Who would have thought that a bout of electroshock therapy would boost resort occupancy over a sleepy June weekend from 51 per cent to 93 per cent in just two years. In fact, Tourism Whistler reported that the weekend is now comparable to some of the resort's busiest dates during events like Crankworx, and on key holidays like the BC Day long weekend, Labour Day long weekend and over the Christmas and New Year's holiday period.
As it turns out, Whistler Sports Legacies and the Resort Municipality of Whistler recognized the potential of a few electric volts when they were approached back in 2011 by an organization called Tough Mudder. Two Brits, studying at Harvard Business School, are the brains behind the Tough Mudder concept, an endurance event that challenges people to complete 20-25 military-style obstacles over a 16 to 22-kilometre course. The first event was held in 2010 at Bear Creek Ski Resort in Pennsylvania, followed by another two in Northern California and New Jersey. They grew quickly and now have 60 plus events in seven countries worldwide.
Tough Mudder Whistler is not only the showcase event for Canada, but it ranks in the top five globally in terms of participation, making it one of the most pertinent "mudder" destinations.
"Sport, athleticism and outdoor recreation are core to the values and culture of Whistler, and we are honoured to host Tough Mudder for a third year in a row," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "The event brings athletes and their friends and families to Whistler and drives room nights on a weekend that was otherwise economically soft. The overall impact has been nothing short of positive, and the RMOW is pleased to work with the Tough Mudder organizers once again to bring this successful event to our resort."
Last year's event saw an economic impact to Whistler of $4.5 million ($7.5 million in the province). A $128,000 investment from the resort's Festivals, Events & Animation budget was applied to this year's event, which was up on the previous year by roughly 15 per cent to account for an expected increase in participants. However, the event's registration is currently at around 17,000 people making it on par with last year's figures still making it one of the organization's largest events.
The Tough Mudder founders, Will Dean and Guy Livingstone, had originally estimated attracting half a million people over four to five years, however, it seems this was a challenge that spoke to a lot of people and by year three they'd hit one million total registrations and raised over $2 million for their charity partners.
"This kind of challenge attracts novelty seekers," said Cynthia Thomson, a Teaching Fellow at Quest University Canada who holds a PhD in Kinesiology and has spent considerable time researching adventure recreation.
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - Burpee time for the team
"These are people that are open to new experiences, are willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones and are not put off by environmental extremes."
Thomson went on to say that typically these types of people tend to have a "been there, done that" attitude, so keeping them returning year after year would potentially pose a challenge.
"We have a whole team of people dedicated to obstacle innovation, and they know we need to keep it fresh," explained Tough Mudder Canada's General Manager, Nick Cogger.
"We will be acknowledging return mudders by giving them their own registration tent, having them lead the start wave, and a dedicated obstacle section (has been) designed specifically for them — new challengers will not be allowed to do it."
When probed a little further he revealed that the return-mudder obstacle for Whistler has been developed in partnership with Superfly Ziplines. The obstacle itself will be exclusive to Canada, and be "highly visual" tempting first-time mudders to come back for the new additions and extras they'll be awarded. Return racers will be required to come to the event sporting the orange headband they received after completing their first one to make sure they get into the dedicated returnee-mudder obstacle.
"With our Superfly Treetops Adventure Course experience, building a feature for the Tough Mudder legionaires is right up our alley," said The Adventure Group's CEO, Kirby Brown. "This feature is basically a treetops game turned upside down with all kinds of surprises in store. The Tough Mudders will love to hate this one."
A new obstacle for everyone to look out for on the Whistler course this year is the Pyramid Scheme, which, as the name suggests, will involve forming a pyramid (a human one) and getting your teammates up and over the wall.
One of the things that the $128,000 investment from the resort's Festivals, Events & Animation budget is being applied to this year are shuttles from the event in the Callaghan Valley back to Whistler Village. "We want to broaden the offerings and the mudder experience," said Cogger. "We owe it to the communities who host our event to help them make the most out of the thousands of participants who come to their home to do the event, but also to explore a new place."
Cogger and his team reached out to local businessman Joey Gibbons, who recently launched "Gibbons Life," a social venture which puts 100 per cent of its profits back into community initiatives, to help develop the idea. Recognizing that the Tough Mudder race could bring return business to Whistler during slower times of the year, Gibbons helped to organize the "Welcome Back Mudders" expo, which gives local businesses the chance to get in front of the 13,000 people streaming back from the Callaghan on Saturday, June 21 between 2-6 p.m.
