Sooner or later, every runner feels the urge to go further. Maybe you have a few 5ks under your belt and you want to give a 10k a go. Or perhaps the marathon, the Olympic apex of the sport, no longer gives you your fix and you want to try a triathlon. No matter your skill level, anyone who falls in love with continuously putting in miles will eventually want to push the limits of their potential.
Be it an Ironman or an ultra, straining Harder.Better.Faster.Stronger has traditionally meant going the distance. However, a surge in obstacle-based races has added a new layer of challenge to the conventional race. National series like the Warrior Dash and Spartan Race level up by making runners scale walls, plank under barbed wire and hurdle over fire in their dash for the finish line. Despite their names, these races cater to athletes of all abilities. The obstacles aren’t so intimidating that an elite runner lacking Spartan gymnastic skills can’t lose some time on the obstacles but still come out on top by going 300 during the run.
Enter the Tough Mudder. This unholy gauntlet of torment is so tortuous that participants should be issued a safe word along with their race number and complimentary T-shirt. It’s reserved exclusively for the true athletic masochist—extreme endurance sports veterans willing to take things 50 Shades Darker in the quest for their breaking point.
A year ago, a friend asked me if I would join his team for the 2017 New Orleans Tough Mudder, taking place at NOLA Motorsports Park on March 18 and 19. “Sure,” I agreed, sight unseen. I’d finished a Spartan Race and a Warrior Dash before … how different could a Tough Mudder be?
Here are 10 reasons I wish I had read the fine print first:
It’s not a race
Wait … what? That’s right, unlike most every other obstacle runs, Tough Mudder is not a race. The organizers emphasize that completing the obstacles is the objective of the “event.” There are no other runners to beat, no personal bests to break. The finish line is not something to be claimed—it is simply a marker indicating the end of your trials.
For those used to defining victory by defeating their fellow participants, this may be the Tough Mudders’ biggest twist. And for runners looking to coast by on their endurance alone, this curve ball humbly levels the playing field.
You still need to be able to run
Even though the clock isn’t ticking, you will still need to be able to log some miles to finish the Tough Mudder—10 to 12 miles to be exact.
This is no easy feat for an unseasoned runner, timed or not, even without the added exhaustion of the obstacle course. While someone who regularly runs seven miles can comfortably complete a half-marathon—a commensurable distance—I’d recommend working up to 13 to 14 miles during training to make sure you have the lasting endurance to make your way through the Tough Mudder without collapsing.
It’s not all about endurance
From lugging a giant log over and under walls for a quarter mile to carrying your teammates, only the strong survive the Tough Mudder. The Tough Mudder’s unholy matrimony of strength and endurance may explain why it is so popular with CrossFitters, whose workouts are the perfect training blueprint for events of this pedigree.
One need not do CrossFit to train for a Tough Mudder, however. Those who regularly run in Audubon or City Park can incorporate strength training into their routines by stopping at each of the exercise bar stations along the running trails. November Project, a free boot camp-style workout geared towards runners held twice a week at 6 a.m. throughout New Orleans, also offers full-body interval training mixed in with running. Find them on Facebook (@NovProjectNO) to find out about their weekly morning workouts.
It’s not all about strength
Tough Mudders obstacles are about more than strength—you’ll also need finesse and precision to make it through all of the events unscathed. From swinging across hanging rings and revolving wheels to fighting your way through 60 feet of slick rotating barriers, the Tough Mudder is like a rugged version of an American Ninja Warrior course. And like the aforementioned TV show, sometimes pulling off a challenge is more about luck than skill. By the time you reach many of the obstacles, they’ll be nice and lubed with the mud, sweat and tears of those who came before you—if they aren’t already greased—making it even more strenuous.
It’s not all about you
To make it through the Tough Mudder, you’ll need a little help from your friends. While one can go it alone—though this is almost impossible to accomplish—the Tough Mudder is a team event. Case in point: the Pyramid Scheme, an obstacle where the only way to make it over a sloppy mound of wet mud is to push and pull your teammates over to the other side.
You’ll get your hands dirty
This phrase is misleading … you’ll get everything dirty. As its title suggests, the Tough Mudder is filled with mud pits—chest-high, shoe-stealing abysses of sludge engineered to be virtually impossible to claw your way out of without the help of your teammates.
7. They will see you waving from such great heights
Like heights? The King of Swings obstacle has competitors jump from a 12-foot platform above a pit of mud to catch a swing arm, propelling you to a bell you must ring. The Kong course on the Legionnaire’s route (reserved for two-time Tough Mudder veterans) has participants swing from dangling rings 30 feet above a pool of dirt. Few are expected to successfully make it across without plummeting into immanent ooze. Come down now…
The Tough Mudder is crammed with all sorts of crawls through tight spots, including squirming through a pit of chilled mud under barbed wire and climbing up a narrow tube while a heavy stream of water is poured on participants. (The latter, called the Augustus Gloop, is described on ToughMudder.com as being akin to “climbing up a waterfall inside a mine shaft.”) None of these seem quiet as claustrophobia-inducing as the Birth Canal, where competitors crawl and push their way under a giant tarp weighted down with water.
9. Cold as ice
More and more, the Tough Mudder seems less like an obstacle course and more like one of the twisted games thought up by the killer Jigsaw from the Saw movies if he became a giant meathead. Want to play a game? How about the Arctic Enema? For this enjoyable gem, Mudders plunge headfirst into a pool of ice-filled water, only to have to duck back under again to make their way beneath a barrier before climbing their way out on the other side.
The final feather in the Tough Mudder hat before the finish line: a muddy sprint through a field of hanging wires, each packing a 10,000-volt punch. I’m pretty sure there are multiple international treaties making it illegal to subject enemy combatants to this sort of treatment in an effort to get them to reveal information … I believe the official term is “torture.” Yet, according to ToughMudder.com, 2.5 million people PAY to do this.
There you have it. For every person who just read these 10 delightful details and will get chills the next time they look at a puddle of mud, another reader has just found his or her next ultimate adventure. To the second group: good luck, have fun and get dirty—I look forward to seeing you in March.