While the focus of Tough Mudder is on teamwork and camaraderie, you also test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and determination. Individually you must be ready to “dig deep” in order to overcome your fear as you step up to challenge the Tough Mudder obstacles. For some it’s narrow, dark places, others sub-zero water or even heights. Tough Mudder obstacles require a variety of strength and skills, as well as teamwork in order to accomplish them.
While we didn’t experience all the obstacles in the Tough Mudder last year, we were introduced to 9 new obstacles and one big ass mountain; Mt. Pluto with a summit of 8,610 feet. This year TMHQ introduced the Legionnaire’s Loop, two additional obstacles for participants who have run in multiple Mudders. Below are a summary of each obstacle. Prior to getting into the starting pen we experienced a small wall you must get over before you tackle the rest of the course. Listed below in order of appearance on the course map are the 20 obstacles we challenged in Lake Tahoe, not to mention the 11+ miles of running and the 2400+ feet of altitude we climbed.
1. Glory Blades: These are 8′ wooden walls with a 25-30 degree slant toward the approach side. On the back side of the slated wall, is a smooth surface to slide down. With no foot aid to assist in grabbing the top of wall, this obstacles might require a teammate to give you a boost. This is just one of many obstacles that require a Mudder to pull themselves up in order to kick one leg over the wall before transitioning to the smooth, downside of the Glory Blades. Some of our team used the wooden braces on the edge of the obstacle to help them get a footing and get over the slanted wall.
2. Warrior Carry: This obstacle required you to pick up and carry your teammate about 30 yards before coming to a change point, which required teammates to switch positions. Unlike last year, this obstacle was early on in the event, with a nice wide, rock free trail. No real challenge, unless you couldn’t hold your teammate. I made sure I teamed up with a partner was close to my weight and we cruised through the obstacles under control and maintained our balance and got through the Warrior Carry without falling.
3. Devil’s Beard: It was early in the event when I experienced the first “WTF?” in regards to this obstacle. It wasn’t difficult, not even challenging, which made me wonder why is this even included in Tough Mudder? Maybe without a line of Mudders ahead of me, the net would have been more difficult to get under and get going, but I didn’t experience that. It was a straight forward walk, on your hands, uphill in order to get to the far side of the Devil’s Beard. Hopefully this doesn’t return in 2015.
4. Pitfall: This obstacle was the first opportunity to get “down and dirty” in the mud. As you approached muddy water, you needed to get on your belly and slide through electrified wires, down a mud berm into the water. The muddy water was only about waist high (I’m 6′-0″ tall), but you had to take it slow as you made your way through the pit that was dotted with holes you had to be wary of. Not difficult at all, but a nice little warm up of what was to come on the course.
5. Mud Mile: Just down the trail we were confronted with the Mud Mile. Watching from the aid station, this looked to be a very slow obstacle, having no idea how soft the mud was or how rough the terrain was under the water. Berms divided the course into separate areas requiring Mudders to climb the berms in order to move through each section of the Mud Mile. The muddy water was cold and soft but had no concern about losing my Luna Sandals. At no point did I get stuck in the mud. The biggest problem was the lips on either side of the berm that seemed to drop off into the muddy water, making the obstacle slow going. Words of encouragement and helping hands were available for those who needed an added advantage.
6. Prairie Dog: Not sure where the challenge in this obstacle was. It was nothing more than a black, plastic tube you climbed into and slid down. At the exit you made the decision to go feet or head first. I rolled onto my back, grabbed the top of the tube and pulled myself, ungracefully out of the tube and fell into the muddy water. From the base of the tube to the bottom of the mud was about 4′, so it was a bit longer of a drop than expected. Last year I found Boa Constrictor much more challenging, especially pulling yourself up these muddy tubes.
7. Hold Your Wood: This obstacle tested your stamina and strength as you were required to carry a log or stump of wood 1/4 of a mile. This course was circular in nature and started uphill on a narrow, woodchip laden path. The trail was very soft with good footage, at the bottom of the hill you had to carry your wood over a small improvised berm that had been built. It didn’t matter how you carried the wood, some throw it over their shoulder, others above their head or holding it tight against their chest. This year I combined with two other teammates and carried a larger log around the course.
8. Pole Dancer: This obstacle had me a bit concerned, much like Funky Monkey did last year. Pole Dancer requires upper body strength and determination to make it up and down the parallel bars. Most of the images I saw ad the bars in a ‘V’ shape, but it was in an ‘A’ shape for Tahoe. There was “inspirationally deep” water if you fell off. The THMQ volunteer was telling participants it’s better to make it over anyway you can rather than fall off. So many Mudders were putting their legs on the bars and pulling themselves across. I surprised myself making it across. Can’t say it was easy, as my legs were swinging wildly from side to side. I was able to keep the arms straight and walked my arms little by little over the bars until I reached the far side.
