Mud Running 101: Muddy Mayhem

Training For Obstacle Racing

Obstacle racing requires both general and dynamic strength and cardiovascular endurance, combining running with climbing ropes and walls, slithering under cargo nets and barbwire, carrying sandbags and logs, leaping over fire, and crawling through claustrophobia-inducing tubes and freshly dug tunnels.

Since many recreational athletes fall primarily into two camps — endurance enthusiasts and the anaerobic strength-training gym crowd — they tend to lack the overall fitness to navigate an obstacle course without walking parts of it.

Runners have no problem covering 3-15 miles, but can be slowed by the strength-specific challenges. On the contrary, gym rats push through the obstacles easily but can have trouble covering the distance of the course without fatiguing.

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Instead of training by breaking workouts into separate strength and cardio days, think of obstacle training in terms of integrated workouts. That way you’ll be prepared to fly through any obstacle course, no matter how twisted the challenges.

Here are a few insights about how to prepare for your first or next obstacle race.

Warm Your Core
An active warm-up is important before an obstacle race or training session since you’re using your entire body, often in ways you don’t expect. Front and side planks, glute bridges, walking lunges and lateral lunges not only prime you for movement, they’ll boost performance and help prevent injury.

Be A Kid
In an obstacle race, you’ll be called upon to navigate monkey bars, balance on beams, climb walls and traverse ropes. Chances are you can find all of those things at your local playground. This is a great excuse to play more with your kids. Don’t have kids? Borrow some nieces or nephews. No kids available? Use the playground in off hours.

Choose Your Own Adventure
Safety is always the primary concern, of course. But there’s no reason you can’t run up and down that mountain of mulch available to the public at your local park. Those huge concrete culverts along your running trail waiting for installation? Why not bear-crawl through them as you will in a race? Instead of avoiding muddy trails after rain, embrace them. Use whatever you find: Hop up and down on a fallen tree, straw bale or stair steps.

Run Off-Road
Obstacle races take place off-road. So why train on concrete or asphalt, which is harder on your body anyway? Even in urban areas, you usually can run on the grass along sidewalks, through parks, on gravel or packed sand and along waterways. Challenge yourself to run as much as possible off-road, leaping over sidewalks and other paved areas.

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Run Intervals
You’re probably already doing this for your running program, but it becomes more important in obstacle racing, which combines intervals of running and obstacles. After a warm-up run, alternate between intervals of work and rest as if you were doing a fartlek run. (For example: three minutes of running at 80 percent followed by three minutes of walking or easy jogging.)

Run Hills
Unlike the steady, paved inclines of many road races or the run portion of most triathlons, obstacle races feature short, steep, off-road climbs. Here, too, your local park can be a perfect training ground. Sprint uphill at a hard (but not all-out) pace and take twice the time to walk down. Repeat several times. Be sure to keep your stride compact to prevent hamstring pulls.

Mix It Together
Obstacle race training is not just about running or the obstacles. Simulate the rhythms and challenges of a race by stopping every half mile during any run to do a dozen push-ups, pull-ups, burpees or various drills like one-legged hops. You can perform 30 mountain climbers or body-weight squats. Or do a combination of two or three exercises after each half a mile. The key is to make it continuous, mimicking a non-stop obstacle race. Mix it up and have fun.

Find Your Next Obstacle Race: For a comprehensive list of races, training tips, photos and videos, point your browser to


Pete Williams is an avid obstacle racer and the author of the e-book “Obstacle Fit: Your Complete Training Program to Run Fast, Conquer Challenges and Discover Your Inner Spartan, Mudder or Warrior.”

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