Last year I had the opportunity to help out with one of Tough Mudder’s newest events, Infinite Hero Honor Challenge (read more about it here). This means I showed up two days before the event, got to see behind the scenes and help the charity event open, all while the staff worked on the main show. I have been running Tough Mudder events since 2014 when I first showed up to the 24-hour long World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Going in to Infinite Hero Challenge I was a little worried. What happens when I see behind the scenes? Will the magic be gone as it might be for seeing behind the scenes at Disney World? Would I not like what I witness like visiting a sausage factory?
Here is what it was like behind the scenes of Tough Mudder:
Experience Level: Tough Mudder is one of the oldest Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) brands and now that Spartan CEO Joe DeSena owns both Tough Mudder & Spartan, it is no doubt part of the largest brand in the world. This means they have more experience than anyone right? Well, to survive COVID they dropped down to just a handful of employees, so many of the people you are talking to at TMHQ staff have been working for the brand for less than a year. From a participant and staff side though, I couldn’t tell as the staff seemed to be competent and professional but also seemed to understand what makes Tough Mudder so unique in the OCR world.
Legionnaires & Elites: As a competitive athlete sometimes you forgot that 95% of the events are run by non-competitive participants who are there for a good time. This 95% is the reason there is a sport in the first place since they provide the bulk of the revenue. The Legionnaires (Tough Mudder multi-time participants, of which a surprisingly large number have been to more than 100x events) and elite athletes (who usually make up the first wave of most races), may also forget that they make up a tiny fraction of things. As someone with one foot in both worlds (41x Legionnaire and 65+ Elite Podiums (12 of which are from Tough Mudder), I acknowledge that we are often the squeaky wheel. Because we have invested so much, it may feel like our opinion should matter more thus making us difficult to deal with on event day.
To my pleasant surprise before event day the staff was briefed on Legionnaires hitting a major milestone like Jay Mazza at his 100th event and the importance of elites running Tougher Mudder were acknowledged (of note Tougher Mudder wave has now been replaced with the Legionnaire wave, which is no longer competitive). The staff treated everyone they talked to with the utmost respect, regardless of how difficult or insane the questions/complaints were. This respect extended not only to the multi-time participants but with every single person showing up on event day.
Man Hours: Putting on an OCR is easy right? You throw some directional arrows on the course, you stick a couple of obstacles in a field and you’re done right? While I’ve been behind the scenes at other OCRs, watching TMHQ run an event is truly next level. Some of the events I saw behind the scenes had over 5000 people, a dramatic 5x-10x increase from some of the smaller events I’ve helped out with. It’s hard to truly appreciate how much work goes into part of every course with people tasked with the small things that have nothing to do with running of the actual course like traffic flow/parking, showers, merchandise, festival booths, festival DJ, social media and starting line/emcee, just to name a few. It’s hard to truly grasp until you see it for yourself.
Overall, seeing behind the scenes didn’t ruin the magic for me, but only made me appreciate it that much more. The amount of work that goes into every single event is staggering. So next time you go to an event and one thing in your personal experience goes wrong, try to remember the other 99.9% of things that went right for you along with the other participants and be grateful that our sport is still going strong after 2020.