Tough Mudder has returned to the Palmer Coking Coal Company venue just south of Seattle for the 6th year in a row, but this time they brought their new competitive wave: Tougher Mudder. For an extra $20 on top of a regular registration, you could join the very first wave of the day which includes a nice yellow race bib, official timing of the 10-mile loop, and a chance at a small prize pool if you finish top 3 in your respective gender.
While I’m no stranger to Tough Mudder and other obstacle course races, this event was both my first attempt at a Tougher wave and my first time running at the Seattle venue. While this particular race had its share of quirks (and a brutal, awful, no-good Mud Mile…), the overall experience was awesome and I would be excited to sign up for the event again in the future!
The Start Line
Let’s start with one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had at an OCR start line.
It was the first wave of the first day of the event, so something like the generator tripping out causing the music to stop, and the large start line inflatable arch to deflate into the crowd can be expected, twice. Even starting a few minutes late wasn’t a big deal, but the start line MC definitely left something to be desired for this first wave of the day.
For a competitive heat with prize money, you would at least expect a brief overview of the rules right? Maybe a clarification on whether or not you were required to complete every obstacle, if there were penalty loops of any kind, or if any of the obstacles didn’t apply for the Tougher Heat? Well, we got nothing like that. This was particularly concerning when we arrived at the Everest obstacle in the middle of the lap where a volunteer was telling everyone that they weren’t allowed to help each other. What? That doesn’t sound like a Tough Mudder event at all, especially when some of the other obstacles required assistance from your fellow competitors to complete.
Anyway, we did get a few minutes trying to hype us up which went pretty well, but there was no national anthem and we didn’t even recite a Tough Mudder pledge. The MC brought us into the middle of the start area to put our hands in and counted down for us all to chant “Tougher Mudder”. And… surprise! It turns out that same countdown was the one to start the race, so after we all looked around confused for a few seconds, the start of the pack took off and the rest of us followed.
Not far away from the start line, a fellow racer commented, “That was the weirdest start line experience ever,” and I would have to agree.
The Terrain and Obstacles
This venue has a wide variety of different terrain and Tough Mudder did a great job of sending us up, over, and around just about all of it. The start line opened up into a large field which is great when everybody is bunched up at the start but eventually led into some fairly technical single-track through the woods after the first obstacle, Kiss of Mud 2.0. A theme on this course appeared to be that “mud” actually meant “rocky wet asphalt” and this barb wire crawl was one of the lowest I’ve done. Rolling wasn’t even an option (and I think is against the rules anyway?) and almost everybody going through it was catching their clothing or bib on at least one barb.
After that we headed into a wooded trail where the single track opened up at a few different points to provide enough room for Skidmarked (inverted wall), Devil’s Beard (crawl under a cargo net with a sandbag!), and Berlin Walls (~10 ft walls with a kicker) before narrowing back up and eventually crossing over itself before we were able to head back out into open ground near the 2 mile mark.
After the course opened up, we approached a crowd-favorite obstacle, The Block Ness Monster, which involves two giant rotating rectangular prisms in a pool of water about 4 feet deep. This obstacle requires a little bit of organized teamwork and despite this being a competitive race, everyone was super eager to help each other out. We were able to alternate moving different people over the blocks and pulling down on the opposite side to help the next person over before moving onto the next block and eventually out of the obstacle.
Next up was Hero Carry which seemed odd for a competitive event, but we paired off and carried each other anyway. Soon after was the obstacle I will probably have nightmares about: Mud Mile 2.0…
Normally, Mud Mile 2.0 is a series of muddy trenches with water in them that you have to pull yourself over, step your way to the top of, or get some assistance from others to make your way through, but this was no normal mud mile. As I alluded to earlier, this wasn’t “Mud” that we were navigating over, but rather a ground down and compacted asphalt-type material that would scratch your skin if you even looked at it the wrong way.
Add in the fact that they dug the trenches to be about 7-8 feet deep and only included a token amount of water at the bottom of each one and this made for one tough obstacle. Not to mention they made us go down and back for a total of 16 trenches! Luckily I arrived at the same time as a couple fellow mudders and we were able to team up to get through it. We quickly worked out a system where two people would boost the first to the top, then one would boost while the person on top helped pulled the second person out, then both people on top pulled the third person out, then repeat, and repeat and repeat and repeat…
While it felt like we were pretty efficient by the end of it, Mud Mile took a lot of time and managed to scrape up any part of your body that was exposed while tiring out your arms a bit. It was an interesting obstacle for a competitive race, but certainly, one that embodied the Tough Mudder spirit of encouraging teamwork. For the waves beyond the initial Tougher wave, they modified the obstacle to only require going through each trench once which cut it in half, but it was still one of the toughest obstacles on the course.
