Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
For the record: I apologized face to face to a kick ass Tough Mudder employee this weekend. I confessed that I was a diehard Spartan in the past, and had fallen victim to the Hatfield/McCoy type rivalry (or simply middle-school-esque type drama) that somehow evolved between those who bleed orange and those who bleed red and black. I read the Outside Magazine article. And though I tried to play nice in a blog post of my own, I was the first to tell people why I would never do a Tough Mudder.
So this weekend, I admitted I was a jerk, and I said I was sorry.
Because you guys, here’s the thing: these events we run aren’t about the race itself, they are about the people. And Tough Mudders are an amazing group of people. In the Tough Mudder Pledge recited before you even cross the starting line, you acknowledge that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge, and that you will put teamwork and camaraderie before your course time. “Teamwork” doesn’t simply mean the people you showed up with that morning, it means everyone on the course. And I’d wager that 90% of the people out on the course demonstrate this pledge; the atmosphere of a Tough Mudder is just so vastly different than many of the other races. Not to say that people don’t help each other out at other races, but at a Tough Mudder, people stick around at obstacles for long durations of time helping their fellow athletes out. It’s pretty kickass.
Plus it turns out that Tough Mudder is really freaking FUN
So fun that after my first Tough Mudder this past May, I returned for a second attempt at Tough Mudder glory this past weekend just outside of Portland, Maine (Westbrook, to be exact). And not only was I not disappointed, I was thoroughly impressed, as everything I had seen as a fault at their Mt. Snow race was fixed at the Great Northeast event. And I proudly joined the Tough Mudder Legion.
The Condensed Version:
Do a Tough Mudder. Don’t be a jerk like I was.
The (long) Race Recap:
(I seriously outdo myself in recap post length every time, sorry guys. For obstacles not pictured in this recap, check out my Mt. Snow Tough Mudder post. They are all there.)
I joke that Tough Mudder is run like Disney World, but I suppose it’s not really a joke. They have their timing, marketing, and entertainment factor nailed down. When it’s time to start, you enter a “pre-corral”. Here, an enthusiastic Tough Mudder emcee takes you through a fun warmup while also engaging the crowd.
We sang Happy Birthday to a few fellow Mudders, were given a bit of a pep speech and a safety run down. After about ten minutes or so, we were sent off running to starting corral #2.
Here we encountered our first set of walls: three heights to choose from. Once you got over one, you piled into the actual starting corral with your fellow racers. The music was pumping and the atmosphere really exciting. Once everyone was finally crammed in, the infamous Tough Mudder “Start Line Sean” began his speech. Let me tell you kids, he is GOOD at what he does, with infectious motivation and a smile a dentist would be proud of. I choke back tears every time as he reminds us to kick ass on the course while remembering all those who can’t be out there for whatever reason. Then comes the Tough Mudder pledge, the National Anthem, then we are off and running to the DropKick Murphy’s “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” I’m curious if this has become the National OCR Anthem or just up here in Murphy-land, as we are almost always 2 hours or less from Boston whichever way you turn.
But I digress.
We’re off and running. The Great NorthEast course was held on Sunset Ridge Golf Links, a vast change from every other OCR this summer that has been held on the face of a ski mountain. As such, this course would prove to be fast and definitely advantageous to runners. Reportedly 10.3 miles, the course covered a little bit of wooded trail, but mostly grassy fields and small rolling hills (if you can even call them hills. Speedbumps perhaps?).
As we begun to wind through the golf course, not even a half mile in we passed a ridge with a private residence off to the left. On top of the ridge was a guy spectating from his golf cart, cheering loudly and wildly. A racer behind me yelled up to him “throw me a beer!” to which the spectator happily obliged. Said beer was then passed around amongst a number of racers (though I personally turned down the offer, mile 0.5 on a hot day was way too soon for me to begin drinking). Thus begins the camaraderie of the Tough Mudder.
Obstacle #1: Kiss of Mud. One of my number one complaints about the Mt. Snow race was how it seriously lacked mud for an OCR, and how I was slightly offended that the ankle deep puddles were actually considered obstacles. This was not the case at the Great NorthEast race. The very first obstacle had us rolling in thick mud under barbed wire.
