“Obstacle Race Training” (Book Review)

Want to try an obstacle race or mud run, but have no idea where to start? Margaret Schlacter’s new book is a must-have for you.

Want to try an obstacle race or mud run, but have no idea where to

start? You’re not alone. In just a few short years, the choice of obstacle races has gone from the “big three” of Tough Mudder, Spartan, and Warrior Dash, to more than you can throw a spear at.

Luckily for you Margaret Schlachter, founder of the website Dirt in Your Skirt, has just come out with a book, Obstacle Race Training. The book answers all your questions about types of races, how to train, what to do on race day, and any other questions you may have about these sorts of events.

About the Author

With a background in elite ski racing, Margaret Schlachter knows the hills of many of the locations of the toughest races, except she had always been able to ski down, rather than have to trudge up. After a period of unrest that included losing her job and getting out of shape, she found herself by chance at the start of the very first Spartan Race back in 2010.

Since then Margaret has completed roughly fifty races of various kinds, qualified for World’s Toughest Mudder, and completed a few ultra-marathons, as well as the Fuego y Agua survival run – an event so tough that the year she entered only two finished. Along the way she became the first female full-time athlete in obstacle course racing (OCR), thanks to sponsorships and her website.

Lesson One: Take Your Time

I was lucky enough to meet Margaret last year while at the Spartan Group X coaching course. I realized then that she was a walking encyclopedia of OCR training and racing knowledge. Her new book is packed to the brim with great advice on this emerging sport.

The biggest question for most people is what event to start with? The distinction between whether or not you want to compete or complete is a great place to begin. Obstacle events and mud runs cover everything from 5km to 24-hour races these days, so you have plenty to pick from and your decision should be based on your current level of fitness.

It sounds obvious, but these days everyone wants to go from zero to the hardest test instantly, as if seeking to check items off their bucket list. Margaret spent the first year of her obstacle course racing career doing only 5km events, but entered the Tough Mudder – an event twice as long as the others – after feeling she had built enough fitness and confidence to deal with it. That time spent getting used to obstacles and building fitness served her well, as she finished as the second fastest female and qualified for the World’s Toughest Mudder that year because of it.

Lesson one: Take your time building fitness and learn how to get through the courses quickly.

Lesson Two: You Need the Whole Package

The second thing you need to think about is your current training. In her book, Margaret breaks down the necessary components of a successful race plan into blocks of cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. This is all tied together with a chapter in creating a race winning diet. Nutrition is often the missing corner stone in many people’s preparation, believing they can out-train poor food choices.

Lesson two: A successful race is not based off one thing, but a combination of training, mental preparation, and diet.

Lesson Three: Train Smart

The chapter of this book that will likely see the most use is the chapter on how to get over, under, through, or up each obstacle. Having watched hundreds of people doing burpees at the rope climb at a Spartan Race (burpees are the penalty for missing an obstacle), this chapter will be a godsend for many. Readers will be able to learn safe and effective techniques for all the common obstacles, as well as read passages on some of the not-so-common ones, too. For those coming to obstacle course racing from a relatively un-athletic past, this chapter will be worth the price of the book alone.

Lesson three: If you want to race at the front of the pack, tips like this will save you a lot of time as you’ll find yourself continuing to the next obstacle rather than doing burpees.

Race Day Details

A large percentage of the book is devoted to race day itself. From what to wear, what to bring (two gallon-sized plastic bags, sunscreen, small towel, beach towel, travel soap, change of clothes, extra layer of clothing, pair of flip flops or extra shoes, two gallon jugs of water, snacks), to suggestions on what to wear, as well as what types of shoes might be useful.

I know that I have three different pairs of shoes for off-road running and pick which to wear depending on what type of terrain I will be on, as well as how long I will be moving. Margaret’s section on shoes talks about the differences between a traditional trail-running boot or shoe, minimalist shoes like Merrell and Inov8, and Vibram Five Fingers. All of these shoes have pros and cons worth considering for yourself, based on the event and your own needs.


Overall this is a great primer for how to tackle not just your first event, but how to continue on if you enjoy the sport and want to take it more seriously. It’s funny how much a little bit of knowledge can pay off big time. At my first Spartan Race, I told all my crew to make sure they tied their shoelaces tightly so their shoes didn’t get sucked off their feet in the mud and water. But I completely forgot to do it myself.

The end result was me having to swim through a dam while balancing one shoe on the end of one foot and then trying to untie the knot with cold, wet hands while my team waited for me to do the one thing I had told them all to do at the start. Having this book would have saved all of us from many problems on that first event.

“Obstacle Race Training” is available for $12.41 at Amazon.com.