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How to Train for a Mud Run or Obstacle Race

Mud Run

Mud runs and obstacle courses are soaring in popularity not only for runners looking for a new challenge, but also as a fun way for couch potatoes to be more active. The Warrior Dash, for example, sold out its first race in 2009 with 2000 participants. Each year, more than 1.5 million people take part in these types of races. Of course, with any fitness endeavor, there are risks as well as benefits.

The first obstacle races and mud runs were Marine Corps events, but today these types of races are open to anyone – from serious athletes to weekend warriors. The races are typically shorter – 5K is the most popular distance – with lots of mud and/or obstacles between to challenge you. The goal here isn’t to set a time PR, but to accomplish as many of the challenges as you can.

"I think the appeal is that it gives you the opportunity to almost be a kid again," says Warrior Dash race director Alex Yount. "It is not every day I'm rolling around in the dirt, scraping my knees and getting muddy, and then jumping over fire."

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While we hear so often of athletes who collapse during long-distance races such as marathons, remember that even shorter races are not without risk. The CDC recently reported a story on a 2012 Nevada race in which participants became ill because the mud they were crawling through was contaminated with animal feces. Twenty-two became ill with campylobacter coli, a common bacteria that causes a week of diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever, two to five days after exposure. Other risks include falling from obstacles, heat stroke, and infection.

Risk is inherent in any sport, but racing veterans like Troy Farrar, president of the United States Adventure Racing Association, worry that mud runs may be growing too popular too quickly for the well-being of their grunge-soaked fans. For one, people are attracted to these races because they seem more like “fun” instead of an actually fitness pursuit. These runners are especially at risk for injuries and dehydration.

Training properly is the key to being successful in any fitness challenge. Instead of training to run a certain distance (which is still very important), you must also develop upper body strength and skills necessary for the obstacles, says Nathan Trenteseaux, owner of Underground Fitness Revolution. "For those already in shape and running on a regular basis, some form of high-intensity total-body resistance training is crucial to provide the other components needed for a mud run."

Trenteseaux has created a 3-day-a-week circuit training program for Active.com that contains movements selected because they have the most real-world carryover to the obstacles you will see in a typical mud run.

Washington Post – The Latest Obstacle in Obstacle Racing
Today Health: Filthy Fitness – Mud Runs Soar in Popularity
Men’s Health – Mud Run Risk Factors
Active.com – Your Mud Run Training Plan