The popularity of non-traditional 5K races (and other runs) has undeniably increased in recent years. From the widely publicized Warrior Dash to the Spartan Run to the Dirty 30, completing a 5k has suddenly become about far more than simply running for just over three miles. Instead, the intensity of a distance run has been “upped” through the inclusion of obstacles such as mud pits, barbed wire, tire jungles, and rope climbing walls. Because of such runs, many individuals are finding motivation to get out and run for exercise for the first time in their lives. However, before dashing off to your first extreme 5k race, make the most of the experience (and possibly even reduce your chance of injury) by checking out these points of advice first.
1. Train for a 5k: Don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because there are obstacles throughout the race that you will only have to do “stop and go” running. Most courses do not have the obstacles evenly spread out through race, and some courses may require runners to go at least 1.5 miles before reaching their first obstacle. Although you definitely won’t need to run the full race (due to the obstacles), you should still be prepared to do so if necessary.
When I ran my first extreme 5k race, I had already trained for and run in two other traditional 5k races. Additionally, at the time of the race I was regularly running distances far over the 5km of the race. However, I found that the extra training really was necessary, because the inclusion of obstacles in the race caused me to feel tired earlier on than simply running a regular 5k race would. Train hard and the actual race will be enjoyably easy.
2. Research the race: Not all extreme runs are created equally, and while several of them have similarities, each has its own unique points as well. Be sure to read a full race description and race reviews by runners who have completed it in previous years in order to get a more complete idea of the rigors of the run. Find out if the race is designed to provide an “opt out” option on certain obstacles if a runner is physically unable to complete them. If there are bodies of water that must be crossed during the race, learn if swimming skills are necessary.
For example, the Dirty 30 I participated in included several obstacles that I witnessed other participants choosing to opt out of. Most of these obstacles were ones that they considered to be too physically challenging for themselves (and not necessarily too dangerous). However, I would highly recommend that you at least try to conquer all obstacles before choosing to go around them. Doing so will not only leave you feeling more satisfied and accomplished at the end of the race, but it also might reveal to you that you’re actually stronger than you initially thought.
3. Prepare your upper body: A common mistake for first time extreme 5k-racers is to only train their legs for the race. However, most of these races include several climbing activities where upper body strength is crucial for success. Be sure to work in a few extra push-ups into your work out routine in preparation for race day. My own extreme 5k involved several challenges where participants needed to pull themselves up over obstacles using ropes; upper body strength was necessary for these obstacles, and I witnessed many participants opting out of these challenges due to a lack of such strength.
4. Dress appropriately: In general, you’ll probably not want to wear your nicest running gear to any extreme 5k. Many of these races involve one (or several) mud pits, so plan ahead and wear clothing that you’ll be okay with parting with after the race if necessary. At the same time, be sure to wear running shoes that offer ample support ; often the ground at extreme races is uneven, and wearing poor quality running shoes will only further increase the risk of injury. Additionally, some races offer the opportunity to donate your shoes to a charity at the end of the race. If you desire to do this, remember to bring along an extra pair of shoes to wear to the after race festivities.
5. Fuel up: A common mistake by many first-time extreme 5k racers is to forget to consume enough calories prior to the race. As mentioned previously, an extreme 5k is far more physically demanding than a regular 5k race; just because you can run a 5k training run without eating breakfast does not mean that you can do the same for an extreme 5k. Bananas, whole grain bread, and peanut butter are all considered excellent pre-run sources of nutrition. For my own extreme 5k, I brought along a few energy bars to the site of the race, and these bars turned out to be the perfect pre-run fuel for me. Of course, be sure to only eat a pre-race meal/snack that you have eaten in the past; as a general rule, it is never a good plan to try eating anything new to your body on the day of a race.
Finally, remember to find a way to record the fun and challenges of the race. During some extreme runs bringing along a waterproof camera is a good option, provided at least one member of the running group can hold it through all of the obstacles. During the race I participated in, one member of my team held our waterproof camera at all times. This allowed us to easily capture all of the fun (and absurd) moments of the run for free. However, most races offer the opportunity to purchase professionally taken photographs that are sold online after the race if over. If desired, budget ahead of time to factor in the cost of purchasing a few of these fun photos.