Want to know what you need to do to finish or even win a World’s Toughest Mudder race? Then lucky for you, I have the training notes of the winner of the 2011 World’s Toughest Mudder, Junyong Pak that he posted on his facebook. So read below if you want the full version. If you want the condensed version read here.
If you want to friend Junyong Pak on Facebook, then look up his name and add him.
And the original source and link to his training regiment.
[This is Junyong Pak that is writing below]
A lot of you have asked how I had trained and prepared for the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) event, including nutrition, race strategy, apparel / how I stayed warm, etc. I’m truly honored that so many people want to know what I did so I put this together for you. The details and dramatics of the actual race I’ll write up in a post-race report later, which I think I’ll be able to compose this weekend (participant or not, endurance athlete or not… I think you’ll really enjoy that story). But this post is for the students of the sport (and will probably be pretty boring to an outsider).
I qualified for WTM at the TM-New England event but even prior to this I had known about WTM as it held a certain allure for me. At the time, WTM was advertised to be a 48-hour challenge at a destination yet to be announced. They threw out possibilities like Alaska and it had my full attention. The challenge almost spoke to me as if it were my deepest fears spoken in human form and wrapped inside of a race. It said, “Junyong, you can’t do this”. And for a while it haunted me until I ultimately decided I could. I hated that it would be 48 hours long (not a big fan of staying up that long as I feel it is extremely unhealthy), but I figured that applied to the masses and I could maybe blitz the course a lot faster than that. So I made a deal with myself. I said if I posted the fastest time of the day while still recovering from the Boston Marathon and could do it again same day with my friends (this was the bachelor party for one of the guys), then I would sign up and show up. And so I did, and did, and did.
I’d been running in the Boston Marathon for the past 4 years now and despite getting bored with my stagnating times and all the training & time commitment required, I tried to hang up my racing shoes a few times but never really did anything more severe than put my training on the backburner for a while. So it was May and my cardiovascular fitness was intact. And high on this awesome Tough Mudder race that just blew my mind, I signed up for more and more, including participating in the 2011 Death Race in June. I trained for the Death Race more like it was a foot race and ended up dropping out due to this miscalculation, amongst many other mistakes (race report for that one here:
But my miscalculated pursuit of fitness for it translated well to the more standard obstacle races. Somewhere around July, I decided to focus my training more around this new obstacle racing schedule and created a calendar, with the ultimate goal of performing my best at WTM. But this was made complicated when the Spartan Race series announced their Texas Spartan Championship. It was 2 weeks before WTM and a week before the USATF XC Club Nationals, a race I hadn’t missed participating in with my GBTC team since moving to Boston in 2006. But I knew everyone was going to be there, it would be epic, and I couldn’t resist. So I modified my plan to be fit enough for both, a compromise, and skip club nationals this year. I tailored my training to approach the Spartan Championship fitness from the high-end and it was just going to have to be enough for WTM.
Here is the training schedule I set for myself, and if you tab over to the other worksheet you can see my training log.
I was a little hesitant at first to publicly share my training log but then quickly reasoned that nobody is going to beat me on account of my training log. If they do it’ll be because they trained harder than I did or were more talented. There’s actually surprisingly very little secret to success: just put in the work. Nobody can do the work for you (but don’t tell my nemesis Hobie Call). And if I can help motivate others (especially my friends) even a little bit along the way to their own successes, it will have all been well worth it. If you look closely, I actually did not do nearly enough strength & conditioning exercises. I’m always a little embarrassed to admit this following tidbit… but I hate doing crunches/sit-ups because I hate picking up dirt on my back from my dirty floors. I rarely do specific ab work but I do not condone forgoing this as the benefits of strengthening your core are immense. I rest on my laurels for being naturally not too weak in that department but those dirty floors are a stronger force. I need to get a yoga mat or something but I’m too cheap and I keep forgetting. XMAS present anyone? Haha, just kidding.
I did a few high mileage weeks including a very successful double-marathon week (10/13, 10/15) which also included a very rigorous hike. I hit a high of 30 miles on 11/7. These were key sessions that both physically prepared me and mentally allowed me the confidence to unleash what I was about to unleash at WTM.
In addition to all the miles, I did a few key workouts on 11/20, 12/11 as outlined in this plan.
Here, I gear tested my wetsuit, verified that I could stand to be in it for at least 4 hours, observed any chafing areas, assessed my cold tolerance in it to ~50 deg ocean waters. I also practiced eating on the run the foods that I planned on bringing (see nutrition below).
I also raced a bunch, often training-thru, not concerning myself so much about what my time or placement was, but to get a solid fast-paced effort in and to have a little fun. I strongly believe in this, if you can get beyond losing (inevitable), or not having to set a new PR each time. It is way harder to do in a training session what you can do in a race. In a race, whether you realize it or not, your body-mind aligns itself in a near perfect harmony, ready and willing to put forth a pre-negotiated amount of effort, aware and accepting of the painful consequences that are to follow.
