Last week I finally defeated Tough Mudder, a grueling 12-mile challenge peppered with 22 military obstacles designed by British Special Forces.
Why would I do this you ask?
1.) Because I like challenging myself.
2.) I'm slightly insane.
It had been on my calendar for about 3 months and I'd pumped myself up for it so much that I practically couldn't sleep at all the night before the event.
The weeks preceding Tough Mudder were split between working a full time day job, training heavily for the demanding physical aspects of the event and researching the gear that would best suit the challenging obstacles that lied ahead. During that time I consumed massive quantities of information and scoured countless websites for any scrap of feedback that would aid my quest to conquer "the toughest event on the planet." I've compiled the most useful of that information and my own experience as a first time mudder into this post which will hopefully save you a lot of time.
I'll break this into two sections, one on training and the second on gear.
Training for Tough Mudder doesn't have to be as demanding as you might think. That's NOT to say that it's easy - it isn't. No matter how prepared you are, there will be portions of the event that you will not be prepared to tackle. It's designed that way on purpose. That said, here are some core areas you need to focus on.
1.) GET YOUR LEGS USED TO RUNNING
The Tough Mudder course is between 10 and 12 miles in length - ALL of it over uneven terrain and much of it THROUGH water. I don't care if you can leg press 800lbs - when was the last time you ran 12 miles? Your legs need to be prepared to take a massive amount of pounding and there's no better way to get in shape for that than, you guessed it - RUNNING. Run at least 5 miles at a stretch if you can and get used to doing it on actual dirt. I found that my schedule allowed me to run about 3 miles a day, three days a week. This was BARELY enough. If I could do it again I'd get that up to 5 miles per session. Two members of my team experienced crippling leg cramps that nearly took them out of the fight. The cramps set in about halfway and only got worse from there. The only way to get better at running is to do it and do it often.
2.) INCREASE YOUR UPPER BODY STRENGTH
Many obstacles in Tough Mudder will require you to lift your body weight up and over things. There are multiple instances where I encountered walls 8 ft and 12 ft high. What's worse is that they are covered in wet, slippery mud which increases the difficulty by about 50%. Even if you can grip the top of the wall and have someone else pulling you up, you will still need to expend a fair amount of 'brute strength' to haul your center of gravity to the top. More importantly, when it's time to come down on the other side, you'll need to lower yourself down or you WILL fall. Pull-ups are handy for building the specific strength you'll need to complete this movement. Don't skimp on pull-ups. You will be especially thankful for this tip when you reach the monkey bars which are deliberately placed near the end of the course so you'll be nice and tired when you reach them.
3.) GET USED TO BEING COLD AND WET
You will be cold and wet. A LOT. Get used to it. My team spent about 75 percent of the event covered in water and mud. At least a quarter of Tough Mudder consists of water challenges that will have you neck deep in black, ice cold swamp water. This may vary depending on where your event takes place but at least in the Florida event we found ourselves wading through ponds, swamps, lakes and streams constantly. The initial shock of jumping into an ice bath (second obstacle for us) will eventually give way to the throbbing numbness that comes with freezing your ass off and then heating up your core as you power on to the next challenge. To get used to this, spend time in cold water. Jump into a cold swimming pool and then go for a run. When you get back, jump into the cold pool again. Then go take a cold shower.
4.) MOVE LIKE A HUMAN WAS MEANT TO MOVE
In caveman times, humans spent a lot of time running, climbing and jumping over things. That's what our bodies are designed to do. The ability to bench-press 250 pounds will be far less helpful to you than being able to vault your body over a park bench or run up a flight of stairs 10 times in a row. Get used to those kinds of movements. In our event, the very first obstacle was a series of hurdles about 3 feet high. What we COULDN'T see was that on the OTHER SIDE of said hurdles was a trench about 2 feet deep. This effectively made the drop on the other side 5 feet deep. Many ankles were twisted and this one small challenge wiped out about 10 people right off the bat. Get used to jumping over things and landing properly. It's important.
