I can picture it now… The Tough Mudder team is held up in a room trying to figure out what kind of event they can come up with to both bring together their most devout followers from the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) Community as well as possibly entice the average Joe racer to consider THE most epic of obstacle race down the road. If you were to create a “Baby” WTM experience what would it look like? What can we do that is more badass than a Tough Mudder and kind of resembles that 24 hour sufferfest but is something doable for most people and how do we include the most unique pieces of WTM so that we have a totally different event that people want to both participate in as well as interesting to watch on TV? Well you need to have this event go for a long distance or time in order to elicit a similar effect as WTM. You also have to have that unique component of darkness so it’s going to have to be at night. Lastly, we need to make sure we up the ante on the obstacles because those are our staple! Throw all of those things together and you come up with…Toughest Mudder?!?! While the name may not be all that original, the events are and I think they will bring a whole new experience to the sport of OCR!
Ok so now we have this awesome new event that’s going to attract a lot of new people to our sport but if these virgins step into these races without proper education then what you could end up with is a train wreck of athletes who show up ill-equipped and unprepared for what lies ahead of them. Such was the case after WTM moved to Vegas where this race was basically a new environment to everyone. In order to avoid issues that could occur from confusion for what will be necessary in the seemingly warmer environment of the Nevada dessert like the often asked question “do I need a wetsuit?” World’s Toughest Mudder Facebook Community Admin, Keith Allen, came up with the idea that maybe I should write both a Nutrition and Thermoregulation Hack to help people prep for WTM. I feel that these have a been a great help to many a competitor so when I heard about some of the difficulties after the premier of the Toughest Mudder series I figured this series needed its own “manual” so-to-speak. The following is more of a guide than it is an article and it is based on my five years of experience at WTM as well as my varied knowledge from within the sport of OCR since I began my involvement back in 2010. When necessary, I have also sought out input from others in the field whom I respect and I feel can add some valuable information. There are many ways to approach a race such as Toughest Mudder but it’s my hope that this piece will be a reference and at least help guide you as to how you might take on Toughest Mudder.
Toughest Mudder is NOT WTM!
For those who have participated in WTM and are now doing a Toughest Mudder, let’s get something straight right off the bat. You pretty much cannot approach these two events the same at all. Your pre-race prep, gear selection, nutrition, and most of all your racing pace/ tactics will pretty much be entirely different. Sure, you will most likely have everything that you need but how you utilize the gear and your race experiences will only slightly resemble WTM. I will try to break things down as best I can so you can be ready for what you will face at Toughest. Remember, for many participants WTM is more of the ultimate sufferfest. Toughest Mudder, on the other hand, is a full-fledged OCR!
Another key thing to realize about Toughest Mudder versus WTM is the difference in the environmental stresses between the two races. One of the most difficult aspects of WTM is the thermoregulation issues that can go on with each participant. The human body can adjust to being too warm; the body can also adjust to the cold. However, when you ask your body to quickly switch from being warm to being cold all while you are fighting overall fatigue it can sometimes mean flirting with a medical DQ due to hypothermia. God help you if you make the mistake of going from overheating in a wetsuit to actually removing that wetsuit rather than just venting it or taking it down. This will, most certainly, not end well as the body is now in “heat loss mode” and before it can readjust you will be hypothermic which at WTM often means your race is over. The Toughest Mudder races are different because you will start the race at night when the temps have already dropped. Therefore you will start cold and since the race ends not long after sunrise there will not be much change in temperatures overall. This means you will most likely never need a wholesale gear change, but only slight changes which will help out immensely. This is why having flexibility in your gear is much more important at these events but I will go more into this in the “Gear” section below.
APPROACH TO RACING
Race Day Prep: Toughest Mudder starts at 12am. Pretty much no participant is used to this. Most of us race early in the morning and even WTM started at noon in 2016. With this night start you have to be careful how you approach your daily nutrition as the wrong choice of a food that is difficult to digest during the latter half of the day could land you in the Port-a-Potty early in the race. To avoid this scenario you might want to consider flipping your daily diet upside down so that you are eating your typical pre-race foods closer to the event.
I would also plan on getting to the event location as early as TMHQ will allow you (9pm?). Remember that this event is new to Tough Mudder as well so expect things to go a little rocky for the time-being. Getting there early will also allow you a better staging area for your food and gear.
