Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Tough Mudder Round 1.


... I have run a couple of half marathons, attempted long distance bike rides, sparred at kick-boxing, played football and rugby in all conditions and Tough Mudder was as hard as any of it. I could have taken more time, walked a bit more and maybe reserved some energy, for the slippery devil that was the 'Funky Monkey' monkey bars obstacle (after the 10 mile mark), but I'm not that kind of athlete - I like to run. So, I kept pushing myself through the fatigue and dragged myself and was dragged, by a great team, over the obstacles. At the end, things hurt but I wouldn't have been happy had I completed it any other way, I wanted to give my all and that's just what I did. It's a very dynamic event and takes a well rounded athlete to get through it. There are parts of it you just can't prepare for in your regular fitness regime: ice cold water, electric shocks and most overlooked (despite the name) MUD. It takes more than just strength to get through mud, it takes determination, stubbornness and some intelligence. The tanked up gym freaks that ruin all your nights out are not better suited to a Tough Mudder because they lift, they only had an advantage at the climbing obstacles (providing they learnt to lift themselves before all those barbells). The women that took part (I am told by my unbiased mother) made fewer cries of pain than most men whilst crawling under electrical wire. The smaller participants glided across the monkey bars. You get the picture.

Anyway, what I would like to say is, if you are thinking of taking up the challenge then I think I may have some advice. These are things that worked for me and other things I wish I had done.


If you sign up at the right time, you'll get months to prepare (and a decent price) so make the most of it.

Endurance. The event is always 10-12 miles no matter what the location. Being able to run that far isn't essential to you completing the course nor is it necessarily the most desirable part of your training plan but having the ability to run further than 8 miles will cut your recovery on the day and on the days following. It will also help you complete the course quickly if that is your aim. Swimming will also help you. There is a lot of water and a lot of obstacles that require upper body strength. Swimming will help keep your arms as strong at the finish as they were at the start.

  • What I recommend: Run at least 2-3 times a week. As you get nearer to the event build up your distances. Swim 1-2 times per week (perhaps rotating with the running). Go for distance e.g. 1 mile front crawl. Front crawl is harder for most people and builds up the arm strength for Tough Mudder best.
  • What I would do next time: Interval and/or Fartlek. Both of these training styles emulate the stop start nature of Tough Mudder. It took me a little too long to get going after each obstacle, so I wish I had done more than my one interval session. More trail running would have been beneficial. I enjoy runs that start from my door step and there aren't many exciting trail runs from there so next time I'll look up a few more.
Cardio. Having spent a couple of years in the martial arts world I treat this a little differently to endurance. I mean circuit training, sprint sessions, spin classes or better yet do go and join a boxing gym or kick-boxing class. Anything that is high intensity like any of those will be great for Tough Mudder. Better yet, if you aren't as big on running you won't have to worry about getting the mileage in if you consistently do these sessions.

  • What I recommend: 1-2 sessions of circuit training a week. Get a short run in as your warm up, find a park and invent your own session. This keeps you engaged and motivated. Use the Tough Mudder website for inspiration- they have circuits for different fitness levels to follow. I enjoy performing 2 squats then, 4, then 6, then 8,then 10 and between each one doing a shuttle run.
  • What I would do next time: More. Next time I'll definitely go for two sessions a week of intense cardio, I'll admit I got a little addicted to the running this time around.

Strength. First, you need to be able to drag yourself through mud. Then, you need to help your friends through the mud. Then, you'll want to be able to climb a wall. And, later you will need to need to do one of the slipperiest monkey bars going. You're gonna need some strength. Mix this in with your cardio for great results (that sounds like a bizarre recipe tip). Truthfully, I'm no lover of gyms and I only have a couple of cheap dumbbells and a good kettle-bell at home, so I didn't spend forever worrying about lifting all the time and what I could bench. What concerned me more was pull-ups. Pull-ups and press-ups should be all you need for this. Get good and you'll do just fine - no need for a gym membership. As well as upper body think lower body. Squats and lunges of all variations go a long way when dragging your last leg out the mud and when hero carrying your mate.
  • What I recommend: Get them in. Before and after runs, during runs, during cardio sessions. You won't necessarily develop size but you'll develop the strength required to get you through the obstacles. I put that kettle-bell to good use doing squats. Look up some basic kettle-bell moves for improved strength and flexibility (it sounds weird but it does improve your hip flexors)
  • What I would do next time: Press-ups. This is only personal, I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and am unable to put pressure on my hands or keep my wrists in flexion or extension for a prolonged period of time.
Conditioning. It's not the easiest part of your training nor do you really need to do it, but, you might want to. It's going to be cold and wet so take your training outside, have some ice/cold baths and get on your belly and crawl.
  • What I recommend: Ice/ cold baths. They're not the real thing but they prepare you for the eventuality of the Arctic Enema. They're also great for recovery.
  • What I would do next time: Army crawls. It may get some looks from strangers but when your arms are less bloody and bruised than mine are now you'll appreciate the time you spent looking like a tool.
Flexibility. I'm a bit of  a fan of yoga and pilates. I do both regularly to help with back pain but the improved flexibility will mean you don't have to strain so hard to lift or drag yourself or anyone else. It gives your body more room to move, so to speak. The yoga will boost recovery time by teaching you to breath into aching muscles and the pilates will take the strain off you larger muscles by developing the strength of the muscles closer to your skeleton. Both are also great core workouts. I did no other core specific workouts because I do both pilates and yoga.
  • What I recommend: Do one or the other daily. If you know about fitness you're probably confident about all the other areas of the training but I truly believe that everyone will benefit from daily yoga or pilates. After a shower in the morning is good when you're nice and warm, before bed can take pressure off your muscles before sleeping or doing some on rest days will keep your muscles active and boost recovery.
  • What I would do next time: The same maybe more. I'm really eager to push my yoga up a level more headstands, handstands, inversions and meditation for me.

