When I crossed the finish line of my first mud run, my emotions completely overwhelmed me. As I was handed a cup of water, a t-shirt, and a dog-tag finisher medal, the tears just let loose. Little ol’ me had just done something I never thought I could do: I competed–and placed–in a 7 mile military obstacle course race and CrossFit pit. And though I did well, boy did I wish I had known a few things before I started!
When signing up for your first mud run, you may feel overwhelmed, scared, intimidated, or just flat out excited! Regardless of how you feel, it’s always a good idea to start training early and completely prepare yourself for what you may be facing before, during, or even after your race has been completed.
Here are the
Top 10 Pre-Race Training Tips
everyone should know before completing his or her first mud run obstacle course.
1. Start hydrating your muscles at least two days pre-race. And I’m not talking sugar-filled Gatorade either. If your race is on Saturday, make yourself drink a gallon of water on Thursday and again on Friday. Depending on your start time on Saturday, aim for at least one liter up to a half gallon. The biggest mistake I’ve seen out on the course is lack of hydration and people being carted off by EMS crews due to severe muscle cramps. My second race was much better (and recovery ten times better) than my first due to learning how to hydrate properly.
2. Drink coconut water and eat bananas–EARLY. My trainers have always said to give potassium enough time to get into the muscles, so don’t just wait until the event day to eat the bananas. Sure, you may want a banana 30 minutes before racing for the extra carbs/energy boost, but as far as filling the muscles with potassium, start eating bananas on the same day you start extra-hydration. And speaking of extra hydration, try drinking about a liter of coconut water those same days that you are chugging gallons of water. According to nutritionandyou.com, coconut water is also a great source of B-complex vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates–the same essential vitamins that the human body requires from external sources in order to replenish lost elements. Maybe even more important, coconut water contains a large amount of electrolyte potassium–200 mg more than a banana per serving. Every 100 ml of water has 250 mg of potassium and 105 mg of sodium. Together, these electrolytes help replenish electrolyte deficiency in the body and will help keep you from cramping in the middle of a race. (phenomwater.com)
3. Don’t eat/drink/supplement with anything “new” on race day. One of my friends–in our first ever team competition–ate one of those energy gel packs before competing. While the rest of us were kicking tail in the first part of the race, she spent the first 15+ plus minutes trying not to hurl. The energy shot didn’t work for her–in fact, it had the opposite effect. Don’t try anything new that you haven’t experimented with before hand. I personally am a huge fan of caffeine before a race. It doesn’t mean that you should try a mega dose before a race; instead, start experimenting early and figure out what makes you feel funny, shaky, sick, and then don’t use those supplements! Only stick to what boosts your energy and keeps your spirits high–which could be as simple as a nice hearty breakfast or a bowl of fruity pebbles. You know you and you do you best.
4. Know how to properly “Carb-Load,” and for goodness sake, DON’T forget the PROTEIN! Most people under-prepare when it comes to hydration and protein, then over-prepared when it comes to gorging on carbs. Women actually store glycogen (carbs/sugars) in our muscles longer than men. We can eat a hearty carb meal on Thursday (big pasta dish), a “decent” carb meal on Friday (sweet potato or rice), and a smaller carb meal for breakfast pre-race (a bagel or bowl of oatmeal). We really don’t need to over-do it (and for some, even this list is pushing it). You’ll have more than enough energy to race without feeling bloated and weighted down. For men, you don’t hold onto glycogen like women do so you’re probably free to eat a hearty meal the night before and a decent meal for breakfast. For anyone who wants a final energy boost right before racing, I would suggest a simple carb (one that will digest quickly) about 30 minutes before racing. Try a piece of fruit like a banana, apple, or orange. And please, let’s not forget how important protein is for the muscles! If you really want your body in peak condition for racing, eat protein, protein, protein….well….all the time. Protein is the only macronutrient that doesn’t get converted to fat if you eat too much, so I say–especially since you’re drinking gallons of water–LOAD UP on protein (eggs, chicken, cottage cheese, tuna, ground turkey and beef), and save the carbs for when you’re a couple days out from the race.
5. Don’t wear cotton. I made this mistake my first race. It clings. It feels gross. It weighs you down which is HORRIBLE when competing. And the worst part? It looks horrible in pictures! 😉 I don’t know what more I can say other than buy wicking fabric and don’t wait until the day of your race to try out the new gear. NO COTTON, yes to wicking, and train in that same gear first.
