Here's what it takes to run an Obstacle Course Race
Running uphill a sand dune is no fun. With the sun beating down on his back, and a threat of punitive burpees if he stops, Arjun Motha was soon questioning his motivation for running the Spartan Race in Dubai last year. With inventive obstacles lined up across the 15 kilometre challenge, Arjun tells me that while strength is essential, if you are competing – it is endurance, flexibility and mental strength that finally sees you through. He should know – after all he finished in the top 20.
However, the 28-year-old owner of Aqua Outback Resort promises us that he was not born doing human flag poses – in fact, he got on this track just about five years back. In 2012, when he participated in his first obstacle course race with the Tough Mudder in England, Arjun admits, “I was pathetic.” Well, the six-pack flaunting kite-surfer has come a long way since, and says, “I really embrace failure now – it motivates me to get up and stay focussed”. His routine that began with just cycling has now been amped up to include practicing at obstacle course zones in Dubai, running up mountains to take on the altitude change and such. Based in Tuticorin, this callisthenics-worshipping fitness junkie will be in town next week to take up the Devils Circuit challenge, a 5km race comprising 15 to 18 obstacles. “While it is fun – some preparation is mandatory, to avoid injuries,” says Arjun, adding that for someone even with zero fitness, it will take just about four months to get obstacle-ready.
While you brood over what could constitute ‘zero’ fitness, we are still on the high octane level with Chennai-based Vikram Menon, who has competed in three races in the past year, and for whom winning is becoming a habit. First in pool in Devils Circuit (Goa), Mad Warrior (Malaysia) and seventh overall in Spartan Race (Singapore) for this rock-climbing enthusiast the sky is the limit. Recovering from a bike accident, the 31-year-old just got back from Thailand where he was surfing and training and is now raring to plunge into the races – that means another Spartan Race (Bangkok) besides the Devils Circuit. He believes that functional training and running should help you get ready for the muddy challenge.
In that case, Girish Ramdas, first time participant at the Devils Circuit, has got it half covered. A regular runner, the 42-year-old might be a rookie at obstacle course races, but he has been running on a daily basis for the past decade. Not much of an iron-pumping fan, the CEO/Founder of Magzter Digital Pvt Ltd finds himself working out in the gym to prepare for the race. “I noticed that the obstacle course race does need some upper body strength training,” he admits, adding that running is like breathing for him now – the obstacle course race is an interesting physical challenge, and he looks forward to ‘finishing something tough’.
In Baltimore, meanwhile, we have Chennai-boy Dr Sunil Solomon jumping on high platforms, sledge pulling and grappling with rope climbing. “Normal is boring! I’ve dabbled a bit in bodybuilding and crossfit and enjoy pushing myself and trying new things. I like to challenge myself and come out stronger. And it really helps me focus with work too,” says the associate professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who is planning to participate for the first time in the Tough Mudder race in North Carolina this year. Pumped up and ripped, the 37-year-old is also chairman, Y R Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education, Chennai, and is obviously not kidding when he says, “My days always start at the gym, it’s my cup of coffee.”
Birds of a feather
Last year, when Rajasekar P aka Kutty was called to receive his second place trophy at the Devils Circuit in Chennai, he nonchalantly cartwheeled his way across the stage. The surfer encapsulated the spirit of the race perfectly – the fun and carefree ideology at the core of it all. “Having to wade through a pool of ice cubes took me by surprise,” says Kutty, who runs on the Kovalam beach every day when he is not surfing, and whose day job is at The Kabadiwala, a recycling initiative. Walking across a pool, balancing on thermocol slabs, was another tricky obstacle, says the 25-year-old, whose older brother is India’s No.1 paddle-boarder and is currently in Denmark for the ISA Worlds UP and Paddleboard Championship. “He will be back in time for the Devils Circuit,” assures Kutty.
As for the winners of the Bootcamp category (a race for teams from professional gyms) from last year and the year before last, the Combat Kinetics team in Chennai has already got nearly 40 of their members signed up for the upcoming race. Founder of the mixed martial arts fitness centres, Ajit Sigamani, who is currently in Bengaluru expanding his chain, tells us that it is functional training that will get one through. With ropes hanging from the ceiling and giant tyres to flip around, the 34-year-old, who has been in this line professionally for more than a decade says, “I think everyone should try this (obstacle course race) – even with basic mobility and fitness! Try the non-competitive category, at least. It will give you a huge sense of achievement – and also tell you how your mind can often decide your physical achievements”.
