Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of Tough Mudder. Their tagline is ‘Probably the toughest event on the planet’, and whilst it might not be as hard as say, wrestling a bear, it’s still up there amongst things to do that are going to seriously kick your ***. Not only do you need to be in great physical shape, you need to have a good deal of mental grit too. The idea of carrying a log up a hill doesn’t terrify me nearly as much as falling into icy water and having my ***** climb back up inside me in a struggle for warmth. There are anywhere from 25-40 obstacles in a course ranging from ‘Electroshock Therapy’ where you sprint through live wires – as in, wires carrying up to 1000 volts each – to ‘Funky Monkey’ where you have to make it across greased monkey bars over icy water.
Needless to say, you need to have your **** together to take on Tough Mudder.
You need strength, endurance, the right gear, and most importantly a great team to overcome the challenges presented by Tough Mudder. Unlike traditional ‘endurance’ events, Tough Mudder is about teamwork and camaraderie. The idea isn’t to set a good time, it’s to get round with your team of friends and help other ‘Mudders’ along the way. That means it’s important to do it with people who are capable and you can rely on. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Once you’ve got your team together, you need to think about how to train and prepare. The event is going to test all aspects of your strength and stamina and takes time to build up to. One in four participants do not finish, and to avoid ending up like them you need at least 12 weeks to prepare. Any time over 16 weeks is ideal.
What to Wear
Let’s start with the easy stuff. What to wear. Making the right choices here goes a long way towards you finishing a Tough Mudder and is an aspect of preparation often overlooked by participants. You’re going to be battling all sorts of elements including mud, ice, fire, and depending on where you’re doing the event, the weather as well. Even if you’re doing it in a costume, the are some some basic items that will make your life a lot easier.
Some people are against gloves, but the right pair of gloves can make a huge difference. They will help keep your hands warm, grip the monkey bars/rings found throughout the course, and will prevent you getting splinters from wooden obstacles. They need to be tight fitting and permit enough mobility to allow you to grip properly. A pair with the fingertips cut off are a good idea so any water can drain out of them – weight lifting, cycling, or Mad Grip gloves with the fingertips cut off are a popular choice.
Moisture Wicking Clothes
More layers does not mean more warmth. As soon as you get wet you’re going to be carrying extra weight and it’s going to take longer to dry. Essentially, you want to wear as few items of clothing as possible. For men, it isn’t a bad idea to go topless… Or for women either come to think of it. But if it’s likely to be cold the day of the event the next best option is to wear some sort of moisture wicking short sleeve t-shirt, such as Dri-Fit or COOLMAX. Make sure you avoid cotton at all costs.
The same goes for a good pair of shorts. You basically want a pair of running shorts that aren’t going to rip at the first obstacle. These Under Armour shorts are a solid bet.
Dry feet are happy feet. So make sure you also pick up some moisture wicking socks, which pretty much all the big sports brands produce. It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but try to imagine running a half marathon with wet socks and I think you’ll change your mind.
Finally, remember to bring a change of clothes for the post-event party so you can enjoy it dry and without smelling like goats cheese… No? Only me?
Your shoes are going to get wrecked. And whilst I could sit here writing about the merits of particular shoes (minimalist trail shoes are thought to be the best), the best thing to do is wear an old pair of running shoes. As long as they’re not completely trashed, are still comfy, and still fit well you’ll be fine.
Loads of people lose their shoes throughout the event due to them getting stuck in a vacuum of mud. So make sure you lace yours up tightly – some Mudders even duct tape their shoe to their ankle.
How to Train
So you know what to wear. Now it’s time to take things a little bit more seriously and figure out how to train for Tough Mudder.
A major part of Tough Mudder’s advertising campaign is based on the ‘fact’ that marathons suck. I’ve ran two half-marathons in my time (that counts as a full marathon right?) and hated them both. A major factor in my hatred of marathons is boredom. I find them mind-numbingly tedious, but this shouldn’t be an issue with Tough Mudder as you’re with your friends and the running is broken up by obstacles. However, the fact remains that you still need to run 10-12 miles. That’s a long way. If you’ve been doing nothing but pumping iron for the past year chances are that 10-12 miles is going to feel even further. If you’ve been good and have been doing conditioning work alongside strength training then you will be in a slightly better position, and might just make it round. But why take the chance?
You’re going to have a better time on the day and increase your chances of finishing injury free if you just saddle up and do some regular running.
