Tag Archives: Tough Mudder Tampa

Tough Mudder: Growing Pains

By Pete Williams

TMTampa2013bSARASOTA – By now athletes know what to expect from Tough Mudder. There will be a well-organized event of 11 to 12 miles of physical and Fear Factor-style obstacles, adequate water stops, free post-race refreshments, and even a sharp Under Armour T-shirt.

Since Will Dean took a Harvard Business School project and turned it into Tough Mudder in March of 2010, it has grown into a global phenomenon that will draw more than 500,000 participants and gross $70 million this year.

No company in American business has better harnessed social media, especially Facebook. Tough Mudder now includes major sponsors such as Under Armour, EAS, Bic, and Dos Equis. Dean says Tough Mudder will draw 1 million participants in 2013 and there no doubt are at least that many people still angling to post Timeline photos of themselves smiling, exhausted, and wearing the signature orange finisher’s headband.

Tough Mudder always has been something of the Woodstock of sports with its big crowds of young people, mud, silliness, and rural locations not unlike Max Yasgur’s farm. In recent months, the analogy has become too appropriate. Traffic delays of four-plus hours, first near Frederick, Md., in September and on Saturday here getting to the Hi Hat Ranch off I-75, have raised the question of whether Tough Mudder has become too big to be staged at off-road venues connected to interstates by two-lane roads.

Climbing a wall to get to the starting line

Climbing a wall to get to the starting line

In March, Tough Mudder will host its first South Florida event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, a facility accustomed to welcoming gatherings of 70,000 people. Dan Weinberg, Tough Mudder’s director of strategic partnerships, said two weeks ago that the speedway was chosen because of its vast infrastructure, parking, and experience handling large crowds.

With Tough Mudder routinely attracting 25,000 people over two days, we’re guessing we’ll see the event move into similar large venues. Weinberg said Tough Mudder already is looking at other NASCAR facilities. That could make it more of challenge to replicate the backwoods formula that has become arguably the most effective in the obstacle mud run industry.

Spartan Race, with its 30-Burpee penalties for failed obstacle attempts, three race distances, and more competitive mentality, remains the more challenging event. Unlike Tough Mudder, which does not track results or even distribute timing chips, Spartan is billed as an actual race and does a better job coming up with challenges unique to each race venue.

Best race emcee anywhere

Best race emcee anywhere

But Tough Mudder proved again this weekend why it provides the best overall race-day experience for the masses and for that Warrior Dash, the other major national player on the obstacle race scene, with a more modest 5K race, should be worried. In an industry known for being chintzy with refreshments, T-shirts and other race window dressing, Tough Mudder delivers big-time.

There’s the no-line registration area, free bag check, and several hundred port-a-potties. There’s the memorable pre-race briefing with an emcee who is part comedian and part motivational speaker, sort of a cross between Chris Rock and Tony Robbins. There are the frequent water stops with bananas and packets of gel “chomps.” There’s the finish chute with Dos Equis backpacks and all-you-can-grab Clif bars and EAS recovery drink packets. (EAS ready-to-drink products are available at a nearby tent).

TMTampa2013fThere’s a black Under Armour tech shirt (women’s sizes, too), replacing the unisex, gray, cotton shirts Tough Mudder provided previously. Instead of a concert-shirt style race tour calendar on the back, there’s now the Tough Mudder pre-race pledge recited pre-race. (“I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine – kids whine,” etc.)

There’s a Dos Equis keg toss, with those who can hoist an empty keg far enough winning a second free beer to go with the one received for finishing. There’s a live band most of the day and a massive merchandise tent doing brisk sales, perhaps the biggest testament to the Tough Mudder marketing machine.

