Athletes gear up for Tough Mudder

It’s a 10-year-old boy’s dream – on steroids. There’s monkey bars, but they’re 20 feet off the ground and hanging over a pool of water. There’s a climbing wall, but it’s 13 feet high. Then there’s the water slide, but it ends in a wall of fire.

The final touches are being made for the Tough Mudder-Gulf Coast, which takes place in Milton March 7, and features more than 20 obstacles along an 11.3-mile running course. With 40,000 pounds of ice, ropes, fire, barbed wire, tear gas, hay bales and even electricity, athletes will need to stay on their toes.

Construction manager Johnny Little said Feb. 26 the course was about 90 percent complete and the project had not hit any snags.

“This is our season opener,” he said. “It’s going very well for it being our first time building many of these obstacles.”

Little, who’s competed in five Tough Mudders, works with an eight-man team to complete the entire course, which is spread over hundreds of acres, in about four weeks.

“We work right up through Wednesday of the race week,” Little said, adding that they personally test the course by running it on Friday.

Then they spend the week after tearing everything down, packing it and shipping it to the next race location. As always, a percentage of the proceeds goes to Wounded Warriors.

“And what’s remarkable about this contractor we have here is they donate a percentage of each of their construction bills to the Wounded Warriors at each event,” Little said.

Mudder 2.0

The event is a testing ground for several new features offered by the Tough Mudder team. Every course is either brand new or has been revamped for this event.

“We wanted to roll out all new obstacles, but (Tough Mudder fans) had favorites that we had to keep,” Little said.

For example, the infamous Everest obstacle featured a nearly 12-foot steeply graded wall to climb over. Everest 2.0 now has a 1.5 foot smooth, curved ledge added to the top, making it taller and more difficult to find something to help hoist over a racer.

Fan favorite Funky Monkey, which formerly monkey bars, has been revamped to include a second half with a trapeze bar followed by a pipe that requires hand-over-hand maneuvering.

And the fun isn’t just for adults – Tough Mudder offers a new event for kids called the Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder which includes pint-sized versions of the famous obstacles. At least 50 children have signed up. Both races allow same-day registration.

Also new this year is a lowered age limit, down from 18 to 16.

Running the Race

Participants start the race in waves of 300 every 15 minutes heading to obstacles that might have been as fun to name as they are to complete. Birth Canal, Skidmarked, Arctic Enema and Pole Dancer are a few that jump off the map.

Little said they do their best to make everything as tough as possible. They work all day to ensure the ice water stays a frosty 40 degrees and below. They also ensure the water is flowing at Electroshock Therapy just to make sure no one misses out on the shock. They’ve reengineered many of the obstacles to be more difficult.

“I think a lot of people will find King of Swingers difficult. A lot of people were fearful of Walk the Plank, of just walking off the plank into the water. Now you have to jump off, grab the swinging bar and then hit the bell,” Little said.

The Tough Mudder also enlists the help of volunteers to help runners through each obstacle if needed. They don’t penalize anyone for passing up or failing at an obstacle. That means just about anyone can start and finish the race.

“You can’t have just walked in off the street without having ever exercised and expect to finish the race,” Little said. “But people of every fitness level complete the challenge.”

Little added that much of the race is about mental stamina and teamwork, and those traits are what help most runners finish strong.

Participants typically finish the race in two to five hours. The finish line is positioned at Mudder Village where food and beer are available for finishers. Spectators can watch their loved ones complete the last obstacle, Electroshock Therapy, and even partake in Fire in Your Hole, the water slide that ends in a wall of fire, for a fee.

Santa Rosa specific

The Milton land provided a few unique opportunities for course planners, including a large sand pit. The owners dug it out to sell the sand. Tough Mudder employees saw that as an opportunity and engineered a “Mud Mile 2.0” that features dug-out mud hurdles and a rope climb in the muddy mess.

Another one of the venue surprises was no alcohol on Sunday. Because liquor sales are not allowed in North Santa Rosa County on Sunday, the typically two day event was condensed into one day.

The outlook is still good, with more than 5,000 participants expected. Venues also typically see one or more repeat events within five years of the first event, according to Little. That could mean the Tough Mudder will be back next year.

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