Obstacle and Adventure Racing as a Survival Tool

by David Morris on May 12, 2011

For the next couple of newsletters, we’re going to talk about some activities that are both helpful for preparedness AND are fun activities to do alone, with your family, and/or with friends.

One side of me thought that this was the wrong time to be covering something light hearted. There are many reasons to be focused and serious about preparedness right now—economic, terror related, and natural disasters including tornadoes and the horrible flooding happening along the Mississippi.  If you’re being effected by the flooding, know that millions of people are praying for you daily.

At the same time, it’s also important to find ways to have fun with preparedness and finding fun activities to do with your family that will help them get prepared…whether they realize they’re doing something related to preparedness or not. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a sign for an upcoming obstacle course adventure race. I’ve been doing solo and team adventure races since 1999 and thought it looked like it’d be fun. So, I called a buddy of mine, and we decided to do it together.

Some skills have been proven through the centuries to be very valuable after economic collapses or breakdowns in civil order after natural or manmade disasters.  A few of these in particular are physical strength, physical endurance, interpersonal skills, the ability to make decisions under physical and mental stress, and tenacity in the face of adversity.  Adventure racing is a fun and very effective way to develop every one of these skills, as well as being a way to evaluate your level of competence…both compared to where you want to be and to where others are currently.

Adventure racing is also perfectly suited for training for escape and evasion scenarios, fast and light bugout scenarios, and movement across a chaotic landscape that’s been affected by disaster.  In short, it’s a GREAT activity for preppers.

To give you a little background, adventure races are sort of like off road triathlons, except the main three disciplines are usually trail running, mountain biking, and kayaking. Events range from 3-4 miles in length with multiple obstacles to multi-day events. Shorter events are called “sprints” and are normally run on a marked path, and longer ones also involve orienteering or land navigation with a map and compass.  The longest ones are multiple days and are called “expeditions.”

In addition to the main three disciplines, some adventure races include roller blading, rock climbing, rappelling, traversing rope bridges, rope challenges, swimming, BIG pools of mud, full-on military style obstacle courses, running trails at night while being tied to your team, individual challenges, team challenges, and more.

Many of them are also self-supporting races, which means that there are no aid stations or limited aid stations every 5-10 miles. If you think you might need it, you either need to carry it with you or cache it days before the race.

One example of the benefits of being prepared was a 6 hour race I did a few years ago. The race started with a running section on the shore of a small lake. The other side was nice dry deep sand. So, immediately everyone had wet feet and sandy, gritty shoes. People who had dry socks and experience taking care of their feet had an obvious advantage a few hours later when the effects of the moisture and grit had compounded.

In recent years, a VERY popular new type of adventure race has emerged—the obstacle course adventure race. Most of them involve mud. Sliding down muddy slopes into big puddles of mud, crawling through tunnels filled with mud, crawling under barbed wire or fencing wire through swimming pool sized puddles of mud, and simple grave sized holes of mud along the course that you have to jump into and climb out of. In short, lots of mud. To spice things up, they also have military obstacle course style obstacles of all levels in between the mud obstacles.  These range from 5ks that you can do with kids to 10 milers that have the express purpose of causing everyone involved physical pain and making them want to quit.

So here are some reasons why I think adventure races are so great, why I continue to do them, and why I think that every prepper who can should consider doing so as well.

