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Endurance, Wellness / May 2, 2016

8 Tips to Train for a Muddy Race

Written by: Morris Brossette

In obstacle racing we train for strength, we train for endurance and we train for hilly, rocky terrain. However, we overlook training for one specific course condition. I am talking specifically about mud.  A muddy race course will absolutely wreck your entire race strategy/plan if you are not prepared both physically and mentally.

When I first started obstacle racing I was drawn in by the need to be fast, strong and mobile.  Never did I have an intention of racing or participating in a “muddy race”. That’s just not my thing.  I have raced many adventure races in my time as an endurance athlete and I know what a pain in the @$$ a muddy race course can be. Plus it can totally wreck you both physically and mentally if you are not prepared.

Well, if you are an obstacle racer, at some point or another you are going to find yourself knee deep in a muddy race, and as you are pulling your shoe or yourself out of what feels like an eternally deep sinkhole I want you to say, “Man!! I’m glad I trained for this! Where’s my shoe?”…

I had my first experience at my one year anniversary in the sport this past October at the Dallas Beast.

Fast forward to my first race of the 2016 season in Houston and I found myself right back in the same slop. Racing in the elite field I had an advantage of not having a couple hundred/thousand athletes churning up the ground before me, but even then I had difficulties. It wasn’t until we were on the shuttle leaving this race that part of the course was visible that I felt the need to write this article.

As we were driving by watching the athletes trudge, there was no way they could run. Through the course I notice a woman trying to pull her leg out of the mud without falling over. She managed to dislodge her left foot only to have her right foot stuck. I watched as she moved to the side of the path to try and find “clean” ground. At which point she got stuck again. Then she threw her hands in the air, looked up and rolled her eyes in frustration.  By the way, this was just before the very first obstacle of the entire race… She was in for a long day.

This is the sled drag from the Houston Sprint and when I got to this obstacle is was still a field… With grass.

Regardless if you are in the first wave or last wave, there are some key movements I believe we could all focus on to be better prepared for not just muddy races, but races where you are running through un-groomed fields, high grass and more.  Let’s get to it.

 

Core strength:

Planks. There is no denying that without a strong core you have no chance at having a good day at any endurance race. Multiple studies have shown that as soon as the “core” muscles of your trunk break down, every other muscle in your body must use greater force and energy to keep you moving. Plus in a muddy obstacle race, if you lose your balance you could end up face down in the slop. The one movement that is the literal foundation of a strong core is the plank.

***Keys for Success***

– You should be able to hold a solid plank position for 3 sets of at least 60 seconds without failing.

– If you are a beginner start with 15-20 second sets and every other day try to increase your time by 5-10 seconds until you reach 60 seconds total.

– If you feel ANY pain, tightness, “pulling” in your low back, drop to your knees and rest. “Feeling your back” is a sign that your core muscles cannot sustain the proper plank position.

 

Lying/hanging hip flexion aka bicycle crunches:

Although your abs are working to stabilize your spine, the primary muscles used to move your legs are your Psoas and Rectus Femoris, aka: hip flexors. These are what burn like crazy when you are constantly lifting your knees high out of mud or high grass.

***Keys to Success***

– Start with 3 sets of 20 repetitions building your way up to sets of 50+.  Note: moving left leg then right leg = 1 repetition.

– Keep your low back on the ground.  As soon as you begin to arch your low back you need to adjust the amount of extension from your knee/hip. That’s your body’s sign that your abs can no longer stabilize your spine and are breaking down.

– Feel free to add weight by squeezing a medicine ball between your feet or holding a dumbbell between your feet if doing the hanging version.

– Add in hanging hip flexion for a double whammy of grip strength and hip strength

 

Calf Raises:

When your foot sinks down into the abyss your first line of defense is a strong and mobile ankle and calf.  Start with these eccentric loaded calf raises to build both ankle mobility and calf strength.

***Keys to Success***

– Start with 1 set of 15 repetitions 3-4 days a week. Progress to 2-3 sets or 15-20 as you gain strength.

– Don’t rush this! Take your time in lowering yourself down for 4-5 seconds each rep

 

Single leg balance/squat on dyna-mat

This is great to build strength and balance symmetry in your lower body as well as strengthen the muscles around your foot and ankle to help reduce the risk of a twist or sprain.

