A participant completes the Walk the Plank obstacle at the SoCal 2013 Tough Mudder event.
Tough Mudder is an endurance event series in which badasses attempt 10–12-mile-long (16–19 km) military-style obstacle courses. Designed and created by British Special Forces to test mental as well as physical strength, obstacles often play on common human fears, such as fire, water, electricity and heights. The main principle of the Tough Mudder revolves around teamwork. The Tough Mudder organization values camaraderie throughout the course, designing obstacles that encourage group participation. Participants must commit to helping others complete the course, putting teammates before themselves, and overcoming fears. The events are untimed, and an average 78% of entrants successfully complete the course.
Tough Mudder was co-founded in 2010 by Will Dean and Guy Livingstone, both British citizens living in New York. Dean had developed the idea for the company while studying at Harvard Business School, where the concept was a semifinalist in the school’s annual business plan competition. It has been widely noted that Will Dean took the idea from Billy Wilson and his Tough Guy races. Dean and Livingstone held the first Tough Mudder event on May 2, 2010 at Bear Creek Ski Resort near Allentown, PA. Promoted exclusively through Facebook advertising and word of mouth, the event drew more than 4,500 participants.
Two additional 2010 events were held in Northern California and New Jersey. The next year, 14 events were held throughout the United States. In 2012, 35 events were held in four countries. Tough Mudder, as a company, is worth $70 million.
On May 2, 2013, Tough Mudder announced that it had reached one million total registrations since it started in 2010. The company had more than 700,000 participants in 2013, with events in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, and Germany. In 2014, beyond the NorCal 2014 (April 13/14, 2014), the company will also be expanding to Ireland and New Zealand, with an 18–20-kilometre (11–12 mi) military obstacle course in Auckland, NZ.
The typical Tough Mudder course is 10–12 miles (16–19 km) long and features 20–25 obstacles. There are six different courses, including the Arena, Backwoods, Open Range, Off-Road, Mountain, and Muscle courses. Terrain type varies from course to course; natural features of the land at each venue are incorporated into the course design. Past venues have included ranches, motocross tracks, and ski resorts.
The list of obstacles also varies from course to course, though there are several “signature” obstacles at almost every event, including:
- Arctic Enema: Participants plunge into a dumpster filled with ice water, dunk underneath a plank that crosses the dumpster, and pull themselves out on other side.
- Electroshock Therapy: Live wires hang over a field of mud that participants cross through.
- Funky Monkey: A set of incline and decline monkey bars over a pit of cold water. The bars are slicked with a mixture of butter and mud.
- Everest: Participants run up a quarter pipe slicked with mud and grease.
Not as signature obstacles:
- Electric eel: Participants slide on their bellies through mud, frigid water or, even worse, a layer of ice while electric shocks hang overhead.
- Berlin wall: An 8–12-foot (2.4–3.7 m) wall that participants scale.
- Boa Constrictor: Participants pass though narrow pipes and mud.
- Walk The Plank: 15+ ft (4.6 m) high jump, from on top of a platform, into freezing water.
In 2012, Tough Mudder founded an off-site “Obstacle Innovation Lab” in New Jersey, where the company designs and tests new obstacles.
World’s Toughest Mudder
World's Toughest Mudder is an invitation-only 24-hour challenge. Unlike other Tough Mudder events, World's Toughest Mudder is a competition, with the top-ranking man, woman, and team receiving prize money.
To qualify for World's Toughest Mudder, participants must finish a standard Tough Mudder event in the top 5% of self-reported times. The competition itself consists of a 10-mile (16 km) looped course, which participants continuously run through for 24 hours. The participant who completes the most laps is declared the winner. The winners receive the title of "World's Toughest Mudder" and a $15,000 prize.
World's Toughest Mudder was first held in 2011 at Raceway Park in New Jersey. Junyong Pak claimed first place, and Juliana Sproles was the first female finisher. In 2012, Pak successfully defended his title. Amelia Boone was the first female finisher and the second finisher overall. The team competition was introduced for the first time in 2012; a team from Pennsylvania calling themselves “Nine Inch Males” took first place. There were over 1,200 competitors in 2012.
At the April 20, 2013, Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic event in Gerrardstown, West Virginia, a 28-year-old participant, Avishek Sengupta, died following an incident on the "Walk the Plank" obstacle. Witnesses told Berkeley County sheriff's office, which investigated the death, that he was submerged in water for between five and 15 minutes. A coroner ruled the death an accidental drowning and the sheriff's office concluded it did not warrant criminal charges. This was the first fatality in Tough Mudder’s history.
Statements released by Tough Mudder since the incident have discussed the company’s commitment to safety, and Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean has stated that Tough Mudder events are about 20 times safer than triathlons.
Tough Mudder supports a charity in each territory it holds events (usually military-affiliated), and encourages participants to raise money to aid veterans. Current charities supported include Wounded Warrior Project (in the United States), Wounded Warriors Canada, Help for Heroes (in the United Kingdom), and Legacy (in Australia).
In the United States, none of the revenue generated from Tough Mudder admissions sales goes directly to any charity. However, participants are incentivized by the Tough Mudder organization to raise money through their participation in a Tough Mudder event for donation to the Wounded Warrior Project. As of February 2014, Tough Mudder reports that their yearly revenue is approximately $75 million, and that participants have raised around $6.5 million total for the US Wounded Warrior Project since Tough Mudder's inception in 2010.
Tough Mudder has partnerships with many notable companies; US partners include Under Armour, Degree, Bic, Wheaties, Dos Equis, Advil, Clif Bar, and CamelBak. Additional international partners include Samsung (in Canada); Strongbow (in the UK); USN (in the UK and Australia); and Solo, Holden, and Victoria Bitter (in Australia).
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