Yes You Can: Run a Tough Mudder
To the uninitiated, running through one of Tough Mudder’s mud-soaked obstacle courses may seem like a trial for joining the world’s biggest frat race. More than 10,000 people may line up at any given event to soak in a tub of ice, crawl under barbed wire, or deal with electric shocks. Even though the first race took place only three years ago, organizers expect 400,000 people to compete in 36 events in 2012.
To understand Tough Mudder’s rapidly spreading appeal, you must look at the event format, designed after British Special Forces exercises. Each event covers approximately 10 to 12 miles, with 35 military obstacles thrown in to test your strength and thermoregulatory system. Some of the things you might conquer: the Chernobyl Jacuzzi, a neon-colored ice bath resembling radioactive waste; Electroshock Therapy, a field of wires juiced up with 10,000 volts of electricity; and Everest, a quarter-pipe covered in cooking spray that requires teamwork to get up.
Going it alone is nearly impossible. Tough Mudder ditches the every-man-for-himself mentality in favor of a leave-no-man behind mantra that has inspired a new wave of endurance fanaticism. Forget 26.2 bumper stickers; more than 1,000 people have tattooed Tough Mudder’s logo onto their bodies—some of them in groups.
“It feels like you’ve accomplished something—like you’ve been through a war with your buddies,” says six-time “Mudder” Andy Thom. “I have a bond with my teammates that I don’t have with my wife—until she does her first Tough Mudder next year.”
The Top 10 Tough Mudder Training Tips
Train. Suffer. Repeat.
Sure, you could just show up on race day and go for it, but your team will only progress as fast as its slowest member. Below are 10 tips to get you to the finish line in good form, so there are no sorry references to you as the weakest link.
10. Avoid cotton
“You’re gonna be wet, you’re going to be fully submerged at some point, and it’s going to be cold,” Thom says. Stay away from cotton, which will soak up the water and mud, dragging you down and keeping you chilled. Instead, opt for materials that wick away moisture, like Dri-FIT or COOLMAX, and fit closely to the body to reduce chafing. That said, there is no dress code, and costumes are encouraged, so if you want to go shirtless or wear a tutu, do it. Just remember to bring a change of clothes so you can enjoy the post-event party dry and warm.
“If you lack the cardio aspect of conditioning, you’re gonna struggle,” says Nix. There’s no rule against walking, but if you want to finish strong, you’ll have to train to run. The events incorporate 10 to 12 miles of running up and down mountains, across mud, and through obstacles—i.e. not in a straight line. Tough Mudder says you should be able to run five miles, Nix recommends working up to eight, and Thom recommends 10. The first half of our 12-week training plan will focus on tuning in your cardio.
8. Wear gloves
“A good pair of gloves with open tips so the water drains out of them will help you grab onto things when you’re wet and doing the obstacles,” says Patterson. Weight lifting or cycling gloves will protect your hands and improve your grip on obstacles like monkey bars or rope climbs. Several competitors swear by Mad Grip gloves with the fingertips cut off.
7. Enlist friends
“Most importantly, get yourself a crew of awesome friends—people who are gonna laugh when they fall, and get back up,” Patterson says. Put your team together early. That way, you can help each other through workouts. The typical team size is between five and 10 people. If you can’t convince anyone to join you, don’t fret. “If you’re alone, you’ll end up joining a team at the first obstacle,” says Patterson. “People who didn’t know each other before they started have made lifelong friends from having done a Tough Mudder together.”
6. Train outside
Tough Mudder requires functional strength to lift yourself over walls, carry a log, or slither under barbed wire. Create muscle memory by imitating these movements outdoors with plyometric exercises. “Don’t sit at the air-conditioned or heated gym and do bench presses and curls,” Thom says. “Mimic obstacles. Go to your local playground and climb around on the monkey bars. Get out in the fresh air, run up a hill, or climb a freaking tree.”
5. Get wet
It will be cold. Don’t let event day be the first time you face the mind-numbing shock of plunging into icy liquid. “Train in the elements as much as possible,” Nix says. That includes training outside on cold mornings and in the rain. Or you could do what Thom did in his now infamous Tough Mudder training video (below), and start your workout by dumping a bucket of cold water over your head.
4. Wear old, grippy shoes
“Wear an old pair of sneakers, especially a pair that has trail treads,” Patterson says. Pick a pair that isn’t completely beat, but that you don’t mind getting permanently stained.
