In today’s OCR landscape, there is a plethora of events featuring numerous different course lengths and difficulties to suit every taste. However, the more hardcore crowd who enjoys pushing themselves for multiple hours through endless obstacles was dealt a tough blow last year when BattleFrog shuttered operations. Their BattleFrog Extreme (BFX) option allowed racers to complete as many laps of the standard 5 mile circuit from 8 am to 3 pm and were a favorite among the ultra OCR enthusiast crowd. Tough Mudder clearly saw this opportunity to seize that market segment and announced the first ever Toughest Mudder Series. These events would be 8 hours taking place from 12-8 am, competitive with prize money, broadcast on CBS, and feature a 2 course layout with unique obstacles. The inaugural event in Los Angeles last month was hailed a smashing success by competitors and media alike. Therefore, I was keen to check out if Tough Mudder Head Quarters (TMHQ) could duplicate the same triumph at the second stop in Atlanta – let’s hope for Godfather Part 2 and not 2 Fast 2 Furious.
As with any great sequel, the setting is critical and Bouckaert Farms seemed to fit the bill. This 8,000 acre equestrian park is teeming with gentle pastures, lakes, and woodlands along a 12 mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River. The road leading up to the event site was well marked and an electronic road construction sign was placed at the site entrance. Two options were offered for parking – premium for $30 (could only be purchased in advance) right beside Mudder village and standard for $20 ($10 in advance). Standard parking required a decent 15 minute walk which was quite a task when toting all the gear and nutrition needed for an 8 hour event. Mudder Village was set up inside the equestrian competition venue with registration setup at the main gate. Drop zones for pit stops left a lot to be desired though as they were located inside the equestrian horse stalls. While TMHQ did make good on their promise to provide a 2 by 4 foot covered area, these stalls were narrow and had a very tight entrance. Undeterred, participants eventually crowded into the starting corral to receive their final briefing.
TMHQ officials covered primary rules and course specifics before handing over the mic to their hype man, Sean Corvelle. The Tough Mudder pledge was recited, a few chants were uttered, and the official start was issued promptly at 12:00 am. Channeling the spirits of the thoroughbreds which normally graced the grounds, participants charged out of the corral onto the first loop. The first lap is described as a “Sprint Lap” with only some of the 12 obstacles being open. This allows the field to thin and prevent back logging on obstacles. There is also a standalone award for the first male and female to complete the first lap. However, it seemed a large portion of the field went out at a pace more suited for a 2 hour race and would come to regret that decision later in the night.
The first mile of loop number one led away from Mudder Village and directly into the surrounding forest for a nice technical section of trail running. Nestled amidst the Georgia pines was the first obstacle, Berlin Walls, which would showcase a devious twist from the race directors – a double obstacle. There are normally two flat 8 foot walls participants must scale, but the course was doubled back after successful completion to conquer two more (total of 4 walls). Even better still, the second set had an added horizontal shelf at the top which made that set much more difficult and strength intensive. Little did we know, TMHQ would utilize this sneaky technique on other upcoming obstacles throughout the event.
After some more trail running, the forest opened up to Pyramid Scheme which was tweaked for this individual event into a slippery (water pit at the base), slanted wall with a rope assist. Shortly after, mudders encountered the first decent hill at 1.5 miles into the course that gained approximately 100 feet at a 20% incline. The path turned at the summit and would meander along the river front for the next 2.5 miles. Along the way, some of the more mundane obstacles would be met including Devil’s Beard (cargo net crawl), Hold Your Wood (log carry), Lumberjacked (horizontal logs to jump over), and Bale Bonds (hay bale climb). The relaxing jaunt through the foggy meadow abruptly came to an end with the emergence of a beast, the Block Ness Monster! Teamwork was a necessity because these slick, rotating barriers were heavy and situated in deep water.
