By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 31 August 2014)
Description: Tough Mudder is an obstacle race developed by the British Special forces. The obstacles are designed to test physical strength, agility, and the ability to face fears.
Where: The one we did was held in Whistler, BC, but this event occurs regularly in various cities around North America, the UK, and Australia
Cost: Costs vary depending on the location and event. To give a rough idea of the costs, an upcoming event in Alberta at the time of this writing is $169 (Saturday) or $129 (Sunday) for individual registration ($10 of which goes to insurance), plus a processing fee and applicable taxes, and the fee for the upcoming Portland event is $195 (Saturday or Sunday).
Time: The time required to complete the event is really variable, ranging from around 2 to 5 hours, depending on how quickly you move from one obstacle to the next and whether or not you have to wait in line to access an obstacle. However, the goals of Tough Mudder are to face fears, support your teammates, and complete the course rather than to simply run a race for speed, so finishing times aren’t that important.
Difficulty: Difficulty varies significantly from one obstacle to the next. Certain obstacles require a boost or a helping hand at the top for anyone below a certain height, and there are a few with very low completion rates, but others are quite easy for a fit person. As in the other obstacle races I’ve done, people tended to be friendly and helpful, so even those who were running alone were offered assistance from people on other teams. The real challenges in Tough Mudder lie in facing various fears and discomforts such as heights, enclosed spaces, darkness, electricity, and extreme cold, and completing the course overall, which for the Whistler event covered 19 kilometers (12 miles) of rugged mountain terrain. However, the terrain varies based on the location, and the Whistler course is considered one of the most strenuous.
Obstacles: Obstacles vary from race to race, though there are a number of core features that are typically included, such as water, electricity, tunnels, and climbing apparatuses. We encountered the following obstacles on our course.
Arctic Enema: This one requires jumping into a tank of ice water and swimming underneath a divider, which forces you to dunk completely, including your head. The big challenge for a lot of people with this obstacle is that the extreme cold can make it difficult to breathe – many people leap back out or have their friends haul them out because they can’t catch their breath after getting in.
Walk the Plank: This obstacle involves jumping into deep water from a height. On our course, the height was approximately two stories, but it can vary significantly from course to course. Don’t do this one unless you’re a strong swimmer.
Berlin Walls: This obstacle comprises two walls that are impossible to get over without a boost unless you’re both tall and fit. The jumps down on the other sides of the walls are tricky, given the height of the drops. A member of our team injured her ankle coming off one of the walls, and we heard that another participant suffered a compound leg fracture later that day.
Ladder to Hell: This one is only hellish if you’re afraid of heights. The ladder on our course was around three stories high and the wooden rungs were quite far apart, so some degree of upper body strength and agility were required, but it was relatively easy for those who were fit and not acrophobic.
Kiss of Mud (Barbed Wire Crawl): This is a staple of most obstacle races – a stretch of mud topped with low barbed wire, forcing participants to belly crawl all the way. This one favours the small and the flexible. There are usually plenty of rocks on the ground, so try not to dig your knees and elbows in as you move along.
Hold Your Wood (Log Carry): Choose a log from the various sizes available based on whether you’re carrying it on your own or sharing the load with a partner or teammates, and transport it over a stretch of rough ground.
Log Jammin’: Another staple of obstacle courses, this one requires climbing over and crawling under a series of wooden structures.
Lumberjacked: This obstacle comprises a series of smooth logs on stands, around five feet high. It requires good upper body strength and it can be tricky to get a good grip on the smooth surface to get on top of these, but overall, this one wasn’t too challenging.
Partner Carry: Piggyback your partner over a stretch of rough ground and then trade places. Big guys teamed up with women usually end up doing the entire carry due to the size and strength difference.
Ropes: Use a rope to climb up the side of a wall and down the other side. This one was challenging because (at least on our course) there were only two knots, spaced very far apart.
Net: A long walk under an entangling net – this one is easy if you walk with a group and you’re all holding up the ropes as you move along.
Mile of Mud: Exactly what it sounds like. You slog your way through a mile of mud, sometimes shallow and sometimes waist or chest deep, depending on your height. Hidden potholes make things unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to put your foot down slowly to see what’s under all that mud before settling your full weight. In some places, it may be possible to pick your way around the edges, though getting really mucky is part of the fun at these things.
Boa Constrictor: Two very narrow tubes, one that requires crawling up and the other sliding down. This one isn’t that physically challenging, but it’s nasty for the claustrophobic.
Death March: This obstacle may be unique to the Whistler course (or mountain courses in general), as it involved a steep, long, uphill slog over rocky ground. Many people found this one the most physically challenging.
Funky Monkey (Monkey Bars): This obstacle requires a lot of upper body strength, so I recommend training for it (especially for women, who tend to be weaker in the upper body). At Tough Mudder, the monkey bars formed an arc to include an upward stretch and a downward stretch over a pit of water. What made it scary was that the water wasn’t very deep, so the risk of injury from falling was much higher because you would drop onto hard ground without knowing exactly where the ground was or whether there were any rocks or other ankle-breaking features below. Moving both hands to the same bar before reaching for the next is recommended unless you’re really good at this one. I heard rumours that some of the bars had been greased or set to spin, though I didn’t personally encounter this.
Trench Warfare: This nasty obstacle involves a long crawl underground in a pitch dark, narrow tunnel that curves under the earth so that you can’t see the light on the other side.
Mount Everest: To overcome this obstacle, you have to run up the side of a curved wall, and unless you’re unusually tall and fit, you’ll need to have a partner or teammate at the top to help you up. If you’re running alone or you’re the first of your team to summit, you should be able to find a helping hand. There are usually a number of altruistic people who stay at the top for quite some time to help others.
Electroshock Therapy: This obstacle, which is a staple of Tough Mudder courses, requires moving through a series of hanging cables that deliver electric shocks. For our course, they hung down over a stretch of muddy, uneven ground that participants ran over, but some courses require crawling through a mud pit under hanging electric cables (in those races, the obstacle is usually called the Electric Eel). Don’t do this one if you are at risk for seizures or other neurological issues such as migraines, or you have metal in your body. Some people have suffered health problems after receiving electric shocks at Tough Mudder, so skip this obstacle if you have any health concerns.
Obstacles That May Be on Other Courses: Some courses include obstacles that weren’t on our course, such as:
- Jumping over or sliding through fires
- Hopping from one platform to another over a body of water
- Moving through water under a cage with only a tiny space between the bars and the water in which to breathe
- Leaping over a series of mud pits
- Scrambling up a slick, muddy slope
- Moving through underwater tunnels
- Creating a human pyramid to get over a wall
- Hanging from parallel bars to cross a body of water
- Moving over log hurdles (around 5 feet high)
- Climbing to the top of a mountain of hay bales
- Traversing a wall over a body of water or muddy ground with only a narrow plank to hold (it’s typically so narrow that participants can only hold it with their fingertips)
- Swinging Tarzan-style over a body of water using a series of hanging rings
- Summiting walls that are slanted toward climbers (Glory Blades)
- Walking along balance beams
- Crossing a body of water by walking on a single rope and holding onto another rope
- Flipping large, heavy tires
- Climbing up or along suspended nets
- A Family Feud obstacle where spectators attempt to knock Tough Mudders off balance beams into water by swinging hanging buoys at them
On our course, those who had completed a prior Tough Mudder challenge were given the option to add some additional obstacles. I didn’t see these, as this was my first Tough Mudder event, but one of our teammates had done it before so he went off and completed the additional obstacle series, which he found challenging.
- Bring picture ID and your EventBrite ticket.
- Wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable for trail running (and that you don’t mind soaking in water and mud).
- I recommend bringing a CamelBak or running belt with water bottles, given that water stations are few and far between and these courses are often run on hot, sunny days. You can leave things beside obstacles and then pick them up afterward, so bringing extra gear is fine as long as it doesn’t impede your ability to run between obstacles.
- Some people like to wear tough gloves to protect their hands and make climbing easier, though others find that they just pick up mud.
- There was a positive atmosphere on the course – lots of friendly, helpful participants and volunteers, and some great costumes.
- The event organizers provided snack stations along the route.
- Our course was run in an area with gorgeous scenery.
- The race package included a free T-shirt and a beer.
- Tough Mudder photographers give you your race photos for free rather than charging a fortune for them like most other obstacle race photographers.
- As with other obstacle races I’ve done, there were not enough water stations, and people were getting badly dehydrated on the course, which put everyone at risk for sunstroke.
- There is a risk of injury on any obstacle course, but Tough Mudder is particularly dangerous because many of the obstacles involve heights, water, or electricity.
- There is a bag drop, but it costs $10.
- The event is not chip-timed.
- No money from your registration fee goes to charity. Many Tough Mudder participants support charities such as the Wounded Warrior Project in the United States, Wounded Warriors Canada, Help for Heroes in the UK, and Legacy in Australia, and they have raised a large amount of money for these charities over the years. However, none of this money comes from your registration fee despite Tough Mudder’s link with these charities. Tough Mudder does offer an entry fee discount to those who meet a certain donation threshold, but does not make any direct contributions to the charities. There has been a lot of discussion around this; some people are fine with the way it works, but others are really angry when they discover that their fees are not contributed to the charities.
- Bring water or you’ll probably get dehydrated on the course.
- Wear clothing that won’t come off easily or soak up too much mud.
- Tie your shoelaces tightly so that the mud doesn’t pull your shoes off.
- Do some strength training beforehand to ensure that you have sufficient upper body strength for lifting, climbing, hanging, and swinging.
- Do some trail running so that you’re better able to cope with uneven, rocky terrain – running on smooth pavement or a treadmill isn’t the same.
- Try a few jumps into cold water (if that’s not something you do regularly) to make sure you’re okay with it before walking the plank or diving into the ice tank.
- Choose one of the earlier races on a Saturday, if possible – the course gets increasingly messy and difficult over time as runners churn up the ground and all the ropes, bars, and wooden structures become slick with mud.
- If you feel that you don’t have the physical strength, agility, or skills required to complete an obstacle and it’s not something that your teammates can help you with, just skip it. Find a good balance between challenging yourself and being sensible. Lots of people get injured on these courses. Most injuries are minor – scrapes and twisted ankles – but a few people have suffered more serious injuries, so be careful.
*Obstacles and conditions vary from one event to the next, and prices may have changed since the time of this writing.