There are few events in the world that test your body and mind as much as the Tough Mudder. You’ll need strength, endurance, speed, and perhaps most importantly, your teammates, to overcome the challenges presented during the obstacle course held throughout the world. Whether it’s the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa or Japan, it doesn’t matter because you’ll need every ounce of will and your team’s morale to finish the Tough Mudder.
That’s because the events and obstacles are designed by British Special Forces: the Special Air Service (SAS), the Special Recognizance Service (SRS) and others. It takes a special group to overcome the grueling 10-12 mile race with between 25 and 30 obstacles. Any one person can run a marathon, but it takes a team of Tough Mudders to complete this experience.
Founded in 2010 with three events and 20,000 participants, Tough Mudder will see 35 events and 450,000 participants by this year’s end and raise close to $4,000,000 to help the Wounded Warrior Project. The event is gaining traction each year, but it’s not getting any easier to actually complete.
Below are just a few things to remember before your inaugural trip into an abyss of fire, mud, ice cold water, the freezing chill of late autumn or early spring, electro-shocks and 12-foot walls. If you’re not together as a team, you won’t get through the race. If your team is strong, but you aren’t, you’ll let your team down and fall into the category of those who have to skip obstacles, or simply give in to exhaustion and quit. 22 percent of participants fail to finish.
However, with the right preparation, gear and teammates, you too can be a Tough Mudder. Here’s what to keep in mind before setting off on what may be the most insane adventure of your life.
Contrary to most professional athletic endeavors, this obstacle course doesn’t ask you to lift a ton above your head or sprint like an Olympian. Instead, you’ll be asked to jump in freezing cold water, shimmy past electro-shock wiring or thrust yourself over a 12-foot high wall. That means you’ll be using muscles you didn’t even know you possessed. This is a grueling mental and physical test.
As such, muscle-specific workouts such as simply pounding the bench press or running 400-meter circuits isn’t going to be enough. A P90X workout routine or cross-fit training will be much more beneficial. The former combines all aspects of working out, so you’re not targeting a specific muscle group. Instead, you’re strengthening your entire body, which is exactly what the Tough Mudder requires. There isn’t a specific way to train, so train for everything.
Yoga can also be helpful in the months before you compete. It generally covers all your muscles and provides the flexibility you’ll need so you’re not pulling hamstrings or groins midway through the event. Yoga also preaches proper breathing, stamina and focus, which will go a long way towards keeping your cool on the course.
Finally, you should be able to comfortably run 5-6 miles. Stamina and cardiovascular strength is important for in between the obstacles, where you’ll be asked to run over uneven terrain along root-infested trails and rocky passages and up slippery inclines. If you don’t have endurance, you’ll be at a major disadvantage all the way through the obstacle course.
The biggest misconception by far about the Tough Mudder is that any physically fit person can go out and complete the course. This isn’t true. You will be asked to conquer obstacles that aren’t your run-of-the-mill workouts and you’ll need to convince yourself that you have the wherewithal to do so. Mental preparation is even more important than physical when it comes to this epic adventure race.
More Tough Mudder obstacles are added every year. One obstacle in previous years required teams to crawl through thick, cold mud under threat from electric-shock wiring overhead. If you get shocked in an obstacle like this, you need to keep going even if your whole body is begging you to give up. The moment you stop, all your teammates behind you and the other participants have to stop. You need to keep moving to get through to the next challenge.
Go in knowing that the more you wallow, the worse you’ll be. The pain of being shocked or dropped into ice-cold water will be a surprise to the system, but the pain you’ll be experiencing is only temporary. You’ll need to keep moving ahead, keep fighting and not think about the fear, pain or exhaustion. Once you’re stuck thinking about something, you’ll get more tired and cold or you’ll start entertaining thoughts about quitting. Don’t enter this race thinking giving up is an option. Enter prepared to move past the discomfort and never relent.
Since Tough Mudder events happen all over the country, weather and race conditions vary. If you’re competing in Seattle, there will be rain or it will be overcast, so don’t think the sun will save you from the shivering hypothermia that can come about when you’re dunked in ice-cold water two or three times. The proper gear is important based off geography, but there are some basics important for every climate.
Gloves are discouraged by some, but many former Tough Mudders swear by them as long as they’re tight, allow enough mobility to grip things and have a mucilaginous surface so you don’t slip out of handholds. The gloves will also help you retain your body heat and offer insulation from the cold metal bars you’ll be gripping in at least one obstacle. They might also be the difference between staying on the rings and falling into the icy water below. Splinters are a problem for some wood-based obstacles and the gloves will save you the often futile process of digging out those shards that slipped into your epidermis without you realizing. When you’re constantly using your hands to push or pull teammates, a particularly irritable splinter could be the difference between finishing or not.
Note that more layers do not equal more warmth in the Tough Mudder; you want to be as close to bare skin as possible when competing. When you get wet, the more layers you’re wearing means longer drying time and more weight to carry. Even if you’re not competing in rainy Seattle, you will get wet. The course is designed to take advantage of competitors that are trying to stay dry. It’s impossible to avoid the water and the ensuing cold, so it makes more sense to compete in a t-shirt than in heavy, multi-layer sweats that add burdensome weight when you’re trying to boost yourself or a teammate over the 12-foot high wall or run to the next obstacle. Trust you’ll be working hard enough to make up for the lack of layers.
Aside from a dry, tight-fit short sleeve top, make sure to wear dry fit socks to guard even more against the cold. Traction-heavy soled running shoes will also help you climb any slippery slope.
There’s a reason 80 percent of Tough Mudders go through the rigors of the race with a team. The camaraderie of teams is integral to competing and excelling. You need the support of your group every time you’re faced with a mental, or literal, wall.
The nice thing about the Tough Mudder is there are no rules for how many people can be on a team. Bring a friend, or bring 10 friends; it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re Tough Mudders like you. Complainers and whiners need not apply. You should know these people pretty well, and have an idea of how they work. Every team will have weak links for certain obstacles, but when you’re the weak link, you’ll realize why having a teammate is vastly superior over going it alone. When you’re attempting to climb a 12-foot high pipeline, those teammates will come in pretty handy.
But it’s not just the physical helping hands that teammates provide. Things are always easier when you can share the burden. If you find yourself stuck, probably in the mud, and your body is refusing to listen to your pleading entreaties to just get through it, that’s when a team or teammates’ exhortations can be the difference between finishing or not.
You can attempt the Tough Mudder all by your lonesome, but before you go for it on your own, try it with a team. The feeling of accomplishment will go up exponentially for every member of your team that’s survived the trials and tribulations of the course. A Tough Mudder is one that doesn’t leave a teammate behind. Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds as a collective is the Tough Mudder way.
If you want to learn more about Tough Mudder, visit ToughMudder.com.