The Dirty Details of Adventure Racing


Published in Breathe Magazine, By Sarah Sekula

Feet in. Feet out. Feet in. Feet out. Jessica Meadows was carefully, but briskly, making her way through a field of tires in the North Carolina foothills. The fit 31-year-old had practiced it many times before. Easy enough, she thought. This would be the least of her worries. Next, a Dumpster encounter. She hoisted herself up and into the Dumpster. Fortunately, it was empty. Then up and over. And out of the Dumpster. Repeat that six times; her legs were wobbly.

Yet, onward she raced. On a quest to conquer the Warrior Dash. This, after all, was her first adventure race, and it was much more enjoyable than her 2010 marathon. For starters, other competitors were donning superhero masks, tutus and Viking costumes. Better yet, turkey legs and live music would greet her at the finish.

Then she spotted it. The dreaded rope wall. About 20 feet tall with very few foot holds. “I didn’t think about it,” she recalled. “I just grabbed the first empty rope and started climbing.” At the top she almost looked down, but her fear of heights screamed “No!”

Over the wall. Down the ladder. Meadows was nearing sweet victory, but not before the mud bog. Gingerly, she slinked in, but it was like quicksand and nearly sucked her shoes right off. She slogged through the waist-deep mud through the barbed wire and crawled her way to the finish.

Tip-Top Shape

What’s next for Meadows. The Tough Mudder, perhaps. It’s the marathon equivalent to the Warrior Dash. Or maybe the Metro Dash, a set of about 30 different tasks performed quickly.

Needless to say, the options abound, and people of all athletic levels line up in droves to participate. If you are one of those, here are ways to get in top-notch condition.

First, the amount of time you should devote to training depends on the event and your level of fitness. “If you’re a regular gymgoer and incorporate circuits, interval or metabolic training into your workouts, you should be fine for the Metro Dash,” says Taylor. “If you train this way and also have a good endurance base from regular cardio, that should prepare you for Warrior Dash.”

Again, the Tough Mudder, a 10-12-mile-long course with 16 obstacles, is a different monster. “It requires more endurance training similar to preparing for a triathlon,” Taylor says. This type of training prepares your muscles, heart and lungs to continue to perform even when you’re plum exhausted. Prepare by running at least two to three times a week. (Note: The Tough Mudder website reccomends being able to run 5 miles, which equates to 45 to 60 minutes of running for most people.)

Keep in mind, the Tough Mudder can take up to five hours to complete and may include anything from log-carrying to running through live electrical wires. If you are not in shape, you may want to start with a shorter, less challenging race. Taylor suggests training six months in advance for the Tough Mudder, three for Warrior Dash and two for the Metro Dash.

To prepare yourself for the state of exhaustion you will experience during the race, Taylor suggests two runs and two strength training sessions each week at the minimum. “If you’re not working out at least four times per week, increase the number of workouts per week and bump up the intensity by taking shorter resting periods between exercises, faster paces during your run, interval workouts, etc.”

Beyond that, focus on functional training — exercises that mimic movement patterns you experience in daily life, or in this case, during your race. “For example, it doesn’t make much sense to  do biceps curls or calf raises in preparation for the obstacles you’ll encounter during the race,” Taylor says. “More appropriate exercises would be pull-ups to help you prepare to pull yourself up and over walls, or squats to build the leg and core strength required for climbing hills and carrying objects.”

All that being said, the races are definitely challenging, mainly because people don’t get to exercise in this way very often. You may be a rockstar in the gym, but these events are all outdoors, so you must contend with the elements, too.

Ways to Get Off Your Duff

Metro Dash

Mud Warrior

Primal Mud Run

Spartan Race

Tough Mudder

Warrior Dash