How to Prepare for the Spartan Race and Other Mud Runs

STACK Expert Kelly Tweeddale offers lots of great advice and helpful hints to first-time (and repeat) mud racers. Read it first. You won't regret it later.

Spartan Mud Run

So you want to try a mud run? Great options for beginners are races that come in at the 5K distance like the Warrior Dash, Spartan Race Sprint, or other short-distance obstacle runs. Many of these events require you to scale walls, scramble over cargo nets, leap over fire and crawl through mud. Here's some advice.

Spartan Mud Run Training

Forget about timing

Regardless of how many 5Ks you may have run, forget about projecting a finishing time. Instead, use your first obstacle course race as a benchmark for the future. Course conditions on an extreme run can change dramatically based on location, weather, and the wave of participants in which you find yourself.

As a rule of thumb, the later the wave, the muddier the obstacles become, adding an extra level of challenge that will require additional time. To experience the best course conditions, sign up for an early start time. If a race is held over a two-day period, aim for a first-day race and a morning start time.

Consider a team

Having a team to train and race with can be a huge advantage. Events like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder encourage teamwork at all times. Team members can boost each other over scalable walls, motivate each other for crawling under barbed wire and provide a helping hand when trudging through ankle deep mud. Remind your teammates of the team's course strategy and the revel in your team's accomplishments when you pose for post-race celebration photos.

Train both your mind and body

To excel in the Warrior Dash, you need more than the ability to finish a 5K. You'll need sufficient upper-body strength to climb walls, cross cargo ropes and swim through mud. Resistance training, yoga, Pilates, and other exercises that focus on lateral strength, ankle strength, and core conditioning will pay large dividends on the course. (Try this mud run training program.)

It's all in your mind

Perhaps the biggest challenge of an extreme race is to your mental state. Obstacle courses are meant to tap into primal fears and get your adrenaline pumping. Race organizers stress that all obstacles are optional, but if you train diligently, you should be able to get through the course without having to sidestep any of them. (Find out how to mentally prepare for an event.)

Study the dozen or so obstacles posted on the race website and identify any that make you uneasy. If you're afraid of heights, break the obstacle into components and find a partner to talk you through. If leaping over fire is your nemesis, mark out an imaginary fire pit and practice leaping over it to mentally prepare yourself. And if you are afraid of getting dirty, find a sand hill on a rainy day and take a roll in the mud, because you will get dirty.

Know what to wear

This might be the most important part of your race strategy. Most important, leave your favorite workout clothes and shoes at home. Wear clothes and shoes that you won't care about discarding. Race organizers make it easy by providing a place to donate your shoes after the race.

More helpful hints

  • Wear running tights to protect your skin from sharp corners and splinters and your knees from thorns, rocks, and thistles.
  • For your upper body, wear a fast wicking, close fitting t-shirt or a yoga top. The last thing you want is for an article of clothing to get caught up in an obstacle or snagged on barbed wire.
  • Choose an old pair of running shoes, ones you've retired due to mileage or style. You will get muddy and you may even lose a shoe in the sticky mud. Lace your shoes tighter than usual and double knot the bow to prevent this from happening.
  • Opt for a headband instead of a hat. A headband will keep dirt and mud out of your eyes. If you elect to wear a hat, make it a formfitting beanie type rather than a baseball cap.
  • If you are competing in the later rounds, consider wearing close grip gardening gloves for slippery ropes and muddy obstacles.
  • If you must wear a costume (yes, some do), make sure it doesn't compromise your safety or create racecourse hazards for other competitors.
  • Finally, don't forget to bring an extra change of clothes (and shoes) to leave at the bag drop. You will need it. Also, leave a blanket in your vehicle to limit your mud print to the course and not your car's leather seats.

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