By: Thomas Nastasi
On Saturday, October 20, 2012, I ran my first Tough Mudder event in Englishtown, NJ. This was my sixth and final race of 2012. The event is 12 miles with 30 obstacles, but due to a heavy rain the day before there were only 22 obstacles. It is not a timed race; you are encouraged to run with a team to complete together. I liked that aspect, but feel it hampers the competitiveness. This is the most expensive and most popular of the races I ran this year at around $120. With an estimated 15,000 people registered to participate, this is a very lucrative event. Tough Mudder recorded an estimated $70 million of revenue last year. They claim to be “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.” That depends on who you ask.
As I said before, this race is encouraged to be run with a team. My team consisted of my friend Ron and his friend Keith. Unfortunately, Ron had a family funeral that took place on event day. I made arrangements with Keith and we decided to run as a pair. This would be my first race in which I was going to run alongside someone.
Tough Mudder tried its best with organizing the parking logistics of this event. They sent a few emails a week prior with parking details. They were making people park at two different locations, each 40 minutes away from the actual event, and shuttling them to the venue. Obviously, announcing this one week prior to an event can cause a lot of anger. The fact that this race has been held at this same venue for the past 3 years and always allowed onsite parking also fueled the fire. I planned on being dropped off at the event with my team. The day before the event, another email was sent saying no one would be allowed to be dropped off. This was a little infuriating. The day of the event, I passed by the venue and saw that they were allowing you to park onsite. All of this parking anxiety left a bad taste in my mouth. Otherwise, the actual venue and event was extremely organized. There were plenty of staff available and everything was well marked.
Prior to this event, I always viewed the Tough Mudder as the “Super Bowl” of OCRs. I was a little nervous about the obstacles and my injured shoulder, which is only at about 80%. The focus was not on being excited about this race like it should have been; it was on the parking situation and my shoulder. With this being said, I really was not looking forward to competing. This all changed once the race began.
We jumped in the first heat at 7:40am. It started with an excellent motivational speaker and then the national anthem. The race began and we were off. We ran about half a mile down a race track and hit the first obstacle: Arctic Enema. This was a jump into a tank with ice water and you had to go underwater to avoid a barrier half way. I thought this was going to be terrible, but you were in and out so fast that your body really couldn’t register how cold the water was. I was relieved to get that out of the way and so glad that I did not go numb from the cold. It was actually a great total body wake up. There were a few more obstacles over the next few miles. As a side note, this event really was a “mud run”—there was so much mud it was crazy.
The worst obstacle I have ever encountered was next: Electric Eel. This was HORRIBLE! You had to crawl about 50 feet through muddy water as electric wires hung directly over your body. Some wires are active and some are dead. There was no way to avoid the wires from hitting you. They claim the wires carry 10,000 volts of electricity. I wouldn’t believe that, but it was the worst feeling ever to get hit with one. I got hit about 10 times. The pain is indescribable. The screams coming from my mouth sounded like those of my 2-year-old daughter when bath time is over. It was the worst obstacle ever. I can laugh about it now, but I truly hated that obstacle. It took a good ¼ mile of running for your muscles to relax from all of the electric shocks. Just terrible!
At this point, my sprained shoulder was not bothering me too much. The next few obstacles involved some rings that I totally could not do. I tried, felt strain on my shoulder, let go, fell into cold water, and swam away. It bummed me out because my strong points are the obstacles. I didn’t like failing. Keith and I helped motivate each other as the miles wore on. It was nice running with someone for once; I usually sprint off and run alone. This was his second event, but I knew he could do it because his first one was a Spartan Race.
There were many more obstacles and muddier running until we hit the 11 mile mark. You had to carry your partner about 100 yards and then switch places. It was nice getting carried after running for 11 miles, but it didn’t last long.