Sujata Vijay, who participated in the Devils Circuit last year here in Chennai, will definitely agree with him. She tells us that her toughest challenge was the rope climbing – hurdles that needed core strength. “It made me realise my fitness level and inspired me to train harder – I was lacking in core strength and needed functional training,” says the 40-year-old owner of Bamboola School. She also says that what she took back home was the remarkable experience of being a part of a movement – a social experience. “From teenagers to 60-year-olds – people of all ages and walks of life are here. Besides giving me a sense of where I stand in terms of fitness – the race has a great positive vibe!” she says.
We are family
Sure enough, what Sujata experienced is exactly what the founders of Devils Circuit are hoping to achieve at every race. “Our USP is to create an emotional connect — a sense of camaraderie between the runners and our property,” says Delhi-based former techie Adnan Adeeb, who conceptualised the Devils Circuit five years back, along with his wife Zeba Zaidi, and has two other properties along the same lines – a corporate show on Colors TV and ‘a hunt for the fittest college’ on VH1. Seven years back in California, Adnan (now 45 years old) had run the Spartan Race – and when he got back to India, he realised that there was a dearth of participative sports here. With an eight-city roll out, the duo has conducted 25 races in the country to date. So what can we expect this year at the Devils Circuit? He quips back, “It is a surprise! We have nearly 10 new obstacles designed for this edition,” but does let on that there are more above-the-ground trusses in store, and that they are expecting 5,000 people to run together, this time. Adnan adds, “I must say, the spirit of Chennai is remarkable. When the floods hit the city – we postponed our event by two weeks. To our surprise, we still had 1,400 participants turning up, even though we offered a refund option.” Adnan also says that their after-party comprising a DJ and Zumba among other activities is a unique exercise, where it is not about winning or losing – but about having had a collective experience. Considering that the Devils Circuit Facebook page has about 820,000 followers, I guess Adnan knows a thing or two about building a community.
Chennai-based Praveen Raja (39), CEO Ikas Technologies, has teamed up with his sister Sunitha Raja to develop a new fitness blog called Shredify.me based on their personal fitness experiences. A dental surgeon, Sunitha (41) won the gold at the recent state weightlifting championship and fifth place in the nationals. Praveen, a former national-level table tennis player, had to deal with a back injury and a knee surgery before reaching his fitness goals — the six-pack and single finger pull-ups are incidental, he says! Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a newbie, their ready-reckoner here works perfectly as a pre-obstacle-course race brief for us.
• Training should involve activities that improve all three aspects of fitness — strength, flexibility and endurance.
• Endurance means running along with functional/circuit training drills, such as the use of agility
ladders, box jumps, battle ropes, etc.
• Strength training should involve body weight activities such as push-ups, pull-ups as well as
compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, standing overhead press, lunges, etc.
• Programme rest days into your training schedule. This helps your body recover and avoid injury.
• Stick to nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, etc., besides proteins, fats and other micronutrients.
• Adequate hydration is necessary not only on the day of the race, but also during your training period. Lack of adequate hydration may lead to muscle cramping and fatigue.
• On Race Day: Wear comfortable gear that you are used to. For a meal before the race, try a smoothie. And when it’s down to the line, enjoy and have fun!
Pick your battle
Hyderabad on October 7 and 8, while the Bengaluru race is on November 4 and 5. Early bird registrations from Rs 1,200, season tickets for eight cities from Rs 12,100. Details: devilscircuit.com
A full race is about a 10 km hurdle, with more than 20 obstacles designed by the British Special Forces to test physical and mental abilities. Approx `12,000 + (inclusive of beer!). The one at North Carolina is on October 21 and 22. One of the founders, Will Dean, is all set to release his book, It Takes a Tribe: Building The Tough Mudder Movement, on September 12. Details: toughmudder.com
The mother of all races — The Spartan Race World Championship is scheduled for the end of this month. Winning here means making your mark in the global world of obstacle course races. Taking place in Lake Tahoe, expect 12 to 14 miles and 30 to 35 obstacles at this race. At approx `12,800 onward. On Sept 30. Details: spartan.com
The last Mad Warrior race saw 8km with 40-odd obstacles at Cyberjaya, Malaysia, a few months back; at Rs 3,200 approx. Catch the dates for their next round of races TBA for 2018, on their website madwarrior.com
A 5km race – it has about a dozen obstacles that include the likes of Fisherman’s Catch. The next one is scheduled at Mississippi Gulf Coast on October 21. Approx. Rs 4,200 onward. Their big selling point is the after-race party, which is all about beer and music! Detail: warriordash.com