Let me start by saying this: Great job, Tough Mudder! That feedback email that you get after a race? Tough Mudder really seems to have paid attention. Year after year, they have consistently gotten better. If you read my review for the Tougher Mudder TN last September, then you understand why I made a point to start with some praise for the improvements!
With Tough Mudder starting their competitive series just last year, they were playing the sort of catch up game that any runner who has ever fallen off an obstacle or come from behind should understand (I know I do!). They realized that Mudder Nation needed improvements, and they did what many OCR brands do not do well: They listened to constructive criticism and made changes.
VENUE and PARKING: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY
One of the aspects that I most love about racing, other than the amazing and supportive OCR family, is getting to see so many different parts of the world that I would not see otherwise. Although we didn’t race in or just around the Kentucky Speedway, getting to drive by it on the way in to the venue was exciting (I do NOT excite easily).
Parking was in three different sections, and I went with the “General Parking” option. It was a half-mile away, but it wasn’t a half-mile of wondering where the entrance was, as for the entire walk to registration, I could see part of the course, several obstacles, and a portion of the festival area. Parking was quick and easy.
There is some room for improvement here, although it is better than the last Tougher I competed in (Thank you, TM!). With plenty of lines for the non-competitive heats (makes sense, since there are far more participants in these areas), there were only two lines and two tables for Tougher Mudders. While it was a smooth check-in with zero issues, maybe adding a table or two would help, as the check-in volunteers were three to a table, so there was congestion. Overall, though, it took me maybe three minutes to show my ID, get my bib and timing chip, and move on. I also come prepared, though, so that always helps those volunteers, as well as speeds up the process for other participants.
There were also tables set up with plenty of markers and zip ties for timers, as well as scissors to cut the loose ends off of the zip ties. Convenience at its finest!
STARTING LINE, GOOD TIMES, and THE COURSE (of course)
After being told that there were some starting line issues this year already, I was a little nervous about being sure I was at the gate early. I must say, it was hard to hear any announcements and I was constantly checking my watch and looking toward the starting line. Thankfully, it seemed like volunteers were deployed to find anyone wearing a Tougher Mudder bib and to be sure we were headed to the starting line on time.
The way people were organized into corrals by time, then sent to the starting line, was a pretty cool change from the norm of people just heading to the start and getting a wristband or something else checked. I spoke to a few of the runners from each type of race (5k, Tough Mudder half, Tough Mudder full), and how they felt about being able to start all in the same wave. Everyone I spoke to loved the idea of being mixed with others with different, yet the same, goal-to finish stronger and together! No one felt left out or “called out” for running a shorter race.
After I finished my race, I met up at the starting line to visit with DJ Will Gill, who is always, always a superstar at the starting line and gets everyone motivated. He announced me when I walked up as the Tougher female winner, and that was pretty sweet. Not a lot of starting line people really get me going, and he is one of the few. Unlike other race venues, DJ Will Gill even let me sing the National Anthem for one of the heats! Tough Mudder allows a moment of silence and the National Anthem before each and every wave of runners.
Once runners lined up, they had a flat start that went to the top of a small hill, and then it was ON! Tougher Mudders had to follow course markings like everyone else, but we had Lap 1 and Lap 2 challenges. We pretty much had the course to ourselves for Lap 1, but once we hit Lap 2, we were intermingled with non-Tougher Mudder runners, and while it caused some congestion, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My husband, who ran his first OCR, was part of the 5k crew, and he felt just as part of everything and every obstacle as everyone else. For this being his first OCR, and with him not being a runner at all, I worried he would not know where to go on the course, but he says the course was marked so well, there was no chance for any confused at all. (He also is planning on running another Tough Mudder, “at least a half”, he says!).
Runners also crossed over where others were just getting to the race and having the cheers and encouragement as I ran by was pretty nice. I also think Tough Mudder did a great job with changing up a little how the Tougher Mudders had to compete, such as we had to complete the King Kong Infinity, and we had to swim across a pond (I couldn’t even touch the bottom!). Towards the end, Toughers had an ice bag carry, and we carried it to the Arctic Enema, broke it open, and poured it into the water before getting in and swimming to the other side. As one who doesn’t like any weather below 70 degrees, this wasn’t my favorite part, but I do appreciate it being towards the end of the race!
RECOGNITION and MUDDER VILLAGE
Not only did Tougher Mudder decide to create medals for the top three male and female finishers, they also added a podium ceremony. I do wish the podium was out in the middle of the venue, rather than being crammed at the end of the finish line. This allows for people to enjoy watching the announcements, as well as others, getting pictures up on the podium just for fun; HOWEVER, for Tough Mudder to have made the changes with medals and recognition, and in such a short time, was pretty rockstar of them!
And guess what? There was a LIVE BAND in Mudder Village, as well! There was other music being played, but the band did a super job covering top songs, and this was a wonderful difference from so many other venues I’ve been to. The ATM was in a building on the way in and set aside and well-marked. There were new obstacles and others from the past were brought back, as well. It was nice to go into a race and not know exactly what to expect.
This is a racing brand that has been around for some time, now, and if you haven’t run one yet, go do it! If you have, think about doing it again!
I’ll be back, Tough Mudder!
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