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

Rea Kolbl – The Ascent (Pro Recap)

WEST VIRGINIA RACE (AND A SHORT US CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES) RECAP

By Rea Kolbl

Rea-Kolbl-crosses-first-in-West-Virginia

For many racers, the season started in Seattle. But for me, due to excitement from joining the Pro Team and not being able to wait for the Championship series to begin, it started a few months before in December where I went to all the west coast Spartan Races I could get to by car.

I managed to win most of them which gave me a false sense of confidence that I could win them all; it gave my fans the confidence that I could beat them all. And with that came the expectation that the Seattle race was mine to win. But this couldn’t be further from what actually happened; I barely caught the top five, more of a disappointment to me than I was willing to admit. And although I’m known to race with a smile, I spent a good chunk of that weekend in tears, and Bun barely managed to convince me that it’s okay not to win all the races. That it’s okay just to be happy for others, and that this is not the end of my racing career.

New Mindset

So eventually, I came to terms with that too; I realized that my worst mistake was trying to beat the others, and in the process, I lost to myself. So I made a promise to myself that for the rest of the series, I will run my own race, cheer on the others, and be happy on the course and after the race, no matter the outcome. And so the climb began, both literally, and figuratively. Over the next three races, my performance steadily improved, and I did manage to hit the podium twice, being quite happy the first time it happened in Palmerton (I cried there again, but this time they were tears of joy; although the volunteers at the finish line were quite puzzled whether or not they should call a medic for help).

Rea-Kolbl-Carrying-the-sandbag-at-West-Virginia-Beast

So I went from the 5th place in points back in contention for the three podium spots. But the rankings were so close! Alyssa (Hawley), Nicole (Mericle), and I were separated by a point, and I was in the middle. With the West Virginia race being the tiebreaker, this meant that our relative positions at that race would also determine our rankings for the whole series. And that mattered, a lot. I knew just how high the stakes were, and I’d say about 80% of the nights leading to the race consisted of dreams where I was running the race. So by the time I showed up to the venue, I was ready. I don’t think I’ve ever been so determined to give a race everything I’ve got, and I think that made all the difference.

West Virginia Beast

The West Virginia Beast started as usual, with Nicole breaking out of the start line and setting the pace. But I was surprised at how quickly I caught her. Then the hills started, my favorite, and I knew that I would be first to the summit.

By the way, if you raced, I hope you took a moment to look around on top of the Stairway to Sparta; that view was quite unlike any other. We could see for miles!! And with the morning clouds hovering around the surrounding valleys, it was hard not to be taken in by just how beautiful the landscape was that we were racing in. 

But then the down hills began, and the whole time I was waiting for Lindsay (Webster) to catch up. It was such a surprise that I was still in the lead, coming back down to the venue. I lost my lead missing the spear, which gave Nicole about a 30-second lead. Normally, I would be really bummed having to do burpees, but this was the first race where I accounted for that possibility. And when my 30 (32 actually, just to be safe) burpees were over, I was ready to run. To run even harder than I did before, and to do everything I could to catch Nicole. In a sense, chasing is so much easier than leading, at least for me. And once we were on top of that last hill, Nicole and I were neck to neck. Then the descent started.

Racing Nicole

I knew Nicole was faster than me on the obstacles, so I had one chance to take the lead I would need to come out of that final gauntlet in first. So I sprinted faster than I ever sprinted on trails before. And the whole time I was hoping that Lindsay and Nicole were not going to catch me. It felt like one of those nature shows where a gazelle is chased by a pride of lions. Then the Twister. And I still had the lead. Herc hoist; and I was still in first. Olympus and no one had passed me. Then came the multi rig, my arch nemesis, also again right by the finish line.

During the series, I lost a place just yards from the finish line in three out of four races. In Seattle I slipped to 5th doing burpees, in Monterey Alyssa flew by me as I was hanging awkwardly on a rope at the rig, and in Asheville my slow and steady through Twister was a little too slow and too steady, costing me the win as Lindsay took the gauntlet by storm. All of that was going through my head as I was starting the rig. There were no ropes this time, just rings, bar, and back to rings. But that bar was pretty up high, and the first time I reached for it I missed it, and I started spinning instead of swinging, struggling to hold on.

