By Jen Mueller, for SparkPeople
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. (SparkPeople's free 5K Your Way training plans can help.) 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. SparkPeople's Workout Generator has a variety of full-body strength training plans you can follow based on your fitness level and equipment access. 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.
4 Tips to Your Fastest 5K
6 Secrets to Take the Dread Out of the Treadmill
4 Good Reasons to Sign Up for a Race