In fact, the next three obstacles did the same. At one point a fellow racer even joked “I didn’t know there could be so many different types of mud!” It was true. We were disgusting, just as I had hoped we would be.
Obstacle #2: Mud Mile. A long mudpit that I assumed the day before was broken up by huge mud “walls”. Being Sunday, the second day of the race, most of the walls had been broken down. In a race type scenario, most people would just barrel through. Here, people were actually filing over to the side where part of the walls still remained to properly complete the obstacle. I thought that was truly remarkable and showed what this race was really about.
Obstacle #3 Pitfall. What looks like ankle deep mud is actually a pit with random, deep holes. You don’t know you are about to step in one until you do..and likely fall.
Obstacle #4: Quagmire. Waist deep mud puddles.
Obstacle #5: Pyramid Scheme: You can’t do this one without a team. Simply cannot. Geoff and I caught the tail end of another team who had already made it to the top. I climbed on Geoff’s shoulders and one of their teammates pulled me to the top. He went next. Once we were both at the top, that team left, and another showed up at the bottom. I hung on to Geoff’s ankles as he dangled down as far as he could to start pulling the next team up. I was thankful once the first girl made it to the top next to me to take Geoff’s left ankle; that man is HEAVY, haha.
Obstacle #6 Trench Warfare. I have watched Tough Mudder videos from years past. I’ve seen the deep dark tunnels that go practically underwater. That is what I was expecting, but was surprised/disappointed/maybe a little relieved that this was simply a crawl through a trench covered with boards and hay. Perhaps I was thinking of something else like the “Boa Constrictor” obstacle. Regardless, this obstacle was not difficult at all for me…though I could imagine someone slightly larger, and/or afraid of small dark spaces might struggle with it. There was indeed one point where you couldn’t see ANYTHING, not even the light at the end of the tunnel.
Obstacle #7 Walk the Plank. This is one of my favorite obstacles! Thankfully I’m not afraid of heights (or deep dark water). Jump off of a platform (high enough to make your stomach drop) into 12 feet of muddy water. As mentioned in the Mt. Snow recap, I’m thoroughly impressed with the safety measures taken at this obstacle. Racers are lined up in an orderly fashion and told when to jump, 6 at a time. Lifeguards in and out of the water keep their eyes on every single participant, and the next wave isn’t allowed to jump until all 6 people are safely out of the water.
Obstacle #8 Berlin Walls. While just a standard set of two very tall (12 foot? 14 foot?) walls, this was the highlight of my day. We hit the first wall and encountered a couple. The guy wanted to attempt the obstacle, the girl didn’t. One of the cool things about Tough Mudder is that they encourage you to try to overcome your fears and attempt everything, but you don’t have to do any obstacle you don’t want to. So she sat out of the first wall. With a little struggle, we got the guy over the wall. Then me, then Geoff.
As we ran up to the second wall, we met up with the couple again. They were having a conversation, and I could overhear the guy telling the girl that she COULD do it. I butted my nosy-motivating self right into the conversation and asked her if she wanted to try the wall. She said yes, but she was nervous, she didn’t think she could do it. I told her without a shadow of a doubt that she COULD do it, we WERE going to get her over the wall, and I was going to be there with her every step of the way. She hesitated, and stalled a little bit out of nerves.
But she did it.
We got her over the wall, and then the guy. The smile on her face and the high fives we all exchanged after were quite honestly the best part of my race. My heart smiled. THIS is what a Tough Mudder is all about. Teamwork. Camaraderie. Overcoming fears. Pushing people to achieve things they never imagined. I didn’t get that girls name, but if per chance she happens to stumble upon this recap: I’m proud of you. Thank you for letting me be a part of that moment.
Obstacle #9 Funky Monkey. The crazy monkey bars placed halfway through the course (instead of near the beginning, like at Mt. Snow) meant my arms and hands were already tired. I tore my hand pretty bad on some monkey bars a few weeks back, so I was “gun shy” if you will. I made it 3/4 of the way, panicked, and dropped into the water. You win some, you lose some.
Obstacle #10 Glory Blades. A set of two inverted walls. Pretty standard.
