Three Training Keys and the One Preparation Secret You Need to Finish a Tough Mudder

(DL) — Do you want the one secret you will need to finish a Tough Mudder? Wait, doesn’t the headline state three keys?

Yes. There are three training keys to finishing a Tough Mudder. But there is one secret in training preparation for an endurance run that supersedes the keys. Our answer will surprise you. Don’t be miffed.

The Tough Mudder Secret

It’s not a race. You are not required to run. You don’t need to even jog. Training preparation is important in finishing an endurance run. How fast you finish is not important. Don’t be too concerned about how fast you finish.

At any time you reset your pace. Take a pause. Enjoy the damn thing! The journey is always a reward. You will find most everyone realizes this once they begin.

why live in needless stress for months running up to this event?

You will love an endurance run. They are advertised as all bark with no bite. No matter your pace, it’s a day to enjoy. The energy at one of these events is powerful. It will transform your mood in an instant. Loads of spectators will cheer anyone on. Participants will eagerly stop to offer a helping hand.

Now please, before you bounce out, think about this. Hard. Yes, training is key! We cover that!

The effect of this understanding on your mental model is critical.

Okay, now please allow a broader explanation. Don’t lose sight — The journey is the reward! Don’t think about the end of the run, enjoy it! Every step closer to the end is one step closer to ending your fun!

Enjoy the Moment at a Tough Mudder

We promise, real answers. Real instructions. Let’s deep dive into details!

Here are the Details in Preparing For a Trail Race Event

Endurance obstacle course events have become popular. Most endurance runs add in the element of mud if for no other reason than to create a light-hearted fun atmosphere. Endurance runs on a whole are about running stamina, however, mud runs such as Warrior Dash are only mud runs. There are no obstacles.

What’s the difference between the Tough Mudder (untimed), Warrior Dash (timed) and Spartan Race (timed) ?

The answer is — very little.

They are all obstacle course events with Tough Mudder being the longest on average and largest. With many races and runs out there, be sure you know what type of trail race you are entering. Is it a mud run? Is it an obstacle course? Is it both?

What Kind of Trail Obstacles Will You Encounter?

More than half of the obstacles will share one thing in common. They rely on upper body strength. Here’s what you’ll experience: Rope climbs, mud crawls, short and tall climbing barricades, mud pit jumps, fires to jump over, crawling under barbed wire (usually in muddy water), tunnel and tube crawl, carrying logs, jumping off high ground into water, plunging into ice-filled vats, and of course running.

The train may include running up sudden steep inclines which become slicker over the event, running down steep inclines, running up sloped walls, running up and down hills. Oh yes, and the Tough Mudder has featured a forest of hanging electrically charged wires to dash through.

No matter your preference the field of runs and dashes are swelling. The shorter list under five miles includes Dirty Dash, Devil Dash, Diva Dash, Down & Dirty Mud Run, Hell Run, Hero Rush, Mudathalon, MudMan, Mudness, Baddest Mud Run, Mud Guts and Glory, Original Mud Run, Mud Ninja, Wild Warrior, ROC Race, Miles of Mud, and Strongman Run just to name a few!

Of all the trail races, few are as long as the Tough Mudder. While the Spartan Dash has extended versions you can select a la carte, Tough Mudder is a single field everyone runs together. Only the Iron Warrior Dash and Death Race come in longer but can require the most travel in order to participate. The longer mud runs come in at:

#1 Death Race – Average distance 40 miles. (But you get two days – limited entry)
#2 Iron Warrior Dash – Average distance 15. (Big brother of the Warrior Dash)
#3 Tough Mudder – Average distance: 12 miles (Most accessible worldwide)

Type of Participants

Tough Mudder Awards You With A Finisher T-ShirtThere are two types of participants in these physical challenges.

  1. The hardcore athlete.
  2. The casual first-timer or repeat runner enthusiast.

Intimidated? Don’t be!

Both the casual runner and hardcore athlete co-exist without friction in these events. Don’t let anyone advise you never to stop. Do you need to stop? Stop! No one will look down their nose at you for slowing down because most will do the same. It’s common to see walkers. People taking breaks will stand aside as others pass.

Is There Ever A Motivation To Race Through A Mud Run?

Of course! Money! If you do join in on an event that is timed, now is time to train to run, not walk or pause. The Spartan Dash entered into a televised relationship with NBC television in 2013 and now offers at $250,000.00 purse.

