Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tough Mudder Obstacles

The Tough Mudder has 25 obstacles, most of which involve getting wet or muddy in some form or another.  There are those that challenge your (my) fear of heights as well as your (my)  fear of enclosed spaces.  There are others such as the 15 foot rope climb and monkey bars that require a good amount of upper body and grip strength.  And then there are those such as the maze of electrified wires that simply require one to think, "Oh, it can't be that bad . . .."

So, I finally took a look at the map of the Carolinas race and made a list of the individual obstacles.  Although these obstacles are subject to change, I have to say right off the bat, that I think its a really good idea for the race organizers to post the obstacles ahead of time.  Knowing exactly what we're getting into allows us to prepare ourselves and train intelligently.  It is much easier to prepare someone for a goal than a random challenge.  Although a random challenge may be fun from time to time, continually training to expect the unexpected wastes a lot of time and potential.  If I know I have to perform a max deadlift and throw a 28 lb weight overhead at a Highlander competition, I'm not going to waste my time trying to increase my clean and jerk or run 10 miles.  As we've discussed before, all training has a cost and you get a lot more out of your investment if you are focused on what you need and not what you think you might need.  It also allows one to relax and have fun at the competition or challenge instead of being worried about what is coming up next and having to come up with a plan on the fly. 

I don't know about y'all, but this picture scares me.  
So, that being said, here are some of the obstacles that I'll be potentially encountering on October 27th in South Carolina.  I've organized them somewhat based on what I think the main challenges will be with encountering each.

Over/under water obstacles:  (may include ice)  You either have to go through large pipes, under floating barrels, or over walls, the main challenge with these is hypothermia.  That's right, you've got to find a way to stay warm and not cramp up when you get back on the course with numb limbs.  Depending on the time of year and location of your event, maintaining your body heat should be an important consideration.  Consider neoprene elbow and knee sleeves or even a vest.  It will add weight, but keep you warm. 

Balance and core strength:  There is a balance beam, a rope bridge (literally a rope with another rope to cling to), making your way under a giant cargo net that you have to continually press overhead, and running across rocks on a river.  These all require good balance, coordination, and core strength.  Remember, your core is the center of your body and if you want to stay upright and balanced and/or coordinate upper and lower body movements, your core had better be solid.  Some overhead pressing won't hurt.

Mud trenches and over/under logs:  These will wear you out, don't underestimate them.  Constantly getting your body high and low while pushing against resistance (ie, sucking mud) uses your entire body.  These obstacles will make you more tired than anything else and that fatigue will affect your strength and endurance.  There are several of these obstacles.  Have some sugar on hand to keep you going.

Don't just practice getting across the monkey bars fast.  Go slow, hang
from both arms, hang from one arm; build that strength you'll need when
you're too fatigued to go fast.
Climbing:  There are cargo nets, walls, a rope climb, and monkey bars.  Pullups are great for upper body strength, but they aren't specific to climbing.  Use pullups to get strong, but then turn that strength into obstacle specific strength by using your upper body strength to move yourself through space by traversing monkey bars, climbing a rope, climbing a rope ladder, or even climbing a tree.  If you don't have access to anything other than a pullup bar, practice hanging from one arm at a time, walk your hands back and forth across the bar, or rotate your body by changing your hand positions.  A lot of Mudder participants wear gloves, probably not a bad idea considering some of the monkey bars are greased with butter.   

Crawling:  There are lots of low crawls under wires, some of which have electricity flowing through them.  You need to practice getting and staying low.  Bear crawls and belly crawls are good training tool, do not underestimate both the postural specific strength and hip mobility crawling requires.  This is not something you want to leave out.

Just remember, ultimately its all about teamwork and fun.
Stuff that's just scary:  Jumping off a platform 15 feet above water, running into electrified wires, partially submerged pipes, running through burning straw soaked in kerosene; at least one of these will make your adrenaline levels go through the roof and make you wonder why you came.  Just keep in mind that the race organizers are not trying to kill you, just challenge you.  And the truth is, you don't have to do it.  You won't be penalized if try your best, but decide to go around.  I can't tell you how to train for these, but if you're like me and gave birth three times, well, it doesn't get much worse than that.   

