I know most of you don't look at the maps for races, and sometimes that's totally okay. However, there are several valuable reasons to study the course map before your race.
1: Obstacle Order
For many athletes, from open wave runners to Elite, the order of the obstacles can indeed matter. You may see a Spartan Dunk Wall with a Spartan Rig following shortly after. If your hands are wet, rigs are obviously more challenging. Depending on the event, you may be able to dry your hands on grass or air dry them before reaching the Rig. However, if you don't know the rig is coming, you may show up with wet hands. That's just one example.
2: Obstacle Density
At every OCR, there is at least one section on the course where obstacles are piled up very close together. Typically this is in areas that are spectator-friendly for obvious reasons. Knowing which obstacles are in this "pile-up" section, and in what order, can be extremely valuable for athletes who struggle with some of the obstacles. You can vary your strategy for completing each obstacle to ensure that you don't fail any of them.
In most cases, maps are only released within days of each race. Because of this, it's impossible to plan your training around the data on the map...UNLESS! Unless there was a race at this venue the year prior. For instance, if you are planning to run the Dallas Ultra (2022 elevation chart below) in 2023, then looking at the elevation date from 2022 could be valuable to you. It is unlikely that the change in elevation gain and terrain will change very much (as long as the location is the same) from year to year. I've done repeat years of races at multiple venues at Spartan and Savage race, and though the course varies some, it's not a lot. You can absolutely use data from a prior year to properly prepare for the upcoming year.
4: Water Stations
Lots of people carry hydration bladders at obstacle course races. I'm not against it at all. By all means, hydrate and stay hydrated. However, you may not need it. I ran the 2022 Fayetteville Spartan Ultra without any water-carrying device because the map showed enough water stations spread out adequately on course for me to stay hydrated the entire time. This can be risky as some venues sometimes won't have stations where projected, and they do run out of cups and water sometimes. It happens. Obviously temperature and your level of conditioning will be a factor, but knowing how many water stations to expect and how far apart they are (roughly) will help you make smart hydration decisions. Athlete who are even slightly dehydrated will see a drop in performance.
5: Distances Between Obstacles
This is similar to obstacle density, but looking from a runner's perspective. If there is a long stretch between obstacles, someone who is a good runner can focus solely on picking up their pace without worrying about other physical demands for a while. I remember the first time I looked at a map for these sections of long running periods. It was at Savage Race, MD back in 2019. I knew that if I wasn't looking for obstacles or trying to save energy for them, I could speed up my run time on the long gaps between obstacles and either gain distance on the person behind me, or get closer to the person in front of me. Look for those gaps and use them as opportunities. (2022 MD, Savage Race below).
There are other ways you can use maps to your advantage, but the points I listed are the big ones. Maps are useful. They should be used to help you run a better race. Hopefully this article helps you do just that.
4 Workouts Per Week
The Forge training program provides you with 3 workouts per week designed to improve your overall fitness for Obstacle Course Racing. Your strength, speed, and endurance will all be tested. Each week of programming will help you improve your running and grip strength. It's time to forge yourself into the best OCR athlete you can be! Click to learn more.