Mud Run Miscellaneous

[Part Three of a Three-Part Article on the Mud Run]

All good things come in threes:  scoops of ice cream, The Lord of the Rings, the main galaxy morphological classifications and articles telling you everything you need to know to prepare for the Mud Run.

In this catch-all article I’m collecting anything that didn’t fit neatly into the training or what to wear categories.  So let’s continue with answering your questions and then summarize everything in a nice little checklist.

I’ve collected my equipment.  Should I train with it or save it for race day?  It is worthwhile to run about 3 miles in your team uniform before the race.  There is a big difference in wearing cheap boots with long pants and running shorts with weightless comfy shoes.  I wouldn’t do this more than once if your equipment is on par with most.  I know my boots tend to hurt my feet.  The point of trying it all out is to make sure it doesn’t fall apart too easily, doesn’t cause blisters, etc.

If you really want to get a taste of potential problems before the race, when you do your test run, do it near a pool, river or at least a garden hose.  Get wet.  Do your pants fall off?  Better get a belt.  Do the pockets fill with water?  Might need to poke holes in them.

What about right before the race?  Anything special then?  I’d recommend that you hit your longest run one to two weeks before the race.  Once you get into the week of the race, take it easy.  Moderate upper body and core stuff.  Limit your running to short easy runs of three to five miles.  Most importantly, don’t do any exercise two days before the run.  Be sure to eat well during this time.  No junk food.  Get plenty of sleep the night before the race.  The rule of thumb for running is that carb loading doesn’t do a lot if you aren’t running for at least an hour.  This course is tough to judge since you use your entire body and fast teams will finish in 45 minutes while mostly-walking teams will go for about 3 hours.  It probably wouldn’t hurt to eat something like a whole wheat spaghetti dinner the night before, but just don’t overdo it.  Avoid eating items high in fat or fiber that will sit in your stomach a long time.  Go to the event website and look at the results from last year.  The course may be significantly different than the previous year but it will give you an idea of where in your group of racers you might finish.

What about race day itself?  Have all of your gear fire-manned the day before so all you have to do on race day it put it on.  Get your timing chip on you boots and walk around.  This is your last minute check to make sure you have everything and it all works.  Leave your jewelry and anything else extraneous at home.  Get to the starting line an hour before you plan to run.  It is usually more of a madhouse than most of the Jax races so it will take some time to find the start.  Be sure to have eaten a couple of hours before you run.  Be sure to drink some water (maybe 8-12 oz) about 30 min before you run.  I don’t like to stretch before I run.  If you do, don’t forget that.  After the race I’ll do my stretching.  When it comes time to line up remember where your team might fall in the pack and be courteous and line up there.  Think you are faster than about half the teams?  Line up at the midpoint of the group not the front of the line.  Expecting to walk?  Start at the back.

What about finding my team before the race?  This is a real weak point of this event.  There is no central info center or check-in place.  People will be wandering around.  Your best bet is to meet up with your team off site and ride to the event together in one vehicle.  Be sure that everyone has a mobile phone with them the day of the event before you meet.  This way whoever is late can update everyone else.  Of course, don’t take your phones from the meet-up place to the run.

What about during the race?  You will find that even in the competitive division there is much less of a serious tone than other races.  Do your part to keep the event upbeat and fun.  Cheering for other teams is normal.  Assisting other teams on obstacles is always good.  I have been pleasantly surprised at how often one team following another will steady a cargo net, grab a rope swing, etc.

What kind of goals should I set for myself?  Consider setting two goals for yourself.  That way you have more chances to win and more potential positives to build on.  If this is your first organized event, commit to training on a regular basis and attempting the course on race day.

If you’ve done something like this in the past, maybe a 5k or played a sport before, perhaps your goal will be to complete the race and maybe to try and do it in a certain time.

Are you already physically fit?  Maybe you should have a time to beat and a place you are trying to finish.  For example, this last year we had a time to beat and we wanted to finish in the top ten.

What about pictures?  It is almost a guarantee something hilarious is going to happen while you run.  It would be nice to capture the moment.  Apparently there are official photographers for the event, but in the two times we’ve run, they’ve never photographed us so I wouldn’t rely on them.

Get a disposable waterproof camera, a waterproof clamshell for your point n’ shoot/mobile phone or have a friend photograph you.  I strongly recommend the last one.  They can photograph you before the start, at the start and then walk or run the course in reverse until they find your team.

Be sure to get before and after shots.  The Original Mud Run usually has a nice big banner/backdrop on the side of the finish line structure that works great for this purpose.

What about after the race?  If you think you placed in the top three, check with a race official.  Since they have heats going all day, they do awards throughout the day shortly after the third team finishes for each heat.  Don’t forget about your beer and food.  Stick around for a while and cheer people in to the finish.

Now I’m back home.  Do I just throw away these mud-infused clothes?  It is going to be a little work but your clothes are completely salvageable.  Here is my three step process:  1. Lay everything out on your driveway or parking lot and spray it with a full-blast hose.  Get all the chunks and piles out.  Take the insoles out of your boots before you spray them so you have access to all the nooks and crannies.  2.  Fill a big bucket with hot water and soak all that stuff.  I put Oxyclean in with ours.  Amazing how much more dirt comes off right?  3.  Assuming nothing feels gritty anymore, I put everything but the boots in the washing machine.  I wash them until they smell clean (they will never look completely clean again) and then dry them.  This may take two trips through the washing machine.  4.  I wash the boots separately from the clothes making sure that the insoles are separate from the boots.  Our dryer has a little shelf attachment so I can set the boots in there to dry without them tumbling.  I keep the heat on medium to try and prevent any of the boot glue from releasing.  When they are mostly dry I take them out to air dry the rest of the way.

