Beginner’s Guide & FAQ
Mud Run & Obstacle Racing Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I really do a mud run?
A: Um, yeah. In the immortal words of Patches O’Houlihan: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”. Let’s expand on that sound logic a bit: “If you can get from the start to the finish, you can complete a mud run.”
Basically, if you can walk approximately 3 miles in muddy clothes – you can complete your first mud run. It may not be pretty, but that first taste of victory is usually all it takes to turn your average couch potato into an addicted mud runner; that’s why this sport is ballooning to epic proportions with new events being added worldwide nearly every day.
Q: What type of training do I need to complete an obstacle race or mud run?
A: Athletes don’t necessarily “need” training… wait – don’t put the book down! YES, YOU NEED TRAINING! (Whew, that was close!). While everyone meeting the minimum age requirements is welcome at most events, you should have a baseline level of fitness that will allow you to participate safely and not be an undue burden on those around you or blocking their path. The code of honor at nearly every event is to help those around you at each obstacle to your best ability prior to moving on, and that is extremely difficult to do with individuals who lack the strength, know-how or fortitude to help themselves. In the book Obstacle Race Training we cover “Functional Training for Obstacle Races” to get you started.
How many times have you climbed a cargo net? Scaled an 8-foot wall? Jumped over flaming hay bales? Until you’ve completed your first obstacle race or hell week in military training, the answer is most likely zero. On race day, you’re only going to have a few seconds to decide how to tackle an obstacle that you most likely have never seen before; sometimes that ends with either your body or ego a bumped and bruised mess crumbled at the base of a barrier. In the section “Tackling the Obstacles” in Obstacle Race Training we cover a dozen different barriers, challenges and obstacles and show you step-by-step how to to crush each of ‘em.
Q: What’s the best way to get into competing in Obstacle Races?
A: Volunteer at an event! You will learn more about the passion and excitement coursing through every competitor’s veins and get some useful behind-the-scenes knowledge that you can use when you tackle the course. What better way is there to learn how to tackle an obstacle than to watch thousands of other contestants attempt it and learn from their triumphs and tribulations? Yeah, you’ll be out on the course for hours at a time and maybe get grimy, sweaty, sunburned or even a little frostbitten – but you’re right there and part of the action. If that isn’t enough motivation to get you to volunteer, consider this: most event give steep discounts or even free entry to volunteers! Check with your race for their policy before you sign up.
Q: What should I wear?
A: While nudity is not permitted at any of the major events, men in thongs seem to converge by the dozens to participate in mud runs. This attire is not only permitted, it is encouraged in the form of handing out prizes for costumes: the best, the worst, the skimpiest, etc. A word of warning about costumes – what you wear to the start line will be in tatters by the finish. If you start out with a tutu and angel wings, you’ll be dragging those sodden wings through every obstacle and mud pit and dealing with the chafing from your decorative tutu every step of the way. You may have looked cute & funny at the start line, but there’s a good chance you’ll look like a sewer rat at the finish line.
Costumes also fall way short on protecting the areas of your body that take the most abuse during an event: your elbows, knees, hands, forearms, shins and feet. Check out “Obstacle Race Gear” in Obstacle Race Training for tips and browse our online recommended gear here
Q: How “in-shape” should I be?
A: Round is a shape, correct? Aside from extreme invite-only events, all obstacle races and mud runs are suitable for most athletes of any size, shape and ability. Of course, it is required that you sign a waiver that you are healthy (and crazy) enough to participate, and have been checked out and cleared by a medical professional before attempting any event. At any race you will see a diverse cross-section of fitness levels on display and body types from all over the fitness continuum. If you have the willpower to finish, there’s a spot for you at nearly every starting line.
Q: What is the easiest type of event?
A: “Easy” is a relative term, but the majority of mud runs are less demanding than obstacle races and feature far less (if any) barriers other than mud, terrain and more mud. That being said, every single course will feature terrain or challenges that are unique and will test your mental and physical toughness… or at least your ability to laugh at yourself!
Q: So, what’s the toughest course out there?
A: All of them. Every single course is a challenge, and based on your particular strengths even the shortest course may be particularly demanding based on the obstacles laid out by the race organizers. Toughness is also relative to the individual racer: If you struggle with running, the longer distances may prove to be extremely daunting or weak upper body strength could be your undoing at events that require a lot of hanging, swinging or climbing ropes. A well-rounded course will have plenty of barriers standing between you and an “easy” run. Every single course is so dramatically different that there’s no effective way that I know of to rank them against each other in terms of toughness. With the sport of obstacle racing constantly evolving, new obstacles are created daily and added to the repertoire of talented (and somewhat masochistic) race directors. Joe DeSena of Spartan Race (which features courses in a multitude of lengths) confided in me that the shorter the overall course distance is, the harder they make each of the obstacles!
If you’re looking for an answer about what events are the most difficult, that’s a little easier to define. Any event that requires you to qualify to compete is generally too difficult for the average weekend warrior who has recently made the jump from couch to obstacle racing. These “invite-only” events include (but are not limited to):
- The Spartan Death Race – a 48-hour endurance event comprised of mud runs, obstacle racing, trail racing, physical challenges and mental challenges where 90% of the entrants will not finish.
