After canceling their April 2021 event due to COVID concerns, many hoped that Tough Mudder's return to the West Coast would be nothing short of epic. Yes, I was bummed about the August event NOT including the 12-hour overnight Toughest event. I was looking forward to running the competitive Tougher wave on Saturday, taking my son on the 5K course, then running the regular Classic wave again on Sunday. CEO Kyle McLaughlin admitted to having a complicated relationship with California and its COVID protocols, and I was just happy to have them back in the Golden State. It had been a year and a half since my last Tough Mudder event, and I'd take obstacles like Funky Monkey, Arctic Enema, and Blockness Monster any way I could get them.
The Festival Area
We arrived at about 6:30 on Saturday morning, an hour before the first wave of the day was scheduled to start. Although the thinner crowd probably helped, the parking and registration seemed to be nicely streamlined. With parking and bag-check fees now included in your registration, cars were not being stopped to pay a separate parking fee. When we got to registration, we were informed that they would not open till 6:45, which was fine, as there wasn't a large enough crowd for concern. Unfortunately, by the time they actually DID open registration, it was almost 7:00, which made getting ready for the 7:30 start time a little tricky. In hindsight, it would have been better to use the wait time to get ready at the car, and just bring into the festival area what I was going to run with, especially considering the ‘new' bag check was not nearly as secure as in years past. Once inside, it was great just seeing the Tough Mudder logo everywhere, the food trucks, the volunteers, and all the other things that make a Tough Mudder event what it is.
What I did miss, however, were the trademark festival-area staples like the salmon ladder, where runners could test their mettle after drinking a finisher beer or two, or simply warm-up before leaving the start line. Obviously, COVID and the rising numbers in California (and nation-wide) played a part in their decision to remove such attractions from the festival area, be it permanently or only temporarily. That didn't stop me from getting a little misty-eyed at the thought of the Tough Mudder festival areas of old. As a side note, participants did receive an early-morning email on Sunday with the news that the food trucks which had been there on Saturday would NOT be returning on Sunday. The official reasons given were staffing and mechanical issues, but one had to wonder if they just didn't get enough business on Saturday to make their return on Sunday worthwhile.
Anyone who has run a Spartan Beast or Sprint at Tejón Ranch knows that it's not an easy course. The inaugural Tough Mudder weekend here was no different. The first three-quarters of a mile, or so, were filled with sand, loose dirt, and plenty of rocks and other obstacles one needed to be wary of. Once past the first mile, the course did smooth out, though there was plenty of elevation, including an 800 ft climb that they dubbed ‘Killa Gorilla', only a couple of miles in. There were the usual Tough Mudder staples, including Kiss of Mud, The Gauntlet, Everest, and, of course, Electroshock Therapy, but there were also a few new additions, including ‘Castaway', and re-vamped versions of Arctic Enema and Blockness Monster. The roughly 11.5 mile long course definitely caught some people off guard, especially in the hot and sunny conditions, but, overall, the course was well thought out, and a good mix of old and new, hills and flats.
One obstacle that I was personally hoping to see, but did not, was the new ‘Well Swung', which looks like the closest we'll get to the much loved ‘King of Swingers', now apparently in retirement. I can only hope that it makes an appearance at Glen Helen in October. Upon finishing the Tougher wave, and after a quick break, I headed back out on the course for my first Tough Mudder 5K. As you can imagine, the first few obstacles were the same until the 5K/Classic course split, but the 5K avoided most of the altitude of the full course. That's definitely not to say it wasn't challenging in and of itself, but I think it was a much better introduction for someone who has little to no experience with running or obstacle courses.
There's no denying it was great to be back at a Tough Mudder event in Southern California, and many, including myself, have been waiting for this moment for almost two years. Seeing all the smiling faces, both participants and volunteers alike, brought back so many great memories, and almost transported me back to a time when we didn't worry so much about hugging our friends or getting in their faces to yell about how proud we were or how much fun we were having. That part was great.
But this weekend also made it clear that there are still many challenges and obstacles to overcome when it comes to putting on an OCR event, especially in Southern California. The lack of willing sponsors and vendors, scaled-back festival areas, and, perhaps most impactful, fewer willing participants, make it difficult for a company like Tough Mudder to put on the event we know they are capable of. Time will tell, of course, if we can get back to the full experience we once knew. For now, I'm happy with the fact that they are still at it and trying to give us the best Tough Mudder version possible, given the challenging circumstances. I can only hope that the next event, scheduled for October in San Bernardino, gives them an opportunity to shine even brighter than they did this past weekend.
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This author is part of the Mud Run Crew and received a free race entry in return for an independent review. All opinions are those of the author and were not influenced by the race sponsor or Mud Run Guide.