I have always found the competition side of Tough Mudders a little ironic. How can competition and community cohabitate in a sport? Before diving too far into this topic, it is important to first understand the Tough Mudder ethos. The guiding principles of Tough Mudder are “a place for you to push your physical and mental limits without the pressure of competition. A community built on teamwork and overcoming obstacles, where stepping outside your comfort zone is the reward.” If the reward is stepping outside of your comfort zone and, as Tough Mudder legend Sean Corville says, “No one is better than your best and your best makes you better” where does competition fit in? I can tell you that as a life-long competitor in a wide range of sports, it is not my natural inclination to lean back and help a “competitor” over an obstacle, but in a Tough Mudder, it absolutely is. It is also not my natural inclination to be excited to finish a race hand in hand with my “competitor,” but at a Tough Mudder, it absolutely is. In the sport of Obstacle Course Racing, Tough Mudders are just…different. What makes them so amazing is that they provide an incredible opportunity to compete against the best version of YOURSELF each time you race. To set a goal, train for that goal, and support others in doing the same.
As someone who has trained for and competed in Tough Mudders (Tougher, Toughest, and World’s Toughest) competitively for a few years, I can still honestly state that the competitive aspect is difficult for me to wrap my head around. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a competitive person, and I have always loved competing with my older brother, playing competitive soccer and basketball, or just playing games with friends. I like competing because good competition often brings out the best in a person’s performance. In the sport of OCR, elements of competition have fueled me to achieve performances in which I otherwise would not have achieved. The best example is World’s Toughest Mudder 2018. Towards the end of the race, I was struggling and came into what I thought would be one of my last laps with the intent of taking a long break. That plan changed when I came in and discovered that I was in third place and the fourth-place female was close behind. At that point, competition is what fueled me to run three more laps. Competition is what powered me to not only achieve my mileage goal but also achieve my first podium in an OCR event. This spring-boarded me into the competitive side of OCR. Ironically, even after saying all that, I can tell you that the thought of “competing” in Tough Mudders is something I struggle with every time I run a race.
Why, you ask? For one, I find the races mean so much more than placement or a piece of hardware. I’m largely an intrinsically motivated person, and I find rewards, medals and prizes can be unsatisfying and fleeting compared to the deeper meaning and purpose they represent. I can look back on every OCR event I’ve done and tell you a personal goal or life lesson I obtained from it. That might stem from the very personal reason I got into the sport (that’s a story for another day), but nevertheless, every race has taught me something about life, people, and myself. Having had the opportunity to meet so many people in the sport, I know this is also true for many others. The people drawn to OCR are not your typical people. I’m speaking broadly, but the people I have met who are driven to this sport all have a deeper purpose for racing. For some, it is wanting to be a part of something unique and special or getting back into shape. For others, it is overcoming mental health issues or doing something they never thought possible after surviving a severe illness or injury. For me, and many other Tough Mudder competitors, achieving these internal goals is what we consider TRUE victory.
This really came to a head for me this past weekend during the Tougher Wave (Tough Mudder’s competitive wave) at Tough Mudder Georgia. My sole purpose for attending this race (a very last-minute decision) was an attempt to get some closure at a location that challenged me both as an athlete and as a person. The last time I raced a Tough Mudder was at this same course at World’s Toughest Mudder 2019, so I was really looking forward to taking in the course without the added pressure of surviving for 24 hours. At mile one, I ran into a familiar face, Kristen Reed. The last time I saw Kristen was 1.5 years ago, and we started talking as we ran in stride. Before we knew it, we were no longer running the race alone, we were running the race together. Noticing this, we both mentioned something along the lines of “if you want to go ahead that’s totally fine, I’m happy with this pace” and the other would acknowledge and say “I’m actually really happy right now with this. This is exactly what I needed.” As we talked, laughed, and helped each other not get lost in the pouring rain, we found ourselves in the lead for the females with only one mile to the finish line. Surprised, we looked at each other, and we knew we both had the same question: “Ummm… so who goes first?” Now that we had become fast friends (apparently faster than we thought), I remember saying, “Well you can take the win, because it really doesn’t matter to me. That’s not why I’m here.” Then, Kristen said something along the lines of, “I don’t care either… you can go first.” Ultimately, we both agreed that if we were still in the lead by the end, we would finish together, hold hands, and have a Total Mudder Moment (aka a “TMM”), and that’s what we did. We finished the race together, tied for First Place, and now I have another lifelong Mudder friendship and a healing, unforgettable moment that we will both never forget.
Competition is awesome. I have seen and experienced competition fueling others and myself to reach goals, performances, and achievements they might not have otherwise achieved. As a lifelong athlete, there is nothing more incredible than witnessing a group of athletes competing at the highest level of competition. I love that OCR is getting so competitive, and I love that Tough Mudder has a competitive brand. It’s fun to see how you stack up against other people, and after all, competition in OCR is what empowered me to achieve goals that I never thought possible. I hope I never lose sight of the beautiful aspect of the sport that initially drew me in: The incredible opportunity to be around a group of inspiring individuals who are pushing themselves to achieve their best while simultaneously helping me to do the same.
I just want to thank everyone who has been putting in the work to keep this amazing community alive. I have had the unique opportunity of going to the first Spartan Race of 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida and the first Tough Mudder of 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. I was personally very impressed by how both events were conducted. I can’t wait for the rest of the 2021 season, and there is only one thing left to say:
OCR. IS. BACK.