The Poor Man’s Guide to OCR, Racing on a Tight Budget

A recent article by Brad Stulberg provoked me, in the literal sense, to counter some of the points made; namely that “Participating in endurance sports requires two main things: lots of time and money.” Outside of being a “hit piece,” much of the article is arrogant and uninformed. While the first claim is absolutely true, you do need plenty of time; the second is absolutely false. You do not need a lot of money; it is not “white privilege” or a white-collar job… at least for OCR. We at OCRAddict want to get everybody out on the course, and if a lack of funds has kept you from getting out there, we are going to help you get over that wall (see what I did there…?) and get on the course.

hit piece (plural hit pieces) (idiomatic) a published article or post aiming to sway public opinion by presenting false or biased information in a way that appears objective and truthful. –


First things first, let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. You need $0 to train. That is right; you need NO MONEY. You don’t have to be rich, have a job, have a dome… the outdoors are free to use. Not only is it free to use, but it is also big… like really big. You can run anywhere. You can lift things, move things, hang from things, all without spending a nickel. You don’t need a gym membership to get in shape; you don’t need a gym membership to train for OCR; you only need motivation and creativity. I have been running competitively for a couple of years now and have hit the top 30 more than once without ever spending a dime on a gym membership. From there, it’s developing a plan on how you want to improve. Many of the articles we have written that feature gym equipment are ultimately trying to mimic what you would encounter in nature anyway. Even in flat areas like Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, etc., you have stairwells to represent hills. You do not need money; you need a strategy. So here are some ideas for you:

Here are some ideas for you:


  • 1-2 per week: long run 7-11 miles, 75% pace, build a base for the distance of any traditional race length (Beginners aim for 4-6.2 Miles)
  • 1 per week: Hill Day, find some local hills or a staircase and have at it. (Start at 30 minutes work your way up to 60-70)
  • 2 per week: 5-6.2 miles, 85-90% pace start to find out what would be on race day. (Beginners make this a 5k)
  • Bonus opportunity for Parents of 0-3-year-olds. Put the baby in the carrier and get to work, load up that stroller and make your way around the neighborhood or through the mall. Sounds easy right? Yeah, you’ll learn, members of our team loading up the stroller for two years now, and add the summer heat and the pay off always come out big time once September hits no matter what course is being tackled. This allows you to turn a basic activity into training time without anybody noticing.


Since the idea is to be low cost or free, let’s get a little creative in what we utilize. Look for opportunities to turn nature into training tools. For example, I have found numerous down trees in the woods behind my house. I took my saw, which I already had from home improvement projects, and went to work. The result? I have one log about the size and weight of the bucket carry. One longer but thinner diameter log that is like the log carry for Spartan, Savage, and Tougher Mudder. I also have one that is nearly my height and 12 inches in diameter that I use to mimic Green Beret Challenge’s Yoke Carry. This also provides me some weight to use for squats.

I am going to steal shamelessly for some and then come up with some original ideas too. Personally, I would aim for 3-4 days a week of strength training and 4-5 days of cardio work.

Plan/WOD A: The Murph

Since we are OCRAddicts, I am going to focus more on conditioning, switching up the muscles getting hit to keep your heart rate up. Performing these without interrupting will assist with grip and arm endurance.

  • 1 Mile Run
  • 100 Pull Ups
  • 200 Push Ups
  • 300 Squats
  • 1 Mile Run

Add in an extra mile – either two half-miles on the front and end, or a mile on either end. You can merge this WOD with one of your other cardio workouts.

Plan/WOD B:

The Spartan Ladder: Andi Hardy taught me this, and I’ve tweaked things for my personal use; for you, this is her version. This is a great one to toss in when you’re traveling with limited gym access and/or time. You follow the circuit below and build up to a number you like.

Some rep schemes are (1 -10), (5, 10, 15, 20) or (10, 15, 20, 25, 30). For example, the first rep scheme 1 Squat, Push Ups,  Lunge, Pull Up and Burpee, building up to 10 of each per round. Simple, but you’ll hate me when you’re done, and I am okay with that.

