A Girl’s Guide to the Tough Mudder

Time to Tough Mudder
Time to Tough Mudder, girls!

Have your friends ever tried to talk you into doing Tough Mudder? Did you check out the web site and immediately say no effing way!? I’d say that is a pretty normal response, but I think you should consider doing it anyway at least once. Yes, it is pretty crazy and you will be hurting like mad the next day, but it is worth it. It also supports the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a great and important cause.

Tough Mudder races are obstacle course races designed by British Special Forces to test your strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie. It bills itself out as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”

They take their grit seriously too. You have to sign a death waiver to participate and some of the obstacles are pretty harrowing.

It is also an amazing amount of fun.

To be clear, TM races are not your run of the mill mud run or obstacle race. TM races are tough races of endurance with 25 or more difficult obstacles – usually run on ski mountains or other difficult terrain.

I did Tough Mudder the first  year Wisconsin hosted a TM event.  One of my friends e-mailed me and asked me to join his team. Without thinking much about it, I said, “sure!” I sent the link to my husband and he asked, “do they even let girls do this?” That was enough to tip the scales. I immediately signed up both of us up and told him that not only do they let girls do it, but this girl was going to kick his @ss.  🙂

Once that was out of the way, I studied the web site and course a little closer. I won’t lie: I began to worry. I knew I had enough endurance to easily run 10-13 miles, but some of the obstacles looked a bit out of reach for me. Most notable for me were the swim obstacles.  I am not a swimmer, and in this race, we had to climb a 15 foot platform, jump off into a pond, swim across it and under obstacles – all with our running clothes and shoes on. And there was barbed wire and electric shocks.  Gulp.

No time like the present to conquer my fears, right?

Training.  My training wasn’t stellar.  I had trained for and raced the Eugene Marathon that Spring, but then I got swamped at work with a big trial and did very little running leading up to the July race.  But I did do our local mud run in the spring and successfully navigated the 10 feet of monkey bars.  That’s enough, right?  Alright, to say I was undertrained is an understatement.  The good news is that you can complete (aka survive) TM without extensive training, but that is not the ideal route to take.  I recommend that to train for it, you not only run, but also get in some good strength work.  Boot camp and Cross Fit workouts would be perfect.

My Team.  My team was badass.  My friend Travis put it together and several of our teammates were former Army Rangers.  We didn’t have the foresight or extensive funding for team shirts, so Travis bought  some cheap tank tops from Walmart and spray painted our team name on them with black spray paint and stencils.  Classy, no?  Behold team Panty Waists:

Team Panty Waists
Team Panty Waists

Race Day.  TM events are often touted for being done in crazy cold weather.  That was not the case for our race.  We went out in the first wave of the day (something I’d highly recommend to avoid any course congestion), but it was already in the 80s and wicked humid.  The race started half way up a ski hill, so we made the climb and got into place.  To start, we all had to recite the TM Pledge:


I must admit, reciting the pledge was pretty awesome.  I was ready to conquer my fears and run with my team!!  Before we knew it, we were off.  The race started running down the mountain, so that was pretty awesome.  But before we knew it, we were running right back up it.  Half way up, you had to climb up and over big hay bales.  By this point, our team already started breaking up some.  We had a group of 2-3 guys take off up front (they finished with the leaders), my team was mid-pack and there were 5 of us, the rest were a bit behind us.  Having a solid team is key though, as many of the obstacles you cannot do by yourself and it makes it so much more fun to work with others.

For example, there were several 12 foot high walls to climb.  There were no footholds to help you though – you needed a teammate to help boost you up and over – and you helped your teammates to the same.  We went through rocky pipes that ended in muddy water, we rinsed off with fire hoses, we ran through fire, we went down massive slip and slides and we ran up and down the mountain several times.


About half way through, we hit the big water obstacle I was so worried about.  But by that point, I was just going.  I climbed to the top of the plank and jumped in.  Lo and behold, I not only lived, but I was able to successfully swim to the remaining obstacles, swim under them, and emerge from the water alive.  I am not kidding a bit when I say I was BEYOND elated at this point.  I had conquered a big fear and realized that it wasn’t that I couldn’t swim – I was just afraid of it.  And I ripped that monkey off my back right then and there.

We continued on (after much celebration on my part).  There was a huge half pipe that was wet and muddy that we had to run up and over.  It was brutal and took me a few times, but I got there.  More walls to climb, monkey bars over a water crossing, crawling through mud under barbed wire, swimming, and even carrying logs into the lake and swimming with those.  Crazy.  And badass.


As we got closer to the end, we had to go into a big tank of ice water and swim under a divider to make sure we were fully submerged and soaked before the final obstacle – electroshock therapy.  This one had scared me and I watched several YouTube videos about  it.  There are several live wires hanging down you have to run through while soaking wet.  Many of the wires are low voltage, but a few are hot – 10k volts.  My plan was just to run through as fast as possible.  But when I got there and saw it was full of muddy hay bales you had to traverse, I knew that plan was out the window.  After my husband and friend went through, I took off.  First I felt one of the big boys hit me and I thought, I am okay, I am okay.  Then I felt another on my left shoulder – no doubt it hit my wet ponytail flying.  Bam!  I went down into the hay/mud and completely lost all concept of space and time.  I recall just being frozen, then telling myself, GO MINDI!  GO!  Off I went and crossed the finish line in around 2 hours and 45 minutes – although that is a rough estimate as there are no official times.  This race is all about comaraderie.

Mint's husband navigating electroshock therapy without too much trouble.
Mint’s husband navigating electroshock therapy without too much trouble.

I know what you are thinking.  That does not sound fun.  It sounds horrible.  Yes, it does, actually.  But it was SO much fun.  The biggest piece of it was running with my team.  There are very few difficult, competitive events as runners we can do with our teammates.  Sure, I had to wait for them sometimes, but they really helped me at other times too.  And I did things I would have never imagined possible.  Yeah, I still think the electroshock thing was crazy and am SO glad it was just before the finish, but it was – all in all – amazing.  I suggest you get a good team together and go for it.

Enjoying a beer after earning our orange headbands.
Enjoying a beer after earning our orange headbands.

Have you done Tough Mudder?  Do you have any tips for successfully completing this race?

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. You are the cutest bad ass mud runner ever!

    I don’t mean to poo-poo this post at all because I am sure many of our readers are interested in doing TM or something similar, but for the sake of conversation and for the fact that I’m sure I’m also not our only reader who feels this way, I have to say mud runs are not my thing and it’s not because I’m a wuss 🙂

    The way you describe Tough Mudder it sounds better than some of these mud runs. However, to me it seems like the whole mud run phenomenon has become this huge money making scheme. There’s one being marketed here for this weekend geared just to women and if they wrote “breast cancer” one more time on their website … (the shameless use of breast cancer “awareness” to market products is a whole other topic). I feel the same way about most themed “runs” – color runs, etc. They market to runners, but to me mud “runs,” etc are 10 step-derivatives of running; completely different events. And that’s fine, but it seems like they’re just trying to siphon of the runners from the huge half-marathon market, etc. Again fine, but it turns me off.

    And then the whole intestinal virus circulating through the mud thing (there was a virus outbreak after a mud run recently). Ew! I’m sure the more reputable companies putting these on do better at preventing things like that from happening, but with the rise in popularity of these things people out to make a buck cut corners and put on shoddy events, it seems.

    Again, just my opinions and why I’m not into them. If you are, rock on and tell me what I’m missing 🙂

    1. I have to agree with Laura. I don’t think I am a wimp, but I have absolutely no interest in doing a race like this. I also think that this new phenomena is a money making scheme somewhat. I see a lot of what you would call “weekend warriors” who enter these races and then spend weeks boasting about how bad ass they are. Personally, I think entering and completing one of these does not deserve the rank of “bad ass”. I am in no way doubting that this would be a fun even to participate in with a team or friends. However, I have had some friends who have gotten some whopper injuries. My legs and training are not worth it to me. Again, all just my personal opinions, and I have a close friend who will be competing in one in three weeks. I will cheer her on from a far. It’s just not for me.

    2. Not gonna lie, before reading Mint’s post I would have agreed through and through, but she totally turned me around. I love that it benefits the Wounded Warrior Project and the whole thing just sounds really terrifying but like you would feel SO awesome and totally uplifted at the end. Very different than a lot of those stupid themed for-profit runs… okay, maybe “stupid” is a mean word 🙂 but uggggghhhhh those are just SO annoying. (OMG, and I’m with you on the “breast cancer awareness” as a marketing schtick… don’t even get me started either ;))

      Thanks, Mint, for an awesome and compelling description of your experience!! Now I totally want to try a Tough Mudder, if I can ever ovary up enough to do it (and get a great team together!)

  2. I can get it if it is not for you. Although having run several mud runs and Tough Mudder, as well as themed fun runs, such as the Glow Run, I can tell you without certainty they are not in any way equivalent or even comparable.

