How to prepare for a Tough Mudder event--the obstacles

A participant slides on a sea of mud while tackling the Greased Lightning obstacle during the Tough Mudder. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

Part 1 of this series on Tough Mudder events appeared here.

Your Obstacles

Prepare yourself for hills. Many courses, particularly the longer ones in our region, are set up at ski resorts. Guess how you rack up 7+ miles of running at a ski resort?  That's right—up, down, repeat.

Don't go for broke on the first mile or two of the run. Seriously. If you're feeling like you might PR your 10k after the third mile - obstacles and all, consider slowing down.

Grounded cargo net—Ideally, you will have a number of people in front of you. This will allow you to stand up and put the net over your head. Crawling under it will take forever, so the more people ahead of you the better.

Culvert—Get comfortable in your plank position. The rocks and other debris mixed in with the mud through which you are crawling will surely shred you. You would be best served by working your way through this obstacle in the top of your push up position, or if space does not allow that, bringing your forearms to the ground, but keeping your knees up.

Muddy miles—Make sure your shoes are tied tight. Many an athlete has lost a shoe to the suction created by the mud. Minimalist shoes with no laces... Don't wear them to your mud run. Be prepared to experience at least a few unknowable obstacles within obstacles - when you are racing through mud that is waist-deep, you can't always know where your next footfall will land you.

Pick up an object; carry it—You are not awarded based on the size of the object you choose to carry. Save your gym class hero status... for gym class. 

Walls—Teamwork. Talls help the smalls over first. Smalls stay at the top of the wall to lend an extended arm to the Talls, who help each other over until the last Tall on the ground either a) asks for the help of another athlete on the ground, or b) engages mad ups and launches himself to the top.

Cold water jump—Depending on the time of year, brace yourself for the drop into extremely cold water… it will knock your breath out. Surface as soon as possible and regulate your breathing to a normal rhythm. When you get out of the water, run – it’ll bring your body temperature back up quickly.

Eating something strange—My understanding has been that the Tough Mudder has stopped offering participants exiting the "Blood Bath" obstacle (swimming under barrels through a vat filled with pepper juice and water) an opportunity to eat an extremely hot pepper. However just in case you are offered something to eat as part of an adventure race, let me provide the voice of reason telling you that this is not a good idea.

Walking through fire—Dumb obstacle and after a recent tragedy, I'm not sure that we'll see many of these in the future. However if there happens to be an obstacle like this in your race, get a running head start. Hold your breath for as long as you can and if possible, identify the end of the obstacle before you enter it so you can <gasp> close your eyes while moving if it becomes necessary.

Giant, greased up slide—Hands down, the best part of the race. I would, in fact, encourage you not to register for an adventure race UNLESS it has a giant, greased up slide as one of its "obstacles."

Dangling live wires—Second dumbest obstacle, but a mainstay, I believe. Getting shocked is not a definite, as the wires are pulsed, but I saw many folks get knocked to the ground during my first Tough Mudder. Some tried to crawl under the wires—this appeared to have horrible outcomes for all who tried it, as they were moving slow enough to essentially ensure that they got shocked at least three times. Instead, run fast with your chin tucked and your arms in front.

Final Thoughts

Eat a good breakfast beforehand. It's not just a 10 mile run with a few obstacles along the way. You will get hungry. There will be some food and water on the course, but I definitely don't recommend the meager race-day breakfast of many runners I know.

Lastly, don't be a jerk. Help at least 5 other people who are not on your team. Don't be stingy with high-fives. Make friends with muddy strangers. Encourage everybody. And folks, the desire and ability to win does not negate these last few pieces of advice. 


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.