Will I ever get all of this dirt off/out of my body?  Believe it or not, it will be easier to clean your clothes.  Expect to have dirt in your ears and under your toenails even after you shower.  It is just one more funny thing to talk about with your teammates when you see them next.

Jason’s Mud Run Checklist
Training
1.  Running is the key to a fast time.
2.  Run hills or stairs.
3.  Upper body and core exercises will help but are secondary.

Equipment
1.  Head – if vision is good then nothing – if vision is bad then disposable contacts
2.  Chest – water shedding polyester technical T – Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc.
3.  Legs – long durable water shedding pants – 100% nylon hiking pants with mesh pockets – maybe a belt – REI Outlet, Gander Mountain, etc.
4.  Socks – non-cotton – slightly taller than boots – REI, Black Creek Outfitters, etc.
5.  Boots – over the ankle lightweight aggressive lug – Rack Room Shoes, Target, etc.
6.  Team Name and logo – screen print it – think about it before you go online to register
7.  Sunscreen – waterproof
8.  Plastic bag – garbage bag big enough and strong enough to hold your soaking wet gear
9.  Change of clothes – everything (underwear, socks, shoes, etc)
10.  Two crappy towels – one to dry off with – one to sit on for the ride home.
11.  Glasses and eye rinse stuff – after the race toss the contacts, rinse your eyes, wear your glasses

Other Tips

  1. Give your equipment a test run before the race.  Get it wet if you are hardcore.
  2. Have a training plan that allows you to rest two days before the race.
  3. Don’t eat high fat or fiber foods the night before the race.
  4. Have all of your equipment tested and laid out the night before the event.
  5. Look at results from the previous year to get an idea of where you might finish in your heat.
  6. Don’t eat once you are within an hour or two of your start time.
  7. Have your mobile phone with you until you meet your team.
  8. Meet your team at an off-site location and ride to the race together.
  9. Slob on your sunscreen.
  10. Get to the race an hour before the event.
  11. Drink some water about 30 minutes before you run.
  12. Line up according to where you think you’ll finish in your heat.
  13. Have a friend photograph you before, during and after the race.
  14. This is not a serious event.  Remain upbeat and have fun.
  15. Don’t be afraid to cheer for other teams and help them during the race.
  16. Drink beer and eat.
  17. Hose, soak and wash your clothes and boots.
  18. Tell war stories of the race and prepare for next year.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

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What to Wear for The Mud Run

[Part Two of a Three-Part Article on the Mud Run]

Thanks for the tips on how to train for the Mud Run, but what do I wear?  Well, let’s start from the top and work our way down.

Head Wear nothing.  DON’T wear glasses, sunglasses, goggles, hats, headbands or anything else on your head.  You will almost certainly go completely underwater several times and are just asking to lose anything like this.  Neckties and capes might make a fine fashion statement but safety nerd me sees them as a choke hazard.

Wait, what if I’m blind without my glasses?  Join the club.  I wear a pair of disposable contacts during the race.  Afterwards, I make sure to have a bottle of saline to flush my eyes and my glasses in the car.  I’ve just closed my eyes before dunking my head during the race and it has worked fine so far.  I do have to admit if mud works its way under the contact is isn’t fun, but I don’t know a better option other than Lasik.  Goggles would be a disaster.

Ok, let’s continue with the list.

Chest Some guys go shirtless and some women wear a sports bra.  These are usually the folks that are photographed the most.  The vast majority of people wear a team shirt.  I recommend a technical T (polyester) instead of cotton (alternate Amazon link).  They stain just as bad as cotton (a badge of honor) but they dry a lot faster which means they have the potential to weigh less during the race.  On top of that, they are cheap and durable.  You can get them in a multitude of colors from Target for about $7 at the time of this writing.

Technical T Sheds Water Quicker

Legs If you are running an Original Mud Run event (like the Jacksonville MS Mud Run), you will be required to wear long durable pants.  Do not be tempted to purchase cotton military/camo pants.  Those things turn into lead bricks when they get wet and the pockets fill with water.  You’ll sound like a kid’s swimming pool and be 10 pounds heavier after the first water obstacle.

Instead, I recommend something that doesn’t absorb any water at all.  Our team uses 100% nylon hiking pants.  They are extremely lightweight, absorb no water, and the pockets are mesh on the inside.  We’ve worn them multiple times hiking and through two Mud Runs and they show zero signs of wear.  They come with a nylon webbing belt (handy for keeping them around your waist instead of your ankles).  They are cheap too.  We got ours at REI’s Outlet website for about $14.  You can currently buy the exact same pants at Gander Mountain for about $20 (alternate Amazon link).

100% Nylon Pants – Tough & No Water Absorption

NOTE:  If you do end up with water-trapping pockets, you can either poke holes in the bottom of them or remove them completely.

No matter how tempting, do not tie or velcro the drawstring at the bottom of your pants or, worse, duct tape them closed.  Water will work its way into your pant legs and will remain trapped making lovely ankle weights.

