Tough Mudder Buffalo Recap July 27-28, 2013


tough mudder buffalo start lineThe Buffalo region has been a surprisingly untapped area as far as mud and obstacle events go. But ask any of the locals (I did) and they will be quick to tell you that this was not a “Buffalo” event by any means. It took place at Tall Pines ATV Park in bucolic Andover, NY, and this Mudder really soaked up that hometown flavor. Anyone who has been up to Mount Snow to run before knows exactly what I mean by that. We camped about 80 minutes away in Watkins Glen and as soon as we entered town we saw banners on just about every storefront that said “Mudders welcome, whiners go home” as well as a huge banner hanging over the main intersection of town. In the fields where we parked I saw plenty of tailgating both when I pulled in Saturday morning and I when I left Sunday afternoon. (I worked the event Saturday and ran it Sunday.) There were also countless signs advising participants to be respectful and not litter, something I’ve not seen before and presumably done at the owners’ request. The Kent family, owners of the ATV park and adjacent farm, were involved and visible the whole time I was there. The husband and son both ran and I’m told the son lost over 70 pounds to prepare for it. Mrs. Kent made her way around the base area meeting and greeting participants, and spent a considerable amount of time getting acquainted with my wife and playing with our new puppy Lucy.
In the face of another quality event series going under recently (see Ryan Josti’s article on Hero Rush posted the other day here) I find it amazing that the Big 3 are still selling out across the country, even in largely unexplored markets like the Buffalo area. I talked to several participants who travelled 6+ hours to run, and many who flew in from other parts of the country or drove across the border from Canada. This is very telling in that people will spend huge dollars in airfare, gas, hotel etc to get to a Big 3 event hundreds or thousands of miles away when surely there are local mud runs within day trip distance. Personally I have become very wary of dropping money on a course I know nothing about, having been disappointed or just flat out ripped off too many times. This is one of the predominant issues in OCR today and surely merits a long overdue conversation within the industry but I digress….
Logistically Tough Mudder has learned from past events. They have had their share of hiccups and seem to learn from each one. Parking was in a huge field with about a half mile walk to registration. This could easily have been a traffic nightmare since all surrounding roads are little two lane country roads but the local police, State Police and County Sheriff’s Office all coordinated to close down a bunch of roads and route everyone to the proper point. As a result parking was a breeze both days, and even when the skies opened up Saturday afternoon cars had no problem getting out of the field like in Frederick last year. Registration always has a ton of volunteers on hand so lines were short and they always stock plenty of port o potties. The showers were some of the nicest yet, with great water pressure coming from the hanging garden of hose sprayers. Those of us who endured a firefighter with a hose in a parking lot after the first frigid Tri-State event in 2010, or were asked to pay $10 (soap and shampoo sold separately) at Dade City Ranch during the first Florida event can certainly appreciate the luxury of free working showers. I’m a little chapped that they now charge $5 for bag check, though half does go to the Wounded Warrior Project and most other events have been charging for some time. Also, the sponsors’ shwag is ever improving and I left with plenty of Bic razors, Degree deodorant and Advil, as well as Clif Builder Bars and some kind of fitness yogurt.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the immeasurable impact, both logistically and motivationally, of start line emcee Sean Corvelle. The speech he delivers at the start line is one of the most uplifting and motivating I’ve heard. One of the obstacles on the course involved low crawling under some military trucks. Sean told each wave that one of those trucks bore the name of Corporal Jason Dunham, a Marine from a nearby town who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade thereby saving the lives of his fellow Marines. Sean asked that each Mudder touch that truck in his honor as they passed through it and I wish I had taken a picture of that truck when I saw it on Sunday, covered in muddy handprints.

