Home Featured Articles The Life of an Obstacle Course Athlete – INTERVIEW

The Life of an Obstacle Course Athlete – INTERVIEW

by Jason Lorch

How many 24-hour Obstacle Races Could You Do In One Year?

One obstacle race a year with a bunch of friends is usually enough for most of us. We get muddy, we get tired and we have a laugh about it later and go home or hit the pub in the late afternoon. But can you imagine if you didn’t go home, but kept going for 24-hours?

We can’t, so we reached out to a person who competes at 24-hour obstacle races, all the time, all over the world. We had a quiet moment with Shammes Alshamsi to delve deeper into the mind of someone who enjoys the gruelling physical and mental challenge of these types of races.

obstacle course racing

Shammes Alshamsi mentally preparing for his obstacle course race. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: First of all, thanks for taking time out of your busy and we would imagine, an exhausting schedule to speak with us.

Thanks for having me!

T&S: We’ve heard of obstacle racing, but what the hell! 24-hour obstacle racing! Is it as painful as it sounds?

Oh yeah! In 24hr obstacle racing, your physical and mental strengths will be tested, not just once but multiple times over the entire duration. You will be facing pain so frequently that you can’t be able to tell the difference till it’s too late.


T&S: OK, so this leads straight to our next question. Why?

Why? because it’s brutally difficult than your typical obstacle race and that calls my name! I just love the crazy stuff!

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And they’re off! Into 24-hours of mental and physical challenges. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: There are a lot of adventure and obstacle type race events throughout the year and some of those have become hugely popular due to their format, why do you think that is?

Obstacle races as a concept have become popular because they are more than road running races, they come in many different formats, different terrains (sand, mud, mountains, snow, jungle, beach… etc.) and of many different distances, not to mention the different varieties of obstacles are compiled into one race which makes obstacle races so thrilling.

The more serious racers love it because it’s not just all about running, it’s a mixed set of skills where you have to master running, stamina control, speed, strength, technical abilities and mental fortitude.

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Shammes staying calm and focused, keeping his stamina levels maintained. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: Can you tell us a little bit about the format and what makes the 24-hour version different from other obstacle races, apart from it being 24-hours of course.

What makes the 24hr obstacle races so different is the enormous amount of preparation an athlete does before the race, from what type of gear to wear and bring which depends on the terrain, to what food intakes should be prepared and consumed, and the special customized training to attack the course.

24-hour races also need a pit crew to support the racers which is unique as short distance racers don’t generally require this. Then during the race, I would say STAMINA is the keyword, of course in addition to the abilities of a racer to pace him\herself and the level of management and synchronization between racers and pit crew is essential to getting good results for such a long race.

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Shammes at the True Grit Sydney event. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: You recently competed at the True Grit event in Sydney, can you tell us a little bit about this one and how did it go for you?

The True Grit Sydney event was absolutely phenomenal, the terrain was amazing! The event organizers did a good job overseeing the race. As for the race itself, it was tough. The target was 120KM, I started off strong and was going according to the plan until the 4th lap where I had an issue with my headlamp, it stopped all of a sudden!

It was completely dark, so I had to walk all that lap and in doing so lost my pace and a lot of time, but I kept conquering all of the obstacles. By the time I reached the pit, I realized I had lost 8 ranks and so much time.

The temperature was dropping, sleep was creeping up and not to mention I had an Ultra Spartan Race in Andorra the following weekend, so I knew must stay focused and injury-free.  The team and I had to re-strategize. I got back in there and managed to clock over 80km of mileage and nailed the Bronze buckle. Next year I will be aiming for 120km or more.

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A customized training program consisting of callisthenics, strength and weight training helps Shammes compete at a high level. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: A standard gym just doesn’t have enough specialist gear, so in terms of training, how do you prepare for these events?

For such events, you need to do lots and lots of running. I was doing roughly 25 to 30km on different terrain every two days a month from the event date. I also have a customized training program which consists of callisthenics, strength and weight training.

All my training is done in my home basement because no gym where I live has the specialist gear to train for obstacle racing and if there is, subscription fees are crazy high. Obstacle racing also requires a strong grip, and the one way to have a strong grip is to do rock climbing, which I do once a week.

T&S: Being physically prepared is one thing but the mental aspect to carry on going must play a huge part, how do you keep going?

The thing that keeps me going is that I hate the idea of giving up, my mind and ego just won’t accept it and the only sentence that keeps on repeating in my mind during the race is (RUSH, PUSH, STRONG FINISH!)

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Can you imagine doing this for 24-hours? Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: The majority of us sit on the large dome of normality, but there are a few that sit on the outer edges of that curve, yes the outliers. There’s only so much training that can put someone on the podium, but a lot of it is natural ability.  What are your thoughts on this? And do you see yourself as an outlier or just someone who puts in a hell of a lot of time into these races?

