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How to Train for the OCRWC: Skull Valley

While Skull Valley and Pipe Dreams initially appear vastly different, they actually hold many training and technical aspects in common. 

Skull Valley is named for the skull shaped rock climbing holds, which must be traversed using grip strength in a sideways motion. At the 2018 OCRWC this was followed by floating monkey bars, and then a further serving of skulls, each year the set up has been different.

Pipe dreams is simply a pole hung parallel to the ground that you need to traverse.

woman hanging from a traverse obstacle during an obstacle course race

Here are the key training tips: 

Sideways over forward

When I teach people traversing hanging obstacles, there is a tendency to want it attack it head on.  As they move they have to create torque with each arm movement to get their next hand on the hanging pole. 

Instead, I recommend going sideways for both of these obstacles. Moving sideways is more stable, allows for larger reaches per arm movement and is faster in most instances. If you are really concerned about grip you can choose to use an opposing grip with your hands. Most of the time (weather dependent), both hands on one side of the pole will provide enough friction for most athletes with decent grip strength.

With Skull Valley, I recommend continuing to move sideways until the final section of skulls. This requires you to use more of monkey style swing due to grips on opposing sides of the board.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast

Focusing on efficiency and precise hand movements will make you smoother. Smoother movements will be more efficient and often faster than those trying to rush through the obstacle.


Skull Valley

Skull Valley is essentially rock climbing jug holds.  If you live in Maryland by Otherworld OCR, they have a skull valley and a double wide platinum rig in their gym. If not, any rock climbing gym will allow you to practice hanging from jug hand holds. Head over to the bouldering section and get to work.

Pipe Dreams

For Pipe Dreams, I can guarantee you can find a suitable training location.  Just go to any kid’s playground and re-purpose the crossbeam of the swing set.  The swing set crossbeam will be thicker than the actual Pipe Dreams pipe. This means if you can make it across that, then the actual obstacle shouldn’t give you any problems.

If this obstacle or any other one really gave you problems, I recommend a workout I call “Endless Pipe Dreams” or “Endless” whatever obstacle you are doing.

How to do the “Endless Pipe Dreams” workout:

  • Do a 10 minute easy jog warm up
  • Run a ¼ mile and practice the obstacle.
  • Repeat this ¼ mile and obstacle until you hit a mileage goal or start failing the obstacle

We want to build confidence and create a positive mental image of success. 

If you can pass a similar type obstacle 4, 8, 20 or 32 times in a row, surely you can complete it on race day.  For a harder workout do the repeats fast but if you goal is obstacle completion just starting off at an aerobic pace will be better for you. This not only builds the neurological pathway for success but also forces you to fine tune technique and adjust your methods to finish the obstacle even with a fatigued body.

man hanging from a traverse obstacle during an obstacle course race

Look at the Obstacle Ahead of Time

If you have never seen Skull Valley, parts of it may surprise you.  For example, usually the first section of skulls only has holds on one side and the final section is alternating sides. Meanwhile the middle section is made of floating monkey bars making them less stable than normal.

Follow along on the OCRWC Facebook page and in the OCR World Championships Athletes Group on Facebook. Both provide updates and pictures of obstacles as race day nears. This will allow you to see the obstacle, think of a plan of attack and practice mental visualization of you completing the obstacle. Train, recover and repeat on any of the obstacles that are giving you trouble. 

Think about your plan of attack, create a positive visualization of success and show up on race day ready to crush it. I hope to see everyone at the finish line with their wrist in the air and band still intact. If you don’t keep your band, just train more consistently next year and come back ready to crush it. A lost band should be fuel for your training and create a new goal for next year. Don’t think of it as a failure but rather one more obstacle in your way, which is what we are all asking for anyway.

Lock in your spot for the OCR World Championships. Don’t wait – spots are filling up fast. There’s a distance for everyone. Check out the races here.

ocr obstacle training

–Evan Perperis

Evan Perperis, NSCA-CPT,  is an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team and author of three books on Obstacle Course Racing. Included in his 39 podium finishes is a 2nd place Pro Coed Team at the 2018 North American OCR Championships and 1st Place Team at 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder. Find more of his content at Looking for more great tips from the same author?  Pick up a copy of Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite OCR and if you are planning on racing long at Enduro, Mud Run Guide’s Ultra-OCR Bible.


**Editors note: This post was originally released in May of 2019 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Evan Perperis
Written By
Evan Perperis

Evan "Ultra-OCR Man" Perperis is a National Strength & Conditioning Association- Certified Personnel Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team with 55+ podium finishes including 2nd place Pro Coed finish at 2018 North American OCR Championship. He is best known for his annual ultra-distance charity events for Folds of Honor including a 48 hour multi-lap and the 8 day OCR America. Additionally, he is an author of more than 250 articles and six books on Obstacle Course Racing.

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