I have done Tough Mudder (TM) two out of the last three years, and while I may rain on some people’s parade, it’s not very tough. Now while my moniker may suggest otherwise, as some people have pointed out, I’m not that “average.” [I am a two-time Ironman finisher (incl. a Kona qualification), was a member of a skydiving club back in the day, and don’t really care about completion of races so much as the self- or group-made challenging shit leading up to them)]. Hence, my perspective is skewed.
Realizing that even some of my “lunch box list” (my version of the “Bucket List”), is pass/fail (such as thru-hiking a major trail – yeah, I think big), for most, making something pass/fail is an easier way of shooting for a goal while minimizing the mental risk of failure. No shit, that’s cool, and a great start to a rolling snowball of success.
I appreciate the fact that most just want to be a part of something cool. For you, anything is a start, and you could do a lot worse than Tough Mudder to get the seed planted for getting motivated, having fun, and getting fit. The TM is not that tough, as I’ll show in a minute, but is still something most people would probably have a blast at.
They bill themselves as “Probably the toughest event on the planet.TM” Puh-lease. Off the top of my head, things that anyone can sign up for or do (thus, something like the Iditerod would be excluded) that I think are tougher:
- any trail marathon, hell, even a competitive (i.e. not really walking) trail half-marathon is way harder
- any 100 mile to 200k bike ride (especially those with any elevation gain or mountain climbs. For that matter, I would put any 10 mile mountain climb with say 3000-4000 foot of gain [call it a HC or Cat 1 climb in Tour de France lingo] way harder than the TM. For example, here’s one I’ve done several times, bike climbing from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch to the top of nearby Mount Figueroa in California. This is a climb US Postal team used as a training route with cheater Lance Armstrong back in the day, about 3700 feet of elevation gain in roughly 10 miles.)
- The Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run [full marathon]
- any ultra-marathon, especially those in the 50-100 mile category (and the Badwater Ultra is just redonkulous)
- Running a 3:30 marathon (not many people can do this, while nearly anyone with very limited training can run/walk a TM)
- Playing the knife and hand game
Some of those aren’t really that fun, and to boot, require a lot of time. Even I wouldn’t recommend training for most of them. Still, physical improvement is important. I’d put the toughness (or challenge or dedication needed) for completing the TM somewhere above running a 22 minute 5k. Basically, if you can run about 5 miles, you’ll have a really fun time at this event. And literally, if you can run 1 mile straight, you’ll complete the event. I know I’m in the minority, but I was way more pumped for trying to PR (personal record) local running races (even a 5k) or trying to beat friends at some shitty local race, than I was to complete is essentially a fun run + obstacle course. I was way more excited about hiking a 10 mile hike with a 50# weighted vest with my friend. This ranked at about the level of a somewhat challenging training run on my psyche. So much so that I didn’t read the instructions, and nearly forgot to print my ticket or my mandatory waiver. That’s not to say it’s not slightly intimidating, or offers something beyond a basic running race, it’s just that it’s not really tough.
First of all, it’s not a race. It’s an event. That means there is stuff like teamwork and comraderie and doing stuff out of your comfort zone. That’s really cool, and leads to the dedicated participants. They put you in an ice-bath, they throw some minor electrocuting/shocking stuff that hit you a couple of times, there’s some monkey bars and mud. And lots of running. Both times I went into it (with two different groups of friends and acquaintances) and didn’t even know what the obstacles were. The first time, I was surprised it was 11+ miles (I thought it would be about 5) and neither time did I do anything beyond my normal workouts for training. This year, the most I ran at any one time was 5 miles, and that was over a month ago, before I sprained my ankle.
Which leads me to the people on my teams the last two years, all who finished with the group:
- a couple of people well overweight who couldn’t really run more than a couple of miles at time, one who hurt their ankle at Mile 1 this year
- a 50 year old dude who had should replacement surgery over the winter (and still had issues)
- a friend my age with a gimpy knee
- Me this year (38 years young) with a sprained ankle still healing, along with a gimpy shoulder
- some weekend warrior men and women who enjoy mostly running as a form of exercise, ages 25-40. One dude lost 80 lbs from his first TM to this year’s.
- While not part of my group, I saw about a 350 lb. dude finish the race, including getting over 10′ walls with the help of his team
Not exactly athlete material, in any sense of the word, though there were some good athletes who participated. It’s just that you didn’t need to have any athletic skill or even cardio or strength to complete, just some gumption and a little grit. Most people don’t even have that. I saw some really impressive athletes (former D1 players) at some of the Crossfit comps, and those guys and girls could move. This event is the equivalent of a 10k race or fun run on steroids.
Now that I’ve proceeded to make fun of it a little for it’s lack of toughness, it does a lot of things well.
