Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean writes “It Takes a Tribe”

In the tradition of CEOs penning their memoirs while their companies are still growing, the founder of Tough Mudder has written “It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement”  which outlines where the company came from, explains why it is such a success and hints at where it might go in the future.

These books can be a branding exercise – I know that I got handed more than one free copy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness”, which combined the up-from-nothing story of his company with a manifesto about how and why his company was so great. It has never been clear to me who exactly is the intended audience of this genre: MBA students? Potential investors? Prospective mid-level employees? They tend to be an easy read and provide a polished PR version of the company and its origins, but the format can be predictable.

There is one clear audience for these books: superfans. If you love Tough Mudder, you will love reading about how it came to be. “It Takes a Tribe” provides the inside scoop on how Will Dean turned his idea into a successful brand, how he helped create an industry that had not existed before, and how he has changed the lives of many who have joined Mudder Nation.

Happily, I may be something of a Tough Mudder fanboy, so I thoroughly enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at TM’s origin story. And since I am a fanboy, I had heard many of the stories before, but it was entertaining to hear them again, and it was good to get Dean’s spin on many of the company legends.

In particular, it was fascinating to get Dean’s version what I think of as OCR’s Original Sin, the controversy over Dean’s using the concepts developed at the Tough Guy race by its creator “Mr. Mouse” and applying them to the Harvard Business School project that later became Tough Mudder. For those not familiar with the story, you may wish to watch Rise of the Sufferfests by Scott Keneally (which you should watch regardless, as it is a great documentary). The outline of the story is that Dean observed the Tough Guy event, consulted with Mr. Mouse and then built on those ideas to create Tough Mudder. Mr. Mouse sued and Harvard took Dean to task for violating the “Harvard Business School Community Values of ‘honesty and integrity’ and ‘accountability’”(and yes, if you find the concept of Harvard Business School trying to shame one of its graduates over ethics to be comical, you are not alone).

I had heard this narrative in Keneally’s film and in other sources, but for the first time in “It Takes a Tribe,” I got to see Dean’s side of the story. His version is convincing, but more than that the reader learns about the personal toll the litigation took on Dean and his colleagues. Dean also gets the opportunity to snipe about Harvard Business School days and his shabby treatment by the school after he graduated.

Dean is the tall Englishman on the right.

On the one hand, Dean does not hold back about his opinions about Harvard and his fellow HBS students. Similarly, he is not silent about his opinions of his former employers at the British Foreign Office, where he had a brief career before moving to the US. On the other hand, he frequently cites his experiences at both institutions in this book and uses them to demonstrate lesson after lesson about how he has used those experiences to make Tough Mudder the company it has become.

Like all MBAs who become CEOs, he compares himself with other entrepreneurs he admires, mostly ones he has worked with over the years. Of course, every entrepreneur wants to be compared to Steve Jobs, who gets name checked in the book more than once. In reality, Dean’s counterpart is, instead, Bill Gates: driven by numbers, looking years down the road, but not as obviously a genius. Dean has worked hard and kept focus, and his company has made steady, relentless growth by careful analysis and cautious progress. The bright orange obstacles with the cheeky names are thoroughly tested, tweaked, and re-launched to maximize the challenge they offer and to keep the customers returning. A very MBA approach to numbers guides everything the company does, and its success might be a tribute to that Harvard Business School education that keeps Dean so conflicted.

There is an obvious companion to “It Takes a Tribe,” namely Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena’s book “Spartan Up!” In fact, a recent search on Amazon has the two books listed under “Frequently Bought Together.” The two books are good representations of both CEOs and both brands. Dean’s book involves less derring-do, fewer personal exploits, and less lecturing. “Spartan Up!” also glosses over Spartan’s own Original Sin, its treatment of early Spartan superstar Hobie Call.  Both books include profiles of people whose lives have been changed by taking part in these events, and those who love transformation stories will get their fill in either book.

