You used to leave your homework to the last minute, then it was coursework, now it's reports at work, and continuing the theme, you entered Tough Mudder in an alcohol fuelled display of bravado with your mates months ago, and now all of a sudden you're running out of time to prepare. Right now, you are probably trying to decide whether or not to bother training at all, after all, how much difference can you make in a matter of weeks anyway? However, if you are going to commit some time and effort to improving your performance, and frankly, more importantly, limiting your risk of a nasty injury, then read these two very simple tips, and we'll see if we can get you round in one piece.
I recently read a post on Tough Mudder's own facebook page with some workouts that are supposed to be designed to help you complete the course. I understand that bodyweight high intensity interval training is big at the moment, and may have some degree of carryover to a mud run, but I'm afraid that kind of training is simply not going to get you round. You see, when you look at the little video clips of these kind of events, whether it's Tough Mudder, Toughguy or Mens' Health Survival of the Fittest, it always looks quite exciting. Up and down obstacles, running through fire, crawling through tunnels and so on. The reality is however, somewhat different. You have to remember that each of these courses ranges from 10km (SOTF) to 12 miles (19.2km) for TM, which is just a mile shy of a half marathon. Therefore you will be spending an awful lot of time traipsing from one obstacle to another. It's at these points you'll wish you had popped into Richmond Park a couple of times instead of trying to remedy your Sunday morning fuzzy head with a bacon sandwich.
The simple truth of these obstacle course is that the obstacles themselves are not really that challenging, if they were, do you really think that thousands of people would manage to get round? People help each other out, and if absolutely necessary, you can just mince around the back of the obstacle sheepishly, no one is going to throw you out of the race. However, no one is going to drag your lazy ass around 12miles of cross country, up and down hills, that's all on you I'm afraid. So if you are hoping to get round without too much pain, my first tip is to get out and get some miles in your legs. The flip side of this is that you don't want to go crazy with your mileage and intensity in training and run yourself into the ground. Instead, start at a distance that you feel fairly comfortable with, and look to build that up by 5 to 10 mins each week between now and your race. Depending on your goals for the race, you can go up to or even beyond the race distance in training, but I would aim for getting up to at least an hours worth of running, including a few hills, or I'm afraid you might suffer towards the end of the longer races like Tough Mudder. This will also give you some idea of how you are going to pace yourself. If you are at the slightly less athletic end of the spectrum, you may want to walk up the steeper hills to save your legs for the latter parts of the race and for the obstacles. If you are new to running, I would recommend running three times a week, with a day rest between runs to allow time to recover. As you get fitter, you'll be able to run more frequently and further, without needing so much time to rest. Well conditioned runners will even have short, easy runs as recovery days. Keep things short and light in the week preceding the race and you'll be good to go.
2. Get Strong
You might think that gym time to prepare for a mud run is purely for the extremists, but actually building a good base of strength will help you build stability to help avoid injury, and upper body strength to help you pull yourself up and over the obstacles.
What you might need to do here is drop your bro split for a couple of weeks, don't worry, your chest will not wither away and disappear if you don't devote your Mondays to international chest day. Try adopting a program involving two whole body workouts, and use the rest of your training time to get outside and take care of point 1. By the way, Body Pump is not strength training.
Having been in this industry a long, long time now, I have seen some techniques and postures in the weight room that will make your toes curl, and back hurt, so I strongly advise you learn good form and have someone spot you when you are lifting, even if it is your entirely unqualified bro. When you are in the gym, focus on the big lifts that give you biggest return for your time investment, that means squats, deadlifts, cleans, bench press, chin/pull ups (or lat pull downs if you are not able to overcome gravity) and an overhead press of some kind. If you have access to some kind of crossfit style rig, you'll be able to work on the monkey bars for some specific grip strength, although if you are deadlifting without straps and doing your pull ups, you'll go some way to taking care of the forearm and upper body strength needed to pull yourself up on the obstacles.
If you already have a good base of strength, by that I mean you can squat at least your own body weight on a barbell, you might want to drop in some plyometrics to develop your explosive power (good for jumping over fallen runners) and stability when landing after jumping off obstacles. I wouldn't say that this is a huge priority versus improving your running and getting strong, but if you have the time and inclination to do some, they can give you an extra boost.
There are actually plenty of other things you can do that may help, improving core strength, flexibility and so on, but I've deliberately kept things simple, and focused on the two things that will make the biggest difference on the day.
One last point that I would like to make is this, have a plan. It's likely that you are doing this with team mates, I would say friends, but that might be a stretch. That being the case, you may want to discuss what you intend to do, as in do you go round as a group, or is it every man for himself? I only say this as from experience, some people just don't want to work as a team, and spend their bank holiday dragging around asthmatic wannabe crossfitters around the Hampshire countryside, while other people say that they do want to work as a team, only then to run off and sort themselves out as soon as the cannon goes off at Tough Guy 2006. And just in case you do get split up, and when I say split up, I mean leave each other to it quite deliberately, make sure you have a meeting point at the end, preferably somewhere warm that serves post workout orange coloured fizzy drinks, and I'm not talking lucozade.
Joking aside, it really is worth putting in some hours now, so that you get the most out of your mud run experience, as it can be great fun in a masochistic kind of way. If you are at Henley in May, I might see you out there!