“Are you tough enough?” Designed between 10-12 miles to test your all-around strength, stamina, teamwork and mental grit, Tough Mudder is dubbed as “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet. Probably.” This year, like 2013 the event in Northern California was hosted at Northstar Caliifornia, Lake Tahoe on Saturday, August 16. After finishing last year I knew before we donned the orange headband I would back this year for more fun, more mud and more challenge. After all, “Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge” as repeated in the The Mudder Pledge just prior to starting the course.
Mudder preparation actually began last year, when I signed up early to get a $99 entry fee. The sooner you sign up and make that commitment the more time you have to train. This year, TMHQ had a sweet deal with the Global Mudder sale of tickets for 2015 at $79 during a 48 hour span. Enough of the non-race related material, let’s bleed orange.
This year was considerably different from last year, not necessarily a bad thing, as the organization was much improved over the 2013 event. This was first seen when we arrived at Northstar Village and had to wait until 7:20am to get registered. Unlike last year, registration was done at the bottom of the hill in the village, which was expedited by scanning your Tough Mudder ticket and assigned number separately. No more waiting in individual lines based on your the spelling of your last name. It also helped that we were there early and in line waiting for registration to open.
Once we had our assigned number it was off to ride the gondola to the staging area to preparation for the start of the challenge. First wave was scheduled to go off at 820am, our PLANNED start was 840am, which we didn’t make. This gave us time to place our bag at the bag drop, which was a $10 fee. I took the opportunity to get my head shaved into a mohawk. We walked around looking at some of the exhibits, signed the Tough Mudder wall and received our Mudder Nation Legionnaire Loop wristband. This was something new for 2014, more it in later.
We waited for the remainder of our team to join us before we made our way to the starting corral. Unlike last year, there were 14 obstacles within 5-10 minutes walk of the Day Lodge. Good planning, poor layout. While the event seemed more organized at the point without the crowds for registration, there were some later complications that should be addressed for next year. Unfortunately we missed our start time by about 60 minutes. Part of our group was late to the party and got caught up in a long registration line. It took quite a bit of organization and communication within our team to get everyone together and into the starting corral together. For some it would the first and only time we would see some of our teammates until we crossed the finish line.
Overall the Tough Mudder experience was awesome! No other way to describe it when you are out there pushing yourself to succeed. Unlike last year I wasn’t a nervous about “facing my fears” as I really didn’t have any. I knew what to expect, even though there were 9 new obstacles (not including the Legionnaire’s Loop). In fact, those of us who had participated in TM previously were looking forward to the added obstacles in the Legionnaire’s Loop!
This year I felt the course was more challenging with great elevation changes through out the course. There seemed to be some longer distances (still not a mile between any of them) between some obstacles, as well as a few out and back loops that I was particularly fond of. The addition of ‘Cliffhanger’ as an obstacle saw a 400′ climb in just over a quarter of a mile. When approaching it it appeared to be constant line of Mudders in a death march to the top of the hill. Generally the first portion of the course was uphill, even though we started with a quick sprint downhill for about half a mile.
Some individuals were dinged up coming into the event, an ankle here, a shoulder there. Others weren’t necessarily in shape, but the great thing about TM is there is no prototypical body time that can challenge the course. Everyone out there is participating for their own reasons. My reasons, to push myself harder than I did last year, which is a bit difficult to do when you do not leave a fellow Mudder behind. I wasn’t the best teammate, as I wanted to run between obstacles, much like I did last year. So, sorry to my teammates for leaving you behind, but waiting at the next obstacle.
Even though I indicated this event was better than last year, it was not without some criticism. First some of the new obstacles were pretty weak. The Devil’s Beard was one such obstacle that I don’t need to see next year. It’s wasn’t a challenge. I was also disappointed in Arctic Enema. TMHQ, where the hell was the ice? Sure the muddy water was cold, but nowhere near freezing like last year. Some of the obstacles we faced last year weren’t as difficult this year. That was true of Everest, which wasn’t muddy and with good traction many on our team were able to make it up unassisted. Another obstacle that failed was Cliffhanger, which was tabbed as a, “15+ meter cliff of slippery mud angled at 45-degrees. Maybe you even start with good intentions. But soon a muddy sprint up onto the slope turns into a crawl with handholds and footholds in short supply.” For Tahoe it was that previous mentioned death march up a steep incline. There was no mud, some foot and handholds. As long as you kept moving (even slowly) Cliffhanger wasn’t as difficult as advertised. Finally, Lumberjacked, where you pull yourself over a 1.5m log hurdle, this obstacle seemed easier this year as I didn’t require am assistance to get my leg over.
I understand Tough Mudder is as much a spectator sport as it is a competition, but to have 14 obstacles only a 5-10 minute walk I feel caused some problems. The first problem, the distance to some obstacles and there were two in particular that were out of the way, which required you to double back on the trail you arrived on. Everest worked better than the Berlin Walls, as these were the two obstacles required competitors to loop back.
The other problem when you closer to the the finish line there were more and more spectators fouling the trails. Sure there was an attempt to cordon dedicated corridors for Mudders to run in. Unfortunately with many walking, these narrow corridors because jammed up, seeing others run on the trail that was marked for spectators. It was a mess and completely disorganized and at times unsafe. Hopefully cramming 14 obstacles so close to each other will be changed next year.
Finally the finishing obstacles were somewhat unspectacular, as was achieving the halfway mark. Last year there was a challenging ascent to the top of Mt Pluto with spectators cheering you on. This year, nothing. I didn’t even know I had hit the summit as there was very little fanfare like last year. The same can be said for the finish line. Electroshock Therapy didn’t seem to be set in a good viewing area for spectators. All the competitors seemed to congregate in the mud at the exit of the obstacle with only a narrow path down to the finish. As with any event you take with good (which there was a lot of) with the bad and look towards improving the event in 2015.
Initially we had about 26 signed up on Otto’s Mudders, but started with 20. That number quickly broke down further before the first obstacles. Eight of the original 20 took off at a quicker pace thinking the rest of the group was ahead of them, when in reality they were behind. The two groups passed around mile 9 as we neared the finish. The next time we saw each other was at the conclusion of the race. Of the remaining 12 Mudder, two were kids who took off to finish the course in about 3.5 hours. That left 9 of us to finish the course. We had grandiose images of finishing in 4 hours, maybe 5 hours. It was 6:45 before we crossed the finish line. Like 2013, this is far too long to spend running in the event. Yet only 2 who started did not finish, but they plan on returning next year because they had fun.
Overall I loved the event and until I can no longer participate I plan on returning to Lake Tahoe to continue to challenge the course. In fact I would like to get two events in for 2015, as there is a Los Angeles event in March. Great time, great team and we all had fun. What else could you ask for? And yes, we got our Dos Equis at the finish!