Feet Get socks taller than your boots but as short as possible.  The taller the socks, the more water they’ll hold when wet and the heavier they’ll be.  We wear hiking socks that are made out of a blend of different kinds of fibers.  Some folks like 100% wool.  Whatever you do, avoid cotton socks as they will promote blisters.

Hiking Socks – Thick – Not Too Tall – No Cotton

Again, assuming you are running an Original Mud Run event, you will be required to wear over the ankle boots if you plan to run competitively.  For 2011, they allowed non-competitive teams to run in shoes instead of boots but I don’t know if this exemption will be permanent (everyone had to have boots in 2010).  Whatever the case, you want to wear boots

But why do I need to wear boots?
1.  It’s part of the rules.
2.  Ankle support.
3.  Aggressive treads give better traction.
4.  Shoes will get sucked off your feet and eaten by the mud.

I’ve lived in Florida for many years and I was unaware of just how sticky the mud can be around here.  In some of the deeper mud obstacles it feels like you are dragging small children that are actively trying to pry your shoes off your feet.  Do everyone a favor and wear boots so you don’t have to stop and dig your shoes out of the mud.

You can go with combat boots but there are much cheaper, lighter and more comfortable options available.  You don’t need world-class hiking boots or bomb-proof work boots.  Think high-top basketball shoe with an aggressive tread for gripping slippery ground and you are shopping in the right direction.

We purchased ours at Rack Room Shoes for about $13 on sale.  Others have had success at Target.  This is not world-class footwear by any means but it has held up for two runs.  Admittedly, the super cheap insoles have started to dissolve now that they have been washed twice but they are still functional and will be used again next year.

Cheap-o Boots – Light – No Break in Period – Over the Ankle

Do not wait until the last minute to buy your boots either.  For the last two years, places around town have sold out in the weeks just before the race.  We had one teammate who had to resort to a pair of leather steel-shank work boots.  Those things weighed more than Melanie and my boots combine and they blistered her feet so badly that she was more comfortable running in her socks.

What about esprit de corps?  That definitely factors in to your clothing.  Unlike most other races in Jax, costumes/uniforms are the norm not the exception for the Mud Run.  They don’t have to be expensive.  Just come up with a name and a look that reflects the spirit of the team.

We’ve always taken the cheapest route with a white shirt that has our team logo screen printed on it (do it yourself) but some teams will wear an entire matching uniform.  They range from the serious police and fire fighter teams to the silly.  We’ve run with guys in business suits and a man and woman team dressed as bride and groom.

On a personal note, because the race is “dirty” folks feel the need to come up with extremely crude names.  Maybe I’m becoming an old man, but when I see names that aren’t even a play on a crude word or sex act but are the actual words verbatim, I’m not happy.  Spend just a little time thinking about your name before you sign up and I think you’ll come up with something much funnier than team “Hey, We Smell Like @#$%.”

It bears repeating.  Figure out your team name before you go online to sign up for the race, Mr. Team Captain.  I imagine that a lot of people don’t think through the fact that they are going to have to provide a team name when they are registering until they are halfway through the process and then they pop in the first thought that crosses their mind.

Ok, Mr. Sensitive.  I’ll work out my team name before I sign up.  Any other gear to consider?  I strongly recommend wearing good waterproof sunscreen.  You’ll also want a complete change of clothes, a plastic bag for your dirties and two junky towels – one to dry off with and one to sit on for the ride home.

I suppose you could wear gloves but you don’t really need them.  Your knees will probably get a little chewed up when you crawl around but kneepads would just get in the way.  Leave them at home.

If you’ve got some favorite piece of equipment for the Mud Run that I’ve not mentioned, be sure to list it in the comments below.

The third and final installment will be coming soon.  I’ll wrap things up with a few miscellaneous tips for the making the most of the Mud Run.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

How to Train for the Mud Run

I have run the MS Society Mud Run in both of its Jacksonville locations and this guide will be based on those experiences.  From what I’ve seen of other course layouts, it should also be useful for other courses around the country.

Can I make it?  Yes, you can.  People of all shapes and sizes have finished this race.  Because there are competitive and non-competitive heats, most people can complete the Mud Run.  If you are capable of walking seven miles and playing around on a kid’s playground, you can probably do it.  If this is all you can do, you will probably be very tired at the end of the race though.  Training will make race day much more enjoyable and safer.  People get hurt on the course every year.  Some injuries can be attributed to  accidents and goofing around but others occur when folks aren’t physically prepared.  Of course, before you start any type of exercise, you should see your doctor and talk with him or her about what you plan to do.

What is the most important thing I can add to my training for a fast time?  Run.  It is that simple.  While the obstacles get the spotlight, most of this race is running.  The obstacles are pretty quick so the difference between a fast obstacle time and a slow one is easily overcome with a faster running pace.  Because this is a roughly 10k race, I’d recommend getting your long runs up to at least seven miles by race day – nine miles would be even better.  If you want to contend for a top place finish, add in speed work and tempo runs.  If you are unfamiliar with setting a running schedule, a good basic place to start is this free online running schedule/calendar generator.  Click on the link and then select “Smart Coach” from the middle of the page.

Here are some more tips for first-time runners:
1.  Enter the for-fun division instead of the trophy division.
2.  Expect to wait at obstacles (because a lot more people do the for-fun division).
3.  You will probably not be running the entire time so don’t worry if you can’t run a 10k before the race.  If you want to enjoy the race, plan on being able to run at least three miles or be ok with walking much of the course.  For these reasons, when you train you should consider focusing on running more often instead of running longer.
4.  You might consider a run/walk training program like Jeff Galloway’s.  You’ll be able to run with a group of people at your same level of fitness this way too.

I’m already a runner.  What else can I do?  Run hills.  I got this tip from a team that finished 3rd one year and it is the single best piece of advice I’ve gotten on training for this event.  They are tough to find in Jacksonville, but be creative.  You can run bridges or stairs (stadiums, buildings, parking garages, etc.).  As a substitute, you could climb a Stairmaster or use a treadmill set on its steepest incline.  I don’t believe either of these options is as good as bridges or stairs though.  They get your heart rate up quickly and build many of the non-running muscles you’ll be using on several of the obstacles too.  If you lay out your course right, you can even simulate the actual event by having stretches of flat runs peppered with stairs to get your body used to the bursts of exertion mixed in with continuous running.

What about upper body training?  This really is very secondary.  It is a huge help to do pull-ups because you will be required to lift yourself over various obstacles.  If you are running in a non-competitive heat, you’ll have three tries at an obstacle then you move on.  If you can’t do an obstacle, you can still finish the course.  If you are running competitively, you will be disqualified if you can’t finish an obstacle so having some upper body strength is necessary.

Yeah, but what about upper body if I want a fast time?  This past year we added in a bunch of body weight exercises and it really seemed to help us.  We could recover from the obstacles quicker and, because they were easier for us, we had a more fun time during the race too.  Here are some of our favorites (click on the bold name for a link with detailed info on each):

Pull-ups  As mentioned above, many of the obstacles require you to lift yourself over something.  These are touted by many as the best overall upper body exercise you can do.  If I was only going to do one upper body exercise for the Mud Run, this would be it.  If you don’t have a gym membership, I recommend this cheap-o piece of equipment.  It is what Melanie and I use and it really works.

Chin-ups  Just like pull-ups but your palms face toward you when you grip the bar.  These are a little easier and work your biceps more.

Dips Work those triceps and chest.  These are good for pushing yourself up onto platforms during the race.  We just use a couple of sawhorses.  This allows us to space them so they are in tight to our bodies and keep ourselves as upright as possible so we focus more on our triceps than chest.

Push-ups For chest, arms and shoulders.  You’ll spend a little bit of time on a couple of obstacles crawling on your hands and knees or shimmying underneath stuff.  Using the Iron Gym on the floor to do push-ups really saves our wrists.  You could substitute a couple of octagonal or square dumbbells placed on the floor for wrist-saving hand grips.

You’ve talked about legs and upper body.  What about the stuff that connects them?  Core exercises are a great idea.  A stronger core makes everything else easier (including running) and helps you avoid injury.  It is amazing how much faster I could run once I started doing core exercises.  Just as in the case of the upper body stuff, there are lots of things you can be doing, but here are my favorite core exercises:

Crunches  Works your abs.  In my case, because I put my hands beside instead of behind my head, it also strengthens my neck.

Lifted-Leg Crunches  A college soccer buddy showed me these.  You’d think they would work the same muscles as crunches, but try ‘em and feel the difference.  Maybe it is the same muscle groups but they are definitely harder.  Just do the same crunch exercise with your legs mostly straight and lifted off the ground.

Twisty Leg Kicky Thingy of Death (Bicycle Crunches) The toughest by far and probably the best for you.  The link takes you to a video of three core exercises and bicycle crunches are one of them.  I love them.  I hate them.  Melanie enjoys listening to me struggle through them.

Side Planks  Everyone thinks about the front muscles of the core when they work out.  Don’t forget all those other ones that wrap your waist and make up your “internal weight belt.”

Back Extensions  Strengthen your lower back.  We don’t do them exactly as shown in this video but they cover a lot of good info so I included it.  We keep our hands at the side of our head and just lift our upper body.  I’m not sure my midsection could take lifting my legs and my back at the same time.  :/

Anything else?  There are obstacles that require balance.  You could practice crossing a balance beam quickly or set up a rope bridge and practice that.  If you have a park with a playground nearby, they might have something you could use – preferably at a time when kids aren’t there so you can avoid funny looks from the parents.

Great, but how do I put it all together into one routine?  Well, if you are a fit person who already runs a lot, I’d plan on doing upper body and core M, W, F and running T, Th, S.  This gives you at least a day of rest in between each type of workout.  Remember, you don’t get stronger when you exercise.  You get stronger while you rest after exercise.

If you are new to running, I’d focus on that.  Once you get to the point that you can run three miles without extreme effort, you could start mixing in core and upper body where your schedule allows.  Don’t forget to run hills and/or stairs.  If this is going to be your first organized race, don’t plan on setting any records (or training like you plan to).  Focus mostly on the running prep and enter with the intention of having fun.

Look for an article about what to wear for the Mud Run and another article with some miscellaneous tips in the coming weeks.  You can also sign up for email, Twitter or Facebook notification on the right-hand side of the screen.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

2011 MS Society Jacksonville Mud Run Recap and Pictures

If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you know that Melanie, I and a few other friends ran in Mud Run last year.  We had such a good time that we almost immediately began making plans for the next one.

Fast forward to 2011.  The response to the pictures and stories from last year led us to create two teams this year.  Because the Mud Run changed the categories, we opted for a five-man competitive team and a five-woman competitive team.

Once we arrived at the course, we found out that the categories weren’t the only things that had changed.   In fact, just about every aspect of the race this year was improved:  better parking, better start/finish area, better course, better spectator consideration, better food and better organization.

They still need to work on orientation/check-in.  We wandered around for a while before we figured out where to go.  The equestrian center is a large piece of property that can easily swallow several thousand people in its wooded bowels.  This year they had changing tents (no more hunkering down behind your car after the race) but they were located halfway between anywhere useful.  If they really want the community to get behind this event they need to do even more to make it spectator friendly.  I would suggest a short dry spectator trail to get them to the key points of interest along the course.  I’d also give them a map.  Finally, they need better results reporting.  At any other race I’ve ever participated in you get the results almost in real time.  As of the time of this posting, I still don’t have our official time or a listing of the top finishers.

That is the end of my belly aching.  Everything else was really great.  We even got free Bubba Burgers at the end of the run.  Yum!

As for the race itself, it was comparable to last year but wasn’t as hot out of the water, not as cold in the water, the sticky mud was much shallower and the course was a little easier.  My trusty $13 boots came through the race just fine again (although I’m noticing a small amount of upper and sole separation on the right one).  Unfortunately, running in those things hurts my feet.  I noticed the next day that my feet were a little swollen and the bottoms hurt a little.  I also got  shin splints on my right leg.  I think both of these are directly related to the lack of padding in my boots.  I’ll heal up just fine I’m sure and it is a small price to pay to have this much fun.

On a side note about the boots, we were not allowed to duct tape our boots closed as we said we would last year (see 2010 post).  It turned out to be a non-issue.  There wasn’t gravel in the water or mud pits so none of us ended up getting junk stuck inside our boots this year.

We will not be doing the Donna Breast Cancer Marathon next year so that means we’ll be able to dedicate time to training specifically for this race.  The advice I got last year is still good for this year:  run stairs.  I think that is the best thing you can do to get ready for this event.

I can hardly wait for next year.

The following pictures are copyright Sam Moore (Thank you so much for doing this!) and are used here with the artist’s permission.  This is not the entire course but gives a good overall impression.

More Mud Run and Screen Printing

Well it’s that time of the year again.  The Mud Run is just a few weeks away and we had so much fun last year that we are fielding two teams this year.  This means more people which means more t-shirts which means more screen printing (detailed pictorial screen printing instructions here).  I saved the screen from last year and cranked out six new shirts.

Things I observed:
1.  The screen has held up well.  Some of the smallest details are wearing away but overall it is still working well.
2.  Making three passes over the printing area with the ink lays on a nice amount of ink.  You can see how much thicker it is in the picture below.  NOTE:  I made the red a little darker this year.
3.  Cooking in the ink with the iron on the highest setting with a towel in between doesn’t damage the poly/technical shirts which I was afraid might happen.

I’ll be sure to give you all a write up of the actual run once we finish.  Hopefully we’ll have some spectators we know with cameras to capture us in all our muddy glory.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

2010 Jacksonville Mud Run Recap

*** UPDATE ***

The guy fractured his lower back not his neck.  Thankfully he will not need surgery and apparently was already asking about running next year.

“Vary your training, your running partners, and your environment. Only your imagination limits the ways you can spice up your running routine.”

Bob Glover, The Runner’s Handbook

Ain’t dat da troof, Bob Glover.  I thought I was in pretty good shape but this past weekend showed me that assumption was incorrect.  Let me tell you, the Mud Run is very different from a normal run.

Melanie and I ran Jacksonville’s 2nd Annual Mud Run this past weekend.  Let me answer your main question first.  Yes, it was extremely fun.  We loved it.  We laughed, fell down in mud and laughed more.  The other runners on the course couldn’t have been nicer.  They joked around with us and some even stopped to help other groups through obstacles.  There were TONS of people out there.  Many more than last year.  Too many runners if you asked me (They either need to limit registration or make it a two day event).  There was a DJ and many vendors selling food, drinks, etc.  It is quickly becoming a big deal of a race.  No where near the Gate or Donna Breast Cancer yet, but I think they said there were close to 3000 runners.

Now let me answer your next big question.  Yes, it was hard.  I didn’t get sore like I would after intense weight lifting, but I was wiped out the next day as if I had just extended my long run by several miles.  I was tired enough that, coupled with all of the time in the sun and pollen or exposure to wet little kid sneezes, I managed to get semi-sick Sunday afternoon.  I’m still recovering this morning but am feeling much better.

Let me finish off your FAQ’s by saying, yes we will do it again next year.  Best of all, when I asked my teammates if they wanted to run again I got an enthusiastic yes from all of them.

Now let me answer some of the questions you didn’t ask.

No one on our team was seriously injured.  My back is sore from when I hit the ground falling off the rope bridge and Melanie got a few stickers in her hand when she fell off the course going up one of the hills.  Let me be the first to say it.  I was the only one on our team that failed to complete an obstacle.  I’ll get you next year, rope bridge!

Unlike last year, there were a few serious injuries on the course this year.  A friend on another team sprained his ankle so badly that he thought he broke it.  A guy did break his neck on the same sliding obstacle.  I’m not sure if it was a freak accident or if he ignored the rules when he went down head first.  Another guy hurt his back when he fell off something and another guy landed on top of him.

