There Will Be Mud.
Are races that include fire, ice and barbed wire the future of fitness?
By MH Staff - Posted on 9th June 2013
There Will Be Mud.
1 It makes exercise fun and functional
You don’t need to pound the pavement or jump on a spinning bike – it’s all an outdoors based adventure with fitness benefits. “It's no longer about just being able to run in a straight line or showing you can get a big chest,” says Will Dean, founder of the Tough Mudder series fo mud runs. These runs are all about functional fitness, and the only real way to prepare for these races is to do proper cross-training and smart movement-based exercises. The real success lies in the fact that it makes training fun. Entrants dress up (the MH team saw a whole contingent of Smurfs at their Impi mud run debut), grow weird facial hair and cover faces with body paint. “These races reactivate a childlike joy, rather than a primal pleasure,” says Greyling Viljoen, clinical and performance psychologist. “It gives you permission or official sanction to play, to dress up, get dirty and tackle obstacles with friends.” As a nation, we love the outdoors, and combining adventure with training in this way provides the perfect fitness formula. The lesson here is simple: if you have to force yourself to train, you won’t stick to the programme.
2 You press the restart button on your brain.
You do most of your mental growth and learning when you’re a youngster, and then slow down as you collect birthday candles. “Your early development phase is the biggest one in terms of learning and improvement,” says Viljoen. “It’s where you do most of your exploring and experiencing – it’s where you’re challenged in different dimensions.” The problem here is that as you get older you do less of this self-challenging stuff, and as a result, your growth slows down markedly. “These kind of races can reactivate this mode of growth. It’s experiential learning at it’s best,” explains Viljoen. So, when you climb over walls, jump over flaming hay bales and crawl through tunnels, you’re able to reboot the learning, exploring parts of your grey matter, and take on real-life obstacles more confidently. “Most other extreme endurance races are one dimensional, like Comrades and Ironman,” describes Viljoen. “They are also self-challenging, but not in as many ways as mud runs where you’re challenged by both mental and physical obstacles.” This double whammy means you rack up the benefits. “The races can have a transferable effect (or a spillover effect) where you’re challenge conquering helps you to be more confident in handling other problems in day-to-day life,” says Viljoen. The positive memories you associate with the race, and the sense of achievement also means you’ll return for more, making it a cycle of improvement and confidence-building.
3 It mixes fear with pleasure.
Mud runs are sold on their toughness. Competitors brag about death waivers and compare various obstacles, and the timed challenges are like catnip for type-A personalities who like to compete. That’s not where it ends though, as the untimed versions of the mud runs also offer the same experience for people of all types of fitness. “The element of danger is a big part of the attraction, and it can be seen in other activities like shark cage diving and sky diving,” says Pieter Du Plessis, ex-paratrooper, Camel Trophy winner, and course builder for the Impi Challenge. “But the danger should be within limits as obviously safety is paramount to the participants and the longevity of the sport.” That’s where these mud run organisers excel, as even though these obstacles seem very intense, they’re strictly tested and monitored. “There is an element of perceived risk, but actually there’s very little risk in most cases,” explains Viljoen. “Overcoming a fear of heights, claustrophobia or even swimming with heavy, mud-packed clothes – everyone can find something to be proud of overcoming.”
4 You go to war
“There is a strong parallel with war in mud runs, as both provide the same kind of adventure, but with the mud runs it’s without someone getting hurt or killed,” says Viljoen. Also, the obstacles are similar to the ones experienced by soldiers in army boot camps, and military men (Paratroopers, Special Forces, Marines) are used to design the courses. All of these factors combine so that the actual experience of mud runs feels like combat. The hardcore obstacles and tough conditions mean entrants are always comparing their experiences. “The more people suffer in a race or mud run, the more they’ll talk about it," says du Plessis. This is coupled with the fact that once finished, you look like you’ve been through a real war, which reinforces the war parallel. The way you work as a team against some of the obstacles also links to the way soldiers work together in battle. “There’s also a benefit in the shared suffering, where you use teamwork to overcome individual limits,” says Viljoen.
5 It makes the extreme more accessible.
“There are literally hundreds of amazing ultra races around the world,” says Lisa de Speville, seasoned adventure racer, multisport athlete and creator of FEAT (Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks). Most of those races are stage races, occurring over a few days. “The big problem with stage races is that they are very expensive – you can get in a bunch of other travelling races for one stage race,” explains de Speville. “Many races abroad are more accessible, they also have websites and they're very accommodating to foreigners.” These races are well-publicised, and there’s a number of options so the interest in these events is picking up. “It’s like trail running, it’s been around for decades overseas but only become trendy here in the last three years,” explains de Speville. Mud runs provide a cheaper, more accessible extreme adventure for people of all fitness levels. “Not all have access to high mountains, big rivers or far-flung places – creating an obstacle course brings adventure to your doorstep,” says du Plessis.
6 It’s a gateway drug for adventure.
“It’s human nature to explore and discover, but only a percentage of the population give in to this,” says de Speville. “Doing races like these is today's version of being David Livingstone or Christopher Columbus – these events capture the imagination of entrants.” These events are like stepping stones, helping you to challenge yourself further, to experience new things and get outdoors – but that’s not where the benefits end. “Doing these races probably helps them to cope with 'everyday' life of commitments, responsibilities, work and family,” says de Speville. “Deep inside a man's heart he prefers wilderness to office space and risky adventures to the couche, but making a living has made men blunt, tense and stressed out,” says Jacques Booysen, adventure racer and ultra trail runner. Booysen has cycled through Tibet, done a number of ultra trail runs and earlier this year, he did a race called Fuego y Agua in Nicaragua, a 100km trail run on two volcano's on a island in an inland lake. The race was cancelled, but he decided to do it himself anyway. The reason? “How they first described the race: ‘Fuego Y Agua Survival Run – what it is and why you wont finish’. A challenge like that speaks deeply to my heart!” says Booysen. That’s exactly what the success of the mud runs can be attributed to – it’s a challenge that speaks to anyone.
There Will Be Mud.