by James Villepigue, CSCS Bodybuilding.com
Obstacle races are like people: they have unique personalities and quirks that you may love or hate. It makes sense, then, that you should pick a race that fits your temperament and fitness goals.
You get out of any obstacle race what you put into it. Want to push yourself to your max at a Warrior Dash or another gateway course? Situate yourself at the front of your heat and have at it. And if a more hardcore event such as the Super Spartan is the only obstacle race near your hometown, go ahead and give it a try! Pace yourself and keep your expectations in check, and you'll do just fine.
Whether you want an athletic challenge to see what you're made of or you're looking for a festival-like atmosphere with a race thrown in for good measure, there's an obstacle race for you!
Civilian Military Combine
© Civilian Military Combine
The CMC embraces its military heritage far more than many other races, drawing armed forces personnel and those who just want to see if they have the right stuff to compete in a military-style competition.
Before embarking on the obstacle course, competitors must make it through The PIT, a challenge in which participants are judged on the number of reps they do in four timed lifting events.
If you do too many reps, you might not have any strength left for the 5-to-7-mile obstacle course. CMC allows up to four-person teams.
Check out the official Civilian Military Combine race page.
Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride & Run Series
Grab a friend for this partners-only event, in which you trade off riding a mountain bike and running the 5k obstacle course. You and your buddy must cross the finish line together, but first you have to slog your way through a 50-foot-long mud pit.
Obstacles are designed to be fun rather than intimidating, but if an obstacle scares you, you can simply run around it, no questions asked and no penalties imposed. Costumes are encouraged in this family-friendly event.
Check out the official Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride & Run Series race page.
© Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride & Run Series
Organizers are careful to stress that GORUCK is a challenge, not a race. And it's a team challenge, at that. Groups of 30 people -- all of them wearing weighted rucksacks -- are put through their paces in cities around the country, taking 8-to-10-hour "tours" led by a bad@ss cadre (drill sergeant) who orders participants to complete physical and mental feats that often require individuals to put their egos aside for the sake of the team.
Although physical stamina is certainly required, perhaps the bigger trial of this military-inspired event is working as a group to accomplish your goal.
Check out the GORUCK Challenge race page.
© GORUCK Challenge
Numerous, well-constructed obstacles and varied terrain contribute to the overall quality of the Rugged Maniac, a race that manages to gracefully tread the balance beam between grit-your-teeth-and-growl competitive and laugh-so-hard-you-spit-out-your-beer spirited.
Expect a good mix of serious and just-for-fun participants tackling the course and lingering long after to sip beer, swap stories, and savor the satisfaction of crossing the finish line.
About half of the participants are female, making this race more gender balanced than many other races.
Check out the official Rugged Maniac race page.
© Rugged Maniac
Run For Your Lives
© Run For Your Lives
Can you escape the zombies who lurk near the obstacles and try to steal your three "health" flags from you at this unique 5k race?
Better start sprinting, because you need at least one of those flags when you cross the finish line in order to be counted among the living and thus qualify for a medal.
Race organizers closely guard the course and the obstacles for each race location, adding to the mystery and the challenge of the event. You can skip an obstacle, but then you're considered a zombie and are ineligible for prizes.
Check out the official Run For Your Lives race page.
A grueling 10-plus mile course in which only 50-to-60 percent of the entrants finish, the Spartan Beast is for serious competitors only. And unlike many of the other obstacle races, Spartan Beast doesn't let you skip the obstacles without paying a stiff penalty: 10-to-30 burpees.
After a few bouts of these cardio-killing exercises, you'll wish you had taken your training sessions more seriously.
Check out the official Spartan Beast race page.
© Spartan Beast
© Spartan Sprint
The Sprint is the entry-level 3.2-mile race in the Spartan series of events (others include the Spartan Beast, Super Spartan, and Spartan Death Race). Spartan is known as much for the difficulty of its terrain as it is for its obstacles. Brand manager Carrie Adams means it when she says to "expect the unexpected."
The series gives wide latitude to race directors to design each event to take best advantage of the course. And the race doesn't coddle participants either; they don't issue a course map so that participants can plan how they will attack the course.
You just have to go for it. Race directors estimate that 90 percent of entrants finish this event.
Check out the official Spartan Sprint race page.
Super Spartan is a more challenging version of the Spartan Sprint, featuring a longer course and more difficult obstacles.
Check out the official Super Spartan page.
© Super Spartan
The Survival Race
Claiming to "put the fun in fitness," The Survival Race reaches out to folks who might feel intimidated by some of the more hardcore obstacle races. Part of their mission is to get couch potatoes - kids and adults alike -- up and moving.
They fashion their 5k course so that average people can conquer the obstacles and have a good time doing while doing so in a family friendly atmosphere.
Check out the official Survival Race page.
© The Survival Race
Featuring the best party of the bunch, Warrior Dash isn't bashful about being considered a gateway race for folks who want to dip their toes in the waters of obstacle racing without taking a full body plunge into this genre.
Don't plan on walking away unscathed, though: by the end of this 5K race you'll be covered in mud from head to toe.
Check out the official Warrior Dash page.
© Warrior Dash
© Tough Mudder
Tough Mudder regularly draws thousands of participants for its weekend-long events held around the country.
With some of the most psychologically challenging obstacles in the business, Mudder is more about getting through the course than it is about beating someone else to the finish.
TM makes a big deal of teamwork and camaraderie, and you'll see why when you encounter some of the obstacles: many seem to be designed to require a helping hand to overcome.
Check out the official Tough Mudder page.
Keep in mind that there are dozens more races out there, including many local events.