  1. Fitness is easier when you have a concrete, achievable goal with a deadline. Almost everyone knows it from experience, but there’s a big difference between knowing it and actually doing something about it. Adventure races are great for this because as they approach, you will know that if you slack off, you will pay for it with real, tangible discomfort and pain on race day.
  2. Your training intensity will be higher if you’re training for an event or a goal. If your goal is to be fit for some unknown disaster that will happen at some unknown date in the future, it’s much harder to train with the same level of intensity as if you’re training for a specific race on a specific date. The benefit, of course, is that if disaster strikes in the meantime, you’ll be in better shape than you would have been otherwise.
  3. Adventure racing forces you to be multi-dimensional and functional with your fitness. It’s kind of like the Crossfit saying, “faster than a lifter and stronger than a runner.” You learn to transition from one physical activity to another, react to and overcome surprise challenges, and work on both your upper and lower body while also improving strength and endurance. While you’re using your entire body, most adventure races will also demand that you make decisions on how to handle challenges. This is exactly the kind of training that will come in handy if you’re trying to get home from work in a hurry on foot after a disaster.
  4. Adventure races help you learn effective ways to deal with the unknown under stress in a low to no risk environment. One race that I did gave instructions to show up at a given spot at midnight with a bike and running shoes prepared for a 3-10 hour self-supported race and await instructions. At 0300, when everyone’s adrenaline had worn off and people were fighting to stay awake, a horn blew and they told us to assemble at the starting line prepared to run a leg that would be somewhere between 1 and 10 miles in length.  Not all adventure races are like this, but all adventure races are designed to throw surprise challenges at you atRepeated exposure to situations like this quickly train you to keep your adrenaline under control, take naps whenever you can, and to roll with the punches. The unknown distance component of adventure racing has trained me to listen to my body better. As a result, I know where I need to keep my pulse rate to sustain activity for an unknown period of time without “hitting the wall” or “running out of gas.” I learned the hard way that going at a faster pace that increased my heart rate would cause me to “hit the wall” much sooner.
  5. Adventure races are set up for people of ALL fitness levels. The race I did last weekend had a couple of people who looked to be bigger than the tunnels that we crawled through. They walked instead of running, stopped often, and may not have been able to do a couple of the obstacles, but they were making a LOT more forward progress than if they would have been at home on their couches watching TV. I did a race series a few years ago where a lady in her late 70s ran EVERY race. She didn’t break any speed records, and completed the races in 4 hours vs. the winners who finished in under two. Mom, dad, and kid teams are popular for a lot of shorter adventure races as well.At the same time, you’ll also find world class athletes competing in adventure races. When I say world class, I mean Tour de France competitors, (and one winner in particular) sponsored racers, professional athletes from other sports, and former Olympians. In other words, people with your fitness level and people who can push you are participating or competing.
  6. It’s going to be easier to get reluctant friends and family to train to do a fun event or a series of fun events than training for the end of the world. Frankly, your body won’t know the difference. The better shape your body is in and the more you’ve inoculated yourself to stress/unknown/adrenaline, the better prepared you’ll be for the physical and mental demands of a survival situation.
  7. From an operational security perspective, adventure racing gives you a plausible reason for many prepper activities…especially those related to fitness. More importantly, it gives you a FUN topic to talk about if people ask you why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  8. They’re fun races to do with kids. If they can run 3-4 miles, they can start doing shorter adventure races with you. If your kids are too young to run, more and more races are starting to have childcare while you run the course.
  9. They’re a good activity to do with a friend who you MAY be depending on in a survival situation so that you get to know how each other responds under stress.
  10. If you start doing longer, self-supported races, you get very in tune with the water, calorie, and nutrient requirements of your body, how to satisfy them without stopping, foot care, trauma self-care, knee and spine-friendly ways to run while wearing a pack, and interpersonal skills when you’re tired, sore, thirsty, hungry, and possibly lost in the dark and missing key supplies 🙂
  11. Adventure and obstacle races, especially the shorter ones, are GREAT gut checks / reality checks to drive home your functional level of fitness. That being said, they’re fun enough that when you get done, you will have enjoyed the event so much that you’ll be itching to do another one as soon as possible.
  12. The training required for adventure racing is varied, exciting, and stimulating to both the mind and body.
  13. Adventure racing can be done solo or in teams. Most team races are co-ed.
  14. Adventure racers are a fun group to be around. LOTS of military and law enforcement having fun with friends and family, there’s usually music, barbeque, games, and a family reunion atmosphere afterwords.
  15. And, as a personal note…doing an adventure race is a quick way to tell if things are going to go well between you and someone you’re dating. Several years ago, I was dumb enough to ask a girl I’d just started dating to do Muddy Buddy with me. Some guys take their dates out for dinner and a movie. I asked my date to run and bike a muddy obstacle course and crawl through a mud pit together and get washed off with a fire hose afterwords. That experience didn’t scare her off, she actually enjoyed it, and she’s now my wife 🙂

So, if it’s at all possible, I want to encourage you to find a local race and do it as soon as as you can.  In many parts of the country, there are 2-4 sprint (short) adventure races to choose from per month. Walk the entire course if you have to. Do it alone if you have to. Just take action and use them to make forward progress with your preparedness.