As the two dominant brands in OCR grow, they appear to be coming closer together. Tough Mudder was founded as a challenge-not-a-race, but the past few years have seen the introduction of competitive events from Tough Mudder ready for TV broadcast. Likewise, the fiercely individual Spartan Races have been emphasizing the role of teamwork in their summer reality series Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge. Both brands have launched exercise classes, Tough Mudder Bootcamp and Spartan Strong. Both have major clothing sponsors and both are expanding overseas. While their offerings start to converge, having a book like “It Takes a Tribe” will be a useful way to remember how the two companies and their founders are profoundly different.

Check out Will Dean on our Obstacle Racing Media podcast here

Time to take the ORM Strava Group up a notch

Ready for some competition?

Summer is almost over, and with the back-to-school spirit in the air, it’s time to start getting some use out of the ORM Strava Group. Fabulous prizes will be forthcoming.

Wait, there’s a group for ORM fans on Strava? Why yes, yes there is. You can find it here, and join up while you’re at it.

Wait, what’s Strava?

Strava is a website and app that uses GPS to track athletic activity, and it shoehorns all that social-media goodness to foster competition. Mostly the healthy kind, and sometimes notIf you use some kind of GPS device to track your workouts, you can link that data to Strava and then feel inadequate about your performance when you compare it with others. Or rather, you can then see who else is running and riding and swimming on the same routes as you and compete with them virtually. Judging from the current members of the group, ORM’s readers come from around the world, and many of you spend a lot of time running, much of it on trails, but a surprising number of people run on tracks, which makes for satisfying oval maps.

How is this competition going to work?

I had hoped that we could get Strava to give us monthly totals, but it turns out that’s not something they do yet, so we’ll have a weekly competition once a month. I’ll post when the competition starts and ends. At the end, I’ll see who is in the lead, and the winner will be awarded a prize. What, exactly? Something out of the ORM swag bag, or perhaps even a free race entry. We’ll work something out. It will be totally worth it.

And how do we determine who is the winner?

You’re all winners in my eyes, of course, but each month I’ll use a different metric. Strava measures distance, speed, average pace and even elevation gain. To keep things fair, I’ll mix it up each time, and sometimes I’ll reward creativity: if you record a run that is particularly epic, or if you spell out “ORM” on your GPS map, that’s the sort of thing that will catch my eye.

When does this start?

September’s challenge will start on Monday, September 11th, and end on Monday, September 18th so you have time to download your grueling weekend endurance workouts. In the meantime, have fun, stay safe and keep posting those results.

See Spartan’s Joe De Sena in New York

 Joe Desena China

Joe De Sena (he’s the one on the right), the founder of Spartan Race, will be hosting a panel on fitness and nutrition in New York in late September, so if you’ve been aching to see the man in person, this is your chance. We even have a discount code we can offer. One caveat: while the press release we were sent doesn’t actually say that you will have to do burpees, I strongly suspect that this might happen. For more details, check below.:

Joe De Sena, Spartan Race founder and CEO,

 Hosts the Ultimate Fitness Break at

NYC’s Ad Week Leadership Event

This is the advertising and marketing industry’s largest annual event that attracts more than 100,000 agency, media and client/brand executives over five days in September.

Joe’s life-changing panel:

Spartan Fit: Taking Your Performance in Athletics & Life to the Next Level

Monday, September 25 at 10:15 AM

NewGen Stage at  Lucille’s
237 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

Joe will share his methods on how to become Spartan Fit:

How you can take your performance (both in athletics and in life) to the next level through better fitness and nutrition, along with tips to strengthen your mind as well as your body.

Joe will also lead attendees in an invigorating Spartan SGX workout (special workout clothes not required!)

Spartan hosts more than 1 million people annually at its obstacle races around the globe.

Spartan’s founder and CEO, Joe De Sena, is a life coach, fitness guru and adventure racing legend who completed the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles), the Lake Placid Ironman ( 140.6 miles) and a 100 mile trail run in Vermont in one week.

