The Mechanics of Mud Running: 5 Tips

1. Comfortable Kicks

Shoe companies will tell you there’s a shoe for every occasion and weather. Things like lug pattern, water proof-ness and drop. But in my book there’s only two: shoes you feel fast in (lightweight, low drop, and a badass color way) and “SUVs” (cushy, durable, built for the long haul). As you might imagine, running in bad weather and mud (or snow) is for SUV shoes. It might sound counterintuitive; a light shoe will make you more fleet of foot and help you step more quickly—instead of sink—in mud and muck. This approach actually does work…for maybe the first 1-2 minutes of your run. After that, no matter how light the shoe is, it inevitably becomes heavy and stout just like the durable SUV shoe. My suggestion: save the fast shoes for dry days when you’re ready to fly on the trails and run the SUVs on days they’re intended for: the slow, muddy slog.

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2. Sweat Your Socks

Point #1 illustrates that when mud is involved, any shoe – no matter the size or weight – will essentially take on the environment (pun intended) and be neutralized. But where there’s mud there is usually snow or puddles. These elements will eventually saturate the shoes’ upper and soak your socks. As the wetness sets in, it’s your sock selection that will have a bigger impact on your running enjoyment. It’s no wonder we’re partial to wool, but in muddy conditions it’s a fiber that is blister-preventing and softer than a synthetic running sock. Use a tall sock or one with a 3-5” cuff rather than no-shows to get extra abrasion resistance to your ankles and legs.

3. The Unusual Sore Spots

Trail running, compared to road, comes with demands on DSC09694different muscle groups. Muddy trail training adds another variability since balance and foot fall is so inconsistent. But the soreness and muscle activation is worth it! The sensations you’ll feel—typically in your feet, ankles and calves—will wake up proprioceptors (the stimuli your body gets from impact and agile motion) that will help with balance and injury-prevention when conditions are normalized in the drier spring, summer and fall.

4. One Less Layer

When you’re in muddy conditions you’re probably going to be working harder than a dry run so aim to dress for higher-than-average sweat rate; and even though the air temperature might be chilly, shorts or 3-quarter length tights are recommended over pants. Combined with tall socks (see #2), you’ll move through the muck with more ease while keeping the abrasion-factor low.

5. Ankle Weights = Strength

Resistance training in running is not the most common thing, especially in trail running where vertical gain in the landscape comes with the sensation of resistance all by itself. Some runners (usually racers) might wear a loaded-up pack or run with poles to add resistance weight or better distribute the energy to the arms when training for an event. But running in mud adds an accumulation of weight and resistance to your shoes which will make you move more slowly and require more energy. This “natural resistance” is a fast and free way to add leg strength and force you to adopt a new cadence (generally one that adds efficiency since your body will be looking to offset the weight). This is a great way to examine your stride and look for new, efficient ways to move that might actually improve your dry-trail performance, too.