As for training equipment, I have a free membership to the outdoors. It is my gym of choice. I don’t use any fancy equipment other than a Perfect Pull-up bar that I installed in a doorway and a Perfect Push-up device that I paid $10 for on Woot.com, a 20-lb weight vest that I sometimes use to speed up the cardiovascular effort of a run when crunched for time, and a few other Spartan Race-inspired weights. The roads are my treadmill, even when it is 5 degrees out with snow embankments making clogged arteries of a narrow road, or if it’s just one big ice rink.
You need to understand your limits and not be stupid, but if these items that I describe are within your limits and you make them happen, it will make you that much of a stronger person with a threshold for discomfort that makes a remarkable number of typical pains fall off the radar entirely.
I work a full-time and rather mentally stressful 10-7pm job (I absolutely suck at mornings and get yelled at by my boss(es) on an almost monthly basis, which is why it’s not 9-5). As you may notice, almost zero of my training runs are done in the morning… which means I don’t do doubles, I do all my volume late at night on a single run, after work, usually hungry, tired, and I almost never have company (except Georgia, my dog and best training partner a guy could ask for), and then I have to cook and eat. I highly recommend the single session vs double if you can manage as the benefits are significantly greater. However if this cuts into your volume, do the double. On very long runs, be safe and take gels, etc. with you but practice refraining from taking them until just before you’re about to energy crash. Keep doing this and you’ll find yourself capable of running further and further without energy supplementation. There is a biochemical training effect in doing this where your body learns to start metabolizing fats in higher proportions sooner than later and you can extend your glycogen reserves, thereby increasing your tank.
Those days when I get out of work even later, like 10pm, and it’s freezing cold, and raining or snowing or sleeting, and I’m extra tired… these are the days I gain the most, by summoning the will to get out there and hold myself to my promises, when no one is expecting or asking me to. Sometimes I’ll imagine that my nemesis is experiencing the same exact conditions and he’s going out there to train and he’s going to be better prepared than me come race day and it was that one day that made the difference. Usually that often is enough. You have to learn to be tough with yourself without someone asking it of you.
In preparation for the cold (and conveniently also to save on heating bills), I committed to not turning on the heater until WTM was over or the temperature dropped below 40 degrees (inside my house). Typically my house would keep a 20-degree differential to what it was outside so for much of Nov/Dec, my living space was typically 47-55 degrees. Sometimes it would go down to 43, or at least as low as I noticed. This was great prep because I got so comfortable with high 40s it actually felt quite nice when it would get above 50. After getting home from WTM this weekend it was 39 degrees in my house. And true to my word, I turned on the heat. My dog, Georgia, seemed to be happy about that, although she never said a word to me about being too cold. She supports my efforts like that too.
Apparel & keeping warm:
It was obvious to me why TM chose Raceway Park to hold WTM, it made a lot of financial sense. TM Tri-State was held at the same exact venue on 11/12 and I knew they would be re-using a lot of the obstacles one month later, perhaps in a different configuration, but in some way shape or form. I made it a point to be at the Tri-State event. It was 37 degrees and windy at the start of the first wave but I made a firm, bold move to race in shorts and shoes only. This race meant nothing. If I fell flat on my face, I wanted to do it here. And I did. To my surprise there was a very serious competitor in the field, his name unknown. I tried to assert myself early and retake the lead, relatively hauling for the first open ¾ mile at 5:20 pace. Over the first 2-3 miles we exchanged blows back and forth through the pond water obstacles. And just like that within 3 miles I was reduced to a pile of chilled meat, shuffling along in shivering survival mode for the remaining 7 miles of the 10 (not 12) mile course. I realized that the course was relatively flat. I knew that in order to make it worthy of a WTM event the only real card TM had was to employ the cold as it had successfully broken me. So I knew how severe the water was going to be, I felt it against my plain skin, and it was only mid-November. And as I reviewed the obstacles list when they released it on Thursday night and half the obstacles involved some sort of water, I was not at all surprised. But even knowing this, the severity of just how cold it was still shocked me beyond belief. I think it surprised everybody, even the race organizers.
