Does the idea of running a mud race appeal to you? Anyone who signs up for an obstacle challenge—whether for the fun, the teamwork (or, sometimes, the beer!)— will soon confront the substantial physical and mental demands of these races.

Getting your mind and body in shape for the mud run can help you have fun— and prevent injuries. Amanda Vogel, MA, a fitness pro and writer in Vancouver, British Columbia, who is a social media consultant for fitness brands and public figures, shares tips she learned from experienced personal trainers who have coached people for these events.

Major Training Considerations

If you are gearing up for an obstacle challenge or mud run, you should have a base of cardiorespiratory fitness. “If you are not fit enough to even walk, let alone run, 16–20 kilometers, you should not attempt a race of that distance,” says Rod Macdonald, vice president of canfitpro and a competitive athlete and coach based in Toronto.

“Running is important but not enough,” says Casey Stutzman, owner of Performance Locker, a personal performance training studio in Alpena, Michigan. “Think of these events as athletic endurance events that require balance, mobility, strength, stability, endurance and power,” he says. “To be successful, you have to train like an athlete, not just a runner.”

You need the ability to crawl, climb, throw, lift, balance, jump and pull your own body weight, as well as external sources of resistance, notes Macdonald. “These requirements may be used in short, powerful bursts or in a sustained manner,” he adds.

Macdonald suggests exercises such as the following to help prepare you for the various challenges you might face:

  • chin-ups and pull-ups, including hanging and traveling (walking hands right and left)
  • corncob pull-ups (where you pull up to your left hand and then shift over to your right hand before lowering)
  • chin-ups using a rope, or a towel to simulate a rope (rope/towel looped over top of bar)
  • high-incline treadmill walking and running, including high-incline treadmill circuits coupled with body weight movements to help with the peripheral blood flow changes needed for these events
  • plank crawls, straight-arm leg drags, farmer’s walk (walking on various terrains while carrying heavy weights in each hand for grip strength, muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness)

Counting Down the Days

Macdonald says lead time for training depends largely on how well you have already prepared and the nature of the
specific race you want to enter. “If you are already well prepared, then as little as 2–4 weeks might be sufficient,” he says. “However, if you are [less] fit or want to compete in a very challenging race, then [you] might need 6 months or more to build up the fitness, structural tolerance and technical ability to safely participate.”

For Stutzman, 6 weeks of lead time would be a “bare minimum,” even if you are fit. If someone is nervous about being ready for a challenging event, he recommends a little longer, such as 7–12 weeks. “I am a big believer in being over-prepared,” says Stutzman. “Preparation builds confidence; confidence leads to enjoyment.”

Developing a Mud Mentality

Jumping through all the hoops required at a mud race requires more than physical prowess.

“You could make an argument that there is more of a mental challenge in these events than a physical one,” explains Stutzman. “For an event like Tough Mudder®, you are just never comfortable, and after 2–3 hours of discomfort, it begins to wear on you. Learning to be mentally strong is key to finishing with a smile.”

Getting Started With Mud Races

If you want to experience an obstacle race for the first time, you may want to test the waters with a shorter course (less than 5 kilometers with fewer than 10 obstacles, for instance). Being able to go at your own pace versus racing to the finish line might also be beneficial.

Here are some of the major programs:

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