9. Kiss of Mud: A replay of an obstacle we experienced last year, but this year it was much muddier and cold than last. The TMHQ volunteer was constantly wetting the obstacle and Mudders, as we get down and dirty belly crawling through about 20′ feet of mud. The catch, the barbwire that is just 12″-14″ above the mud. It’s a must to keep the head and butt down, using forearms to pull you forward. With our early start time the obstacles wasn’t as muddy as expected (see image). Unlike some pictures I had seen, we were not pulling ourselves through a sea of brown water. In fact one lane had virtually no water in it and very little mud, as a results some Mudders decided to take the “easy” way out of this obstacle.
10. Lumberjacked: This was a log based obstacle, one in which we experienced last year, but unlike the previous challenge these logs were about 7′ high with no foothold to aid in boosting you over the log. I did see some Mudders with the upper body strength jump up, grab the log and pull themselves over, but the majority of Mudders used the team concept and boosted teammates up to the apex of the log, where they threw their legs over and came down on the far side. Running up to and jumping up was challenging but possible.. We saw Mudders able to jump and grab, but lacked the strength to pull themselves up. Unlike last year I had the speed and strength to get my torso on the cross member and pull myself over a series of these logs.
11. Arctic Enema: It wasn’t until nearly mile 7 we approached the sub-zero temperature of the Arctic Enema. Much had been made about this obstacle on how to pass it. Unlike the pretty green water I saw in You Tube videos and images, our pool looked shit brown. After a short climb to the top of the platform I decided to jump as far as possible before hitting the freezing water. A step or two forward and I felt for the bottom of the wooden wall that divided the pool and quickly submerged myself, coming up on the other side. A few quick steps to the edge of the pool on the far side and I pulled myself out. Once out of the pool, you climb off the structure and start to regain your body temperature. This obstacle was a letdown as it was NOT freezing. There was no ice in the water, nor were TMHQ volunteers adding any,which led me to believe they might be out of ice at the time we ran.
12. Pyramid Scheme: Another new obstacles for 2014 and the first that required a total team effort in order to accomplish. Looking similar to Everest, but considerably muddier teams had to use team members to build a base on which others would climb on to assist them up the muddy wall. At the top of the wall another team member would lean over, being held by their feet to help pull them up the wall until they had a grasp on the top of the obstacle. Probably the most fun of the new obstacles and truly a challenging team obstacle. With a good base and a strength at the top, teams can be successful with this “scheme.”
13. Walk the Plank: No fear to overcome this year at the top of the structure. I waited for the volunteer to say “Go!” and I didn’t have a second thought and jumped. It was repeated over and over that ou should be a strong swimmer to challenge this obstacle. If you can’t swim, don’t jump into the water. TMHQ had plenty of personnel ready to jump into action if required. This obstacle was slow going because of the climb to the plank and then waiting a short period of time before the water beneath you was clear. At the top of the structure it was “show no fear” and don’t think about the height, just jump. When the water was clear it was quick run and leap into the air. Once in the water it was a short 1-2 stroke swim and grabbed the cargo net to climb out of the pool.
14. Cliffhanger: Much like Devil’s Beard, this obstacle didn’t live up to expectations, based on what I read and videos I watched. Described as “all about teamwork and camaraderie…to get up a 15+ meter cliff of slippery mud angled at 45-degrees.” The only mud involved was that of the wet trail leading away from the previous obstacle. From my estimate, this was a 400′ climb up a steep quarter mile hill. I didn’t find it all that difficult, then again I am comfortable with hills and in good shape. But many struggled getting up this hill, which wasn’t covered in mud and didn’t require assistance from teammates outside of encouragement.
15. Berlin Walls: No other obstacle saw more Mudders on our team “sit this one out.” Not sure if it was the height, their comfort level, strength or tiredness but only a few succeeded. This obstacle is a series of two 12′ high wooden walls. About 4′ up is a 2×4 that Mudders us as a foothold in order to boost you up in order to grab the top of the wall. At that point the wall is only half conquered. Upper body strength is required to pull yourself up in order to kick that leg over, as you pull your up. On the back side of the wall, it was necessary to get the second leg over and hold the top of the wall, letting your body swing down before dropping to the ground below. No issues getting up and over this year, best of all didn’t experience any leg cramps throwing my leg over the top.
16. Balls to the Wall: Another new obstacle similar to the Berlin Walls. This time around it’s one 12′ wall with a knotted rope hanging down. Positioned on the wall, 2×4 to act as footholds. The object, pull yourself up and the wall and descend the back side. With upper body strength it was simple enough to lean back, go hand over hand on the rope, using the footholds to get you to the top. I did see a few using an arms only to climb the rope. At the top, it was a quick climb down to finish the obstacle.
17. Ladder to Hell: The last of the new obstacles this was an over sized ladder about 15′ high. Your challenge, to get up and over and back down. Five large 2×8 boards made the up the ladder rungs. Even for me it was tough to climb, but I managed, one leg at a time to reach the top of the ladder. I threw one leg over, followed by the other and it was time to descend the back side. It was slow going and the most difficult part was mustering the energy to beat this obstacle.