Personally, I use races as a reward, as a way to measure myself, and as intermediate inspiration to exercise as often as possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about adventure races, obstacle course adventure races, or want to start competing in them, here are some national resources. You’ll also want to check out your local trail racing/adventure racing scene for local and regional races. I’ve listed several resources below, but you’ll probably also want to go to your favorite search engine and do a search for “adventure race” and the name of your town/city or the closest large city.

xterraplanet.com XTERRA Planet A semi-traditional off road triathlon.

And here are some short, fun, obstacle adventure races:

muddybuddy.com Muddy Buddy

toughmudder.com Tough Mudder

spartanrace.com Spartan Race

warriordash.com Warrior Dash

ruggedmaniac.com Rugged Maniac

mudathlon.com MudAthlon

Urban Adventure Races (they vary on whether they emphasize puzzles, fitness, or obstacles)

oysterracingseries.com/ Oyster Racing Series

metrodash.com Metro Dash

citysolveurbanrace.com/register City Solve Urban Race

Expedition Adventure Races requiring orienteering




And a few resources for finding independent races:

usara.com/calendar.aspx US Adventure Racing Association

www.checkpointtracker.com/adventure_racing_calendar Checkpoint Tracker


Do you have any experience with adventure racing? Any thoughts on the crossover between adventure racing and preparedness? Did you get inspired to find and do an upcoming event? If so, please share your thoughts below.

Also, if the topic of urban escape and evasion and tactical movement after a disaster is a topic you’re interested in, I want to encourage you to get signed up for the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course.  Specifically, Lesson 13 covers this topic and in it, you’ll learn:

Lesson 13. Urban Movement After A Disaster

  • Protect your body so your body can protect you.
  • Where to find free local maps after a disaster.
  • Scouting out gangs and community groups.
  • Concentric circles of security.
  • Be boring… it might keep you from getting shot.
  • When to carry a padlock and a livestock marker.
  • Surveillance detection and avoidance.
  • Field expedient disguises.
  • Barter items.
  • Don’t look like the weak gazelle.
  • Money counting lessons from a blind man.
  • Group formations to avoid mugging.
  • Reuniting your family after a disaster.
  • “Smelling” danger in advance to gain a head start.
  • How to keep yourself “invisible” in plain sight.

To learn more, go to SurviveInPlace.com

Until next week, God bless and stay safe,

David Morris.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Vote -1 Vote +1Leonard M. Urban
May 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Another kind of survival-oriented competition are the Appleseed Shooting clinics. The guy who owns Fred’s M-14 Stocks, advertises these travling clinics in The Shotgun News. He is the founder of the program, and has a website http://www.rwva.com

They teach you how to shoot (any repeating rifle is acceptable at the clinics) at long distance with simple battle-rifle sights. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot!


Vote -1 Vote +1Chad
May 12, 2011 at 10:05 pm

My wife her sister an two brothers a mutual friend and I all ran the first Mudathlin race last year and had a blast. We will discuss it this weekend and see if we are doing the same one or a different one. I had never thought about it in the preparedness light however I do see your points. I will look into more of these races and find one to be my exercise goal.


Vote -1 Vote +1Chad
May 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm

My wife and I also did the appleseed shoot last year and we are planning on another this year and possibly a winterseed to, yep that is exactly what it sounds like.

By the way it was our first seed ever and while I didn’t score a pat h my wifey did with a 218


Vote -1 Vote +1Pat
May 13, 2011 at 5:31 am

I have had one of my scouts (I’m a scout leader) get involved in Parkour. It sounds like it might also be something that would challenge your stamina.


