Running in Muddy Conditions: How to Do It like a Pro
As a runner, the chances are good that you’ll be confronted with muddy running conditions sooner or later. And while some runners dread getting dirty on the run, others actually pay an entry fee to get it done.
So whether you’re a mud run aficionado or someone who only occasionally sets foot on a wet and muddy trail, here’s everything you need to know about running through mud like a pro.
How to safely and efficiently run through mud
So how exactly do the pros do it? How do they make slogging through muddy bogs seem effortless and… fun? By paying attention to the following:
1. Prepare for success
The degree of success of a mud run often depends on your pre-run preparations. So be sure to do the following before heading out:
- Choose the right shoes. Road running shoes are not ideal for use on muddy trails. Instead, invest in some trail running shoes with grippy lugs and a built-in drainage system. Some trail shoes even claim to be self-cleaning – a must if you don’t want layers of mud caked onto your soles.
- Consider investing in high-tech socks. Cold, wet feet caused by moisture seeping into running shoes is a pet peeve of many a hardened trail runner. Why not consider investing in a pair of insulated, neoprene running socks to keep those tootsies toasty?
- Adapt your expectations. According to elite ultra-distance mountain runner, Michael Wolfe, running in extremely muddy conditions can tax the body in a completely different way than “normal” running. “Know that you use your core, back muscles, and so many other stabilizing muscles you wouldn’t be using [in normal running conditions] to try to stay upright”, he says. So adjust your expectations accordingly. Slippery, muddy runs are not the stuff that new PBs are made of.
- Have a positive mindset. Running through mud can be tough. Tackling it as an adventure instead of a miserable chore will help you have fun, even when the going gets tough.
- Tie your shoes properly to avoid them being sucked off your feet by deep mud bogs.
- Do a proper warm-up. Unexpected slips and slides on slithery mud can lead to groin or hamstring strains. Be sure to do a thorough, dynamic warm-up before heading out.
- Keep a bag with a clean kit in your car if you’re driving to the trails. Pack two towels (one for wiping off mud and one for sitting on), and clean, dry socks and shoes. Also remember to include a separate bag for your wet, muddy gear.
2. Adapt your gait
But even with the best preparation, running through the mud will still present some challenges. Here’s how to tackle them head-on:
- Shorten your stride. Slippery mud results in difficulty pushing off the ground, which, in turn, makes it hard to take long, fluid strides. The solution? Shorten your gait. Taking smaller, quicker steps should make it easier to keep your center of gravity, which should ultimately lead to fewer wipeouts.
- Run more upright than you would normally.
- Keep your elbows a bit more to the side for lateral balance.
- Slow down and choose your footing even more carefully than you normally would.
- If you do start to slip, try to stay relaxed and slide with the skid. Focus on controlling your recovery, so that you don’t over-react and fall in the opposite direction.
- Know when to admit defeat. In extreme cases, where staying upright in the mud for miles on end poses both a physical and mental challenge, it is advisable to do frequent self-checks on your mental and physical state. Know your limits and know when to turn around – you don’t want to risk injury for the sake of toughing out a training run.
3. Be a considerate trail runner
Lastly, it’s worth noting that, tempting as it may be to run around muddy puddles instead of through them, this practice is not encouraged. Why? Running around obstacles can widen trails, which, in turn, can negatively impact on the surrounding vegetation and ecosystem.
So, if your favorite trail is exceptionally boggy after a wet spell, it might be best to choose a different one until it dries out. Or, if the trail is muddy but manageable, remember to shoot straight through the puddles instead of going around them. Future generations of trail warriors will thank you!
How to clean muddy shoes post-run
And while a steamy post-run shower is one of the best perks of getting muddy on the run, cleaning a pair of mucky running shoes can be a pain. So here are some practical tips for getting it done:
- Let it dry. If you’re rotating between different running shoes and you don’t need your current pair straight away, consider leaving the mud to dry. Once completely dry, simply slap the soles of the shoes together to get rid of the mud.
- Wash it off. If you don’t have the luxury of time, simply hose your shoes down right after your run. Put them in a sunny, well-ventilated spot to dry, and add crumpled-up newspaper to the insides to speed up the process.
- Buy a mud-removal tool. If you live in a region where mud is a problem year-round, why not consider investing in a mud-removal tool? Some hardware- or agricultural stores sell industrial-strength boot cleaners – a gadget with Brillo-like pads that you can screw into your deck and swish your shoes through to remove mud.
Take care, but don’t sit out
While running in the mud does have its risks and challenges, don’t let that keep you from the trails. Prepare as best you can, remember to adapt your running gait and, most importantly, have fun! The general consensus is that muddy runs are best enjoyed when you get as dirty as possible early on in your run and forget about trying to stay clean. So go on, set that inner child free!