***Keys to Success***

– Do this bare footed to allow the muscles in your foot and ankle to stabilize and get stronger

– Hold for 2-3 sets of 30-60 seconds, or 2-3 sets of 10-12 single leg squats

– Think you have it down? Try doing it with your eyes closed for extra credit

 

High knee drill for time:

This drill has a couple of key benefits. The plyometric action of running in place builds dynamic strength in your feet/calves. The rapid lifting of your knees simulates the quick choppy steps in a muddy race, and will also build power in your hips which is needed for lifting your foot out of the muck.

***Keys to Success***

– Be sure to keep your chest up and abs/core engaged keeping your spine in a neutral position.  Remember a strong core and stable spine is absolutely key to balance and producing force

– Be sure you are very warm before doing this movement. I suggest preceding with calf raises, lunges and squats

– Do this set for time.  2-3 sets of 20-40 seconds

 

How to tie your shoes/pick the right shoe:

Obviously this is not a drill or movement, but tying your shoes correctly AND having the right type of shoe can be critical to be sure you don’t sacrifice a $100 pair of new shoes you just posted on facebook with #readytorock  #gametime underneath.

This is not a time for quick tie laces. Rather good ol standard tie them yourself laces with very little flex/give are your best option.  Loop them through every hole in your shoe. Often we leave the holes closest to our ankles open.  Double tie them and be sure they are snug at the top.

Due to the ground being super soft, each step when running/walking can cause your heal to sink lower than normal. I experienced this in a Spartan Beast once and almost tore my calf. Each time your heel sinks deeper than normal it is putting tremendous strain and overstretching your calf muscles.  This can cause cramping later in the race, a calf/Achilles tear, or even a sprained ankle due to overstretching of the ankle. If you are used to training in a minimalist or “zero drop” shoe, I HIGHLY recommend choosing a race shoe with a 6-8mm heel stack.  That may not sound like much but trust me… It’s saved my calves and I am certain it will do the same for you.

 

How to run/walk:

  • Shorten your stride
    • Taking long strides on a muddy course is pretty much impossible and can cause you to lose balance and get injured. I suggest taking short choppy steps. If you have ever done the tire drill or ladder drill, that is how you want to run.
  • Stand tall
    • Just as I mentioned in the high knee drill, keep your chest up and eyes forward.  This will also help to keep your balance centered over your hips and lessen your likelihood of falling
  • Run in others foot steps
    • I have found in a muddy race if I step in others’ footsteps the ground is less “squishy” and I can plant my foot better. Think of this as the runners in front of you clearing the path, or breaking trail. I have found this techniques to be exceptionally useful in every muddy race I’ve done.

 

Grip strength of Zeus:

After a few hundred, or thousand, of your friends have been on the course the ropes, walls, rocks, etc. will be incredibly muddy and slick.  This will require an even stronger grip than you may have anticipated. Just like any obstacle, train for this. Farmer Carries, Dead Hangs, Pull ups, Bucket Carries and more, all done to build strength, but can also be done with wet hands. Simply get your hands wet and a bit slick and go through the sets as normal. I have even put lotion on my hands for these movements. Of course I thoroughly clean them after with a 409 or other disinfectant wipe to degrease the handles. In my mind, whatever it takes to prepare, I will do. This way there is NO surprise on race day.

 

An Unbreakable Mind:

This last tip may just be the most important of all. You can be as physically strong and prepared as you have ever been in your life but if you are mentally weak you’re going to have a looonng day. Go into a muddy race knowing that you will be slower, it will be harder,  your body may hurt worse, and that you will probably face plant in the mud at least once. Instead of thinking about how much it sucks, switch your focus to being grateful that you are healthy, strong, and have the ability to be in the race. Trust me, being mentally strong is a game changer.

 

There you have it, my 8 tips to help you train for your next muddy obstacle race. I hope you found some useful information to use and please feel free to share this article with anyone you think could benefit.

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about the author

Morris Brossette

Morris “Mo” Brossette grew up running, hiking, biking, and basically living everyday in the woods. Each day was a new adventure of building forts, exploring new areas, and even as a child, creating obstacle courses and other physical challenges to build strength and fitness.

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