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How to Train for an Obstacle Mud Run


Obstacle mud runs exploded in popularity in 2011. Races like the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash require athletes to display both strength and endurance as they navigate obstacles spread out over courses ranging from 3 to 12 miles. That combination can be a challenge for many athletes. Most runners have no problem completing the distance, but often lack the strength to handle the challenges. Many anaerobic athletes breeze through the challenges, but struggle with distance running. Here are some strategies for not just surviving but thriving in an obstacle mud run:

1. Train Like You Will Race

One of the attractions of obstacle mud runs is the unexpected. Athletes never know what kind of challenge waits at the next turn. But chances are it’s something that will require an effort of pushing or pulling after running between a half-mile and two miles. That’s why Darcy Norman, a performance specialist at Athletes’ Performance, recommends beginning with a circuit that could include 400 meters of running, 10 pull-ups, and 20 push-ups. “See how many circuits you can perform in 15 minutes,” Norman says. “Just make sure you’re not sacrificing quality for quantity.”

2. Work Up to Race Distance

Anyone who has trained for a marathon knows the importance of working up to where you can do a run of 18-to-20 miles, if not longer. With obstacle mud runs, the challenge is to simulate the race with training sessions that last as long as the race itself. A 3-mile obstacle mud run takes many athletes just 40 minutes to an hour. A longer version of the circuits described above can be sufficient for training. But a race like the 13-mile Tough Mudder requires a longer regimen. Eric Stratman, owner of The Next Level training center in Tampa, prepared athletes for the Tough Mudder by putting them through progressively longer sessions. One 75-minute circuit included a 2-mile run followed by rope climbs, another 800-meter run, pushing a “Prowler” weight sled 200 meters, another 800-meter run, various 200- and 400- meter runs (backward, lateral shuffle), tire tossing, a 200-meter “farmer’s carry” of 45-pound weight plates, and a whopping 50 Burpees. “Tough Mudder is not a race your average athlete can show up to and hope to complete,” Stratman says. “The obstacles will be too much. You have to train accordingly.”

3. Don't Forget Distance

Many athletes accustomed to the high-intensity, anaerobic training of CrossFit and similar programs lack the aerobic base of distance runners. That’s why distance running should be part of the training equation. “You need that aerobic base to be able to repeat this effort over and over,” Norman says. “Some endurance runners go long and slow so much that they need to do more intervals, whereas your anaerobic athletes need to do some long and slow stuff. You need both.” Check out miCoach.com for cardio plans for various race distances.

4. Get Uncomfortable

Obstacle mud runs are known for making athletes uncomfortable, whether it’s crawling commando-style under barbwire through mud or navigating through icy water obstacles. Laurel Blackburn, who trains athletes for the notorious Spartan Death Race, the annual Vermont event that can go on for days, will have clients pull heavy rocks up from the bottom of her cold swimming pool. She’s also had them crawl on their bellies across a field and then hosed them with cold water. “People have an aversion to being cold and dirty but you have to get over it,” Blackburn says. “The more you can simulate actual race conditions, the better prepared you’re going to be.”

Pete Williams, co-author of Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance book series, participated in Tough Mudder Arizona with One Tough Team. He’s the author of Obstacle Fit: Your Complete Training Program to Run Fast, Conquer Challenges, and Discover Your Inner Spartan, Mudder, or Warrior.

Tags: Race, Energy System Development, Training, Outdoor Recreation