Tough Mudder's Mount Everest

Tough Mudder’s Mount Everest

The course itself remains challenging, but in talking to fellow veterans of last year’s Tough Mudder Florida debut at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County, the consensus was that it felt easier. Maybe it’s because we’ve now done so many other races, some of which have replicated Tough Mudder’s signature “Arctic Enema” ice plunge, “Mount Everest” half-pipe lunge, and “Walk the Plank” jump of 10-12 feet into water. Maybe it’s because Tough Mudder’s notorious race-ending, 10,000-volt “Electroshock Therapy” doesn’t usually deliver much of a current. (Not that we’re complaining, though.) Maybe it’s because the claustrophobia-inducing “Trench Warfare” crawl through freshly-dug tunnels doesn’t seem as uncomfortable as the pitch-black labyrinth of the firefighter-themed Hero Rush event.

Or maybe it’s because this year’s course did not feature as many different obstacles as the 2011 edition. There were no cargo nets to climb or roll over, no hay bale pyramid to navigate, or even a balance beam. There was no peg board wall that required athletes to scale from side to side. And for a race that has fire in its logo, there was no fire to run through or jump over as there was last year at Little Everglades Ranch. Instead there were four or five near-identical marches up dirt and through water for several repetitions.

Tough Mudder still is new enough that most participants are first-timers. But for returning customers, some variety would be nice. It’s like attending a concert for a familiar band. You want to hear their signature tunes, but expect some new material. Tough Mudder, of course, must cart some of its obstacles all over the country, so there are limitations. That gives an advantage to some of the Florida-based races such as The Highlander and the Dirty Foot Adventure Run, which have permanent homes and can keep adding obstacles to existing courses.

Navigating the Funky Monkey

Navigating the Funky Monkey

The only major addition to this year’s Florida Tough Mudder, albeit a brutal one, was a 300-yard “Wounded Warrior” carry. Athletes grabbed partners and carried them piggy-back or fireman’s style 150 yards before switching off. I had the misfortune of arriving at this obstacle with only two of my kilt-clad Running Commando teammates, both of whom weigh 165-170 and were perfectly matched. I  ended up with a 190-pound partner, which probably explains why all 154 pounds of me are aching this morning.

Little Everglades was a better venue last year than Hi Hat and not just because of better traffic patterns. The scenic, well-manicured Pasco County ranch is accustomed to staging big events and, unlike Hi Hat, there’s more natural water. At Hi Hat, the “Hold Your Wood” log carry took you through the woods. At Little Everglades, athletes went through water for that and for other obstacles, such as a memorable 200-yard slog through waist-deep water where at times you’d sink further in the muck.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said earlier in the year that the event did not return to Little Everglades since it wanted to provide athletes with a variety of venues. Its first choice for the 2012 Tampa area event, Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade, was nixed when Polk County, fearing traffic tie-ups, refused to issue a permit for an event of such magnitude. Dirty Foot has since held two successful smaller races of 1,000 or so athletes and will host on third on March 9.

The 5-mile Savage Race, which has emulated some of Tough Mudder’s business model, including a number of its obstacles, moved from Clermont to Little Everglades in October and will return on April 13. Savage flew a plane over Tough Mudder on Saturday pulling a banner pledging “more obstacles per mile.” We continue to be amazed at how many Tough Mudder competitors walk most of the course, so perhaps Savage’s less-running formula is a wise one. (Outside Magazine recently chronicled how Tough Mudder emulated Britain’s Tough Guy and how Savage emulated Tough Mudder.)

TMTampa2013aThen again, Tough Mudder’s longer course remains one of the more popular challenges in endurance sports, even for those who don’t wish to run all of it. We’re curious to see what location Tough Mudder chooses for its scheduled Tampa-area event on Nov. 2-3, 2013 since it’s hard to imagine Sarasota County issuing another permit for Hi Hat after this weekend’s traffic snarls.

We can’t think of a Central Florida venue like Homestead-Miami Speedway with multiple entrances and vast stretches of parking surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, to say nothing of a vast man-made lake in the facility that can be incorporated into the course. Daytona International Speedway is surrounded by an airport, hotels, and commercial development.

No matter. We’re guessing Tough Mudder officials will figure that out in the next few months, further fueling the fastest-growing property in endurance sports.

