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How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder

7 Things You Can Do to be Successful in an Obstacle Race

How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder
Obstacle races can be more challenging than triathlons because they require more body strength. Photo Credit Lorado/E+/Getty Images


This has probably happened to you. You turn on your computer, log on to a social network and check the latest news from your friends and family.

Amid the usual collection of quotes and baby pictures is an update from a few of your friends. It’s a photo.

They’re dirty – filthy, really -- but smiling. They sport triumphant looks and orange bands around their heads -- the official sign that they’ve just finished a Tough Mudder.

Since its debut in 2010, Tough Mudder has become perhaps the most popular event in a growing category of obstacle races, unorthodox and often mud-caked runs strewn with additional challenges to your strength and toughness. These events attract up to 17,000 participants a weekend.

Some say they believe obstacle races might be the new triathlon, attracting those who wish to push their bodies for a couple hours without purchasing an expensive bike or learning how to swim.

But obstacle races can be more challenging than triathlons because they require more body strength. Often, participants are ill-prepared for the hazards of these events. Serious injuries do occur -- which explain the multipage waivers athletes must sign before they start a race.

So if you’re intrigued by these new tests of strength and endurance and are interested in trying an obstacle race, here are seven steps you should follow to prepare for the event. Doing so will help you avoid injury, crush the race and earn your own orange headband.

1. Conquer the Pull-up

How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder
We didn't say you should practice your pull-ups on traffic lights. But, if that is your only option... Photo Credit BROOK PIFER/Stone/Getty Images

Upper body strength is crucial in Tough Mudder and many other obstacle races, playing a role in tests such as the wooden Berlin Walls along the course, which range in height from nine to 12 feet. The Funky Monkey (a 15-foot monkey bar course) and Hangin’ Tough (a series of gymnastic rings you must use to swing over a water pit) also require solid upper body and back strength.

Without it, these obstacles could ruin your day.

If you still have pull-up nightmares from grade school gym class, start slow with horizontal pull-ups and work your way up to a traditional dead hang pull-up.

2. Lose Fat

Want to finish Tough Mudder quickly? Try dropping some of that extra weight you’re carrying around.

Bulky folks might muscle through some of the obstacles faster than you, but you’ll run them down between those challenges as they struggle to carry all that excess baggage.

3. Increase Your Aerobic Capacity

How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder
Dedicate two days a week to interval training and one day to a longer run that will prepare you to go the distance. Photo Credit Martin Dimitrov/E+/Getty Images

Tough Mudder is known for its obstacles, but it’s mostly an aerobic fitness event.

After all, anyone can plunge into a dumpster of ice water, slide on their bellies through mud, or run through dangling electric wires that deliver tiny shocks. (If this is sounding scary, don’t worry: Athletes do have the option to skip obstacles.) But to earn that orange headband, you must run up to 12 miles. That’s a long way.

To cover that distance, you’ll need a good aerobic base. If you haven’t been training regularly, give yourself eight weeks to prepare.

Dedicate two days a week to interval training (alternating between bursts of hard, high-intensity running and slower recovery periods), and one day to a longer run that will prepare you to go the distance.

4. Diversify Your Training

Between those three runs, you’ll want to perform two to three 30-minute, total-body resistance training sessions. These can include pull-ups, pushups, lunges, squats, mountain climbers, bodyweight rows, and dips as your main moves.

As you get stronger, add weight to squats and lunges. Do three sets of eight to 12 reps per exercise.

As for the intervals, train for 20 to 30 minutes twice per week. Run or cycle at 80 percent capacity for one-minute, alternating with one-minute intervals at a slower pace. Repeat that process for six intervals per workout with a warm-up and cool-down, each five to 10 minutes in duration.

Finally, go for a traditional, medium-paced run once a week.

If you haven’t been running regularly, start with just 1.5 miles the first week. Add a half-mile to one mile to the long run each week until you can cover six miles. This will prepare your muscles and joints for the distance of Tough Mudder.

5. Taper

How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder
Your final long run should be at least seven days prior to your Tough Mudder race day. Photo Credit Take A Pix Media/Blend Images/Getty Images

Cutting back on your training (or “tapering”) just before an event is a proven strategy for endurance athletes, and the Tough Mudder is no exception.

Your final long run should be at least seven days prior to taking on a Tough Mudder. If your race falls on a Saturday, don’t strength train after the Monday before the event. And take it easy on running – keep it to short (two or three miles, max), low-intensity efforts – in the week leading up to race day.

During that last week, you can’t do much to increase your fitness, but you can do all sorts of silly things that will cause injury and ruin your race day. Better to go into the Tough Mudder well rested.

Use the extra time to scout the race course you’ll be facing. (Maps are available at ToughMudder.com.) Study the obstacles and mentally prepare for them as much as possible.

6. Bring Friends

How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder
Mud runs with your best buds can be a blast. Photo Credit Pete Starman/Stone/Getty Images

Tough Mudder encourages team participation and racing with friends can be a blast.

Just remember that you’ll only go as fast as your slowest teammate. Unless you want to meander through the day, limit yourself to one or two teammates of equal fitness.

With thousands of people on the course and just two dozen or so obstacles, you’ll inevitably meet a few new friends who might need a little help – or be willing to assist you if you wind up in a jam.

7. Be Prepared and Carpe Diem

How to Prepare for a Tough Mudder
Carpe diem. You can do this! Photo Credit Lorado/E+/Getty Images

When race day arrives, make sure you arrive prepared. Go to bed early the night before, and register for an early start time. That way you’ll avoid lines at check-in and on the course, where backups can occur at obstacles.

Bring a backpack with water, sunscreen, snacks, an extra layer of clothes, a towel, a full post-race outfit, and a trash bag for your muddy shoes and clothes. There are bag checks to avoid long trips back to the parking lot.

When you’ve finished the race, hang around and cheer on other participants. Eat and drink to fuel your post-race recovery, and celebrate and enjoy the moment.

Take pride in that orange headband you’re wearing – you’ve earned it. Your name is now Mud. Tough Mud.

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