Rea-Kolbl-on-the-Rig

As I was stuck on that ring and Nicole was catching up (I probably had about a 30 second lead coming into the gauntlet), all of the races where I lost places right there, yards before the finish line, replayed in my head. And there was just no way I was going to let that happen again. So I finished. I caught the bar, crossed the rest of the rig, and rang the bell. Still in first. I couldn’t believe it… I was clear of the obstacles, yards from the finish line, and still in first. Which also meant second in the US Championship Series. I made it.

Words of Gratitude

It seems like I lost in Seattle because I won so many races before; and I won in West Virginia because I lost everywhere else. My weaknesses made me strong when it mattered the most. Thanks to all my sponsors who helped me come out of this in one piece. Thanks to Reebok for making sure I was running in OCR shoes this season, with proper gear all around. Thanks to Brave Soldier for their support after each race, and for choosing me to help represent their brand. Thanks to King’s Camps and Fitness for letting me train in their gym – there’s no way I would be able to hold on to that rig if it wasn’t for all of Mike’s workouts at his open gym. He also taught me the J-hook! No more legless rope climbs guys!! Thanks to Dr. Eva Chiu from Bayside Chiropractic for keeping my back in one piece, which is quite a task given how much of a beating it takes on a daily basis. And most importantly, huge thanks to Bunsak, whose support made my dark days brighter and my good days even more amazing.

Now bring it on, Tahoe!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.

 

Spartan Race Sprint at West Point 2017 – Showing Grit Where Military Heroes Are Made

Being a 3-year OCR veteran, I find myself part of multiple teams.  The New England Spahtens is the team nearest and dearest to my heart and is like family to me.  But there are instances when some of us in NES run with another team, RWB, Red White and Blue, which serves to enrich veterans lives by making social and physical activities available to veterans to mingle with civilians to help the veterans integrate back into society.

My father-in-law is a Vietnam veteran, so the opportunity to run this Spartan race in his honor with others from RWB and at our nation’s premier Army Military Academy, West Point, was truly a privilege.

Pre-Race Impressions

We got an early start since our wave time was 9:15.  We knew the shuttle would be 20-30 min overall and planned on an extra hour to account for check in, bag drop, and taking in the sights as well as warming up and a team picture at 8:45.  I even had the opportunity to say hello to and shake the hand of the author of our pain and torture, “Woody,” who has taken over from Norm Koch as Spartan’s race director.

Arriving in the shuttle parking lot at approximately 7:15, the line was slow but not long.  There were available buses waiting and boarded right away.  This was not the case a short while later according to other team members who had later start times.  And when we left the venue, our wait in the shuttle line was 30-40 minutes.  To our surprise, arriving back at the parking lot later, we saw at least a half dozen empty buses sitting in the lot not doing anything.  Spartan knew they had over 8k people signed up to race and maybe that was too many.

Check in at that time of the morning was fairly smooth with 10-15 minutes of waiting, with a similar experience and less waiting at the bag check area where our bags were hung on fencing, perhaps not as efficient as the shelving they have at some venues. Signage directing us to the start line was obvious and Spartan did a good job piquing the interest of spectators by placing a couple of obstacles, Olympus and A-Frame Cargo, obstacles 4 and 5, right across from the start line.

An Honored Warrior

After the team picture, while waiting to get in the starting corral, we witnessed what had to be one of the most touching moments of the day when a WW2 veteran was hoisted in a chair mounted to a huge litter and carried by 6 younger Marine veterans.  They continued to carry him through the entire 4-mile course with the exception of the steeper climbs through the woods.  It was truly an honor to witness living history!

WW2-Vet-Waving

 

Off And Running

After a start line send-off from Dustin Doroughs, an OCR emcee veteran and one of the best in the business, who got our hearts pumping and spirits roaring, we took off.

After a short 1/4 mile run we met with the first and second obstacles which were the standard Overwalls and then Over, Under, and Through walls, followed 1/4 mile later with Hurdles or as we like to call them, short Irish tables.

