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.

 

America’s Toughest Mudder South – Broadcast Review

Welcome to Atlanta, home of hills, humidity, and thick mud!!!

The America’s Toughest Mudder – South is the second in a series of regional events in which the participants hope to win an elite spot at the 2017 World’s Toughest Mudder.  They also hope to earn some dollars for their effort. The 1st place men’s and women’s finisher will each get $5,000, and the first person to do 50 miles during the event also gets $5,000.

Taking place just south of Atlanta at the beautiful Bouckaert Farms, local obstacle racers are familiar with this location having been the Atlanta home of Tough Mudder for a many years now.

The show started off with a recap of the first race of the series that took place in LA just a month earlier. In that race, Ryan Atkins and Lindsay Webster finished on top, and they were back in Atlanta hoping to meet again atop the podium.

Unlike LA, the course in Atlanta has a couple of things that could be a game changer… mud and humidity. While the event took place at night, it was about 76 degrees with about 80% humidity. That can take a lot out of a participant. And then add in mud that bogs down your legs, and can make the effort to run even that much more difficult. Yes, this was not going to be an easy event for anyone.

The course in Atlanta consisted of two 5-mile loops. Loop 1 the racers will run on from 12am to 4am. Then they switch over to Loop 2 from 4am to 8am. Each loop presenting it’s own challenges. The Mud Mile 2.0 on loop one proved to be one of the most daunting obstacles.

Much like the first episode, the show focused primarily on the elite races, but at the halfway mark of the show, they did a short feature on local racer, “Blind” Pete Cossaboon. In one shot he can be seen wearing his GORMR shirt, making all of us on the GORMR team proud.  Pete does not allow his blindness to get in the way of enjoying life and getting dirty on the course. He is an inspiration to all that see him on and off the course. By the way, Pete finished 330th out of 444 finishers.

Also making an impressive appearance in Atlanta was first time Tough Mudder KC Northup. KC managers to come in 4th overall in the female finishers category snagging an elite entry into the Worlds Toughest Mudder later this year in Las Vegas.

There were a total of 444 participants that completed the course in Atlanta. The top 5 finishers were;

WOMEN’S

  1. Lindsay Webster – With an impressive 45 miles completed *
  2. Allison Tai *
  3. Alex Roudayna *
  4. KC Northup
  5. Sara Knight *

MEN’S

  1. Ryan Atkins finishing with 50 miles *
  2. Ryan Wood
  3. Luke Bosek
  4. Tyler Nash
  5. Van Tran
* Previous Qualifier

We saw 5 new racers qualify for the Worlds Toughest Mudder 2017 in Las Vegas.

In closing, I want to give a shout out to the oldest racers at the event. Local racers and Grey Berets, Scott Bennet, 59 and Richie Taylor, 58 came in first and second for the 55-59 group and were among the oldest male finishers at the event. And congrats to Lauren Andrews, the oldest female finisher at the age of 53. While many people think you have to be young to compete, these participants show us all that age is just a number.

Next up, America’s Toughest Mudder – Northeast, from the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia.

Photos Courtesy of CBS Sports, Tough Mudder 2017, and Gameface Media, Inc. All rights reserved

Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint #1 – Going Up?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Twister

Last year, I ran my first ever Spartan Race at the Blue Mountain Sprint in Palmerton, PA. Whenever I told someone that, their response was along the lines of, “Well, you picked a heck of a race to start with.” See, Palmerton has a reputation. The word infamous comes to mind. The climbs are long and steep. And, with an NBC Series Super only the day before, Sprint racers could expect a difficult course on Sunday.

THE FESTIVAL AND PARKING

Out of the handful of OCR races I’ve been to, Spartan has had the largest festival area. Although, it’s worth noting that I have not been to a Tough Mudder yet. And I’m not sure if Palmerton’s festival is larger because of the NBC race on Saturday, but there was plenty of space and plenty of vendors. I have heard that the line to park can grow long as the day goes, but early in the day it took no more than a few minutes to get in. Check in was simple as well and the lines moved quickly.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Men-Start

THE HILLS

Maybe “hill” is an understatement. Palmerton offers a straight up mountain course for anyone willing. The Sprint course only has one climb to the top of Blue Mountain, whereas the Super had two. This may lead you to think that the ascent on the course wouldn’t be too bad then. If you were there, then you know that’s wrong.