NOTE: Personally, I trained using the Beach Body INSANITY program. I HIGHLY recommend it or its big brother, P90X. The workouts are short (about 45 minutes each) and VERY intense. They will condition you to move in ways your body typically doesn't move and the explosive plyometric nature of the training will give your heart and lungs the endurance they need to devour much of what Tough Mudder throws at you.
You need functional fitness. Don't just go to the gym and lift weights. Glamour muscles will NOT help you in Tough Mudder. Focus 60% of your time on endurance training and 40% of your time on strength training. I'm sure there's plenty I missed here but, again, this advice is based on MY personal experience.
You don't need to spend a LOT of money in this department but a small investment in the proper gear will make a world of difference. Don't worry about top of the line brand name stuff. Go cheap - it really won't help you to spend a fortune.
I chose my trusty Vibram KSO's for this one. I'd already fallen in love with them months earlier and the majority of my training was done in them so switching foot gear before the event made little sense.
I can honestly say that the Vibrams were a lifesaver for me. They never came loose, they allowed me to have functional feedback as to the nature of the terrain under my feet and they were lightweight even when wet. Additionally, they dry out quickly and don't hold any mud. Most people who chose traditional footwear were constantly scooping mud out of their shoes and a few lost them altogether on some of the mud obstacles. Everyone I saw wearing Vibrams just kept on trucking. My only complaint was that the KSO's didn't have as much tread as I would have liked. If you choose barefoot running shoes, get something with a little extra traction. It's not vital but it's the ONLY area where my KSO's fell short.
|That's me smiling. My Vibrams cut through Tough Mudder like a Machete through sour cream.|
NOTE: You must TRAIN in your Vibrams BEFORE the event. DO NOT just pick some up the week before. Training in the barefoot running style will require at least a month and during that time your ankles and calves will develop an entirely new level of strength and movement. It's VITAL that you do this BEFORE Tough Mudder or you risk major injury in the foot department.
You don't need them but they are very nice to have. We encountered lots of sharp rocks, sticks, pebbles and just plain rough surfaces. Gloves will protect your hands from getting cut up when you're climbing through a drain pipe over rocks on your belly in the dark or lifting a log over your head as you wade through a lake. Go fingerless so they drain water well. Don't spend a fortune - check Harbor Freight or Wal-Mart for these. Don't get leather. Don't get rubber. BMX or work gloves are fine.
|Picked these up at Harbor Freight for 12 bucks. They were more than adequate.|
3.) UNDER ARMOUR
You don't need it. Well, you don't need UNDER ARMOUR brand stuff. It's all polyester anyway so don't spend more money than necessary. Wal-Mart or Target will have plenty of sports apparel. Here's what I recommend:
-LONG SLEEVE COMPRESSION SHIRT (it will protect your elbows from getting jacked when you belly crawl over gravel) I got mine at Target for 15$.
-SHORT SLEEVE LOOSE SPORTS SHIRT (optional) Wear this over the compression shirt. It will act as an insulator and regulate your core temperature. Comes in handy when you go in and out of the water. I also picked this up at Target in the clearance section - 5$.
-SHORTS - We ran TM in Florida. Shorts made sense. If you're in New Jersey in January, use common sense. Again, Target saves the day - $10 on clearance.
4.) A SMALL BACKPACK (optional) Very handy to carry energy gel or bottles of water. I wore a Camelbak. Worked great. Water stations were plentiful but being able to stuff my gloves into a bag and grab an energy gel if needed was nice. I lucked out here and found this at my local Goodwill for 5$.
|This little Camelbak served me well. Didn't get in the way and held everything I needed.|
Focus your training on lower body endurance and upper body strength. Don't spend a fortune on gear - cheap is just as good as the expensive stuff. Get the right equipment (gloves, elbow protection, energy gels). On game day GO SLOW. Examine each obstacle carefully before you attack. A twisted ankle in the first 15 minutes can make months of preparation worthless.