The course so far had been dry as there had been no rain, and the rest of the course remained largely that way aside from a couple of small damp dirt areas.  We then came upon the Olympus and A-Frame Cargo obstacles in short order, and I found that the instructional videos Spartan has online for Olympus really helped as I completed that obstacle for the first time without help.  Those chains hurt though!

But the backup we were to experience at some obstacles throughout the race began with the A-Frame Cargo. It was just sheer numbers and the different abilities of everyone that contributed to the delay.

A-Frame-Crowd

The First Obstacles

 It was nearly a flat mile later that we arrived at the first heavy carry of the day and the first serious elevation gain with the sandbag carry.  While the men’s weight felt lighter than I’m used to, making me take two, I began to regret that decision halfway through the carry loop because the one bag kept falling off my shoulders.  But I soldiered on and after the sandbags, we met with yet another 6 ft wall, something Spartan seems to rely heavily on making them seem predictable.

Monkey bars came next, and it was nice to see multiple elevation changes in the bars adding a great challenging element making you focus even more.   A stone’s throw after was the inverted wall followed by a 7 ft wall a half mile later.  Placement of that wall was questionable since it was parallel with the elevation of the hillside causing the wall to be at an angle and not level which posed a potentially undue safety issue.  Most people seemed to adapt nonetheless, even an RWB teammate for whom this was his first OCR and gladly accepted our help getting him over it.

The Bucket Brigade, or as it’s called in the Spartan vernacular Sucket Carry, was next and what was surprising was that it was completely flat with no elevation gain at all.  However, it was the LONGEST bucket carry I’ve ever experienced at an estimated 1/3 of a mile.

Bucket-Carry-Long-Shot

Bucket-Carry-Loading

Now that your arms, shoulders, and back were shot, what came next was Spartan’s new signature obstacle, the Twister, a horizontal cylinder with a helix of handles attached that turns every time you grab the next handle.  It has frustrated MANY people in its debut season this year, and this was to be the third time I faced it but the first time I completed it.

 

Monkey-Bars-2

Obstacles at West Point

Obstacles came more rapid fire now that the finish was near.  The Vertical Cargo Net was next, and this was another one where overcrowding became an issue with a wait to do the obstacle and the fact that so many people were on it at the same time that there was a noticeable but slight sway once on top.  It was not too concerning, but not being an engineer, I began to wonder how close we were to the limits of the sturdy and well-anchored construction of the obstacle.  Rope climb was next with dry ropes which I descended too quickly and got a small rope burn on my thumb.

Then came the Rolling Mud.  It was disappointing because much of the water in each of the three pits had drained into the ground below.  More had been carried by runners as runoff on the mounds after each pit making the descent into each successive pit very steep and slippery.  Even more disappointing was the traditional dunk wall at the end of this obstacle where the water level was 6 + inches about the water’s surface.  Most disappointing was the lack of the traditional photographer on the other side of the dunk wall.

Next up was the Atlas Carry.  Aside from the challenge of picking up and carrying the heavy concrete ball, you also had to make sure the ball didn’t roll away downhill as the obstacle was on a slope and not level ground.

The Multi Rig followed though it was only rings, an obstacle that I have mastered and completed easily.  While there was a crowd of people at the beginning of it, most were simply observing and devising a strategy or technique of doing it.  There were several lanes available to those of us who simply wanted to walk up to it and do it.

After this was the dreaded spear throw.  I’m 50/50 on this one, and while my throw was level and strong, it went well past the target about 6″ to the right.  Otherwise, I would’ve nailed it.  It was my only obstacle of the day where I honorably joined several fellow Spartans in the Burpee Zone.

The Herc Hoist was next and was one of the last 4 obstacles of the course and one of the ones where spectators had set up lawn chairs to watch the action.  Then came one of the longest and most deceiving barbed wire crawls I’ve ever done.  Aside from being easier because it was on grass, the path appeared to end up ahead, but then took a cruel turn to the left and ended up being twice as long as everyone thought.  A slip wall followed this and then the traditional and much-anticipated fire jump with the finish immediately after.