Obstacle #11 Pole Dancer. I don’t really get this obstacle. It’s hard, but pretty anticlimactic. If you fall, you drop less than a foot to the ground. I’ve encountered tougher things on a playground. There has got to be a way to spice this one up…
Obstacle #12 Warrior Carry. The map says this was obstacle #12 but I feel like it was later in the course. Anyway, buddy carry someone. Switch at the halfway point.
Obstacle #13 Devils Beard. (totally out of order again..map has it as #3 but I’m pretty certain it was back here somewhere. ) A giant net that in theory, you are supposed to crawl under. However, Mudders took turns holding the net up on both ends so people could pretty much walk under it while hunched over. Three cheers for teamwork!
Obstacle #14: Arctic Enema. Ahh, a Tough Mudder classic: giant containers filled to the top with ice water. Not only do you have to get from one end to the other, but you must go under a wall (and thus, under the ice water) half way through. Since it was hot, this obstacle was semi-welcoming. Even more welcoming was the giant hug from this obstacle’s volunteer: New England Spahten Sandy (our very own “mama hen”). I said something to her like “Ah this one hurts” and she replied something like “this is my favorite obstacle ever. GO!” and so I jumped in. The icy water didn’t take my breath away nearly as bad as it did in Mt. Snow; I attribute that to a warmer day and just knowing what I was in for. Still, I climbed out of the obstacle with an insane headache. Brain freeze, anyone?
(Still waiting on pictures of this one, but in the meantime, check out this video from Mt. Snow to give you the idea)
We ran back into the woods and suddenly came across a very long line that dipped down into a ravine. Everyone wondered if there was an obstacle ahead, but no one could figure it out. It took us about 15-20 minutes to move 100 yards forward. Turns out, what had been simply a grassy/woods hill the day before had now become a treacherous slippery, muddy cliff. There were ropes to help assist people in climbing up it, but it slowed everyone WAY down. Thankfully the atmosphere was still super upbeat and 99% of the people didn’t seem to mind the wait.
Obstacle #15: Balls to the Wall. A giant wall with a rope to help you over. In my opinion, this one is difficult, especially towards the end of the race when you are exhausted and muddy.
Obstacle #16: Everest. I was excited to do this one as it wasn’t at the Mt. Snow location, and seems to be a signature Tough Mudder obstacle. A halfpipe wall made with a slippery, almost “white board” material that I imagine covered in mud is a nightmare. Lucky for me, it was dry as a bone. I found it to be significantly easier than pyramid scheme, in fact I ran all the way to the top, stopping only when I reached Geoff’s hands.
After Everest, the course split to the right for first timers, to the left for the Legionnaire’s Loop. The Legionnaire’s Loop is a bonus loop with added obstacles for Mudder’s who have already completed at least one other Tough Mudder Course. The map showed two “mystery” obstacles, followed by the one I was most excited for…Fire in Your Hole.
Obstacle #17: (Mystery Obstacle) A pipe you had to crawl through that supposidly had live wires hanging across and inside it. I don’t do electricity well, so I skipped this one. In retrospect, I should have realized that the sign said “100,000 volts” and there is no way that would be true. None of the wires were actually live. You got me, Tough Mudder.
Obstacle #18: Sewage Outlet. This one was fun. Short barbed wire crawl followed by a climb through an inverted pipe. There was a rope inside to help you get to the top. Once you reached the top, you fall out into a pool of water. The trick was figuring out exactly how to fall out. It was not a graceful act, to say the least.
Obstacle #19: A set of three walls of increasing size. My arms were tanked. Normally a 7 foot wall doesn’t phase me, but I needed a boost from Geoff.
Obstacle #20. Fire in Your Hole! The 6 year old in me can’t get enough of the name of this obstacle.
Climb up a rope net, then a ladder, to the top of a water slide. A 19 foot vertical drop that ends in flames, and a pool of muddy water. We climbed up, I was utterly exhausted by this point. I didn’t think I would be nervous for this obstacle, but the truth is the fire gets me everytime. I realized my nerves were getting the best of me when I started asking the volunteers a million questions. “Is the fire hot?” and other things that were clearly my subconscious trying to stall. I realized what my brain was trying to do, so I sat down, waited for the cue that it was time to go, and I went for it.