Other Special Offers: 

  •  A season race pass and $500 in Spartan merchandise will be awarded to one lucky attendee.
  • First 25 attendees to sign up will receive a copy of De Sena’s New York Times Bestseller.
  • Ad Week is also offering a 25% discount on the regular ticket price for YOUR READERS to attend this leadership event and see Joe in-person.

Discount Code: 25SPARTAN17AW

https://newyork.advertisingweek.com/register/?v=25SPARTAN17AW 

ABOUT SPARTAN RACE, INC.

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, and the first in-sport to feature timing and global rankings. With more than 200 events across more than 30 countries in 2017, Spartan Race will attract more than one million global participants offering open heats for all fitness levels, along with competitive and elite heats. The Spartan Race lifestyle boasts a community of more than five million passionate social media followers, health and wellness products, training and nutrition programs, and a popular NBC television series, which has made obstacle racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Spartan Race events feature races at three distances, 3+Mile/20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” 8+ Mile/25+ Obstacle “Super” and 12+ Mile/30+ Obstacle “Beast,” culminating in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit http://www.spartan.com for more information and registration.

Spartan Goes to the Gym with New Spartan Strong Classes

Spartan Race is adding another product to its lineup: a studio-based fitness class called Spartan Strong, and it is partnering with Life Time Fitness to roll out this experience to athletes around the country.

Spartan is not the first race series to move into the fitness training world; last month Tough Mudder announced that its Tough Mudder Bootcamp gyms would be opening soon. Spartan’s approach is different. Rather than build from the ground up, it has developed a class that can be held at any gym with minimal equipment. The model is similar to, say, Zumba: coaches are trained and certified, and the class can be offered anywhere with adequate space and a sound system. At first these classes will be appearing at about 100 Life Time Fitness gyms around the country, and eventually, they will show up at any gym interested in offering the class.

Spartan pancake. No syrup.

The class lasts about an hour and consists mostly of cardio movements and body-weight strengthening. The only equipment needed is the Spartan “pancake,” which many of you will have met as you hauled one up and down a mountain in the course of a Spartan Race. The class breaks down into five phases: “Readiness” (think warm-up), “Stamina” (cardio), “Accountability,” “Tenacity” (it wasn’t exactly clear to me how those concepts translated into a class setting) and “Resilience” (cool-down).

I got to try the workout last week at the product launch in New York, and I will vouch for the fact that it gets your heart rate up quickly and consistently. I emerged sweaty and out of breath, good signs of an exercise class.

There were burpees (because, Spartan) and bear crawls, and the pancakes were used effectively. The classes are designed to be large, from 20 to 40 participants, and I was reminded of the exercise classes I took in the 90’s (please, don’t call it aerobics), where several dozen adults, led from the front, tried to move a great deal in a confined space without bumping into each other. This is not the same kind of atmosphere you get in your typical high-intensity interval training class or a CrossFit box.

Spartan is dedicated to ripping people off the couch and out of the house onto trails and mountains, so why are they going back inside? Because that’s where the people are, apparently.

Joe De Sena is determined to change the lives of 100 million people, and he has come to the conclusion that changing lives is more important than being a purist about how that gets done. If he can reach people by offering a class format rather than chasing people up a mountain, the outcome can be the same. His flexibility in this regard reflects a sincerity in his mission. A-roo.

While the Spartan Strong classes can exist as a stand-alone product, they are still part of the Spartan universe. Life Time will be integrating the class into participation at Spartan Races, and there will be periodic testing so that participants can track their fitness progress – think monthly tests to see how many burpees you can do in a minute.

How do you get to try Spartan Strong? By the end of 2018, it will be available at almost all Life Time Fitness gyms.

