ll get the sense of being part of a bigger picture; bigger than your ego. You’ll be part of a newly-formed tribe of achievers.
5. Enjoy the camaraderie & teamwork
You might expect obstacle racing to be extremely competitive, because of the assumption that only lunatics would attempt it. I’m happy to tell you it’s the complete opposite: people who go through extreme hardships (both physical and mental) together will experience a strong sense of bonding and social networking. This sense is not too different from the experience of the primal hunters and explorers, working together like one tribe. And quite often, it’s people outside of just your team helping you with an especially challenging obstacle.
Every obstacle-racing tribe, whether it was assembled for the fun muddy races, challenges like the Tough Mudder, or for competitive mudstacles like Spartan Races – will become a unique and welcoming community you can always rely on.
6. Get fit more easily
Setting fitness goals that are bigger than just ‘looking good’ or ‘dropping 20 pounds in 3 months’ can help you to supercede them. Committing to a performance-based adventurous activity (for which you also cannot get a refund) will corner you into doing more, exercising more and eating better. You have no other choice but to get stronger and faster with the race day on the horizon.
And, you can rely on your community to inspire and support you, giving you the motivation to do better. Countless people got in the best shape of their lives because of a simple commitment to a single obstacle race, which built up into a sequence of events leading to their improved life.
Forget the scale and mirrors. Obstacle racing will give a completely different perspective on getting fit – it’s hell of a lot more fun than dieting and becomes much easier with practice.
7. Rewire your lifestyle
As shown in the above examples, obstacle racing really has the potential to change how you view challenges in life. The painful office experiences will become less stressful, your social life will improve, your love life might get a face-lift too. Since you will be eating better and training like an adventurer you will also feel better, be healthier and display the vibrancy of a go-getter.
Most importantly, the way you approach goals will change completely – you will get a source of motivation to achieve more and the momentum to act on it.
And all of this can be achieved simply by signing up for the next race near you – go ahead and take the leap! There is nothing to regret except for not giving this a try. Just one small commitment might start your journey into a new and very interesting lifestyle, where staying fit is no longer an issue you have to think about daily and where you can build your own set of extended family and truly appreciate friends. It’s a life where, even outside the trenches, you can commit and achieve more than you ever imagined.
Are you ready for this? Check for a race here.
Featured photo credit: Justin Connaher / JBER MUDFEST 2012 via flickr.com