In most events, there are as many as 10 staggered start times daily that you pick from. The hardcore trail runners go early in some, in others, they are the last ‘race’ of the day.

The question you may be asking is can the first time Tough Mudder participant do well? Of course. I’m living proof. My first Tough Mudder was completed with a mildly sprained ankle.

I finished a 13 mile Tough Mudder with a sprained ankle
I finished a 10-mile Tough Mudder with a sprained ankle

My training consisted of doing what I already did. I inline skate with various skate groups on 12-mile skates. I play paintball and I hit the gym mildly but consistently. If you take any extra advice from this article, consider a healthy lifestyle overtraining for kudos. Don’t fall for the ‘team-building’ hype.

These events are not built to break you. They sell them as ‘designed by special forces’, but that’s marketing. Special forces train to break you and build you up to survive. The obstacles in Tough Mudder, Spartan Dash, Warrior Dash, and the likes are designed to challenge you at best. They are designed to be fun.

The Secret to Mud Runs and Trail Races

Here is the big secret behind the Tough Mudder and other trail races such as the Warrior Dash. They all speak of how speed is important. That’s just not true. Speed is not a factor. Finish by running, jogging, walking, or any combination at the pace you want for yourself and you still get your award for finishing.

There is no reason to beat yourself up for the best time if you are a casual participant. Remember this advice, “The journey is the reward.” Why end it so fast? Enjoy it. Go as fast or slow as your body tells you.

The event is not predicated on speed.

Remember that above all things. Of course, when you participate in cold weather, a moving body stays warmer. Just keep it all in perspective. No matter your own arbitrary goal, you are generally working for a t-shirt.

What are the elements of the challenge?

  1. Strength
  2. Stamina
  3. Will

You’ll need strength to climb, grapple, pull, and crawl. You’ll need the stamina to go the distance of running (or walking) the course as-well-as the stamina to complete the length of some of the individual obstacles.

Do You Need To Train For A Tough Mudder or Spartan Dash?

There are dangers to most any activity, and a long-distance mud run is no exception. As with any activity, it’s about preparation. My experience was injury-free despite having a mildly sprained ankle.

You may question why even train if one can perform with a sprained ankle? The answer is I still trained. Training is a good idea if you are not already active in multiple sports.

Training will do more to help you stay free from injury than it will help you finish.

If you plan to run the entire course and never pause to walk, training in running is necessary.

What Do You Prepare For?

You can check the event listing, but most often each event doesn’t give you a detailed list until the date of the event. Most, of course, share common obstacles. Here are the things you can do at home to prepare:

STRENGTH — Overall strength is not the key. Its strength specific to course obstacles. You want to train to lift your body.

  • Pull-ups, and reps that focus on you lifting your body from arms only. If you can lift yourself with your arms, your remaining upper body strength is a bonus.
  • Arm strength. This is the most important thing to train outside of running. Focus on anything that will allow you to lift your body weight from your arm strength. You will need to pull yourself up many times without the assistance of your feet. Remember that grade school playground ladder you called the monkey bars? Imagine one 40′ in length over cold water. You’ll run into these. Train your arms. Or go around them.

STAMINA  — Run, bike, or skate. Sure it’s a run but you don’t have to run the event. You can walk at any point. You get a T-shirt or some takeaway for completing it. No more. So why kill yourself to train unless you the ‘hardcore athlete’ mentioned prior. Let’s face it, that type of individual isn’t researching this event.

WILL — How do you train your will to succeed? Always think about just making it one more step. Every step you take makes the end that much closer. When it comes to jumping over a fire or running through electrical wires, your body already knows if you can do it. Listen to your body. You have nothing to prove.

How Far is a Tough Mudder Mud Run?

Tough Mudder advertises mud runs upward to 13 miles. Most come in under 10 miles. The hardcore athlete will complete the event in about an hour. The first time Tough Mudder participant won’t run or jog the entire course.

They’ll take their time with pauses to walk quite often. The casual first-time Tough Mudder will finish in three hours or less.

What’s important to know is that any obstacle along the course can be bypassed. Yes, that means if you don’t want to jump into a sub-zero temperature vat of ice during a cold-weather outing, you can just walk around it. Just skip it.

If you can’t climb well, skip the towers and so forth. Of course, it is nice to try and it’s great to overcome obstacles. The toughest are generally the monkey bar types that require both strength and stamina.