Every registered Tough Mudder gets a fundraising page to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization that provides services to injured service members to help them transition between active duty and civilian life. If you raise more than $150, you’ll get a $25 discount on your registration fee. To date, Mudders have raised over $2.3 million for the organization.
2. Embrace the insanity
Conquering the unknown is part of what bonds Tough Mudders together, and every race has one mystery obstacle that you can’t prepare for by looking at the course map. You will fall, you’ll look ridiculous, and at some point, you’ll probably be scared. Enjoy it. People will be watching. “After the race, we’ll grab a beer, and stand and laugh as people come through Electroshock Therapy,” Thom says.
1. Don’t stress
If for some reason you don’t want to complete an obstacle (ex: you can’t swim, and the obstacle requires jumping off of a platform into a pond), it’s OK. You can run around if need be. Just know that to qualify for the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour challenge in which competitors complete as many loops of a Tough Mudder course as possible, you should be able to do all of the obstacles.
A complete nutrition strategy for Tough Mudder events
Tough Mudders start in waves of about 500 people that take off every 15 to 20 minutes. You could start as early as 8 a.m. or after 1 p.m., depending on the event and the number of entrants, so plan your pre-race meal(s) according to your start time. The last thing you want is to bonk, cramp, slow your team down, or join the 22 percent of contestant who don’t finish.
South Carolina-based certified nutrition specialist Laura Wooten has helped dozens of people create nutrition strategies for mud runs. Below, she outlines a plan that will keep your hunger from becoming another obstacle to overcome.
3 Days Before the Race
Dial in your nutrition 72 hours before the race starts. This means getting in small quality meals every two to three hours that are low in fat and contain protein and carbs. “Eating small meals consistently throughout the day prepares the body better than the old-fashioned carb loading the night before,” Wooten says.
Ideal meals include a turkey sandwich with low-fat cheese, mustard, lettuce, and tomato, with fruit on the side, or a cup of whole grain pasta with a cup of vegetables and a teaspoon of olive oil. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Two to three hours before a workout, Wooten recommends drinking 60 ounces of fluid. Take in another 16 ounces of water or a sports drink 30 to 60 minutes before working out. Then drink another 8 to 16 ounces 15 minutes before exercising.
Morning of the Race
Wooten recommends starting your day off with a light meal, like a small banana, and a bagel with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter. “Nothing too heavy or that will push through your digestive system too quickly,” she says. Eat your meal one and a half to two hours before the event, and stay away from fiber and too much protein, which take a long time to digest. If you start in the afternoon, plan meals like the ones you’ve been eating for the past 72 hours, swapping a higher protein pre-event lunch, like a turkey sandwich, for a meal like the breakfast outlined above.
During The Race
“It’s a little harder with this type of race to keep fuel on you,” Wooten says. “But it’s very key with an event that’s two hours or more to take in electrolytes and liquid and refuel that body for the last half.” Tough Mudder provides at least three water stations on their courses. If you think you’ll need something to keep you going in between, consider bringing a gel or two in a pocket. Wooten recommends taking in a few sips of electrolyte-rich fluid every 15 to 20 minutes of exercising, but realizes that may be difficult at this type of event. If possible, aim to take in a gel or two every hour after the first hour of the event. Determine the amount of fuel you’ll need by experimenting with gels and fluid intake during your training.
After the Race
Wooten says to make sure you replenish your carb and protein stores by eating a small meal that contains carbs and a high quality protein for muscle recovery. A glass of milk, a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, or nuts and raisins will do the trick. Other protein options include chicken or tuna. Within 10 to 20 minutes of finishing, Wooten recommends getting in 10 ounces of fluid, preferably from a drink that will help replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes, like Propel or G2. That 12 ounces of Dos Equis counts toward your fluid intake, though Wooten won’t recommend beer as a recovery drink. “Fluid intake is key,” she says, and leaves it at that.
To contact Wooten, go to BodyshopAthletics.com.
The 12-Week Tough Mudder Training Plan
Everything you need to finish strong
More than 20 percent of the people that enter a Tough Mudder won’t cross the finish line. To be successful, you’ll need the endurance of a distance runner, the functional strength of a CrossFit junkie, and a solid mental game. Our 12-week training plan, created by Jim Nix, coach to dozens of Tough Mudder competitors, and owner of Maryland-based Full Circle Fitness Training, will prepare you mentally and physically for the challenge.