Off the Course

The medals were special to this series and the neck strap was the part that said West Point on it.  The finisher shirt was standard, but they had a sweet venue shirt which was a full on tech moisture-wicking shirt with graphics specific to West Point.  We bought those before we even started as they sold out quickly.

West-Point-Finisher-Medals

There was a fun looking kids course that smartly ran alongside the last section of the adult course, a couple of restored military vehicles, a couple of food vendors and hardly any other vendors aside from the Border Patrol tents and Military recruiting tents.  The showers were not cold and the changing tents were dark and sauna like.  Getting our bag at bag check too a little longer than dropping it off, but not too unreasonable.

The Downside

The worst part of the day was waiting in line for the shuttle for 45+ minutes.  We felt lucky later after hearing other teammates reporting waiting an hour and a half.  That’s just inexcusable.  It was also disappointing at the almost complete lack of military personnel presence anywhere at the venue aside from a couple of MP’s.  It would’ve been nice to see some cadets manning the obstacles or handing out medals at the finish line.

Overall, we had a great time and enjoyed the challenge of the race for what it was.  If Spartan has a race at West Point next year, we will be back!

Spartan Race Calgary 2017

Calgary Spartan Race (24)

By Glenn Hole with contributions from Ashley Bender. The Calgary Spartan Race.

Tired. Overdone. Flat. Boring. Fast (pejoratively), too muddy, not long enough, bad festival area, no spectator views, bad parking arrangements. I wouldn’t do it again. How would they run a super on this postage stamp sized area?

These are some of the comments I have seen on social media and from friends within the OCR community in Alberta, Canada.

Calgary Spartan Race (6)

As you can tell, the Calgary Spartan Race has a mixed reputation in Alberta. Unlike its more scenic cousin, Red Deer, the Calgary venue is not much to look at. It’s a worn motocross circuit. At times it is extremely dusty, at others it is prone to getting so muddy that it can be a frustrating experience to even try and complete the course. Historically the festival area has also been pretty grim underfoot, with limited vantage points for spectators.

There seemed to be a clear divide in the quality and style of the races we would find in Canada versus the ones we would experience in the USA. Calgary was part of that divide.

Thankfully Spartan Race Canada has been thinking hard about how to improve the Western Canadian Spartan Race scene. The standard is now higher. The obstacles are tough and varied. The festival area was now fantastically laid out and clear of mud. It was easy to see some of the key obstacles from the sidelines. The parking was fine. The check in was busy but efficient. For those who attended the race for the first time this year, they got as true an introduction to Spartan as you would find anywhere in North America.

One Problem

There is one thing I need to get out of the way before I get to the good stuff about Spartan Canada. My one pet peeve about the Spartan Race format is the high entry fees for spectators. $15 to WATCH a Spartan Race feels a little steep – it’s a little better now you can actually SEE what is going on during the race compared to last year, but I brought 5 adults with me to watch and they were all a little frustrated with the collective entry fee of $75.

Now, I felt that the race was spectacular, and I’m not saying I understand the economics of these races. There are costs to cover overhead to reach. All I know is that spectators are free of charge at many other races and that most other races tend to have more for spectators to do during the event.

I understand the need for paid parking spots and that carpooling can improve things, but OCR isn’t much of a spectator sport. Rugged Maniac, Mud Hero, Muddy Warrior and X Warrior Challenge, for example, have a free spectator policy. Rugged even has a full stage program with entertaining events and competitions running all day. For $15 I expect more. 

Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about the awesome action out on course.

Stats

The Spartan Race weekend began with the sprint distance on Saturday. Clocking in at 6.8 instead of the usual 4km that has been common over the years. The Super on Sunday came in at just under 11 km, which is remarkable given the size of the area. Check out the two maps we have on Strava showing the course and the layout.

Super flyby

Sprint Flyby

What to Expect

Calgary starts with a swooping vertical drop onto a wide dusty track. It’s easy to find your pace without bottlenecking. The course winds around like a game of snake, covering every lump and bump available across the track – with much of the action in good view of the festival area. The trail itself looks like a brain from above!