I believe I’m a mix of both because I put a lot of time and effort into training for the races but also have a natural ability to tackle these obstacles and I had a fair share of podiums along the way. To be honest, I believe this kind of thinking limits most of us from reaching our full potential and this is exactly the message I try to deliver to my friends and people around me.

It upsets me to see that people usually know about limitations and what they ‘cannot do‘ more than their capabilities and what they ‘can do‘. I am a living example, I am not a fully dedicated pro OCR athlete, I have a very demanding lifestyle and work +12 hours every day 5 days a week plus tons of other social and business obligations and live in Dubai where it’s insanely hot and humid 75% of the year, which restricts your outside activities.

I do not go to gyms, I self-train for ultra-distance running in addition to OCR which means long hours of training every day. I started my OCR adventure in 2015 and look at me now, with all of those constraints I have +100 races of all kinds in my pocket from which around 50 are OCRs including 6 championships and still counting.

I have enrolled myself into all types of races; road running with mixed distances from 100m sprints to 100KM ultras, triathlons, trail running, rock climbing…etc. because, how else would you know what your thing is and what you truly want to spend your time doing until you try them all?

In less than 2 years, I was able to get myself qualified for OCR championships around the globe and compete head-to-head with the worlds best athletes and score good results. I know this might sound cliché but if I (with all of my humble efforts) can do this, then so many more boys and girls who are younger in age and have more free time can achieve much more!

T&S: What’s the hardest obstacle race you’ve ever entered and why?

So far, this year, my hardest was spartan Ultra Beast Andorra which came 5 days after the Sydney 24hr Enduro race. The distance was about 51km with a series of mountain climbs combined with seriously heavy weighted obstacles, such as the chain wrap, which took a toll on my gas tank, not to mention the high elevation which deprives you of oxygen. Overall, that race was brutally hard.


T&S: You travel all over the world competing at these events, how do you manage to fit it all in with your other ‘normal’ lifestyle?

Most races are held on weekends, so I’m lucky in a sense. However, without the help of my amazing girlfriend (who is also an athlete and passionate about OCR and sports competitions) who always plans the logistics and all other arrangements, I would never be able to do all of it.

It takes a lot of time and effort to plan for overseas races and still get on with our day job. Booking and organising transportation to rural race venues on the other side of the world can be challenging at times. However, jetlag, long flight hours, poorly-managed races and missing out on some local events is the price we have to pay.

On the other hand, such events are a kind of getaway for both of us where we spend some time together exploring new places, learning about other cultures and meeting new friends.

Obstacle course racing

Obstacle course racing is tough on the body and mind. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: It must be brutal on the body, have you had moments when you’ve just thought about giving it all up and joining a golf club?

Of course, those moments of giving up appear during my super long endurance races such as the 100km ultra mountain run I did a few months back. It was so tough and long, at the peak of my fatigue, I was like ” I’ll finish this race and retire “. But once I crossed the finished line, and even before sitting, I took out my phone and booked my next race.

The moment when you finish a race, you’ll forget all those depressing moments during the race and will have a sense of accomplishment that makes you want to do more races the following day.

Obstacle course racing

Most gyms don’t cater for this type of training. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: Do you think there could be harder events? Tougher obstacles, longer distances. What would be the ultimate adventure/obstacle race for you?

Yes, there is one that I recently come to know of which is in Germany, it’s called Ultra Viking. It’s a mountain obstacle race with more than 135 obstacles over an elevation of 3300 meters with a distance of 60km, and the toughest part of it is that you have to finish all that under 10 hours, that is TOUGH! I’m aiming for that.

But as of now, there’s no ultimate adventure, I’ll just keep pushing the envelope and testing my limits.

Obstacle course racing

Finishing strong, Shammes Alshamsi. Another OCR in the bag. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon

T&S: If people wanted to try a 24hour obstacle race for themselves, what would be your recommendations as a starting point?

For people who want to try a 24hr obstacle race, I’d suggest first to try out a couple of races of the same nature but of a shorter distance, to get familiar with the obstacles and see where they stand in terms of endurance for something like True Grit and the Spartan Ultra Beast, which is approximately 51km. I would also recommend training for trail running distance of more than 42km. You will get a good shot at getting a positive result for the 24hr races.


T&S: So what’s next for you? What’s on the calendar and do you have any major goals you want to achieve in the next few years?

I have qualified for the 2018 OCR World Championship UK in October, as well as three Spartan World Championships (the Spartan World Trifecta Championship in Greece, Spartan World Championship, Lake Tahoe California and the Spartan World Ultra Championship in Iceland).

I have a few local ultra-marathons, one of them is 497km, plus many OCRs locally and overseas. That’s my menu up till the end of 2018, but I only have one goal for all of this which is to aim for the podium!


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Shammes Alshamsi proudly flying his flag. Photo: ©Richard McGibbon


We wish Shammes all the very best for the rest of 2018 and beyond and we’ll be keeping an eye on his results at the OCR World Champs in the UK in October. From all of us at Tyres and Soles, good luck!



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