Vote -1 Vote +1Stephen
May 13, 2011 at 5:55 am

Hey David,
I’m so glad you brought this topic up. You know what I do for a living which is right up there with your subject. I compete extensively in Adventure Racing, Summer Biathlons(running/shooting) & Winter Biathlons(cross country sking/shooting), Snowshoe racing and Track & Field. All of these are ‘survival’ based athletics. Combined, these comps include the 7 Primal movements; Walking, Running, Carrying, Lifting, Squating, Jumping & Throwing.

We train night and day in Death Valley during the summer, the Rockies of Colorado in winter & the swamps of the Bayou when the heat and humidity are at their highest and the alligators & water snakes are easily irritated.

My 24 yr old son competes in many of the mud/obstacle races and does exceptionally well and has lots of fun. As you mentioned, it’s a great way to have fun, meet like-minded people of all ages and elevate one’s level of fitness.


Vote -1 Vote +1BadVooDooDaddy
May 13, 2011 at 6:56 am

I have never tried an adventure race. I did compete in the Ranger Challenge a few times while in the Army Special Forces. It was a bit different than an adventure race but sounds fairly similar in style. I am quite a bit older now but I am looking at getting back into tip top shape and this just might be the needed motivation. I am going to look into them and see if it fit the bill. Great post and really good info here.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Larry Conklin
May 13, 2011 at 9:14 am

Nope, too old,(71) and decrepit (broken hip,and pelvis) to be playing in the mud, but I do walk a mile or two a day, and get out and hunt over several miles, usually in snow, in hunting season, so I’m not totally wasted.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
May 13, 2011 at 11:44 am

Hey Larry,

If you are still hunting over several miles in snow, I THINK you could walk 3.2 miles on packed trail and through a little mud…maybe not the events that make you wish you were dead, but the shorter ones should be a piece of cake for a hunter. Remember, none of the obstacles are mandatory…only the people competing for the top places are required to do anything. I respect your choice if you don’t WANT to do it, but in the second half of your sentence you provided all of the convincing I needed that you could do it if you wanted to. More than that, I don’t want your comment to serve as a convenient excuse for others 🙂 In the famed words of the Monty Python cast, “I’m not quite dead yet…I think I’ll go for a walk!”


Vote -1 Vote +1Paige
May 13, 2011 at 10:43 am

I think this is just what I need! I had no idea these races existed, I’m definitely going to check it out. I’m 45, in pretty good shape but have had a really hard time getting motivated to get into better condition because working out is so boring. This sounds really fun! Thanks David!


Vote -1 Vote +1Dianne
May 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

So glad I am reading this now! I am getting married in just under 3 months, and I just started boot camp to get into my wedding gown. At 51 it’s TOUGH AND I AM IN SERIOUS PAIN! Now I have another reason to work hard at getting into better shape! Thanks for the motivation – I may just try to get my younger son into a muddy buddy with me, he is 12 and has just started running, he loves it and it would be something he might enjoy doing with me. He is the ONE person in my family who is really on the preparedness bandwagon with me. (Brilliant minds think alike and in this case, I am lucky he is still young enough to think I know it all and loves me despite my faults! We will go far together.)

Thanks again for all your wonderful newsletters and lessons, I look forward to them each and every time I open my email!


Vote -1 Vote +1Owen
May 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Great article. I love your writing style and hearing about the kind of things you’re doing to prepare on an ongoing basis. I feel inpired to get out and exercise right now.


Vote -1 Vote +1Scott C
May 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

That is a great idea! The Army has been doing the Darby Ranger Run for years. A group with access to property could very well set up a similar type of run to train. We have been doing something similar for about 11 years, and it is great for fitness and future prep. Another skill, speaking of racing, is automobile skills. Tony Scotti teaches escape and evasion driving, and schools like the one run by Skip Barber , and Jim Russell run very good and well respected driving schools. I’ve been through the training Wally Dallenbach instructed at ESI years ago and found it not only improved my driving skills, but has saved my life numerous times.


