Tracking and orienteering whilst running a muddy trail

tough guy runner

The question of how do you select what part of a trail to run came up with one of my students today. We were running through a woodland enclosure where you had to be aware of the terrain, obstacles,  branches and undergrowth. We were training in the dark with headtorches. One of the objectives of the training was to learn to read and understand the environment so that you can take the most effective route, plus not injury yourself on the obstacles.

Relating this situation to one of my students forthcoming Tough Mudder Obstacle Course event I was trying to install the need to be able to orientate and make the decision of the best route. So here’s the situation. You are on your obstacle course trail. Already 2,000 runners have already turned and toiled the trail. What route do you take. Do you take the well trodden or the less used areas? I asked.

I hadn’t expected the correct answer to come up, because all in all there isn’t a straight forward one.

What I have blogged here is relevant whether it is an obstacle course challenge, and endurance event, trail running, or cross country running.

The key is to develop your instinctual awareness and learn to trust your judgement, awareness and orienteering skills and adapt to the terrain. That sounds quite a mouthful.  This is where obstacle Course training really comes into it.

Obstacle Course training develops the skills on a mind and physical level to learn to orient yourself through, round, up, over and under, whilst maintaining balance, composure and confidence.  Knowing when to hold yourself back, when to push on, and not take stupid risks and end up on a stretcher being shipped off to the hospital.

tough mudder runnerOf course most people can run. But when we talk about the likes of Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Tough Guy. We are not talking about a walk in the park on some wet earth. I recall in my Tough Guy there was a stretch of mud trail that was quite solid below the feet with a few small mud puddles. Then all of a sudden your leg was submerged up to the knee. I wouldn’t like to say how many people were taken out.

This is where training for the unknown and unknowable comes in!

I watched another guy take the most massive leap to avoid some water. That sounds fair enough. However the leap was too large. I could see it happening in slow motion. Down he went with an injury and another taken out!

Don’t start panicking if you are planning an obstacle course challenge. I am not saying you will get injured. But what I am saying is you might. So how you prepare and train is fundamental.

So do you choose the most trodden or the least trodden path?

Well, there is no precise answer as I said before. You have to judge the terrain at that moment in time. But whatever happens you have to commit yourself 100%.

When you do choose the right line this is where you will 1. reduce your risk of injury. 2. Increase your running efficiency. 3. Manage your energy systems more effectively.

I remember doing the ‘slalom’ section of Tough Guy. Classified as the 2nd hardest part of the course. Simply explained it approx 10 steep, slippery mud hill climbs and 10 descents all the way along the side of this hill. It was quite relentless for many. But what enabled me to work it to my advantage was to choose my route and not just follow the crowds. Every time it worked. It was efficient, I didn’t waste any unnecessary energy. I felt like I was in control. And every time I  reached the peak and descended down the other side I had moved up my position. I was taking them out in two’s and three’s and on some occasions a whole cluster.

Some times I chose the most trodden route. Sometimes the less. Sometimes the outside of the bend and sometimes the inside. It was tactical the whole way. And do you know what. It was fun. It felt good. And what a boost knowing you had the minus 10 degrees frigid waters to come.

This is where good training comes in so you handle the unknown and unknowable aspect of your event.

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