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Tough Mudder: The Real Deal

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder’s infamous Chernobyl Jacuzzi

DADE CITY – We wondered if Tough Mudder possibly could live up to expectations. It’s been nine months since the obstacle mud run announced plans to make its Florida debut in Pasco County this weekend and in the meantime more than two dozen runs have been staged in the Sunshine State, many for the first time.

But Tough Mudder, a Harvard business school project that debuted in March of 2010, showed why it’s the biggest, most imposing, and the most successful race series in the category, drawing a staggering 20,000 athletes over two days for its season-ending event at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County.

Veteran race directors say that’s a record for any endurance event in the greater Tampa Bay area, which is saying something given the volume of races we have here. This was the fifth different mud series I’ve done this year and while I’ve enjoyed them all, Tough Mudder stood out in a number of areas.

An easier Tough Mudder obstacle

For starters, it’s the longest at 11.5 miles. It has 28 official obstacles, not counting the endless parade of additional treks through mud and swamp of all depths and distances. Several obstacles were a little overrated, most notably the much-hyped, race-ending “Electroshock Therapy,” but others more than lived up to billing, especially the “Chernobyl Jacuzzi,” where athletes must jump into a giant dumpster packed with ice water – three pallets of ice per dumpster, according to officials – and wade 20 feet to the other side. A different event was billed as the “Ballshrinker,” but Chernobyl was as cold as I’ve ever felt from waist to knees.

The toughest part of Chernobyl was waiting for the people in front of you to get through, which was a recurring theme. With waves of 600 heading out every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. until 1:20 (on Saturday) and 11:20 (today), there were backups at most every obstacle, which is not uncommon at mud runs. Tough Mudder bills itself not as a race but as a team-oriented event and few seemed in any hurry to rush through it all.

Plus, it’s easier to do certain obstacles with help, especially climbing large wooden “Berlin Walls” and “Everest,” a half-pipe requiring a running start and a leap to the top. My favorites were the claustrophobia-inducing tubes and underground tunnels. Points also go to “Walk the Plank” – climbing 15-20 feet to a platform and jumping into more cold water – and “Hold Your Wood,” where you grab a large log and walk a 150 yard-loop through a waist-to-shoulder deep lake. (Loved the fake but realistic looking alligator.)

One obstacle featured bales of hay, about four-feet high, spaced about five feet apart. My group opted to leap over each bale but others thought broad jumping from one to the next was required. Clearly some people have been watching too much Wipeout.

Like most mud runs, Tough Mudder encourages teams to dress in costume and there were plenty of superheroes. With such an all-for-one attitude and leisurely pace, it was easy to meet new friends – and stumble upon old ones.

Climbing Everest

A few ambitious athletes hammered through the course, which was not chip timed or otherwise scored. The rest of us moved at a steady pace, handling the obstacles and enjoying the intense marketing wars between the various obstacle mud runs.

Both the Spartan Race and Savage Race hired airplanes to circle Little Everglades pulling banners touting their upcoming events. Tough Mudder reveled in its status as the longest and perhaps most challenging. Instead of a 3-mile marker, there was a huge banner that read “Warrior Dash Finish Line,” a dig at the national 5K mud run series that draws numbers rivaling that of Tough Mudder.

Tough Mudder, like Spartan Race, claims that only 80 percent of those who start finish the race. My guess is it’s more like 97 percent and the other 3 percent are those carted off with sprains and strains. Obstacle mud races want their events thought of as tough – and for people to train accordingly – but they also want repeat business, to say nothing of additional customers.

I was fortunate to compete as part of a talented five-person team of Pasco County officials and friends. Eric Keaton, John Malley and Charlie Scott brought military experience to Tough Mudder, which incidentally was designed by British Special Forces. Justyna Buszewski, our lone female and smallest competitor, had the easiest time negotiating many of the obstacles.

