How to Train For A Mud Run: The Ultimate Way to Get Down & Dirty

Think a 5K sounds hard?

Try adding 6- to 10-foot walls that you have to climb over. Yards of barbed wire to crawl under. Ropes to climb up. Rivers to swim through (yep, in your running clothes and shoes). Heavy sand bags to haul on your sore shoulders as you run up steep hills. Sweltering fire to leap over. Used cars to sprint on top of. Oh yeah, and the entire course is covered in mud, so you are, too. And so are your clothes, dragging you down like you’re carrying dumbbells in your pockets. But at the end, there’s free beer, music, and the opportunity to say that you survived.

Welcome to a mud run.

What are these crazy things?

A mud run—sometimes called an obstacle race or an adventure race—is, as described by Dan Clark, owner and creator of Gladiator Rock’n Run, a “fire-leaping, mud-slinging, spandex-clinging run from hell with beer.” The runs vary in length depending on the race; some are a standard 5K distance (3.1 miles) while others such as Tough Mudder runs can be up to 12 miles long. While some mud runs are just that—runs with mud on the course—most involve multiple military-style obstacles. Gladiator Rock’n Run has 17 obstacles, while races by The Original Mud Run have anywhere from 30 to 70 obstacles.

Paul Courtaway, president of The Original Mud Run, started the first mud run in the United States in 1989 while he was a marine stationed in California. “We set the race up just to have fun with our families, because we have these huge obstacle courses on the marine bases, but no one could play on them,” he says. Eventually Courtaway got requests to create more mud runs each year, and he started the company The Original Mud Run to reach more people who wanted to exercise and get a little dirty (okay, a LOT dirty) in the process.

“I went to (the Marines) and they taught me that there is no limit to what I can do,” he says. “I thought, ‘What if I could just teach the average guy that?’”

Courtaway says the point of mud runs isn’t to get to the finish line first—it’s to accept the challenge of the run and complete it, no matter how long it takes.

“What I want the races that I build to do is change people’s lives. When they come out there, they need to know that when they finish this they have done something,” he says.

Mud runs are undeniably intense (or even absolutely terrifying, for us less athletic collegiettes), but there’s also a fun community spirit to them. “Everyone participating was so excited to be there! People dress up in crazy costumes, huge crowds cheer you on, there's tons of music, and (there’s) even beer and food,” says HC’s Director of Marketing and Tufts ’11 grad Chelsea Evans, who ran a 5K Warrior Dash.

And although names like “Warrior Dash” and “Spartan Sprint” may conjure images of frighteningly buff gladiators ready to attack, UNC-Chapel Hill recent grad Zahra Mahbooba says her fellow mud run participants were extremely nice. “Random strangers would give me a leg up for climbing the walls, or help me out on obstacles that I couldn't do by myself,” says Zahra, who ran the three-mile Spartan Sprint in March.

Who runs them?

“Anybody who’s gladiator tough” can do a mud run, says Clark of Gladiator Rock’n Run, but typically participants must be a certain age (it varies among races, but usually at least 14 years old) and sign a waiver to certify that they are physically fit enough and aware of the potential risks. So who exactly is “gladiator tough” enough to do a mud run? You guessed it—collegiettes! Courtaway says 18- to 28-year-old women make up 26 percent of runners for The Original Mud Run, making them the group with the most participants.

“Our demographic works very well in the collegiate scene. They want something out of the ordinary that not everybody does every weekend,” Courtaway says. The community service aspect of mud runs (many runs donate money to charities) makes them popular with sororities and fraternities, he says.

The Original Mud Run isn’t the only obstacle race with a ton of collegiette participants; Clark says that the majority of Gladiator Rock’n Run participants are often female. “That’s the thing that surprises me the most, is how badass all the girls are across the country,” he says.

Both Zahra and Chelsea said they found out about their mud runs through a LivingSocial deal. “I guess I just wanted to take a risk/try something new and the LivingSocial deal was the perfect excuse!” says Chelsea.

If you’re going to get muddy and jump over fires, it’ll be more fun with friends to encourage you along the way, right? Kathleen Kalinsky, a collegiette from JMU, ran the World Famous Mud Run in June with her friend. “When I told my friend about this one, she was just as on board as I was and we decided it was time to get a little dirty while doing something we both loved!” she says.

About 65 percent of Gladiator Rock’n Run participants run as a group, Clark says. “There’s a couple of obstacles that you can’t do by yourself; they have to get somebody to help them. We really promote teamwork, not leaving anybody behind,” he says.

How do you train for a mud run?

So you want to do a mud run? It’s not enough to just be able to run the distance of your race. When you’re hauling sand bags on your back and climbing up 10-foot walls, you’re going to need more than just leg strength to get you through. Most courses include running, swimming, crawling, and climbing, so it’s important to consider total body fitness when you train for a mud run.

“Fast runners with skinny arms don’t do well, and super strong guys with just big muscles don’t do well. It’s the people in between that are total body conditioned that are great,” says Courtaway. “Total body fitness is the most important thing, starting with core strength, upper body strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall weight training to give yourself the opportunity to complete all of the obstacles.”

