How Should I Train for a Mud Run?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last summer, I surprised a few family members by asking if they wanted to form a team to do a mud run.  I’m not known as adventurous—or as someone who likes to get dirty—but mud races were becoming so popular among runners (and non-runners alike) that I was ready to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.  To my delight, the race was lots of fun and definitely something I’d do again in the future. 
Mud runs have exploded in popularity over the past decade. Today, you have no shortage of mud-related "obstacle" races from which to choose. Each race is different, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign up.  A few popular "dirty" obstacle races include:
  • Savage Race :  4-6 miles.  This race boasts more obstacles per mile than other mud runs.
  • Spartan Race:  anywhere from 3-12+ miles depending on which kind of Spartan Race you do, so make sure you’re signing up for the right one! 
  • Tough Mudder:  10-12 miles with extreme obstacles such as jumping into freezing cold water or electric shock.  The obstacles in this race are above and beyond the difficulty level of any other.

Many of these races have certain common obstacles, such as:
  • Crawling under a cargo net on your belly through mud or muddy water
  • Swinging across monkey bars
  • Rope pull up a muddy hill
  • Scaling over 12-foot walls (or higher)
  • Walking across a narrow beam with just a rope or net to hold onto
  • Sliding down a muddy hill into waist deep water
  • Crawling across a cargo net 15 feet in the air
  • Swimming or wading through water as deep as your neck
  • Crawling under barbed wire
  • Crawling through or under pitch-black obstacles such as tubes
  • Jumping over fire pits

Every race location sets up its obstacles at different intervals.  Sometimes you’ll encounter obstacles that are spaced evenly apart, say every half to full mile away from the next. Sometimes you'll encounter several obstacles in a row, or run over a mile without encountering any obstacle at all. Typically, how often you'll encounter an obstacle depends on the local terrain where the race is held—often out in the country, in fields, and even encompassing park areas that have dirt trails. 

I've heard a lot of people say that they "aren't worried" about the distance of the race they plan to do because it'll be broken up by obstacles. That is somewhat true, but the obstacles themselves are often no walk in the park either. You will be moving, running, climbing, pulling, wading, swimming, crawling—and essentially exerting yourself—for the duration of the race. However, some races become crowded and people have to "bottleneck" into an obstacle, which may provide a few moments—or several minutes—of rest while you wait to encounter an obstacle. But that isn't a given.

It's also important to consider the time of year your race will be held and what the weather might be. Many of these races take place in early spring, late fall and even winter—which can be a bad, uncomfortable and even unsafe condition when you combine water elements and mud with cold temperatures.  Others take part under beating sunlight with little to no cover during the hottest and most humid seasons and even at the height of temperatures for the day. Definitely consider these factors when signing up for a race and choosing your start time (when applicable).
How to Train and Prepare for a Mud Run
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. 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. 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.

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EVILCECIL 8/27/2020
Looks like fun. Report
MNABOY 6/19/2020
Army boot camp! Report
Looks fun, but brutal. Report
RO2BENT 4/18/2020
Climb up and over a variety of obstacles Report
Interesting article. Report
GEORGE815 11/21/2019
Thanks Report
PATRICIAANN46 11/15/2019
Thank You...………. Report
I find your sharing very rewarding and this will help a lot of people. / Report
Just can't see myself crawling through mud. Report
Great Article Report
No can do ! Report
Just be careful you’re not one of the thousands of people who accidentally swallow the mud or have it travel up any bodily crevices (let’s not forget the documented risk of animal feces contaminating the mud), who then vomit, have bloody diarrhea, or contract C. coli (according to the CDC), and you’ve got one fun event! Report
Interesting Report
These runs are so much fun! Report
Doesnt really sound all that fun to me. Guess I'll leave it for the rest of you! :) Report
Good if you like to climb over stuff Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Great article Report
not fun and not for me Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Never done a mud run. At 71 years old, probably never will but an interesting read nonetheless Report
I never knew.... Report
Interesting! Report
Interesting! Report
These runs are great fun! Report
I am doing the Warrior Dash in May. I have friends in worse shape than I am who have finished it, so I am pretty confident I can do it. I'm not a runner though. I am doing this because I love climbing and crawling and playing on obstacles. I am worried about the running aspect because I have some knee and foot issues. I am practicing my running now. I am trying to see how much I can tolerate via treadmill and when the mornings are lighter and the weather is warmer, I'll be taking those runs outside. I am hoping I don't make a fool of myself being passed by all the runners behind me! I have been told you spend most of the race waiting on line for the obstacles, so I guess I'll be okay. Report
I am signing up for the Rugged Maniac in May! I've already started the Rookie Runner program and plan to incorporate strength training.
I've never done anything like a Mud Run before so I'm both excited and nervous about the experience. Report
I Just finished my first Spartan race 5/16/15 in Austin. I had been training for it for four months. I'm not in the best of shape but was able to complete it and I only cried My total track time was 4hrs which to me was terrible but it was such a wonderful experience. Everyone was helpful and encouraging. Report
looks like something that would be fun...except you could have more fun by swimming and playing in the mud than actually running!! :) Report
What's the point of this? It's not enough to train for and to run a race without adding obstacles, dirt and the probability of injuries? Report
I want to do Warrior Dash in the future when I'm stronger... and can afford the $75 entry fee. lol Report
Mud runs sound fun and are definitely in my future! Report
I did 2 mud runs last year and I'm signed up for 4 this year. Absolutely LOVE them. Report
It does not appeal to me at all. Report
I did Tough Mudder last summer, and training for it was just as fun as the race itself. My tips, personally are pretty similar to the ones above.
Trail Running was a huge help. Run up hills. Run down hills. Repeat as much as you can. The downhills can be just as rough as the uphills!
Lifting and circuit training using weighted exercises and functional movements (push ups, pull ups modified to your ability, etc) were tremendously helpful. I know for this year's Mudder I need to work on my upper body strength. Find your weakness and make an effort to tackle it, even though that's not always enjoyable.
I definitely also agree that you need to build a strong distance base. Make sure you can cover the distance, and then some. Add an endurance day where you will be training close to the amount of time that it will take you to complete the race. The less surprises that pop up race day, the better.
All in all make it fun, don't be scared to skip obstacles if they are way outside of your comfort zone, and make sure you get lots of pictures.
Best wishes to everyone! Report
Sounds like tons of fun but a bit too strenuous for a 69 year old. Do they have a mud run for seniors? Report
I just finished the Wolf Run this past Sunday and had such an amazing experience! I did it last year but was not in good enough shape so I did not even attempt three of the obstacles and was beyond exhausted. This year, I followed the "Running Made Easy" training plan until I could run a 10K, then I switched to the Wolf Run training plan at 10 weeks out from the event. Being in much better shape was necessary because it was so much muddier this year (harder slog to run through especially worrying about losing shoes) and the lake swim was open (last year it was too cold), but so cold that I thought I might die (not figuratively), but I made it out the other side and was so impressed with myself. Now I know just how much I am capable of doing and that what at first glance might seem impossible isn't necessarily if you give it your best effort and have friends to help you through. The camaraderie during this untimed event was phenomenal and one of the best aspects of the race.

