The Tough Mudder. What is it? Is it a muddy obstacle course, a long distance run, or something for crazy people? The answer is yes to all three. Recently, I participated in a Tough Mudder event held in Wisconsin. The total distance for the course was just over 11 miles, and there were 21 different obstacles throughout the course.
The atmosphere is that of a carnival, not one of a typical distance race. You’ll see countless competitors dressed up in ridiculous costumes. I saw Batman, Ronald Regan, Ballet Dancers, and my personal favorite was two teammates who complete the course with a six-foot inflatable monkey. Here are some tips on what shoes, clothes, and gear to wear if you aren't dressing up in a strange costume.
This race held a certain appeal to me because of one very simple aspect. The goal of the race is to finish, but not in a certain amount of time. To get in shape, follow this Tough Mudder Training Program. A few of the obstacles may require you to get help in order to traverse. For example, one obstacle called “The Berlin Wall” is a 12-foot wooden wall. Two other “mudders” have to help lift you up in order to grab the top of the wall. Then they have to push your lower body up as you get your body over the wall.
Because of these types of obstacles, the Tough Mudder race is more about teamwork and camaraderie than trying to finish in a specific amount of time. One of my favorite moments came before the race even began. As we waited for the start of the race, the Master of Ceremonies made us all say a “pledge.”
Here is what we had to repeat word for word.
“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.”
The tone of the race is about helping each other, no matter if it is just a stranger next to you running. I ran this as an individual, but I highly recommend doing this as a team. This way you can help your teammates overcome each obstacle. Other mudders helped me, and I helped them, but I think it would be a wonderful experience to share with friends or family that are at a similar fitness level as yourself.
Next year, I plan on recruiting my brother, and we will run as a team. He is a good runner, and he spends a significant amount of time in the weight room, so this type of event would be perfect for him.
There are no awards for a fast finish time. The only award you can get is if you finish in the top 5% of runners, you qualify for the “Worlds Toughest Mudder Race.” This is a 24-hour race where you compete to see how many times you can complete a Tough Mudder course. In 2011, the male finisher completed an eight-mile course seven times, and the top female finisher completed the course six times.
Every course is different, but there are some things that remain consistent from event to event. The distance of the race is between 10 to 12 miles. Many of the obstacles are similar from event to event. Each obstacle has it’s own unique trademarked name. My biggest fear, and I think I share this fear with many people who have heard of the Tough Mudder, is getting shocked. Yes. I did say getting shocked. There are two obstacles where you run or crawl through wires that send a strong charge of electricity coursing through your body. I was able to make it through both of these obstacles, but it kind of sucked. Getting shocked hurts. I’m proud of myself for overcoming my fear and running through “Electroshock Therapy” and crawling through the “Electric Eel.” You can’t do these obstacles if you have metal in your body (bolts in your leg, pacemaker, etc.) but you can go around these obstacles too if you aren’t into doing something that extreme.
Several obstacles involve crawling on the ground through tunnels, under barbed wire, through mud, or through wires that shock the snot out of you. Watch the video of the “Electric Eel” obstacle to see what I mean about the shocking.
Many obstacles require you to get into water. One called “Walk the Plank” is simply jumping in a pit of deep water from a 15-foot high platform. The “Underwater Tunnels” are barrels sitting on the water that you have to swim underneath. My least favorite water obstacle, but perhaps the most refreshing is pleasantly titled, “Arctic Enema.” You can watch the video for a good understanding of what this event is all about. Basically you jump into a garbage dumpster full of ice and have to get your head under the ice to get past the wall in the middle of the dumpster.
Upper body strength is necessary if you want to make it across some obstacles too. “Hanging Tough” is an obstacle where you swing across a muddy pit on rings. I unfortunately lost my grip on the second ring and fell into the drink. The “Funky Monkey” is a huge set of monkey bars that go across a pit of water. Thankfully, I was able to cross this without falling in water again. The first half of this obstacle is pretty tough because the monkey bars are on a slight incline. Once you make it halfway, it gets much easier going down to the platform again.
To prepare for this event, I did some pretty straightforward training. I ran three to four times per week. I didn’t do any ridiculously long runs, but I was in good enough shape to run six miles and not be totally dead afterwards. As for upper body strength, I visited the weight room three times a week for about two months straight before race day.
How did I do overall? Pretty good. I had an excellent experience, except for the catastrophic mistake of losing my wedding ring in the mud mile. There’s a tip for you. Take off your jewelry! I completed the course in about two hours. I made sure to help fellow mudders at each obstacle, and although I fell in on the “Hanging Tough” I managed to traverse the 20 other obstacles.
From what I have heard, three hours is a typical finishing time. Now, how did I manage to run it an hour faster than the average mudder? It’s pretty simple really. An average mudder is not a runner. I would say only 25% of the competitors ran the whole course. The rest would slowly jog or walk from obstacle to obstacle. Also, most people did this as a team. That means your team should always stick together and stay at the pace of the slowest team member. At some of the obstacles, you have to wait your turn. If you are in a team, you’ll have to help each other out to complete the obstacle and wait for everyone to complete it before you move on to the next section of the course.
So now comes the next obvious question. Should I do this? As someone who had doubts about the Tough Mudder going in, I can honestly say, yes, you should run. Try to get a few friends to do it with you, and you’ll have an experience of a lifetime.
David Tiefenthaler is the founder and main contributor for Tips4Running.com. In addition to running, he's also an author, and a full time teacher.