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Tough Mudder: Getting Serious – The Training

In week two, Associate Editor Kristen Haney shares her favorite places to train for the Northstar Tough Mudder course, along with tips and other local options for each.

It’s a little less than a month until the Tough Mudder at Northstar, and I still have some work to do. Okay, a lot of work to do, and I’m trying not to freak out. The course tops out at an elevation of 8,600 feet (more than twice the height of Mt. Diablo), features extreme hills (rumor has it I’ll be climbing one of Northstar’s actual ski slopes), and specializes in obstacles meant to test British Special Forces, AKA guys a million times tougher than me.


I’d love to pretend I’ve spent the past six months running through drills and hiking difficult slopes in preparation, but life seems to have gotten in the way of my good intentions about training well in advance for Tough Mudder. There’s no way you can get me out of bed before 7 a.m. unless I’m on assignment, and after-work obligations kill my motivation to hit the weights as the clock creeps up. But it’s not fair to say I haven’t done anything, and as I ramp up this final leg of training, I’m thankful I’ve stuck with the following workouts over the last few months:



Sure, it helps if you can do a pull-up or swing your body across monkey bars, but an important thing to remember is that Tough Mudder is an eleven-mile course: You’re going to be doing some running. Organizers recommend you be able to run five miles straight, and they don’t mean on the treadmill. I’ve adopted the Lafayette Reservoir as my training ground. The 2.7-mile paved course has enough mild hills to prove challenging as I work on making it around twice, but the real test comes from the Reservoir’s Rim Trail. The unpaved fire road, although just under five miles, is a constant up and down of steep hills and loose dirt. Many runners encounter calf cramps during the Tough Mudder, so I’m making sure I practice running down the hills as well as up. website.

Keep in mind: the coin-operated parking meters only take quarters, and the lot fills up on the weekends and during peak hours, when strollers and slowly moving groups clog the popular paved trail. You can pay $6 to park for the day, or leave your car at street parking and hike up. You can also access the Rim Trail from the west end of Paseo Grande in Moraga (near the end of Campolindo Drive).

Other options: Check out ebparks.org for more park trails and maps. Trails.com also has a handy map of local trail runs and their mileages. I hike the trails in Tilden to change things up.


Looking over the Tough Mudder boot camps, I noticed that a lot of the exercises were similar to the ones in the classes at LA Boxing. In addition to drills on form and actually hitting the bag, we do explosive lunges, quick feet drills, sit ups, and “army crawls,” where you use your arms to move forward as you literally drag your legs behind you. The hour-long classes keep you constantly moving, with breaks from the bag filled with bodyweight exercises. I stick with the strictly boxing classes to save my knees, but you can opt for kickboxing to give your legs some time on the bag. By the end of the workout my shoulders are burning, I’m drenched in sweat, and the thought of another pushup makes me shudder. laboxing.com/walnutcreek.

Keep in mind: Like most gyms, the after-work classes fill up most quickly, and you may end up sharing a bag. You’ll need boxing gloves and wraps, which you can buy on site. Lastly, the classes are pretty strenuous. Expect to burn 800–1,000 calories and work. Hard.

Other options: UFC Gym in Concord has a strong boxing emphasis, and most local gyms offer a few kickboxing classes a week. You can also check out martial arts studios for boxing options.


Reading the Tough Mudder boards, I found that most people do CrossFit to prepare for the course. CrossFit focuses on “functional movement,” that you (or more likely, your ancestors) would do in the real world. I went to Diablo CrossFit in Pleasant Hill and loved it. I was particularly drawn to the workouts of the day, or WODs, which are fairly short (but hard!) circuits that can include anything from jumping rope to throwing sandbags to handstand pushups, usually as many rounds as you can complete before time runs out.

I highly recommend the classes for training for obstacles you can’t replicate in the gym, such as rope climbs, but the allure of the free gym at my apartment complex proved too much, and I ditched the high monthly fee. Sometimes I look longingly at the WOD posts on Diablo CrossFit’s website, waiting for the day money rains out of the sky upon me, but with new gear and running shoes to purchase, I’m saving where I can. diablocrossfit.com.

Keep in mind: Most CrossFit gyms require some classes on the basics before they let you loose on the equipment. I took four “Elements” classes at Diablo CrossFit before joining the rest of the group, but some gyms require as many as six.

Other options: These days, it seems like there are new CrossFit gyms popping up everywhere. Lamorinda CrossFit (Lafayette) Crossfit 580 (Livermore), Crossfit Pleasanton (Pleasanton), Crossfit Drive (San Ramon), CrossFit Sweat Shop (Walnut Creek) are a few of the most popular.

Bootcamp (Gumsaba)

I first discovered Gumsaba at 5 a.m., when I was out with Michelle Brown and a strong group of ladies at a local high school, running through fitness drills hours before I’m usually out of bed. While I lack the dedication to make those early morning workouts a routine, one Sunday morning I joined Gumsaba’s coed training group that trains specifically for Tough Mudder. We powered uphill with sandbags, practiced balance drills on wooden balance beams, and climbed ropes hanging from trees. I haven’t been able to make another training, but word on the street is they practiced running after a dip in the pool—fully clothed. gumsaba.com.

Keep in mind: You’re going to want to buy some of your Tough Mudder gear ahead of time. I picked up trail running shoes before I joined the Gumsaba group, and the participants been testing the clothing they’ll wear for the Tahoe race.

Other options: Gumsaba was voted Best Bootcamp in the East Bay by Diablo readers and has classes in both Danville and Walnut Creek, but you can create your own workout at home using Tough Mudder’s three different boot camp suggestions. Local gyms such as ClubSport and 24 Hour Fitness also offer morning boot camp classes throughout the week.


How do you like to train? Discover any killer workouts you want to share? Let me know in the comments, and check back next week when I tackle tips for staying motivated.


Check back at diablomag.com/toughmudder each Friday until September 22 for the latest installment of Kristen's Tough Mudder blog, and share your fitness tips and tricks with her at khaney@maildiablo.com. Check out the first week, Tough Mudder 101, and week three, Finding Motivation. Check back at diablomag.com/toughmudder for the lastest updates.