Training for Triathlons via Obstacle Races

By Pete Williams

Triathlon and obstacle race training complement each other well, except when it comes to wardrobe.

Are obstacle races the new triathlons? Judging by the unbridled growth of Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and other events at a time when interest in triathlon seems flat, that might be the case.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether obstacle racing is a more effective way to train than slogging it out via swim-bike-run, which can be repetitive, monotonous, and potentially damaging to the joints.

Last year I did fewer triathlons but completed six obstacle races. This year I’ve done three obstacle races (Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Savage Race), although tri season has not started.

With the Escape from Fort DeSoto (April 14) and St. Anthony’s (April 29) triathlons rapidly approaching, it dawned on me Friday that I’m way behind on triathlon training. Aside from races, I’ve been on my bike just once since August and have been in a pool just four times since Halloween.

But I’ve done a lot of obstacle race training – integrated strength and interval running sessions that might be the most efficient way to train. I had a hunch that work had put me on track to be ready for next month’s triathlons. This past weekend would be an interesting case study.

On Saturday a dozen friends entrusted me with leading an obstacle race training session at Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota. I brought no equipment other than a few small cones to mark off distance. Anything else we’d have to find on the beach.

Here’s what I came up with, borrowing pieces from books I’ve had the honor of writing with Mark Verstegen and Brody Welte:

Warm-up (knee hugs, lateral lunges, drop lunges, butt kickers, leg throwdowns, donkey pulls)

5-10-5 shuttle run (3 times through)

1/4 mile run

Park bench routine (alternating pushups/dips) 12-10-8-4-2 (concrete slabs used instead of park bench)

1/4 mile run

Burpees (12)

300 yard run to volleyball net, simulating blocking on both sides

100 yard run

Park bench routine – 6-4-2

400 yard sprint to finish

We started around 11 a.m. and the heat added to the degree of difficulty, but since most obstacle races take place mid-day, that was appropriate. It was typical of a lot of workouts I’ve done during the last six months, a few of which I’ve chronicled on ABC Action News here in the Tampa Bay area.

On Sunday, I returned to my triathlon training group for the first time since November and just the second time in the last year. This is a group I struggle to keep up with on a good day and figured I’d get dropped early on the 30-mile ride because of the layoff.

Instead I hung on with no problem, took a stint pulling early in the ride, and managed a five-mile run after.

This doesn’t mean one form of training is necessarily better, though there’s a tendency in triathlon training to drift into long, slow distance training instead of more effective interval sessions. Obstacle race training forces you to stay on target.

Bottom line is variety is the most important element of any workout regimen.

That and having great friends as training partners.

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Filed under Running, Triathlon

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