Vote -1 Vote +1Stephen
May 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

Hey Larry,
Never let age or handicaps stop you from doing what you ‘really’ want to do.
There are many Dinosaur athletes who have overcome severe issues with great success:
Mary Jacobson, 57 this year, cancer survivor and Strong Woman competitor.
Gladys Burrill, 92, oldest to ever finish a marathon.
Just a few weeks ago a 73 year old man set an age group world record in the 100m in 13.78 secods at Penn Relays (track & field).
Eamonn Coglan, the 1st 40 year old to break 4 minutes in the mile.
And don’t forget about Jack LaLanne!!

There are many more great performances.
They all had one thing in common; they did not settle for being ‘ordinary’.


Vote -1 Vote +1Keenan
May 15, 2011 at 11:10 am

I agree how this can help a person both mentally and physically be prepared for a lot of things and situations in life. I myself do some adventure races on a smaller scale and have a tremendous amount of fun while at the same time getting fit. This has helped me in many ways in my everyday life. I mostly specialize in ultramarathons 50k, 50, 100 and 124 miles through all kinds of terrain, mountains and deserts, weather and temperatures. There have been times I have wanted to drop out as it is both physically and mentally exhausting but I keep going. I have noticed all the benefits of all the training and races have had on my everyday life and it has been worth it for me. Some of the best racers that I race with are passed 50 and for Larry one of the people that I try to keep up with and yes I mean try is in his 70’s. Yes age does have some effect on us but I race with too many older people to believe that it stops us from doing the things we want to do and have the potential to do. It is funny that I might add that some racers talk about knee replacements like most people talk about oil changes. Yes I agree with David that this kind of preparation can very easily transfer into being prepared for any situations or disasters that may arise. I also want to add that althought my son can’t physically help me as he has to walk with the aid of crutches he does get out as a crew for me in the long races and does a very good job at it and has developed some preparedness in his own way and this has been in the same conditons as me.


Vote -1 Vote +1Verus Langham
May 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Very invigorating initiation into the community’s steerage…. you’ve amassed a wise and challenging genre from which many variables may be envisioned. Personally I cannot compete at present, having just undergone surgery that removed a couple vital organs (but, on the brighter side destroyed cancer’s hold over my body; downside is that I now wear an ileo pouch next to my navel and that must be changed at 3-day intervals). I will use some introspective insight to discover just how I may overcome the routine involved while performing some new techniques in physical training – with an eye toward (perhaps) organizing some jaunts with my 2 & 1/2 year-old “puppy”…. she is ever trying to provoke me into “exercising with her” and if I direct both our energies toward some goal… e.g., as you’ve suggested, a “thon” of a sort replete with backpack and a gps device (cannot get lost with such debilitating appliances appended to my belly).
You’ve surely struck a chord on tying this athlete’s measure of fitness to that which surely will be required of anybody in the aftermath of disaster of a physical nature… be it manmade or nature’s own. Thanks for this terrific, insightful information. I will check out the website above for the survival course (is there any charge?).


Vote -1 Vote +1Julie
May 23, 2011 at 9:27 am

Great article! I’ve raced in almost all of these events… Spartan, WarriorDash, and Rugged Maniac! I would have to say that Rugged Maniac is by far the best one out of all of them! I’m a very extreme and competitive person and Rugged Maniac really made me work!! But the beer and live music after the event really made the event in its entirety a blast! Adventure races are so much fun and for everyone! Did you know that at the last Rugged Maniac there was a visually impaired racer?


Vote -1 Vote +1Robert
May 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Looks interesting. Are there any events in the El Paso – Las Cruces area or would I need to organize such an event?


Vote -1 Vote +1Pete
June 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

Another obstacle race you haven’t listed is Ruckus – http://www.runruckus.com/. I ran it earlier this month, and it was pretty tough. It’s not as terrain-oriented as the Tough Mudder races, but it has about triple the obstacles. It was a lot harder than I thought it was, and it made me want to train better for whatever my next event might be.


Vote -1 Vote +1Death Race
March 25, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I like this post a lot, thanks for sharing this to us. Looking forward always for more updates, great tips to have.


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