Drew Stephens

Tough Mudder Norcal 2010

On October 9th, I ran the Northern California Tough Mudder. Billing itself as “the TOUGHEST one day event on the planet”, Tough Mudder is an endurance race helad at a number of venues throughout the United States. The event is basically a trail run punctuated by obstacles. Except there aren’t many trails involved—the terrain covered is largely rock washes and barren mountain. Most of the locations are ski resorts, perfect because they offer challenging ground with significant elevation change to add difficulty.

Crossing the finish line As they say at the start line, this isn’t your average trail run, mud run, obstacle course, triathlon, or marathon. In my mind, Tough Mudder is one of many things that could be considered what CrossFit is all about. The Norcal event took place at Bear Valley Mountain Resort, which ranges in elevation from about 7,000 feet up to 8,500 feet. The start of the run was near the bottom, leaving us to go up and down the entirety of that 1,500 vertical feet twice. In the midst of that, obstacles ranged from crawling under low wire or through tubes, to being assaulted with freezing cold water from snow machines.

Overall, I’d say the hardest parts of Tough Mudder were the elevation and the running in total. Having not done the event before, it’s hard to know what it will be like. My expectations were for a demanding obstacle course with some significant running in between. As mentioned above, I would now describe it in the opposite order: a very difficult trail run with some obstacles along the way.

The preparation advice on the Tough Mudder site can be a bit hard to parse and leaves a lot of questions, so here’s my stab at it:

  • Do CrossFit or join an elite military unit; little else that can adequately prepare you for such a demanding event
  • This is not a marathon; being a running twig won’t get you through Tough Mudder in a reasonable time
  • Mechanix Gloves which are fairly light, durable, and form fitting are a very good choice
  • Wear normal workout or outdoor clothes—you’ll get dirty, but not ripped up
  • If you have an older pair of sunglasses, wear them
  • Don’t worry about carrying water, it will be provided on the course every few miles
  • Walk on the right, run on the left: slowing down is fine, but please stay out of the way of the more dedicated folks
  • The water will be cold, nothing can change that

So how did I do? Well, Tough Mudder makes a big point of saying, “it’s an event, not a race”. I started in the 12:00 group, which gave me a chance to watch the first group, which started at 10:00 and included the most elite runners, begin to finish at 11:16. I went into my group knowing that 1 hour 16 minutes was the time to beat. I crossed the finish line at 13:43, putting me at 1 hour 43 minutes. I discout this a bit because I spent 5 minutes or so waiting to do the spool-jumping obstacle, and nearly 15 minutes waiting at the mud-run obstacle because the pommel horse jumping was backed up. I’m confident in saying that my correct time was about 1:25.

More pictures: