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!