First off, my GPS watch thought the course was about half a mile longer than it was. I’m chalking that up to the climbs. Overall, it logged a total of 1,755 ft of ascent. On a course that was roughly 4.5-4.75 miles, that’s almost 400 ft per mile. Checking my splits, not a single mile averaged a descending number. In fact, each mile had over 125 ft of ascent. So, even when coming down the mountain, you were still going up. Mind blowing, right?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Map

THE COURSE

The layout of the course was pretty similar to 2016. Some thought that was going to be a negative, but with some of the minor route differences and new obstacles, I thought they improved on last year’s design.

Racers start out with a short climb up a snow tubing hill, followed almost immediately by a longer climb up a couple skiing hills. Almost the entire first mile is making your way up the mountain. Total ascent on the first mile is over 750 ft. The extended climb, with minimal obstacles, allowed for a spread out field.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Atlas-Carry

THE OBSTACLES

Spartan included many of its new obstacles, such as Twister and Olympus, plus several classics. One I expected to see, but didn’t, was the monkey bars. They were included in the section of the Super course that veers from the Sprint course, along with Z-Walls and a few others. The layout of the obstacles was pretty spot on. The hurdles and walls were mainly early, with the tougher obstacles coming after the mile-long climb to the top. Once the top was reached, racers almost immediately were faced with the Atlas Carry.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Ape-Hanger

A couple permanent Palmerton obstacles reappeared, of course, as well. First was the swim through Blue Mountain’s pond. A life jacket was optional for the Sprint (the day before it was mandatory for Super racers). Shortly thereafter, competitors had to try their grip strength on Ape Hanger, just shy of 4 miles in.

There were two heavy carries on the course: single sandbag carry and bucket carry. The hill that the sandbag carry was steep enough that many racers were walking. The earlier waves were told that it was a bit slippery from the overnight dew and were advised to be extra cautious. The Multi-Rig was all rings, but no bell. Instead, after swinging to the final ring, racers had to transition onto, then over the ladder wall. It didn’t add much difficulty, but was a nice little curveball to keep Spartans on their toes. Twister was saved for the final 100 yards, so that the only obstacles left on the downhill finish were Dunk Wall and Fire Jump.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Women-Finishers

THE FINISH

A volunteer awards you with a medal and even a hug as soon as you finish. One thing Spartan is great at is post-race snacks. Even though I didn’t plan on having much more than water, I grabbed each of three Clif Bar flavors, a banana, some organic chocolate milk and, of course, a cup of water. Once you’re done stocking up and leave the finisher’s corral, the finisher’s shirt pick-up is right there.

Another worthy note is that many Elite/Pro racers from Saturday stuck around for Sunday’s Sprint. Ryan Atkins, Ian Hosek and Angel Quintero took top 3 for the men, with Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning finishing on top for the women.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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The Ultimate Beastmaster

Ok boys and girls.. What do you get when you cross American Ninja Warriors with the Olympics? You get The Ultimate Beastmaster, a new show available only on Netflix. Premiering on February 24th, this show came across my radar so I decided to see what it was all about and share my findings with you all. One of the first things I noticed was that Sylvester Stallone is the executive producer of the show. Hmm, why does this not give me confidence?

Basically we have contestants from 6 countries, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico. South Korea and The United States. But wait, there’s more.. the show has 6, count’em 6, county-specific versions, each with their own hosts. So not only do we as the US audience have the US hosts, Terry Crews and Charissa Thompson, but we snippets of the host from the other 5 countries, Anderson Silva and Rafinha Bastos (Brazil); Seo Kyung Suk and Park Kyeong Rim (South Korea); Ines Sainz and Luis Ernesto Franco (Mexico); Hans Sarpei and Luke Mockridge (Germany); and Sayaka Akimoto and Yuji Kondo (Japan.)