Tough Mudder won’t be the last national mud runs series to roll through Pasco County, which rapidly is becoming a destination for endurance sports between the popular Longleaf Triathlon, our own Caliente Bare Dare 5K, and numerous other races. Most mud runs have gravitated to greater Orlando and South Florida, but Pasco County has both the facilities and the proximity to the most Florida endurance athletes.

We’re most impressed with how Tough Mudder creates the bad-ass vibe better than anyone in the industry. Remarkably, dozens of athletes took advantage of free mohawks. Others went for the on-site Tough Mudder tattoo and nearly 100 percent of athletes followed through on what I at first thought was a joke: writing your five-digit race number on your forehead. The signature orange finisher’s headband is better than any medal. And I don’t know the name of the guy Tough Mudder uses as the pre-race emcee, but I want him at my next party.

Props also for numerous water stops.

Team Pasco celebrates

Tough Mudder also addressed my mud run pet peeve: inadequate post-race food. Sure, most of it was for sale, but you could load up in the finish chute on EAS Myoplex, Clif bars, energy drinks, and bananas. Volunteers all but encouraged you to use your race T-shirt – delivered at the finish – as a bag.

Tough Mudder, which staged 14 events this year, has announced plans for a whopping 44 races in 2012, including a return to the Tampa Bay area (Dec. 1-2) and dates to be announced for Jacksonville and Miami.

We’re wondered frequently on this site how many mud run events the industry can sustain and which events will last. At the moment, Tough Mudder looks like the leader in the mud pit.

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Ramping it up for Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Eric Stratman takes a dose of his own medicine on "The Prowler."

TAMPA – We thought maybe Eric Stratman was easing up for this morning’s edition of Tough Mudder training, keeping it to the same 75-minute session as two weeks ago.

No chance. The owner of The Next Level training center near Westchase added to the degree of difficulty. He wasn’t responsible for the heat, which approached the mid-90s when we started at 10:35, but he could claim credit for everything else.

This week’s menu included a 2-mile run to start the proceedings, followed by rope climbs, another 800-meter run, a return 200-meter engagement with the dreaded weighted “Prowler” weight sled, another 800-meter run, various 200- and 400- meter runs (backward, lateral shuffle), tire tossing and a whopping 50 Burpees.

My training colleague Eric Keaton and I were “fortunate” enough to have time to spare and got to repeat the 2-mile run along unshaded Race Track Road.

I felt pretty good about my performance, hanging pretty much with a lead pack that included Stratman, Keaton, ex-Florida State swimmer Christie Pesce and a couple of others.

No tiring out for Christie Pesce

Tough Mudder is regarded as one of the more difficult races in the booming category of obstacle mud runs, generally taking athletes two and a half hours to complete a 12-mile course. The race encourages athletes to compete as teams to make obstacle navigation easier and is known for its signature feature: an “Electroshock Therapy” challenge.

Tough Mudder is staging 14 events this year and more than 10,000 athletes per day (plus spectators) are expected at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County on Dec. 3-4. The Saturday race is sold out but space remains for Sunday.

For the next training session, Stratman plans to bring in some Tough Mudder-like obstacles. His free Tough Mudder prep sessions at The Next Level continue on Oct. 1 and every other Saturday until the race.

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Dialing it up for Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Eric Keaton far from tiring out at Tough Mudder training

TAMPA – Eric Stratman showed no mercy during Tough Mudder training this morning at The Next Level training center in Westchase, dialing the session up to 75 minutes and, as usual, increasing the degree of difficulty.

That hasn’t stopped attendance from growing, with about 50 victims, er, athletes showing up for the free biweekly session in preparation for the Tough Mudder, which takes place in Dade City in December.

Back for a third consecutive session was the dreaded weighted “Prowler” sled. Teams of 3-4 people took turns pushing the beast 400 yards through the parking lot. This time, we also flipped tires for 15 reps at a time, climbed ropes, and dealt with something called a “slosh pipe,” a heavy PVC pipe with water inside.