It was hilarious and fun.
Last but not least was Electroshock Therapy. As a Legionnaire you are given the opportunity to skip this obstacle and head straight for the Dos Equis (Beer) and the finish line, or you can opt to run through tens of thousands of volts of electricity. Guess which one Geoff chose:
And then to the finish line. We were handed water, a good sized Dos Equis beer (dark or light!) and colossal Met RX bars. I’m talking 400 calories and 31 grams of protein colossal. Immediately following we were able to pick up our t shirts, and our Legionnaire headbands. For finishing twice, we were given awesome neon green headbands.
I’ve mentioned it a few times throughout this post already, but Tough Mudder has this great new initiative called the “Mudder Legion” to recognize Multi-Mudders. In addition to getting to do the extra obstacles on the Legionnaire’s loop, you get extra “shwag”, in the form of colored headbands. You all know me, I’m all about the medals (or in this case, headbands) so I thought it was pretty cool to get recognized in this way. You know I’ve got my eye on that black headband now…
The Other Details (because they matter!):
Parking: A+ Parking was offsite with a shuttle bus to the start. After the nightmare that was the 2014 New England Foam Fest, I shudder every time I see a school bus. But there was no need to fear, as Tough Mudder had dozens of buses lined up and constantly departing and arriving. There was zero wait for a shuttle bus to and from the venue. Costs for parking vary depending on the time you purchase parking. Tip: purchase ahead of time online and print out your receipt.
Registration: A+ Equally as smooth. Tough Mudder now utilizes a really cool check in system to help save a ton of time versus traditional packet pickup. You show up to the line with your ID and waiver. They look you up on their handheld scanner, assign you a bib number right there, scan the bib and it is now associated with your name, and done. No more digging through boxes of thousands of packets.
Bag Check: B Bag check is equally as smooth, but I am assigning it a “B” as it costs $10 per bag. That is pricey for a bag check. BUT: a portion of the bag check proceeds go the Wounded Warrior Project. Further, there is no limit on the size of a bag, so bring a bigger one and share with a friend to help save.
Festival Area (Mudder Village): A+ There were local food vendors, a kids race area, a massive merchandise tent, tons of demonstration areas and fun free activities from Garmin, U.S. Army, Met RX, Bic, Under Armour, and more.
Spectators: A There is a charge for spectators, which ranges from $20 online to $40 onsite (though I’ve heard rumors that you can do better than $20 if you buy early, don’t quote me on that.) I brought a spectator along and she said she had access to almost all of the best obstacles via spectator paths. I honestly saw her what felt like every mile, which was great because I ended up handing muddy things off to her (my bib that fell off, the spi-belt with nutrition, etc). She also felt there was plenty by way of food and entertainment in the village area to keep spectators busy.
Swag: A Gender specific (and year specific), Under Armour tech t-shirts. Finishers headband (plus bonus headbands for Legionnaires) I’d give them an A+ if the headbands and/or shirts were event specific, but you can’t win em’ all.
If you haven’t already, run a Tough Mudder. They claim to be “probably the toughest event on the planet”, and while I don’t necessarily agree (I’d give their obstacles a 6 out of 10 on the difficulty scale, based on my experience thus far) I will say that the majority of their obstacles are unique and mentally challenging in a way no other event does. Yes, the price is significantly higher than many smaller obstacle races on the circuit, but you truly get what you pay for. A no nonsense, flawlessly run event. They truly take the small details and organization to the next level, allowing you to completely enjoy the experience. (Plus Fire in Your Hole is pretty much the best obstacle ever, if we’re being honest.) I’ve heard complaints about long lines at Tough Mudder obstacles, but have yet to experience those myself (pro-tip: race on Sunday), and have heard from staff that they are truly trying hard to alleviate those issues.
So, to reiterate: Do a Tough Mudder. Don’t be a jerk like I was.
Have you run a Tough Mudder? If not, what is holding you back? This is not a peer-pressure-rhetorical question, I really want to know. Let’s get a discussion going. Comment below.
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.