The Tough Mudder Guide (For People Who Never Thought They'd Do Tough Mudder)

An expert primer on the event everyone seems to be signing up for

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It seems like every man and his dog is signing up for Tough Mudder, the vaguely masochistic team endurance event that sees participants take on a series of military style obstacles over a 12 mile course that takes several hours to complete. It started in the States, but the UK is now one of its fastest growing markets, with over 100,000 people lining up voluntarily to take on the pain.

If you're one of the many who have been sucked in, Vice President of Marketing at Tough Mudder John Fidoe gave us the lowdown on what to expect and how to prepare:

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So how fit do you need to be?

I think the beauty of the event is that because there is no timing, because there is no pressure to get around fast, people of all different levels of fitness can take it on and give it a go. It is very much around each person’s individual challenge. Some people, will want to run the whole thing and really test themselves. Others might be happy to take their time and even walk between obstacles. Depending on your level of fitness though, you may not enjoy the few days afterwards however.

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What are the most daunting parts of the race itself?

It depends on what you’re scared of. We have some bits where you crawl through relatively enclosed spaces, and if you are a relatively big guy, trying to get through a small space in the dark can be a bit scary. Others don't like heights, so in an obstacle like King of the Swingers where you are on a platform, 12-15 feet up in the air and you are being asked to swing out over some water and try to ring the bell, taking that leap is something that that can take quite a lot of time to work up the courage to do. 

Can you prepare for the mental side?

The best thing with things like that is just to tackle it head on, to just give it a go. Don’t think too much about it, run straight through it and you will be absolutely fine. It’s kind of mind over matter. I think that is where the mental side of Tough Mudder, that mental grit really kicks in. Because I think people are capable of much more than they think they are.

What can you realistically do in the gym to prepare for an outdoor obstacle course?

What we’ve worked hard on with Virgin in the Mudder Maker class is to create the same kind of atmosphere you get on a Tough Mudder course within a quieter environment. We have all different kinds of movements in that class – strength, agility, balance – all the different things which will help you out on the course and all done in the context of working in teams. That also starts to build that belief and that mental grit early on by helping you realise that actually you're capable of doing this and you’re gonna to be fine.

What's the biggest surprise for first-timers?

What definitely surprised me and I think surprised a lot of people is how much you’re relying on other people to help you over certain obstacles. And also just to keep you encouraged because it takes a good amount of time to get through a Tough Mudder course so you need to keep positive. Also the amount of random strangers who will stop and help you, or encourage you is amazing. The atmosphere on the events, like on the weekend means that you, you just kind of get caught up in it and you almost do things without thinking.

What's your race highlight?

I think the top of Everest 2.0 right near the finish line and one of the last obstacles you’ll do. You will have covered 10 miles, you will get to Everest, a greased up quarter pipe, it will be muddy, it will be wet and will have an extra 20% of height to it this year so it’s even harder than it was before. You’ve got to work up a sprint to get up there and you’ll see people look at it and be like ‘I’m never making it up this’ but eventually they will. Someone will be hanging onto their legs and someone will be hanging onto their arm and they’ll haul them up. The amount of people you see raise their arms above their heads at the top like they’ve just literally climbed Everest. It's a great place to be, because I think it signifies everything about a Tough Mudder course.

Is it worth all the pain?

Yes! This year at our events probably 30-40% of people taking part are people who have run the Tough Mudder before. So there are people coming back and doing this.

The five areas to work on before a Tough Mudder:

Cardio
Running is important. No matter what, you are going to be covering ten to twelve miles on the course so getting a bit of the running in, getting a few miles in the legs is helpful. The only thing to note is, is you’ll never be running for more than a mile at a time because you’ll have obstacles breaking it up, so it is not that you need to be able to run ten miles continuously. I think for anybody that can run a couple of miles continuously, but then also work on things like leg strength.

Leg strength
If you are running in the mud that’s quite tough, so doing some stuff to work on leg strength to help you through that, and kind of muscle stamina is pretty important.  So, you know, whether that’s just doing some simple air squats or you know, going to the park with some of your teammates and giving them piggy backs around the park, um, you know is actually one of our obstacles, Hero Carry. And essentially that, that will help prepare you for a little bit more kind of muscle stamina than just the kind of running on tarmac.

Upperbody strength
It’s not that you need to be able to do ten pull-ups but when you are on the monkey bars, say, it’s mostly about your grip strength. So make sure you can hang from a bar and start doing it for an increasing amount of time – 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds and work your way up. It  will help you a huge amount when you are on things like the monkey bars or the Funky Monkey 2.0.

Core strength
You’ll be crawling quite a lot, so having some core strength and being able to kind of keep your body straight and low is definitely helpful. Doing some planks or just plain old sit-ups will help and I know the guys in the Mudder Maker Class at Virgin Active use bear crawls, where you are on all fours and crawl forwards and then backwards.

Interval training
The ability to do something, recover for a second and then go again is definitely important and it's really helpful if you can factor in some of that kind of training. Whenever you are doing these different forms of training I suggest doing supersets, where you can combine different exercises without any rest. So do a few of the bar hangs followed by a few of the bear crawls, then take a short break before doing another set.

To try out a Mudder Maker class for yourself, find your nearest Virgin Active club here.

To register for Tough Mudder, visit toughmudder.co.uk

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