The challenge was to carry the pipe overhead and keep it balanced as the water sloshed from side to side. I used the singing strategy I learned as a kid when carrying water or eggs. Not sure if it helped, and it only added to the torture of my fellow trainees, but I gave it a try. Those arriving at the obstacle with no slosh pipes available got to carry tires.

In between obstacles, Stratman had us run one-mile loops through the office park, up from the 800-meter distance of recent sessions. All told, I finished six obstacles and six loops before time was called.

I managed to keep up with Eric Keaton, who mentored me into triathlon four years ago (and encouraged me get into it years earlier). Keaton, who is the public communications manager for Pasco County, reports that Tough Mudder is expecting 10,000 participants daily over the two-day event in December.

After finishing fourth in my 113-man age group at the Savage Race last weekend, I was feeling pretty confident about this morning’s session, especially after finishing the last two with gas in the tank and opting not to participate in Chase Kosterlitz’ stand-up paddleboarding race in St. Pete this morning. But today was tough, a reminder that there’s much work to be done in order to finish Tough Mudder, which takes more than two hours. Good thing Mix1 rep James Bellamy brought plenty of product to expedite recovery.

Stratman’s Tough Mudder prep sessions at The Next Level continue on Sept. 17 and every other Saturday until the race.

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Back to Tough Mudder Training Camp

By Pete Williams

Will we be ready for this?

TAMPAEric Stratman mixed things up for this morning’s version of Tough Mudder training camp, which is only appropriate. After all, Stratman’s The Next Level Training Center near Westchase specializes in CrossFit, which constantly throws the unexpected at you.

Of course, part of the allure of obstacle mud runs like Tough Mudder, which comes to Florida for the first time in December, is seeing how well you can handle the unexpected.

Today’s wrinkles in the TNL parking lot included running 400 yards with a tire, which was not too bad, at least the first time around. Moving 400 yards laterally was a welcome addition for me; the lateral lunge has been a staple of my workout since writing the first Core Performance book with Mark Verstegen.

I was a little disappointed not to have the farmer’s carry return, having incorporated walking long distances while carrying 45-pound plates into other workouts since participating in Tough Mudder camp two weeks ago.

Then there was a rope obstacle. With one end of a heavy rope looped around a concrete pole, you had to take a 20-foot end in each hand and shake the ropes until the slack reached the pole….100 times. I suffered through the first 100, but like so many obstacles in this category, it’s all about technique.

A fellow trainee showed me how to grab the ropes below the handles. You could do 50 overhand and 50 underhand. That didn’t make it easy, just doable.

The tire toss returned, along with plenty of 800-meter runs around the parking lot between obstacles. Also returning was the dreaded “Prowler,” a sled with 300 pounds of weight plates. This time we had to use a lower grip on the thing, increasing the degree of difficulty.

Today’s workout began at 10:30 a.m. and we enjoyed a bit of a cool front, with temperatures only 87 degrees.

Unlike the 45-minute session of two weeks ago, Stratman extended today’s workout to an hour. I’ll be more than prepared for next weekend’s Savage Race in Clermont, which shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. The Tough Mudder takes most athletes more than two hours, so presumably our workout on Sept. 3 will be longer.

The free program continues every other Saturday until the race in December.  Interested? Check out TNL HERE.

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Hitting Tough Mudder Training Camp

By Pete Williams

James Cassidy finishes the "Farmer"

TAMPA – At some point during my second round of carrying a pair of 45-pound plates 200 yards across a sun-baked parking lot this morning, Eric Stratman reminded me and two dozen new friends why we were here.

“If you can survive this,” he said, “you’ll have no problem with Tough Mudder.”

No kidding. As the owner of The Next Level Training Center, Stratman spends his days whipping people into shape via CrossFit. Many use the program to train for adventure races, triathlons and other endurance events.

With the Tough Mudder coming to Florida for the first time in December, Stratman figured it was time to offer a special program.

“Tough Mudder is not a race your average runner or athlete can show up to and hope to complete,” he said. “The obstacles will be too much.”

