Taking on the challenge with little training

Having never played sports in high school or ever competed in a race of any length before, I decided to run a 5K obstacle course. What could go wrong?

Last Saturday marked the second annual Rugged Coug Race, a three-mile course with 15 different obstacles. Divided into five age groups, participants ranged from 12 to 45 years old and above. The 12 to 17 age division competed in a modified version of the course to accommodate their age group.

I spoke with the director of the event, DJ Mackie, before the race began. The annual “Campus on the Run” 5K became a full obstacle course last year, he said. The UREC hosts originally added a couple obstacles to the normal 5K, but participants eventually requested a full obstacle course.

“This race isn’t for an elite course racer,” Mackie said. “It’s not a Spartan Race that have these crazy things people have to train for.”

As I later found out, heats in the competition designated the athletic ability of each participant. Heats one through five consisted of the “elite,” more competitive athletes. Thinking I wanted to compete early, and without reading the description, I signed up for heat one.

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Each runner had only one chance to overcome each obstacle. If they failed, they did 10 burpees or air squats instead. Elite runners had to complete 15 burpees instead of 10. If a fellow participant struggled at all during the course of the race, others were encouraged to assist them.

The first obstacle consisted of carrying a large cinder block along a trail of cones. I like to think that I kept up for the most part, but I had already ran out of breath by the time I completed it. After walking up the next hill to recover, I came to a wooden barricade that reminded me of a rock climbing wall. I had to horizontally climb along this wall from one side to the other.

I quickly fell off, probably because my only rock climbing experience consisted of getting stuck after the first hold. I would like to say the volunteers monitoring each obstacle were very encouraging. While working through my first 15 burpees, the stationed volunteer cheered me on the whole time.

The majority of the run felt similar to a cross-country course, from running along fences, through some muddy areas and even over a gravel pile at one point. For the most part, I tried to pace myself by maintaining a light jog, but I sometimes slowed down right after an obstacle, mostly because I’ve never ran three miles before, let alone completed obstacles in between each stretch of path.

The entire course had three different tire obstacles spread out in the route. In the first one, I threw a tire down a hill and pulled it back up by a single rope. I also had to flip a tire twice forward and back to its original spot. In the third tire series, I had to alternate putting a foot in each one while running down the tire-trail path. I found that this obstacle got better once you developed a rhythm for it.

Running in a half circle around a field, I had to climb three different slippery walls after the tire run. Another wall later on required me to climb up at an angle, with only a couple wooden beams to hold on to, and gravity working against me.

Much to my own surprise, I actually made it over each one without too much difficulty. I had to watch my footing and make sure I had a strong hold as I pulled myself over the top of the ramp, but I had fun doing it. Completing that obstacle was a nice boost to my self-confidence, which paid off for the kettlebell trek.

Next to the WSU water tower is a fairly big hill, as I’m sure many of you already know. But I’m also pretty sure not many have ever had to carry a 35-pound kettlebell up and down that hill. At least, that’s what I chose to carry. Participants had the option of taking up to two kettle bells at either 35 or 60 pounds. I choose only one at 35 pounds and made it up the hill, before I took a short break and carried it back down again.

For the last five obstacles, I balanced on a log, then walked across a narrower balance beam, army crawled through a sand pit, played a chance game and finally finished with a rope traverse, all while volunteers cheered me on as I accomplished the final tasks.

For the game of chance, I dropped a softball down a peg-board-style ramp to determine my task, which was 25 burpees. Other runners had to complete 30 squats, 25 push-ups or were given a free pass.

Out of all the obstacles, I enjoyed the army crawl the most. In an odd way, it reminded me of my attempts to build tunnels of sand at the beach as a kid.

After passing the finish line in 59 minutes and 28 seconds, I received my participant T-shirt, water and a banana. In comparison, the top three overall participants in the men’s and the women’s divisions completed the course in approximately 30 minutes.

While the course itself was no easy task, the Rugged Coug Race provided an atmosphere of teamwork and a place to perform to the best of my ability. I was genuinely surprised at how well I did. Compared to the elite racers, I didn’t do great, but I’m surprised I completed the course in under an hour.

I think the main goal became more about having a fun time and pushing myself over competing with others. Did I enjoy the race? Yes. Would I do this again next year? Definitely, but maybe after a little more training.

“Our goal is to give people that experience and to try out obstacle courses,” Mackie said.