You can’t talk about obstacle course racing without talking about Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder is really the event that brought OCR to the mainstream. Sure, some other events, like Spartan Race might have cultivated and developed the sport, but there is no denying the impact Tough Mudder has had on the evolution of the sport.
Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge. The event is around 10 miles long and features many different obstacles. Rather than timing the event to promote competitiveness they encourage teamwork and camaraderie to complete the challenge. In fact, several of their obstacles are designed so that they would be very difficult or impossible to complete without the help of a fellow mudder. While I have seen plenty of teamwork in the other races, I think that this element does create an interesting dynamic for the event and it definitely had a different feel than some of the other races.
This was my first time participating in a Tough Mudder. It was a long time coming. I had heard of them long before I heard of Spartan Race. I watched videos and saw articles online about it. It seemed too hard for me and it was a little intimidating. My first OCR event was a Spartan Race, and I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps I was too scared of the Tough Mudder and thought the shorter Spartan Sprint was more my speed. I do remember feeling a little bit guilty though, Tough Mudder was the first major OCR event here in the U.S. and I felt like I should have run that one first. And even more bizarre is how long it took me to actually sign up for one once I started racing in OCR! I think the major reason I didn’t run them was that they weren’t timed and I really like knowing how well I did. I also fell in love with Spartan Race and didn’t have that strong of a desire to do much else, at first. Not only is my OCR honeymoon phase over, but I also am beginning to have some concerns with my first love and I wanted to play the field a bit and see what else was out there!
2017 marks the start of a new era for Tough Mudder! They have done a great job keeping up with the competition over the past couple of years and are, I feel, leading the way in innovation. Part of this is understanding what your customers want and so they introduced a new feature to the event: Timing chips! That’s right, for the first time you can pay a small extra fee (around $20) to run in the first wave of the day and get your results timed and ranked against your competition. This was huge for me and I jumped at the opportunity. They have named this option: Tougher Mudder. So it’s the same course, it’s not actually any harder, but since it is competitive I suppose you could say that makes it a little tougher.
The Virginia race had the largest Tougher Mudder wave of all of their races this season; there was around 150 entrants. Of these entrants three of them were none other than Hunter McIntyre, Ryan Atkins, and Lindsay Webster! While they all smoked me on the course, it was kind of cool to say I ran with them. It was also a cool feeling to be given a bib like the kind they wear in the World’s Toughest Mudder or the new Toughest Mudder races. While it doesn’t really mean anything it makes you feel special, like you are part of something grand, and I really like that they did that. Maybe it’s silly and it’s a small thing, but for someone who has been out of shape for so long and has been working so hard for this, it really felt amazing to feel like I belonged there, running with the elites, even if it was mostly symbolic.
Anyway, on to the race itself! It was a nice day for a race, early June is a good time in Virginia, not yet too hot or humid. It took place at Meadow Event Park. I’ve never been there before but I know they do a lot events with horses. I think it was for this reason the course was mostly flat. This was a huge departure from most of the OCR events I’ve done. While some of the Spartans lately have been getting a little more flat, this was probably the flattest course I’ve ever run. Which is, in a way, kind of nice. It was fun to just go out run, talk to the people, focus on the obstacles, see a new place I haven’t ever seen before. There’s nothing wrong with taking it down a notch once in awhile.
The race was just over 10 miles long with around 21 obstacles. The obstacles were pretty evenly spaced apart and spread throughout the course. Though spectators are allowed on the course, Spartan seems to like to keep them close to the festival and they put as many obstacles there as possible. The Savage Race in Maryland didn’t seem to try to do that, but there were a lot of obstacles there were just a short walk away, so you saw a lot more spectators on the course. This Tough Mudder was a whole other story. I think there were only about 3 or 4 obstacles you could see from the festival area. The rest were all on the course and required some walking to get to. They did realize this though and provided a “spectator route” which was sort of a short cut to see a good number of other obstacles, but it did require some walking. I liked this idea at first, since it opened up some possibilities, until I was on the course and realize that the spectator lanes (and the only path to get to and from parking) cut directly through the race course. There were two spot in particular that it was almost a sea of people and it was a little disorienting. It was also a little weird to be covered in mud and running through hundreds of normal, casually dressed people. I thought this was confusing and I was having to actually go around and dodge some people, which I didn’t think I should have to do.
In that same vein the course markings were sort of confusing sometimes. The course winded in upon itself many times and there were a few spots where it was difficult to know where to go. They had tape up in most of these ‘tricky’ spots, but there was often either not enough or too much. As I was finishing, about to go through Electroshock Therapy, a group of three people asked me how to get to the Snot Rocket/Augustus Gloop obstacle. I told them after they got through Pyramid Scheme they just went a short distance down the hill, but they didn’t know how to get to Pyramid Scheme either! I had to point out where they had gone off course and they had to backtrack to get back to the course to finish the race. So I’m not the only one who was confused by some of the markers.
I thought the race was pretty solid. I did have those few minor issues with parts of the design of the course, but the race itself was actually very well put together. I had a good time and I really liked trying out some new obstacles and seeing a new venue. I may have overdone it a little in this race though. Being that it was timed, I wanted to do well. I had done two race in the preceding 3 weeks, one race was around 9 miles, the other around 13. And I had run a little on my own. My knees were starting to give out one me. I actually could have done much better in this event, I think, if I were fresh. There were parts that I just had to walk because I was worried about seriously hurting my knees. And even when I was running, I was taking it slow. I’m again glad it wasn’t a hilly course or it could have been bad for me. I have since been taking it easy on my legs, giving them a chance to heal. Doing everything I can to not get hurt. It’s been a bummer to not be able to train my legs, but I’m trying to do the smart thing. Though, I can’t wait too long. In 17 days I have my next Spartan race, it is only a Sprint, but I want to be ready for it. So the training resumes this week! Hopefully I can strengthen up my legs enough to stay in the game.
One last thing, and this has nothing to do with the race itself, but I had an issue with my regular OCR shoes so I was in the process of exchanging them when this race happened. Because of this I was forced to run this race in a pair of normal running shoes. I never could have imagined the difference this makes! Until this year all of my races were done in regular running shoes. I definitely liked the OCR style shoes when I got them, but until I went back to regular shoes I had no idea how much they helped. They help with everything from weight, to water retention, to grip. If you haven’t invested in a good pair of OCR specific shoes yet it is definitely worth the money! Check back as I’ll be reviewing my shoes after I put a few more miles on them!
Despite my problems on the course I finished 72/158, which isn’t too bad. It’s top 50% and for me, that’s pretty good. I’ve come a long way from being in the bottom 10%. It feels good knowing that a bad day still lands me ahead of more people than were in front of me. It gives a lot of hope that one day I’ll even be in the top 10%. I just have to keep going and not quit. I’m excited and nervous about the next 3 months; I have 9 races, which doesn’t allow for a lot of down time. It’s time to get serious about my training and recovery protocols. Here are few pictures from the event!