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EVENTS
MIND OVER
MUDDER
A 20km obstacle course through mud may not sound like everyone’s
ideal Saturday afternoon, but it’s team-based structure and noncompetitive approach has attracted tens of thousands throughout the
world. Jonathan Green took on the challenge of Tough Mudder and
came out smiling.
W
e endeavour to use
the ‘events’ section of
ManSpace Magazine
to show off some activities and
experiences that are, perhaps, a little
outside the traditional day out. We
try to highlight some events you
might want to make an occasion of or
something outside the norm. And we
don’t just re-run press releases from
organisers – we get out there and take
part ourselves.
40
M ANSPACE M AGA ZINE
BELOW: The Mind Over
Mudder team at the
entrance point.
Note the clean outfits...
So far, our publisher Jeff Patchell has
gone out to Field Days, Steam Days
and spoken to a man who runs his
own relaxed tours of iconic Australian
pubs – all great events that take you
to a different world and provide a real
experience outside your normal life.
This is exactly the same approach
we took to Tough Mudder. Well ... sort
of ... I mean it’s definitely a different
world providing a unique experience.
Yet somehow, Jeff wasn’t available for
this one. Oh no, this was one for the
editor.
For those who have not seen
anything about it, Tough Mudder is a
20km running course with 28 obstacle
challenges scattered throughout.
As the name would suggest, there is
mud. Lots of mud. And hills, and ropes,
and tyres, and mud, and hay bales,
and a fire pit, and water, and mud, and
ice baths ... and mud.
Those who finish it will end up
exhausted and most likely sore ...
probably for a few days after. You may
even come out of it a little bruised or
with a few minor abrasions. But those
INSIDE THE WORLD’S BEST GAR AGES, SHEDS AND M ANC AVES
who complete it always talk of an
extraordinary sense of achievement, a
bonding respect with their teammates
and an inexplicable desire to do it
again.
If the truth be known, I’d actually
had my eye on this event for a
few months – well before I even
considered writing about it for this
magazine. You see, I quite like to get
out and exercise; it’s part of my ‘space’
and an important thing I do to keep
happy and healthy.
The thing is, I’ve never really
enjoyed running – and I don’t think
I’m alone there. I’ll go out for a run
here and there, and I’m certainly not
awful at it, but I seem to get bored
with it quite quickly. There are people
out there who can hit the road and
their head clears as they enter a zone.
I’m not one of them. When I run, I start
thinking about when I’m going to
finish. And the sheer number of group
training programs and boot camps
that adorn our parks, beaches and car
parks would suggest I’m not alone.
This is where Tough Mudder has
identified a big market, and presented
something very clever. Most people
who exercise like the idea of working
towards something – it gives you a
target and motivates you to keep
going. But if you don’t want to join a
marathon, or you think that a triathlon
is a bit serious, then there’s not a
lot out there. As such, an obstacle
course that mixes up endurance with
strength – all with great variety – has
a certain appeal.
However, the fundamental
beauty of this event is that it is
non-competitive and has no timing
aspect. The objective is to get a team
together who will be of a similar
fitness capability and help each other
get through the course. If you want
to charge through it like a possessed
demon, that’s your business, but you
certainly don’t have to – and the vast
majority don’t.
ABOVE: Living up to its
name of Tough Mudder,
barbed wire ensures
that you genuinely crawl
through mud.
That’s not to suggest that you
should enter Tough Mudder without
doing any training at all. It is – after
all – 20km in total, and the obstacles
include crawling through mud under
barbed wire, jumping off a five metre
platform and swimming across 50m to
the end of the dam, plunging in pools
filled with ice, scaling walls, climbing
ropes and running the gauntlet of an
electrified wire zone ... to name just
a few.
It does sound a little on the extreme
side – perhaps even crazy – but when
you stand in the middle of the event,
you can’t help but get drawn in.
It is the brainchild of Will Dean, a
INSIDE THE WORLD’S BEST GAR AGES, SHEDS AND M ANC AVES
M ANSPACE M AGA ZINE
41
EVENTS
former counterterrorism officer with
the British Foreign Service. While
working in Pakistan, Will organised a
‘kabaddi’ league (a south-east Asian
sport that involves wrestling, chasing,
tackling and a ball...), and the success
of it clearly got his ideas running.
When he left the Foreign Service
to do an MBA at Harvard, he was
required to submit a comprehensive
business plan as part of his course.
