The O-Course is a military obstacle training course in Toronto created by the Fit Factory, one of the bootcamps in the city.
According to the website, the course has been designed by Tony Austin, a former U.S. Marine Drill Instructor for all levels of fitness, and presents over 20 unique obstacles. The promise is to get your butt kicked, while getting ready for an obstacle race, all for $30 a pop.
Of course, with those claims, I simply had to check it out.
Disclaimer: please note that I have only done the O-Course once, and the below is based on my experience of the event and talking to others.
The course serves as a great introduction to obstacle racing. It’s fairly challenging, and new obstacles are added regularly. Comparative to various obstacle races, O-Course is tougher than your regular Warrior Dash, but definitely easier than a Tough Mudder or a Spartan Super or Beast.
You will get a chance to practice certain skills and obstacles that you may not have access to in a regular gym (e.g. pulling a heavy brick out of the water, dragging a brick across sand).
The course organizers deserve some kudos. As long as you know to set aside the whole morning for this, the course runs like clockwork. There is plenty of staff on course, making sure that you are not resting, but pushing hard.
The event is timed. You find out your time at the finish as well as later in an email, and can then compared your results to other participants of the day.
The good looking instructor. Ok, this may not be up your alley, but I am convinced that at least a portion of participants is there for the eye candy. I definitely overheard flocks of women who gush about Instructor Tony, enjoy looking at Instructor Tony, and kind of like being screamed at by Instructor Tony.
Photos. There are many professional photographers on site, and you get links to the pictures after you complete the event. Unlike other similar events, all the photos are free! [See a sample photo at the end of this post].
Aid stations. There were a number of aid stations on course with water. You also could grab some bananas and a Vega recovery shake at the finish line.
O-Course touts itself as preparation and training for an obstacle race. Having done most of the obstacle races out there, I don’t think it is. In fact, it’s nothing like a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. While the skills that you will need in both events are similar (running, lifting, etc.), at no point in an obstacle race, someone will scream at you to “do another rep”, “get up! GET UP!”, “hurry up!”, and to “pick up that bucket!”. Obstacle races are self-motivated. YOU motivate yourself. There is no instructor with a megaphone.
The warm-up. Ok, a 45-minute warm-up? Really? You spend the first 45 minutes of the session in a covered dome with few hundred other participants, doing dozens of reps of body weight exercises. Push-ups, planks, squats – all with a small log that you are handed at the beginning. “Whoa, I thought I was fit, but I could not keep up with THAT warm-up”, says a friend. The warm-up is not designed for someone to keep up with it. I am fit, I have no doubt about that, but I couldn’t keep up with that warm-up either. Forty five minutes of static holds and push-ups is not exactly a test of someone’s fitness level. It seems to be designed simply to intimidate, impress and exhaust participants. As a result, the course itself seems that much harder.
Results are not kept. You find out your results immediately after the While the race is timed, the results are not kept. It would be helpful to actually see the results of all participants over time posted on the bootcamp website, just like you can do for any road race.
The crowd. I got a little bit of the “we’re too cool for school” vibe, observing half-naked men seemingly getting ready to rip phone books in half. There are definitely regulars and first-timers. The nature and spirit of the event warrants this, but I did miss the typical friendly pre-race chatter. This would be a lonely event to do solo, as most participants seem to arrive with a posse.
Dirt for the sake of dirt. We got wet fairly early into the course, having to do flutter kicks in the lake, and walk waist deep in the water. It was awesome. One of the obstacles close to the end, however, consisted of sliding through a muddy pool of water for no other reason, but to get some mud on you. I love getting muddy. But I love it when it’s actually part of a tough barb wire crawl, or a sandbag drag.
Drill sergeant yelling. Depending on what rocks your boat, this can be a pro as well, but if you do not like people getting in your face, if you do not like being told what to do, and if the whole drill sergeant thing turns you off, then this isn’t gonna be your schtick. Mind you, O-Course is really up front about this particular aspect of their training. I personally just found the whole thing hilarious.
Time commitment. You show up at 9am, and you won’t be showering and having your recovery shake until well after 12.30pm. Unless I am doing a long run, I don’t like my workouts to last over 3 hours.
Inconsistent information. According to the website, the event takes place every Saturday all year around. However, it seems that it is not the case. Right now the first advertised event is taking place in March, with all events in February having been cancelled. Not really consistent with the whole rain-or-shine claim.
So the question is… TO DO OR NOT TO DO?
TO DO! [At least once].
It’s a great weekend adventure, especially if you can recruit a bunch of friends to do it with you, and then go out for brunch afterwards. However, I would not recommend this as your primary training for an obstacle race. You’d be better off building up your running mileage and concentrating on body weight exercises.
You can read more about the O-Course in a Toronto Star article here. Ironically, when researching O-Course for this post, I came across this article in the Toronto Star, and realized that I’m actually in the photo. See if you can find me…
Also, a few days ago this photo popped up on the bootcamp’s Facebook page, and I thought to myself… “I know this chick.”.
As a typical girl (ha!), am I crazy about the muffin top on the picture? Not exactly.
But then I got this message from a friend who shared this picture on her wall: “This is the only fitness kind of poster or anything I’d ever save or display because I know and love the person in it. I know she’s real and that makes all the difference.” Made me tear up. You know… as a typical girl (ha?). And I thought “to hell with muffin top”. Enjoy.
Love you, Kym (and Kathleen, Deedee, and the rest of my Kaizen gang).
P.S. Have you tried the O-Course? Has your experience been different? Let me know in the comments!
Signing off, SOLO