Updated: May 21, 2020
The main factor that doesn't get mentioned enough when preparing for an Obstacle Course Race is the weather. From Spring to Winter, from North to South, one thing you can be 100% certain of is that you will have to deal with weather conditions at every OCR you participate in.
Some of the information in this article may only specifically apply to Open Wave racers due to certain rules. Age Group and Elite Wave athletes must follow the specific rules to their events, and so the exact strategies may be different, but the overall concept of the information below is the same.
Let's address weather conditions and how you can prepare for them. There isn't a one-answer-fits-all, but there are strategies. We'll start with the one people struggle with most...
C O L D
The cold will slow you down and can be a real mental hurdle for most people. If you sign up for a race in the early Spring, late Fall, or early Winter, you need to be prepared for the cold. You need to train in the cold. You need to do practice runs in different gear, with different layers, and different materials to see how cold, warm, or hot you are at different efforts and in different temperatures. This will require you to do AT LEAST 5 runs in the cold to get a feel for what you'll need. The athlete who wants to be well-prepared will do as many runs in the cold as it takes to A) Adapt mentally and B) Know what they need to wear.
Spartan Race almost always requires that athletes be completely submerged in water at some point during their races (Sprints, Supers, Beasts, Ultras). The water submersion is where hundreds and hundreds of athletes end up with hypothermia each year. If you are an Open Wave athlete, you can shed layers before entering the dunk wall, complete the obstacle, and then put the layers back on after you've completed it. This way, you'll have some dry layers that aren't already soaking wet and cold that will better retain your body heat.
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Your athletic conditioning is going to play a major role in this. I can't emphasize that enough. If you are walking the whole race...best of luck. You might not make it through a cold water submersion in cold (especially windy) weather even having shed layers before-hand so they don't get soaked, and even with great gear. Your ability to create heat via movement after a cold-water submersion will be your best chance to get warm, and avoid hypothermia. In MOST circumstances, if you didn't properly train and you get hypothermia, it's all your own fault. Don't blame the race company for having the obstacle open. You knew the obstacle would be there. If you didn't know the obstacle would be there, that's also your fault. You should have looked at the map and read about the races and obstacles in advance.
Cramping is a real thing. You might go through the cold-water submersion and find, as you start running again, that you're cramping. There are things you can do in your training to help prevent this. You can practice being in really cold water. You should put on some shorts or compression gear, sit in a bathtub full of cold water and ice for a minute, and then get out and start jogging outside right away. If you are truly determined to prepare as best you can, gradually build up your time in the tub until you're in it for 2-3 minutes and are able to get out and start lightly jogging without issues. Don't have a bathtub in your house? Get a big plastic tub and stand or kneel in cold water. Don't have a big plastic tub? Sit or lay in a cold creek. Don't have a creek? Stand in the shower with freezing water running on you. Don't have any of that? You're probably lying. Even if you can't go from the cold water right into a light jog (because you're significant other will murder you for soaking the house on your way out) you can still get used to being in cold water with the same methods listed above, and it will help.
If it's cold outside, and it's raining, it's probably raining cold water. The combination of constantly being drenched by cold water, in cold conditions, will end many athletes's races. If it's going to be raining and cold, you need to get a rain coat and wear it as your top layer. As I stated above regarding gear, it's essential that you practice wearing this in your training before races. Rain coats often retain heat VERY well, and while that could be great in really cold circumstances, it could be too much in other circumstances and you could be burning up.
Your hands need to stay as dry as possible and as warm as possible throughout the whole race or they won't be much use on obstacles. Failed obstacles mean burpees. Burpees mean dropping your body onto the cold, wet, muddy ground. They also mean that your hands will be caked in cold wet mud, and that'll just lead to more failed obstacles and more burpees.
To keep your hands warm, you can try a few different methods. Warm gloves are a great way to go. You'll want gloves that are waterproof or water resistant. My own favorite personal strategy, because I hate gloves, is to have long enough sleeves on my outside layer so that I can pull my hands inside the sleeve and hold the ends...kind of making it like a mitten. It works for me, and I don't have to take gloves off and on throughout the race. However, you may be in a situation in which it's just too cold for that method...so get good gloves.
You should keep your hands in a fist as much as possible no matter what. You want to keep as much heat from your hands all together in a condensed area so that you're losing as little heat as possible.
H E A T
It's just as important to prepare for heat as it is to prepare for cold. While Hypothermia is the big enemy in the cold, the heat brings 2 (linked) threats to the table: Dehydration and Heat Stroke.
Dehydration is common (unfortunately) among people because most people don't drink enough water. Take one of those people, put them out in 90 degree heat, and tell them to run for 60+ minutes, and you could end up with a truly awful result.
You NEED to hydrate. Not just on race day. Not just on race week. Not just during the race season. You should be properly hydrated all the time. The amount of fluids varies depending on people's size, age, conditioning, etc. , but you can be very sure that if you're drinking less than 60oz of water in a day, it's not enough.
When it's hot outside, you need to drink EVEN MORE water. Your body pulls water from inside the body to try to cool you down...which is why you sweat. If there isn't enough water to cool you, that's where issues happen. Your physical performance will be negatively impacted, and if it goes far enough, you could end up in very dangerous territory. So hydrate.
I've seen races where the temperature is in the mid 90's and the humidity is at 70%+. You need to drink water, and keep drinking water. Under those types of more "extreme" conditions, it's also wise to have some sort of electrolyte (Tailwind, Gatorade, Liquid IV, Nuun) to replenish what's being lost as you sweat.
There is a strong argument to be made for wearing a shirt during these races. As you sweat, your shirt is going to get soaked (yeah...kinda gross) but that soaked shirt is going to be a lower temperature than your body, and will help to keep your core cooler.
Once again, training and conditioning are going to be Essential to racing in the heat. If you've been outside in the heat, and if you've trained in the heat, you will be far more prepared. The athlete that spent 10 hours in the last month exercising in hot weather will have a leg-up on the athlete who trained in an air-conditioned gym for the same time period. As you train in the heat, your body adapts to become more efficient at cooling itself. You want that. You also get the advantage of having "been there and done that". You won't be thinking the whole time, "I don't know if I can do this...it's so hot." You will have already done it, and that's worth more than you know.
If you live in a cooler area, but you're going to be traveling to a race where it's hot, there are a few really good ways to prepare. One way is to put on too many layers and exercise. You want to (safely) feel like it's hot outside, and adding a few layers during your workout will do the trick. Another great way is to use a Sauna. Sitting in the Sauna for an appropriate period of time (don't be dumb and try to go as long as you can) will help you get used to the heat, and help your body become more efficient cooling itself...just like training in the hot outdoors.
You have tools now. You have methods at your disposal. There will always be whacked circumstances with crazy conditions and unexpected issues, but it's so unlikely that every excuse you give moving forward will sound just as lame as it is.
Best of luck in your training and racing!
N E V E R S T O P
Trio Fitness OCR is the best place you can go for OCR coaching and training. We meet YOUR specific goals and needs. We don't do templates and we don't start you off at someone else's level. Every workout is designed for you, the equipment you have access to, the amount of time you're able to commit, and to make you the best athlete you can be. You're always able to reach out to us with questions, thoughts and feedback, and we want our athletes to learn as they train. Whether you are a beginner, or a seasoned participant in the sport, having experienced coaches will make you a better athlete. Head over to our Training Programs page and get signed up for a training program that has your name on it.
Joel Hayes (Author)