    1. Ha! I only lump themed runs/races together because they’re derivatives of traditional running events. Other than that mud runs/ color run type events pretty much attract opposite audiences 🙂

  3. Hashing in New Jersey will get you ten times muddier than these things. And it’s real stream-bed mud, so you’re even more likely to get some kind of funky virus. Or stuck so deep five people have to struggle to pull you out and worry about dislocating your shoulders…not that I’d know…

    I mean…it’s not my *thing,* but never say never. If the right group of people was going to a similar event I’d be all for it! I think some of the obstacles look fun, for sure…I think they bill it right, as an obstacle course and not as a run. To that point, here’s what really bothers me about Tough Mudder (a for-profit LLC):

    The About page on Tough Mudder’s website spends an inordinate amount of time telling readers how much marathon runners and triathletes are “boring” and “take themselves too seriously.” Hostile, much? “and the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon.” Seems a little over-critical of my (our?) lifestyle, which is harmless and non-threatening to them. That kind of unnecessarily acrimonious attitude is something I wouldn’t want to support. I’ll vote with my dollar here and keep struggling through mud with my hasher friends.

    But to the “badass” couch potatoes Michelle referenced…I mean…at least they’re doing something, right?

    1. haha- I know you would never guess this, but I hashed in DALLAS of all places 2.5 weeks ago and holy s#*(&, it was some of the worst/most awesome shiggy I’ve EVER experienced. like, I am going to have to throw my socks away, but I can’t admit it yet so right now they are sitting on top of my dryer 99.5% covered in pricklies and encrusted in what may actually be raw sewage.

      oh and, agreed that the Tough Mudder website hostility towards runners is a total bummer!!! Lame :/

      1. I haven’t hashed before but you two are making me laugh out loud. (wow – has anyone typed that out online in the last 5 years?) I digress, but thanks, very funny. Rachel – toss those socks girl! On another note, I need to go back and look at TM’s web site. Interesting as I never got that vibe at all, but its been a while . . .

  4. I have to admit at first I was surprised by the somewhat negative tone of the comments on this post. But then I remembered that I would have never participated in any events other than competitive road running events previously either.

    What changed it? Hmmm, I guess I have some ideas for a post on that (coming soon).

    All I will say is that if it isn’t for you, it isn’t for you, but I don’t get the judgmental side going on. Shoot, I would never do an ultra or a tri, but I don’t bash those sports (come on, most events are WAY overly commercial and allegedly charitable and some crazy virus can happen anywhere).

    Two points I wanted to address though: First, the weekend warrior thing. I get what you are talking about, but (1) that doesn’t bother me – at least they are out there! (again, fodder for another post); and (2) TM is NOT your average mud run. Trust me, I’ve done both. TM is hugely physically challenging. I don’t care if you run 100 miles a week, it is a difficult challenge -particularly if you only run and do not have a lot of upper body strength. I was more sore after it than any marathon I raced.

    Second – for the TM website – that is part of their edge, not elitist. I can tell you unequivocally that every participant is respected and encouraged to respect and help one another. Their edge is severe and that is definitely their schick. For example, we heard an announcement during our race like this: Ms. ___________, your husband ___________ just broke. We encourage you to find him at the local hospital now. It is a bit disturbing, but definitely their marketing edge, not elitist.

    So lighten up folks. Have some fun. Go after one of those orange headbands. They are oh so cheesy and awesome at the same time.

    1. Aw. I’m sorry. I was worried about that. I just know a lot of our readers probably feel similarly about mud runs and wanted to open up that discussion point about it. As Kyle said, it could be fun, and I could definitely be convinced that it’s way cooler than I think it is. My opinions are based on the little I know about them, so someone whose opinion I respect (e.g. you) could definitely convince me that they’re not as bad as I think they are. I’d love a post that is written to convince the running purist to try one 😉

    2. I think what was so convincing to me (a former mud run hater) about your post was that based on your other posts here, I’ve always thought of you as a much more serious/traditional/I-don’t-know-what-the-right-word-is runner than myself… so coming from you, an endorsement had a lot more impact!

  5. I work with a guy that’s doing TM on Saturday. He tried to convince me and a couple of other runners to join him, but we all declined. I’d personally rather try to run fast than try to do obstacles. I also have limited time to train and would need to train pretty strenuously to be able to do the obstacles because I have no upper body strength. That said, I think that TM is a pretty cool idea and am excited to hear about his experience.

    Something funny to me is that 4 months ago, when he was trying to get me to sign on, he was very “rah rah” and “everyone can do it!” When I talked to him last week, he was a lot more subdued and a little more anxious about it. I reminded him of what he’d said months ago, and he told me it was a lot easier to be gung ho when it was so far away!

