WTM 2019- Smooth but Vanilla

  While mulling over my thoughts of this year’s World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM), I was at a loss for the first time since I’ve been doing these recaps beginning in 2014. By all accounts, this race may have been the smoothest run WTM ever. Tough Mudder Headquarters (TMHQ) had a great plan and they implemented it to near perfection. In fact, the only real alterations noticed by racers on course were the changes to, and the eventual removal of, the original version of King of Swingers. Maybe it was their preference to have such a vanilla race to ensure they minimize miscues like the ones I mentioned in my article World’s Toughest Mistakes. In fact, it was the mention of this article that brought about my most memorable experience on course this year, but I will delve deeper into this a little later. When an event company plans an extravaganza like this they seek to put it on without a hitch. Participants sign up for a race like WTM seeking a memorable experience. What usually happens during these epic races is a little turbulence along the way but the organizers keep things on track and the racers have an unforgettable adventure. Everyone is satisfied!


  I mean let’s face it, no one saw the carnage that was the 2013 Leap of Faith coming right? No one could predict we would see a sandstorm our first year in Vegas in 2014, nor the drastic increase in early race hypothermias caused by simply moving the start time back to 2pm in 2015. Sometimes it’s the organizers’ reactions to our complaints that are the most memorable. In 2017 our upper bodies saw an absolute onslaught of difficult obstacles in an attempt to minimize a repeat of the high mileage obtained by racers in 2016. After the 2018 WTM in Atlanta, I’m not sure which was talked about more; the cold or the fact that Lumberjacked seemed about a foot too high and about two logs too long. I definitely don’t think there was much discussion about The Stacks which may have contributed to it being absent this year. Bottom line, many times what becomes most memorable is often not specifically planned by the staff but is something much more organic.


  So what does all of this mean for this year’s final WTM in Atlanta? A race where there were no epic obstacles. In fact, there was nothing really new at all. Sure they “leveled up” Augustus Gloop, and brought back the old King of Swingers but even that obstacle only lasted half of the race. Heck they even marginalized the Statue of Liberty by changing it from the swim it was in Las Vegas to a chest deep water walk. In addition, as Mark James so eloquently put it , “they neutered Lumberjacked.” However, TMHQ did make sure there was Black Key coffee and food in the pit that was available for all 24 hours. Black Key is good stuff but I wonder if they watered down too? Walter Lyon may have described it best when he called 2019 the “World’s Bougiest Mudder.” Walter, Dennis Pape, Scott Wierzycki and others made it a point to tell me, “I got to pet a pig on course!” Really? WTF, this is supposed to be “one of the toughest events on the planet” and that’s what you have for me? I could say this was our own fault brought on by all our bitching and whining. I’ll admit I was wrong when I suggested in my WTM Mistakes article that TMHQ should do better. Maybe a smoother race isn’t what we need. The irony is, as I mentioned before, that article actually led to my most memorable race moment this year.


  Kyle McLaughlin was present as I was crossing Black Widow during one of the early laps in the event. My friend, Wade Schoeneweis, decided to remind him of my article. Kyle took the opportunity to have a little fun with me in a failed attempt to bounce me into the water! You see this experience is a perfect example of why Kyle is exactly what Tough Mudder needs right now. The CEO was on course checking things out and having fun WITH us throughout most of the event.

  Kyle and his staff did a lot of positive things for Tough Mudder during the 2019 season. They have embraced the mudder community like never before. Kyle cares about the customers and about Mudder Nation as a whole and it shows. His group did a lot of things right with WTM this year. They get an A+ for the online pit selection and for the new and improved obstacle penalties. I even thought medical handled their part of the race to near perfection. Organizers took my suggestion of keeping us wet and ran with it and they basically created Devil’s Taint for Pis & Cox. Thanks again Carlo! I believe I relayed my regards to you for those changes in the middle of the night while you were visiting Augustus Gloop! The TMHQ idea for “Gamefication” is a good one; though I think it needs more specific guidelines. I commend them on trying these new things.


  The people putting on OCR events have a lot to do with our experience. They set the stage and provide the opportunity to make memories. However, I’ve always said that it’s the WTM community that keeps bringing me back. The thing I realized this year was that the epic experience helps build the bonds on course. Without something that requires mudders to come together and persevere through, the experience just isn’t the same. Call me an “old time WTMer” but I guess I enjoy the zombie walk at 2am up a seemingly endless death march into the darkness. There is something satisfying about helping fellow mudders over those six foot high frosted over logs at Lumberjacked. It’s that kind of crap that brings us together as a community. I, for one, am praying that we have a little more shit to complain about after the 2020 WTM. I want to have a few epic fails on some poorly tested obstacle that I’ve never seen before. I hope to help a few dozen participants complete even more mundane tasks over and over through the night because that’s what’s necessary for us to be successful. These are things that make events memorable… Well those things and whatever mother nature has in store for us.

  On paper TMHQ did almost everything right in 2019 and their efforts need to be commended. The fact Kyle was there at the finish congratulating us meant a lot not only to the finishers but also to Kyle. He told me, “I loved getting a chance to be at the finish line on Sunday morning, handing out hugs, high fives and mileage bibs. It was the most memorable aspect of the weekend for me.”  It’s the little things that can make a huge difference in the end. All in all, WTM 2019 was a great event but not really a memorable one for me nor a lot of others that I spoke to regarding their experience. What I’m suggesting to TMHQ is to go for broke in Texas next year. Everything’s bigger in Texas so do it up right for the 10th WTM. I’m not saying you need to break the bank but bring out those creative minds. McLaughlin states that “we’re working to craft a WTM and Toughest Mudder experience that is about more than just running laps and grinding out obstacles. It’ll challenge you, push you, punish you at times– but it should also make you laugh and want to share the memories.” I think this is what we all want but fingers crossed you give us more to lament about than carabiners. Give us the opportunity to be epic. Provide those memories that will bring us back and make sure you hype it all up so you can get those WTM vets off of the pit crews and back out on course where they belong. The song says “The Eyes of Texas are upon you.” In 2020, let’s show them what World’s Toughest Mudder is all about!

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Jason Rulo

Jason Rulo CSCS, CISSN, HFS, is the owner of Assault Fitness, Neptune Performance Products and Pinnacle Personal and Performance Training, in St. Louis, MO. He has been in the personal fitness and sports performance training field since 1999 and has worked with all levels from youth to professional athletes. He is also a founding member of Alpha Racing. Jason has been a competitive obstacle racer since 2010 and completed the World's Toughest Mudder from 2012-2018. He is also the inventor of the Neptune Thermoregulation System. Mr. Rulo can be reached at jasonrulo@neptuneperformance.com.
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