Side Note: My training partner is a classic ectomorph (tall and skinny guy – nicknamed ‘Slim’), and has worked his *** off to build up the muscle mass he now has. He is paranoid about losing his gains by running. It’s a common fear, but one that is largely unfounded. Usually the loss of strength/muscle mass alongside cardio is due to poor nutrition or overtraining. A study in 2010 followed runners for 2 months over a 4500km (2800 miles) ultra-long-distance race and found that they lost 7% muscle mass from their legs, but none from their upper bodies. This is how I would define ‘overtraining’ in terms of cardio. You will not even be coming close to 2800 miles, so don’t panic. As long as you eat enough calories, primarily from carbs and protein, to make up for the calorific deficit caused by running a few times a week you will be fine.
If you’re not already a regular runner, then hopefully you’re now convinced to do some running in preparation for the event.
Officially, Tough Mudder say you should be able to run five miles. In my opinion, that won’t quite cut it. You should be able to run around 8-10 miles if you want to finish strong. It will take some time to build up to this distance, but it’s certainly not too difficult. Aiming to do 3 runs a week is a great place to start. As I mentioned earlier, I find long runs really boring, so varying the type of running is a great solution:
- Run 1: Sprints Sprints will help prepare you for lots of stopping and starting and build some explosive speed. To prevent injury, hill sprints are your best option. I wrote an article for conFITdent on sprinting and hill sprints that you can read here for more information on getting started.
- Run 2: Short Distance Run Ideally, this would be performed outside, but can be done on a treadmill. Run for 2 miles at a quick pace. This shouldn’t be a sprint, but should be faster than a jog. The idea is to increase the pace week by week – not the distance.
- Run 3: Long Distance Run The long distance run is all about how far you can travel as opposed to pace, and is designed to get you used to covering some serious ground. You should aim to increase the distance weekly, ideally by a mile if possible. Start with something easy like 2 or 3 miles and work your way up from there.
Get outside as often as possible for these runs. Training out in the elements and getting used to uneven terrains will benefit you to no end when it comes to the event.
Bonus Tip: Break up your outdoor runs by throwing in some bodyweight exercises every few miles. Pull-ups, push-ups, climbing over walls, and swinging on monkey bars in your local park are all exercises that will help prepare you for the event and obstacles you will face.
It takes a good deal of mental grit to consider doing a Tough Mudder, but it also takes a lot of physical, functional strength. This means you need to be doing exercises that replicate the obstacles you’re going to face. Below is a guide to exercises you can do to prepare yourself for what many regard as the toughest obstacles on the course.
Essentially, this is just a set of monkey bars. But they’re not going to be fun like they were in school. They go up at an angle before sloping back down, and will be greased and covered in mud to make them very slippery. To avoid falling into the icy water below you’re going to need a great deal of upper-body and grip strength.
- Pull-Ups: Practice pull-ups to build some serious strength in your back, shoulder and arms. They will also help build an iron grip.
- Grip Strength: To really toughen up your grip, try wrapping a towel around the bar and gripping both ends when doing pull-ups. Equally effective exercise for grip strength are deadlifts and farmers walks. For the really committed, you could pick up a pair of Fat Gripz to really hit your foerarms hard.
‘Everest’ has built a reputation as one of the toughest obstacle on the course. It’s typically 15 feet high and, again, is covered in grease and mud (starting to spot the trend?). The horrible thing about this obstacle is that it gets harder and harder with the number of attempts it takes you. Despite having one of the highest failure rates of all the obstacles, it can be done first time with strength, speed and teamwork.
- Strength: You’re going to have to pull yourself to the top (hopefully with the help of other Mudders), so as with the funky monkey, pull-ups and grip strength are going to be crucial to beating this obstacle.
- Speed: Earlier I mentioned doing hill sprints once a week. Hill sprints will build up explosive lower body power that will allow you to get high on the ramp before having to jump. Before you burst into an all-out sprint, focus on a clear ledge or the arms of another Mudder to leap to.
You get the picture. Pulling exercises, running, sprinting, box jumps are going to help you to no end. Ensure you get enough sleep, eat well, do lots of stretching/foam rolling and you’re good to go.
The Bottom Line
Tough Mudder can be intimidating, and for some, down-right terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re prepared. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall and strong, or small and skinny; with the proper training and a good deal of mental grit, you’ll be able to conquer the challenge. There’s no doubt that completing a Tough Mudder is badass. Whilst it might be dirty, exhausting, and expensive, it’s also worth every penny. It’s hard to beat the feeling of overcoming your fears with a close group of friends, and that’s exactly what separates Tough Mudder from all of the other endurance events out there.