  6. So I’m training for a first time tm and also a 5 k in a month. The tm is in august and its Feb 1 so I got weeks of training left. I’m doing p90x and running four to five miles three times a week. The course is 12 miles though. Should I be doing hill training or is running though fields good enough?

    1. Generally speaking, it is always a good idea in my opinion to get hill training in as it makes you stronger. For this race, whether you *need* to really depends on your course. When I did it, we ran up and down a ski mountain several times in the first 5 miles, so hill training would have been very helpful. Good luck and have fun!

  7. Hey,

    The idea of Tough Mudder sounds so amazing. I live in London and I want to sign up for my closest one next year. But before I even get to think about signing up, I’m having surgery on my back. I haven’t been able to exercise at all, let alone think about training for TM in ages. The surgeon expects me to make a 100% recovery after the operation which is excellent news and if so, I will be literally starting from scratch training wise. I’ve lost the past 6 months of my life to this injury. I was reasonably fit before. I played sport at uni, went to the gym a lot and could run pretty far (for me) but I’ve never trained for anything like a race/obstacle endurance death run before. If I was starting training from before I injured my back I think I would be in pretty reasonable condition to train and get stuck in with TM but now it is a different story! I’m just going to have to work my ass off just to get back to how I was before.

    Do you have any advice? I know all I can do is just go hard out and not expect any miracles for this year but mentally, is there a good way to prepare for Tough Mudder? Or anything I should start training towards that I can build on in preparation? I’m hopefully going to run it with my boyfriend and some friends but we will see. If I can’t next year then it will be the year after. I’m so determined to do it!

    1. Esme – best wishes for your upcoming back surgery! I hope you back to 100% soon. Tough mudder was a lot of fun, but after I finished, I swore if I ever did it again I would train for it. I think the best training would be running for the endurance + cross fit or other similar type of program. Many of the obstacles require a lot of strength and I think Cross Fit would be perfect.

      Take care and be strong!

  8. Thank you so much. Fingers crossed. I have no idea how I will feel after the surgery and after recovery so hopefully I can get back to normal again 🙂

  9. Hi there, Really enjoyed reading your guide. I have a question if I may. I signed up to a Tough Mudder with a group from work which is being held this weekend. My training focussed on running only as I was targeting towards a half marathon (which I did just over 1 week ago). I haven’t done any upper body/strength training. Is this completely unrealistic?

    I’m not feeling comfortable about doing it – most of the rest of the group are fit and strong with some being the opposite to me – strength training but little running. The general consensus in the group is for me to do it anyway but I’m afraid I’ve really underestimated how much work is required and that I’ll really not enjoy it.

    What is your sense on this??


    1. Claire – congrats on signing up! I think you’ll be fine. Once you finish, you’ll no doubt vow if you do it again you’ll do more strength training in prep (like I did!), but you can make it through. Most of the obstacles that require upper body strength (like the 12 foot walls and half pipe) can be done with help from your teammates. In fact, much of the fun in my opinion is working with the team. You are on your own with the monkey bars – but just give it a try. You may surprise yourself. And if you fall – no big deal – you certainly won’t be the only one. And don’t underestimate the running. When I did it much of it was up and down a ski mountain. Some of my teammates were toasted from the running part. So I don’t think you’ll feel like a weak link. Have fun!

  10. Thanks for a great, reassuring post on your TM experience! I’ve run numerous traditional road races, but 5/31/2014 in Dover, VT is the first mud run I’ve ever signed up for. My team is small… and I’m the only woman on it… but I’m even more excited after reading your thoughts 🙂

  11. i am doing my first tm in 13 days. due to unforseen circumstances i have not been able to run. it;s a long story. after returning to the country i had a fever for 8 days and started to train again (kick box. tae kwon do) last week. reinjured my neck and here i am… even tho i havne’t been training for the past 5-6 weeks i am in good shape. i am planning on doing the tm no matter what (i have to as part of my black belt test) and am planning on just doing the best that i can under the circumtances and am telling myself i am going to just have fun. all that being said what do you recommend for the next 13 days?? run/hike/work on upper body strength?? btw i have never been a runner per say.

    1. Let me start by saying I think it is totally bad ass that you are doing TM and earning your black belt! Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot you can do in 13 days to improve your fitness. I’d just stay active so that the event is not a shock to the system. It will no doubt take over 2 hours – so walk a lot, do some runs, keep doing upper body work – but don’t go crazy on any of the above as it will cause more fatigue than strength at this point. I’d also be honest with your teammates so they know what to expect. Then get out there and have a blast. Oh, and report back to us how it goes!

  12. Wow! I want to do this but have never been a runner. It sounds terrifying….yet I feel if I don’t do it, I’ll regret it.