I brought two 3/2 mm wetsuits, one that was pretty good, and another which was basically a sieve. I can’t tell you in words just how insufficient both were at trapping heat against 32-36 degree waters. I cut the sleeves off the crappier wetsuit so that I could use it as a modular long sleeve on my short sleeve nicer one. But it was so hot by the time the race was about to start so I took these sleeves and stuffed them into the back of my wetsuit. As the race progressed a bit, I was still too hot, so I unzipped the back to vent, forgetting about the sleeves. I believe it was the Electric Eel obstacle but as I rolled through it I think I lost them there. That was a critical mistake that would cause me to stop earlier than I had wanted. I thankfully (or so I thought) trashpicked a really crappy wetsuit in the showers after lap 5, cut off the arms (or so I thought) and used it to protect my forearms. I would later find out that I had cut the legs, which if you look in some of the photos, is why I look like I have scrunched up purple leg warmers on my arms. These did nothing in the water, but did help to block the wind and for when I had to crawl through mud. It was a very small victory but perhaps the difference between quitting and continuing. But the most effective way in which I stayed warm was by running. I ran at least 80%, probably more like 90% of my mileage as it was the only way that I was keeping warm in between aid stations. Starting from lap 4, when I had to start walking more, I began to freeze at each obstacle involving water. Probably the reason my hands and feet did not get frostbite was that I started to pour scalding hot water into my gloves, on my shoes, and down my wetsuit at every aid station. A few times they had run out of hot water so I even used hot chicken broth. Keep in mind a wetsuit does not keep the water out entirely. The principle is to allow some water to enter, get heated up, and maintain a large thermal gradient to the outside water. The 3/2 mm short sleeve wetsuits were definitely not at all sufficient, especially as the water rushed in down your back. If I could do it again, I would have also absolutely brought my 7mm wetsuit (why oh why did I not pack that thing?!?)
I had three pairs of neoprene gloves to start, all of them sucked. I wish I had gotten a full size or two up so that I could have put them on and removed them more easily. Water was getting in anyway and the tightness was only making matters worse as it constricted blood flow to the fingertips. Being able to remove them also would have helped on the Hanging Tough and monkey bar obstacles as wet, muddy neoprene is like grease on hard smooth surfaces.
I switched between the Inov-8 Mudclaw 272 and Inov-8 X-talon 190. Truth be told I could have gone with a single pair of shoes the whole time. Once you got in the mud (which was almost immediate) they were wet anyway. The tread on these two shoes are AGGRESSIVE, but the funny thing is I don’t know how much they helped if at all. At no point was I quickly ripping around muddy corners or climbing steep hills and the areas that were muddy were SO MUDDY that tread or no tread you were slipping anyways. What was good about these shoes was that they are minimalist, in that there wasn’t too much padding to soak up and hold water so after exiting water obstacles and stomping my feet the water drained fairly well and were not too heavy. I wore SmartWool ankle socks, which I switched out at each lap (except after the first), along with emptying my shoes of mud/sand.
I had a 2mm neoprene hood from surfing that I used. It may not be enough for most, but I have a hot head and I never felt cold up there, and even running in 15 deg weather I often forgo the hat. But this hood was crucial on the major water obstacles as water conducts heat away from the body at a rate of an order or two faster than in air.
My strategy was pretty simple to start, but quickly became very complicated when my phone battery died 2 hours into the race. And with the poor communication of status and athlete tracking I had little to no idea what was going on with everyone else. Often the only status I got was after completing a lap they posted the top 5 on a hand-written leaderboard with # of laps completed, no times. I wanted to go for the win. I knew I was well-trained and had the will and a chance, but at the same time did not want to get injured trying to run 80-100 miles with obstacles. If I was going to win, I wanted to do so with the least number of laps possible. With the dangerous weather forecast looming and my absolute skepticism about anyone being able to continue through the night, I decided I needed to run as many swift laps as possible early on to place doubt into my competitors and discourage them into dropping out early. The plan was to then take a break during the cold of the night and making a final push for the finish. I ran with a Garmin 405 GPS watch (great budget watch at ~$140 that I didn’t feel too bad about beating up) and clocked the first lap to measure out key checkpoints along the course to make sure I followed my eating schedule (see Nutrition below) and to measure the lap distance, which I strongly suspected was not going to be a full 10 miles. Not that a wrist-GPS is the gospel, but it’s a start, and the laps turned out to be about 8.5 miles. This was very useful information as it would allow me to not panic if I ran more laps than I thought was possible thinking it was a full 10 miles. My racing experiences had taught me how hard I could press down on the pedal, and at the same time how not to ever floor it full-throttle in a race at this distance. Sip energy, efficiently. I watched as 50 people led me out of the starting gates to make the Insane Bolt cutoff. All but 4 came back quickly as I watched these 4 then over-exert themselves in all the wrong places (they all ran with the 2 tires around the track). By the Dong Dangler, I had caught up to and passed the leader. I did not stop at the pit area and would continue the next two laps in similar fashion. Without going into great detail here, I realized at the end of my 6th lap that I was not going to be able to finish 8 in just over 24 hours. So I did some math, applied some logic, pitted for 3.5 hours, rolled the dice, and aligned myself to finish 7 in just over 24 hours, and 8 if necessary to chase down the new leader if they should pass me (and I was certain they would). Due to the lack of results communication and attention to the leaderboard, I didn’t realize there were so many changes at the #2 position and believed all of the news of my pursuers was the same guy, which was daunting because I had lost the lead during lap 4 when I pitted for 3 hours. And when I caught him later that lap he ran with me and I had some trouble shaking him. Thankfully, 7 was the lucky number and my revised strategy which leveraged the rules of the race worked beautifully.