Remember this is an eight hour event so you should be able to run a lot of this race. Three time WTM champ and winner of the inaugural Toughest Mudder race, Ryan Atkins, actually recommends your pace for Toughest be “comfortably uncomfortable.” This is basically what exercise scientists call a high Zone 3/ low Zone 4 on the Heart Rate Zone scale. For a simple general calculation for using your heart rate (HR) to pace you can use this formula:
(180-your age) + 5 to 10 = Heart Rate Goal in beats/min for the race
This type of pacing should allow you to run a lot and keep you moving as long as you are taking in the proper nutrition. Ryan told me that he thinks your best bet is to “shoot for even splits for your lap times.” Combining your monitoring of your HR and checking your lap times should keep you going at a decent clip and allow you to properly gauge whether you will reach you distance goal for this event.
One of the other major differences between WTM and Toughest Mudder is the “pit” area… or lack thereof at Toughest. The pit station we have become accustomed to at WTM has been reduced to a small area inside a tent within the festival area. This tent also serves as the participant gear tent for the regular Tough Mudder so this all sounds like a major pain in the you know what. Given the fact that this is actually off of the course tells me you need to plan on making limited trips to this stage area. If you have a pit crew then have a list prepared for him/her ahead of time so that person knows what to bring you and have him/her meet you at the proper spot to hand off your gear and nutrition. This will greatly speed the process and decrease the congestion in the staging test. I plan on using my Hydration pack to carry enough nutrition so that I will only need to pit after every other lap.
Depending on the location of the Toughest race, you could springtime rainy weather, summer time warm weather, or a feeling of nip in the mountain air of Whistler. My recommendation is to maybe not bring ALL of your gear…but bring more than you think you will need. It’s better to have it and not use it than to wish you would have brought something. If you are purchasing gear for these events I am a big fan of versatility. The more ways you can use an item then more value it will bring to you. As an example, there is pretty much no point in having a 5mm full wetsuit for a Toughest Mudder unless you plan on walking the entire thing on a cool night. A good plan is to have clothing that you can vent or partially remove should you get hot or if there is a portion of the course where you remain dry and don’t need the extra insulation. Items such as a quick drying windbreaker, possibly a front zip short wetsuit, and a Neptune Thermoregulation System all allow you to use them in a variety of temperatures and in a variety of ways to provide you a lot of flexibility during a lap to make sure that you stay comfortable. The Neptune allows you add chemical body warmers (you can choose how many you need based on the environmental exposure of the event) and easily wear a jacket over it to help keep you covered. Should you get hot you simply open your jacket to vent the heat. Worst case scenario you can dump the body warmers mid lap. Another item that is recommended by WTM vet Keith Allen is the Hyperflex 50/50 Polyolefin Top. “This shirt/vest can be layered over the top of a base layer to help keep you warm during the coldest portions of the race and then quickly removed between laps should you get too warm or it can be worn by itself depending on your needs.” The one downside is that this top cannot be vented so you still risk overheating mid-lap but at least it can be quickly removed in between laps if necessary.
Certain items can present issues based on their design. The problem with using something like Frogskins is it cannot be vented nor easily removed. In fact, Battlegrounds Battle Corps racer and WTM vet, Leah Hensley, told me “I wore my Frogskins during one of the races at the 2016 OCRWC and one of the biggest issues was the lack of venting and how freaking hard it is to get on and off. It’s so damn tight you can’t even lift the shirt to get air in to vent it!”
The point of reviewing this information is to understand how your plan to use your gear to keep you moving at the fastest pace possible. I have listed some of the items that I recommend you have for this event as well as some that I don’t recommend below. This is not a complete gear list by any means but it’s a start!
- Short wetsuit
- Quick drying windbreaker
- Black Diamond Headlamp and a back up
- 2 Strobe lights
- Swim cap or hood
- Neptune Thermoregulation System
- Change of socks
- Hydration pack
- Trail Toes foot lubricant and Body Glide
- Flip Belt to carry smaller items
- Full wetsuit over 3mm
- Frogskins Top
- Insulated clothing of any kind that will hold excess water
- Gloves (they usually don’t improve your grip)… and they make dry obstacles wet! L
- Neoprene socks (these won’t insulate your feet as well as Medium weight Smartwool socks will)
- Sunscreen… The race is at night!!!
The old saying goes “you are what you eat.” In regards to racing, what you eat before and during an event can definitely determine whether you have a good race or a bad one. The key thing to understand when it comes to race nutrition is that you must find what works for you. This means it’s a good idea to trial and error, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider what “Science” says as well when considering what and when you should be consuming your nutrition! J
Research shows that the average endurance athlete can absorb about 200-350 calories/ hour while exercising (assuming they practice eating while training). If you are following the guidelines of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this will equate to 40-50 gr of carbs, 10 gr of protein and 5 or so gr of fat (about the content of a Cliff Bar) per hour. The fact that these events are only 8 hours versus the 24 hours at WTM means you can get away with eating less but I would still use this as a goal for each lap. I also recommend at least some of this food be taken in during the lap and then loading up in the staging area.