Up until this point was relatively flat, but the course turned towards the larger hills of the venue which made for some interesting terrain based obstacles. First was an Absail down a steep hill of very loose dirt with a help of a set of ropes. Next, we came to Everest 2.0 which had the ropes down for the Tougher wave. Even with the ropes, it’s tricky to navigate yourself over the rounded lip of the halfpipe, especially with a volunteer telling everyone they weren’t allowed to help each other. I’m not sure if this was a miscommunication with Tough Mudder or a special rule for this obstacle on this course, but it seemed odd.
Next, we navigated up the largest hill on the course right around the 4-mile mark. The front half was very steep and required the help of a cargo net to reach flatter ground, but that “flatter” ground still kept going upwards until we eventually reached the back side of the hill for the second Absail obstacle of the course. This one was even steeper than the first but wasn’t more difficult if you kept your hands on the rope and controlled your speed during the descent.
I also want to note that there was an awesome guy playing bagpipes throughout the course and he somehow managed to get on top of this huge hill with the bagpipes! I certainly didn’t see any easy way to get up that hill, on course or not, so he’s a champ to have made the climb with bagpipes in tow.
Quagmire was the next obstacle but just ended up being a short trek through a shallow swampy area that was a couple feet deep, but not very muddy. Finally to finish the first half of the course (or the entire course for anyone running the Tough Mudder Half that day) was Pyramid Scheme. This slippery wall was made easy for the Tougher wave thanks to a set of ropes coming from the top.
The back half of the course wound its way through varying terrain including more wooded single-track, a portion through a wide open quarry-like area between huge piles of rocks, and some minor hills before eventually returning to the wide-open terrain that led back into Mudder Village and the finish line. Obstacles seemed more spread out an in the second half and included:
- Snot Rocket – A modified Augustus Gloop where you submerge your body before coming up to the bottom of a tall tube that you climbed a wooden ladder in while water was sprayed down on top of you.
- Lumberjacked – Two elevated logs you had to navigate over
- Black Hole – A very dusty crawl underneath large sheets of water that weighed down on you
- Balls to the Wall – A tall wall climb assisted by a rope and wooden beams
- Bale Bonds – Climb over bales of hay (Note: this obstacle was totally destroyed by the time the afternoon waves arrived)
- Stage 5 Clinger – A tricky climb up an inverted wooden ladder before you have to pull yourself over and around to get on top of the obstacle and climb down the other side
- Killa Gorilla – Simply navigated up and down the side of a steep hill 3 times, not much of an “obstacle”.
- Mineshafted – This one was new to me and involved navigating down a long tube with the help of a rope. This led to a mini-cavern that we then climbed out of using a large wooden ladder of sorts
The final three obstacles were some of the most fun that Tough Mudder offers starting with Funky Monkey The Revolution, a set of uphill monkey bars leading to a series of three wheels that must be held on to while they spin you to the next. A good test of upper body strength over a green pool of water waiting to greet you if you fail.
Next, we sprinted across a large field where we picked up a large bag of ice and carried it ~100 meters to Arctic Enema The Rebirth where we dumped the ice into the obstacle before following it down into the frigid water. Not only was the water freezing, but they forced you to submerge your whole body to navigate under a small fence portion and a set of tires before finally being able to pull yourself out of the end of the obstacle. If you weren’t awake up until this point in the race, you certainly are now!
Finally was a short jog over to Kong, a set of 5 rings suspended over a large airbag waiting to catch you like a movie stunt performer if you fall. For the Tougher wave and any Tough Mudder Legionnaires, there was no electricity on the course as we were able to skip Electroshock Therapy while attempting Kong, which backed right up to the finish and Mudder Village.
The Mudder Village at this venue was a little smaller than some others I’ve attended but still had its share of vendors selling products and handing out free samples. There were plenty of restrooms off to the side with a large rinsing area and changing area behind.
My only complaint was the minimal selection of food options, especially as the village got crowded in the afternoon. There were only two food trucks selling food and both had sizable lines. I think I managed to choose the longer one in my attempt to get a burger, but it took an unacceptably long time to actually get my food. About an hour and a half from getting in line to actually eating by my count which made for some grumpy people hovering around the food truck waiting on their orders.
While the food was slow, the beer garden was fast and there was no wait for the free beer once you made our way over there.
Overall, this was a great Tough Mudder event and the small quirks here and there wouldn’t stop me from signing up again. Doing the Tougher wave was a great experience and a chance to meet some awesome mudders both before and during the race, some of which have run dozens of events. Plus, not having to wait at any obstacles was a nice change of pace from doing a wave in the middle of the day where lines begin to form. In addition, knowing that we’re being timed is a great incentive to push myself even harder on the course, even if I don’t expect to find myself on the podium anytime soon. If you have a chance to run a Tough Mudder in Seattle in the future, I recommend it.
- Tough Mudder
- My wife, Becky Bouillon
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