- World’s Toughest Mudder – An extreme mud run open to the top finishers of Tough Mudder events all over the world. To win, an athlete has to complete the most loops of the Tough Mudder course in 24 hours, after that all other entrants are given 4 additional hours to complete an equal number of laps to be considered finishers.
- Spartan Ultra Beast – The world’s first marathon-distance obstacle race, this 26.2 mile course is two loops of the Spartan Beast course; dubbed the most difficult Spartan Race course ever.
Check out “Extreme Challenges” in Obstacle Race Training for more info on events like these.
Q: Are there events for first-timers?
A: Yes – every event is for first-timers! The enormous growth and popularity of the sport guarantees that there will be hundreds – if not thousands – of first-timers at most events. Even if you have raced another Mud Run or Obstacle Race before, each course features different obstacles, distances and terrain; every time you show up for an event it is arguably everyone’s “first time” as they have never seen that exact course before.
As a first-timer, the best advice is to pick a start time that will give you the opportunity to scout the course – if you are allowed – and surround yourself with other racers that are the same general ability as you. When lining up for your start, move towards the back of the pack so you can observe others tackling each obstacle. Build your confidence as you conquer the race elements and then you can pick up the pace. Sprinting out of the starting gate isn’t the best option; take your time and absorb the lessons from the competitors in front of you; let them wade into the mud first and you can pick your path based on immediate feedback from their results!
Q: Can I compete with a team?
A: Absolutely, showing up on race day with a team is not only encouraged by race staff, it is a fantastic way to show that handsome guy from accounting that’s everyone is equal when they are adorned in muck. Seriously, participating with a team is extremely beneficial for first-timers as you have a built in cheering squad and support staff on every obstacle. Make sure you do your part for the group and help out as much as you get helped – or more. The best part about being in a team may be the matching costumes or T-shirts, but team registrations may also get a discount so check your race’s website.
Q: If I can’t get over an obstacle, what can I do?
A: Let’s break it down into steps:
Step 1: Assess the obstacle before engaging; figure out its weaknesses and what elements of the barrier you can use. Are there stanchions or supports you could use to boost yourself up? Is one side easier to climb/descend/crawl through than the other?
Step 2: Watch other competitors and their success or failures and take notes – it also won’t hurt your karma if you help ‘em out and you just might get the same treatment from other competitors.
Step 3: Engage the obstacle and commit to conquering it; this means you use your momentum, strength and every bit of your mental fortitude to crush that obstacle. Every wall that you half-heartedly attempt to climb is a waste of your energy as you’ll have to try again after you fail.
Step 4: Didn’t tackle it? Follow steps 1-3 again, there may be a trick that you need to figure out in order to pass.
Step 5: If you’ve made it to this step and you’re still not past the obstacle, then you probably didn’t take the hint in step #2 about getting good karma by helping someone else – so go do it! Follow the Dirty Rule: “Do unto other mud racers as you would have them do unto you.” If you need to ask for help, then don’t be shy. Who knows, that person may need your help on the next obstacle, maybe they’ll even write you into their will in the event of a real zombie apocalypse – you’ll never know unless you ask.
Step 6: Hi… you’re still here? OK, this would be a good time to chalk this obstacle up to “I’ll get it next time” and bypass it carefully. If this is a timed event, you may have to pay a penalty like doing burpees or push-ups and at least you’re getting a good (forced) workout. As you pass, take one last look at that menacing barrier between you and immortality and vow to yourself that you will one day emerge victorious. Now, wipe that mud off your face and soldier on to the next obstacle!
Q: The event I signed up for has a “wave start”, what does that mean?
A: In events with large numbers of competitors, the race organizers will break down the racers into groups with more manageable numbers and stagger their start time. This allows for a more enjoyable experience for participants and less overcrowding or waiting at obstacles. An interval of 10 to 15 minutes is common between groups, depending on the size of the course, number of obstacles and race-day conditions.
Some of the largest events have adopted the practice of assigning exact start times spaced throughout the day, not only does this cut down on course congestion but it also allows racers to relax, spectate and prepare for the event without worrying about what wave they will be in. As a practice, the fastest or “elite” competitors will get the earliest start times and be challenged by a course that hasn’t been trodden upon by thousands of racers.
Q: Are all events timed?
A: No, not all events are timed – hence the classifications in this book of “timed races” and “challenges”. One is not better than the other, just different. Courses that are timed are usually geared a little differently than untimed ones.
Q: Will zombies really chase me through the woods trying to eat my brains?
A: Yes. “City authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from the graves and attacking the living” (lifted from lyrics by Anthrax). Yes, they will chase you, and no, your brains are safe; they are merely trying to rip the flags dangling from your race belt.
Q: Do you have to be totally nuts to enjoy Mud Runs & Obstacle Races?
A: No, but it surely helps.