Last Updated on October 24, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
(A tale of horrible injuries, amazing people, and me admitting when I’m wrong.)
Ask me if I “do Tough Mudders”. No really, go ahead. It happens multiple times a week.
In parkour class, as we go around the group sharing our fitness backgrounds, I say that I enjoy training for and racing obstacle course races. “OH LIKE THE TOUGH MUDDER!” my instructor immediately and enthusiastically replied. No. I mean, yes, but no.
At a local trail, as we are burpeeing, running, and carrying heavy objects (logs, cement blocks, each other, etc), and passers by shout “hey, are you guys training for a Tough Mudder?” No…but sort of, I guess.
And my favorite, is when describing the grueling 22-ish miles/11 hours I completed of the Spartan Ultra Beast last year to almost anyone, they reply with something like: “Boy that’s great. But have you ever done a Tough Mudder? I hear those are really tough.”
No, I’ve never run a Tough Mudder.
You see, Tough Mudder and I have had a rocky relationship from the start, though I’m pretty sure they have no idea who I am (yeah, one of those relationships). And yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I am stubborn when when I set my mind to certain things, and for some reason, the topic of Tough Mudder has somehow morphed into one of them. Let me explain.
Last spring I was actually registered for the Tough Mudder at Mt. Snow, here in Vermont. Days before, I came down with a gnarly spring virus, to the point where I couldn’t stop coughing, never mind breathe sufficiently enough to run. May in Vermont is notorious for questionable weather, and that weekend proved to be a little colder than I was hoping. I knew that one of the very first obstacles I would face would be the Arctic Enema (yes, it is probably as horrible as it sounds, watch this video), and that I would ultimately be frozen for the duration of the race. Long story short, for the sake of my health, I didn’t go. Then I heard from other participants about how much standing around they did on the course while waiting for obstacles, and I became thankful that I missed it. I would have been freezing the entire time, and besides, what kind of “test of strength” has you standing around twiddling your thumbs? Strike #1 (though admittedly, the virus was not their fault).
September rolls around, and suddenly I have a ton of angry athlete friends who were either stuck in 7 hours of traffic trying to get to the Mid Atlantic Tough Mudder, stuck ON the muddy parking lot of Tough Mudder, took part in only half of the race since so many obstacles were shut down, or had their race canceled altogether. Didn’t hear about this gigantic race failure? Read this article here, and check out some reviews, like this one, this one, and this one. While this didn’t affect me personally, out of solidarity for my athletic friends, it left me with a less than stellar impression of Tough Mudder. Strike #2.
Over the course of last summer, I had the pleasure of spending about 72 sleepless hours working at the Spartan Death Race. I met some of the most absolutely incredible athletes on the face of this earth. I also spent A LOT time with a lot of the faces behind Spartan Race, including some of the founders. They are genuinely good people, who not only have the sport of obstacle course racing at heart, but truly want to see people change their lives by succeeding at these races. (Unless of course, we are talking about the Death Race, in which case, they will tell you that you ARE going fail, so you might as well just quit.) These were my people, and I liked them. So when through word of mouth, and then published articles like “Playing Dirty” from Outside Magazine, detailing the dirty (and I’m not talking mud) tactics behind the scenes at Tough Mudder were brought to my attention, I was thoroughly disgusted with Tough Mudder. Not simply as a friend of Sparta, but as a member of the obstacle course racing world as a whole. Strike #3, you’re out Tough Mudder.
|As you can tell, Spartan Race isn’t completely innocent in the Mud Wars battle…|
And that’s when it hit me. I’ve totally fallen into this mud-run-wars trap myself.
Confession time: I am guilty, of more than once, responding to someone who has told me they have just finished a Tough Mudder, with “Great! Now you need to do a Spartan Race”, as if their accomplishment of finishing a Tough Mudder wasn’t enough (sound familiar?). I admit to almost always making some sort of comment when I pass a car with a Tough Mudder sticker on it (just ask Geoff), and I’ll even admit to rolling my eyes at the trainer at my old gym who has the Tough Mudder logo tattooed on his leg. I know, not nice. But at least I’m owning up to it.
Now, before you start laughing about how (probably too) serious I take this sport, think about it for a minute, this competition of “which race is harder” and “this is why we are more badass than you” affects more than just the obstacle course world. I’ve heard people claim that finishing a 140.6 mile triathlon wasn’t the same as finishing an “Ironman” branded race. Marathoners telling other marathoners that they “didn’t really run a marathon” because they didn’t finish under a specific time. Go ahead and take a poll in your local CrossFit box about their opinion of what is harder/better: what they do or what the ladies in Zumba class are doing (caution: language warning on the last link).
I’d certainly like to attribute this trend more so to the fact that so many of us athletes, amateur, elite, or weekend warriors, possess a bit of type-A personality, and a good chunk of internal competition; and not simply because we all get a kick out of tearing each other down. After all, that competitive drive is what motivates so many of us to do what we do. In fact, I bet most of us don’t even realize that we are inadvertently diminishing others accomplishments.
But we are. And we need to stop. So back to my issue with Tough Mudder…
The selfless act of the strangers who helped my friend this weekend reminded me that it is NOT about the race itself…or any race for that matter. It is about the participants.
It is about those people who never settle for the ordinary, who always push for more. It’s about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. About striving to be the best we can be, physically and mentally. It’s about camaraderie…not only between friends, family, and teammates…but between strangers. It is about making the world a better place, every single time we not only try to better ourselves, but even more so in every time we help others do the same.
Yesterday’s events reassured what I have always known: we are one big family, the endurance community. Will Dean may (or may not) have shady business tactics, but what matters most is the bigger picture behind why people show up to his race. Tough Mudder may be the reason they show up, but Tough Mudder is not the reason they finish. That comes from a special place inside of each one of us… maybe with a little help from a friend.
Or a stranger.
So long story short, I publicly apologize for my Tough Mudder rantings, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing them. Keep on keeping on Tough MudderS, with your crazy electric shocks…and even more crazy electric shocks. Who am I to ever judge and assume that your Tough Mudder experience wasn’t nearly as epic, amazing, and life changing as my Ultra Beast experience. And just maybe one day I’ll join your ranks with a bright orange headband of my own…
Have you ever run a Tough Mudder? I would love to hear your opinion of the race!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.