Obstacle course racing is America’s fastest growing sport and it’s not hard to see why: the hill running, walls, slippery slopes, ropes, mud bogs, barbed wire crawls, sand carries and balance beams test you physically and mentally in a way few other sports can.
And even better, obstacle racing can really help get you into shape, says NFL star Dwight Freeney: “It really promotes working out. And you don’t have to be a superstar professional athlete to do it. It’s something that I identify with because that’s how I train,” he says.
As a result, 24 Hour Fitness has partnered with the up and coming superstars of the obstacle race community, Atlas Race, to help you become an obstacle course racer.
24 Hour Fitness Senior Vice President of Business Strategy, Richard Boyd, says: “The industry of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is growing in leaps and bounds and many of our members have raced in one or are thinking about taking on the challenge. It would be hard to find a better combination of health and fitness minded individuals like the 24 Hour Fitness members and an event that challenges those very attributes in a race, like Obstacle Course Racing.” Boyd says 24 Hour Fitness chose Atlas Race to be its exclusive OCR partner in 2015 because both companies share a very similar mindset when it comes to human movement, preparation, fun and challenges for all levels of fitness ability. “We take our partnerships very seriously and are really excited about giving our members access to all of their events this year throughout the US.
“Our 24 Hour Fitness community of members, all 4.1 million of them, will not only get special discounts to each event through the 24 Hour Code but will be given the opportunity to participate in our Group Training classes as a way to prepare for each event coming up in their state and local areas.”
The NFL star
Dwight Freeney — one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players of the last 13 years — is one of Atlas Race’s partners.
When Freeney is sold on a sport, you know he’s done his homework. Known for his intensely analytical approach to his craft of shutting down quarterbacks, the San Diego Chargers and former Indianapolis Colts linebacker tends to leave nothing to chance.
While he’s again expected to be a dominant force in the NFL in 2015, at 34 years Freeney has been planning for what comes after football. A year ago his manager was working with Atlas Race on a project and approached him about the opportunity. Intrigued, Freeney took a good look at obstacle racing.
What he discovered was that the growth of obstacle racing in the US and around the world was nothing short of explosive. The biggest players are Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, but Atlas Race was emerging as one of the hottest new players by making a point of catering for people of different athletic abilities and ages.
While they have the usual difficult terrain and obstacles, Atlas Race events are more like traditional timed races of varying lengths and for different levels of ability, from weekend racers to pro athletes. Atlas races don’t come with obstacles that are designed to induce fear or pain, like in Tough Mudder, or theatrical props such as the Viking helmets of Warrior Dash and spears of Spartan Race. Atlas Race’s events are what a triathlon might look like if you turned it into an obstacle race.
What also appealed to Freeney — who has supported kids’ charity organizations throughout his career — was that Atlas offers events for children: mini versions of the adult races run over half a mile courses for 4-8 year olds and one mile for 9-13 year olds. The parents can run along with the kids if they want. “It caters for all genres,” Freeney says of obstacle racing. “I think people get tired of the same old stuff in the gym with the weights and the treadmill. I played 13 years, going on 14 years in NFL, and I had to change the way I worked out —because you get tired. Doing something like this alongside your gym workouts just brings a whole new excitement to working out and staying in shape. You can do it, and have fun and compete with it.”
But the final motivation to get involved came from an unlikely source: young obstacle course racer Cassidy Watton, who the Atlas Race organizers pointed out to him as someone they thought could help promote the sport. Racers like Watton made Freeney realize OCR had very marketable athletes.
Atlas warrior queen
Cassidy Watton has rarely finished outside the top three in obstacle course races since she ran her first in Arizona in 2011. In that race — pushed into it by a friend — she came fourth, beating hardened pro racers despite training only casually for it.
“I performed very well, considering that I was just working out casually to stay in shape. I wasn’t that focused on any sort of training plan,” says Watton. A former child sporting prodigy, her passion for sport had waned during college, but she felt the flame being reignited in the Arizona race.
“It was really painful but at the same time I noticed that I was staying with the front pack of the girls and I was a little bit surprised. So the fact that I’m up there just fuelled that flame. I thought I might as well stay at the top of the pack, or even pick off another girl. That really competitive edge came back into me.” Now, Watton’s toughness, determination and grit are becoming legendary on the obstacle circuit, and she’s on the Atlas Pro team of professional obstacle course racers.
How tough is Watton?
Most competitors in any sport have mantras to squeeze out a little bit more motivation when things get really tough; it’s usually corny but effective stuff like “unless you faint or die, just keep going,” or “suck it up now so you won’t suck it up tomorrow.” Watton’s mantra, she tells 24Life, is
“put your left foot in front of your right foot, put your right foot in front of your left foot…”
In other words, she races so hard and is so often on the limit that she has to motivate herself just to take the next step.
“Obstacle racing can be very tough,” she says. “I don’t even know if tough is enough of a word, because it really pushes you to a point physically and mentally at the very same time that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to in a workout, and I push myself hard in a workout.”
Freeney, as a pro athlete, gets what Watton goes through. It’s obvious to him every time he watches her race. “Cassidy puts in maximum effort in everything she does,” he says. “She’s one of the best. You can see her resiliency. If you watch her run you definitely see that, a never-say-die type of attitude.”
CASSIDY WATTON’S THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO TO GET READY FOR OBSTACLE COURSE RACING
As a result of 24 Hour Fitness’s partnership with Atlas Race, 24 Hour Fitness members have the opportunity to participate in Group Training Classes to help prepare them for obstacle racing. In addition, you can follow these tips from Watton on how to get your body in shape for a race.
1 FIND A HILL
“Find some elevation and climb it. Going for a jog is just not going to cut it. Jogging will build up your aerobic base pretty well, but it’s not going to simulate a race. All these races have a lot of elevation and even if there’s a rare race that’s flat, your leg strength is going to be really important. You need endurance strength in your legs. So find a hill and climb it. Get that heart rate up or even do hill sprints and walk back down.”
2 GET STRONGER
“You really want to be able to pick up your own bodyweight. So pull-ups are the number one thing that people need to start working on. Many women feel defeated when it comes to pull-ups but everyone can learn to pull up. You just have to know the progression and keep working at it. You don’t need anything fancy. You need a hill, maybe a pull-up bar and a ton of push-ups. So bodyweight movements and leg strengths, I’d say those were the top things to go for.”
3 TRAIN SMART
“There’s this whole phenomenon right now of people — and I’m guilty of it as well — just doing more and more and more and beating themselves into the ground. Rest is just as important as working out. You build muscle when you’re recovering, not when you’re working out. So on the days that you’re working out, go hard, and then rest hard.”