Competitors race through a Tough Mudder. Credit: Getty Images
Mud runs are pretty much the real-world version of “The Hunger Games,” minus the whole killing each other thing. You’ve got to be fast. You’ve got to think on your feet. You’ve got to overcome any challenge thrown your way. And just like Katniss and co. readied themselves for battle, you too will have to train your body (and your mind!) if you strive to take on an obstacle race this year (and you're brave enough to accept the fact that you might get some gross stuff in your mouth).
We got tips for both first-timers and experienced pros from Nolan Kombol, head designer of Tough Mudder. For the sake of this story, just call him Plutarch Heavensbee.
For the newbies
Believe that you can do it: “That’s the first challenge,” he says. “I’ve met so many people who said, ‘I was scared to try a Tough Mudder.’ But they came into it and they said, ‘You know, I lost 40 pounds to do this thing and then I did it. And I was so happy with myself.’ It’s about committing to it and then planning goals for yourself.”
Prepare — to an extent: You can do lifts, pull-ups, squats and other traditional moves in or out of the gym, “but there are gonna be certain parts of the courts that stretch you and pull you in different ways,” he says. Start your training a month or two before the event with body weight exercises — those will prep you the best, he says. “It’s about being prepared for a different kind of movement.”
Hydrate: Your belly should have a little food in it right before your race, but you want to start hydrating well in advance. “I think that’s a common mistake among athletes, realizing that this starts the day before,” he says.
Be comfy: You’re gonna get cold, and you’re gonna get wet, so be prepared with durable shorts, an undershirt (he likes Under Armour), sunscreen (lots of it, SPF 30 or above) and shoes that’ll weather any terrain. “A lot of first timers don’t realize just how long you’ll be running through water, through mud, through gravel, through all sorts of tough terrain that actually impacts your shoes,” he says. “It’s nothing like a normal run.”
For the experienced
Tackle the obstacles that gave you hell: Lose your way on the funky monkey last time? You’re not alone: Roughly 60 percent of first-timers flail on their slanted monkey bar set over a pit of water. “I think for repeat Mudders, the good thing is to set personal challenges for yourself,” he says. For example, you might aim to five rungs instead of three rungs this time.
Decide to help others: You’ve already kicked butt on this course, why not help someone new to it? Since it’s not a timed event, you can spare a few minutes to lend a hand. “It’s about spending not one minute on top of a wall helping the person behind you up — it’s about staying up there for five minutes and helping 20 people up,” he says. Got a competitive streak? Again, make it a game for yourself. “I’ll have little goals for myself, like I’ll say, ‘Today I'm going to try to get four people up Everest. I’m going to try to get 10 people over Berlin Wall.’ A lot of it is about embracing the camaraderie spirit of what the event is.”
Train your mind
We asked Navy SEAL Mark Divine, author of "8 Weeks to Sealift," for some tips on the mentally tough aspects of racing.
Use your breath to stay positive
"When the going gets tough, that’s when the doubt and the negativity starts to creep in," Divine says. "And that destroys your performance. So we control our mind with our breathing. We keep a nice, deep, controlled breathing pattern. And that breathing pattern allows us to focus our mind. And we also wanna have a positive inner dialogue that runs through our mind while we’re in the act of the challenge. We push out any negativity or feelings of weakness or ‘I can’t.’ Keep that positive attitude going."
Picture it "See yourself achieving the end result that you seek. See it in your mind’s eye so you start to develop the belief in yourself that it's possible and that you can do it."
Be realistic about goals "Set realistic and short-term goals," he says. "In preparation for an event like a mud run, the goals are going to be tied toward developing realistic training. And then during the event to goals have to become really short, literally obstacle by obstacle. Don’t worry about duration, don’t worry about the totality of the challenge if you’re facing it for the first time. Literally just go through, one obstacle at a time. And enjoy it, find some pleasure and some humor in the crazy things they ask you to do. Just take it one block at a time."
NYC Mudderella: May 10 NYC Zombie Run for Your Lives: May 10 Jersey City Challenge Race: May 17 Civilian Military Combine: Sept. 27 Tough Mudder: Oct. 11, 12
Boston Boston Muckfest: April 26 MudMatch: May 17 Tough Mudder: May 31, June 1 Spartan Race: June 28 (Mohegan Sun) Civilian Military Combine: June 21 The Dirty Dash: July 26 Spartan Race’s Spartan Sprint: Aug. 9 Mudderella (women-only): Sept. 6
Philly Philadelphia Muckfest: May 31 Spartan Race: July 12 Civilian Military Combine: May 17 (Poconos)
Train at these NYC classes
As One’s first-ever training camp is a weekend retreat in Fishkill, New York, from April 26-27. Through simulated obstacle courses, specialty workouts and ropes courses, you’ll get all the prep you need to tackle a race head-on. Bonus: Join the As One/Flywheel team for the upcoming Civilian Military Combine on May 17 to get discounts on classes and race entry. $300, email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Exceed (1477 Third Ave., 212-481-5300) is set up like an indoor playground for grown-ups, so it makes sense that they’d harness their surroundings for obstacle course classes ($32). They meet Mondays at 8 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 a.m.