Training for a Tough Mudder in New York City

Here in NYC we may not be accustomed to sprinting through the woods, scaling 12-foot walls, or braving weekend events that involve mud, blood and ice baths. I certainly wasn't before I trained for my first Tough Mudder.
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Here in New York we may not be accustomed to sprinting through the woods, scaling 12-foot walls, or braving weekend events that involve mud, blood and ice baths. I certainly wasn't before I trained for my first Tough Mudder.

Designed by the British Special Forces to test strength and stamina, Tough Mudder is said to be one of the most difficult endurance events on the planet. Only 78 percent of participants successfully complete the obstacle-ridden 10 to 12-mile course, which is a low rate compared to other events like marathons and triathlons.

The Tri-State Tough Mudder at Raceway Park in New Jersey is just a couple weeks away, so we're down to the wire in terms of getting ready. Everyone on my team is from the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department. For most, it's their first Mudder, but the hodge-podge group of 17 -- male and female, aged 25 to 55, physical therapists, technicians and staff -- are psyched to take on the course.

I ran my first Tough Mudder this past April. That Saturday, several participants broke a leg while attempting to cross a strip of butter-greased monkey bars up and down an incline. There were also "Electroshock Therapy" and "Fire Walker" obstacles, and a "mystery" event that turned out to be jumping into a tub of ice water after eating a habanero pepper.

While the Tough Mudder includes quite a few crazy daredevil events, it is also a strenuous athletic challenge, so I've been training for my second one basically since I crossed the finish line in April. Many people ask me how I train for an event like this while living in a packed city that bears little resemblance to the Tough Mudder course. As a baseline, I run two to three times (15 miles) per week and weight train at least twice a week. To get experienced with the hills that I'll be seeing in the November race, I am in Central Park almost every day.

I usually start warming up in the area known as The Ramble and Lake, which gives me some of the most rugged terrain in the park. After jogging to the Boat House, I make sure to incorporate inclined running into my routine by sprinting up "cat hill." At the 96th Street park entrance, there are benches that are perfect for box jumps, a plyometric exercise designed to train the leg muscles to produce fast, explosive movements. These help prepare me for the activities in the Mudder that require short, quick bursts of power and strength, such as wall climbing and pushing and pulling teammates.

To incorporate distance running during the week, I'll run the six miles down to the East River Park near Manhattan's East Village. The run down there leaves me a little fatigued, similar to the feeling I'm going to be experiencing while doing the Tough Mudder.

Along with great views of the East River and Brooklyn, this park has a track and lots of gym equipment, like dip bars, pull-up bars and climbing bars. This is where I've been working on my overhead strength for obstacles like the inclined monkey bars and climbing over 12-foot-high "Berlin Walls."

I'll do circuits incorporating everything the park has to offer: 100-meter sprints on the track, dips, pull-ups and push-ups. Repeat six times.

A lot of this training is not just so I can perform well on my team, but also so I'm in the best position to avoid injuries such as torn ACLs, sprained ankles and even broken legs. After my first Tough Mudder, I was lucky that I was not injured, especially since the race incorporated so much upper-body strength, which I felt a bit unprepared for.

As the date approaches, teammates are realizing certain areas in which they could have trained harder. However, it's important for us not to try anything new in our training regimen when we're just weeks away from the event. I may stay awake all night worrying about race day (obstacles like the "Fire Walker" in particular), but a good night's sleep -- especially the few days before the event -- is imperative.

Inevitably, my team will wake up on Mudder Day, excited, nervous, and perhaps even giddy. This is where we'll have to stay on the ball -- eat a full breakfast, keep hydrated (including the days before) and dress for chilly, wet and rough conditions.

Much of the fun of Tough Mudder is about teamwork, seeing each other through each challenge, and crossing the finish line together. Just as I will be relying on my teammates, they'll be relying on me. See you out there!

Michael Silverman, MSPT, is a physical therapist in the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

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