I had never done a race longer than a marathon before and my previous longest run to date was a 30-miler where I took very little food and water. So to say I was concerned about nutrition when there was the potential for 100 miles to be covered with obstacles is an understatement.
I estimated calories that I would need in a spreadsheet and created a lap-by-lap plan as a start of negotiations:
I tried to follow this as closely as possible assuming I could not rely on the aid stations. Looking at this table I realized that if I did close to 100 miles, this was going to be just as much an eating competition as it was a running and obstacle one, and I would have to force myself to eat even when I wasn’t at all hungry so that I would never be too full to run. I bought a racing belt in the days before the event which proved to be very handy as I was able to load it up with enough gels to get me through 2 laps without stopping.
In addition to Powerbar gels, I decided to supplement with canned fruit in heavy syrup, pasta, PB&J, protein drink, gatorade, honey, eggs, and bananas. I forgot to eat the honey, and did not make eggs or bring bananas but ate everything else. The canned fruit (peach chunks, halved pears) was a huge winner. I packaged these into vacuum seal bags such that each bag contained half a can of fruit, or 175 calories. These were robust bags that did not break, relatively compact, and also supplied some of my water intake. I could bite off a corner of the bag without taking my gloves off and bite the fruit out like a gel. I packaged the pasta in similar fashion with much success.
Nutritional diet on any given day during training:
I cannot say that what I eat for meals would be of any particular value to emulate, and in fact, from a competitive athlete’s perspective most would probably cringe at many things I do eat, especially in a time crunch (like Chef Boyardee’s, ramen noodles with eggs). But my eating philosophy stems from budgetary and time constraints and it is basically as follows: “It has less to do with what you do eat and more to do with what you don’t.” Many believe there is a magical dietary plan that propels their performance to sky high levels not realizing they could be achieving those same levels eating a standard home-cooked meal. I’ve heard numerous accounts of the paleo diet working wonders. Perhaps. But at what cost? Frequent trips to the grocery store, fewer calories to the dollar. It requires a cost-benefit assessment on a case-to-case basis and that level of micro-management personally is not worth my effort. So I make a lot of home-cooked meals in large quantities and will often eat this for numerous consecutive meals at a time. I’m well beyond getting “bored” of repeated meals. Tasty food is tasty food. And in worst case scenario, food is still food. This technique & discipline allows me to maximize the amount of training I do because I can spend less time cooking/preparing food, and time is often the limiting factor. I rarely eat out, and avoid fast foods but I don’t think your training would unravel if you ate a McDonald’s burger every now and then, unless it upset your stomach to the point where you couldn’t train. I actually maintain a “menu” of all the things I know how to make and when I’m stumped I’ll look to this menu for inspiration using the materials I have on-hand.
Almost every day I take a multi-vitamin, B-complex, C, D, echinacea, gingko biloba, ginseng, and glucosamine chondroitin pills. The glucosamine chondroitin I’ve been taking as a preventative measure for the last 7 or so years to mitigate the risk of joint wear and tear. I swear by this stuff although the medicinal benefits have not been confirmed by the FDA or any other sources to date. Read up on it and make your own call. If you are in it for the long haul and you care enough about wanting to perpetuate your active life, this juice, in my humble opinion, is definitely worth the squeeze. I also take protein mix immediately after each hard workout and long run. BSN Syntha-6, strawberry flavor, is the bomb. It tastes like a strawberry milkshake and I swear by its benefits in allowing me to recover quickly enough to go hard on numerous consecutive days. I will often pre-mix a tall glass before I head out for the run or workout and will slam it as soon as I’m done. It’s extremely important that you take this immediately after you workout as the nutrient delivery / transport system starts to shut down rapidly as you cool down (blood vessels start constricting and you can’t get the necessary amino acids to your damaged muscle tissue).
IN SUMMARY, my plan worked out reasonably well. I had to make decision changes on-the-fly and roll with the punches, but so did everyone else. If not for the cold, this event would not have been nearly as epic as it was, and as much of an accomplishment. I applaud everyone who voluntarily decided to toe the line and hope that some of this will help / motivate you to meet your own goals in the future.
Junyong Pak, your brother-in-suffering