Last year Tough Mudder rolled out their eight-hour overnight Ultra-Obstacle Course Race (Ultra-OCR) series Toughest Mudder. Having done three events last year as part of the Toughest Mudder Series, I signed up to do the same thing this year, which concluded for me at Toughest Mudder East (Boston).
Tough Mudder is (arguably) the leader in the OCR world, so I hold them to a higher standard. Having been to five other Toughest Mudder events in the last two years (2017: Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, 2018: United Kingdom, Michigan, Boston), the parking for Toughest East was sub-par. The line to get into the venue from the road took about 30 minutes. I’m not sure why they handled every other event so well and this one not as well, but it was not up to the Tough Mudder standard. That being said, if you arrived with plenty of time before the race (as I suggested in my latest Training Tuesday article), you would have plenty of time to get checked in and go through your pre-race ritual.
I hope you like rocks and technical trail running because there was lots of it in this race. Most of the racers I talked to referred to Kiss of Mud (their low crawl obstacle) as “Kiss of Rocks”.
As you flew through the woods on the sprint lap (the first lap has very few obstacles open), you really had to watch your step. As an athlete looking for high mileage or contender status, this did not play to your advantage. However, the thing I love about OCR is variability in venues. Not every course should be flat and fast and not every event should be held on a mountain. Tough Mudder delivered again with a unique venue for a memorable experience different from other Toughest Mudders I have completed.
The venue’s unique obstacle was an obstacle called The Stacks. This was large cargo containers stacked on top of each other connected with wooden ladders and platforms. The final portion involved a roughly ~ 20-foot cargo descent back to the ground. While some community members complained of this obstacle being dangerous, I’m going to side with Tough Mudder on this one. The event is called “Toughest Mudder” not “Mildly Challenging Mudder”. In my opinion, if you took the obstacle slowly you should have been able to descend without issue regardless of fatigue and sleep deprivation. The cargo net allowed you to have three points of contact at all times, so I would say issues with descending is on the athlete and not the venue/series.
Tough Mudder did something unique for this venue and put all the grip strength obstacles almost in row really taxing the upper body. They had “Just The Tip” (an obstacle requiring a sideways traverse across boards, trailer hitches and pegs), followed by a mud obstacle then right into three more grip strength obstacles:
Rope-A-Dope: Vertical rope climb to an angled Tyrolean Traverse
Kong: a rig with five rings, which later changed into Kong Infinity (rolling barrel with rings into monkey bars)
Spunky Monkey: Angled monkey bars into rotating wheels and a sideways pipe traverse
While I loved what they did with the obstacles, I was less excited about the penalties. As with other Toughest Mudders if you failed these obstacles, you had to take a penalty run. In 2017, every penalty seemed to be getting longer as the season progressed, which encouraged obstacle completion. I think this is a good thing because it means the best OCR/Tough Mudder athlete will win and less likely someone could show up, skip all the upper body obstacle and still place highly.
For Toughest Mudder East, I know I finished Spunky Monkey, while the guy next to me failed it. He took the penalty and I completed the obstacle. We converged afterward with me only being about 30 feet in front of him. His heart rate was low from not doing the obstacle and just going for a short swim/jog, while mine was sky high from maneuvering through the obstacle. If my pride of obstacle completion hadn’t gotten in the way and I was only concerned about placement/mileage, it would have been a better tactic to skip the obstacle every lap instead and run the penalty.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, even the 3rd place finisher Mark Jones said something similar “when you debate about doing an obstacle because the penalty is the “smarter” route, things should be changed”.
Tough Mudder community members came together again for Everest. At Toughest Mudder Midwest Joe Herman, Francis Lackner, Joe Van Tassel and Ryan Cray sat on top of Everest (Tough Mudder’s quarter pipe obstacle) pulling people up for nearly six hours. At Toughest Mudder East Francis Lackner was back along with Michael Bever, Brian Herzog, Jeff Musil, Glenn Brooks and even (my former Team Merrell teammate) Wesley “Dr. Red Tights” Kerr, after his race didn’t go as planned. These athletes again saved the field a ton of penalty mileage and made it feel like I got to see family at the top of Everest on every lap. (Thanks again and I apologize if I missed anyone)
Tough Mudder paid out the top five as they have for all their Toughest Mudder events. Shaun Stephens Whale ran away with 1st overall with blazing speed covering 45 miles (seriously, I couldn’t believe how fast he was running when he lapped me…which he did relatively early and was the only person to do so the entire event). 2nd was Ja Shua Ried (45 miles), Military Veteran Mark Jones (45 miles) finished 3rd, 4th was Tyler Mccredie (40 miles) and 5th was Toughest Mudder Community Regular Jason Harley (40 miles). For the ladies, Tough Mudder Pro Allison Tai continued her very impressive season with the win (40 miles), the Northman’s Anne Champagne in 2nd (40 miles), Kelly Sullivan finished 3rd (35 miles), Kerra Pezzuti 4th (35 miles) and Goat Tough’s Deanna Brasz in 5th (35 miles).
What I would love to see in the future are Age Group awards. Nothing major like prize money but maybe either some free passes to future races or a special Toughest Mudder headband with gold, silver or bronze thread reflecting your placement. I think a prize like that would make the age groups more competitive, especially those in the Master's age groups (40+), who are not vying for overall wins but do display a remarkable amount of physical fitness and grit on the course.
If any other race series put on an event like this I would give them an easy 5/5 stars. Since I hold Tough Mudder to a higher standard since they are constantly breaking industry ground, I’m going to go with 4.5/5 stars.
Being really picky about things, the improves were parking (which as stated seems like a fluke rather than usual business), longer or harder penalties for the obstacles and the addition of age group awards. My final improve is to bring back the Toughest Series where they add up your three best finishes at Toughest Mudder events. I assumed this was a thing again this year but haven’t been able to find the website that tracks these results.
Overall, if you are a fan of Ultra-OCR, a fan of Tough Mudder or preparing for World’s Toughest Mudder and you haven’t done a Toughest, you need to move this race to the top of your list. With only two Toughest Mudders left (Berlin on September 1st and NORCAL on October 7th), time is running out. Sign up today!
Pictures provided by the athlete's name in each photo
Special shoutout to Will Hicks for allowing us to use World's Toughest Podcast photos
Have you done an Tough Mudder?
Leave your own Tough Mudder review and feedback...