Monday, August 10, 2015

My First Tough Mudder - Western, NY 2015 - Race/Challenge Review

This was my first Tough Mudder (TM).  One of the main reasons for this Summer of OCR in fact.  When I first started OCR (obstacle course racing) the length of the TM course was intimidating for me...not being in particularly great shape and a bit on the aged side.  After running 11 races though, I felt that it was time to see what all the fuss was I did!

Tough Mudder - Western NY certainly delivered on it's name.  It was tough!   And it was muddy!  I mean, with the weather as dry as it was, they must have shipped in mud from somewhere...but that stuff was everywhere.  Right from the first mud crawl (where I immediately, and unknowingly, lost my bib).  From that point on it seemed we were in mud every few minutes (later on I heard that this venue is known as the muddiest course on the TM circuit).

As expected, on any long course, there's going to be a lot of running...or in my case, a lot of jogging and as-fast-as-I-can walking.  But the obstacles were spaced out pretty well so you didn't feel like you'd gone off course somewhere on a 5-mile trail run.  They even found some ways on this rolling, but not hilly, terrain to get in a few real mind-numbing climbs towards the end.  One of the surprises for me were the types of obstacles as well.  

When I first wrote about Tough Mudder vs Spartan Race I knew a major difference between the two was the fact that TM was not a timed event.  A challenge...not a race. Even though I also knew that TM stressed teamwork and cooperation, it wasn't until I was out on the course that I saw how they encouraged it through the obstacles themselves.  

Some of the obstacles are obviously for the individual, but others were all but impossible without the aid of your team.  The log carry...the wounded warrior carry...and especially the iconic Everest.  You really had no choice but to work together.  What was a little unexpected though, was the challenging and entertaining individual obstacles,  The Funky Monkey and whatever that leap to the swinging T-bar bell-ringing thing was called.  That was deceivingly difficult...and a lot of fun!

Not surprisingly, whenever you have tougher obstacles, you have lines!  The bane of OCR.  Even though I don't even remotely challenge for time, I'm always conscious of how I do vs other races and venues.  So when the lines started I was concerned about how it would affect my time.  Then realized...there was no time!  Then the real revelation...did it really matter?!

I started thinking (and there was plenty of time at these bottlenecks for thinking and talking) that the official times weren't all that important.  Don't get me wrong, I still prefer the idea of a race when it comes to the elite and even for the rest of us to compare our progress in the sport.  But the fact is, I know more or less how long I took and I know roughly how long I was in lines.  So, do the math, in essence I knew how well I performed.  I also knew where I still needed work.  TM has also come up with their own way of encouraging repeat runners.  Just like earning belts in karate, you earn different level/color headbands as you do more TM's.  You also become a member of the Mudder Legion.  And if you think that's no big haven't been at a Tough Mudder.

So, even though I would do another Tough Mudder any time...and should be on Long Island 8/15...I do prefer to have a timed event.  Something BattleFrog might take a lesson from.  Their events are timed, but when you get a free race for volunteering, you don't get a chip (and therefore, not only don't you get a time, you don't even get credit for having run that event).  So in the end, you're actually getting a free BattleFrog 'challenge'....not a free 'race".  This idea of a challenge as opposed to a race also leaves you nowhere to go as a sport.  Getting to that next level is something that the other race promoters are racking their brains about as we speak.

[ps - As a side note, with just the electric shock obstacle to go, I managed to do something not very friendly to my shoulder on the Everest obstacle in this race.  Knowing that Electro Shock is a right-of-passage for the TM (and Arctic Enema I suppose), with some help I managed to get things back in the right place to finish.  After all that, I really wanted my headband...although this will have a serious affect on the following weeks of racing no doubt!]

[pps - Photos?...although I found a couple, I think I had a better chance of finding one with Bigfoot landing his UFO than finding the rest of mine.  An ongoing problem throughout OCR!  Since the first obstacle ripped off my bib and covered my arms (which were marked) with mud I was pretty much out of luck unless I have a spare day or two to weed through them.  I can think of a few things that might help, but whoever solves this one will be well rewarded!]

What have your experiences been with Tough Mudder?
Do you prefer the challenge or the race format?
I'd like to hear what you think!

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