Tough Mudder Training

If you’re reading this, it’s because someone (hopefully the person in the mirror) has convinced you to participate in an adventure race. Maybe it’s a Spartan Race, an Urbanathlon, or a Tough Mudder. If you think it’s just a mud run, please keep reading. (Spoiler: It’s more than that!) I’ve finished a few Tough Mudder events and I wanted to write this up to (at least mentally) prepare people for the event. None of the aforementioned events compare to the Western States 100. But, Tough Mudder isn’t easy. You will be sore, but the event can be fun! So, you’ve signed up for a tough, fun adventure race that will make your body sore? Congratulations! Here’s how to survive it.

I’ve participated in Tough Mudder 2.5 times, all in Tahoe. I ran it in 2011 at the Squaw Valley resort. I broke my foot while training for the 2012 event. I still went up to Tahoe to give my friends the moral support they needed. I finished the Summer event on July 13th at the Northstar resort in 2013. Does that make me an expert? No. But, I can share some things with you that have helped me earn 2 orange headbands.

Choose your teammates wisely. Don’t choose your teammate based on fitness level. This isn’t the grade school playground. Don’t pick the tall kid, the fast kid or the “climbs stuff good” kid. Instead, choose the team member that will stay positive and smile when they are cold, wet, getting electrocuted in the face, getting barbed wire snagged on their booty cheeks or running five miles up a hill that never fucking ends. Never. Fucking. Ends. When you’re going through obstacles like that, no one gives a shit about how much you can bench press. When you’re going through obstacles like that, the attitude to get up and keep going is the only thing that matters. Complainers, settlers, and whiners should never be on your team. Complainers will find something wrong with every rock on the mountain and they’ll tell you all about it! They will not shut up! Settlers will settle for the bare minimum. No, we didn’t come this far just to fucking go around it. Tough Mudder is a challenge not a race. That’s part of the Tough Mudder pledge. Settlers will sing those words all over the mountain as they stroll along, claiming to be in no rush. It’s true. This event is not a race. But, it’s not a damned crawl either. We didn’t come all of this way to go for a stroll in the woods. Hustle up! Whiners will be afraid of every obstacle no matter how much you’ve prepared for it. So, having super heroes on your team is great. But, if any one teammate is a complainer, settler, or whiner, the whole team will get dragged down! Choose wisely. At some point, all of you will need to mentally or physically uplift the other.

Don’t just train, train with specificity. “How does somebody even train for that?” is the question that I hear the most. Well, isn’t it obvious? Go to the nearest mountain, build 20 obstacles that are spread over 10-12 miles, invite some friends, add beer, shake well, and giddyup! Okay, so that’s a tad impractical. Here are some other options. Run on trails with hills (no exceptions). If you’re new to running, start on flat asphalt and gradually move to grass, beach, then trail (in that order). But, hills and rocks need to be under/around your feet in order for you to prepare for this event. The biggest challenge will be running downhill on loose footing for 5+ miles with switchbacks. Get wet, run until dry, repeat. Find some little kids and fill up their inflatable pool with ice water. (Please, warn the kids first.) Jump in, fully clothed in your event day gear, stay in for at least 10 seconds, get out and run until you’re dry. Then do it all over again. Wear the right clothes and train in them, first. Old school rules state: Never do anything new on race day! That includes those special Underoos that you bought for the event. That ballerina costume fits great and looks great with the group photo. How will you feel after mile 5 when that glittery thong is in the crack of your ass? Wear things you are willing to part with (and that includes your GoPro-people lose shit all the time in these events). Remember, there is barbed wire. Do NOT wear shoes that are almost dead, you’re going to need some good brakes heading down hill. Do NOT run this race in Vibram Five Fingers. I don’t care how many people you’ve seen do it. I don’t care if your badass friend did it. I have two words why not, puncture wound. The TM staff doesn’t go through and pick out all of the pointy rocks so that you can have a safe run. One sharp rock can end your race. In both events that I’ve finished, I’ve seen people bounding up the hill in those shoes at the beginning of the race. By the end of the race, they were all limping due to rolled ankles, toe injuries, etc. Train in what you plan to wear on race day. Costumes are encouraged, just be prepared for what it’s going to feel like. Be mentally prepared to bleed. No matter how covered you are, there’s a good chance that you will bleed. In 2013, I wore a full body compression suit and I still walked away with three scars and a bruised rib. In 2011, I did this run in shorts and a t-shirt. Ha! The rocks enjoyed tearing up my skin. Crawl around on the ground. Learn how to crawl on grass, dirt, and rocks without terrorizing your knees. Find some monkey bars, learn how to hang from them without injuring your shoulders and get mobile using just your arms. Make muscle-ups your friend. This exercise will help you with a lot of the obstacles. So, to sum up your training. Be able to run in cold wet everything. Be able to crawl under anything on any terrain. Get over your claustrophobia. Learn how to hoist yourself up and over things. Learn how to run after unexpected pain zaps you. During training, I was stung (twice) by a Yellowjacket. While that wasn’t planned, we had to keep running (mostly out of fear). Nothing could have prepared me more for getting shocked in the face with 10,000 volts with 5 miles left to go. Yes. That’s a thing. That can and will happen. Which brings me to my next survival point.