Some key points to remember prior to the event:
- Start carb loading about 5 days before the event. Take in a 30-50% more carbs that you have been eating. I even utilize a carb depletion phases during training to allow my body to adjust to fueling in this state. I do this again starting about 13 days out and then at 5 days I start loading.
- On the day prior to the event make sure that you eat a lot of carbs while limiting your excess fat at every meal. Please be careful on the portions on both Friday and Saturday during the day prior to the event. The last thing you want is to miss-time your bowel movements and have to hit the head during the event. You also want to up your electrolyte content on the day prior to the race since the Sodium/Potassium pump system has a correction period of about 18 hours. The morning of the event should include a high carb and low fat meal. Fat not only slows the absorption of the meal, but it also can cause gastric distress during exercise leading to “the trots.” Fat, however, is not the only culprit of digestive issues during exercise. Keep in mind that single source sugar can also cause problems so try not to eat too much fructose or sucrose at one time before nor during the race. This is the reason that products like Gatorade and Tailwind utilize two forms of sugar in their products. Another thing to consider is the fact this event starts in what is basically the middle of the night will throw most people off so I think you might almost be better off flipping your meals on the Saturday of the race. For example, my dinner (with my usual race day breakfast foods) will be around 8pm. Then I will have a Clif Bar around 10pm and my 32 oz of Gatorade from 11pm-12am when the race begins. This is the same routine as my normal race morning.
Keep in mind, you must eat and drink constantly throughout the event in order to keep fueled. If you wait until you are hungry or thirty to replenish then you have already failed!!! It takes a minimum of about 18-24 hours to replenish your muscle glycogen stores after strenuous exercise much less while you are still moving when your digestion isn’t all that efficient during exercise.
Some key nutrition/hydration points during the race:
- I suggest having an electrolyte drink either in your hydration pack or at least as your main source of fluids in the pit. Liquids absorb quickly so this will help you immensely. Tailwind seems to be the most highly recommended for this purpose. During the pit stops, have a plan with about what you need to eat so you get enough calories. You will get less hungry as you become more tired. This is a natural effect as your body is trying to conserve digestion energy to keep you moving figuring that you will eventually stop to fuel but as endurance athletes we can’t stop moving. You simply have to keep eating! Again, this is where calorically dense foods and engineered foods help you get in those calories.
- Due to the higher level of intensity during this event versus WTM it will be much more difficult for your digestive system to do its job. This is the reason most ultra distance runners resort to liquid only nutrition such as Tailwind. I recommend that Toughest Mudder participants limit their “real food” intake to avoid the increased possibility of having issues. Instead, I believe it is more prudent to rely on “engineered” foods because these supplements will not only be easier to digest and provide less bulk but they are also easier to carry and faster to ingest. I will include a list of recommend types of nutrition at the end of this section.
- As far as hydration goes, your body needs about 8 oz of water every 15 minutes (1 liter per hour) during exercise. The easiest way to ensure you get this is to have a hydration pack but as long as you drink when you can then you will be fine. I drank about 35 oz per lap (14 laps in 25 hours) last year at WTM and my level was spot on for me. A great gauge on this is how often you urinate. If you are doing so once a lap then cut back on the fluids. If it’s like once in the first three hours then you want to pick up the pace!
- Liquid Options
- Hammer Nutrition
- Endurox R4
- AccelGels/ GU/ Boom
- Clif Blocks/ Gatorade Chews/ Sport Beans
- Apple Sauce/ Fruit Sauces
- Energy Bars
- Clif Bars/ Powerbars/ Complete Protein Cookies
- Granola Bars/ Nutrigrain Bars/ Snickers Bar
- Other options
- Beef jerky
- Pickles/ Pickle Juice/ Pickle Juice pops
- Mustard Packets
- Hammer Salt Tabs
- Hammer Perpetuem Solids
- Stimulants- Cellucor/ caffeine pills/ Monster/ Red Bull
Remember that every person is different in how they like to approach a race. This guide represents a coherent approach toward tackling Toughest Mudder. Take this collection of information and use it as a base to develop a plan of attack as you prepare for the Toughest Mudder events. It is my goal to help prepare you so that you can give your best effort out there when the rubber hits the road… or trail in this instance.
Good luck and Godspeed!