The thing to keep in mind here if you're starting to psyche yourself out is that this race is supposed to be a challenge. Its not supposed to be easy, but thats why we train for it. Its also an opportunity to work together with our teammates and the complete strangers we meet on the day of our event to complete a challenge that would be impossible to complete on our own. It will be a memorable and fun experience. Most importantly, this particular challenge also supports the Wounded Warrior project and some of those warriors will be running alongside of you and helping you along.

We're now three months out from the Carolinas Mudder and our base distance and strength training is now going to transition into obstacle specific strength and speed.  We're substituting some of our traditional strength builders with bodyweight exercises and we've added interval sprint training and longer distances to our running.  In six weeks, we'll start blending everything together and work on the transitions between strength and endurance to ensure that we fatigue less and move with more purpose on the race course.  If you want to avoid injuries caused by fatigue, practice when you are strong and fresh and don't allow yourself to push into the red zone.  Instead, increase the duration that you can sustain good form and technique while staying fast and strong.  Its easier than you might think.  It simply requires patience.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Speed Work or How-running-got-much-much-worse.

My Tough Mudder training has been going okay for the most part.  I've worked up to being able to run about ten miles a week and my pace has improved from a virtual crawl to a solid eleven minute mile.  Yes, its still laughably pathetic, but I never had much more than a nine minute mile in me.  In fact, my best 400m ever was about 1:48.  To put that into perspective, my eight year old son runs the 400 in 1:28.  Its okay, I don't care, I can do pullups, my kids think I'm really strong, and I know how to use a compass.  (That last one is kind of irrelevant to any of this, but it makes me feel smart.)

Try doing this 100 times; that's how running fast for more
than 10 seconds feels to me.  (PS, that was rhetorical,
don't ever bench press for 100 reps, that's just silly.)  
So, just when I was getting used to all this running and lifting all at the same time, I got a new set of instructions from my friend Dave.  I have to admit, it was the funniest thing I'd read in a while.  Mainly because it started out something like this:  "Power pacing intervals for cruising speed . . . blah . . . blah blah." It then went on to explain how I was going to sprint "for 50 meters or more" followed by a three minute run at a "five minute pace".  So, apparently, I'm supposed to run as fast as I can (about as far as I can run as fast as I can) and then somehow be able to continue running fast for three whole minutes.  And I'm supposed to do this three or four times.  This may not sound like a big deal to you seasoned runners, but imagine I told you to lift as much weight as you possibly could one time and then immediately lift about 75% of that weight for the next three minutes.  Its a long time, you might wish for death.  I didn't quite hit three minutes on the track Wednesday morning, but I did sprint 50m and continue to run for another 350m before realizing I was losing consciousness.

Dave's interval prescription may sound strange, but it is not actually strange or unheard of in training science.  VO2 max interval training can be used to boost one's ability to go faster and longer when used correctly in an endurance training program.  The effects happen quickly, but there isn't a lot of benefit to doing them too much if your goal is to increase your training volume over the long term.  If you use the right intensity, you shouldn't be able to do these more than twice a week, once is better.  And, you shouldn't use these unless you've reached a point in your training where you can maintain consistent form at high speeds.  It is powerful medicine and if you want to improve your ability to run long and fast, you need to execute these with perfect form.  If your form fatigues before you complete the interval, you don't have the postural strength to utilize these correctly.

Pushups.  Not my favorite, but a great builder of core
strength and endurance. 
So, now I'm supposed to do these intervals once a week in place of one of my running days AND (it gets better), transition to doing more bodyweight work, ie, dips, pullups, mountain climbers, monkey bars, etc.  As expected, after starting off this week with these programming changes, I sit here with sore calves, shoulders, arms, and my entire torso hurts when I laugh or cough.  I really hate change and it seems to hate me even more.  But, I know in a week or so, I'll adapt, I'll stop being sore, and I'll be able to bust out ring dips like I did in the old days (well, more like 3 years ago, but still, I can do them).    

***For more information on interval and endurance training, see Stephen Seiler's paper on the subject: