You’ve seen people at the gym with Tough Mudder ‘finisher’ shirts on, your friends have talked about it and showed you some videos, you’ve looked some stuff up online and now a group of you have decided to put together a team for Tough Mudder. But what have you, really, just gotten yourself into? Let’s start with a quick look at background starting with ‘What is Tough Mudder’?
First off it’s not a race, but a challenge. They advertise this quite clearly on the website and throughout the course. Tough Mudder bills itself as ‘Probably the toughest event on the planet’ and is designed to ‘Challenge the toughest of the tough’.
First launched in New York State Tough Mudder has gone on to become a global phenomenon with , (to date) 1.3 million people participating in Tough Mudder races around the world. Founded by British citizens Will Dean and Ben Livingston while studying in New York, Tough Mudder was based on the British ‘Tough Guy’ race and British Special Forces obstacle courses, (which are designed to test people’s physical and mental strengths) and focused on teamwork as well as on course camaraderie.
With part of the proceeds going to charity, usually military associated, (Wounded Warrior Project in the USA, Wounded Warrior in Canada, Help for Heroes in the UK and Legacy in Australia) Tough Mudder is more than just a challenge for bragging rights but helping veterans at a time when many feel their own governments are turning their back on them.
So now you’ve learned what Tough Mudder is all about, and may have assembled a team, next idea is to go online to see what you’re up against by watching a video such as this one:
So, should you train at all or do you think you’ll be okay? Yes, you should. While the course isn’t a race there are many obstacles where one could hurt themselves which could be aggravated by lack of physical conditioning. On the official Tough Mudder website there is a training manual that you can download for free. As well as a timer through online app stores for your Apple or Android platform devices.
Concerned about the cost or on a tight budget? Not everyone is cool with forking out almost $150 to go play in the mud. No problem, discounts are offered for booking in advance, and if you choose to volunteer one day you can run the course the next day at a large discount.
Now all the talk and preparation are over. You line up with your waiver form in hand, ID and event ticket. The volunteers check your ID against the name on your waiver and ticket and issue you a bib then you proceed to a table with pins and markers attaching your bib and writing your bib number on your forehead as well as your arm or leg. The reason for writing it on your forehead is that your bib will most likely get torn off and all the crawling through mud and obstacles with scrape the number off your body. On your bib is two tear off tags. One for any bags you wish to check in and one to go around your wrist, both have your bib number on them.
As you proceed to the start line you’ll have to climb over a six foot wall, then you’re in the starting paddock where a motivational speaker will go over a few basics with you and get your fired up after you take the ‘Mudder Pledge’ which is :
- I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
- I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
- I do not whine – kids whine.
- I help my fellow mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears. And then you’re off.
Details vary depending on the terrain your course is set on; ours advertised that it was one of the most geographically challenging courses in North America. Which after running up and down 8 or more, (we honestly lost count) hills between 35-45 degrees (staircases are 32 degrees) at a length of 800 – 1200 feet I would believe them. The obstacles vary as well from course to course, and obstacles are listed on the Tough Mudder website.
Many of the names are tongue in cheek such as ‘Dirty Ballerina’, ‘Just the Tip’ and ‘Artic Enema’. However thinking you can plot a strategy for you first time through is deceptive, as many obstacles that look hard are fairly simple to over come and others may look simple but are more challenging to do. Some obstacles are well known, such as ‘Everest’ (a fifteen foot tall quarter pipe) or ‘Artic Enema’ (a jump into ice filled water that requires you going under water to get past an opening to reach the other side), but really aren’t as bad as some would have you believe.
Others, such as ‘Devils Beard’, (a heavy cargo net staked to the ground and covered in mud that you crawl under) take a lot more out of you than you might at first believe. Of all the obstacles one of the most famous is the ‘Mud Mile’. This one has a sign with the word ‘Dignity’ in a large red circle with a red line going through it, and is well deserved.
You go over the first bank and into a chest high pool of mud, your only way out is to jump, be pushed and pulled over the 7-8 foot sheer muddy bank on the other side and then into another chest high pool of mud. This process repeats another three or four times and you’re out of the mud pits, leaving your sense of cleanliness and dignity behind you. This is where the real fun of the course starts.
Even though you will spend the next several hours getting mud all over you, (perhaps even in places your doctor has yet to examine) while getting scraped and scratched over almost 12 miles (not the advertised 10) and encountering obstacles that are not noted on the course map, the camaraderie amongst the participants begins. Previously people where mainly helping out their fellow team members, now complete strangers stop to help the next person over an obstacle, whether they know them or not. People begin joking openly and checking each other to make sure they’re okay, and the signs no longer tell you how much of the course you’ve completed but become humorous.
Water and light snack stations, (such as half banana’s and sports bars) are distributed every so often along the track by volunteers with nearby porta-potties, (unless you want to duck into the woods on a steep grade there’s really no where to relieve yourself). Medics are at every obstacle to make sure that no one gets beaten up too badly, as well as patrolling the course.
Tickets are sold for people who only want to spectate and quite often along the course you are cheered on as people encourage everyone on the course. Which given the mud content, everyone pretty much looks the same at this point. You will loose all sense of time and direction as the course crosses over it and parallels itself. While the course is clearly labeled The event’s name ‘Mudder’ is not misleading or suggested as mud is absolutely everywhere, from mud obstacles, mud at obstacles to large pools of the stuff dotting every path between obstacles. If you like staying clean, this is not an event for you
When you reach the last obstacle you have only to run through a pit of mud with hanging electric wires overhead to cross the finish line. As you cross the finish line volunteers put an orange Tough Mudder headband on you and give you more water and sports bars. Then you will have done it; you’ve become a ‘Mudder’.
Showers are available to hose off the bulk of the mud, and many people bring a change of clothes and garbage bags to cover the inside of their vehicles. Large dumpsters are available to throw out any clothing or to donate your shoes. When you finish the course you will be rewarded with the headband, a t-shirt that says ‘Tough Mudder finisher’ on it, (it also lists the location and year) and a free beer (providing you are of age for your region.) Should any of the obstacles on the course prove too much you may simply bypass them without any penalty. But at least give each one a try, you may surprise yourself.
If you decide to do further Tough Mudder courses you will be given different coloured headbands depending on how many you complete, and will be running as a ‘Legionnaire’ which opens up additional obstacles. You may even decide to enter ‘World’s Toughest Mudder’ which is a 24 hour non stop running of the course, where participants see how many times they can continuously loop the course in a non stop 24 hour period. You will need upper body and core strength, the ability to run for a couple of miles without water, and enough endurance to last through a few hours of activity.
If you feel tired after getting up from the couch to raid the fridge before returning to your seat, this is not an activity for you. For those that do want to enter a Tough Mudder course for the first time a few things to consider:
Clothing: Wear something that won’t become too heavy as it gets soaked repeatedly and you’re not attached too. Several of my team members threw out their shoes, socks an underwear after and my shirt was torn up during the course to bind up someone’s calve.
Hydration: Make sure you have taken in plenty of water in the days leading up to running the course as water stations are every couple of miles as you will be needing fluids.
Ego: Leave it at home. If you like to be first in all things and only help others when it benefits you then don’t bother entering and ruining the day for others.
Actually, just throw yourself off a cliff and make the world a better place regardless.
Humour: If you don’t bring it, you’ll find it somewhere on a hill or in a mud puddle. It really does help you get through some of the moments when you pause and wonder what you’re doing to yourself.
The event was the most fun I have had getting absolutely filthy and covered in scratches and bruises sine I was a kid. The only moment that made me pause was standing on a 12-15 foot platform over a pool of water and seeing a man in a wetsuit with a scuba tank ready to fish anyone unlucky enough to run into serious problems out of the water.
Friendly competition, occasional on-course snacks and pausing to do obstacles was enough energy to keep me pushing throughout the entire course and running the vast majority of the twelve miles. I did run the first hill and halfway through the second hill I thought that it was okay to slow down to a march up the hillside, as I wasn’t being chased by a bear, so I didn’t burn myself out to quickly. Knowing that this was my first time through the course I decided my best course of action would be to focus on pacing myself and paying close attention to running and climbing form to reduce my chances of injury. Which I’m glad I did, as being a lifelong klutz I know that not paying attention to these things and allowing myself to get caught up in the moment is usually when I find myself injured.
Although this was my first Tough Mudder, it won’t be my last. Hopefully some of you will think this challenge sounds like fun and we’ll see each other on the course next season.
* all photo’s are property of the author –
John Goodale is the author of Johnny Gora (available on amazon.com) as well as the monthly column Indy Comic Spotlight and several articles for TMRZoo.com