Having good equipment really helped.  Melanie and I made certain to wear clothing that would not absorb water easily.  One of our teammates had on cotton BDU pants that had to have weighed 20 lbs more after our first water obstacle.  Also, all of her pockets held water.  You could hear it sloshing around as she ran.  It was like being in a race next to an inflatable kids’ pool.  Another teammate wore old boots.  One of them literally fell apart on the run.  His sock was hanging out the front of the boot’s upper like a tired dog’s tongue.  I had to stop looking at it because it kept making me laugh.  Eventually the insole pushed out and he had to Fred Flintstone it the last half mile.

Florida actually has real and true mud.  I thought everything would be wet sand but we hit an approximate one mile stretch of peanut butter mud.  Every step was like dragging a playful kid attached to your ankle.  It was slippery as ice in some spots and very uneven.  Melanie went down in it – much to my enjoyment and the delight of all within eyeshot of her.

Three of the obstacles were filled with very cold water.  Of course they were the ones that required you be at least up to your neck in them.

The weather was great that day.  It started out in the mid 60’s and got into the mid 70’s by the time we had finished.  There was almost no wind.  It is a difficult thing for the MS Society to balance.  If it gets too hot, you’ll have people passing out on the course.  If it is too cold, everyone will be miserable since you are 100% saturated for almost the entire race.

Next year we are going to train harder for this event.  Our goal this year was to be in good enough shape to complete the course smiling not panting.  We did this by making sure we could run six miles before the race.  Next year we are going to have to do some circuit training and more steep hill running.  There was a section of the course where we ran over a series of very steep hills (grab-the-dirt-in-front of you steep).  If we could do those fairly easily, we would drop our time significantly.

As a side note, it was really neat that they incorporated some of the existing landscape into the course.  These “hills” that we were running over were actually old munitions bunkers from when the course used to be part of a military base.

My SPF 55 sunscreen worked like a champ!  We were out in the sun for over five hours and I didn’t get any burns.

Next year we are going to duct tape the tops of our boots closed.  Little rocks worked their way in this year.  Quite unpleasant.  Some were large enough that we had to stop a couple of times for folks to empty their boots on the side of the course.

We were filthy at the end of the race.  They had tank truck with a fire-hose-like attachment on it to blast most of the grime and grit off.  When we got home, Melanie laid our clothes out in the driveway and sprayed them with the hose.  I soaked them in a bucket of hot water after that and they still turned the water black.  They are in the washing machine now with hopes that they don’t look destroyed when they come out.

It took two days to get the dirt completely out of our ears, nose and eyes.

Disposable contacts with glasses waiting for me at the end of the race was the way to go.  If you are vision impaired, I highly recommend this plan.

The gallery below contains pictures that our super friend Lunetta took for us.  She and Adrianne were real troopers.  They hung out for several hours just so we’d have a record of our exploits.  A big Superstain thanks to both of you!

Nathan and I want to have two teams next year.  I know we can do it.  There are several of you that we know that would love to do this.  Talk to us about joining our teams!

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

But are you SUPERstained?

Well friends, it took much more time than I would have expected but the Superstain shirts are finished. I really like the way they turned out and they should be as durable as any store bought t-shirt I think.

Things I learned:
1. Don’t lay the same color on top of itself. Surprisingly, the overlapping sections don’t dry to be the same color.
2. Clear packing tape can remove the dry photo emulsion from the screen, regardless of what the tutorials tell you. If you use this kind of tape as a mask, don’t plan on removing it.
3. On a low 60’s day, the ink will not dry as fast as the tutorials would have you believe. I had ink scraped thin across the screen that sat for many minutes without gumming up.

Overall, I think this is really pretty fun and would recommend that you give it a try. If you have an alternative to the photo emulsion and the fabric ink, please drop your suggestions in a comment for this post.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

TotW: Superstain Super Screen Printing

Melanie and I are on a five person team for this year’s Mud Run. The MS Society does what they can to promote a team spirit and one of the things they request is some sort of team uniform. Because the race is already fairly expensive, we decided to go the cheap route. My teammates are going to provide me a white t-shirt and I’m going to get our team logo on it somehow.

Because at least some of these shirts are going to be technical t’s made of wicking polyester, I thought screen printing would be our best chance at something that looks decent and may actually stay on during the race. This meant that I had to learn how to screen print. Below is what I’ve learned about the process.  I’ll post pictures of the finished shirts when I’m done.

The concept of screen printing is very simple: 1. Get a fine screen. 2. Block out the parts you don’t want ink to get through. 3. Put ink on top of the screen 4. Push the ink through the screen onto the printing surface 5. Remove screen and cure ink.

You can do this in a number of ways from the most basic hand made stencils, masking tape or found objects all the way up to photo sensitive emulsions. The ink can be anything from spray paint to fabric ink specifically designed for screen printing. I’m going to be talking about a lower cost alternative to the way the pros do it.

Step 1 – Collect supplies.
Rubber gloves
Old crappy clothes
Screen material – 110 mesh screen printing fabric, translucent curtain fabric, etc.
Frame – old picture frame or wood to make your own
Staple gun
Staples – shorter than the thickness of your frame
Speedball Diazo Sensitizer
Speedball Diazo Photo Emulsion
Large emulsion spreader – plastic wallpaper smoother or scoop coater (better)
Red light/darkroom light (optional)
Completely dark place to put screen – closet, cardboard box, etc.
Something to support screen horizontally – four spray paint caps, thumbtacks, etc.
Black towel
Clear overhead transparency suitable for photocopier or laser printer use
Black and white design for t-shirt
Sheet of clean clear glass that fits inside frame
Bright light – 250w work light, (2) 100w work lights, the sun, etc.
Shower, large sink or garden hose with spray head
Clear packing tape or screen printing tape
Stiff squeegee or plastic putty knife with sharp edges removed
Fabric screen printing ink
Cardboard – large enough to fill the inside of the shirt
T-shirt – must be porous material that can take heat – not nylon

Step 2 – Construct frame.