This is a race course that cultivates speed. There isn’t really a chance for any kind of relief or steady pace. It’s never truly flat, and what the course lacks in sustained vertical distance it makes up with the sheer number of short sharp climbs and controlled falls downhill. Some of the inclines and drop offs were more like scrambles at a 60-degree angle! The bucket carry and 50lb sandbag carry were both found on these incredibly steep sections. Even the tractor pull took place over a series of small whoops, rather than a typical flat course. For a course without any natural hills, it punched well above its weight and height; the sprint clocked 384 m elevation gain and loss while the super delivered 599 m elevation gain and loss.

Highlights

Barbed Wire from Hell

Barbed Wire

This year we were treated to a super long barbed wire crawl near the start of the race. The barbed wire was low to the ground and the crawl was cratered with watery troughs that made rolling extremely difficult. The entire route was split down the middle, turning back on itself halfway through. A lot of us didn’t see that coming. Well played.

The Stunt Park

After a grueling set of climbs and descents along the west side of the arena, we crested a hill and entered my favourite part of this race. The stunt park. It’s where dirt bikers practice balance and jumping from one rock to another.

The area is full of raised logs, drop offs, boulder piles, almost vertical climbs, and balance beams. To run on, it’s dynamic and challenging, requiring fast feet, concentration, flexibility, agility, speed, and the cardiovascular capacity of a racehorse. You get the idea. It’s by far the most effective use of embedded obstacles I’ve ever seen in a race. The section left me feeling like a superhero.

Olympus

I love this obstacle and I was so pleased to see it there again. It wasn’t particularly hard this time (if in doubt, just use the round holes instead of the chains or the climbing grips), but it’s a nice challenge and it feels great to complete it.

Faye Olympus

Tyrolean

The old ankle biter was back with a vengeance on the Super, but not for the Sprint.

Atlas Carry

A heavy Atlas Carry was added for the Super on Sunday. 5 burpees were performed at the halfway mark.

Sled Pull and Drag

The heavy sled pull was back for both races again. Again, I love the fact that competing at Spartan requires a lot of different training modalities.

Sled Drag

The Dirt

A big mud trap and a couple of short swims also were featured later in the race. They were effective at breaking down the pace of faster runners while becoming a source of muddy mayhem for more casual runners. Mud is great as an obstacle, but it can also make a race into an unpleasant experience if the entire race is too muddy. This year we had dry weather leading up to the race, so the mud was not an issue. 

Rolling Mud

Extended Bucket Carry for the Super

The bucket carry was even longer for the Super, creating somewhat of a death-march type situation.

Bucket Carry

Conclusion

The feeling of accomplishment in finishing strong on my particular race was really worth the effort. I know Ashley (who provided additional information for me about the Super) also finished first in her age group. Everyone who ran and attempted either of the Spartan races in Calgary this year should be very proud. It was the most challenging and interesting Spartan Sprint Calgary has seen to date and the Super was a huge success and an appropriate step up in difficulty over the Sprint. Overall I would say the event was a success in terms of reinventing the Spartan race in Calgary. I reached out to Johnny Waite, the new race director of Spartan race Canada,

“I am very proud of what our team is achieving with our reboot of the Canadian market, and it means a lot that the work is appreciated and acknowledged. As I said at the podium presentation, Canadians are among the very best obstacle racers in the world and we are committed to giving them some of the very best races in the world. (And, we are having fun doing it too!!)”

Keep it up guys!

Photo credits. Gamefacemedia. Johnny Waite (instagram) and Spartan Race Canada (Facebook)

Toughest Mudder Midwest… It’s Colder Than You Think!

Rockford, IL is the location for the Toughest Midwest. Being that it’s summer in the Midwest… It’s going to be hot, right? Not so fast there, Speed Racer! Actually, Northern Illinois can get a bit chilly this time of year.

The current forecast notwithstanding, you are looking at a much colder feel for Toughest Midwest than we felt in Atlanta for Toughest South even though the current AccuWeather forecast shows pretty much identical weather for this upcoming race. Now before everyone gets their panties in a bunch let me explain why this will be the case.

Me @ Toughest South

Training for the Cold

Many of the participants at this event have been training in the dead of Summer. In the US, the average temperature for most places is likely in the low to mid-80s during the day with low temperatures in the low 70s at night. As I prepared for toughest South I was doing most of my running and training in the cold of winter in the Midwest. This means colder running temperatures as well as colder water during my submersion training.

