Over the past decade, the number of people taking part in mud runs and obstacle course races like Tough Mudder and Spartan races has risen significantly.
With millions of amateur athletes and weekend warriors scaling walls, slogging through mud and belly crawling under barbwire every single year.
To get pumped up about the upcoming race season, we spoke to Hunter McIntyre – a professional obstacle course racer with a background in running and wrestling.
Over the past 6 years, Hunter has established himself as a dominant figure in the world of obstacle course races, was named one of the top 50 fittest athletes by Sports Illustrated in 2017, and can boast the impressive achievement of winning the grueling Tough Mudder X Championship for two years running.
Hunter is also the creator of T-Minus 30 from Openfit.
The training for an obstacle course race differs from a traditional road race, which leaves some participants feeling unprepared and unsure of how to properly train.
T-Minus is a 30-day home workout program mimics aspects of the course and is intelligently designed to build strength, stamina, speed, and endurance so you’ll be able to tackle the path ahead.
The 30-minute workouts only require one set of dumbbells and focus on gradually improving critical areas needed for an obstacle course race, such as upper and lower body strength, core strength, and functional mobility.
On his to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Miami, Hunter talked to us about his transition into the sport after being a fitness model, his training, how the average guy can train for his first obstacle event and the one Tough Mudder race every guy should put on his bucket list.
I know you’re traveling today. Did you get a chance to workout before you left for Miami?
Yeah, I went to the gym today. It’s kinda hard traveling and getting a lot done, but I went in… smashed my legs as hard as I could.
I’m in Miami for my buddy’s birthday. We did fashion modeling back in the day when we weighed about 30 pounds less than we do now.
Being a cover model sounds like it’s not much fun. Doesn’t it involve dropping weight and eating close to nothing?
I was working out 4 to 5 hours a day. My diet consisted of, first, not eating in the morning, then after my first workout two hardboiled eggs and a can of tuna and maybe some black beans.
How nasty is that? We never did any fat. So we could cut back a lot on calories. At lunchtime, I would have a salad with maybe a couple of pieces of cold cut turkey.
At night, I would just drink alcohol.
Well, that’s an excellent ending to the day.
If you’re going to spend your calories–might as well make it fun.
Didn’t drinking make you want to eat, though? Booze always makes me want to eat.
We’d get shit-faced, and sometimes we would go for pizza.
The funny thing we would do is sometimes we would be so drunk we were like “Dude, we can’t look fat.” We would go to Central Park in the middle of the night and run drunk.
Is that easier than a Tough Mudder or harder?
I think it’s a little bit more challenging. Running in the dark at 2am when you’re hammered — I mean it’s fun– but it’s challenging and exhausting.
I’d rather tackle a 100-mile obstacle race sober.
I’m sure getting drunk isn’t one of the ways to train for an obstacle course race.
I get hammered after every championship. That’s the best. That’s the only reason why I race.
To get drunk after?
Yeah, of course, dude.
Imagine if all of your best friends were in the same area, and you’d just beaten them all at something. Now you get to get hammered, rag on them and make them feel like idiots for losing.
Convincing people to even run an obstacle race has probably gotten a lot easier though.
The sport has grown so much. When I first started, I would bump into people and told them what I do for a living. They’d say “I have no clue what you’re talking about and you’re creeping me out.”
And now it’s at the point where everybody is basically like super excited about the sport and trying it for themselves.
When did you decide that you wanted to do this for a living?
Well, in 2011, I did my first race for fun. I was just trying to discover what I wanted to do with my life.
I was working out way too much and had no real agenda in the day. Then all of a sudden I ran one of these things and I took 6th place out of 10,000 people, and I was like, “Okay. I can do this.”
I started doing the research, and I found out about The World Championship, and I found out about the World Champion himself, and I just started tracking him down.
By the time 2013 came up, I’d taken a year just to put everything and all my focus in training. I took 3rd in the world at that event, so from there on, I was like, “Okay, this is now a job. I can crush this.”
What was your paying job during that time?
I was just doing personal training in Malibu. I didn’t really have much going on with my life. I didn’t even own a car because I’d just moved from NYC.
I was pretty isolated to the point where I lived on the top of a mountain, and I would train a couple of people a day. The rest of the day I spent doing my own thing.
After the World Championship, it was my only focus. I quit all my personal training gigs, and I moved to Vermont to go live at the owner of Spartan Races house.
And I put every hour of every day into it.
Did you like obstacle racing and become successful or did early success make you like the sport even more?
I loved it from the start and still do. It’s an incredible experience.
I get to travel the world to the most beautiful outdoor venues and run awesome races. If you’re good enough, you can make a good chunk of change in the sport, and it comes with a little fame and notoriety.
When you travel is it hard to find places to train or can you really train anywhere?
Every major city has a training facility for this sport.
I was just at a place called FMA, Functional Movement Athletics, in Miami and it was like only 2 miles from where I was staying, and it’s a full obstacle course training gym. But if I went to the middle of nowhere, yeah, it’s going to be challenging to find somewhere to train.
Was that the idea behind the T-Minus 30?
When you go online, there’s honestly not a lot of information on how to get ready for one of these things.
Millions of people a year are doing this, and there’s not a lot of information, so I saw the opportunity to train people without them having to leave their house.
What would you say are the keys to preparing for running an obstacle race for the first time?
First, just getting confident and consistent with running.