Poplar Frame

Half Lap Joint

You may get a picture frame from a thrift store. This will provide the frame you need and the piece of glass.

I didn’t see anything large enough that would work for me so I built my own from a scrap piece of poplar I had in my shop. I used glued half lap joints and the finished product is plenty large and strong enough for this purpose.

Step 3 – Attach screen material to frame with staples.

When selecting your mesh you want something that is strong because you’ll be pushing on it with some force. You want something that is a relatively fine mesh to capture the detail of your design but not so fine that it doesn’t let the thick ink through. I got my fabric at an art supply store ($10/yd) but people have had success with translucent curtain fabric (~$2/yd) and even panty hose. Many people recommend 110 screen printing mesh for fabric. My art supply store’s version of this was “8XX Multi-Polyester Silkscreen.”

Screen Fabric Cut Larger Than Frame
Staples About One Inch Apart

Cut the material so that it is a couple inches larger than the frame. Lay the frame on the material. Staple the material to the frame. Start with one staple in the center of one side. Pull the material tight and put one staple in the center of the opposite side. Repeat the process for the remaining two sides. Working from the center to the corners on a roughly 1” spacing, repeat the process putting a staple in one side then the opposite side, making sure to keep the screen pulled tight.

You should now have a frame with screen material tightly stretched and stapled to it (no sags or ripples).

NOTE: I chose to staple my fabric to the outside edge of the frame so that the staples would not touch the printing area and allow the screen to sit flatter on the T-shirt.

Step 4 – Wearing crappy clothes and gloves to protect your hands, add water to sensitizer and mix with photo emulsion according to manufacturer’s directions.

Expensive Photo Emulsion and Sensitizer

At $27 for the two chemicals, this is the only really expensive part of the entire process. Once mixed, if you store the goop in your fridge, it is supposed to be good for four months. There is a lot of it. I have to believe that there is a cheaper alternative and I will be looking for it for future projects. I know that I could use water-resistant glue and paint on a stencil or cut Frisket or mask with tape but that defeats the purpose.

I thought I was going to be clever and use our super accurate kitchen scale to measure out ¼ of each and mix it with ¼ the water called for. This is the only reason I bought these pricey chemicals in the first place. The sensitizer bottle is so lightweight that it has a sticker saying something to the effect of “Contents are lightweight. Bottle is not empty.” I assumed this meant it was a powder but in fact it is just a very small amount of a fairly thick liquid. I knew I would never get all of it out without mixing it with water as the directions called for. Trying to transfer it from one container to another would cause me to lose too much of the product so I just mixed the entire thing.

Step 5 – Apply mixed photo emulsion to screen using large emulsion spreader.

NOTE: This step can be messy. I did it in my garage sink. Be sure you are protected. These chemicals are nasty to get on your skin.

This Thin Plastic Spreader was Too Flimsy. A Scoop Coater Would Have Been Better.

If you have a scoop coater, fill the trough with mixed photo emulsion about ¼” deep. Holding the screen vertically in the sink, tilt the scoop coater against the bottom edge of the screen. Wait for the emulsion to ooze up against the screen. Now in one even stroke, pull the scoop coater up the screen pushing fairly firmly to create a thin even layer of emulsion on the screen. Flip the screen over and repeat the process on the opposite side of the screen. You must do both sides of the screen at once. You cannot let one side dry first.

Head lamp with red lens. I don't think I needed this for this step.

I cheaped out and used an old plastic wallpaper smoother. It is probably too flimsy to make good even contact with the screen. It certainly is difficult to get it to hold enough emulsion. I used an old measuring cup to ladle the emulsion onto the smoother. I had read that it was important to do this step in the dark using a darkroom light so I used a headlamp I have with the red night-vision filter in place. I think this was a mistake. I have since seen where other people do this under natural light and then quickly move the screen into a dark area. I could not see exactly what I was doing because the emulsion is so dark in red light. I’m not sure if it was the smoother, too much emulsion or not being able to see what I was doing, but I did a horrible job coating the screen. It was lumpy and took forever to dry. Next time I’m either going to make my own scoop coater or buy one. Some instructions call for coating only one side. I think if you did a perfect job this would work well but for amateurs, coating both sides is a better way to guarantee you don’t have pinholes in your emulsion.

Step 6 – Dry the emulsion coated screen.

Screen on Four Spray Paint Caps. Thumbtacks would have worked better.

If you were not already working under a darkroom lamp, quickly move the coated screen to an area free from any light. Store the screen horizontally with the screen side of the frame facing down. Be sure to place the frame on something so that the screen is not touching the floor/table. Allow the screen to become completely dry to the touch. This will take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours normally.

When I did this step I put the screen in a cardboard box with the corners supported by four spray paint tops. Because of my uneven, and in some places very thick, coating it took a long time for my screen to dry. I stopped timing it after 3.5 hours and just left it overnight. I’m sure the cold weather didn’t help either. I made a big mistake one of the times I was checking the screen. As I placed it back on the paint caps, it moved and I didn’t notice one of the caps shifted from the frame to the screen where it stuck securely. I did find the red light useful for checking the screen throughout the evening so I would have one on hand for this part of the process if possible.

