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How Should I Train for a Mud Run?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last summer, I surprised a few family members by asking if they wanted to form a team to do a mud run.  I’m not known as adventurous—or as someone who likes to get dirty—but mud races were becoming so popular among runners (and non-runners alike) that I was ready to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.  To my delight, the race was lots of fun and definitely something I’d do again in the future. 
Mud runs have exploded in popularity over the past decade. Today, you have no shortage of mud-related "obstacle" races from which to choose. Each race is different, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign up.  A few popular "dirty" obstacle races include:
  • Savage Race :  4-6 miles.  This race boasts more obstacles per mile than other mud runs.
  • Spartan Race:  anywhere from 3-12+ miles depending on which kind of Spartan Race you do, so make sure you’re signing up for the right one! 
  • Tough Mudder:  10-12 miles with extreme obstacles such as jumping into freezing cold water or electric shock.  The obstacles in this race are above and beyond the difficulty level of any other.

Many of these races have certain common obstacles, such as:
  • Crawling under a cargo net on your belly through mud or muddy water
  • Swinging across monkey bars
  • Rope pull up a muddy hill
  • Scaling over 12-foot walls (or higher)
  • Walking across a narrow beam with just a rope or net to hold onto
  • Sliding down a muddy hill into waist deep water
  • Crawling across a cargo net 15 feet in the air
  • Swimming or wading through water as deep as your neck
  • Crawling under barbed wire
  • Crawling through or under pitch-black obstacles such as tubes
  • Jumping over fire pits

Every race location sets up its obstacles at different intervals.  Sometimes you’ll encounter obstacles that are spaced evenly apart, say every half to full mile away from the next. Sometimes you'll encounter several obstacles in a row, or run over a mile without encountering any obstacle at all. Typically, how often you'll encounter an obstacle depends on the local terrain where the race is held—often out in the country, in fields, and even encompassing park areas that have dirt trails. 

I've heard a lot of people say that they "aren't worried" about the distance of the race they plan to do because it'll be broken up by obstacles. That is somewhat true, but the obstacles themselves are often no walk in the park either. You will be moving, running, climbing, pulling, wading, swimming, crawling—and essentially exerting yourself—for the duration of the race. However, some races become crowded and people have to "bottleneck" into an obstacle, which may provide a few moments—or several minutes—of rest while you wait to encounter an obstacle. But that isn't a given.

It's also important to consider the time of year your race will be held and what the weather might be. Many of these races take place in early spring, late fall and even winter—which can be a bad, uncomfortable and even unsafe condition when you combine water elements and mud with cold temperatures.  Others take part under beating sunlight with little to no cover during the hottest and most humid seasons and even at the height of temperatures for the day. Definitely consider these factors when signing up for a race and choosing your start time (when applicable).
How to Train and Prepare for a Mud Run
Mud runs are a fun way to challenge yourself and get a great workout at the same time.  But how do you train for an event like this?  Although events like Tough Mudder are strenuous and require much more advanced training due to their distance alone, the typical mud run of a few miles is something that the average person can complete, often with minimal preparation. (Of course completing a mud race is very different from competing in it. The more you train and the fitter you are, the faster your race time will be and the more comfortable and fun the experience will be overall.)
  • First and foremost, consider the distance. All obstacles aside, can you run and/or walk the distance of the race safely at your fitness level? Ensure that you train for the distance of the race. This should be your No. 1 priority. If it's a 5K distance, plan for at least 5-8 weeks of training. But running aside, I can tell you from experience that the race will take you longer than you think.

    You might be able to run 3 miles in 30 minutes under normal conditions, but that doesn’t include the obstacles, which take time to complete.  You also won’t be able to run as fast when you’re covered in wet, mud-soaked clothes, which are also heavy and make running much more challenging.  It took me over an hour to finish my 3-mile race, and I can easily run 3 miles (and have completed several full marathons).  So my advice would be this: Get yourself comfortable running distances longer than the race distance calls for.  If running 3 miles leaves you tired, think about how you’re going to feel when they throw challenging obstacles in on top of that.  If you can run 4 or 5 miles comfortably, then you should have enough energy left to complete one of these 3-mile races successfully.   
  • Train on a variety of terrains. Also keep in mind that many of these races are done through grassy fields (including knee and waist deep grasses) and on uneven terrain, so it helps to do some training in these conditions.  Running in grass is much different than running on a sidewalk or paved road.  Include some trail and grass running in your training plan so that you're prepared to encounter it on race day with more balance and stability, which will reduce your risk of injury.
  • Prepare for obstacles with functional training. The biggest question I hear about these races is, "How do I train for those obstacles?"  The website for your mud race should give you some indication of which obstacles to expect, but nothing can prepare you for what they're really like. The element of surprise can be both exciting and a little scary. First and foremost, unless you are trying to compete to place or win the race, you don't have to do any or all of the obstacles. They are totally optional, so trust your gut and skip any obstacle that isn't right for you on race day. For example, my dad has bad ankles and can’t jump from high places.  When we did those obstacles, he opted out and just continued on with the rest of the team when we finished.

