These days, coach potatoes and fitness buffs alike are flocking en masse to partake in the fitness phenomenon known as mud runs. Grueling obstacle courses spiked with a variety of military-style obstacles and mud pits, mud runs offer the ultimate mind-body challenge—a fun and novel way to shake up any flagging fitness routine.
Unless you’re living under a rock, chances are you’ve encountered some of these maniacal mud racers at one point or another. They wear the coveted designation of Mudder or Spartan or Warrior like a badge of honor; during cocktail hour they regale you with lurid tales of belly-crawling through mud and hurdling over open flames; after races, they inundate your Facebook wall with photo after photo of themselves smeared head-to-toe, heathen-like, in mud. They might be the unsuspecting guy two cubicles over, or the woman at your gym who glowingly sings the praises of her mud race habit. Either way, they’ve got you intrigued: What is this mud run business all about?
Maybe you’re considering joining in on the filthy fun and signing up for your first mud run—a prospect that can be daunting, even for the bravest of souls. What should you know before getting your hands dirty, and how can you best prepare for the muddy madness? We picked the brains of two healthy living bloggers—Jennipher Walters of “Fit Bottomed Girls” and Julie Fagan of “PB Fingers”—both of whom recently completed their first mud races and have a few valuable words of wisdom to confer upon mud run newbies. Here are Jennipher and Julie’s top tips for mud run success:
1) Be able to go the distance. First and foremost, you should be at a baseline level of fitness that allows you to safely participate in the event and not put yourself (or others) at risk of injury. These events involve a good deal of running, so as a general rule of thumb you should be comfortable running a 5K distance. “Definitely follow a running plan in the weeks leading up to your event,” suggests Julie from PB Fingers, who participated in the Hero Rush with her husband last November. “If you know that your mud run is a 5k, make sure you’re able to run that.”
2) Train. It can be difficult to prepare for most of the obstacles you will encounter on the course. Some of the challenges—like leaping over flames, for example, or crawling underneath barbed wire—you will simply have to “wing.” But it’s still possible—and in fact highly encouraged—to train for any mud run or obstacle course. In the weeks leading up to the event, incorporate functional, full-body movements (think squats, plyometrics, push-ups and mountain climbers) into your workout to build the strength, power and stamina required to help you conquer the course. “In terms of training, in addition to running before, you need to train your upper body and core and lower body. If you’re planning on doing one of these events, it makes sense to do workouts that mimic that types of activities you’ll be doing,” says Jennipher of Fit Bottomed Girls, who competed in a Dirty Girl Mud Run in July. She recommends signing up for bootcamp- and crossfit-style classes that incorporate plenty of plyometrics and functional movements like squats and lunges. Julie agrees: “It’s key to be prepared so that you feel comfortable and confident on these obstacles,” she says.
3) Wear proper clothing. Whatever you do, don’t don your most expensive pair of shoes or a favorite T-shirt of sentimental value—it will inevitably get destroyed in the muddy wreckage. Secondly, steer clear of cotton or cumbersome costumes; these fabrics are bound to absorb the wetness and weigh you down for the entirety of the race. Both Jennipher and Julie suggest wearing tight-fitting, moisture-wicking capri-length pants and a tank top. “Don’t wear anything too baggy or with huge pockets. Your outfit will get completely muddy, so you don’t want places where the mud can sink into,” Jennipher explains.
4) Gear up. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a pair of goggles or sunglasses. “Eye protection is something that I would definitely do in the future,” Jennipher says. “A lot of times you’re out in bright sunlight and squinting; if you’re trudging through the mud and someone splashes you, you get mud in your eyes. If I were to do it again, I would’ve gotten a pair of cheap sunglasses or a visor that I was fine losing.” In terms of shoes, Jennipher advises wearing a pair of lightweight running shoes (sans cleats), ideally with tread on the soles. “It’s great if you can find shoes with mesh on the top so the water and mud can drain,” Jennipher adds. “A lot of the minimalist shoes are great because they don’t weigh you down.”
5) Come prepared. Hydrate well before the race and bring plenty of water with you. “You just can’t be over-prepared on the hydration side, especially if the weather is very hot,” Jennipher says. Make sure to bring sunscreen and any other equipment you might want (such as a waterproof camera to take pictures).
6) Do your homework. When you sign up for your first mud race, you probably have no idea what to expect. To alleviate some of your nerves and dispel some of the uncertainty, be sure to visit the race’s website and/or social media pages to access more in-depth information about the event. “If you’re nervous, definitely check out their website. Look at reviews for a better idea of what to expect. Poke around to see if you can find explanations of specific obstacles you will encounter,” Julie says.
7) Be aware of risks. Any athletic event carries risk of injury, but mud runs in particular are inherently dangerous. “You can clearly get injured,” Jennipher says. “Some of the net climbs are pretty high. Your feet are muddy and slippery, making it easy to fall. You have to be prepared. Be consciously aware there is a risk of injury.” Always put safety first. Most mud run events have emergency personnel roaming the premises; if something goes awry, be sure to flag them down immediately.
8) Listen to your body. These events are about challenging yourself, mentally and physically, to be sure—but at the end of the day, don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. Most mud runs have a “no shame” policy when it comes to skipping or bypassing obstacles. For example, the Hero Rush includes an obstacle called “Mazed & Confused,” a pitch-black, smoke-filled maze that forces participants into a low, tight and dark crawl. But because Julie is severely claustrophobic, she opted not to attempt the obstacle without penalty. “I told one of the officials I was claustrophobic and he encouraged me not to do the obstacle. I never once felt pressured to put myself in a position where I felt unsafe,” she says. The main objective is to push yourself and have a good time—but not at the expense of your safety or health.
Need help deciding which mud run is right for you? Check out “The Best Mud Runs for…”