They stand at the start line, their breaths clouding in the cool morning air, anxious to begin what may be the most gruelling few hours of their lives. With numbers scrawled on foreheads like prison tattoos, war paint under eyes and gloved hands held in tight fists, the mudders mentally prepare themselves like soldiers before battle. They raise their right hands as an emcee's voice bellows over the crowd reciting the Tough Mudder pledge:
- I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge
- I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time
- I do not whine — kids whine
- I help my fellow mudders complete the course
- I overcome all fears
- A loud "OOORAHH!" erupts from the crowd. The battle is about to begin.
Tough Mudder (TM) is a mass-participation event involving thousands of people running, crawling, climbing and swimming their way through 22 military designed obstacles over a 20-kilometre course. Unlike the generic marathons, triathlons and their variations, Tough Mudder is open to anyone, requires no special equipment and does not focus purely on aerobic fitness.
"At its core, Tough Mudder is different in that it's not a race, it's a challenge," said Jane Di Leo, manager of public relations for TM.
"Tough Mudder is all about completing the course as a team, there's no timing, it's just you and your friends trying to actually get through 12 miles (19 kilometres) of military style obstacles on different terrain. It challenges your entire body. Your upper body, your lower body, your core and also your mental strength."
Such an undertaking wouldn't be as tough if there weren't some risk involved, and as with any sanctioned race or even guided tour, all participants must sign a waiver stating they are well aware of the inherent danger of what they are about to attempt. The obstacles range from jumping off high platforms into freezing cold water, to crawling through semi-submerged pipes, to being zapped with 10,000 volts of electricity. Although the very idea of such obstacles may seem suicidal to some, the challenges result in relatively few injuries.
"Safety is our number one priority," said Di Leo.
"We always have medical staff on site throughout the course and our water obstacles have water safety staff at every one of those obstacles. Anything we can do to prevent injury we are there and doing, however, we also ask people to be conscious and to make the right decisions. If you do not swim, do not go in the water."
Since its inception in May of 2010 at the Bear Creek Ski Resort near Allentown, Pennsylvania, TM has expanded exponentially to over 50 events on every continent. The original idea was hatched by Harvard Business School student Will Dean, his concept of running people through gruelling mud and man made obstacles made the finals in the school's annual business plan contest. Dean hoped to attract 500 paying participants over the course of the three months leading up to the inaugural event, a number of his professors considered that too optimistic.