There are 4 levels of the course within the “Beast.” And yes, the course from the outside looks like a giant chinese mechanized dragon. The contestants move thorough the levels by finishing among the top at each level. Level 1 starts with 12 contestants (2 per country) and the top 8 finishers move onto Level 2. The top 5 contestants from level 2 move onto level 3, also known as the Energy Pyramid. And the top 2 contestants from that level move onto the final level 4, known as the The Power Source. With all scores wiped out at this level, the person that scores the most points during this level wins the title of Beastmaster.

The Beastmaster’s from each episode meet in the season finale in the hopes of becoming “The Ultimate Beastmaster.”

The athletes come from various sports; triathletes, rock climbers, gymnast, military, an NFL player, parkour athletes, who I would think would excel on this type of course, crossfit instructors, Olympic swimmer Ed Moses from the 2000 Summer Olympics where he won a gold and silver medal (and at the age of 35, one of the oldest contestants on the show), and yes, even an Obstacle Course Racer, Shaun Provost, seen in episode 1.

The first thing I DID NOT like about the show is the fact they they released all 10 episodes at one time. Really Netflix, while that may be good for shows such as Daredevil and Luke Cage, it does not seem like a smart move to give viewers the ability to skip all 9 episodes and get right to the season finale.

I have never been a fan of the American Ninja Warrior shows, finding them a bit too cheesy for me. But the Ultimate Beastmaster is cheesier than the Hickory Farms kiosk at the mall during Christmas. The host do nothing for the show other than to act as glorified national cheerleaders. And having 6 different hosts teams (yes, we see all 6 of the county host teams at various times throughout the show) just added to it. And to have the water colored red and called “beast blood.” Seriously!

Another thing that irked me was that during some of the shows, some of the contestants who started later in the flow of  the 1st level knew they had enough points to advance so they purposely failed an obstacle. While this may seem like a strategy for keeping healthy for the other levels, I felt like as an audience member I was being cheated in some way. I mean just imagine if an Olympic runner started to walk during a race because he know that the other contestants had fallen down and gotten hurt and he/she they did not have to push themselves.

But there were some things I did like; the design of the obstacles themselves; challenging at first and getting progressively harder at each level. And a contestant could get “Point Thrusters” along the course, each worth 10 additional point, so this could add to their point lead which came in handy if they failed the last obstacle on each level. One of my fav obstacles in the show was the “Mag Wall.” Basically a climbing wall, but some of the holds are attached magnetically and subject to “falling” off the wall, thus dropping the contestant or making it harder for the contestant to complete the wall. Another fav of mine is the “Prism Strike” on level 3. Here the competitors must hold onto the rope handle as it swings through a curved track. And if they are good enough, they can snag some points at the Point Thruster along the track.

Was the show worth watching all 10 episodes? NO! I felt that I wasted the first 9 hours I spent watching the show leading up to the final. You really do not form a relationship with any of the contestants while watching the show. And despite my earlier comment about Netflix making all 10 episodes available at once, if you are interested in the show, watch episode 10; you see all the obstacles and only have to endure it for 60 minutes.

If you are a Netflix member, you can watch the show here.

All images courtesy of Netflix.

Christian Griffith – Roster #11 From The Selection

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Christian Griffith Roster #11

Christian Griffith stopped by the day after the finale aired for History Channel’s The Selection.

He talks about how the experience has changed his life for the better. His opening up about his personal history with sexual abuse has already touched thousands if not millions of viewers. Christian hopes he can help even more with the platform the show has provided him.

Listen in to learn all about that, how he promised himself not to leave the competiton in anything other than handcuffs, and much more.
Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Obstacle Guard –  Get it on because Monday’s a workday! 

Show Notes:

ORM’s recap of all History Channel The Selection episodes.

Roster #11 Facebook page

History Channel The Selection website

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page.