About 30 of us showed up this morning, split male and female and mostly under 35, which made me one of the oldest. We were supposed to start at 10 a.m. but began at 10:30 — gametime temperature 92 degrees and sticky outside in the empty parking lots of the office park where TNL is located.

We began with an 800-meter run around the complex. Easy enough. That was followed by the 200-meter “farmer” – carrying the two 45-pound plates 200 yards. (Women used 25-pound plates).

After another 800-meter run, we attacked the “Prowler,” a sled with 300 pounds of weight plates. The good news is you could have a tag-team partner or two. The bad news is you had to push the thing 400 yards.

My pal James Bellamy of Mix1 and I teamed up, each pushing the sled for 40-yard intervals. After another 800-meter run it was time to throw giant tires 100 yards and run 400-meters backward.

If you still had time left in the 45-minute session, you got to do it again. I almost made it through twice before time was called, pleased that as an old guy I outlasted a number of trainees.

The program continues every other Saturday until the race in December. Just as CrossFit is never predictable, Stratman says he’ll mix it up next time. We’ll have to compete in groups of five or six, mimicking typical Tough Mudder strategy.

Sounds like a plan. Interested? Check out TNL HERE.

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Tough Mudder Coming to Pasco County

By Pete Williams

Typical Tough Mudder obstacle

The Tough Mudder, perhaps the most challenging of the growing field of adventure mud runs, is coming to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City on Dec. 3-4.

Billed as “the toughest endurance test on the planet,” Tough Mudder is a grueling 10-to-12 mile trail run containing 20 military style obstacles designed by British Special Forces.

Conceived by CEO Will Dean while at Harvard Business School, Tough Mudder seems to delight in providing a far greater challenge than other mud runs. Only 78 percent finish the course during a typical race, with an average time of two and a half hours.

According to the Tough Mudder press materials, USMC participants say the race is just as hard, if not more difficult, than USMC basic training and “significantly different from other mud events like Warrior Dash or Muddy Buddy because the courses are three times as long and held on hostile terrain.”

Tough Mudder “is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race,” the race Web site says. “It’s Ironman meets Burning Man, and it is coming to a location near you. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. Forget finish times. Simply completing a Tough Mudder is a badge of honor.Tough Mudder is 3-4 times longer and much tougher than a typical mud run such as Warrior Dash.”

Tough Mudder’s obstacles are not of the pegboard or giant inflatable variety. Obstacles include running through fire, mud, freezing water, jumping off 15-foot planks and being shocked by 10,000 volts of electricity.

Walking the plank

There’s also something called the “Ball Shrinker,”which is appropriate since the Tough Mudder is a bit of a sausage fest, with a field that’s typically 80 percent male. (Perhaps Will Dean has a brother Jimmy?)

The Tampa Bay event is expected to draw 10,000 participants over two days and is a great value compared to triathlons and other mud runs – if you register early. The Sunday race, though identical, is cheaper and the current pre-registration price is $100 for Saturday and $80 for Sunday through June 15. (Those who got in before March 16 paid $80 or $60.) The prices go up on the 15th of each month before topping out at $180 and $160.

There’s plenty of jocularity involved, including free mullet haircuts and Tough Mudder tattoos post-race, along with various costume prizes including one for least clothing worn. (Presumably nudity is not allowed.)

Tough Mudder is one of at least a dozen mud runs coming to Florida this year. As we chronicled last month, the Sunshine State leads the nation in this category, to the point where Tough Mudder is going up against the inaugural Muddy Buddy “world championship” at the Red Neck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4.

Though Tough Mudder only debuted on May 2, 2010, it’s up to 14 events for 2011 and in 2012 will expand to Canada, Japan, Australia, England, and Scotland.

We’re not sure it’s the “toughest endurance event,” at least not compared to The Death Race in Vermont in June. But we wouldn’t bet against Tough Mudder reaching its goal of “replacing Ironman as the ultimate endurance event on the planet.”

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