Course Layout:
The course was moderately hilly, but by no means flat. Being an ATV park there was plenty of mud to slip and slosh through and several stretches found us ankle deep in it, with lots of hilarious falls ensuing, both intentional and unintentional. There was a nice stretch around miles 8-10 where we ran through the Kent family’s Christmas tree farm during which I spotted the one I want in my living room this year. Apparently they also offer onsite camping, as we ran past several sites with fire rings, a few occupied by RV’s and people out in front of them soaking in the action. The major obstacles were all in easy access areas for spectators. The Dirty Birds took our time going through, as Petunia was dealing with a minor knee injury incurred from running it the day before and Jason and I are ten minute milers at best without any mud or obstacles. I brought along my GR1 with hydration pouch but stupidly didn’t bring any gels or electrolyte tabs, which would have helped after a night around the campfire pounding PBR’s. Fortunately I didn’t experience any cramping and I attribute this to all the potassium rich coconut water I drank leading up to the weekend.
All in all I would categorize it as a runner’s course, with terrain comparable in difficulty and character to the Philly TM in June or the Mid-Atlantic course in April, but with much more mud. Total distance was advertised as 11.6 miles though the course was slightly rerouted when I ran it on Sunday, so that number could be slightly different.
TM advertised two mystery obstacles although technically it could be counted as more than two. The first involved climbing over orange road barriers while volunteers shot tennis balls at you out of 12 launchers. I’m told they hurt if they hit you, however I can’t verify this since this obstacle was not operational on Sunday for whatever reason. The other mystery obstacle(s) were the addition of two optional Burn Zones along the course. The first was about a mile and a half in and involved doing ten pushups, climbing over a large hay bale and repeating. Five hay bales meant 50 pushups. Those who opted not to complete this could go left and simply jump over hay bales. Immediately following this there was a 300 foot bear crawl. The second Burn Zone came much later in the course and featured a large monster truck tire and a bunch of regular tires on the ground. You could either do twenty box jumps onto the big tire or twenty air squats touching the small tire with your butt on each repetition. According to the pictures there was an aerobics instructor out here on Saturday putting Mudders through burpees and other assorted fun but I didn’t see her Sunday.
The Burn Zones are a novel idea, presumably low cost to implement and making them optional at an event where all obstacles are essentially optional anyway probably helped persuade participants via reverse psychology to complete them. I have been critical of calisthenics being used as “obstacles” at past events, yet at the same time I’ve seen many a team stop along the course and bang out a set of pushups or burpees just to be badasses, so the way I see it if people want to do them great, and if they don’t that’s great too. My team opted to complete them.
The obstacles in order were:
Glory Blades- This obstacle was introduced as Hanging Brain at WTM 2012 and this year has been a staple at every 2013 event, replacing the eight foot Berlin Walls.
Kiss Of Mud- No log rolling through this one on Sunday as there were well established lanes trenched in from the thousands of people who crawled through it the day before. Immediately after were a few nice mud pits and the rain definitely helped raise the mud factor.
Burn Zone (hay bales & pushups)
Bear Crawl- At a recent GORUCK Challenge the Cadre had us do bear crawls and informed us to stay off our knees because bears don’t have knees. He said “Someone ask me how I know this.” Someone did and he said “Because at my other job I am a zookeeper and I work with bears every single day.” Anyway that’s what I was thinking of while bear crawling. Moving on…
Walk The Plank- One of my favorite obstacles. The guy in front of me needed a little support so I called his name out to the crowd of spectators and had them all count off. He jumped on the count of three to huge cheers. Unfortunately he didn’t surface and the diver in the water had to go down and bring him to the surface. This obstacle has come under a lot of scrutiny lately and I am glad that the safety protocols are working. We cheered for him once he was pulled out and we realized he was ok and then I jumped. And then I jumped again. Did I mention I love this obstacle?
Electric Eel- Sometimes this obstacle is set up so that if you stay low you can avoid the wires. Other times it is impassable without getting hit several times. Buffalo’s was the latter. This one always reminds me of one of the Saw movies. Jigsaw always gave people a way to live if they followed his directions. The one sequel there was an imposter Jigsaw and they figured out it was an impostor because the people followed the directions but still got killed by the sadistic contraptions. That’s how I feel about the Eel. One thing I’ve noticed is the lower the wires hang the more this obstacle bottlenecks. On Saturday they were shutting the power off for ten seconds at a time to move people through faster. I hate this obstacle with a passion and have the GoPro footage to prove it.
Mud Mile- A dozen or so 6 foot tall mud mounds separated by muddy water pits, this was a good one. Tough Mudder has this one down to a science, in that they make this obstacle accessible enough that most can complete it by themselves yet challenging enough that you usually see plenty of teamwork and outstretched hands here. My favorite Mud Miles are at Raceway Park, and the one at last year’s Frederick, MD event was epic as well.
Wounded Warrior Carry- Another one that I consider a challenge but not really an obstacle per se.
Arctic Enema – My strategy the last few times has been to jump, duck and swim all in one motion so that when I surface I’m already on the other side of the board and I can focus on getting out quickly. I always feel bad for the people who jump in waist deep, process how painfully the cold the water is, and then have to force themselves to duck under the board. Unlike the electrical obstacles where you don’t know when the shock is coming because of the random pulse, Arctic Enema is straightforward and you can prep for the suck. If anyone has a better method, please share in the comments below.
Hold Your Wood- At least a quarter mile in length, and the logs were pretty dense. We chose a team log and when my teammate in front of slipped in the mud I was able to guide the log to the ground so that it hit the ground instead of his head or finger.
Cage Crawl- This one is more of a psychological obstacle than a swimming obstacle. I would like to see this done as an S turn or maybe add a couple bends to make it interesting. While there are some who find this obstacle terrifying I find it to be a relaxing way to cool off and give my feet a break.
Burn Zone #2 (box jumps/air squats) Tough Mudder’s nod to the WOD.
Boa Constrictor- A surefire way to climb out of this is to dig your elbows into the ribbed walls of the tunnel while using your hands under your chest to pull yourself up. You can also use your toes to assist. Again, I would love to hear different methods in the comments below but this has always worked for me.
Tennis Balls/Barriers- The machines were not running and this one was reworked so that we crawled into a line of pitch black shipping containers and had to climb over the orange barriers placed at odd angles inside. Hopefully I’ll get to dodge tennis balls in Vermont next weekend.
Berlin Walls- Up and over.
Funky Monkey- @#$^%!%?!!
Everest- There are people who fly up this thing like it’s nothing. Those people are not me. It took a few attempts to get a good grip on a helping hand from above and from there my fellow Mudders helped me up. Scaling this beast is one of the greatest feelings and it never gets old, but the real reason I care about getting to the top is so I can help pull people up. Once I got into position the rest of my team came sprinting up and since were toward the end of Sunday there were very few people left to assist. Some TMHQ folks climbed up and helped out which I thought was cool of them since they really didn’t have to.
Electroshock Therapy – Clinton Jackson is amazing at talking people through this one. I swear if Tough Mudder doesn’t work out for him he should go be a hostage negotiator or something. Having done this a few times I have been guilty in the past of staring at it for way too long before taking my proverbial 10,000 volt medicine. On this day I just sucked it up and moved, knowing my kids were standing there watching. I caught some good ones but at least I didn’t hang myself by that one poor bastard.

