how to do a Tough Mudder without training


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.


Bonus points for finding me in the above photo…


  • 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.


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?


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.


  • 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.


  • 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,

Posted April 23, 2013

21 responses to “how to do a Tough Mudder without training”

  1. Harvey Carroll says:

    Great advice. I found this particularly interesting in light of the author…

    “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.”

    I seem to recall a woman we ran with last year hanging from the rings for what seemed like 10 minutes refusing to give up. Do you recall this women Solo? 🙂

  2. Dave C says:

    Great tips!

  3. Stacy Kish says:

    Great post, I found myself nodding in agreement to each and every one of your points –and giggling at some of them as well 🙂

  4. Michael says:

    Can I explain carbo loading and glycogen? Pretty please?

    • Michael says:

      also disagree on NSAID use. NSAIDs slow recovery, impede nutrient absorption in the gut, and mask potentially serious symptoms.

      • Solo says:

        Mike! Of course, you do. I would not expect any less of you. 🙂 In all honesty though, I am sticking to the “don’t overthink it” strategy. Most racers would probably benefit from some NSAIDs to cure hangover too…

    • Solo says:

      LMAO – i just waiting for you to pipe up. I smell a guest post.

  5. nonotjulia says:

    I know this racer. She knows what she’s talking about. Listen to everything she says!

    Except the costumes… because it’s funny watching people struggle to keep them on.

    I’m a jerk 😀

  6. para5059 says:

    im doing tough mudder in 2 weeks in uk……nice post

  7. nancyfrancis says:

    ICANSKIP OBSTACLES? Who knew? Also I’m only doing Warrior Dash so at least the running will be wildly manageable – I’m just afraid of things I have to climb over or dangle from 🙂

  8. John Wall says:

    Educational and entertaining…but where was it 2 years ago?!…lol. Agree with everything except one…I was just shy of 54 when I ran my first Spartan Race at Tuxedo. Hey…the brochure said 99% of the people finished and it looked like fun! Since then I’ve run three more races, and from what I’ve seen on the courses, I believe it’s much more important to be active and reasonably healthly regardless of your age. Thanks…enjoyed the post! (If you want to read my post on the Tuxedo race…let me know and I’ll pass you the link)

    • Solo says:

      Hey, John! In that case, I don’t think you were a very typical 54-year old! 🙂 I still stand by my comment though – most people in their 60s (not 50s!) should probably not do this one UNTRAINED.

  9. Great post. I pretty much agree with everything you said.

    I’m going to be doing the Philly Mudder tomorrow, I bought some Gold Bond to put in my socks to minimize blisters. I have lost about 10-15 lbs for the event and I did a good bit of walking and jogging and pushups to prepare but I am still FAR from what I would consider really “prepared”.

    I’m a 27 y.o. 6’2″ bigger built man who has done sports most of my life but the past few years its been a pretty sedentary life. I am just hoping I can do good enough tomorrow but I am thinking I will skip every wall after the first of Berlin Walls and the entire Hanging Tough because as a bigger built person those events put me at a great disadvantage. Are there any other obstacles you would recommend skipping? I have a very high pain threshold.

    I am hoping to let out some aggression tomorrow though.

    • Solo says:

      hey, Andrew!!!! How did the TM go? Did you end up skipping any obstacles? Sorry didn’t get to your comment on time! 🙁

      I don’t think you NEED to skip any obstacles. For example, with the rings – you just fall in the water. 🙂

  10. danni says:

    There is also Richard, the 55 year-old executive who cycles or runs on flat city streets on weekend mornings with his other executive buddies. He has no or little upper body strength, a little bit of a beer belly and registered for “team-building” and to show off his orange headband at the office.

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