Last year I did the National Three Peaks Challenge with my older daughter, Emma. She’d decided to do something worthwhile in the period after she’d finished her GCSEs. Something to raise a bit of awareness and money for the Somerset Unit for Radiotherapy Equipment (SURE), the charity that helps fund the Beacon Centre, where I had all my chemotherapy. It was a lovely idea and Emma managed to raise more than £1,000 for SURE.

In less than five weeks, my younger daughter, Ceri, starts her GCSEs. She, too, wants to do something worthwhile during that long Summer break before College. She’d also like to raise some funds for SURE, which is brilliant and, until recently, we’d been talking about also doing the Three Peaks. But, just a week or so ago, this plan got tossed out the window.

While Ceri likes the idea of doing the Three Peaks, she’s not excited by the prospect of all the training that goes into it. It’s not that she doesn’t like hill walking, per se, it’s more than she doesn’t want to spend every weekend in the hills between now and Summer. She’s after a challenge with a bit more scope. Something that is as interesting to train for, as it is to complete. Her investigation online led her to the Tough Mudder.

The Tough Mudder is an eight to ten mile (13 – 16 km) course, run over a series of 25 obstacles, and involves a lot of mud. It’s tough and it’s muddy, hence the name. Due to the difficulty of the course, I’d hoped that Ceri, who will be 16 in the Summer, would be too young to qualify. No such luck; the minimum age is 14.


The logo for the Tough Mudder organisation. Showing a competitor running through fire... like they do in the Tough Guy!
The Tough Mudder logo.

You see, the difficulty is that Ceri wants me to do this with her. And I have a problem with the Tough Mudder company; I don’t like what it did to the Tough Guy event.

The Tough Guy is a 15 km (9 mile) course, run over ‘two dozen’ (24) obstacles, that involves a lot of mud. You have to be a tough guy (or girl) to do it, hence the name. It was also traditionally run on the last weekend of January, which, given the number of water obstacles involved, made it tougher still. The first Tough Guy was run in 1987.

To put this into context, the first Tough Mudder event took place in 2010.

This, however, is not my problem with the Tough Mudder. My problem is that in 2008, Will Dean, the founder of Tough Mudder, met with Billy Wilson, the founder of Tough Guy. As far as I can make out, the meeting was part of a project for Dean’s course at Harvard Business School. The purpose of the meeting, and the project, was to develop the Tough Guy into a much bigger enterprise. Instead, Dean took all that he learned from Wilson, and Tough Guy, and set up Tough Mudder.

I did the Tough Guy in 2009, along with my brothers and a couple of friends. The Tough Guy is used as a source of funds for the Tettenhall Horse Sanctuary, among other things. Doing the Tough Guy was an amazing experience, not least because they had to cut the course short because they ran out of ambulances due to all the hypothermia cases. Now, that’s tough! And I respected the inventive way that Wilson, who calls himself ‘Mr. Mouse’ on his documentation, was raising funds for his horse sanctuary.

The 'Horse Brass' medal awarded for completing the 2009 Tough Guy event.
The ‘medals’ issued after completing the Tough Guy are in the form of a Horse Brass.

The Tough Mudder, on the other hand, is simply run as a means to make Dean a rich man.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that. But what is wrong, is gaining access to all a company’s resources, on the promise of making these riches together, and then cutting that original company out of the equation.

And, worse still, then going after that original company and trying to put it out of business, in order to get rid of the competition.

When I learned all this, I decided that I’d never do a Tough Mudder. Not, to be honest, that this was ever likely to happen anyway; one mud laden obstacle course in a lifetime was enough for me.

Which left me in something of a quandary, when Ceri announced that she wanted to do the Classic Tough Mudder in August. Ah well, I decided, I remember reading that the Tough Guy wasn’t being run any more. That Wilson, or Mr. Mouse, had retired the event. In which case, there was no harm in doing the Tough Mudder with Ceri.

Except, this isn’t actually the case.

In doing the research to find out when the last Tough Guy was run, I found reference to 2017 being the last event. Even the Wikipedia page on the Tough Guy says that 2017 was the ‘last official Tough Guy’.