Step 7 – Prepare the design and transfer it to the overhead transparency.

While your screen is drying you can do this step. Come up with a creative design or, like most people, just steal someone else’s. If this is computer generated and you have a laser printer, simply print the design onto the transparency. If you have an inkjet printer, print the design onto white paper and photocopy it onto the transparency. If you are creating the design by hand, either draw directly on the transparency or on a piece of paper to photocopy onto the transparency.

Make sure your design is black and white. The black part of the design will be the color of your ink. The white will be the color of the t-shirt. The black areas should be very dark. It is critical that you check your design by holding it up to the light to see if there are any problem areas. On my transparency I had to touch up some areas with a black sharpie where the toner didn’t stick very well.

Of course you can do multiple colors. You simply make separate screens for each color you plan to print. If you are familiar with other types of printing, you can separate your image into its C’s Y’s M’s and K’s, making a screen for each. This would allow you nearly unlimited printing options – even reproducing photographs. Luckily for you, explaining how to do that, or even just the color theory behind it, is beyond the scope of this post. Saved from the windbag once again!

Step 8 – While still in a low-light area, quickly place the dry screen on the black towel. Place the design transparency right side up on the screen (so text is readable not reversed). Place the glass on the transparency. Position under light source. Turn on light source. Turn off light source once exposed emulsion hardens.

Black Towel, Emulsion Coated Screen, Art, Glass and (2) 100W Lights

The black towel prevents light leak from under the screen. The glass is a heavy flat object to press the design directly against the screen so no shadowing will occur. Be sure to that all items are clean. Large dirt particles can create pinholes in your emulsion.

The photo emulsion used to create the mask on the screen is light sensitive. You didn’t think they just threw “photo” in the title because they like words, did you? All of the areas where the emulsion is exposed to light, it will harden. All of the areas not exposed to light (under your nicely blacked-out design) will remain soft and removable. Trial and error will tell you how much time this will take. You will notice that the emulsion changes color and gets darker as it hardens. This will continue until the exposed emulsion is dark green while the protected area of the design remains a pale yellow-green.

GUIDELINES: One source said exposure to the sun would take 1.5 minutes. I would think this would be extremely variable and would not use this method. Other sources say 250W incandescent at 12” from surface = 10min. 150W incandescent at 12” = 45 min.

Everything up to this point has had a large slop factor. This step does not. If you underexpose the emulsion it will all come off in the next step. Apparently if you over expose it, you will not be able to get any of it to come off. I recommend that you document the type of bulb, wattage, distance from surface and exposure time. In this example, I used (2) 100W incandescent bulbs about 12” from the surface for 45 minutes. It worked very well.

Step 9 – Remove towel, glass and transparency from screen. Immediately rinse screen with cold water until all uncured emulsion is removed. Hold screen up to light to check for any cloudy areas. Light scrubbing may be necessary to remove all uncured emulsion.

Ratzy Patzy! My sloppy thick emulsion wasn't completely dry. Wet areas are dark green.

This step can be completed in a large sink, a shower or with a garden hose. If you delay, the previously unexposed area of your design will begin to harden with exposure to light.

Step 10 – Place screen in direct sunlight and allow it to fully cure.

 

Screen is finally fully cured!

Step 11 – Place t-shirt on large flat work surface. Insert cardboard inside shirt to hold it flat and prevent ink from transferring all the way through the shirt. Place screen on shirt and have someone hold it or secure it with clamps.

Test T-Shirt with Cardboard Insert

Step 12 – Place ink on top edge of screen using a scoop or a spatula. Draw ink across design in screen with a squeegee or plastic putty knife using gentle pressure to distribute a large amount of ink over the design.

 

Fabric Ink

 

Screen Held to Shirt with Two Clamps and Ink Ready to Flood. Edges and unused logos covered with clear packing tape.
Plastic Putty Knife with all Edges Eased

This process is called flooding the screen. You are trying to get good coverage of the ink over the entire design without actually trying to push it through the screen. I needed so little ink for my logo test that I just used a stirring stick to smear some ink on the screen. I got very good results flooding the screen with a plastic putty knife.

Step 13 – Apply firm pressure to squeegee or plastic putty knife and draw it back across the screen in the opposite direction used to flood the screen.

This step pushes the ink through the screen and onto the shirt. It is important that the screen makes good flat contact with the t-shirt. You have to apply a decent amount of pressure. On my first attempt I had some areas that were light on ink. I pressed harder the next time with much better results.

Step 14 – Immediately flood screen with ink again (if doing multiple shirts). This prevents the fast drying ink from setting up on the screen. Once all printing with screen is complete, immediately wash screen to prevent ink from setting up on screen.

Step 15 – Set shirt aside to dry (about an hour). If there are other colors or elements to this design, repeat from Step 11 until design is completely transferred to t-shirt, waiting until ink is dry to apply the next layer.

Step 16 – Keep cardboard inside shirt. On ironing board, place cloth rag on top of shirt. With iron on hottest setting, iron design for at least one minute (preferably 3-5 minutes). Turn the shirt inside out and repeat Step 16. This step helps prevent the ink from coming off when the shirt is washed.

Step 17 – Wear and enjoy.

 

Test Print - Not Final Color

 

For more information on screen printing see this entertaining video.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.