Nutrition. I'm not going to tell you what to eat. I prefer the majority of my diet to be plant based and to get lots of carbs. That's how it's always been for me, before protein became this massive necessity, so I have lots of pasta and rice. If you want that to be even cleaner (lower starch and sugar) go for sweet potato and brown rice. At the end of the day, you could be out there for three hours or more so you're going to want energy, so make sure you get it during training, on the day and afterwards. 


Shoes. I don't believe in heaven (the pile of dirty, mud-soaked trainers that is gathered at the end of every Mudder) so, I bought myself some Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail shoes in lime green and, after their two hours of mud soaked fun and a wash they are now still lime green. So, these are barefoot shoes, which is why I got them, that just means they have no cushioning and emulate barefoot running. Secondly, they are trail shoes, which is what you should look at if buying shoes for Tough Mudder. The grip really helped all the way around. Finally, the 'Breatho' bit came in handy. Yes, they absorbed a tonne of water but they let a lot of it go as well. I didn't have a choice about the water coming in when I jumped in to two baths, waded through mud and ponds, and then fell from the monkey bars. They were washable at the end I feel I spent my money wisely. Other shoes are available. Most importantly, think 1.trail, 2.lightweight, and 3. washable.

Tops, Shorts, Socks. Think dry fit and light weight. You'll keep warm if you keep moving so don't go for thermals. Too many layers may create a lot of drag and extra weight but I was fine in two t-shirts. Compression or no compression? Whatever suits you really. The guys I ran with, do open water swims and triathlons so, they feel at home in their skin tight shorts for running but I personally prefer a loser fitting short with pants in the lining to hold it all in. If you are worried about cold feet, look for some mountain biking socks it's probably the muddiest sport where the athletes actually have ankle socks and they can't really warm their feet up on those bikes so those should work a treat. This clothing is really up to you and what's comfortable, dark colours are preferable but as you turn up and start to worry you might see someone dressed as Animal from The Muppets and think actually I might do okay.

Gloves? Lots of people were wearing them. I was wearing them. And, they do offer protection. They also get wet and muddy. They create extra weight and cause you to slip from the monkey bars. Next time I won't be wearing any, in the hope that my bare hands might see me across the monkey bars but I may gain some scrapes on the hero walls and carrying the wood. If you go for gloves keep it finger less. It allows some water to get out and allows your hands to breathe.

Hat? Don't be silly, it would fall off.

Goggles? Now that's going a bit too far.


Make sure you bring everything they say, you don't want to miss out on participating. 

Eat and drink well. But don't overload on water as you go round you might feel bloated. Sip it, swirl it, spit it out. This will hydrate you and not make you feel so heavy when you start again. Get plenty of liquid in at the end, especially that pint. 

Bring towels and plastic bags for your clothing.

Invite friends and family. Even though you have your team, it's nice to have others there as well. Perhaps to take photos of you, so that just in case your number wasn't written on well by the volunteer you might have some pictures to remember the day by.


Recovering from Tough Mudder wasn't like recovering from a half marathon for me. It drained a lot of strength and energy. I felt very drained in work the next day. Make sure you get some sleep after and have booked the day off work, or meetings for the next morning. Sleep is essential for recovery and your body will let you know if you haven't given it enough.

Eating and drinking plenty is still important well after you cross the Electro-Shock Therapy. I know that I, and my friends still felt abnormally hungry the day after so, be prepared to break the bank for that extra sandwich.


Tough Mudder is a great participation event all about mental and physical toughness, but most of all camaraderie. Everyone helps each other out and pushes each other on and it is encouraged at the start and by the volunteers as you go round. You can go about finishing it anyway you like but however you run it, it's great to cross the finish line with a great team.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this piece are my own, feel free to agree or disagree. Any advice is based on my own experiences, which may or may not relate to you as an individual.

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