Basically, my body was getting used to an event in the cold even though I was racing and Atlanta where it would prove to be much warmer. It’s going to be the opposite case at Toughest Midwest. For this event, participants have acclimated to warm-weather training and racing during the summer months. Now racers will most likely face a much colder environment than they’ve acclimated too and there will be no opportunity for the sun to help keep stave off hypothermia.

Prevent Hypothermia

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will have issues with the temperatures. People who live in the northern US will be much more used to the weather. Hopefully, those who have been in a much warmer climate throughout the summer will have planned a way to train in cold water.

My Battle Corps teammate, Kelly Dzierzynski, scheduled a trip to Southern Wisconsin this week that is actually part of her training for what will be her initial go at a Toughest event. “I’ve had issues with hypothermia at OCRs in the past so I’m not taking anything for granted. I’ve been subjecting myself to progressively longer early morning submersions in Lake Michigan when the air temps are in the 60’s like they are supposed to be on the night of the race. Then, in between submersions while I’m still soaking wet, I have been throwing in some bear crawls, and running in the sand while dealing with that wind coming off the lake. Since this is all new to me I want to be ready for anything!”

Kelly Dzierzynski in Lake Michigan

A lot of you Mudders out there aren’t as fortunate as Kelly, so you will have to be more creative with you preparation. Now my World’s Toughest Mudder brethren out there can see what’s coming… The following are some tried and true recommendations that many of us use in preparation for the granddaddy of all obstacle course races so I suggest putting these into play for this “baby brother” version of that event.

Training

– Start taking cold showers or ice baths ASAP!

– Run cold/wet. If the weather isn’t that cold then get wet and run in the early morning to ensure you are facing the lowest temperature possible.

– When you do your “wet runs” do so in clothing that will not dry quickly (cotton, etc).

– Turn the air down in your house or at the office and wear minimal clothing. Get comfortable being uncomfortable!

– Find a largest/deepest body of water near you in which to swim (deeper water will be cooler).

 

Race Prep

– Bring your wetsuit/shorty.

– Pack your Neptune Thermoregulation System or Frog Skins, or Hyperflex Vest, shorty wetsuit or whatever you have to use as transition gear.

– Don’t forget your windbreaker. This should almost be a required item!

– Bring your Dry Robe (just in case).

Evan Perperis @ Toughest NE

Wetsuit Optional (Or Is It?)

As a veteran of five World’s Toughest Mudders and one Toughest Mudder, I have learned through my experience that you need to come to a race like this prepared for anything. You need to bring most, if not all, of your gear and have a plan in place to deal with pretty much whatever mother nature throws your way whether that be a sand storm in Vegas or a rain storm in Rockford.

WTMer, Evan Perperis finished 7th at the Toughest Northeast race has a similar philosophy, “I always bring a lot of options to the Pit and then make a game-time decision. My choices range from just shorts with no shirt and then adding various accessories like a hat or hood or maybe my Neptune shirt all the way to a full wetsuit.”

Funny thing…There is an ongoing joke in the World’s Toughest Community, “no wetsuit necessary.” This refers to the poor souls who show up to WTM without a wetsuit. While a wetsuit isn’t necessarily required for this event I definitely wouldn’t underestimate the variability of MidWestern weather patterns. However, if you do come unprepared and need some help come find me in the Pit. I’ll be crewing for a few people but I’m happy to lend a hand!

Photo Credits: Tough Mudder, Battle Corps, Subjects’ Own

Conquer The Gauntlet Iowa: The Good, The Bad, and the Awesomely Difficult

This was my first Conquer the Gauntlet and I’d heard a lot about it, especially the difficulty of the obstacles, which made me put this race on my must-do list for this year’s race season.

The Good

This is a family owned, family run, race series and feels that way.  The festival area had plenty of room and plenty of places to sit, but not a whole lot of things other than people cheering on runners, warming up or getting a beer, and talking about the brutal race they just conquered. All of the staff I met were the friendliest people you could imagine, and they all genuinely cared about making this race awesome.