For those unfamiliar with the brand, Life Time is an upscale brand, comparable to, say, Equinox, or if you prefer, it’s part of the category of “gyms that smell nice.” They recently opened up their first New York City branch in a skyscraper on 42nd Street, and the setting is grand. For the launch, they set up a rope climb and a monkey bar rig so that the invited Spartan Pro athletes (Amelia Boone! Kevin Donoghue!) could strut their stuff next to the two rooftop pools.

Going forward, trainers will be able to sign up for the workshop that certifies them as Spartan Strong instructors and offer the class anywhere. The soundtrack and workouts are developed by experts at Spartan and Life Time and are distributed along with guidelines to keep the workouts fresh.

Spartan Strong is not the only way to get fit the Spartan way. In order to build the brand and/or change the lives of 100 million people, Spartan fitness products also include online classes on Daily Burn, the SGX program of certifying instructors, and a brick and mortar Spartan-branded gym at a hotel in Miami. These products are not going away. For those who want to get their fitness in a class setting, this is another option that is available and another gateway into the Spartan way of life.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Spartan and Life Time Transform Gritty Race Experience into New Intense Group Fitness Class—Spartan Strong

Exclusive class, launching at 100 Life Time destinations across the U.S. by 2018, helps participants discover their inner Spartan

 BOSTON, MA (August 9, 2017) –Inspired by Spartan’s world-renown obstacle race events, where competitors face fire, mud, and barbed wire, Spartan Strong, a new, intense group fitness class is debuting exclusively at Life Time destinations. Created by Spartan and Life Time®, Spartan Strong focuses on studio-based exercises that challenge the body and mind, helping individuals conquer life’s everyday challenges. More than 100 of Life Time’s premium athletic resort destinations across the country will offer the class, rolling out now throughout 2018.

“Spartans learn to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals on the race course, often doing more than they believe possible,” says Spartan Vice President of Training John Gauch. “Our goal is to bring that same sense of accomplishment to people off the course through Spartan Strong. Life Time’s shared philosophy and team of dedicated instructors, coupled with their impressive destinations, create a perfect collaboration as we make the world a healthier place and impact how people live healthy balanced lives.”

The high-intensity hour long journey will push participants to their limits and unleash their inner Spartan by increasing strength, endurance, and athleticism through a combination of resistance training, bodyweight moves, dynamic stretching and cardio-focused drills. With the help of the Spartan Pancake, a weight-based circular sandbag, the class will leave participants feeling invigorated, empowered, and better prepared to battle the trying tasks of daily life. Members will also be tested with periodic fitness challenges to measure their progress.

“With the explosive growth of obstacle course races, this first-of-its-kind, race course meets group fitness class brings our members the best of both worlds,” says John Reilly, President, Fitness and Nutrition Division, Life Time. “Whether training for a Spartan race or tackling everyday life, Spartan Strong will push participants’ mind and body to achieve optimal performance on and off the race course.”

Available to Life Time members as part of the Company’s Featured Format classes, Life Time’s Spartan Strong instructors—many of whom compete in Spartan Races—received rigorous training and certification by Spartan’s and Life Time’s team of experts.

ABOUT LIFE TIME® – HEALTHY WAY OF LIFE

Life Time® is a privately held, comprehensive healthy living, healthy aging and healthy entertainment lifestyle company that offers a personalized and scientific approach to long-term health and wellness. Through its portfolio of distinctive resort-like destinations, athletic events and corporate health services, the Healthy Way of Life Company helps members achieve their goals every day with the support of a team of dedicated professionals and an array of proprietary health assessments. As of August 9, 2017, the company operates 127 centers in 27 states and 35 major markets under the LIFE TIME FITNESS® and LIFE TIME ATHLETIC® brands in the United States and Canada.

 ABOUT SPARTAN RACE, INC.

