14 Things I Learned Doing My First HYROX Race

Sam Rider and race partner posing with their HYROX medals
Sam Rider, left, holds up his HYROX medal (Image credit: HYROX)

HYROX is a competitive fitness event that’s rapidly gaining popularity. It's been dubbed the "world series of fitness racing", and the format is the same whether you’re competing in London or Los Angeles—eight 1km runs interspersed with eight workout stations. 

More than 40 events were held across three continents in 2022. Four more are scheduled for the UK this year, including a double header in London on 30th April and 1st May, and the annual HYROX World Championships in Manchester on 26th May. The competition then lands in New York for a June weekender, and rounds off the year in Dallas in November.

At the start of the year, I laced up for my first HYROX, held at the Central Convention Complex in Manchester. Here are 14 things I learned the hard way but wish I’d known beforehand—tips I hope will get you to the finish line of your first race in record time.

1. HYROX Is 50% Running 

It may not seem like it from the promotional pictures, but HYROX is a running race first, and a functional-fitness competition second. Much of the 8km has to be done while your calves, quads and hams are swollen with lactic acid accrued at each workout station. There’s plenty more running as you navigate the Roxzone too (the central area you return to after each run and workout station). That makes it considerably shorter than a half marathon, but considerably tougher than a 10K. 

2. Every Event Is Different

While the distance and workout stations remain the same, the event space used for each HYROX can vary wildly. In London’s ExCeL Centre, for example, two laps of the arena made up each 1,000m run. In Manchester’s more compact setting, each 1km required three laps of the Convention Complex (cue mass confusion for anyone who’d recently run the London course, like my doubles partner). The Roxzone set-up is likely to be different from race to race too. To avoid this easy pitfall, take some time to familiarize yourself with the course layout before you arrive on the day.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

Given you know exactly what’s coming, you can train for it. You can make it up as you go along in the park or your local leisure center, or seek out affiliated HYROX gyms that host HYROX-themed classes in the build-up to each event. Connected workout app Fiit has also devised a pair of four-week training plans in conjunction with HYROX, which I used to get race ready. These include eight HYROX Complete classes that’ll help you practice the exercises, rehearse the transitions, and judge if you’re physically and mentally ready for the real thing. 

4. Choose The Right Footwear

Given the distance you have to run, your trainers should be built for running first and lifting second. I wore a pair of Puma Deviate Nitro 2 running shoes, which are ultra-lightweight and built for speed while offering a medium level of cushioning. You want to avoid shoes with so much cushioning that they diffuse any power you can generate for the wall balls. When lacing up, make sure to use the eyelet closest to the ankle to ensure a secure fit because trainers are prone to slip off during the sled push.

Sam Rider performing wall balls during a HYROX race

(Image credit: HYROX)

5. You Don’t Need A Big Feed On Race Day

It’ll only slow you down. Instead, carb-load in the days leading up to the race, favoring slow-release carbs like sweet potato, brown rice and wholewheat pasta, and keep yourself well hydrated starting the night before. On the morning of the race, depending on your start time, keep it light. Yes, you’ll be on the move for well over an hour but your muscles will already have stored plenty of glycogen in the previous few days and there are energy drink stations throughout the Roxzone if you need a boost. If you plan to down a running gel just before kick-off, be sure to try them in your training sessions too. If you’re not used to them, they can upset your stomach—and you can’t stop the clock on race day for toilet breaks. 

6. Teamwork Is Vital

If you are competing in your HYROX race as a pair, rather than an individual, strategize every kilometer and workout station with your partner well before you get to the venue. Don’t leave it to the last minute (like we did). You’ll be far too busy navigating the bag drop, warm-up area and a last-minute dash for the loo to come up with a coherent plan. 

7. Time Penalties Suck

HYROX adds five minutes to your running clock with every time penalty, which will be impossible to make up no matter how hard you try. The most common infraction is running too few laps of the arena for each kilometer, which we did right at the start. The other, if in a pair, is running too far apart from your partner. To avoid the first, use the giant screen at the start line to track how many laps remain for each 1,000m. Your mind will be too scrambled to accurately keep tabs yourself. To avoid the second, run only as fast as your slowest team member. 

8. You Can’t Win It On The SkiErg Or Rower, But You Can Lose It

Sam Rider on the rowing machine at HYROX

(Image credit: HYROX)

The 1,000m on the SkiErg (first station) and rower (fifth) can easily derail your race if you push too hard and gas yourself out. Instead, find a consistent, steady rhythm for each and use them to refocus your mind and breathing ready for the next station. 

9. Run Your Own Race

It’s easy to get swept up by the crowd. Everyone’s start time is staggered throughout the day so, while you might get going at 10am, you could be released to start the circuit when others are pushing hard for the finish line. Halfway through your HYROX, a horde of mixed-doubles athletes might suddenly pour into the arena—as they did during our race, causing mayhem. Amid the melee, my doubles partner charged after someone wearing the same-colored T-shirt as me, meaning I had to scamper after him to avoid another time penalty. Mind you, it was probably the kick we needed to atone for our earlier mishap. 

10. The Roxzone Demands Strategy Too

Just like when transitioning from swim to bike and bike to run in a triathlon, valuable time can be clawed back or lost in the Roxzone. Do you grab a drink before or after every kilometer? Do you bolt to each workout station or take a moment to regain your composure before each exercise? Devise a plan before you step into the Roxzone and if you’re doing it with a partner, communicate this with them so you’re on the same page. 

11. Brain Beats Brawn On The Sled

Your race can quickly become unstuck on the sled if your form is ropey. Keep your arms bent and hands close to your shoulders for the push, rather than with your arms straight. Keep your core engaged and back flat rather than rounded. Drive forward slowly but surely, one strong stride at a time, stopping as little as possible. Your thighs will be on fire by the finish and then it’s the dreaded sled pull, so use the next kilometer as active recovery, running at no more than 60% or 70% effort. 

12. The Sled Pull Is A Full-Body Exercise

This isn’t your traditional sled pull. It’s more akin to an old-fashioned tug-of-war. You have an area roughly 2m x 2m to work in and will incur a time penalty if you stray outside of the box so beware. Resist the urge to reel the sled in with just your arms or they’ll go limper than overcooked spaghetti in seconds. Instead, throw your full bodyweight into it. Hold the rope, lean back and move one step at a time as far as you can within the box, finishing with a firm tug of the rope once momentum is on your side. Move forward, pull the rope taut again, and repeat. 

13. The Race Starts In Earnest After The Sled Pull

Conquering the sled can be half the battle for some. Once that’s in your rear-view mirror, it’s time to step on the gas. Strength won’t be the limiting factor on any upcoming exercises—just your capacity for work and mental grit. Now’s the time to gradually up the tempo on each run. If you’re using a sports watch, track your pace per kilometer or heart rate zone and use this to judge if you can keep pushing or if you’ve kicked too early. 

Sam Rider competing in HYROX Manchester

(Image credit: HYROX)

14. The Buzz Of The Crowd Will Propel You To The Finish Line

It’s a cliché but it rings true. The vibe is infectious. HYROX may be in its infancy, but some races already had more than 4,500 participants and 10,000 spectators packing themselves into the arena. When you reach the wall ball station, near the finish, the crowd whips you up into such a frenzy you can almost ignore the searing heat in your thighs and lungs. Almost. Just know, the moment that ball hits the target on the final rep, you merely need to stagger a few paces over the finish line and crack a smile for the cameras to prove you’ve just conquered HYROX. The feeling is addictive. I’ll certainly be back for more. 

Sam Rider

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.