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

Parkour Strength Training – Book Review

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Parkour Strength Training: Overcome Obstacles for Fun and Fitness  is a book about training to improve the muscles and skills commonly associated with parkour movements. What is a review of a book about parkour doing on a site about obstacle course racing? The outcome of the two endeavors is different, but it turns out there is plenty of overlap in the training. Agility and strength make a huge difference when trying to get through the obstacles at a race, from climbing over walls at a Spartan Race to leaping from “lily pad” to “lily pad” at a Rugged Maniac.

Starting with the basics, let’s answer: what is parkour? While I remember some of the videos that introduced parkour to the US, what I remember most was the inevitable parkour scene in The Office.

 
As Jim Halpert helpfully describes it, “Parkour: the internet sensation of 2004… The goal is to get from point A to point B as creatively as possible.” To see people doing it right, you might try this video instead.

More accurately, parkour is “a training discipline meant to help you overcome obstacles with speed and efficiency”, according to the authors of Parkour Strength Training Ryan Ford and Ben Musholt.

Parkour-Strength-Training-book-review-1

A small excerpt from the contents list, 6 pages laid out like this

To be clear, this book is not intended to teach you parkour moves, though it may certainly inspire you to learn some. It is designed to give you the strength you need to perform those moves safely. As it turns out, the strength training you need for parkour, along with its close cousin freerunning, has much in common with the strength you need to conquer your average obstacle course.

The authors break down the physical movements used in parkour and apply their deep knowledge of physiology to develop exercises that work on the muscle groups that are most important. They also emphasize the mobility and flexibility needed to perform the movements; it takes more than just strong biceps to win races (with apologies to Hunter McIntyre ).

Readers are led through the movements and exercises with a series of photographs illustrating each movement. It is to their credit that as I read, I could imagine myself doing each exercise. In this era of visual media, it might have been easier to show rather than tell, and the authors have extensive YouTube channels that can help you: Ryan Ford here and Ben Musholt can be seen here.

Parkour Strength Training provides great structure for someone who wants to build not just strength for obstacle course races but the right kind of strength. It is also provides a good reminder to those who are trying to figure out where OCR fits among a variety of other activities: parkour, CrossFit, trail running, and even acrobatics (think American Ninja Warrior). If I had to draw a Venn diagram that connects them all, it would probably be air squats (see p. 39 of the book). In the meantime, there are plenty of other exercises I need to do before my next race (or the next time I need to escape dangerous villains across a parkour-friendly urban wasteland).

 


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Christopher Stephens

Christopher is an attorney, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, a marathoner, an open water swimmer, and a recovering Jeopardy contestant. A native New Yorker, he trains in the rugged wilderness of Central Park and can sometimes be found swimming in the Hudson. He also bakes pies. Delicious pies.
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Book Review – Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance

How to Get Lean for Peak Performance
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Preface

As a life long athlete, and distance runner, who has gone from running at 14 years old to running at 31 years old I’ve noticed many changes in my body with not all of them being so welcome. One that recently struck me was that I am now at the heaviest I have ever been. While I am by no means overweight or someone that you would see at the beach and say should lose a few pounds, I am weighing in at around 155 lb. ±3 lb. and I am 5’7″. It is also worth noting that I lift weights regularly so I’m not a typical distance runner.

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance Intro

With all of that in mind I wasn’t finding what I wanted to know about active athletes losing weight by using google as my primary research tool. Mostly what you find is a few random articles that state all people lose weight the same which is consuming less calories than you burn. It really is that simple, even at the highest level of debate and in this book the bottom line is don’t eat more than you burn.

But as a knowledge seeking individual that I am I could not accept that it was that simple.  Someone out there must know more about this topic of losing weight while not losing your fitness edge. So I bought Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance.

If what you are trying to figure by reading this review is if this book will tell you something besides the fact that you will have to restrict calories by changing your diet in some way or another – it won’t. What this book will tell you outside of the obvious is some ways to improve your diet quality. I’ll go through the three parts of the book to give you a quick idea of what you are getting into.

how-to-get-lean-for-peak-performance-review-3

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance – Part 1

To further what I just said above, you can really do yourself a favor and skip Part 1 of this book. Is is just stories and advice but nothing that you can act upon. After reading through Part 1 as soon as the book was delivered to my Kindle I almost stopped reading the book. I’m glad I didn’t because despite my general dislike for the Part 1 there is still some information that can help you in the later parts.

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance – Part 2

Part 2 is where the book starts to come alive; this section is – 6 Steps To Peak Performance. The DQS (Diet quality Score) is one of the very useful features of the book. I am very aware of what I consume but to many athletes that are not this would be a huge help. The next 4 Steps are pretty close to what you will find in many diet books with a slight nod to athletes until the last step. Step 6 – Training For Racing Weight –  is very rich with information that you won’t find outside of this book.

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance – Part 3

The final section of the book covers more on how this is a lifestyle change and not a diet. Which again is very good for the an athlete that is looking for a resource to learn more about life as distance runner. There are many examples of recipes and specific athletes daily food intake that are good suggestions for you to base your own consumption off of.

Most Highlighted Passages

I always find it very interesting to see what are the most highlighted passages in a book and thanks to Amazon Kindles Highlighters feature it’s easy to see. Check out a few of the most highlighted passages in the book:

377 Highlighters – “The best results come from a program in which roughly 80 percent of training is easy, 10 percent is moderate, and 10 percent is hard.” (p. 9). VeloPress. Kindle Edition.

330 Highlighters – I recommend that everyone, regardless of how much fish he or she eats, take a daily essential fat supplement. The two most important omega-3 fats are DHA and EPA. A daily dosage of 2 to 3 grams of EPA and DHA (combined) is recommended. (p. 105). VeloPress. Kindle Edition.how-to-get-lean-for-peak-performance-review-1

295 Highlighters  – “You will perform best and attain your racing weight quickest by maintaining a high training volume relative to your personal limits and by doing most of your training at lower intensities. ” (p. 144). VeloPress. Kindle Edition.

273 Highlighters  –  “Here’s the good news: Dark chocolate does not count as a sweet if it’s at least 80 percent cacao and eaten in small amounts (no more than 100 calories’ worth at a time). One serving a day of dark chocolate need not be scored because it contains less sugar than most sweets and is rich in heart-healthy antioxidants.”  (p. 69). VeloPress. Kindle Edition.

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance Verdict

Despite what I said at the beginning of the review I ended up being a bit more sold on the book by part 3 of it. “How to Get Lean for Peak Performance” is for most athletes looking to learn more about functional fitness weight management. But I can’t stress this enough, if you are someone that is well read and understands food this book won’t be of as much help to you. It has useful in depth knowledge that doesn’t exist in any other book to date; besides his previous book on the topic – “Racing Weight”. If purchased along with some of Matt’s other books with recipes and the like it can be even more helpful to get you on your way to your ideal racing weight.


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Christopher Stephens

Christopher is an attorney, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, a marathoner, an open water swimmer, and a recovering Jeopardy contestant. A native New Yorker, he trains in the rugged wilderness of Central Park and can sometimes be found swimming in the Hudson. He also bakes pies. Delicious pies.
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