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, and the first in-sport to feature timing and global rankings. With more than 200 events across more than 30 countries in 2017, Spartan Race will attract more than one million global participants offering open heats for all fitness levels, along with competitive and elite heats. The Spartan Race lifestyle boasts a community of more than five million passionate social media followers, health and wellness products, training and nutrition programs, and a popular NBC television series, which has made obstacle racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Spartan Race events feature races at three distances, 3+Mile/20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” 8+ Mile/25+ Obstacle “Super” and 12+ Mile/30+ Obstacle “Beast,” culminating in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit http://www.spartan.com for more information and registration.

When is consistent drug testing coming to OCR?

Drug testing has already arrived, but the major race series have not yet adopted it as promised.

As obstacle course racing emerges as a sport, there are many good things that happen: bigger prize purses, more TV coverage, prominent sponsorship deals. However, with these benefits come responsibilities, in particular the need to keep the sport free of performance enhancing drugs. Some say, nothing would kill the sport in its infancy faster than a drug scandal, and the major players in OCR have all announced plans to keep the sport clean. And yet, most of these plans are still theoretical rather than actually operational.

One organization stands out in its efforts to maintain high standards: from its inception the OCR World Championship  made it clear that winning athletes would be tested for performance enhancing drugs. When OCRWC founder Adrian Bijanada announced this requirement, the response was overwhelmingly favorable. He faced some questions from athletes who were worried about complying with the rules, which allow for therapeutic use of some otherwise banned substances, but by following the World Anti-Doping Agency’s In Competition standards , he gave the community clear and well-established guidelines to follow. A few wondered if this added expense was going to inflate entry fees, but the added cost per athlete is minimal. Using a respected service for this event costs in the mid-four figures, a sum that is spread across thousands of participants and, when compared with other budget items, falls well below such things as t-shirts and portable toilets.

Why did he take the lead? OCRWC has been seeking to establish itself as the world championship for a new sport, and around the world, sports follow these rules. In order to be taken seriously, organizers need to behave seriously. Anti-doping is part of what is expected. For the last three years, the majority of the athletes on the podium have been tested. Happily, every athlete he tested has had clean test results. This reflects a common refrain I heard when speaking to athletes and organizers as I researched this article: there are no rumors circulating about athletes taking performance enhancing drugs. In this regard, OCR stands out from many other major sports (like cycling, track and field and baseball). I expect that everyone in the sport would like to keep things this way.

So what are the other major races doing about this? Last year Tough Mudder announced that for its marquee event World’s Toughest Mudder it was going to include as part of its rules the requirement that participants race clean. When it announced that WTM was being supplemented by a series of feeder races, Tougher Mudder and Toughest Mudder, it also included the requirement that those eligible for prize money make themselves available for drug testing. Nevertheless, at the last WTM and this year’s Tougher and Toughest Mudder events, no drug tests have taken place. What happened?

I spoke to Nolan Kombol, Tough Mudder’s Senior Director of Product, and he told me that TM has been working on a drug testing policy for several years. As is their corporate style, the program is being rolled out in phases, first by announcing the policy last year, with the next phase being limited testing, probably at this year’s WTM, and finally having full testing of all the prize-winning athletes at some point next year.

How did Tough Mudder decide to implement a drug testing policy? Nolan emphasized that this was not in reaction to what others were doing, but rather it was to keep in line with industry standards. This sounded a bit contradictory, so I asked him to clarify which industry he meant, and he explained that he wanted Tough Mudder to line up with other athletic events; Tough Mudder shares a medical director, Stu Weiss, with the New York City Triathlon and the New York City Marathon. Both of these events straddle the line between attracting professional athletes as well as high-performing amateurs, and both are mass participation events, so there is plenty of common ground. Another motivation was simply to keep the participants safe. One way to discourage athletes at a 24-hour event in the deserts of Nevada from taking excessive risks is to prohibit the use of drugs that can endanger the user’s health. This seems like common sense. Tough Mudder also consulted with previous successful athletes who had won titles at WTM, and their response was enthusiastic.

Spartan Race, the other major player in OCR today, made a major announcement last September that it was partnering with USADA (the US answer to WADA).