What do I Wear to a Tough Mudder?

Teams will often come with matching T-shirts for corporate team building or groups in support of causes, but outside of dressing for the weather, it’s a good idea to think in terms of what you can’t wear.

You may think clothes without belts are smart, but when clothes get wet and muddy, they want to fall. Find a sports belt that can take the abuse. A baseball belt at $4.95 is a good disposable solution.

Keep some ziplock bags to keep your wallet, phone, or camera in. And even then, be very careful because your body will be submerged a few times. From pits to streams of water you walk through waist-deep. High jumps and more will abuse anything in your pockets.

The events do offer lockers for everyone to stow their towels, change of clothing, and car keys in. Taking them along is almost insane. I took a non-electronic car key simply because I wore mountain biking shorts with full zip closure pockets.

Shoes are a big question for many. The all-terrain shoes are my go-to. Many like to wear Vibrams which are shoes with individual toes, because unlike most any other shoe — Vibrams won’t come off in the mud. Many, many many shoes are lost in the mud. It’s rumored you should train in Vibrams before just buying a pair and running a long distance. I wear Inov-8 Bare Grip 200’s (the green shoes displayed in the photo above) as I wanted what a Vibram can give, off-trail traction.

The rubber cleats are huge but don’t cake with mud. I say this from experience. I use them now for paintball in warm weather. The super-thin 3 mm sole allows my feet to conform to any surface minimizing the risk of ankle twists.

Inov-8’s are lightweight, dry fast, and can take an insane amount of abuse. The company should pay me for that rant because you know you’re going to buy a pair. BTW, they are called 200’s because that stands for the weight in grams. Only 7 ounces.

DangerMan at Tough Mudder Philadelphia held at Jaindle Farms Synthetic socks no higher than the ankle make the most sense for wicking and friction. If you are going to take your shirt off, have a solid base tan or have sunblock and re-apply even if you have mud all over your body.

Gloves that dry fast is crucial if you attempt to traverse monkey bars or other obstacles that require a tight non-slip grip. Fingerless leather gloves are good for many obstacles but eventually getting them wet becomes a liability.

As the day wears on, unless you keep a pair dry in a ziplock bag stowed in your pocket, you better have a very strong grip to sustain the distance and strength needed to cross a long monkey bar obstacle.

If you can find a rubber palm and fingered glove that dries very fast, these will be a big help on obstacles that don’t like wet surfaces on them.

Team Buddy

You are doing this alone. You alone will take credit for your feat. But why not get a friend to do it with you? The support is amazing and in those worst of moments, they are there to push you along. The experience is worth sharing.

What is the toughest obstacle in a Tough Mudder?

They are all meant to challenge you. Any requiring upper body strength will be your most difficult. Outside of stamina in running, upper body strength plays into many of the obstacles. Work on this one area.

Safety Issues

Yes, for all the downplay on how hard this event is, an extreme obstacle course event is something to take seriously. Almost all the major big name events have had a death occur.  The events do consider the risks and put measures into place that are designed to help, but if you want to challenge your body, not every single risk can be eliminated. The same huge cargo nets that are used for participants to climb up can be a liability. In one event a participant tripped on one and fell 15 feet to the ground. He is now paralyzed from the injury.

  • Tough Mudder: Gerrardstown, W. Va. — April 2013  a 28-year-old man died jumping into water from a 15′ article on the Walk The Plank obstacle. That obstacle still exists but with more divers on the ready with a slower rate of entry into the water. I participated in May of 2013 (see me make that same jump in the video above) unaware of the previous death. I did, however, notice numerous divers and safety appeared well in order as each participant jumped into the water.
  • Tough Mudder: Brooklyn, Mi. — June 29-30 2013 An estimated 200 participants contracted a gastrointestinal norovirus from muddy water.
  • Warrior Dash: Kansas City, Ks. — 2011 Two men died from heat-related symptoms.
  • Warrior Dash: Detroit, Mi. — July 2011 A college student became paralyzed after jumping headfirst into a ground-level mud.
  • Original Mud Run: Fort Worth, Tx. — April 2012 A man died when he was pulled under in the Trinity River. Sudden weather changes played a role.

In Conclusion

Preparation is never a guarantee of safety or health, you can only minimize risk.  Life isn’t a test drive. You either live it yourself or someone will live it for you.  If you see me on the course, be sure and say hello.