Conspicuously absent from this event were Firewalker, likely due to a local burn ban, and Twinkletoes. This is a favorite of my mine but I have not seen it at a single event this year. Could it be another headstone in the TM obstacle graveyard? It is still featured on the website so I hope not. There was no high climbing a la Spiders’ Web, Ladder To Hell or Balls To The Wall and no Trench Warfare which I have seen at just about every event for the last year. Tough Mudder has a rotating stable of obstacles so some of it boils down to luck of the draw. If you want to see them pull out all the stops then I would refer you to the Tri-State event where they load the course with all their signature obstacles, and use it as a proving ground for new stuf that usually become part of World’s Toughest Mudder held a month later in the same location.
Items Of Note:
It would be remiss not to mention that at least six incredible athletes hammered out two consecutive laps of this course. WTM veteran Joe Perry showed up with his signature face paint and bolted through THREE laps on Saturday, then banged out another one on Sunday for good measure. I know Michael Drueen is one of the guys who did two, if anyone knows the names of the others please feel free to give a proper shout out below. They are pictured in the photo above, taken by mikecimages. I’m always amazed seeing these elite guys and gals just keep going and going when one lap is more than enough for over 99% of the field. Oh and then there was Jesse Drelick, who carried his signature tire through the entire course in honor of Hoorah 2 Heroes.
All in all this was a great event with a great vibe and I really enjoyed the small town feel of it along with a solid course layout. I had never visited this area so I brought the family and bookended it with a few days at Watkins Glen where we hiked the gorge, and a couple days exploring Darien Lake amusement park and Niagara Falls. A little birdie tells me Tough Mudder is contracted to be back next year, and if that is the case then I will definitely return. There has been much discussion on social media about the Burn Zones, with most people being either strongly for or against it. I feel that they are a fun idea and I like that Tough Mudder is always trying out new things, though I think an obstacle should be something constructed and planned out. At any rate, earning that orange headband is always a major accomplishment and anyone who found this course easy didn’t attack it with 100% effort (or run multiple laps or carry a tire.) Personally I felt spent when my fellow Dirty Birds and I crossed the finish line all bloody and muddy, and I slept like a baby that night. Now I am counting the days until Vermont…


  1. Two of the people completing 2 laps Saturday and one Sunday were Greg and Kristy McBride, they are on the right side of the photo.

  2. The “Sixth Man,” whose name eludes me, was the 53 year old gentleman who finished about 5-10 minutes ahead of the 2nd guy in the 1st wave on Saturday. He then turned around and ran it with his family. The other 5 to complete multiple laps were: Joe Perry and Michael Drueen (already named in the article), Andrew Blakley (red Capt. America tank top), Kristy McBride (green top) and husband Greg McBride (far right of the photo, next to Kristy). Thanks for the shoutout, Dan!


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