6. Get the proper gear and don’t wear anything “loose” — even your hair. This is kind of piggy-backing on the “don’t wear cotton” rule above, but if you’re going to wear wicking fabric, make sure it fits snugly. I know I just said that cotton clings and becomes super uncomfortable, but if your clothes are too baggy, they get caught on everything: barbed wire, rocks, nets, etc. And speaking of barbed wire and nets–I’ve made the mistake three different times of wearing my hair in a high ponytail. It gets stuck in the net every single time and when the person behind me passes me because I’m trying to get my hair out of a net, I’m left cursing myself and trying to remember why I forgot to do this–again! Put your hair in a low bun or braid. Finally, try to find pants that will at least cover your knees so that you don’t tear them up on rocks or wires. In every race I’ve run, the number one bloody spot I’ve seen on most people’s bodies are the knees. Rocks are a course designer’s best friend. Cover the knees–and seriously think about covering the elbows as well.
7. Know your race. I have a tendency to go into a race totally blind: meaning I have no idea how long the race is or what the obstacles may be that I have to endure. I’m not sure why I do this–it never works in my favor. The first race I competed in, I thought it was 5 miles. I found out over half-way in that it was actually a little over 7. My second race–I thought I’d have to climb two ski slopes but after the third, then the fourth, fifth, sixth, and OMG the seventh slope?! I knew I should have better prepared. Know what you need to train for. If you need to train hills, train hills. If you need to climb ropes, climb ropes. Find out what you’re expected to do and do it. Just because you work out five+ days a week doesn’t mean you’re ready for an obstacle course. These designers have fun torturing us. And they expect us to show up prepared for the challenge.
8. Get the proper shoes and accessories. Trail shoes are always nice because they don’t slip as much when climbing over walls nets, or things that might be slick. I have a pair of New Balance Minimus that I LOVE because they have grips on the bottom. One of my friend just wears a trusty pair of trail/hiking shoes because of the bottoms being great for the same reason. I’ve seen a lot of people run in the Vibram Five Finger shoes and as much as I love them, I’m not a fan for obstacle courses or mud runs. Those shoes are thin-soled and these races are slick, rocky, uneven, and coarse. You will need something with a medium to strong support, great gripping ability, and yes–light and water-wicking if possible. And I’d even add water-proof or quick-dry socks to the mix as well. Nothing feels more disgusting than running with squishy, wet, heavy socks. And as far as accessories are concerned, again it goes back to knowing your race. Find out how many hydration stations will be available throughout the course. I giggled at a girl who was in front of me in one race because she had a hydration pack strapped on her waist. I thought to myself, “wow–this girl is serious about her water!” It turns out, that race didn’t have near enough water stations, I ended up carrying a water bottle in my sports bra when I finally found one, and I also had no idea the race was going to take four hours! Find out how long your race takes, how many water stations will be available, and then decide if you need extra packs. I’d personally say that unless plenty of stations are going to be available, feel free to take a hydration belt or camelbak with you on all races over 7 miles. And just because you don’t feel thirsty doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink. That’s the first sign of dehydration. So going all the way back to rule one: HYDRATE!
9. Stretch before, during, and after your race. One of most important parts of training that most people neglect–including myself–is stretching. I remember thinking after finishing the CrossFit pit of my first race that maybe if I had stretched more, then I wouldn’t be cramping so much. I remember thinking after doing a test run for the Rogue Race crew that if I had stretched more during our rests (stuck in a line waiting for that next obstacle), I would be able to use my legs without my quads cramping. And Lord knows if I had stretched more after each of my races instead of hobbling to the beer tent, I would have spent less time trying to recover and could’ve gotten back to training sooner. I know this might be the most boring part of your routine, but it’s not a bad idea to throw some yoga into your schedule once or twice a week to ensure your flexibility and prevent you from tearing something while racing. And speaking of flexibility, if you’re not working this element, you are NOT going to do well when you’ve got to twist and contort yourself in all sorts of weird positions so that you can roll through mud, crawl through a tube, lift your limbs over 8 foot walls, or sludge through…well…sludge. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick….you’re going to have to jump over much more than a silly candle stick.
10. Soak in Epsom salt and foam roll your muscles (or get a massage) the week before and day after your race. The last race I ran, I gave all my team members a bag of Epsom salt and told them to soak their tired muscles! If your muscles are sore pre-race, soaking in HOT water for about 15 minutes (or as long as you can stand) with at least one small container of this salt will alleviate almost all tension and soreness in the muscles. And for extra help, get a foam roller or “the stick,” and use it to massage the muscles that tend to get tight, sore, etc. And if you do have sore, tight muscles, don’t think that a massage or foam rolling will be relaxing. It hurts. And you probably won’t want to continue once you start. But trust me, there’s just something about getting deep into that muscle that does the trick. New to rolling? Click HERE for a guide on how to properly foam roll.
When all else fails, just go out and have fun. After all, that’s what these races are designed for: fun times, bad ass statuses, and the physical-mental challenge that sets us apart from all other athletes. Good luck and DON’T break a leg!
Feature picture by Kenny Holston 21