Interestingly enough, WADA, not USADA, testing is mentioned in the Spartan General Rules and Athlete Conduct section of the current Spartan race rulebook, which was most recently updated in May of 2017.  (If we go back further, Spartan first mentioned WADA testing as far back as 2014).

Of all the race series operating today, Spartan has the highest number of athletes taking home checks, and Spartan reserves the right to test any of these athletes for performance enhancing drugs. Spartan sees itself as a mechanism for bringing OCR to the Olympics, where drug testing is the norm. However, in the time since Spartan announced this policy and added this provision to its waivers, ORM have yet to hear reports of a single athlete being tested. ORM contacted Spartan Race, but after several weeks of promises to provide a staff member for comment, it has not made anyone available. Given Spartan’s brief bromance with Lance Armstrong , the most notorious doper on the planet, it is curious that Spartan has not made good on its promise to test athletes.

Is setting up drug testing something that is difficult to do? Adrian Bijanada doesn’t think so. While he credits his team for their hard work, he also pointed out that arranging for drug testing was simple: “We decided to do it, and then we did it.” Compared with Tough Mudder’s multi-year approach to rolling out a policy, Adrian did a little homework, checked some references, and found a reputable vendor to provide drug testing services at his event. Testing is not a major expense, and while it is a sensitive issue, the community reaction has been positive, and all the tests have been negative. When a small (if dedicated) operation such as OCRWC can work hard to keep the sport clean, the major operators have few excuses for any delay in their drug testing programs.

Tough Mudder Rolls Out its Studio Fitness Concept: Tough Mudder Bootcamp

Tough Mudder has rolled out a new extension of its brand, moving beyond the seven different races and challenges-not-races it mounts to include a new concept in gyms: Tough Mudder Bootcamp.

How did Tough Mudder decide to extend its brand in this direction? As you might expect from a company founded by business school graduates, the inspiration came from running the numbers. TMHQ asked the question: why do more than 10% of people who sign up for a Tough Mudder fail to show up on the day of the event? Surveys revealed that the people who failed to show up did so because they believed they had not trained enough; the no-shows were predominantly people who signed up in January and February, prime season for New Years get-in-shape resolutions, and also people who had not signed up with a team.

Teamwork has become the battlecry for Tough Mudder, one that is analyzed at length in CEO Will Dean’s upcoming book It Takes a Tribe, to be published this fall. Research shows that people who work out with a group are seven times as likely to achieve their fitness goals. Teamwork also pervades the Bootcamp concept. TMHQ’s MBAs looked at the fitness industry, and they were not impressed. Dean himself observed what was wrong on a trip to his in-laws in the Midwest; he had signed up for a week of access to a big box gym, and he saw that while 10% of the people there were getting something out of their gym time, the rest were miserable. The big box gyms were failing their customers.

In order to help people get into the shape they needed to complete a Tough Mudder, TMHQ has developed Tough Mudder Bootcamp, a franchise gym that will be coming to a town near you. Tough Mudder Bootcamp uses high intensity interval training classes to get its customers into shape and to keep them fit. Studies show that HIIT is an effective and efficient way to deliver cardiovascular and strength gains. If you are familiar with the Tabata method (a series of exercises done at intervals such as 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off), you get the idea. There is also some overlap with CrossFit, in that the exercises rely on a limited amount of equipment and highlight body weight movement and functional fitness, as well as an emphasis on camaraderie. TM‘s goal is to eliminate the intimidation factor of CrossFit and replace it with teamwork.

Classes are programmed and designed by Tough Mudder fitness guru Eric Botsford, whom you may recognize as TM mascot and MC E-Rock.  After a quick warm up, participants are sent to one of six stations where they partner up and take turns alternating specific complementary movements. For example, one partner would do reps of throwing a medicine ball at a high target (wall ball, to the CrossFitters), while the other holds a superman stretch. After two minutes, pairs move to the next station for a different set of movements, and so on until two rounds of six stations are completed. The entire workout lasts 45 minutes, which is plenty to work up a sweat and get everyone out of breath. Between the exercises, many encouraging high fives are exchanged.

