Understanding Multi-Sport:  Obstacle Racing Versus Triathlon

by Jason Jaksetic, Spartan Fitness Writer/Editor


There was a distinct moment in the 2011 Vermont Beast in Killington, Vermont, where I knew that obstacle racing was a far different animal than triathlon.  Nearly four hours into the race I was swimming – clod in trail running shoes and wearing a hydration pack- exhausted beyond all end.

I used to be full-time triathlete in my athletic endeavors until discovering obstacle racing, so I know the fabled lore of the three-sports-in-one.  There are many mythic stories through triathlon’s history and many have to do with the sports origin.  One group associated with ‘inventing’ triathlon was a group of athletes out on Long Island who wanted to combine their favorite summer fitness activities.  The first triathlons had the swim last.  The rationalization was that after run and bike, and working up a great sweat, a swim was the ultimate way to end.  However, the flaw in this plan was it was throwing exhausted and tired athletes into open water situations – and swimming form was really hard to keep after wearing oneself out on the run and bike.  In short, swimming, kinda sucked at the end.

Well, the race directors, didn’t get that memo when designing the Spartan Beast in Vermont.  Or, maybe they did?  If they wanted to surprise me, catch me off guard, they surely accomplished this.  I was forced to adapt to something I had never planned for.  I mean, who does that???


And here is where, while both multi-sport sports, triathlon and obstacle racing differ.

When doing a triathlon you know the deal.  You will swim a set distance, you will bike a set distance, and you will run a set distance.  You can even check out the entire course (unobstructed of any obstacles) the entire week of the event.

And even in this case, there are still plenty of race day surprises.  But the basic movements, the weight bearing motions, can all be rehearsed endlessly, pretty much exactly like they will be on race day.  Your swim form, bike form, and run form, will play out as well as your fitness allows you.

Obstacle racing turned out to be a bit different.  There I was in shoes and struggling to tread water weighed down in gear.  No wetsuit allowing me to swim past swim buoys.  This was an obstacle to figure out, not an exercise I had rehearsed.

The beautiful relationship these sports share is that they compliment each other rather well.  Swimming, biking, and running are perfect ways to prepare for obstacle racing.  They will sculpt your musculature and build your endurance.

In turn, while lugging a 40 pound sandbag up a ski slope trail might not directly relate to the specific situations you will encounter in a triathlon, you’ll be building mental tenacity, while building brute strength and endurance, and building stabilizer muscles that will support your swimming, biking, and running engine.

Either way you look at it both sports are doing multiple sports.  Hence the word multi-sport.  Whether the winter biathlon, or the summer triathlon, the magic starts when one sport seamlessly blends into another.

In obstacle racing, that happens about twice every mile.




Leave a Comment

* = Required Fields