Tough Mudder Training: “Walk the Plank”

Walk the PlankWhenever people ask me about Tough Mudder training, their curiosity is most intense about preparing for two obstacles, the “Electric Shock” and “Walk the Plank“. This week, I’m going to cover preparing for the infamous Tough Mudder Walk the Plank, one of the most feared mud run obstacles.

This obstacle is for the true mud run maniac. Before I get into how I prepped for this one, let me just tell you a bit about my first Tough Mudder Walk the Plank experience in 2010’s Tri-State Tough Mudder. By the time my team and I arrived at this obstacle, we had already jumped in and out of water several times. We were soaked and freezing. The temperature that day was in the upper 30’s and the water temperature was a balmy 38 degrees. We were in the first (9am) run on Sunday, so when we arrived at the foot of the “planks”, there was hardly any wait. This was probably better, as there was less time to think. We split into two teams of two and climbed the ropes to the top the planks. I remember looking out to the other side of the lake, which seemed like it was miles away.

It seriously looked like a scene from the movie Titanic.

I think we were about 12 or 15 feet above the surface of the water, but fearing heights just a bit, to me it felt much higher. As I looked down, I could see fellow mudders below scratching and clawing in their attempts to swim, their breath freezing in mid-air, some stuck in a state of shock due to the frigid temperature of the water, others being pulled out by the rescue team. It seriously looked like a scene from the movie Titanic. We had not trained for this!

But this is why we chose Tough Mudder, to conquer our fears! We jumped in, one after another. As I hit the water, I felt like I ripped through a sheet of glass. I plunged deep into the lake, never hitting bottom and immediately started to panic and rush to the top through the brown murky substance. By the time I reached the top, I was exhausted, my testicles felt like they were in my stomach, I could barely move my arms and legs, and catching my breath seemed impossible. Not a very good swimmer, I was in serious panic. My teammate popped out from the surface in a state of shock and we basically held hands as we tried to swim to the shallow end of the lake. After barely making it across the lake, we were forced to duck dive under four rows of barrels. We made it, kissed the muddy shore, and reflected for a minute on our near-death-defying experience.

What I learned…Simulate the mud running conditions.
More often than not, Tough Mudder training involves unconventional methods. Sometimes to train for a serious mud run, you just need to get down and dirty.

  1. Train in the clothes you will wear on race day. When you go out for your Tough Mudder training runs, don’t bundle up in six layers and a wooly hat. Put on your spandex, Under Armour, Vibrams, gloves and get out there. There’s nothing worse than getting out of your comfort zone without having ever been out of your comfort zone before.
  2. Train in the elements. Run in the rain, wind, hot summer sun, etc. Don’t wait for a nice day to run, because your Tough Mudder will go on rain or shine!
  3. Run in the sand or mud. If you live close to the beach, run a mile or two in the sand at least one or two days a week. If you don’t live near a beach, find yourself a nice off-road trail, with changes in elevation and get moving. If all else fails, get on the treadmill and frequently change the elevation as you run. Remember, simulate your mud running conditions!
  4. Jump in the water! For your next Tough Mudder training run, get into your gear and run to the nearest ocean, lake or mud puddle and jump in. Be sure to do this at the halfway point of your run so you can run back to your car or home soaking wet. This was probably the most effective training method I used to beat the Tough Mudder Walk the Plank the second time around.
  5. Scream! As you leap off the plank, remember to scream and continue to scream as you plunge into the water. This will prevent you from swallowing icy mud water down your throat. For real – this works!
  6. Before you try to swim, get your bearings first. One of the worst things I did in my first Tough Mudder Walk the Plank was hit the water, panic and flail my paws like Marmaduke in a swimming pool. By doing this, I accomplished two things: I tired myself out immediately and I made myself panic more because flailing did nothing to improve my position. I suggest jumping feet first with your arms in the air or folded across your chest. Jump straight down and when you feel your body slowing up toward the bottom, give one or two big swim strokes to shoot yourself up until your bobbing above water. Take a second or two to gain your composure, then start swimming.
  7. Stay calm. Remember, there are rescue personnel surrounding you. The deepest part of the water is about 12-15 feet. You are with your teammates and hundreds of fellow mud run maniacs. You will be OK. Do what you can to enter this mindset before you hit the water.
  8. Help out your fellow mudders. The best part about being a mud run maniac is the camaraderie. Once you feel safe again as you near the shoreline, look behind you to see if you can help out a mudder or two. It’s a great feeling to beat an obstacle like the Tough Mudder Walk the Plank. It’s an even better feeling to help a few mud run maniacs along the way.

Mud Run Maniac wants to hear from you! Do you agree/disagree with these Tough Mudder training methods and tips? What Tough Mudder training tips do you suggest for this anxiety causing obstacle? What other mud run topics interest you?

11 comments… add one
  • i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it.

    • admin

      Hi Jigglypuff! (My wife tells me that’s a Pokemon character :)) Thanks for checking out the site and leaving feedback. We’re still in our early stages, but stay tuned for a lot more awesome content on mud running!
      All the best,
      Paul

  • Dave

    Nice post Paul, sounds like the water was just as warm at your TM as it was in VT where I ran last May. I agree with training for the worst possible conditions – if you’re going to meow out and stay inside instead of running when it’s raining a little bit, how do you expect yourself to go out and tackle that course?

    Side note: I would consider enabling akismet on your blog, you’ll find it in the WP admin tools. Pretty sure every one of the above comments was spam (but it’s nice you replied to them anyway! ;))

    • Hi Dave…It actually took me a few times before I was able to gather myself and take my first mud run training plunge into the ocean, but it really made a big difference. Getting adjusted a bit to the shock of the freezing cold water was just what I needed to keep me from panicking during the real thing at Tough Mudder. We missed Vermont, but I heard it was killer! We are looking to get up there for the next one. Thanks for your comments and the tips on akismet…I guess I’m learning the hard way about these darn spammers!

      Keep Mudding!
      -Paul

  • charlie

    Loved the blog. I fear the plank the most. Will be running in kentucky 2013 not ready this year

    • Hey Charlie,
      I feared the plank too my first couple times. But once you take the plunge you realize just how exhilarating the whole experience is. Now the plank is one of the many reasons I’m a Tough Mudder addict. When you get to the top take a big breath, say a quick “thanks” to the guy in the sky and leap out with a big “Hell Yeah!” you’ll love it, promise.

      Cheers! And best of luck in Kentucky.
      -Paul

      • I just tried my first tough mudder Arizona 2013. I feared ” Walk the Plank” obstacle. Im so afraid of heights. The day of the race, i was prepared for the run, for the mud, for the electric shocks. But i was still afraid of jumping. I went up the obstacle. and froze PANIC PANIC. My family was there , everyone kept yelling JUMP!! ANd i just couldnt. I feel like such a failure inside. I was told either jump or they were gonna push me. I begged them not to push me, so i got back down :(. I need to try and train for next year. ANy advice

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