But it wasn’t. The Tough Guy was run in 2018 and 2019. The entry is open for the 2020 event.

Us at the start of the 2009 Tough Guy event; Year Of The Guy Gorilla...
Emma with the ‘Tough Guys’, before we set off.

So, now what?

Ceri’s excited by the prospect of doing a Tough Mudder. I, on the other hand, don’t want to further enrich someone like Will Dean…

I know you can’t tell, but there’s been a lengthy pause between the last paragraph and this one. And I know that the title of the post indicates that I’d already made my mind up before I started writing, because I had. But that was before I knew that the Tough Guy is still running.

Ultimately, though, if the last five years have told me anything, it’s that life’s too short…

Ceri’s excited about doing the Tough Mudder and that’s more important to me than my snap decision to boycott the event. Like my not taking part would make any sort of difference. Besides, and fairly importantly, Dean and Wilson have settled the matter in the courts, so justice has been done.

So I will be doing a Tough Mudder with Ceri.

It’s estimated that competitors will move around the course at a rate of 2.5 miles per hour, meaning the course will take four hours to complete. And even with the 25 obstacles (and associated queues), there’s going to be something in the region of 6 miles (10 km) of running involved. That means that Ceri and I have got four months to get from, ‘can run the length of a hockey pitch’ to, ‘can run a quarter marathon’. We’re going to need to start training now.

On which note, I’d better see what the obstacles entail

Actually, it doesn’t look that bad. By and large, and by what I’m sure is a remarkable coincidence, the obstacles are very similar to the 2009 Tough Guy course. Lots of crawling and wading. Some climbing of cargo nets and the like. A couple of upper body strength tests, like prolonged Monkey Bars:

I suspect that the Monkey Bars at the Tough Mudder won’t be quite this easy.

That’s good because neither Ceri or I have much of a base level in lifting our own body weights. And, with four months to prepare, I don’t think either of us will embarrass ourselves.

From what I’ve seen, the Tough Mudder does differ from the Tough Guy in one substantial way; it seems to depend on teamwork. I think this will add a new dimension to my previous experience and I’m glad of that.

On the flip side, our proposed team currently consists of Ceri and me. Now, I feel fairly confident that I’ll be able to give Ceri all the boosts up obstacles that she needs. I’m equally confident that this is going to be a one way street. Because, while Ceri is undoubtedly a generous soul, and I will have lost more weight by then, I’ll still outweigh her by several stone. For example, when it comes to the Hero Carry obstacle, when one team member has to carry another team member 200 feet (60 meters), I can’t help being suspicious that it’ll be me doing the carrying!

I wonder if we need a couple more team mates…

I wonder what my brothers are doing that weekend…?!

In the meantime, the Tough Mudder offers a training guide for the Classic events, in exchange for your email address.

Hmmmm, let’s have a look…

Right, it’s a three month programme and, to be honest, it’s a bit hit and miss. It involves quite a bit of HIIT circuit training and a lot of sprint drills. Which is all good stuff but it goes in too hard, too fast. The same is true of the running. The guide expects you to do a three mile run on day 3 of the programme and an eight mile run in week 5. This is fine if you’re already at a decent level of fitness but less good if you’re me or Ceri.

To be honest, the training guide seems to be designed more in mind with looking flashy, than being a useful tool. Mind you, this does seem entirely in keeping with what I’ve read about Mr Will Dean. Indeed, even the Tough Mudder Wikipedia page is shady:

I’ve never seen a Wikipedia page carrying this sort of notice and warning before.

But all that’s fine. He has a product to sell. I’m certainly in no position to complain that the free training guide that’s being offered wasn’t designed with me in mind. And it’s hardly the responsibility of the organisers of Tough Mudder to ensure that Ceri and I are in shape. No, that’s our responsibility and I’m kinda looking forward to the training.

You know, once I get my stupid knee sorted.

On balance, I’m glad that Ceri has opted to do something other than the Three Peaks Challenge. I think that it will differentiate what I did with Emma last year, with what Ceri and I will do this year. And, ultimately, I think we’ll all be glad of that when we’re looking back on these couple of years.

All I have to do now, is survive a Tough Mudder, at the age of 48… If I do survive, I’ll tell you how it went.

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