    Most of us don’t have easy access to monster truck tires, 30-foot cargo nets, and giant muddy hills to climb up and down.  Just because you can’t train in exactly the same conditions you’ll be experiencing on race day, doesn’t mean you can’t train to have enough strength to complete them.  The best way to be prepared is to simply work on a well-rounded fitness program. In addition to your running training, a well-rounded, full-body strength training program can give you what you need to complete many of the typical obstacles.  

    Think about what you’ll be doing:  climbing ropes and swinging across monkey bars (upper body strength), crawling across cargo nets (upper and lower body strength) and pulling yourself through muddy water (upper body, lower body and core).  Typical strength exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks and rows will help prepare you for these events. Working on overall body strength and balance will set you up to complete your race successfully. Try 2-3 strength-training days per week.

Like I said before, the average mud run (between 3 and 6 miles) is something most people, with some training, can complete.  Events like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race are extremely challenging and aren't something to attempt unless you're healthy, cleared for this event by your physician, and have put in a significant amount of advanced training.  Don’t sign up for Tough Mudder just because it “sounds fun" unless you're fit and strong enough to run a half marathon (or able to train for that distance in the time you have available). As a runner, I'd say a half marathon is an easier task than this particular race, so if 13.1 miles sounds daunting, a Tough Mudder may not be right for you. Pushing yourself further than your body is ready to go (without adequate training) can lead to injury and a miserable experience.   You wouldn’t go from running a 5K to a marathon all at once, so you want to be sure you’re in great shape to tackle the demands of one of these longer events.   My advice? If a mud run sounds fun to you, try a shorter one first. Train using the guidelines listed above. And work diligently on increasing your running endurance before attempting the longer, more arduous mud races.

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I participated in a mud run last year and I LOVED it. I was in much better shape than I am now so it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. However, I was not prepared for the allergy attack I had when I went over the mulch piles. It caused my chest to burn for about a 30 minutes, so it really screwed with my time. But I was ok with that. I was participating more for fun and not time. Report
Not on my bucket list Report
My friend completed a portion of the Tough Mudder without training and pulled a muscle in her back. I was still totally psyched on doing it. Thanks for the information for other events for those of us who are adventurous but not quite at the "Tough Mudder" level. I begin my training this weekend. Totally excited!!! Report
I've done Tough Mudder twice now - it's so much fun! Get a good team together, help each other along and you'll have a blast. You do need to train pretty hard, I'd advise starting with a shorter race first (unless you're military fit of course, in which case you should just sign up now, it'll be a breeze!). There are great exercises on the Tough Mudder website that don't require any gym equipment. Report
I am training with a personal trainer who runs a weekend mud run training camp (I am not part of that group). It really looks like fun and something I might pursue after I have my knee replacement surgery... Report
I am doing a Mud Sweat and Tears run in September. Already started training for it. Thanks for posting this article with great training tips. Report
So excited! Doing the 5KFoamFest in Dallas this Saturday. Mud and suds, 50 foot slip and slides, 100 foot slide, cargo nets and climbing walls. What more could you ask for? Report
sounds interesting Report
I wouldn't find that fun. Report
I plan on doing Tough Mudder this year! I can walk 5 miles in about two hours at a slow pace, so I figure I can do the TM in about 5 hours and less if you factor the obstacles. I am stoked, and I am determined to finish Report
I did the Warrior Dash in July 2012. I signed up only a few weeks beforehand, so I didn't have much time to prepare. I had already been doing cardio on a regular basis before signing up for it, but if I had known farther in advance, I definitely would have added a more intense strength training routine! Regardless, the Warrior Dash was a blast and definitely not as hard as I had expected. I'm looking forward to doing another one next summer (I'm due with my first child at the end of July, otherwise I'd say this summer)! :) Report
& Dirty Girl Mud Run - for breast cancer. Did that one last spring and it was a blast. I didn't do any training as I was already in shape for 5 and 10ks but if you aren't that would be where I would start! Although you can walk them all as well, so if you aren't a runner don't let that stop you.

