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The Performance Life

5 Tips to Build Teamwork and Fun Through Obstacle Racing

Jake Miola

For years co-workers have banded together to form softball or volleyball teams to boost office morale and build a sense of community. These days, many look for greater challenges and a more bonding experience by entering obstacle mud races such as Tough Mudder. Events such as Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash have surged in popularity in recent years, fueled by social media. It seems everyone wants to post Facebook photos of themselves muddy while crawling under barbwire, navigating monkey bars, or climbing over walls.

Unlike triathlons or road runs, which tend to be an individual experience, many obstacle races encourage friends and office mates to navigate the course together, helping one another along. Tough Mudder, which debuted in 2010, now has 60 events worldwide, typically drawing 10,000 athletes over a weekend to off-road courses of 10 to 12 miles featuring two dozen obstacles that include jumping into a dumpster full of ice water and crawling under and around electrically-charged wires.

If that sounds like team building, that’s just the point, says Tough Mudder founder Will Dean, who created the event as a Harvard Business School project in 2009. Tough Mudder is not marketed as a race. There are no timing chips issued and no awards given other than orange headbands to all finishers. “The focus is on teamwork, camaraderie and lots of people helping each other,” Dean says. “There are really few people treating it as a race.”

In late February, twenty-three employees, friends, and family of Athletes’ Performance and Core Performance participated in Tough Mudder Arizona near Phoenix. Here’s what we found worked best to make the day a memorable one for all.

1. Go as a team.

Some athletes no doubt could complete a Tough Mudder course in two hours or so. If that’s a goal, consider entering the first wave alone, before the course clogs up. Or sign up for an event such as Spartan Race, which is billed as an individual competition. Participating as a team and taking three to four hours is far more fun and rewarding. Our team members, who included employees from offices around the country, wore adidas Techfit shirts with a company logo on the front and “One Tough Team” on the back.

Besides bringing instant unity to a group, most of which knew two-thirds or fewer of the other team members beforehand, the red shirts helped us spot each other over the course of a 12-mile journey among hundreds of muddy participants. Helping teammates over wooden walls of up to 10 feet and commiserating after icy plunges or electric shocks also built instant camaraderie.

It’s been said that Tough Mudder will identify your phobias—heights, claustrophobia, electric current, etc.—even if you didn’t think you had any. Even the most accomplished athletes will need physical help or an emotional push over the course of the event.

2. Train together.

It’s not uncommon for office colleagues to train for a half-marathon or triathlon together, though they’ll likely be separated on race day. Tough Mudder trainees know they’ll likely be together during the event. That might inspire you to train harder if you’re with a more accomplished athletic friend, though again the goal for most Tough Mudders is to stay together and finish as a team.

Team training experiences, regardless of the end goals, naturally create scenarios where people can visualize their own success through seeing other people succeed. “This relatedness to a group of people can also help stimulate accountability during workouts and between workouts,” says Craig Friedman, vice president of Core Performance’s performance innovation team. This helps ensure that you’re working hard enough during your workouts and also living the lifestyle you need to be successful, he says.

Need a training program? Check out this obstacle race regimen.

3. Eat and hydrate.

Obstacle races like Tough Mudder are three-hour endurance events. So plan your nutrition accordingly. (Related: How to Fuel for Endurance.) Tough Mudder provided six water stops, some with bananas and energy gels. That’s adequate for most, though some athletes race with water packs or with energy gels.

4. Gear up.

Mud presents equipment challenges not found in other endurance sports. Wear black, unless it’s clothing that will come clean, like our red adidas Techfit shirts. If it’s chilly, as it was in Arizona, consider tights. Some athletes don gloves, but that’s more for hand protection than any sort of functional advantage. If monkey bars or rings are too slick for a barehanded grip, you’ll probably be falling into the water with gloves on as well. Black socks are a must. Bring a set of dark, warm clothes and extra shoes to change into following the race. “Showers” usually are just hoses that get you clean enough not to dirty your car. Races typically collect muddy shoes to donate, but they’ll come clean. Leave the newer shoes at home, but don’t go with a pair that’s been relegated to yardwork. After all, you don’t want to run 12 miles in shoes that are ready for the trash.

5. Document the day.

Enlist a non-running friend or family member to walk the course with a camera. Obstacle races present a variety of memorable photo ops. Course layouts are such that a photographer usually can find you at six or eight obstacles during the day. As for video, Go Pro cameras seemingly were made for obstacle races. You’ll need to wear it on your head—don’t worry; everyone already looks silly—or with the chest attachment to keep hands free.

Finally, be sure to wear your orange Tough Mudder headband to work on Monday. It’s a tradition for event finishers.

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: Conditioning, Race, Goals, Training, Outdoor Recreation