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Are You A Tough Mudder?

It takes a lot to win this race. A full deck of cards isn't one of them.

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Forget marathons, eating contests and Ahmedinejad. Crazy has a new name, and it’s Tough Mudder.

Emerging victorious—or just emerging—from the mud-caked gauntlet is a feat to be commended. But also questioned. Because in addition to physical strength, plenty of endurance and a sky-high pain tolerance, competitors need at least a touch of mental instability. What else would make someone want to endure several hours attempting to complete obstacles such as Electroshock Therapy, a corridor of live 10,000-volt wires; Fire Walker, a blazing blanket of straw engulfed in four-foot-high flames and clouds of smoke; and Funky Monkey, mud-and-butter greased monkey bars over a moat of icy water?

Yet in just two years, the concept has swept the nation, drawing 500,000 participants to 35 events (8 international), many in mountain towns. So what’s the big attraction and, more important, what’s the secret to finishing and going on to compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder? We tracked down a WTM finalist and a member of the Tough Mudder team to answer these questions and a few others. 

Designed by British Special Forces this hardcore 10- to 12-mile military style obstacle course could push you past the point of sanity. Twenty-five or more obstacles give contenders several dozen opportunities to scream uncle, proclaim their mortality and return to, well, tamer physical tests like marathons or P90x. But the people who sign up for Tough Mudders aren’t the quitting kind, they’re the pushing-to-the-limits kind. 

“I do Tough Mudders for the physical challenge,” says Matt Lamb, a World’s Toughest Mudder finalist. “I enjoy pushing my body and this is just another avenue for me to do so.”

Jane Di Leo, Tough Mudder’s PR Manager, agrees: “Even the most elite athletes are challenged.”

But, Di Leo warns, don’t get it twisted. This is not a race; it’s a challenge. It’s not a timed or scored event, which is, ironically, the reason a panel of Harvard Business School professors told co-founder Will Dean the concept would never work when Dean submitted the idea in a business plan contest. Now Tough Mudder is the leading company in the obstacle course industry, and those professors are eating their words.

Be among the first competitors to cross the finishline at a regional Tough Mudder, and you might qualify for the World’s Toughest Mudder. Held in December last year, the first WTM was a non-stop 24-hour challenge in which contenders attempted to run the obstacle course as many times as possible. This year, the Tough Mudder team is revamping the format, so contenders beware, as if you weren’t already.

Before you can get to the WTM, you have to get through a basic event, if you can call it that. Here are seven survival tips from Lamb and Di Leo to improve your chances:

1. Diversify Your (Training) Portfolio Tough Mudder is not for the faint of heart. Neither is it only for the fleet of feet. Remember, this isn’t a race. But if you want to qualify for the World’s Toughest Mudder you need to be in peak condition. Running is one of the means to that end. “As the Tough Mudder approaches, I increase my running, but not dramatically,” says Lamb. “I perform more interval/hill training with a few longer runs interspersed.” Running will get you from point A to point B, but having upper body strength will get you through the obstacles. “ Twelve miles won’t be difficult for marathon runners, but you also need upper body strength, a strong core and flexibility to make it through the obstacles,” says Di Leo. “My training throughout the year consists mainly of CrossFit with a strength bias,” says Lamb. Bicep curls and bench press will make you look strong but exercises like dead weight pull ups will benefit you the most. With obstacles like the Funky Monkey and Everest, in which you have to pull yourself over a quarter-pipe, you need upper body strength.

2. Bid Farewell To Fair Weather Workouts Training in the gym is fine. So are summer workouts in the park. But even if you bust your hump every minute of every nice day and wear yourself to exhaustion in a climate-controlled facility, you won’t be prepared for the environmental variables that affect each Tough Mudder. The events are held year-round, rain-or-shine, hail-or-windstorm. Really anything short of a tornado or earthwake won’t cancel the event. That means you could be running in freezing sleet or under a blazing sun, factors that can sap your energy reserves. Prepare yourself by training in all conditions. The soupier the weather, the more motivated you should be to train. The World’s Toughest Mudder is held in December. Last year it was freezing out. “Many people dropped out or were pulled from the race within the first lap due to hypothermic conditions,” says Lamb. There are more then twice the number of water-based obstacle in the World’s Toughest Mudder so you better get used to being wet and cold. “Roll around in the snow in a Speedo and then run,” joked Lamb. “Then you’ll be prepared.”

3. Boot Up For Boot Camp At its core, Tough Mudder is a team event. Sure, you register as an invidual, but getting through the course requires teamwork. The same is true for training. There’s strength in numbers, and group work might be your best chance of getting into shape. To that end, Tough Mudder is partnering with 24-Hour Fitness locations to offer tailored Tough Mudder Boot Camps. Check out the website to find one near you. Not a member? Think you can do it alone? We give you mad props and wish you well. But should you find yourself in need of a little support or motivation, check out the online Boot Camp outline that is customizable to your fitness level and training needs.

4. Be A Team Player You may be able start  the Tough Mudder alone, but don’t for once second believe you can finish and move on to the World’s Toughest Mudder alone. Whether you have a single partner, an entire team or rely on the kindness of fellow contenders, you will need help to complete the Tough Mudder. And since it’s not a race, the every-man-for-himself mentality is just silly. “It’s beneficial to have a team,” says Lamb, “You can’t complete some of the obstacles without help. Once one of our team reached the top of Everest we would lean over the edge and help pull others over.” “The energy is incredible,” says Di Leo. “You have people that don’t know each other coming together, becoming friends and having a beer together after.”

5. Put Mind Over Matter Physical strength is only half the battle. Mental grit is the other. The minute you begin training for a Tough Mudder, you should banish the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. Failure is more acceptable than quitting.

6. Dress The Part Cotton and baggy clothes will weigh you down in the mud so wear compression clothes or something tight and quick-drying. “Wear a speedo if you’re daring,” jokes Di Leo. Being able to carry some items, like a jacket and water while doing the 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder is key, so you must have the proper carrying device. “I had a small CamelBack but I had to take it off and hold onto it as I crawled under barbed wire to keep it from getting caught,” says Lamb, “Having something like a fanny pack around your hips would make it easier.”

7. To Last, LaughTough Mudders are seriously hard, but hardly serious. You’ll look a bigger fool if you take it or yourself too seriously. It’s not a race. Challenge yourself and do things you thought were impossible. Don’t get too hard on yourself if you start to struggle; you have people to help you. Just remember have fun, meet people and laugh. The more fun you are having, the easier everything is. A lot of teams dress in funny costumes, and there’s beer and live music awaiting competitors at the finishline. 

When asked if he would consider doing the Tough Mudder and the World’s Toughest Mudder again Lamb’s response was an automatic “Definitely!”

Check out the Tough Mudder website for event dates, training info and videos.