To train for other things is kind of ridiculous. As Jen says, where are you going to find a 2 story high net to climb on your own or a mud pit to low crawl through, etc. It's really not that difficult - there were women of all different ages, including their 70's who did it, just at their own pace. Report
Participants need to train, train, train. There have been instances where people have ended up hospitalized for overestimating their own capabilites. Report
I would love to one of these some day. I would definitely start with a 5K one, though!
I'm going to be doing my first 5K April 6th (for Epilepsy awareness) and then another one June 29th (the Color Run - VERY EXCITED). I'll see how I can handle a normal race and a very colorful one before diving into mud. :) Report
I would love to do one of these some day. I would definitely start with a 5K one, though! I'm going to be doing my first 5K April 6th (for Epilepsy awareness) and then another one June 29th (the Color Run - VERY EXCITED). I'll see how I can handle a normal race and a very colorful one before diving into mud. :) Report
Oh, and be prepared to be scratched, bruised, scraped, etc. Wear sunscreen! I got burned in 55-60* weather.

Wear clothes and shoes you don't mind throwing away - they'll likely be ruined. Over a mile of the Spartan race was run in a knee deep creek and wading through waist deep muddy marshes. Report
I just completed a Spartan and I will warn anyone - no matter how fit and strong you think you are, no matter how much you train, these things will kick your butt!

I have a lot of upper body strength (can bench 150% of my weight 3x), I do a lot of resistance training, and a lot of mileage running, hiking, and biking. I was still completely worn out at the end of the Spartan.

But it was the most fun I've ever had exercising and can't wait for my next one in the fall. Report
It's win-win, you get a workout and a spa mud treatment at the same time! :P Report
No thank you!! I'll stick to my half marathons and relays - on nice, dry roads and paths :) Report
Not planning to do any mud runs, but my goddaughter's school is going to host a fun run (mile and 5K) in which the kids throw cornstarch dyed the school colors on the participants. Running that gauntlet may be fun. Report
Oh, & if you're not all that into the mud, choose an earlier wave, that way you'll be one of the first people to go through the course & it'll less likely to be saturated with mud (less slippery ropes/inclines/rings). Report
I've done 2 5k mud races so far 7 have just signed up for a 4mile race. For the first race, I didn't really have a training plan, but I had just finished training for and completed a half marathon and was regularly engaged in strength training classes 2-3 days a week.

For this upcoming race I am following the spartan workout of the day (WOD) along with workout drills posted/provided by other obstacle races. I am also frequenting parks with childrens play areas to practice swinging on the bars, lol. Report
Am hoping to participate in the AlphARace in my area in June! :-) Report
This is not something I would try because I can't stand even a little dirt on my hands. I also don't want to work that hard to have fun. Report
I am looking foward to my first Mud Run - The Dirty Girl in Chiacgo ! Report
I took part in a Spartan last year and I loved it so much, that I've signed up for another two this year. I would recommend getting use to running in all weather, to get use to being wet and muddy definitely. Report
I am signing up for one in May -- it is 7 miles, but I feel confident that I can do it. My trainer did it last year, and said it was hard, but there were a lot of people there who were not anywhere near fit. She said one guy weighed in about 400 pounds (his shirt said so) and he completed the course. It may take me a while, but I think I can!

the website is mud on the mountain .com if anyone reads this and is in the area! Report
In my race (the warrior dash), the only muddy/saturated part was at the very end. The VERY end... so I wouldn't feel hesitant to do the race while pregnant if I was doing it with friends and was experienced at pacing myself and taking my time. I, however, tend to get caught up in the spirit and try to push myself in race situations.

Lots of ambulances on site, just in case. But not much "supervision" across the entire race as a whole. Report
The one I participated in took place in and around a ski resort. Definitely didn't anticipate the elevations - should have looked closely at the location of the race. After on and off running and obstacles for 30 + minutes, I was not well prepared for going up and down a few ski hills. Besides the challenge (and it was challenging) it was great fun. Lots of people helping each other and supporting their "team mates".

And, I must mention that a previous posters advice of "train for the specific events" is quite unhelpful if the obstacles aren't made public in advance. Also, I would have been much better served to be hill training (running) than walking on balance beams even though both of these were a part of the race. Report
These don't sound fun at all to me. I don't even like to have dirty hands. Report
I would never do this while pregnant see above question

Best training is upper body strength.

Have done two! Report
Just signed up for one in May. Have completed c25k in the past but got out of the habit. Restarted , with DH this time, with time to spare before race day. We jog on hiking trails already, so terrain is uneven and challenging. Report
Would it be safe to do these kinds of runs while pregnant, given all the mud and swimming through not-necessarily-clean water and whatnot? My guess is probably not in order to be safe rather than sorry, but I wondered what the SP expert opinion would be. Report
I will probably never get an opportunity to do one of these but it sure sounds like a fun way to indulge your inner child! I do remember mud pit tug-o-wars from when I was in high school. Report
Train for the specific events Report
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