With heart rates raised and muscles pumped, the path would only get harder from here. Skidmarked, an 8 foot slanted wall (towards athlete), was hiding only a few hundred yards around the corner. This lead directly into Kiss the Mud 2.0 (barb wire crawl) and Mud Mile 2.0. Muddy mounds are not normally an obstacle people fear with most barely remembering them post race, but this is Toughest Mudder! Mud Mile 2.0 was by far the hardest and most energy consuming obstacle on loop one. These mounds were tall with no hand / foot holds and the water pits were deep with no ability to launch upwards. Competitors united to push and pull each other over the 10 slick mounds at a brutally sluggish rate. The hard work was rewarded with two additional obstacles before the finish – Pitfall (variable depth water crossing) and Everest 2.0 (half pipe with rope assist).
Challengers would complete this same course as many times as they could until between 3:45 – 4:00 am when TMHQ would begin routing people to the second loop for the remaining 4 hours. Obstacles on the first loop all closed around 3:30 am to usher all runners to the second loop as quickly as possible. Loop one could definitely be summarized as teamwork based with no single obstacle causing a high rate of failure and was aimed at sapping leg strength. Loop two, on the other hand, would be much more individual focused and require upper body / grip strength plus obstacle proficiency.
Waiting conveniently atop the first hill was Balls to the Wall, the 16 foot vertical wall with a rope attached at its peak. No time to rest though because down the other side of the hill ran you into Augustus Gloop. This was comprised of wading thru a water pit and directly up a vertical tube as more water rushed in from above. After being thoroughly soaked, TMHQ decided to be funny and place the shockingly (pun intended) tricky Operation. Similar to the children’s game of old, a metal pole had to be placed thru an electrified opening to grab a small ring hanging flush against a backstop. Successful completion moved you directly into another double obstacle section, Stage 5 Clinger and Reach Around. If you were not feeling the burn by now, a modified King of Swingers (no bell, replaced with cargo net to Tyrolean traverse over the water pit) was a short distance away to push your muscles to the limit. All of this came before the 2 mile mark of loop two!
Fortunately, the obstacle density was scaled back after this point with longer running sections. Arctic Enema the Rebirth would be next up after a half mile jog to cool any burning forearms and really shock the system. Another half mile stretch was waiting to warm participants’ core temperature just in time for another log carry, Hold Your Wood Dos, and Funky Monkey the Revolution. The first half was the same upward sloping monkey bars as previous years, but the remainder had been revamped to include a series of revolving wheels. Thick fog from the humid Southern air provided a nice coating of dew for added enjoyment. The remaining two miles of the course was fairly subdued with a 200 foot hill climb, Ladder to Hell (simple up and over), Quagmire (thick mud pit), double obstacle – Birth Canal and Black Hole (low crawls under fluid filled canvas), and lastly Kong (5 gym rings suspended 30 feet in the air).
No new laps could be started after 7:45 am and a 30 minute grace period was provided to finish any current lap. Any athletes still not finished at 8:30 am were pulled from the course and transported back to Mudder Village. This would not count as a DNF, just no partial credit would be given for that last lap. When it was all said and done, your top men were Ryan Atkins (1st – 50 miles), Ryan Woods (2nd – 45 miles), and Luke Bosek (3rd – 45 miles). On the women’s side, the top performers were Lindsay Webster (1st – 45 miles), Allison Tai (2nd – 40 miles), and Alex Roudayna (3rd – 35 miles). Currently in the lead for annual mileage are Ryan Atkins (100 miles) and Lindsay Webster (85 miles). The next stop for Toughest will be across the pond in the United Kingdom.
So did Tough Mudder successfully pull off their Godfather sequel? Based off the 500 maniacs (this author included) who paid hard earned money to torture themselves for 8 hours, it would seem TMHQ made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. The courses were comprised of technical running with enough hills to keep it interesting, but not daunting. Obstacles were well placed, challenging, and contained surprising alterations like doubled versions. It was a very polished event as one would expect from one of the most well established OCR companies. Perhaps the only unanswered question will be how these events translate into the CBS broadcast later this summer. To paraphrase Michael Corleone, “We know it’s you, Tough Mudder. So don’t break our hearts!”