Be strategic with those obstacles. Each obstacle will have a few lines so that everyone can get through. When you go to the grocery store, don’t look for the people that have the fewest items, look for the most efficient cashier. The same logic applies here. If you’re about to get into a dark underground tunnel and crawl behind someone, don’t get behind the person that seems uncoordinated and uncertain. You’re asking for a traffic jam. Further, give some space between you and the Mudder in front of you. Don’t go in on their heels, unless it’s your teammate and they want you close. During the Electric Eel obstacle (slip and slide + live wires + tight space = HTFU) I heard about this one Mudder that froze and curled up into a ball. The Mudder behind was stuck, getting zapped, repeatedly. Don’t slide into a traffic jam! Also, FFS, listen to the volunteers. They will be giving you coaching points on how to complete the obstacles. Don’t try to do it your way. Let go of your ego. You may be a badass, but you’ll be a tired badass. Play it smart.

“Can’t I just walk around some of the obstacles?” Sure. You can also be locked in a room with a willing <insert your favorite celebrity> and give them a handy instead of going all the way. Come on people, you didn’t train, drive a few hours, and dress like a Liger just to walk around obstacles. Real talk, don’t be stupid. If you can’t swim, don’t jump in the deep water. Walk around the obstacles that could get you fucked up in the game. But, otherwise, go for it.

“What should I eat?” Eat a proper breakfast. Don’t eat a peanut butter sandwich and try to run 12 miles on a mountain. You’re an adult, you should know what a proper breakfast is, for your body. I’m not going to tell you to eat 4 eggs, 2 sausages, toast, coffee, juice, and a banana like I did. You might be a Vegan. Besides, I eat that same breakfast quite often. Remember, nothing new on race day. So, as part of your training, start eating a “proper” breakfast and see how far it will get you. If you run 2 miles and pass out, that’s not the right breakfast for your body.

  • Invest in some trail running shoes. Make sure that the laces can be tucked somewhere other than inside the shoe.
  • Don’t pin your bib number (and safety pins) on your chest/stomach. Did I mention that you’ll be crawling around, in mud, a lot. Unless you want to get a safety pin jab in the belly, just put the number elsewhere.
  • Gloves. You don’t need them, but should you wear them… They can be your best friend or worst enemy. If you buy the right gloves (that stand up to varying wet/dry conditions and still provide grip while hanging by your finger tips) then you’ll be happy. If you buy the wrong gloves, you’ll be pissed. Why would you wear gloves at all? NONE of the water is even 45 degrees. ALL of the water is finger-curling cold. After the 10th cold water obstacle, you’ll need to hang by those finger tips. So, of course you don’t *need* gloves. But, they’ve done me right.
  • Eyewear. Just don’t. Unless you wear contacts and you’re trying to protect your eyeballs, any eyewear will be a detriment after the first mud splash. They don’t provide Windex on the course.
  • GoPro. Prepare to lose it. That is all.
  • Underwear. Buy some moisture wicking draws or your underwear will become an under war.
  • Sunscreen all of your bits. There are some compression suits that have sun protection. But, your head and other bits of skin will burn like bacon. You’ll be out there for 2-6 hours. That’s not a typo. You will NOT leave your teammate behind. So, if you need to carry someone (yes, that is one of the obstacles) it may take a while. Waterproof, sweatproof, 10,000 volt proof sunscreen. Do it!
  • If you can find someone willing, get a Sherpa. Some teammate’s lover, friend, or roommate will (hopefully) be willing to hike the spectator trail and schlep some supplies for you and take pictures. Make sure that person (or your bag that you should leave at check-in) has a dry change of clothes and some comfort food for the finish line.
  • Lodging. Stay as close to the start/finish line as possible. Book your stay the minute they announce the venue. You’ll be happy when you wake up stress-free and happier when you can shower immediately afterwards. TM crew will hose you down at the end. The water will not be warm. Did I mention that all of the water is cold? So, choose your event date wisely! There’s an event in Toronto in Autumn. Ha! No thanks!
  • Create a team chant or call. When someone gets too far behind, they can call out the code word for “Wait for me!”