The starting line speech kept with the “local” family feel.  Conquer the Gauntlet didn’t hire Coach Payne or some other hype man for some ridiculous sum.  One of the staff in the bed of a truck yelled out the rules for certain obstacles, told us it was “complete it or lose your belt, no burpees, no body-builders.  “We do obstacles, not exercises!” We walked up to the start line, got a count down, and then we were off.  No hype man needed.Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Slackline

The course was mostly flat with some small hills at the end and one short steep climb out of the creek.  The obstacles were no joke, they were the hardest set of obstacles I’ve faced at any OCR.  Most obstacles were grip strength/body weight oriented and some rather challenging balance obstacles including a slackline.  Only three obstacles relied on brute strength, one of which was an interesting take on the sled pull.  A crank pulling a 150-pound sled towards you then you had to drag the sled by hand back to its starting position.   Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Crank-It-Up

 

The Bad

While the obstacles were amazing, there were a few problems, the Z-beam (which was made of 3 ten foot 2x6s set up on the narrow side at right angles to each other) had 4 lanes but were not secured properly when I went through. Only two lanes were open due to the 2×6’s having fallen over on the other two lanes.  The volunteer said that someone was coming to fix it asap.

I was in the first elite heat in the middle of the pack at that time, so there was a minimal build-up of people waiting.  The only other negative about the race would be that the Conquer The Gauntlet website said that all competitors would get a “too-fit shaker bottle” but Too-Fit didn’t show up to the event. I’ve seen this happen at other events and I can’t blame Conquer The Gauntlet for a sponsor not showing up.

 

The Awesomely Difficult

One word – Pegatron – A beastly horizontal peg board.  The first section has foot holds then the foot holds disappear and you have to rely on grip and shoulders and core to carry you across the gap.  I have a horizontal peg board in my basement at home which I can do pretty well.  This board was much different.

The holes are spaced wide enough that you have to go up and down rows making you use more of your muscles than if you could move across a single row.  The pegs were an eighth inch smaller than the holes making the pegs fit into the holes easily but also making it easy for the pegs to slip right out and put you in the dirt if you didn’t put enough weight on them.

Coming into Pegatron I was toward the front of the pack of elites but fell behind as it took 5 tries to finally get it.  I saw more people throw down their elite belts than I saw beat the obstacle.  Conquer The Gauntlet says it only has a 19% success rate.  It is an amazing obstacle and I loved that CTG has the guts to put in obstacles most people won’t beat and will give even the elite athletes a run for their money.


Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Pegatron

More of the Awesomely Difficult

Conquer The Gauntlet had three other extremely challenging obstacles. Stairway to heaven, a set of stairs your climb from underneath much like the devil steps in American Ninja Warrior. This is another obstacle I have at home which turned out quite different on the race course, but these steps are steep with gaps of over a foot between each step.  Placed not too far after Pegatron and a brute strength obstacle, forearms were still burning but the sight of the nasty green water below gave me the strength to conquer it.  They followed this with a rope climb just a few feet away.Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Stairway-To-Heaven

At the end of the race, you were greeted by an 8-foot wall. This would be no problem, except after that 8-foot wall was another, and another and another and one more for good measure. Then it was time for some monkey bars. These aren’t your typical monkey bars.  Yes, they are setup in an ascending/descending formation like so many other race series.  The tricky bit though is that every other bar was not fixed and spun when you grabbed it and transferred your weight. The monkey bars are usually a very easy obstacle for me, but going up these was certainly challenging.  Volunteering after my race I got to witness countless people hit the water after grabbing those spinning bars.Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Monkey-Bars

Conclusion

All in all, this was an amazing race that I will absolutely do again (in a heartbeat) and would recommend to every OCR enthusiast out there.  If you live within the touring range of Conquer The Gauntlet this should be a must-do race.  If you don’t live in the area that CTG goes, I suggest you sign up early and make some travel plans.  They may not have huge endorsement deals or fancy multi-race marketing schemes but Conquer The Gauntlet has challenging, innovative obstacles and they put on one hell of a brutal race.

 

 

All photos courtesy of Conquer The Gauntlet and Run and Shoot Freelance Collective