As an avid Spartan Racer, I swore I would never run a Tough Mudder. What was the point, right? I loved Spartans and didn’t see a need to register for an untimed rival race when I could be training for or running real races. I think it was stories of TM’s distaste for Spartan that originally got me riled up (TM throwing people out for wearing Spartan T-Shirts or spreading Spartan marketing materials in the parking lots), compounded by their innate ability to always schedule a race the same weekend as a local Spartan...
A couple months ago, my best friend’s group for the New England Tough Mudder ditched her. They had run it the year together before and loved it, and signed up early registration. My friend hates mud, getting dirty, running, refuses to run a Spartan for fear of getting injured or dirty, and pretty much all things involved in this race - so I was initially very confused as to why she wanted to go at all. But being her best friend, I couldn’t leave her hanging, so I reluctantly signed up to be her team. Plus once I raced a TM, I would have some research and backing behind my “Spartan is SO MUCH BETTER” rant.
For weeks prior to the race, I had been reading articles about the deaths and injuries during Tough Mudders, and posting them all on her Facebook wall. While these stories didn’t scare me, they were enough to dissuade me from wanting to attempt the race with the OCR season coming into full swing. Even with her taunting me that she could handle this “real” race and saying she could handle the “toughness” on her own, no WAY was I going to let her run this silly thing without me! SHE MIGHT DIE.[i]
After our initial 1.5 hour wait in line just to get into the starting corral (which we later found out wasn’t necessarily a usual occurrence but rather an outstanding awful situation), we toed the starting line with the rest of the #mudderlegion. We got a rather personal and touching motivational speech at the beginning (tied to the reason we were waiting so long), and we were off, stumbling up the mountainside.
In my opinion, the course was relatively easy and rather bland, with the exception of a few steep hill climbs. Definitely what I would call a “runner’s course.” With the exception of the height and water obstacles (my two biggest fears), I didn’t necessarily feel physically challenged, and I definitely wasn’t sore. The rules on the course are easy - try what you want and skip what you want with no physical penalty. Did you catch that? No physical penalty, just a little mental fire if you skip, as if you aren’t badass or something. “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” type of feeling. Of course I bought into it...
Obstacle #1 - “Kiss of Mud” aka barbed wire crawl. Short and sweet. Nothing to write home about.
Obstacle #2 - Glory Blades - some inverted walls. These presented a challenge to be because there weren’t slats like in the Spartan inverted walls, and the top was really thick to try and grab and get over alone
Obstacle #3 - Funky Monkey – A-frame of monkey bars. This one was fun! Can’t hack the monkey bars? Drop into some water and freeze. The A-frame element where you go up and then down again made this a little more of a challenge - appreciated.
Obstacle #4 - Devil’s Beard - heavy netting to run under. Nothing special, speed bump, if you will.
Obstacle #5 - Mudder Section. Wasn’t too muddy, another speed bump.
Obstacle #6 - Arctic Enema. This guy. Probably my favorite and least favorite obstacle all at once. I was TERRIFIED of this obstacle for any number of reasons, the least of which were Spartan Ultra Beast flashbacks to hypothermia from that damn lake. Needless to say I was not excited to jump in that water. But jump I did and man did it feel great! Then my nose started bleeding… bad ass...I did 15 burpees to reward myself for surviving that insanity, and to warm up before heading off up the mountain again
Obstacle #7 - Mud Mile - a puddle. Speed bump, but I was freezing.
Obstacle #8 - Walk the Plank - climb up a structure that swayed in the wind, walk out onto a little plank guy, and jump down ~15’ into some freezing water. Warmer than the arctic enema - way taller too. Yeesh.
Obstacle #9 - Balls to the Wall - rope climb and descent with an 11.5’ wall in the middle. I skipped this obstacle because of the 45 minute wait time. My group and I all decided (after some more warm-up burpees) that we had nothing to prove in this race, knowing that we could climb a taller, harder Spartan rope climb with weight vests on, and so we wished everyone in line good luck and went on our merry way.
Obstacle #10 - Berlin Walls - 12’ walls. Get up and over. Another 45 minute wait time for these bad boys, but since the line was just in front of the first wall, we climbed over the second and had a blast!
Obstacle #11 - Log Jammin - jump over some 5’ and 6’ suspended logs. My belly still has scrapes - but I made it over without help! These were fun!
Obstacle #12 - Pole Dancer - navigate through this obstacle using only your hands - two parallel, curvy poles about 3 ft off the ground. Super fun, but not challenging at all, another speed bump.