Most people “go running” and it’s like a 15-20 minute jog.
If you’re going to do a Tough Mudder, the shortest race is 5 miles. The average race is 10 miles. If you want to do anything longer than that, I mean, that’s where really the rubber meets the road, and that’s where the challenge starts.
So you gotta get people consistently moving and running.
And then the other thing is, kinda really just making you feel confident on your feet and doing dynamic movements.
It’s not like you’re just running around the park. You’re jumping up over a 10-foot wall, you’re jumping off of a 30ft cliff into water, you’re helping push somebody up over a fence.
You need the strength in your core, your legs, and your shoulders.
You build a program that gets you moving dynamically, and at a pretty high intensity, then you’ll all a sudden have somebody that moves like an athlete rather than just an average gym-goer.
How important is being mentally prepared for a race?
I think you really just need to break out of the chains of fear.
When you were a little kid–it wouldn’t be that hard for people to convince you to run up a slide and then jump off the top of it into a pile of leaves. You’d be like, “Aww, man. That sounds like a blast!” Maybe it’s a 10-foot drop and for you think that’s amazing.
As a kid, you’ll never think about the possible ramifications. If someone dared you, you’d lick a doorknob for Christ’s sake. As an adult, you’re like “Don’t touch that. It has germs. You’ll get sick.”
Kids are just a lot more wild and crazy and open minded.
Then as an adult, you climb to the top of a thing and think, “I haven’t done something like this since I was 10 years old. I’m not going to jump off the top of this thing. I’ll break my leg!”
In reality, you’re now bigger, stronger, and should be more confident in your movements.
I think people get disconnected from that kind of stuff as they become adults and stop playing like kids, and most decisions become fear-based of everything.
I just took somebody through a course last weekend, and he’d never done any of this stuff. I’m like, ‘Look, dude, millions of people have done this before you, and you are not going to be the person that stops this whole train, you know? You can do it. Get out there. Keep it moving. We’re going to get you through this course.’
It took a lot of talking, but eventually –5 obstacles in– he just started smashing through it all.
Besides the T-Minus 30 program, if someone wanted to try something out like this–would you suggest going out on their own or maybe hooking up with a trainer to walk them through the course?
You’re probably not going to find a trainer that can take you through the actual course. So, it’s best to get somebody that’s going to get you moving consistently in all different ranges of motion.
If you can’t find a trainer, focus on pull-ups, burpees and box jumps. Focus on moving dynamically.
Doing a Zumba Class and a Spin class once a week–that’s moving–but it’s not going to get you ready. It’s going to get you kinda feeling a little bit better about yourself. Try doing things that are a lot more challenging than the norm.
If you see a boot camp class or have the opportunity to go indoor rock climbing gym, you gotta go after the things that are going to really get you out of your comfort zone. Cause that’s what these races are all about.
The races shock you with electricity and run you through freezing cold water. Success is all built around doing things that are challenging to your body and uncomfortable to think about.
How many months before a race should a person start training?
I would say if you’ve done anything athletic in the past year, then you need to give yourself at least two months. At least two months to see a shift in yourself.
Let’s say you ran a 10K or a half marathon in the past three months, then I would give yourself a month of specific training where you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to do X, Y, and Z for the next 3-4 weeks” and then you’ll feel pretty ready.
By that time, your body’s confident, and you feel pretty much aware of what you’re gonna get after. I wouldn’t just step onto the course without ever doing anything similar to this, cause you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.
I’m sure you’ve probably seen that–maybe not in the high-level competitions–but I’m sure you’ve probably seen people out there that you were like, “This guy was in no way prepared for this.”
Oh yeah, it happens all the time. And I think for those people I hope it creates a reason for them to train harder and get back out there and do better the second time.
But some people are like, “No. I am never coming back to this.”
You know there’s always a split in the road and the people who choose the easiest path.
You’ve done a ton of these races. What’s the one obstacle that every time you see it you’re like, “Oh fuck, not again.”
Barbwire. Barbwire sucks ass, dude.
Not only are you on the ground, dragging yourself over gnarly mud, dirt, and rocks–if you even bump up an extra inch–you’re going to get your back scraped and rip a hole in your shirt.
Every single time I’m like, “I don’t know why I picked this career. I hate you, barbwire.”
What’s the one obstacle you can do with relative ease?
Obstacles like Funky Monkey are exhilarating. You know, it’s like monkey bars into swinging rings into like uh swinging *pull* that’s all above water. It just kinda gives you this awesome flow where you feel like you’re a monkey swinging through the trees.
That makes me excited, because once you really get there–the feeling of it–you feel like you’re flying.
If a guy was going to do one of these and he made it like a bucket list trip kind of thing: What’s the one race that he should check out? Where is it? What time of year?
I would say World’s Toughest Mudder, and it’s in November in Atlanta. It used to be in Vegas, and it was amazing.
I haven’t done the Atlanta one, but it’s a 24-hour race. I know it sounds crazy, but you can treat it like a booze cruise like a camping trip.
You can run as much as you want, and then you get tents and hang out with your friends, and party then go do another lap. It’s like an entire festival. It’s the best.
That sounds pretty awesome. After a couple of hours, I wouldn’t want to go back out there.
Some people run all 24 hours. Yeah but you just like, dry off. Towel off. You know, have a beer with your friends. Eat some pizza. Hang out for an hour or two, take a nap, then go out again.
It’s up to you how far you want to go.