As life becomes more and more sanitized we’re seeing more and more extreme activities become popular as people seek out new thrills. It seems funny to me that a few years ago MMA was seen as an “extreme sport,” yet in today’s list of extreme sports it probably barely rates a mention compared to winged suit flying.
Perhaps the most prolific of these modern day thrill seeker events is the “mud run,” typified by Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash. Held over various distances these increasingly popular events are essentially obstacle course races that feature plenty of fun, and some not so fun obstacles (such as potentially being electrocuted).
People routinely ask me how they should prepare for these events so they can complete them with ease and get as much enjoyment from the activity as possible. So, here are my thoughts on how to successfully train for a mud run.
First Things First
The first thing to keep in mind is that it is a fun run. It is a special type of fun run, but a fun run all the same. Tough Mudder in Australia has an average course length of 18-20 kilometres (12.5 miles). So if you can’t run that far you need to start getting in some runs.
Despite what many people will tell you, the best way to get better at running is not to lift weights, but to run. It seems to me there are many people in the fitness industry who are offering advice on things like this when the only thing they’ve ever run to is the front of a buffet line in an effort to tame their hunger. Here’s a quick tip – don’t take running preparation advice from someone who hasn’t seen their toes in years.
My advice is simple and designed to get the most return from the smallest amount of time spent. The first step is to follow the running break-in plan that I outlined in this article. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you can run pain free and easily for an hour at a time it’s time to start our actual event preparation.
Day 1: 400m Repeats
Perform 400m repeats at 90% of your maximum with a 90 second break between each. After the 90 seconds of rest check your pulse. If your heart rate is below 120bpm then do another one. Keep this process up until your heart rate doesn’t return to below 120bpm in the 90 seconds.
The other qualifier is that you must maintain the same pace for each interval. If your pace drops by more than a few seconds you are also done for the day. Don’t be discouraged at first if you are only able to get a few out. In a few short weeks you should be able to get 10 or more and trust me when I say those days are simply awful.
Day 2: Undulating Terrain Run for an Hour
Find a place that is undulating terrain and do a build up run that is 15 minutes easy, 15 minutes at moderate pace, 15 minutes hard, and 15 minutes easy/cool-down. I like to break these efforts up according to heart rate by following the 180 Rule. An “easy” effort is below my cap of 140bpm (as I am forty years old) therefore 130-140bpm. A moderate effort is 140-150bpm. Hard is as hard as I can sustain for the 15 minutes.
Day 3: Long Easy Run with Roadwork
Build up to a two-hour run at an easy heart rate (120-130bpm). Every 15 minutes stop and do:
This will start to teach you to keep moving even when fatigued as well as start to build the muscular endurance you need to combat the obstacles.
Mud Run Specific Training
The second important thing to train is strength for the obstacles. With many requiring pulling the upper body up and over obstacles pull-ups are a must in your plan. Don’t discriminate between low rep heavy pull-ups and higher rep bodyweight only pull-ups either – they will both be equally beneficial to you.
One of the biggest problems people face when they begin running, or are running while fatigued or under duress such as while wearing heavy, wet clothes is a higher risk of injury. While you may be able to lift more weight in a two-legged exercise, in my experience you’ll be better off using single leg exercises. My current leg plan for endurance people is a mix of single leg deadlifts, step-ups, single leg curls with a physio ball, and calf work. I keep the reps to 5 per set allowing me to use a decent load, although the focus here is getting everything balanced so that your single leg stance is stable while running on uneven ground.
Finally you need to add some extra conditioning work. A simple circuit of heavy two-hand kettlebell swings, crawling, and push ups done non-stop for around 10 minutes will be all the extra work you need.
The key, as always, for event preparation is to start early. If you haven’t run in a long time then allow adequate build up time for the run break-in plan. Don’t take the event lightly – it’s still a half marathon with the added difficulty of the obstacles to overcome. So make sure to give yourself at least ten weeks to add some running fitness and make sure to hit those three sessions each week as they are all vital for your mud run success.
Have you done a mud run? What was your experience like? Post your comments below.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.