Obstacle #13 - Pyramid Scheme - think slippery wall, with no rope, only people, to help you climb up and over. We ended up stacking our team on each other’s shoulders, and somehow I (the smallest team member) ended up on the top, pulling people over! Definitely a fun obstacle.
Obstacle #14 - Mud - this was placed here on purpose. Just a hole with some mud; dirty, not challenging.
Obstacle #15 - Warrior Carry - Buddy carry your friend (or pick a stranger)! This was a great obstacle. Downhill, muddy, rocky, awesomeness. I carried my best friend down the hill halfway, then we switched, only about 50 ft long. If TM is all about teamwork, there would be more obstacles like this one.
*These next two obstacles were for Legionnaires ONLY! aka, if you’ve raced more than one TM (or at least registered for more than one) you can run this loop!
Obstacle #16 - Hold Your Wood - pick up some wood, carry it around a loop, push it through a tunnel. This was a little fun, but mostly just a speed bump.
Obstacle #17 - Fire in the Hole - 20’ water slide with a wall of fire at the bottom. Only terrifying because of the height, and the bump about halfway down that throws your upper body forward and makes you feel like you might DIE.
Obstacle #18 - ElectroShock Therapy - this guy… run through a muddy path to the other side. and OH YEAH get shocked by 10,000 volts a couple times whilst sprayed with some cold water. Who doesn’t love that? Of my group of five… one got shocked 5 times, one got a shock to the jaw and went down, one got shocked 3 times, another none, and me 5 and my left leg went numb. Good times. Beer now?
All in all, I was relatively unenthused with the course and obstacles. It was a good training ground and I think if I had a tire/heavy awkward object / a larger group of new OCR goers, it might have been more challenging and a little more fun. I would much rather run World’s Toughest, and try to find some sort of solace in the monotony of a five mile course, than race another normal 10 miler again. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. If it’s yours, go out and have fun, but I don’t think you’ll see me on the course again soon.
Tough Mudder Pros:
1) The best part of the race, and I really mean it, was that my “one free beer” was handed to me the second after I got my finishers headband. Right there in the finisher’s area! HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT? No, but seriously.
2) With a little proactivity and hiking involved, there were a lot of “exciting” obstacles that spectators could watch and tape. Not just the stuff by the spectator area, but along the course, too. It was nice to have some encouragement
3) Good sponsors: Met-Rx had some amazing electrolyte gummies on the course. In and around my mouth, please and thank you.
4) The emphasis on helping others. I started racing Spartans in the Open Heats - and for the most part I felt extremely loved by my fellow Spartans. Being a short, light little chick on a big ferocious mountain (ha), my first few Spartans were a little tricky, and I appreciated the offered help on taller walls and harder obstacles. TM is very much into the helping mentality - to a point - which is great to build a community and really bring new athletes to the sport.
Tough Mudder Cons:
1) Long line to start, long line for obstacles. I wanted to do all the obstacles, but I’m not going to stand in line for 45 minutes to cross over a wall that will take me 30 seconds.
2) Safety. Heading into this race knowing full well that people have been seriously injured[ii], and died[iii], on some of the obstacles I was going to (somewhat) willingly throw myself into, I was extra observant of their safety precautions. The volunteers weren’t always attentive, and while there were several lifeguards and medical personnel closeby for some of the more physically demanding obstacles (arctic enema, walk the plank), I am still not convinced they are doing their best to keep me safe. Death waiver or not.
By the end of Saturday, I realized that by finishing the New England Tough Mudder, I did feel bad ass. But why? I do harder Spartans all the time!
Probably because I don’t doubt my physical abilities nearly as much as my mental limits, and this race helped me conquer some of my biggest fears. I’ll use, bruise, and beat up my body to the nth degree and suffer with the best of ‘em, but the mental aspect during TM is something that I wasn’t anticipating. Completing this race meant that I had faced my biggest fears - the freezing cold water in the Arctic Enema, the jump from Walk the Plank, and getting shocked in ElectroShock Therapy. The mental blocks I had around these obstacles weren’t enough to stop me from completing them with a smile on my face. Touche, Tough Mudder, Touche.
Thanks to Melissa for making me sign up for this challenge, shouting at me during my warm-up burpees, and making the course fun and interesting. Thanks to Dad for taking all the pictures and videos, and being awesome carrying all our stuff around all day! And thanks to Ryan, Corey, and Boh for sticking together and making this an experience that I won’t forget.