Tough Mudder is introducing the Half Mudder in 2016, as a way to ease people in to a race with a brutal reputation. Tough Mudder does not, however, always live up to that reputation and seems to have finished the 2015 season with a (full-priced) Three-Quarter Mudder. There was some mud and some tough at the Tri-State race, but not enough of either.
This year the Tri-State was held at beautiful Liberty State Park. The course itself was mostly on the paved trail around the park or zig-zagging back and forth on grass and mulch. One of the obstacles was called Kiss of Mud and that’s really all racers got, a taste of mud but not much more. I’m not saying I need to walk away from a race covered head to toe in dirt and dreck, but I’ve never seen the shower area so empty after a race. I waited until I got home to wash off.
The problem was the venue, which is not suited for this kind of race. The course was flat and didn’t offer any particular challenge, other than the length. And the obstacles, spaced too far apart, felt random, without a natural flow. Ideally, obstacles work with and feel like part of the terrain. At Liberty State Park, they felt artificial and more like obstructions than obstacles. The only time failing an obstacle led to getting wet was on Funky Monkey 2.0, an inclined monkey bar with a swinging transfer to a declining pole. (In other words: Tough Mudder-caliber excellence.) Obstacles like the Pole Dancer or the (for some reason, optional) Dead Ringer, however, aren’t very intimidating when failure just means putting your feet on the ground. And some of the “obstacles” were just lame. Bales of hay? Really?
Don’t get me wrong, a number of the obstacles, including the Funky Monkey, were undeniably challenging. The Arctic Enema was still FREEZING (luckily it was unseasonably warm). And there is nothing easy about getting over Skid Marked (an inclined wall) or the 10’ Berlin Walls or across Balls Out (where instead of climbing over, you have to swing from rope-to-rope across a slick wall). The most iconic Tough Mudder obstacles are Everest and Electroshock Therapy. Everest really is a rush, because it looks darn near impossible. You run as fast as possible up the curved ramp and jump. Almost everyone needs a helping hand, but it still feels like a major accomplishment when you swing that first leg over the lip. In return, you’re happy to help the next group coming up. Lifting your fellow Mudders up and over the edge of the Everest is part-two of the obstacle. Electroshock Therapy sucks. But it’s supposed to. Yes, the shocks hurt. More than you expect. Yes, you’ll live (probably).
The biggest disappointment was that more of the natural challenges of the area could have been incorporated. Liberty State Park overlooks the New York Harbor, with rocks and sand along the shore. Maybe there were unavoidable state-imposed restrictions, but I could easily imagine having to run or swim through the water or traversing a rope across it, as well as something (ANYTHING!) off of the paved path and grass.
This was the second Tough Mudder I’ve entered and the first I’ve finished (the other, I DNF’d with a rusty nail embedded in my hand), but I can’t help feeling like there should be an asterisk on this race. It just wasn’t as muddy or, more importantly, as tough as a Tough Mudder ought to be. Running once again as a proud member of Team Smarty Pants I suppose there should also be an asterisk there too, since I’m a self-proclaimed idiot and I ran in my underpants. #RunSmarty. #IronicSponsor. It might not make sense, but I love it!
I don’t think the Tri-State Tough Mudder will be held at Liberty State Park again, especially since it looks like they didn’t get the turnout they were expecting this year. I was scheduled to run on Sunday at 10:30, which was one of the earlier time slots, but was rescheduled for 9:15 in the last group to go out. After the race I heard a lot of grumbling, similar to the views expressed in this article.
The Tri-State race wasn’t billed as anything less than a full Tough Mudder, but it fell short. Hopefully, all of the 2016 races – half and full – will live up to their full potential.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Smarty Pants Vitamins. All opinions are my own.