- First, it appeals to the masses. They want something to challenge them, to make them feel alive. For most of us, life is mostly pretty boring. Pretending you’re doing something most can’t do (even if they really can, but choose not to) makes you feel like a bad ass. Most people don’t really want to get dirty or get some minor shocks or be uncomfortable, so for that, participants are above the masses and they feel like they accomplished something extraordinary, which in some ways they have.
- Second, it is fun to partake in events with friends that push your abilities and challenges you a little. It creates a bonding moment that you can reflect upon and touchstones for work or friend relationships. This is probably the best part. I partook both times because my friends did, not because I really wanted to. And both times I had a fun time sharing moments with my friends in a unique environment.
- Third, the organization is very well done. They get you pumped at the start (Eye of the Tiger playing, MC getting people riled up, that type of thing), they yell at you to keep going. Obstacles are now well organized (a couple years ago they were much looser, but after a death at TM, things have changed, for the better).
- Fourth, it encourages entrants to support Wounded Warrior Project, benefiting service members getting integrated back into society after injury. Worthy cause.
- Fifth, they gives you beer at the end. Dos Equis is a sponsor, complete with models and photo ops. Great tasting beer at that point, but Natty Light probably would have been just as good after running 11 miles.
Things many don’t realize:
- None of your entry fee (as far as I could tell) actually goes to Wounded Warrior Project. The TM is a for-profit organization, making a shitload of money (no fault with that in and of itself), but they make it out to be that they are a primary contributor to that charity and some of your entry fee goes to that, even if they don’t say it explicity. This seems especially true when you see volunteer service-men and -women, or their families, on the course. The Wounded Warrior Project sleight of hand makes it extremely attractive for many people since they can point to those beneficiaries around the water cooler, making it seem more than what it was doing a personal pursuit (an obstacle course). According to wiki:
None of the revenue generated from Tough Mudder admissions sales goes directly to any charity.
- It’s really expensive (even if you don’t get a hotel), and these owner/organizer dudes are making money. The owners have gross revenues of over $115 million (in 2013) and are expected to increase. Not sure what net (revenue) is, but it has to be pretty decent. It takes a lot of effort, and capital, and I saw what looked like brand-spanking new yellow iron to dig all the stuff (this from a construction guy – excavator, dozers, backhoes, lots of ATVs, etc), plus lots of outside local help (police, EMS, fire, volunteers). Still, if much of your support is volunteers or sponsorship (like Met RX for food/aid stations and Dos Equis) you are likely raking it on entry and misc. fees. Depending on when you sign up, you pay between $100 to $200 entry fee, plus (usually) money to park ($15 for us), money to check your bag ($10), and of course, refreshments/food. Plus they charge $20-40 for spectators (WTF!?). Figure between 15,000-20,000 attendees per weekend at $150/person average, and you have a gross revenue of $2.25-$3 million per event (not counting extra fees). They advertise 55+ worldwide events. You can figure the math.
- You very well may get injured. Unlike the local 5-10k event, there is a higher chance for injury or even death. We saw a lot of cramping and twisted ankles, but members of our team this year were first responders to a NASTY broken ankle that was “dangling by a thread” after being twisted in mud. I may have passed this individual towards the end of the race, as it was probably less than 50 yards behind us when we heard the literal CRIES for “MEDIC” coming from behind us. One of our slower members was a former military medic, and thus a first responder, and said it happened right in front of them and it sounded like a branch breaking. Eww. Dude helped until the event EMS could arrive. They couldn’t bring the ATV on the trail because it was too muddy, so had to navigate the board on foot. Hope you don’t have a heart attack, or you’re probably screwed.
- Start times are only a suggestion. They don’t check, start whenever you feel like on the day you’re assigned.
- It’s a sausage fest. Even the website states it’s 70% dudes/30% chicks. The upside is the chicks are usually young and in-shape, and wear yoga-shorts that get wet. Walking behind an 18 year old hard-body up a 10% grade while she’s wearing something like below is worth the entry fee.
Bottom line is, if you’re bored of running races and charity runs, try Tough Mudder. It’s really not that hard (especially for the time invested) and a lot of fun. Just don’t expect it to change your life or anything. You’d have to invest a significantly more amount of time or effort to make something truly hard or unique, so for that, TM succeeds at a nice inflection point where cost, time invested, and challenge meet.
If you want to compare to the other versions of the same thing (usually shorter distance, and nearly as expensive) do your research. Here’s a post comparing Spartan Race vs. TM vs. Warrior Dash. Figure it out for yourself. With my main friend I did it with, we had a blast and he said it was one of the hardest thing he’s done, and one he’ll do again. It is fun to do them, but unless the prices is right, I will be finding some other challenge, likely my own (like hiking/running a trail run with weighted vest, maybe in the mud and with friends of the same ilk – you can have fun without the corporate sponsorship). Have fun out there and always continue to challenge yourself, regardless of how you do it. Getting muddy is fun too. Peace.