I don't like getting wet or cold or dirty or uncomfortable, but I love the Wolf Run! And even though I smelled like swamp for days after, I considered that, along with my scratches and bruises, to be earned with honor. Report
I did the Big Nasty Mud Run in Savannah. 4.5 miles with 30 obstacles. A good portion of that was running in a swamp. Heavy tennis shoes are burdensome, so I highly recommend a minimalist shoe. I saw plenty running in the 5 fingers. I climbed a 30 foot wall, had to jump over 5 foot walls (a challenge for someone who's only 5'3"), and carry a tire. The final obstacle was a 100 yard long swim. I had so much fun, but was physically exhausted the rest of the day. It took me 2 hours to do it with my partner, which is NOT impressive, seeing as how my husband won our heat with a 49 minute completion time. However, I was proud to have finished and to conquer every obstacle they put in my way. Report
I didn't realize the mud runs had so many different levels. It sounds like a lot of fun. Have to find one for seniors. Report
Great article but I think I'll pass... Report
My ex got me into doing these. I enjoy doing one or two per year. My first-ever was the Gladiator Rock 'n' Run (approx 8K with challenging obstacles); I've done Warrior Dash and some other less-organized ones; will be doing Warrior Dash again in 3 months!! ANOTHER BENEFIT to doing mudruns: many donate some of the registration proceeds to charities like St. Jude's Hospital or Wounded Warrior Project. You can do something good for you AND someone else! :) Report
I was a zombie in a local Zombie Mud Run. It was so, so much fun, and very physical. Granted I wasn't running a race or climbing obstacles, but I was leaping out of bushes and chasing runners. I'm looking forward to doing it again. Report
No amount of training will prepare you for the inherent risks. The mud pit is the most treacherous. I did the Warrior Dash 3 years ago, piece of cake until I broke my leg in the sloppy mud pit at the end. In a later wave, a boy in college broke his neck in the same mud pit and was paralyzed. I learned the hard way that there's a reason you have to sign that waiver. Report
I'm signed up for a Dirty Girl Run near the Cities! It's for women only, untimed, 5K,so I think it'll be a great experience! Report
One of these is definately on my bucket list. This year I am training for a triathlon, actually my first attempt is on Sunday and I will do the same course again in September. I am hopeful to try for a mud run possibly next year. Report
my sister, who started doing a boot camp training program two years ago completed her first Tough Mudder this year. I admire that, but no matter how fit I eventually get, I don't see that on my schedule anytime in the future. (I admit to being a bit of a princess and don't want to get that dirty!) Report
I did a Spartan Sprint 5K, Nov 2012. it was a fantastic experience. No mud though. This was a special sprint held at Fenway Park. No mud allowed. however, in lieu of mud, lots of extra obstacles.

How did I train ? Much like the article suggested, with functional training. The running part was easy enough. Even hauling my keister over the walls was okay. Had problems with the rope obstacles. can't tell you the last time I climbed a rope. that was in high school and no gym I've ever attended has ropes to practice on.

One thing I did find extremely helpful was YOGA. I found that having good flexibility helped with the walls. In some cases, I needed to be able to get my leg pretty high to reach a foot hold. Having good flexibility helped climbing various walls. Report
I did my first one in May - 7.77 miles and 26 obstacles - I am doing another one in September - 10+ miles and 25 obstacles. I am addicted. I just wish they weren't so expensive! Report