18. Funky Monkey: Strangely enough the monkey bars were my biggest fear again this year. I was not sure how my left shoulder would fair because of ongoing pain. I fully expected to find the drink and swim out the other side. I stepped up and grabbed as far forward as possible (3rd rung I believe) and started off. I felt good and was surprised when I got to the apex and was half way home. I did wear gloves for the obstacle and had no grip issues while moving through the rungs. Nearing the end I underestimated the remaining distance to the platform and I let go just a rung early, but still landed (on my ass) on the platform. After completing Funky Monkey I had a new found confidence for the remaining obstacles. The only help your team can help with are words of encouragement, this obstacle is up to you and your grip strength.
19. Everest: This obstacle is essentially a quarter pipe that requires you to get a running start in order to reach the top lip of the structure. From there you must pull yourself up in order to accomplish the climb. The best part of this obstacle are the people who are at the top to lend a hand in order to help pull people to the top of the quarter pipe. More so than last year, this obstacle lacked any mud or grease that was advertised to be all over the fiberglass pipe on the front of the structure. Many Mudders made the top of the obstacle with no problems, both men and women. Being this late in the event I had my doubts, as I was the first of our team to run it. I had enough speed, grabbed the 2×4 at the top and easily pulled myself up to the platform. Like a few of the previous obstacles, Everest was a bit disappointing.
20. Electroshock Therapy: The quintessential Tough Mudder obstacle you must go through in order to earn your orange headband and a cold Dos Equis. One of the few obstacles you can compete as a team in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. Prior to tackling the high voltage, TMHQ volunteers were spraying Mudders down with water before they started their run. Myself and two teammates locked arms and went charging through the mud and electrical wires. The uneven terrain was tough to navigate while getting shock after shock from the wires. I did find this a bit more challenging than last year and was shocked countless time. We made it about halfway before the guy in the middle was struck and went down, we followed suite, got back up and finished the obstacle. We were rewarded with the orange headband and a cold beer at the bottom of the hill.
After Everest and prior to Electroshock Therapy returning Mudders had the opportunity to run the Legionnaire’s Loop, which included three additional “mystery” obstacles. Part of the draw this year was me was to run some of these obstacles. Unfortunately after spending 6.5 hours on the mountain, pushing nearly 4pm we made the decision not to run this loop.
The three obstacles were near the start/finish line and we saw them for a long time before actually getting to them. Also, from what I hear after the fact included another Prairie Dog type type obstacle with (reportedly) high voltage wires prior to entering the tube. The next obstacle was built on Funky Monkey, instead of pulling yourself over the ‘A’ frame of rungs, you pulled yourself across two piece of pipe hanging over the water. At the mid point you had to transition to the second pipe. This looked tough.
Finally to finish the Legionnaire’s Loop one of the most impressive obstacles called Leap of Faith. Mudders would run off a platform, jump over a muddy pool and grab a cargo net in an attempt to use all your upper body strength to pull yourself up. The challenge was to get onto the net, if not you were going for a swim. For those lucky enough to make the jump, you climb the obstacle and descended the net on the far side. Great looking obstacle, hopefully we have the opportunity next year for this.
The trail running was more challenging this year and based on my Garmin FR210 I logged 11.61 miles from start to finish with a elevation gain of 2,489 feet. The first 6 miles were virtually all uphill, minus the first half mile that let Mudders run downhill. At points it felt distances were longer between some obstacles, with 14 obstacles within a 5-10 minute walk of the start line for spectators. There were some challenging ascents, which many Mudders walking. The descents were very technical with slower Mudders walking, soft dirt and many visible and loose rocks and the occasional single track. Surprisingly for 2 years now, the altitude has not bothered me, not sure than can be said for all though. Get your running in before you challenge Tough Mudder, especially in Tahoe.
I wasn’t impressed with the course layout. I understand the idea of positioning obstacles closer together so spectators can watch their loved ones, but to have 11.61 miles of running I feel there could have been better placement. As I mentioned previously, there were a few obstacles, which were an out and back configuration. The worst offender being the Berlin Walls, which was probably just over a 2 mile run from the obstacle before it, to the obstacle following it.
The only steep ascent was on Cliffhanger, this was a short climb just over a quarter of a mile, but it was steep and claimed many Mudders who stopped to rest or wait for teammates. The only other climb that was slow was a half mile from the start, which led to Glory Blades, but the climb wasn’t as steep, but as the rule of thumb goes in trail running, if you can’t see the top, walk. Many Mudders did just that.
Hopefully these brief descriptions of what our team experienced in Lake Tahoe will help, in preparation for an upcoming Tough Mudder event. I now have a much earned respect for the obstacles and have a better understand of how to approach them in order to be successful. I do believe all obstacles can be accomplished without aid from team members, especially if you carry the upper body strength to pull yourself up. With that said, there is no shame in approaching obstacles with the “TEAM” concept in mind. Our team accomplished every obstacle as one, even though our group was divided between obstacles. Continue “digging deep” and pushing yourself for reward awaits once you cross that finish line.