So, I hope all of this helps you to prepare for your first Tough Mudder. Don’t be afraid of Mudder. Make it YOUR Mudder. Enjoy your training.

Here are some pictures before, during, and after the event in 2013 with my teammate, Sae. Good times!



I’m Not A Team Player (But Neither Are You)

Disclaimer: Before this post gets under way, I want to provide my perception of the Americanism team player. Team player is a noun that originated in the late 19th century that describes a person who willingly works in cooperation with others. As you know, cooperation is a joint action. We do this instead of doing it myself, you get the idea. I’m of the opinion that in a joint action, no one should ever wonder “why am I working harder than them?” By the time you’re thinking that thought, the team has already broken down. There’s not much joint in the action and there’s no action in this joint.

I’m not a team player. That’s the one phrase that you’ll never say during a job interview. I often mutter to myself, “this is why I hate working on teams”. You see, it’s not that I’m not a team player. The issue is that others are not team players and the people in charge of the teams rarely do anything to stop social loafing (more on that later). How many times have you heard this one, “Together everyone achieves more!” It’s true. If we work together to build this house, we’ll achieve more than if I were to attempt it on my own. I’m guilty of preaching another nonsequitur to my former team. “If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot!”, I would say. It wasn’t until I found myself in a non-leadership role again that it occurred to me that everyone has a different definition of doing a “little”. Some people are fine with mediocrity, have no ambition, and do the bare minimum. That’s not a judgment, it’s truth. Don’t believe me? Work in management for two weeks! Going back to one of the previous statements, it’s true that together everyone achieves more. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone attempts more or gives a stronger effort. In a team environment, it’s quite the contrary. This week’s post is about what I call the TEAL factor (Together Everyone Attempts Less) and what you can do about it as a leader in your organization (corporation, sporting environment, non-profit fundraisers, etc.) to mitigate such behavior.

It’s worth mentioning… There is a Grand Canyon-sized difference between leaders and managers. I could write 2,000 words on that subject alone. But, there’s a good chance that you can tell the difference between a leader and manager through your colleagues that are in managerial roles. In short, all leaders should be managers but not all managers know how to lead.

If you’ve taken a psych class, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Social Loafing. No, it’s not that internet rabbit hole time suck that causes you to lose track of the day due to fucking around on the social internet. Social loafing is what happens in a team environment. Most people will try to pull their own weight but, they’ll be resistant to pulling anyone else’s weight. Because of that, people make less of an effort. I’ve certainly been guilty of it. On a recent clean up crew, I would size up how much had to be moved and how far it had to go. Based on the number of us to get the work done, I did some quick math and figured that moving two stacks was more than my share. So, I did more than my share and I did it faster than anyone else. While everyone else was struggling with one stack, I was done and ready to bounce. Then everyone was looking at me because I wasn’t helping them. I was resistant to pulling anyone else’s weight. Perhaps, I’m not a team player. Perhaps they should have worked just as hard as I did. Another way to define social loafing is when there exists a task that everyone views as low priority. Everyone will assume that someone else will get that. It will get done, many will say. No one will actually do it.

It’s worth mentioning… One definition of team player is a person that is willing to assist their team members in a task when their abilities are not as substantial his/her own. It’s like the Hulk doing more of the heavy lifting than the rest of the Avengers because of his strength.

Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Ringelmann effect. Have you ever been at a picnic when someone starts selecting people and positions for a rope tug of war? What do you notice? The person that’s organizing the game will try to evenly distribute the strength of the two teams. Some insist that the strongest should be in front. Some insist that the strongest should be in back. Which team will use their strength to win the war? Well, the disappointing news is that strength won’t determine the winner. The Ringelmann effect can best be summarized by stating that individual effort is inversely proportional to the number of people in the group. Let’s say that you are able to pull 100 pounds attached to the end of a rope. If we were to measure the amount of effort you put into pulling a rope while alone, we’ll call that 100 pounds 100 percent effort. Now, let’s make this a tug of war with you and someone on the other side of equal strength. Both of you exert 100% effort in your respective groups of 1. Now, let’s give each side an additional person and make groups of 2. Both group members will only exert ~92% effort. Assuming that 1% is equal to 1 pound, two people would be able to pull 184 pounds (together everyone achieves more). If they were to give their full effort (together everyone attempts less), the two group members should be able to pull 200 pounds. Back to the tug of war. Let’s bump each group up to four per side. Each group member will only exert between 78-86% of their full effort. The range of effort tends to float around those same numbers for groups of five or six. Here’s the best part. When actors were paid to pretend to pull on the rope on the same side, group members were tested one at a time and they still exerted less than their full effort. Why? Some believe that group members felt their contribution would do little to change the outcome if five other people were pulling with them on the same side. I’ve been guilty of it. I was in an organized tug of war a few years back and I kept thinking how stupid it was and how I wasn’t going to fuck up my hands for a silly game. I did not give my full effort. Neither did anyone else. You are not a team player.

It’s worth mentioning… This information on the Ringelmann effect can be found in the textbook Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology on pages 173-174. The suggestions below were inspired by a combination of the textbook and my own personal experience and language to put it in my own words. I’m not just restating the textbook.

So, before you begin bragging about how well your staff works together as a team, I challenge you to ferret out how often Social Loafing or the Ringelmann effect are happening under your supervision. When you find that it is (and it is) here are a few ways to reel it in.

-Create Specialists As a leader, you should be able to rattle off any of your team member’s special skills at a moment’s notice. Whenever possible, give your team tasks/roles that are specific to their talents. Some people-in-charge (PIC) have a tendency to just say “git-r-done” without assigning specific tasks/roles within the team. Instead, ask individuals on the team to do what they’re good at, treat them like specialists. Specialists don’t assume that their contribution won’t matter.

-Acknowledge Individual Contributions To The Team (This is very different from giving everyone a goddamned trophy just for showing up. If that’s happening in your kid’s school, you might want to consider what this will do to their future work ethic.) When the project is complete, take the time to say thank you to team members by name for the specific contribution they made to accomplishing the goal. Based on the size of your team, this may be difficult. You may end up (intentionally) leaving some people off of the thank you speech because they didn’t give their strongest effort. In that case, see the next suggestion.

It’s worth mentioning… Make sure that you can see the effort in full before you judge it to determine each player’s level of contribution. This is easy on a 5-person basketball team, not on a 100-person corporate team.

-Conduct Individual Meetings This is the most important way to improve any team. Preaching to the choir is pointless. They already believe in the gospel. When one teammate is fucking up, don’t send out a choir email suggesting that everyone stop doing [fill in the blank] when there are only a few fuck up ducks that are doing [fill in the blank]. I’ve asked PIC to not send me emails asking me to stop doing things I’ve never done. It’s a form of passive aggressiveness. It’s even worse when a PIC sets up a meeting to make sure that everyone is on the same page. The same thing happens at every meeting, the fuck up duck goes quack and never shows. So, the entire choir is sitting around listening to the gospel while the heathen (the reason for the team meeting) is not in attendance. Set a one-on-one meeting with the fuck up duck and set them straight. It’s the only way the weak link in the chain will be fixed.

-Role Reversal When possible, have your team members walk in each other’s shoes for a while. Maybe this only makes sense during a practice session. But, there’s no better way to form appreciation for what the rest of your team does than by doing it. As the PIC, try to make this happen during your next team building exercise and then talk about feelings and shit to make sure that everyone gets the point of the exercise.

It’s worth mentioning… Not being a team player isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, as a PIC performing an interview, encourage people to be honest about their feelings towards teams. If someone says, “I’m not a team player.” Ask why and let that answer be the catalyst of your decision. If someone claims that they work harder on their own, think back to the Ringelmann effect. They’re not just blowing their own horn or bullishitting you. People actually work harder when they think that all of the responsibility is on them.

Until next week (and beyond), continue to work hard on your own! Work harder (than 78% effort) on your team while being communicative, consistent, and considerate. Don’t be a fuck up duck!
Blog 1