So what is a Tough Mudder? It’s a muddy obstacle course that takes place over a 5K or longer distance with anywhere from 10 to 20 obstacles along the way. You have to work with the other participants to get up walls (Berline Walls), climb over muddy banks (Mud Mile 2.0) and army crawl under barbed wire (Kiss of Mud). You can sign up with a team, or by yourself — everyone on the course is extremely friendly and is amenable to helping everyone else out. There’s no time clock and everyone gets a finisher’s headband. The overall vibe at a Tough Mudder is one of camaraderie and openness.
As you prep your gear, you should be prepared to be soaked through by the end of the race. You might even be covered in mud after the first obstacle. Try to pick clothes and shoes that drain well and dry quickly, and that won’t chafe your body after twenty minutes in a damp mud pit.
To learn about how to prepare for a Tough Mudder, we went straight to the experts. We spoke with Ryan Atkins, a Merrell Ambassador and Tough Mudder Pro Team Athlete; Kristopher Mendoza, one of only seven people who has run 100 miles or more at the 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder; and Jason Antin, a Merrell Ambassador and athlete, who has completed countless Tough Mudders.
While there used to only be one distance, there are now a variety of distances to choose from. Each distance includes at least half a dozen obstacles, so be prepared. Technically the 5k, Half and Full are not races. Everyone gets a finisher headband — different colors depending on how many you’ve completed. The Race Series is timed and competitive, all leading up to the World’s Toughest Mudder.
All distances shown in kilometers.
5K: 3 miles, 10 obstacles
Half: 5 miles, 13 obstacles
Full: 10 miles, 20 obstacles
Tougher Mudder: Timed, competitive start wave, first step toward the Race Series
Toughest Mudder: 8 hours of course challenges, and you race through the night
World’s Toughest Mudder: 24-hours, 5-mile laps, 20 to 25 obstacles. Repeat over and over.
Beyond just running, there’s a ton of strength that goes into these types of events. Each athlete has their own take on the best way to prepare, but all in all, it’s mostly about training for a broad range of challenges.
From a practical standpoint, grip strength is really important. “Work on pull ups and chin ups to blast your upper body and crush obstacles like Funky Monkey and Kong Infinity,” Mendoza says.
“A sandbag is a great tool when training. Pick one up and use it to hike up hills to build leg strength,” Atkins says. Building leg strength will help you power through the muddy terrain when your hamstrings have hit a wall.
“Always practice your gear and nutrition plan before race day. This includes your dinner the night before, breakfast the morning of and nutrition during the Tough Mudder,” Mendoza says. It’s very similar to what you would do before a running race. Prepping your stomach to go through ice then mud then pools of water is tricky to mimic, but as much as you can prepare before is ideal for your mental state.
“You want a shoe with good drainage, soft, sticky rubber and big deep rubber lugs to help you grip into the steep muddy hills that you will have to go up,” Atkins says. He recommends the Merrell All Out Crush 2 or the Agility Peak Flex 2 E-Mesh. “Lace them down tight, so they don’t get pulled off in a mud pit.”
“Make sure whatever shoe you pick, it provides enough stability for the terrain between obstacles, proper lugs and grip, and allows for water to drain quickly,” Antin says.
You really never know what the weather is going to be like. I completed a Tough Mudder in Mesa, Arizona and it hailed on us in the end of April — to say it was unexpected is an understatement. To that point, “always check the weather for the day of the event,” Mendoza says. “Beat the cold and windy conditions on race day and gear up with the Torrent Windbreaker Jacket.”
Almost as important as your shoes, your socks are what will make or break your run. “Something from the Darn Tough Run line works great,” Atkins says. “They are super durable, for all your future Mudder events.” Pro Tip: “Put a bit of Vaseline or an anti-chafing cream on your feet before you put your socks on. This combo really helps prevent chafing and any blisters caused from the mud and wetness around your feet,” Atkins says.
Tights or Shorts
“A regular running short will work fine for your first Tough Mudder, but I really like running in compression tights. They keep any thorny bushes or itchy grass from scratching your legs badly,” Atkins says. “Once they get wet, they will keep you nice and cool as you go around the course, so don’t worry about overheating in them. I love the tights that Marena Sport makes.”
“Don’t let the water and mud slow you down with traditional cotton clothing,” Mendoza says. “Compression gear from Second Skin is the perfect solution to keep you comfortable and moving fast.”
“Bring two! I learned the hard way during my first night-time Tough Mudder event, but headlamps can take a beating. It was great having a back-up with me!” Antin says. While you won’t need this for the shorter distances, it’s a good thing to have on you for nighttime runs or training routines.
“If the course is particularly sunny, it might be a good idea to bring a pair,” Atkins says. He warns, “leave your fancy Ray-Ban and Oakleys at home. Instead, go to the dollar store, and pick up a pair of brightly colored cheap ones. They will very likely get scratched, or you will lose them out on course. Try not to… but be prepared for it.”
You’re going to get sweaty, muddy and wet on any Tough Mudder course. “You can run shirtless, or with a t-shirt,” Atkins says. “If you use a shirt, avoid cotton,” he elaborates. Find something that is quick to dry and has a fit that matches your body to help prevent rubbing. “Merrell makes the Torrent Short sleeve wicking tee, which works great,” Atkins says.
After the Race
One of the most important things to pack the night before is your after-race bag. Standing around in muddy clothes is tough. “Don’t forget a pair of clean and dry clothes and sandals for the end of the race. Let those muddy toes breathe!” Antin says.
Atkins has an entire list of gear to bring including: a towel, socks, ‘good’ sunglasses, a rain jacket, plastic bags (“keeps all your dry stuff from getting muddy”), full size garbage bags and I.D. (“if you’re planning on having a beer post-race, make sure your ID is with you”).