how to do a Tough Mudder without training

By SOLO

There are many great resources out there on how to train for Tough Mudder. Unfortunately, the sad truth of the situation is that a lot of people show up at the start line with no training.

This article is for them.

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Bonus points for finding me in the above photo…

Meet the TYPICAL CANDIDATES:

  • Mike is a stocky 24-year old. He does CrossFit couple of times a week, and doesn’t run. However, a bunch of his buddies signed up, and he decided to join them.
  • Amy is an 19-year old girl, participating with a team of girlfriends. They spent weeks planning matching outfits. She does yoga on Saturdays, and walks on a treadmill once in a while.
  • Kathy is a 42 year old mother of three. She does BodyPump at GoodLife Fitness once a week. She signed up for the event with her sister, and a couple of friends.
  • Brian is a tall 21-year old with a skinny build. He is in university, so he does not have time to train. Brian does not even particularly like exercising – however, he wants to do Tough Mudder once, just so he can say he’s done it.
  • Melissa is 29. She has been trying to lose weight, and so she signed up for Tough Mudder back in January to give herself extra motivation to become active and train. Somehow that never happened.

My goal is to help you to complete Tough Mudder while minimizing the likelihood of injury, cramping, bonking, and yes, dying.

First of all, I’m assuming that you are fairly young and fairly fit to be attempting this event without training. My standards for young and fit are pretty wide, but if you are in your 60s or you are largely sedentary, or both, I would strongly suggest to reconsider.

You do not necessarily have to train specifically FOR Tough Mudder. If your current training regime includes resistance training (weight lifting) and running, you will be better off than most. If you can run 15 to 20km, do a dozen of good-form push-ups and a couple of pull-ups, you will be fine. Although if you’ve only done road running up to this point, you will be unpleasantly surprised at the first hill.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT

You will cover between 10 and 16km of distance. It will probably take you between three and five hours.

There will (probably) be hills. There will be mud. Yes, there will be electricity. Yes, really.

No, you do not have to do every single obstacle. No, there is no penalty for skipping obstacles. Pace makers and electric wires do not mix very well. Otherwise, why the heck are you skipping obstacles?

BEFORE THE RACE

Umm… I mean before the challenge…

  • Get lots of sleep.

This applies to a full week before Tough Mudder. And this is probably the most important thing you can do. There is absolutely nothing that will screw you up more than arriving to the start line exhausted.

  • Skip the booze the night before.

There will be plenty of that AFTER the event. You’ll get your first beer at the finish line. Earn it first.

  • Eat normally. 

No, you do not need to carbo-load. Unless you can actually explain to me the mechanism of carbo-loading, and how it maximizes the storage of glycogen (as well as what is glycogen).  If you have not been training for the event, now is definitely not the time to research macro nutrient ratios, energy gels and fueling strategies. So eat, do not skip meals, and do not try anything new before the event. That’s it.

DURING THE RACE

  • Keep yourself fed. 

Eat a meal 2-3 hours before the start. Then eat something at least once an hour for the duration of the event. Bonking or “hitting a wall” is largely due to under-fueling. Energy gels work well. Candy bars work well. Do not overthink this.

  • Wear sunscreen.

I don’t care how bad ass you are. Sun is more bad ass. As someone who burned my whole face to blisters after not wearing sunscreen on a Himalayan glacier, I can attest to that. Tough Mudder usually starts in the late morning and continues into the daytime – when the sun is at its harshest. So sunscreen up – and that includes the lips.

  • Wear appropriate clothing.

This is not it:

You can read more about what to wear to Tough Mudder HERE. To summarize: wear tight-fitting synthetics, and running shoes you have worn before.

In my experience (and that of many others) gloves do not help at obstacles. They get wet and heavy, and do very little to improve grip. On the other hand (ha!), some swear by fingerless gloves. You won’t know whether you prefer gloves or no gloves until you try racing with both. I’d suggest starting with no gloves. Slipping on the monkey bars or the rings is largely due to lack of strength, not lack of grip. Sorry.

Do not go nuts with trying to protect your skin (apart from sunscreen). I have seen some people wear knee pads, long sleeves, and gloves to protect themselves from blisters and splinters. I find that all that extra gear makes moving more cumbersome. If you are afraid of splinters, you are probably registered for the wrong event. Below the knee tight fitting pant is one exception, as I found that it does make a difference for crawling on your knees in the tunnels, and under barb wire.

  • Do your best at every obstacle.

Then move on. Remember that if you have never swung across hanging rings, your chances of completing that particular obstacle during the event are pretty slim. Consider safety before anything else. If it looks like a bad idea, it probably is.

  • Keep steady pace.

Don’t be the idiot that sprints for the first 400m only to die at the first hill. Follow the advice of the ultra-runners: “Walk up hill, jog the flat, run the downhill”. Just keep moving. Long breaks will only make starting up again more difficult.

  • Have fun.

Do not try to keep up with anyone. You are doing this for you. If you are doing it for someone else, you may want to address your codependency and need to please others, before these issues get you killed.

AFTER THE RACE

  • Refuel / rehydrate.

Completing Tough Mudder is a cause for celebration. Celebrate with a good meal. Protein is awesome. Good quality protein is even more awesome.

Don’t forget to include some water in between those beers. It will help with decreasing soreness over the next few days as well.

  • Pop an Advil.

If you are really sore, taking a non-prescription anti-inflammatory will help manage mild to moderate pain due to inflammation and tissue injury.

  • Move.

Moving around for the next couple of days is the single most helpful thing you can do for yourself to decrease stiffness and soreness, and regain mobility. You may feel like lying on the couch for a week, but it’s not going to help with recovery. Slow jog around the block, walk outside or a yoga class will all be helpful.

***

Disclaimer: I do not advocate participating in any sporting events, including Tough Mudder without training. As an obstacle racer, runner and athlete, I would not dream doing a race unprepared, simply because the potential costs are too great.

I’m not a doctor. I’m just someone who has participated in a shitload of these events, and who is sick and tired of seeing people hurt themselves.

So take the suggestions above at your own risk. Even better? Sign up for next year’s Tough Mudder, and start training.

***

On a related note, I will be teaching Obstacle Racing 101 workshop on Saturday, May 4th at CrossFit Toronto. If you are set on attempting a longer obstacle race this year, this may be a great information session on damage control and strategy. Hope to see you there. 🙂

Signing off,
Solo

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Posted April 23, 2013

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