Chelsea says she trained for her race by taking CrossFit classes, which combine cardio and strength training. CrossFit involves a series of 15-minute exercises such as jump roping, box jumps, and shoulder presses. Chelsea, who could already run three miles when she started training, also ran twice a week and worked up to running five or more miles at a time (which took her about two weeks) to make sure she could do the entire race distance. However, she wished she had run more hills during her preparation: “The 5K was mostly uphill so it was harder than I thought it would be—I would definitely practice running uphill before the race!”

If you’re a newbie runner interested in doing a mud run, it’s best to start off with a race that is 5K or shorter. For an easy-to-follow 5K training plan, check out this Her Campus article. However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t expect to run 3.1 miles—or even one mile, for that matter—your first time running, so don’t push yourself too hard, and understand that it can take weeks to months to work up to running a 5K. Running too much too soon can cause injury. Make sure that you consult HC’s Beginner’s Guide to Running before you start running for an easy-to-follow running schedule and other important tips.

But while running should be an important part of your training game plan, strength training is an integral part of mud run success. If you’re like many collegiettes who rarely stray from the elliptical machine at the gym, check out HC’s introduction to weight training to get a few strengthening exercise ideas. LIVESTRONG.COM also has great exercises for upper body strength training and core strength training.

Don’t worry—training for a mud run doesn’t always have to be serious and intense! Zahra said that aside from running three times a week to train for the Spartan Sprint, she also went rock climbing one to two times a week and played soccer and ultimate Frisbee with her friends for fun, incorporating a little extra cardio and arm exercise into her weekly routine (sneaky exercise is the best kind).

It’s important to know what you’re up against in the run. For example, if there is a swimming portion of a race, Courtaway suggests trying to swim in shoes and shorts, since that’s what you’ll most likely be wearing on race day. Also, many races will have descriptions of obstacles on their websites (although they often have “mystery obstacles” that will be surprises on the course) so you can decide how best to prepare for them. The Original Mud Run website even has tips for the best ways to train for and conquer some of their obstacles, and The Warrior Dash website has videos that can help you train for their race.

“You have to cross-train,” advises Clark. “There’s a rope climb, so you have to go do laps on a rope climb. There’s the basic running, so you gotta go run. There’s crawling in puddles, so you have to work those muscles that help you crawl.”

But what’s more important than having the physical strength to complete a mud run is having the mental strength, Clark says: “It’s for everybody, but it’s not for the timid or meek.”

Race Day Tips

This isn’t going to be your standard 5K—that’s pretty apparent. So what are the best things to do to make sure you have an awesome race day in the mud?

  • Wear tight clothing—NOT a baggy T-shirt. “Once your clothes get covered in mud they're like 20 pounds heavier and your shorts start to fall down while you're running,” says Zahra. Kathleen agrees: “The water and mud weigh you down with T-shirts, trust me!”
  • Wear old shoes you’re okay with throwing away. “Me and the other three people I ran the Spartan race with all left our shoes at the race because they were too dirty to bring back,” says Zahra.
  • If you can’t do an obstacle, go around it. The point of a mud run is for you to push yourself, but there is a limit—you need to be safe. If you feel that you can’t do an obstacle in the course, it’s perfectly okay to go around it. Just be aware that you might not be eligible for some of the race’s prizes. “We think safety is obviously the most important thing,” says Courtaway. “We want to give you the option always to say: ‘I can’t do this, I’m not going to.’” Plus it’ll give you more motivation to train so you can do it next time!
  • Have fun! There’s mud, music, crazy costumes, and (for those over 21) beer—how could you not have a great time? “It was honestly the most fun I've had so far this summer!” Chelsea says of running the Warrior Dash. Chelsea, Zahra, and Kathleen all say they had a blast doing their mud runs and are planning on running another in the future. “There is nothing more rewarding than crossing the finish line,” says Kathleen.

Ready, Set, Get Dirty!

Feel up to the muddy challenge? Check out some of our favorite mud run sites to see if there’s an event coming up near you!

  • Gladiator Rock’n Run: 5K race; 17 obstacles. Must be 14 years or older to participate.
  • The Original Mud Run: Races between 5K and 10K; 30-70 obstacles. Minimum age to participate varies depending on location.
  • Spartan Race: 3+ miles; 15+ obstacles. Races are in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada. Must be at least 14 years old for U.S. and western Canada races and at least 15 years old for U.K. and eastern Canada races. Maximum age is 99 years old.
  • Tough Mudder: Races between 10K and 12K; obstacles vary depending on location. Races are in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Must be at least 18 years old to participate in U.S. races and 19 years old to participate in Canadian races.
  • Warrior Dash: 5K race; number of obstacles depends on race location. Races are in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia. Must be 14 years or older to participate.

They’re dirty, they’re sweaty, and they’re a whole lot of fun (not to mention great exercise). So get out there and conquer a mud run, collegiettes—and make sure someone takes pictures for you, because what’s cooler than a Facebook picture of you jumping over fire?

 

What do you think, collegiettes? Does a mud run sound crazy fun or just plain crazy? Let us know in a comment below!

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