I'm sure we've all heard it before, when you tell people you do Obstacle Course Racing and they answer by saying “what, like Tough Mudder?” So what's it all about? Tough Guy or Tough Mudder, what’s the difference?
For me Tough Guy was my first OCR in January 2013. I was never into road running and wanted to challenge myself. Not knowing anything about Obstacle races I found a race called Tough Guy on the internet. The promo video looked amazing, It looked brutal and like nothing I had ever seen before.
I signed up and began training. I began to look into this Tough Guy event a little more: I watched numerous YouTube videos and read various articles. I then realised I had entered an event that claimed to be one of the toughest in the world. I was a little nervous now to say the least.
The months flew by and suddenly January 2013 was upon us...and it was a cold one. The snow was thick on the ground and the water frozen solid. It was claimed to be the third coldest Tough event in its long history. It certainly was a tough experience. I ran with a good friend Bob Parsons and we battled through the crowds, conquered the hill slaloms and took on the infamous Killing Fields. Eventually crossing that finish line and being presented with that most wanted piece of horse brass. I had done it, I had completed my first OCR, my first Tough Guy and I was hooked.
As I then learnt more about OCR, I have discovered more events, I met more people who were as mad as me and love running these amazing events. One of the other events I discovered was Tough Mudder. I learnt of the past between them and Tough Guy (read more here). From what I found out it put me off the Tough Mudder events, It almost felt like a football team rivalry and I felt I had chosen a side to support.
I then returned to take on my second winter Tough Guy in January 2014 and this time ran the course topless. It again consumed me and gave me the most incredible feeling of achievement when I crossed the finish line and was once again given my nice chunky horse brass medal and bragging rights to say I was a Tough Guy. Still absolutely loving the Tough Guy event I signed up for the next 3 years.
I began running more and more events, keen to try them all. There are some amazing ones out there that is for sure. I had still not even considered a Tough Mudder event though and at this point I thought I never would, the price and the history between the two events put me off.
January 32nd 2015 was upon us and it was again Tough Guy time. I ran topless for a second time and after picking up an injury 3 miles in, I realised this was going to be my toughest Tough Guy challenge yet. I got slower and slower as I battled through the course and ended up with the onset of hypothermia in the killing fields. Cold, emotional and feeling broken, I staggered over the finish line and received my third horse brass medal.
Then an opportunity arose. One that I never thought I would contemplate. A friend kindly gave me a Tough Mudder season pass. So I took this opportunity to see what the event had to offer. I booked into my first Tough Mudder, London West on the 2nd May 2015. I went totally open minded and with a view of enjoying the event and finally seeing what Tough Mudder could do.
I attended the event with a RAW team member Jodi Burton. She had previously run 2 Tough Mudder events and was telling me that at the start I would have to kneel and pledge my elegance to Tough Mudder and the "Mudders" who had completed 10 x Tough Mudder events. I didn't like the sound of this! I am not one for gimmicks and didn't want to have to take part in this starting ritual. I thought I would just get away without doing it.
After being warmed up and sent through the inflatable archway I thought we were under way and this pledge had just been a rumour. Unfortunately not: we shortly came to a halt and climbed over a high wall, and I realised we were penned in at the official start line.
Some guy with a microphone was shouting things out to our wave of runners. I couldn't really hear what was being said as I was near the back of the wave. Suddenly everyone around me went down on one knee and I was left standing on my own. I was asked if there was a problem and jokingly I said I had a bad knee. A little bit of banter then followed between me and the microphone man before I was asked quite rudely to kneel the f**k down and that I had three seconds to to so before he would make me. Shocked by this I sat down and the pledge took place.
“As a Tough Mudder I pledge that.... 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.”
The Mudders who had earned the sought after Black and Orange headband were then asked to stand and we were all told that these guys were Badass as they had completed 10 plus Tough mudder events. We were then allowed to stand and we were under way.
We set of at a gentle jog and soon came to a standstill, I was prepared for this as we were running a later wave and this happens in all events. The first obstacle I came across was hangover walls. Nothing I hadn't seen before but one of my favourite obstacles. After completing this obstacle another period of running before I was confronted with Arctic enema 2.0. As I climbed to the top of steps I could see it was a caged slide into a large skip filled with icy cold water. This was being kept topped up with ice by marshals who had plenty of it in a large freezer unit. At the top of the slide I crossed my arms, laid back and plunged into the murky icy water. Icy cold water was not new to me but it is still a shock to the system when getting in so quickly. There was a tyre barrier across the skip halfway along, meaning I had to dunk my head my head back under the icy cold water. Out of the cold water and back on the move through the woods it was clear that the obstacles were going to be spread out evenly between runs.