Two insane obstacles were left: Everest and Electroshock Therapy. Everest is a gigantic half pipe that they lubricate with oils. You run full speed and try to grab the wood at the top or another racer’s hand; Easier said than done. I ran fast up the half pipe, leaped, grabbed a guy’s hand and he let go. Down I slid on my stomach to the bottom; loads of fun! I was determined to do it again so I could beat him to death. I calmed down and told myself he was weak and that’s why it happened. I tried again, but sprinted faster. Got it! I then in turn helped Keith as he attempted the beast. We both completed that and had one final event: Electroshock Therapy. It is about 20 feet of hanging wires that you just have to run through. I ran as fast as I could and only got hit 1 time. Thank the lord. The finish line was ahead and the race was over. You get an Under Armour shirt and an orange Tough Mudder headband as a finishing prize. Apparently, all the cool kids wear orange headbands.
Tough Mudder was the first race I was able to wear my Sunwarrior jersey at. At every obstacle they have event staff motivating you. At each obstacle I heard, “You can do it Sunwarrior!”, “Let there be light, Sunwarrior!”, and many variations. It was kind of funny. I enjoyed telling them, “It’s a vegan protein! It’s not my name! Try some!” I would have some nerve creating custom shirts with a warrior name and a unique logo on them. My ego is not that large.
Afterward, my sense of achievement was not as strong as from previous races. I prepared by running a lot for this race. I ran early in the morning in the dark; I pushed myself hard to train; I feel I was completely prepared for the running aspect. The obstacles were difficult for me because of my shoulder, but I completed a majority of them. With my shoulder healthy, I would have had no difficulty at all. The obstacles seemed more focused on mental difficulty rather than physical. The obstacles were very intimidating, but not as hard as they looked. As for this being the “toughest race on the planet”—not a chance! Spartan Race, by far, is the toughest race on the planet! However, my view may be skewed because it was 69 degrees and beautiful out during this race. The terrain was completely flat with the exception of the dirt hills of the various dirt bike tracks. I am used to running these races up mountains so this was quite a bit easier on the legs and mind. The removal of around 10 obstacles due to the weather also decreased the toughness. I also feel that when you eliminate the whole personal achievement aspect by not timing it, you lose the competitiveness. I’m sure a majority of people that ran it think I’m nuts. If I hadn’t run the 11 mile Spartan Race a month prior, I would say that Tough Mudder is very difficult. I’m sure different venues for Tough Mudder offer more of a challenge. I have heard that different locations are on mountains. I am looking into the PA one and hope that offers me the terrain to reevaluate my opinion. Overall, this race was fun and a good time. I also made a new friend in my Tough Mudder teammate Keith. When you go through an OCR with someone, they become family!
I might sign up for next year and do it with a bunch of friends. I look at this race as a perfect group race. You can get people to sign up at your office and create the company team. You all train for it and maybe designate someone to hand out weekly workouts. The company buys custom shirts for you to run in and then hangs a huge finish line photo of the group afterwards in the office. I’m sure it is a great team work strategy to help build office camaraderie. Monday at the office everyone has icepacks, butterfly bandages, and neck braces while smiling and donning their bright orange head bands. Good times!
Again, I believe anyone can do this. Get your mind right and the body will follow. Two months of training is probably the minimum a beginner would need for this event. I would definitely try a smaller race first and also be prepared for 12 miles of running, but I think it’s manageable. I also think if you run it with a large group and stick together it will be a lot of fun. Listening to your friends scream while getting shocked by the electric wires is always hilarious.
I have a long 6 months until my next season starts. That gives me plenty of time to rehab my shoulder and train for the 12 events I already have scheduled. I am happy I have a hobby to keep me motivated during the winter months. I actually have become addicted to trail running. I have bought all the necessary gear to continue running through the winter. I cannot wait to be 100% again and get back into my training routine. I will soon be giving a summary of the OCR’s, mostly nationwide, that I will be participating in next season. It will help you decide what race you might be interested in participating in next year. It may also be a cool holiday gift to give someone that you hate, haha! I am really going to miss playing in the mud!