Plan/WOD C:

This my own concoction and will depend on you whether or not you have found one of those logs mentioned earlier or improvising with a cinder block, large stone, etc. to get this one in.

I’m going to use the log in this example but substitute accordingly for your resources.

  • Place Log on your shoulders or Bucket Carry Hold and do 10 Squats, take 100 Steps and then drop the Log.
  • Do a Burpee/8 Count Bodybuilder and jump over the log and do another Burpee/8 Count Bodybuilder until you reach 10 total (5 per side, per round).
  • Repeat this circuit 10 times with a goal of building up to 20 circuits over time.

Feel free to roll with any of these as you like but any will provide you an in-race benefit and all three will take you even further.

Cost: $0


I do not know about you, but I have been taking notice of school playgrounds and parks. They may not have the length of a Rig, but the completing some of these is mind bogglingly difficult and would put many an OCRer to shame. They also may only cost you a few odd looks if you don’t have kids, especially if you try to kick an imaginary bell at the end with a loud shout to pride for your effort. The reality is, though, if you can start to safely navigate these parks and playgrounds, you are going to be well prepared for many obstacles a race may throw at you because you have been practicing on a similar setup or at least using the same muscle groups required to complete the obstacle.

Cost: $0….maybe a little pride


There isn’t much you need for OCR to run and compete as far as gear goes. You can get by with a cheap pair of sneakers, but you will be much better served if you get some real gear. In fact, you can get quality OCR gear for next to nothing if you are a bit patient. For instance, I have picked up a pair of Solomon SpeedCross 3’s on eBay for $29.00. I have picked up a pair of high quality (2xu) compressions pants for $12 on eBay. What else do you need? Shorts? Gym shorts work fine for most races. Shirt? Wear something that you don’t mind getting beat up.

  • Shorts – Wear something you have
  • Shirt – Wear something you have
  • Shoes – eBay – $29 (optional)
  • Compression Pants – eBay – $12 (optional)

Cost: $0 or $41


Now here is the tricky part. Racing can get pricey if you aren’t careful. There are two primary components to racing: travel and registration. Let’s tackle registration first.

Many of the top race organizations out there command some serious coin for their races. However, if you volunteer at one of their races, they will usually provide you with a free race pass in return for your efforts. This does require you to spend time on the course twice, but the cost of registration is worth the time in many cases.

Additionally, spending time on the course as a volunteer is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences.

Volunteering Links:

Cost: $0 + insurance fee if necessary


As for travel, this can get a bit expensive if you are friendless. I am not made of money but have only had to come out of pocket more than $30 only a couple of times. I am willing to bet my bottom buck that there are races local to you that don’t require travel, but if the race you want is somewhere else, shack up with some friends. I sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag, I have slept in my car, I have been up early as hell and driven three hours the morning of a race to avoid a hotel stay. Basically, you don’t need to spend much if you are willing to invest in some planning.

Cost: $0, if you stay local. Travel costs will vary.

If you do travel find groups like the Weeple Army, THEE Lone Star Spartans, Corn Fed Spartans, GORMR, etc., make friends and find travel buddies. This can make a trip that may have been $200 plus total go down to 20-40 Dollars and add a whole new set of good times.

The bottom line is, with planning and patience you can race whether you are poor, rich, white, black, orange, or anything. OCR isn’t white collar, blue collar, or any collar for that matter. It doesn’t see social class, racial lines, or income.  It only cares about your motivation and your commitment. Now get out there and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Co-Author: Chris Wheeler – Creator of the Poor Man’s Guide to OCR Workout Plan

About Joe DiFiglia

Fitness and sport enthusiast. Spartan Race Junky. I have been a martial artist since the age of 4 and addicted to anything challenging. Years of Martial Arts training provides the ability to keep going when my body really wants to quit.

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