E-Rock watches your form

How does Tough Mudder apply its secret sauce to the world of fitness? Tough Mudder’s brand and corporate attitude emphasize teamwork and, yes, fun. A Tough Mudder is supposed to be fun: not easy, but enjoyable. In the same way, the classes at Tough Mudder Bootcamp emphasize working with other members of the class, and the tone is supportive. No coach is going to chastise you by shouting “drop and give me 20!”

Wall Balls in the front, Supermen on the floor

Tough Mudder also brings some other goodies to the table: data, data and more data. One selling point that potential franchisees should covet is the contact information of everyone who has ever done a Tough Mudder. These are all potential customers, who all have keen brand awareness. Tough Mudder’s marketing juggernaut is putting its weight behind this project, and its resources are at the disposal of franchise owners.

Having described what Tough Mudder Bootcamp is, I should also point out what it is not. It is not an obstacle course gym. There will be no warped walls, no dangling electric wires, and you will not see anything that resembles the world class obstacles that Tough Mudder brings to its events. That said, the exercises will have applicability to success at an obstacle course event as well as to everyday life. Of course, Bootcamp will still keep Tough Mudder events in mind: there will be periodic benchmark testing for members, and the results of those tests will yield results measured in Tough Mudder dimensions, i.e. “you are now fit enough to conquer a Half Mudder/Tough Mudder/ Toughest Mudder, etc.”

Tough Mudder Bootcamp is also not a boutique gym concept. In big cities, there are many smaller spaces that offer specialty classes at $30 or more a class. Tough Mudder Bootcamp aspires to charge roughly half of that. They also do not plan on trying to dominate the big cities, hoping instead to move into second tier markets at first (as Dean puts it, “cities where ClassPass doesn’t work”).  Indeed, it may be some time before you see a Tough Mudder Bootcamp opening up near you. Tough Mudder has a reputation of not rolling out new concepts before they are completely ready; this policy has saved it from making the mistakes other obstacle course racing companies made, to their peril. In 2017 Tough Mudder wants to open ten gyms, and it hopes to get 150 off the ground in 2018 and 350 in 2019.

Tough Mudder is looking for franchise owners. Those who are looking for the prospectus should contact Tough Mudder directly, but the headlines are that they want individuals who can finance the approximately $200,000.00 to $300,000.00 it would take to build out a space ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet. They are also looking for partners in launching their new business line, so they want people that they would like “to have dinner with”, as Dean’s team puts it.

Will Tough Mudder Bootcamp be a success? I had the pleasure of watching the concept develop and took part in several classes. I am also a fan of HIIT workouts, having tried many gyms that offer them thanks to ClassPass (I live in a city where ClassPass does work, I guess), before settling on a gym that specializes in such workouts. While I am not an exercise physiologist, from my perspective I can say that HIIT works: I get my heartrate up quickly and I am stronger because of these classes. I can also vouch for the camaraderie that can be fostered in this environment. An added bonus: these workouts are just as good for people just getting into shape as they are for the already-buff. Tough Mudder is certainly on to something.

Since Tough Mudder tests everything (I mean everything, down to the distance of the rings on the obstacles) they brought in people to a mock-up of the gym concept at their Brooklyn headquarters. They invited people who had tackled World’s Toughest Mudder, regular Legionnaires such as myself, and people who had never participated (“prospects”, in TMHQ-speak). We completed a prototype workout and, sweaty and breathless, then provided feedback. This data all got crunched until the final product emerged. Tough Mudder as a company has mastered the science of mounting mass participation events. I think that in three or four years, we will find that their roll-out has brought a Tough Mudder Bootcamp’s bright orange studio space to a neighborhood near you.