Tough Mudder is reinventing its obstacles for 2015: they’re familiar, but even more creative.
I spoke with Alex Patterson, who has held virtually every position imaginable at Tough Mudder, and he explained that innovation is at the core of TM’s corporate culture. This means that they created a special obstacle innovation team to come up with new obstacles and reinvent familiar favorites. They will be rolling out videos of the new obstacles in the weeks to come, and keen observers will have noticed some of these making their debut at last year’s World’s Toughest Mudder, which may be serving as a showcase for new obstacles in the future.
As in previous years, some of the obstacles are for individual participants (not racers: remember, “Tough Mudder is a challenge, not a race”), and some will require teamwork. New individual obstacles include:
King of the Swings: jump off a tall platform, reach for a handle that lets you swing across to ring a bell or, more likely, fall into the water below. This was a spectator favorite at WTM, combining Leap of Faith and Funky Monkey. Watch one nervous Tough Mudder try it here:
Dead Ringer: get from A to B using a combination of skill, coordination and rings. But mostly rings. You can get a preview here, at about 16:15:
Birth Canal: Tough Mudder has a history of being creative with materials, in this case using water to create a claustrophobically tight space, without actually getting you wet. Comparable to Trench Warfare or Boa Constrictor, but more oppressive. Watch here at 14:25:
Some obstacles have been re-worked in order to require more team work.
Everest, reinvented: they have altered the shape of the top of the quarter-pipe, making it more difficult to complete this obstacle on your own. Think Everest meets Pyramid Scheme. Also, a waterfall element will make the entire apparatus more slippery.
Hold Your Wood is now becoming a team challenge, with participants having to communicate in order to get a log over, under and through the obstacle.
Arctic Enema, 2.0: there will still be ice water, but you will need to work with team mates in order to get out, and you will slide in under wires. Think Cage Crawl.
Some of the new obstacles are, well, just intimidating:
Cry Baby: this is the one you may have read about. Mudders will crawl through a tunnel filled with what is technically not tear gas, but a “tear inducing agent”, a proprietary blend that is not the same as what military and law enforcement use. I am told that it is water soluble, compatible for use with people who wear contact lenses and, while uncomfortable, still safe. Like Electroshock Therapy and Walk the Plank, this is more about overcoming fear than physical strength. It is also sure to garner plenty of buzz. My favorite on-line reaction so far: “What’s next, africanized bees?”
New York, NY
I got the chance to ask Alex about a venue change close to home. Tough Mudder Tri-State, one of the original TM events, is moving from Raceway Park, which also served as the site of World’s Toughest Mudder until this year, to Liberty State Park. Why the change? Partly because Tough Mudder is always innovating, and partly to give more people the chance to take part in the event. Liberty State Park is accessible by public transportation, and it offers iconic views of Lower Manhattan (to get an idea, watch this:
and, yes, that’s Alex in the video). Instead of downing an obligatory post-race beer (sorry, post-it’s-a-challenge-not-a-race beer) and driving responsibly home, participants will be able to celebrate a little harder and hop on a train.
He also brought up the possibility of participants coming in from out of town. If you didn’t live near a Tough Mudder venue, you could come to New York, perform the tourist rituals of sightseeing and shopping, and still take part in a Tough Mudder. While I think this is an excellent idea, I can see that housekeeping at some local hotels may have trouble explaining why their towels got so dirty one weekend.
What these changes mean for OCR
Clearly, Tough Mudder has invested a great deal of energy (and money) in keeping their obstacles fresh. Innovation may be at the heart of the company, but without new attractions, it will be difficult to lure repeat customers. The Legionnaire’s program (different colored headbands recognizing past participation) has been a step in this direction. It appears that Tough Mudder is determined to keep its Mudder Nation from getting bored. The cost, complexity and creativity involved in building these obstacles also make it nearly impossible for the rest of the industry to keep up. No mom and pop race is going to be able to replicate the Tough Mudder experience, and it will force them to develop other strengths and selling points. Spartan has moved in a different direction, trying to create a sport, with predictable courses and comparable timing. Plenty of people will opt for both, but the over-the-top obstacles Tough Mudder is presenting today reinforce the differences between the two giants in this fast-moving market.