Wading through mud in an obstacle race  ()Wading through mud in an obstacle race () © Copyright

9 top tips for obstacle races from a world champ

If you’re one of the thousands taking on an obstacle course race this year, take some tips from a world champion

Jon Albon has waded through a lot of mud on his way to becoming the world’s number one obstacle course racer. He only took part in his first OCR event in 2011 after reading about it in a newspaper, and by 2015 he was dominating the scene.

He’s recently moved to Bergen, Norway, where he trains by running in the mountains after quitting the nine-to-five world to focus entirely on competing. This year, he’s getting warmed up with some cross-country skiing before entering the Bergen marathon in spring, Toughest OCR in April, extreme skyrunning in summer and then the OCR world champs in autumn. Time for some tips… 

Jonathan Albon obstacle course race world champion ()


Getting started

“Having a good level of fitness helps but there’s a whole array of events out there for any level of fitness.

“The ‘Toughest’ events are a good place to start because they use a relatively short 8km course, whereas some are a bit longer, ranging all the way up to 24-hour races.

“They have a hard lane and an easy lane for the obstacles, too. For example, the easy lane might have monkey bars for an obstacle and the hard lane might have flying monkey bars, where you have to launch yourself between the bars.

“In the hard lane, you’re rewarded for having good obstacle technique as well, and can’t just be the best runner if you want to win.”

Jumping into muddy water in an obstacle race  ()


The kit

Keep it simple

“Shorts, T-shirt and trainers are all you need. For a cold event, I go for a pair of shorts, a pair of fell-running trainers and then a merino wool top or neoprene rash vest, neoprene gloves and neoprene beanie.”

“For the Las Vegas 24-hour race, I wore two layers of neoprene tops and bottoms. We got into the water about nine times each lap, and in the desert at night, it’s really cold.
I don’t normally wear that kind of thing, though, because the ethos of the events is you’re supposed to get cold and then afterwards you warm up and feel amazing. It’s meant to be a challenge and a struggle.”



“Start off with a running schedule that you’d do for any other running race. Include intervals, tempo runs, a longer run at the weekend and some standard runs. Do circuits to improve your running and focus on your legs, core and lower back.”


“Go climbing or bouldering to improve hand strength. When you’re doing the monkey bars, it’s not your arm strength that gives out, it’s your hand grip. Bouldering is a good way of training because it’s fun and doesn’t really feel like training, and you’ll build your grip strength up a lot. Climbers have got the best strength-to-weight ratio, which is most important for the obstacles.”

Swinging in an obstacle race ()


Don’t get comfy

“Getting uncomfortable is also important, because no matter what race you do, you’re going to be uncomfortable. You’re not going to be running with dry feet, so do that in training too. And make sure you’re having fun, because if you’re having fun, you’ll do more of it and you’ll do it better.”


Do them anywhere

“I tend to make up circuits that I can do anywhere, and most of them will be self-bodyweight exercises. Static exercises like planks increase core strength, but biometric movements like squat jumps are good too.”

Keep it interesting

“If you set out to do 300 squats, it’s boring, but if you break it up and put another exercise between each set of reps, you can do a lot without thinking about it. Do four press-ups, then bear-crawl over to somewhere else, do two squats, bear-crawl backwards, then do eight press-ups and so on. You’ll get a lot more reps done without thinking about it.”

Race day

Eat, sleep, repeat

“Get plenty of sleep and don’t eat just before the race, but try and eat a balanced breakfast of lots of little things (half a bowl of porridge, half
a Clif bar, some fruit).”


“Try and be as relaxed right up until the race. You can only push as hard as you’ve trained so just go there and know your level. And have fun!”

For more information on Toughest, visit Toughest at www.toughest.se

Photos: Getty images and Mateusz Szulakowski


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