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - Alana and Jen demonstrate uphill wheel barrow walks
"The Tough Mudder weekend is now a busy one for local business owners," said Gibbons. "However, this is a chance to show thousands of people what else Whistler has to offer, so we can tempt them back when we're not so busy. We currently have around fourteen varied businesses signed up from the Bearfoot Bistro to The Adventure Group, Pemberton Music Festival, West Coast Float, and Peak Performance — it's going to be a fun afternoon and local businesses should consider getting involved."
Tourism Whistler also echoes similar sentiments.
"Tough Mudder is one of many important events for Whistler," said TW communications manager Patricia Westerholm.
"The economic benefits of events like Tough Mudder do not end at the accommodation level. These events, which draw thousands of participants and spectators alike, benefit the resort as a whole with economic spinoff to the retail, restaurant and bar and nightclub sectors."
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is fully supportive of the initiative. "This expo is a phenomenal chance for Whistler businesses to shine and give Tough Mudder participants a reason to visit their location while the Mudders are in town and for future visits," said Chamber CEO Val Litwin.
"How often do you get to chance to market your brand to a captive audience of up to 15,000 people? The more we invest in the Mudders the more they will invest in us."
The event has a Special Occasion License so that mudders can sip a beer while they peruse what's on offer, although it's worth noting that they're limited to two beers per person before being encouraged to visit one of Whistler's restaurants or bars for the evening.
"It's a great opportunity for locally owned businesses," said Miranda Foord, owner of Peak Performance clothing store. "It's great brand awareness for us to get in front of an active and engaged crowd. We'll be using the event to gather emails via a raffle, which will help with our marketing initiatives for the future."
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - Alana and JP working on some Partner Horizontal Pull Ups
As Thomson alluded to, a person attracted to an event like Tough Mudder is most likely to have a sensation seeking personality trait. One hypothesis put forward by Marvin Zuckerman, a Professor of Clinical Psychology, is that because our lives in the west are relatively safe and controlled, adventure racing is a way of feeling that rush of adrenaline you get from stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Whistler local JP Fok, will take to the Tough Mudder course for the first time this year, but he's probably more prepared than most.
Fok is one of the trainers on Whistler's Innovative Fitness team, and has been putting his team through their paces in an attempt to get them ready for a race that included obstacles called, Balls to the Wall, Log Jammin, and Electric Eel.
"I was stoked to be asked to join a team by one of my clients who had a group of people from The Fairmont hotel signed up," said Fok. "I am looking forward to being challenged by some of the obstacles like 'Hold My Wood' and the one where we'll have to run up the ski jump landing. However, I am not looking forward to the 'artic enema' where we have to jump into ice cold water."
For some Whistler locals, this year's Tough Mudder race probably looks like a walk in the park. Whistlerite Don Schwartz has done the Death Race three times, which qualified him and his teammates for the World's Toughest Mudder held in New Jersey last year. This brutal event saw the teams lap the eight-kilometre course as many times as possible in 24-hours. After completing 15 soul-destroying laps they finished in third place and were awarded the black headbands of distinction. This year Schwartz will be leading a team of ten from Burnaby's CrossFit gym.
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - JP and Jen do partner piggy back lunges
"Tough Mudder isn't a race. It's a chance to get your friends together and complete a challenge," said Schwartz. "It's incredible to see the sense of camaraderie that occurs in events such as these — there's almost an unwritten rule to help people out. Seeing thousands of people in the village, all covered in mud after a great day in the outdoors is fantastic."
Cogger agrees with the camaraderie factor playing a huge part in Tough Mudder's success. "We're starting to see a Mudder Nation forming, with people returning to do the races seven to 10 times in different locations throughout the year. People have an affinity with certain obstacles, and others still make them anxious requiring them to conquer another fear or push another boundary."
Tough Mudder is still expanding, with new race locations in Japan and South Africa coming in the next year. They're also developing a new event called "Mudderella," which is a course designed for (but not limited to) women. To find out more information on the event itself visit toughmudder.com
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - Jen and JP help Alana do handstand push ups
Tips from the Trainers for Tough Mudder
Here are some handy tips from the Innovative Fitness team for any last minute, slightly panicked training sessions any newbie mudder might want to take note of. They were devised by Alana Sampson:
Going from the Tough Mudder website this obstacle is all about strength and camaraderie. To help build up both here's a little routine that will get you working like a team:
Sixty seconds of Mountain Climbers Get into a plank position and then bring your right knee up to your right elbow and then alternate legs as rapidly as possible as if running on the spot.
Twenty times Partner Push Ups One of you gets into a plank position and the other does push ups on their back (feet on the ground).
Thirty times Partner Plank High Fives Plank facing each other and high five your partner, returning to a full plank in between each high five.
Human Pyramid Only for the brave, forgiving and possibly insane. Attempt a human pyramid cheerleading style. Our tip — lightest on the top!
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - The Innovative team risk a human pyramid
Hold Your Wood
Think like a lumberjack and you might just make it through this one. Apparently the difficulty of the terrain and weight of the logs will determine how long you have to carry them so these sprints and upper body exercises should get you prepped:
Sixty second hill sprint Choose a hill with a steep gradient and go like the clappers.
Sixty seconds of piggy back lunges Lunge while moving forward with your partner on your back
Sixty second hill sprint
Sixty second wheel barrow walk up the hill This is where one person holds your legs around your ankles as you use your arms to walk upwards — alternate who does the holding!
Sixty second hill sprint
Sixty second handstand push ups Get one, or even two people, to hold your legs while you press.
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - The team does seal walks
Kiss of Mud
This is a belly-crawl commando style through the mud with barbed wire fencing making sure you're getting a face full. To acclimatize yourself we suggest doing the following exercises on a beach, lawn, or any muddy place you can find:
Sixty second seal walks With your stomach on the floor, lift your chest up high using your arms. With your legs held "limp," drag yourself across the ground only using your straightened arms.
Thirty times double knee plank hops Get into a plank position and then jump both your knees up as far as you can to one side of your body. Return to your plank and repeat on the other side for one repetition.
Sixty time seal walks
Thirty times double knee plank hops
Thirty times burpees A classic. From a standing position, crouch down until hands are on the floor directly in front of you. Jump feet back to achieve a plank position. Do one good push up. Jump feet back up toward hands. Then jump straight up in the air and clap hands overhead.
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - Double knee plank hops in the sand
This obstacle holds the title for lowest completion rate at only 30 per cent as it involves a lot of upper body strength as well as coordination. The rings are placed 1.2 to 1.8 metres apart and if you can't do it you'll plunge into the icy water below. As there's an incentive to get your swing on, here are some bicep building ideas:
Twenty times partner assisted horizontal pull ups Hang underneath a bar with legs extended and your body stiff and tight, have a friend hold your legs parallel with your shoulders. Pull up until your chest almost touches the bar (slightly above the nipple line) and lower until your arms are completely extended.
Twenty times push-ups to side plank
(right side) Get in low push-up position with hands under your chest and a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body straight and core tight, press up, extending your arms (don't lock your elbows). Transfer your weight onto your left hand, lifting your right arm toward the ceiling
Twenty times partner assisted horizontal pull ups
Twenty times push up to side plank (left side) Same as above, except now you are transferring your weight onto your right hand.
Twenty times commando push ups You are going to start off in a push up position, bring your chest all the way to the ground, then press yourself back up. Now, back in to the up phase of the push up position bring your right knee to your right elbow, then your left knee to your left elbow. And repeat.
PHOTO: ERIC BECKSTEAD - JP taking the plunge into Nita Lake
Involving a jump into ice filled water this obstacle definitely calls for some mental grit. There's only one way to train for it — you guessed it — a session in one of Whistler's glacially fed lakes will do just the trick. Make sure your teammates are on hand in case you need hauling out!
Thirty second dip in the lake
Fifty times squat jumps With legs a little further than shoulder width apart squat down as if you're doing to sit and a chair and then spring upwards into a jump.
Thirty second dip in the lake
Forty times squat jumps
Thirty second dip in the lake
Times times squat jumps
Need some encouragement? The Innovative Fitness team runs circuit classes that are ideal training for this type of event and The Core Gym launched a specific program designed for would-be mudders this year.
"We had a lot of gym goers mentioning they were doing the race and so we decided to devise a course for them and anyone looking to get a bit rough and ready with their work out routine," said Rich Sievewright, one of The Core's personal trainers. "It's a progressive program, all outside, in all weather conditions, using what nature gives us in terms of obstacles. We usually start with a run and then do obstacle style stations, which see people lifting rocks, flipping logs, and even jumping into Lost Lake."
Sievewright mentioned that the program might continue past the race given its popularity, which is another sign that the Tough Mudder event is having a long lasting effect on the community beyond the single weekend it's held.
PHOTO: VINCE SHULEY - Tough Mudder 2013
PHOTO: MIKE CRANE COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER