Posted July 5, 2013 by Gareth Evans in Blog

Tough Mudder: What’s it really like?

At the finish line of Tough Mudder
At the finish line of Tough Mudder

It seems a long time ago now, but, in May 2013, four friends and I decided to have a crack at what is purported to be “probably the toughest event on the planet,” Tough Mudder.

I signed up for the event with some bizarre notion that it wouldn’t be that bad and I would definitely get around to putting the work in during the months leading up to the event.

entrance to tough mudder

The start of Tough Mudder

After returning from Buenos Aires in October 2012, I set about getting back into regular exercise; the occasional run, the odd gym session and some martial arts training. I was following anything but an intense regime, but it was slowly getting me back into some semblance of shape.

After laughing and joking about the elephant in the room over some beers at Christmas, my friends and I dispersed across the country to resume our lives, safe in the knowledge that training for the event was something we would all dedicate the “appropriate” amount of time to.

The dreaded email

With the big day slowly drawing in, I received an email from the guy in charge of organising event, the same guy who somehow managed to convince us all that this was a good idea, alerting us all to the fact that Tough Mudder was in fact only 3 months away.

While none of our group was in the same room when we opened THAT email, you could sense a collective sharp intake of breath, as things all of a sudden got very real.

I’d gone from feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing to terrified, in just a matter of minutes. Three months is still a reasonable amount of time to get into shape, but it meant that there was no longer any room for error.

Training begins in earnest

Pre Tough Mudder, feeling quite fresh

Pre Tough Mudder, feeling quite fresh

Although I’ve trained for rugby, and to keep in decent shape, my whole life, I was at somewhat of a loss as to how exactly to train for Tough Mudder, especially as it’s such a unique event that requires physical strength, stamina, speed and more than a modicum of mental strength.

Perplexed at how I was going to get in the right shape for a 12 mile obstacle course in just 3 months, I asked around and managed to get hold of a few insider tips that helped me to put my training programme together.

The advice I was given was that it was best to focus on developing my overall strength endurance levels, while working on my fitness by doing interval training. Nobody that I spoke to recommended running anything longer than 3-4 miles per training session. I have to admit to being sceptical, so I did end up throwing a few long runs in there, but, in hindsight, there was no need.

My training in focus

Below is the exact training schedule that I adhered to for 12 weeks, in the lead up to Tough Mudder. I have to admit to missing the odd session, but I was pretty good at sticking to this, as well as maintaining a fairly clean diet.

Monday: 30 minute weight session (focus on legs; high reps, low weight, 5-5 cadence on lifts)

Tuesday: 30 minutes of Fartlek running, making the sprints as long as possible (100m each or thereabouts)

Wednesday: 30 minute weight session (focus on back and shoulders; high reps, low weight, 5-5 cadence on lifts)

Thursday: 30 minutes of Fartlek running, making the sprints as long as possible (100m each or thereabouts)

Friday: 30 minute weight session (focus on chest and arms; high reps, low weight, 5-5 cadence on lifts)

Saturday: This was, inevitably, the day that I didn’t always manage to train. When I did, I did 30 minutes of Fartlek running, making the sprints as long as possible (100m each or thereabouts). Every other week, I made this a long distance running session, running at a steady state for around 6 miles.

Total training time per week: 3-3.5 hours.

The Electric Eel

The Electric Eel

The focus of my training was on training smart, for no more than 30 minutes per session on average, rather for long periods of time. By utilising slow cadence lifts (5 seconds up and 5 seconds down), as well as High Intensity Interval Training, I was able to make rapid gain in a relatively short period of time.

The big day arrives

The car journey down to Tough Mudder, in Northampton, was one of the worst of my life. I was nervous the whole way, I had no idea if I had enough in the tank to get around the course, I had no idea what to expect from the course (opting not to do much research into the obstacles as it gave me less to worry about) and, more than anything, I just didn’t want to be THAT guy; the only one in the team who couldn’t make it around the course.

As soon as the race started, however, all those fears quickly vanished and my focus was just on maintaining a good running rhythm that I was comfortable with, as well as attacking each obstacle with as much aggression as I could.

Tough Mudder Team Wall Climb

Tough Mudder Team Wall

From giant ice baths, being electrocuted by 10,000 volt wires while leopard crawling through shallow water, and team walls, right through to monkey bars, leaping over ditches and jumping through fire, Tough Mudder did exactly what it says on the tin. It was definitely up there with one of the most challenging things that I’ve done.

The great thing about Tough Mudder is that it’s a team event and it’s just about getting from A to B with your mates; having a good group of people around you when you hit the 8 mile mark is definitely a big help and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it alone, although some, shall we say more committed, fellows certainly do.

Lessons learned

I think the biggest thing that I learned from Tough Mudder is that it really is possible for anyone to complete, if you’re willing to put just a little effort in. It’s not as hard as the tag line or the aura surrounding the event suggests.

Time to get wet boys.

Time to get wet boys.

The guys I ran Tough Mudder with covered the whole spectrum in terms of dedication to training. We had everything from those following strict gym routines, right through to a guy who went for a grand total of 3 runs in the 3 months leading up to the event; he’s a surgeon and was interviewing for a consultancy training programme at the time, so you can’t blame him, but it hardly meant he was in the best shape of his life.

Was Tough Mudder tough? Yes. Was it impossibly difficult? Absolutely not. Don’t get me wrong, we staggered over the finish line as a team, but, unlike a marathon, it’s very possible to complete the course in a respectable time, without too many hours spent pounding the roads in training.

If you’re considering entering Tough Mudder, the biggest insight that I could offer is to tell you that, although the course may be 12 miles in total, the longest distance you ever have to run without the chance to rest, while you queue to take on an obstacle, is a little over 1 mile. If you’re not in the greatest aerobic shape, therefore, but still fancy taking on a meaningful challenge, Tough Mudder could just be the event for you.

As an added incentive, in exchange for just a few hours of your life, you get a cool T-shirt and bright orange headband: That’s got to be worth the entry fee alone!

At the finish line of Tough Mudder

At the finish line of Tough Mudder

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans
A former professional rugby player in his youth, Gareth is now a bit of an all-round amateur when it comes to sport. He continues to play rugby for his local club, has studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Argentina, played Basketball in Peru, trekked in the Andes and the Himalayas, is a reluctant adventure racer, and is now studying KFM (Keysi Fighting Method). He has a passion for a whole host of sports, as well as travel, but feels truly at home on the rugby pitch or in the mountains.