As I made my way around the course I was very impressed with amount of water stations there were, and even more impressed that there were snacks provided by 9 Bar to keep you fully fuelled. I was appreciative of this as I seem to run low on energy quite quickly when running. Obstacles came and went. Some familiar looking and some completely new to me. This was nice to see. But I found some of them to be 'Gimmick' obstacles. For example Cry Baby was a constructed chamber with big tubes running into it and clear plastic flaps sealing each end. It was supposed to be a gas chamber.
As I entered the chamber I was unsure what to expect. What I found was a fine mist in the air which smelled like menthol. Coming out the other side my sinuses felt nice and clear and refreshed and I wondered what the point of the obstacle was. Other obstacles did impress me. King of the swingers was a large scaffold constructed frame with a large metal swing . This swing went out over a large pool of muddy water and the objective was to ring a bell that was dangling over the water. Whatever the result, you were going in the water with a splash.
The course continued with a good little run over a very well laid out course which was very hilly and challenging but lacking in mud or water. As we approached the end of the course and returned to the event village I was faced with a fork in the road. To my right was the Electroshock and to the left Dead Ringer. I was not allowed to do this obstacle as it was for Tough Mudders only and a way of skipping being zapped. If you were a first timer you had to face the 10,000 volt sprint finish. Having faced electric shocks on courses before I knew what was coming. Although not my favourite experience I always take on each obstacle and face my fears. A deep breath and a dash to the finish. Zap, Zap, Zap and one more for good measure. It was done. I had completed my first Tough Mudder. I was presented with my orange head band and I was officially a Mudder. Was it worth it? I was glad I had done it and I have learnt a lot more about the Tough Mudder business and following.
To compare the two, Well you cant really. Tough guy has me going back year after year to push myself, both mentally and physically. Tough mudder didn't really challenge me on either of those fronts. I did enjoy the Tough Mudder course and I could see that if you were to run it as a group of friends, as a party or as a business team building day it could be a fun experience. Especially with some of the obstacles being team orientated such has Hold your Wood, where you carry a large log as a team over a short course and over a wooden wall.
The event village was very good although there were queues everywhere apart from the toilets. There was also a brand new obstacle in the middle of the village. A fireman’s pole over water and on the way down you went through a ring of fire. I didn't get to try this out though as it was another obstacle only the experienced Mudders could use.
Some would argue with me but I think everyone should have the same rights on the course, we should all have access to all of the obstacles and no options to skip one obstacle for another option.
To sum each event up, I would say Tough Mudder is a feel good event, designed for groups to run and give them a sense of achievement. Unfortunately it sucks them back in with the ranking system of the coloured headbands and new obstacles that only the Tough mudders can try. Its an expensive event all round. Even if you buy an early bird ticket, parking is extremely expensive and bag drop is another three quid of your money. The organisation is great, nice clear emails leading up to race day, organised parking, very well laid out, plenty of marshals and a nicely laid out course. I am planning on doing two more events this year but after that I don't think I will be going back. I would say it should be an event everyone should do at least once as there are some good things that Tough Mudder offer to the OCR world..... Oh and you get free photos.
Tough Guy is Tough Guy, Its the original OCR where health and safety men are buried in the woods. Its dirty, cold and..... well tough. Although most of the obstacles are nothing fancy, they are big and with the cold weather that the event seems to produce each year it should certainly not be taken on lightly. The emails leading up to the event are not as strange as they used to be and with the ever growing OCR scene Tough Guy has certainly upped its game. The event village is still grubby and has dirty toilet facilities but that is all part of the Tough Guy image and the event is held on a working farm. Tough Guy is still not a cheap event, don't get me wrong and you still have to pay for parking but you get a bit more than a headband at the end of it.
Both events have a massive following, You may agree or disagree with what I've said. I've completed both and Tough Guy is by far a tougher and more original event. It is the only event that gets me excited about it all year round. I suppose the only way you will truly find out would be to take on both and see for yourselves.