Tough Mudder Sydney 2015 review

The good news: Glenworth Valley once again proved its well-earned reputation for having Australia’s best OCR mud at Tough Mudder Sydney 2015. Mud quality, depth and frequency was more than ample. Good unsealed trails and steep climbs between obstacles. Southern Highlands, Eastern Creek and the International Equestrian Centre pale in comparison to Glenworth Valley.

Now the bad news. Shower and change facilities were woeful by Sunday afternoon. Seemed to have been setup to cater to roughly half the actual number of people in a Tough Mudder start, with queues 20 deep and many people shivering violently from cold they’d been queueing so long. If St Johns treated anybody for exposure yesterday it most likely happened waiting for a shower, not in the event.

It was setup in the middle of a low paddock that was as muddy as the course by Sunday from run-off from the showers and constant foot traffic. Don’t just put the showers up on a platform, put enough platform up that people can change without standing in fresh mud. And there was enough private change area for no more than 10 people at once — ridiculous. Worst shower/change facilities I’ve ever experienced at a Tough Mudder or anywhere else other than a Warrior Dash. We bailed on the showers and took a dip in the river instead.

The $40 VIP parking was also an expensive redundancy. We pulled up at 10am Sunday morning in our “VIP” park, from which the walk to the start was 500m of open, level, empty paddock apparently no different from the spot we’d been asked to park in. Why not let us park actually close to the event area? On our way back to the car, our friends who’d not booked VIP parking were parked no more than 200m behind us. Our VIP spot cost us about $20 per 100m!

At the finish we were handed a show bag with a finisher t-shirt and a hand towel, which was OK until it became apparent that everybody got a size L t-shirt, no matter what size they actually were. I would have thought the whole point of a finisher t-shirt was as a marketing tool for Tough Mudder — make the competitor feel like Tough Mudder values them, and hopefully they’ll wear it in public and make other people think about doing a Tough Mudder. But if you give a size L tee to someone who isn’t a size L you’re sending exactly the opposite message. Tough Mudder doesn’t care about you and we don’t care whether this tee fits you or not. Now go and queue 15mins for a cold shower in a mud puddle. Have a nice day.

One of my fellow team mates made an interesting observation: all the obstacles in Tough Mudder now fall into one of 2 categories: they’re either doable by 90% of participants (e.g. Mud Mile) or they’re only doable by 10% of participants (e.g. Everest 2.0). In our team of 5 reasonably fit multiple-Mudder veterans the whole team easily completed everything except for Everest 2.0 (only 2 of us made it), King of the Swingers (1), Funky Monkey (1), Leap of Faith (1) and Dead Ringer (0).

It feels like course designers are designing all the obstacles either to cater to either the least-capable participants (for the added revenue a bigger intake brings) or trying to maintain the reputation as the toughest OCR event by stretching the most gifted athletes in a few extreme obstacles.

Which is an OK strategy, except that I think it eventually starts to wear thin on participants like me, who I think are actually the biggest component of total participants. This was my fifth Tough Mudder Sydney, and with very few exceptions I find all of the obstacles in Tough Mudder either pretty easy or functionally impossible.

I’m 6' 4" and 100kg muddy, used to be a competitive sprinter when I was young, so I can run far enough up Everest 2.0 to interlock hands, but whether I get over or not depends entirely on whether the catchers at the top are strong enough to pull a 100kg guy up and over (which is not often). I’m not ever likely to be able to complete funky monkey because hanging a swinging 100kg weight off a single hand trying to hold on to a wet, muddy steel rung is never going to work no matter how much I practice my chin-ups.

Without exception, the obstacles only 10% of competitors complete rely entirely on upper body strength.

I’d like to see more thought go into finding new ways to challenge the vast majority of your competitors, who are coming back every year because they want to challenge themselves. I want to see less of 90%/10% ratio between obstacles and more of a 50%/25%/10% ratio, with some obstacles that have a bit more challenge for people who’ve done a Tough Mudder before, without being impossible for someone who isn’t in the 50–70kg range and gymnast build. Rope climbs, balance beams, dark tunnels, uphill tunnels, sandbag carries and tyre pulls, accuracy throws (like Spartan’s spear throw). More balance-related obstacles, more speed-related obstacles and more obstacles that challenge your fears, because even unfit first-timers can get a kick out of facing and beating their fears.

A 20km mud run is always going to be exhausting, but a 20km obstacle course race which has 90% of obstacles doable and 10% impossible is eventually going to lose me as a customer out of sheer boredom, or the growing sense you don’t really care enough to give me a decent shower not in a mud puddle, a t-shirt that fits and a VIP car parking space actually near the event area.

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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