Are obstacle races overpriced fads?

Obstacle racing has grown into a phenomenon, but is it too much money?

In the ‘yes’ corner

Jonny Muir is a writer, runner and teacher. He is the author of three acclaimed running books and is working on a fourth, about the Ramsay Round.

Lots of obstacle races, such as Tough Mudder, claim to be the toughest thing out there. Do you think that’s true?

There is a place for obstacles races. Tough Mudder, for instance, laudably promotes teamwork over the individual, and raises millions of pounds for charity. It is the rhetoric that is laughable. At the south west Tough Mudder, “you will soon think you’ve stumbled into hell”. Tough Mudder, apparently, tests “physical strength and mental grit”. And the clichéd “hardcore” is the umbrella term for Tough Mudder events. It is perspective, of course, but obstacle races are contrived. They are the natural off-shoot of a society dominated by social media. They are not real.

Entry to Tough Mudder costs £129. Do you think that’s  good value?

I once paid £4 to enter Cioch Mhor – a nine-mile race (about the same length as Tough Mudder) in the Scottish Highlands. Traversing farmers’ fields, a river, bogs, barbed-wire fences, pathless hillsides of grass and heather, and climbing 660 metres, Cioch Mhor is spookily like Tough Mudder – except, again, this is real, Tough Mudder is not. At the end, volunteers from the organising club, Highland Hillrunners, had laid a table piled high with sandwiches and cakes. I ensured I consumed £4 worth of food. Cioch Mhor is £5 now, my mate Dougie in Inverness told me. “We’ve had to put Meall a Bhuachaille (a hill race in the Cairngorms organised by Highland Hillrunners) up to £8,” he said almost apologetically. That was the long answer. In short, is Tough Mudder worth 28 Cioch Mhors? Never.

What could mud-hungry runners seek out instead of obstacle course races?

In a word: cross-country. Join a local club that competes in a winter cross country league. The races are likely to be free and provide outstanding preparation for athletes competing on the road or track in the summer. I have competed in no harder races than the first division of the Surrey Cross Country League, for instance. And a controversial statement to end on: rather than chucking lots of obstacles in your path, try – whatever your ability – simply running faster. Now that, I assure you, is ‘tough’.

in the ‘no’ corner

Ben Johnson is the director of global communications at Tough Mudder, the 10+ mile obstacle course series. In 2015, there were more than 60 Tough Mudder events across three different continents.

Lots of obstacle course races, such as Tough Mudder, claim to be the toughest thing out there. Do you think that’s true?

It’s easy to make an event hard – we could make Tough Mudder as tough as we wanted. We could make Funky Monkey a mile long, Everest 20 feet taller, or add a wall only experts climbers could scale. But the truly hard thing to do is to put on an event that is the perfect balance between challenging and rewarding – something that allows participants to push themselves further than they have before, without sacrificing the joy of accomplishing something unique. We’re proud to put on truly life-changing events that push people to appreciate new experiences.

Entry for Tough Mudder costs £129. Do you think that’s good value?

No other event combines endurance, teamwork, intense challenges and obstacles, mental grit, a sense of humour and camaraderie in the same way. Tough Mudder is all about the quality of our obstacles and attention to detail. Our events keep even the most seasoned Mudders on their toes, and we’re confident in the value our participants receive. Additionally, for those who are looking for a reduced price, we have volunteer opportunities available at each of our events, which can be used to earn significantly reduced entry.

What would you say to encourage runners to try an obstacle course race?

Tough Mudder events provide a change of pace mentally. As a dedicated runner it’s easy to get focused on the minutiae – the exact mileage, the split times, the finish times, the rankings. Tough Mudder events are opportunities to put all that aside and enjoy the thrill of running outdoors and trying new things in an environment where it’s impossible to take yourself too seriously.

 

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