Drawing on his experience from
the kabaddi league, and his natural
skills in business, Will put forward
an idea for a company that would
run adventure races – with the key
difference being that they would be
harder and tougher than anything else
on offer. His submission was a finalist
at the annual business plan contest,
but was ultimately knocked out by
the Harvard Professors on the basis
that they did not think the event could
attract the required 500 participants
as required in the brief.
Will was confident it would work,
so asked his friend Guy Livingstone to
come on board as the chief operating
officer for his company. Working on a
measly $8,000 marketing budget, they
used Facebook to generate interest,
amassing more than 4,500 willing
participants for the first official Tough
Mudder event at Bear Creek Resort
in Allentown, PA in 2010. Since then,
the number of Tough Mudder events
has increased exponentially with
14 events in 2011, and 28 scheduled
throughout 2012
Only three years since that initial
rejection, the Melbourne staging of
Tough Mudder attracted a staggering
21,000 participants over a single
weekend. They are serious numbers
by any business plan!
EVENT DAY
I had actually done a reasonable
amount of training for Tough Mudder
and so felt fairly confident, but
nothing can truly prepare you for what
awaits when you drive into the car
park.
The sheer size of the event is
intimidating and exciting all in
one. People are sent off at different
times – and because we have a midmorning start the day is well and truly
42
M ANSPACE M AGA ZINE
TOP: Massive hay stacks
form one of the more
simple obstacles.
BELOW LEFT: Positioned
just before the finish line,
the Electroshock Therapy
obstacle is a collection of
dangling wires, some of
which are live...
BELOW RIGHT: A wooden
beam at the half way
mark ensures you need
to dive into the ice-filled
water at the Arctic Enema
obstacle.
underway by the time we arrive.
Music is thumping out from
speakers all round the place and large
banners direct where to go. There are
obstacles in plain view of the start
line and hordes of people are lining
up to complete their registration or
stretching on lawns in preparation.
Some people are dressed up; I can see
a couple Power Rangers, a Japanese
Schoolgirl, Mario & Luigi and a
disconcerting number of Borats in
‘mankinis’. Others, more traditionally
dressed, are pacing in anticipation.
It all adds up to create a genuine
sense of occasion for the day. You
know you’re here to experience
something a bit different. The energy
INSIDE THE WORLD’S BEST GAR AGES, SHEDS AND M ANC AVES
is infectious, and the atmosphere
electric – though that might just be
the 10,000V electrical wire obstacle at
the finish line...
At registration, I receive my
‘participant’ wristband and get an
individual number written on my
arm and my forehead in permanent
marker.
“Why on my forehead?” I ask
meekly.
A man in the queue behind me
jumps in before the attendant can
answer.
“If by chance you pass out or get
knocked out, they can roll you on your
back and see who you are by your
number,” he says flatly.
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“Oh, I suppose that ... makes sense.”
With more than an hour to go
before our allotted start time, my
team – largely made up of people I
train with – decide to wander around
the course and check out some of
the obstacles. We discuss strategies
for the best way to get through each
challenge – these strategies would
turn out to be completely useless and
largely forgotten in the heat of battle.
As we walk by the finish line, some
of the first participants are making
their way through the final obstacles.
They look completely exhausted ...
and yet logic says that they must be
some of the better participants ... I’m
suddenly not so confident.
Our time arrives, and we move
to the start point. With a sense of
theatre, they make us scale a timber
wall into a small waiting area and talk
us through what lies ahead. They yell
questions, we yell answers. There’s
shouting, hollering and whooping. It’s
as manufactured as American cheese,
but in this setting ... well, it makes
sense.
The MC asks us to kneel and recite
the Tough Mudder oath:
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.
I had heard that in America they
play Star Spangled Banner at this point.
I wait.
They play AC/DC here ... that also
makes sense.
The event starts well. The Mind Over
Mudder team (a very deliberate and
bad pun) is working together well. We
keep a steady pace and ensure we’re
all in good shape.
At this early stage, the ethos of
Tough Mudder is very much intact –
I’m lifting complete strangers over 4
metre walls, and complete strangers
are pulling me up to the next one.
I’ve never met these people and, by
the looks, we would probably barely
exchange pleasant nods standing at a
bar together, but in this environment
we’re all mates.
The first real shock comes when
we reach obstacle four – the aptly
named, Arctic Enema. In short, it is a
plunge pool that you need to jump
into and wade your way across to the
other end. As we approach it, I see
an attendant breaking open plastic
bags of ice and tipping the contents
into the pool. There is, in fact, a full
layer of floating ice cubes on the
surface. I jump in (there’s a crossbar
of wood topped with barbed wire at
the half way mark to make sure you
go completely under) and get out as
quick as I can to find my team. Our
faces are stunned, we’re soaking wet,
my legs are bright pink from the cold
shock, our shoes are squelching and
we are beginning to understand what
TOP: Jumping off the 5
metre platform into the
dam, participants swim
to the end and move onto
the next obstacle.
BELOW LEFT: The mud
wall requires genuine
teamwork to get
everyone up the slippery
slope.
BELOW RIGHT: Running
through smouldering hay
bails requires a seriously
deep breath.
really lies ahead ... yet we’re laughing
like it’s the time of our lives. Go figure.
As we work through the course the
fatigue kicks in, but the good humour
remains. We crawl through mud on
our bellies (not soft mud I might
add) – jump off a 5 metre platform
into a dam and swim across – slide
down a giant plastic covered slope
with trickling water (heed my advice
... don’t go head first) – scale ropes –
crawl through trenches and semisubmerged pipes – run through a fire
pit – and too many more for me to go
into detail here.
Unfortunately, as the afternoon
goes on, the sheer number of
people on the course starts to cause
problems. Queues form at obstacles
INSIDE THE WORLD’S BEST GAR AGES, SHEDS AND M ANC AVES
M ANSPACE M AGA ZINE
45
EVENTS
M ANSPACE M AGA ZINE
ABOVE RIGHT: At the
finish line with my orange
headband - my clothes
proudly displaying the
efforts of the day. I threw
the shoes out.
er m
do
in
mudd
46
ABOVE LEFT: Early in the
course I emerge from
under the netting with
the help of my team
looking fairly clean and
full of energy.
ver
and people become impatient. Some
start taking the help of others but
are no longer reciprocating – others
simply push by or skip challenges. It’s
frustrating and, perhaps worst of all,
the camaraderie on the course begins
to wane. People are still supporting
their own team, but there’s less
looking out for others.
The event may not be a race against
time – and that is one of the great
positives about it – but for those
who’ve trained to test themselves,
it is a major negative to be standing
around for more than 90 minutes
throughout the course.
Pleasingly, my team remains
positive and generally in good
spirits. Though the frustrations are
obvious, they manage to block out
the negatives and we stay together,
supporting each other to the end.
The last obstacle is a dash through
live wires. Long tentacles hang from
a canopy and hay bales scatter the
ground to complicate the path. These
tentacles have a combined total
of 10,000V running through them,
though not every wire is live – adding
a certain drama when you get the
inevitable shock from one half way
through. It is an obscure finish to
any event (one that you’ve paid to
enter I may add...), but once again, it
somehow makes sense.
We cross the line and are handed
the customary, and official, Tough
Mudder finisher items; a t-shirt, an
orange head band and a can of cold
beer. And I can tell you – a beer has
never tasted so good.
This is not your traditional 20km
run in the park, but dare I say it, a
traditional 20km run wouldn’t be this
enjoyable. Our mud-soaked clothes
and bruised limbs are as much a
trophy as the orange headband, and
promote nodding approval from
fellow participants.
I take my shoes off and throw them
on a massive pile that they say will be
washed and given to charity ... I feel
bad at that thought – I’m not sure
anyone should have to try and make
something from those shoes. There is
a large open shower area with bottles
of shower gel at your disposal. It
doesn’t surprise me that the water is
cold, but when I realise that the best
pressure is coming from an attendant
with something that resembles a
fire hose, things seem to take on a
prison feel – and by the end I’m pretty
much waiting for someone to throw a
handful of delousing powder at me.
I’m shivering with cold, only partly
INSIDE THE WORLD’S BEST GAR AGES, SHEDS AND M ANC AVES
clean, my muscles are tightening and
bruises are coming through – I have
every reason to be a bit fed-up with
the day; yet I’m walking around pretty
damn happy.
There may have been far too many
people for the course to handle – I
hope we can put that down to a ‘first
staging’ mistake – but every other
part of Tough Mudder exceeded
my expectations. The course is
the challenge, but the structure of
camaraderie in a non-timed event
makes it an experience that is
extraordinarily enjoyable.
I’m not suggesting it is for everyone,
but if you like to exercise and want a
challenge, then it might be one to put
in the diary for next year – it’s already
in mine! Just make sure you get a
good group of people who will stick
together and approach it with the
right spirit. And for that, I need to pay
respect and offer complete gratitude
to Talei, Dani and Claire – Team Mind
Over Mudder.
Contact:
Tough Mudder Australia
www.toughmudder.com.au
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