Sunday, May 6, 2012

I'm a Tough Mudder?

I participated in a Tough Mudder event yesterday in Vermont. Unfortunately, I was not very well prepared. I also realized that there is a very good reason the word mud is embedded in the name. This event was all about mud!

Reality vs. What I Thought 

I imagined that it would a 10 mile obstacle course, which it was. I thought the obstacles would be wet, muddy and messy, which they were, but I also imagined that the distances between the obstacles would be trails that were more or less "runnable". In reality, this was a 10 mile slog through the mud. The mud was usually deep, slippery and full of rocks. The parts of the course that were not covered in mud had such steep angles that running was not an option.

How It Went

You may be wondering how I did. Well, I did make it, but I made at least one critically bad decision in the shoes I wore (see below), and I admittedly was not properly conditioned. So I was not having a lot of fun out there. 

What hurts the most? For me there were two areas hit hard. My hips were really sore. In fact, shortly after I finished, they tightened up so badly that I was having trouble walking. I think my bad choice of shoes, and the steep uphill climbs were responsible for my hip problems. The other thing that really bothered me was my ankles. Again I think my shoes coupled with trying to stay stable in the mud were the cause of my ankle soreness. I also had some mild problems with muscle cramping in my right calf. However, a lot of other people were having major issues with muscle cramps.

How am I recovering after one day? My hips and ankles began to loosen up within a few hours. Today they are still sore, but not too bad. My calves and thighs are sore, but also not too bad.  I think I'll be back to normal in a couple of days.

Training Properly

As I said, there was very little running on the course, at least not without risking serious injury. So training with "regular" running would have limited value. If I were to do a Tough Mudder event again, this is how I would prepare. 

  • Run/hike/climb up and down hills with very large slopes, to build your thigh muscles for rigors of ascending and descending steep slopes, and preferably holding a sandbag.
  • Rope jumping to build calves.
  • Mobility exercises for hips and ankles
  • Lots of military style crawling exercises. 
  • Rowing, pull-ups, rope climbing, and monkey bar swinging would be very helpful with developing the upper body strength need for the obstacles 
  • If possible, get used to walking in thick mud, preferably up and down hills.
  • Get used to being wet and cold while exercising.
Proper Equipment 

I made a very costly mistake in my choice of shoes! I wore an old pair of Vibrams Bikilas with Velcro straps. First the Velcro straps didn't work well caked with mud, and second there was not enough tread on the soles. As a result, I wasted a lot of energy, and risked injury slipping and sliding in the mud more than most of the other people.

  • For shoes, I recommend minimalist running shoes that have laces, a good tread, and that drain well! I would further recommend that you wear them without socks, which would only serve to collect mud.
  • Adequate clothing for the weather conditions that does not retain water and that does not tear easily. Do not wear any cotton! A friend of mine spent several hours much colder than necessary because he wore cotton shirt.
  • Make sure your clothing covers your knees and elbows. This probably isn't totally necessary, but it will help.
  • Gloves are a matter of preference. I wore an old pair of weight lifting gloves, and I felt they helped me a lot. However, I saw a lot discarded gloves along the course. So apparently not everyone felt the same.  I recommend bringing a pair, and if they aren't helping, you can just ditch them.
  • Duct tape is your friend!
Final Words
  • As you will be told before starting, Tough Mudder is not a race, it is an experience. Do not try to race for time! 
  • Don't take any unnecessary risks. Go as slow as you need to go, and do not do any obstacle that you don't think you can't handle.
  • Do it with friends, and it will be a lot more "fun".
  • Get the proper equipment, especially the shoes. Don't even think of trying this barefoot!
  • Train for it. Most healthy people can slog through this course given enough time, but it will be a lot more fun, and over more quickly if you train properly.


  1. Hey Ken, if you're interested in hip mobility and stabilization exercises, you should check out Kelly Starrett's site He's a smart guy and Pose proponent.

    1. Thanks Spencer. I actually use that site all the time. I agree, it's a great resource.