Tough Mudder: advice for first-timers

Battered and bruised, I have just returned from my first Tough Mudder event. Last year, I ran the Spartan Race and the Warrior Dash, both of which were fun introductions to obstacle racing. I also trained at The O Course, which in my opinion is tougher than your standard 5K mud/obstacle run.

Tough Mudder is a couple of levels up, because it is 3+ times longer and has some pretty challenging obstacles, including those involving ice water and electricity. Whereas shorter obstacle courses take me about an hour, Tough Mudder was four hours of pain and exertion.

The Tough Mudder website includes details of the various obstacles and forums for exchanging tips and strategies, so this post will focus on what I learned as a first-timer, in hopes that it may be useful for some. (Or that it will remind me how insane it is to do something like this voluntarily!)

What to bring

  • Signed I-won’t-sue-you-if-the-course-maims-or-kills-me waivers and photo ID
  • Sunscreen, water, energy bar or two, cash
  • Complete change of clothes & shoes
  • Towels that you don’t mind getting really filthy
  • Wet Wipes if you don’t plan to take advantage of the outdoor shower area (e.g., if you’re way too cold at the end)
  • Garbage bags for shoes (unless you donate them) and muddy clothing

WHAT TO WEAR IF IT’S COLD

  • Shorts with tights underneath
  • T-shirt with light, tight long-sleeved shirt underneath
  • NOTHING COTTON (it does not dry quickly and you will get wet on multiple occasions)
  • I recommend a bikini instead of underwear, since you end up in the water so often (my bikini top isn’t very sturdy, so I wore bikini bottoms and a sports bra)
  • Shoes that have good grip, are nicely broken in but still supportive, and are breathable (I bought shoes specifically for running in wet environments–they do exist!)
  • If you wear glasses, buy one of those adjustable cords that attaches to the arms of your frames: this $6 accessory allowed me to jump into water and submerge myself without worrying about my glasses falling off (and if you lose your glasses in any of the water obstacles, you probably won’t find them again!)

WHAT TO WEAR IF IT’S HOT

  • How should I know, it was around 7C (45F) when I ran! (It did get a little warmer later, though)
  • Probably all of the above, minus the tights/long-sleeved shirt–although those can come in handy for protecting you against scrapes when you’re crawling on your knees or scaling a wall
  • Sunscreen, although keep in mind that you’ll be in and out of water, so it needs to be heavy-duty and waterproof

MISC. TIPS

  • Many of the Tough Mudder events involve uphill terrain: they will make you go uphill and downhill multiple times (and downhill is worse!), so make sure your knees (or whatever else hates steep inclines) are up to it
  • A lot of the obstacles involve cold water: prepare to be fully submerged on multiple occasions (Keep moving to stay warm!)
  • There is no shame in not attempting an obstacle: each one has a bypass lane, and no one will mock you for skipping an obstacle. Yes, the point is to challenge yourself–but if you really fear injuring yourself, put your safety before your pride
  • Make sure you’re hydrated before the event and take advantage of the water stations en route. There are also a few stations offering food (bananas and Cliff bars, in my case)–you’ll need the energy
  • If you’re running with a team (which you should!) or have friends and/or family attending as spectators, set a meeting point before the race starts–thousands of people will be there, and the last thing you need after a race of this magnitude is to be stumbling around hoping you run into your ride home

That’s all I can think of for now. Oh, and after your glorious post-race shower (the real one, not the cold one at the race venue), remember to clean your ears, too–you’re sure to find mud!

TM Jo

12 responses to “Tough Mudder: advice for first-timers

  1. Hi there.
    I’m about to run my first tough mudder next weekend and I wear glasses and can see you did for your race too. How did you deal with the mud on the lenses??
    Thanks!

    • Joanna Karaplis

      Hi Sam,

      Mud actually wasn’t much of a problem; you don’t tend to end up with mud on your head (unless you really go to town, I guess!). I also had to go completely underwater for several water obstacles, so that probably helped give my glasses a quick wash. Really, I was more afraid of losing them if I was jumping off something or going underwater, which is why I bought the super-cool cord to keep ’em on my head. Anyway, doing Tough Mudder with glasses didn’t slow me down at all, and I hope it’s the same for you. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for the great post! I have my first Tough Mudder on Saturday! I’ve run several other obstacle course races and see TM as the pinnacle event because of the length and level of difficulty.

    • Good luck! It was definitely more of a challenge than the others I’ve done (Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, etc) but it was totally worth it. Having said that, I’m not sure I ever want to do it again… mostly because running down mountains really did a number on my knees! (Running up mountains was fine, oddly enough.)

  3. Thank you for your information! Where did you run your race? I have done Warrior Dash, and this year will be doing the Tough Mudder and Spartan. Am very nervous now that I have been told both have been made more difficult than when I originally signed up.

    • Joanna Karaplis

      I ran it in Toronto (well, at Moonstone Ski Resort, I think… these races always tend to be 1.5-2 hours outside of the city). Spartan is harder than Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder is way harder than Spartan (mostly because it’s a much longer course). My advice is:
      1. Remember it’s psychological. Apply yourself to the obstacles and do your best, but remember that the obstacles are made to accommodate a lot of different fitness levels: you won’t be the fittest OR the least fit to attempt them, so your odds are great. Don’t let the “tougher than last year!!!” marketing tactics scare you.
      2. Pace yourself. You don’t need to run the whole thing (especially Tough Mudder).
      3. For Tough Mudder, you will need a team to complete some of the obstacles. It’s OK if you don’t sign up with a team–you will befriend people along the way. Just be ready to step out of your comfort zone and offer/ask for help.
      4. You can skip obstacles. Obviously you should try them all, but if there’s one you realistically think you could really hurt yourself on, there’s no shame in passing it by.

      Good luck! The adrenalin rush that comes with finishing challenging races like Spartan and Tough Mudder is great! Plus: bragging rights. 🙂

  4. Enjoyed this informative post! My first TM is in 10 days!

  5. Elijah Williams

    do you think contacts would be a good decision if i chose to go that route :/?

    • Joanna Karaplis

      Sure! I’m sure lots of people doing the course are wearing contacts. Just be sure that they won’t come out if you’re underwater, and perhaps bring a spare pair just in case.

      • The contacts underwater are my biggest concern for my first Tough Mudder, Honestly! When I swim I rarely go underwater because I always feel like I can’t open my eyes afterwards and it feels like my contacts will pop out. I should practice I think because I prefer not to wear glasses.
        How did it go for you if you ended up wearing the contacts?

  6. Great advice here for all the Tough Mudders out there! You’re right about cleaning your ears – after my last it took a full week to get the dirt out of my hair, toes and ears. It’s like a badge of honour!

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