Crawling through mud. Jumping through fire. Being submerged in ice water. These may sound like questionable interrogation tactics. But no. These are all experiences one willingly signs up for when attempting an obstacle race.
Between Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Savage Race, Warrior Dash and others, obstacle course racing has been one of the fastest growing sports over the past few years. Ranging from muddy 5ks to brutal 12 milers, this sport draws millions of participants each year. And with its unique combination of running and obstacles, it requires specific training to prep your body for what’s to come.
So for some guidance on how best to train for an obstacle race, we enlisted Noah Galloway, an Army veteran, Purple Heart recipient and general badass. And despite losing an arm and leg in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Galloway has gone on to complete 13 Tough Mudders to date and work as a “Muddervator,” leading training events and providing inspiration to those in the obstacle racing community. Here are his top tips.
“You can rest as much as you want between obstacles, so work on your sprints and interval running instead of focusing on being able to run for longer distances.”
1. It’s a multi-faceted race, so your training should be too.
It’s easy to just focus on the obstacle portion of obstacle races, but most include anywhere from three to 12 miles of running on uneven terrain. “Trail running is a great way to prepare because the terrain at events is nothing like running on pavement or the treadmill,” says Galloway. “The full Tough Mudder is 10 to 12 miles, so you need to get your cardio in.” He recommends two to three cardio sessions each week, and at least two strength training sessions. “Something to remember while training is that you can rest as much as you want between obstacles, so work on your sprints and interval running instead of focusing on being able to run for longer distances.”
2. You don’t have to be an elite athlete.
“You don’t need to be an ultra-marathoner or an athlete to participate in obstacle races, but you should make sure you feel prepared for race day,” says Galloway. That’ll keep you moving through the course safely, and ensure you have some fun along the way. With the right training, people from all walks of life and athletic abilities can participate.
3. But still, train for the course.
The best kind of training for Tough Mudder or similar events is to do movements that are obstacle-specific. There are a few obstacles where grip strength is really important, so Galloway recommends heading to a park or playground to practice on the monkey bars. “You can do a variety of exercises to increase grip strength, like pull-ups, chin-ups, triceps dips and even moving across the monkey bars laterally or backwards to mix up your routine,” says Galloway. “There are tons of exercises you can practice at the park using basic playground equipment. You don’t need a fancy gym membership or a lot of equipment.”
Doing obstacle-specific movements are fun, which helps to break up workouts and keep you motivated. But they’ll also help you prepare whether you’re scaling walls or crawling through mud and under barbed wire. “Just like in the military where we train like we fight, you should train like you’re on the course,” says Galloway. “Do your trail running, spend some time on the monkey bars and have a good time.”
4. Employ the buddy system.
People are busy and schedules are hectic, so staying focused and on track with your training isn’t easy. That’s where the tried-and-true buddy system comes into play. Galloway recommends training with a friend because, for starters, it’s more fun. But also, you’ll both benefit from the accountability of having another person who’s counting on you and pushing you to be better.
5. Fuel your body for race day.
Now is no time to cut carbs. Leading up to Tough Mudder, Galloway advises loading up on complex carbs like brown rice, sweet potatoes and whole grains. Just because you’re training harder to prepare doesn’t mean you can eat however you’d like, so remember that you’ll need energy out on the course.
6. Ease into it.
Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, the two kings of obstacle racing, average 10-12 miles. That’s a lot of miles, and training for such a race can be daunting, especially if you’re starting at the beginning. But you can ease into things with events like the Tough Mudder Half, which is essentially a five-mile, introductory version of the race. It’s a good option if you’re looking for a challenge but don’t feel ready to commit to training for the full race. Get one or two of those under your belt, and you’ll be motivated to tackle races twice that distance.
Obstacle races take place throughout the country and throughout the year, so do some looking online. There’s sure to be one happening near you sometime soon. So take what you’ve learned here, start training and maybe you’ll see Noah out on the course. He’ll be the guy leaving you in his dust. Or, in this case, mud.
All photos: Getty