Category Archives: Tough Mudder

A Litter Follow-Up: Race Company Responses

Last week I proposed a method for measuring how severe the littering problem in OCR actually is. As part of that post, I noted that I would be asking a few race organizers if they have actually made any effort to quantify the amount of litter (as opposed to properly disposed-of garbage or course materials).

I emailed Spartan, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash, and have now received responses, of a sort, from all three.

Here’s the message I sent to all three (with minor changes as needed for each company):

Do you have any information about how much litter is found on courses after a typical Tough Mudder? There has been a lot of discussion about littering in the OCR world recently, but I’m hoping to quantify how serious the issue actually is. Have you measured how much litter (as opposed to properly-disposed-of garbage, or course-markings and other “official” garbage) you collect after an event? I’ve written a blog post ( attempting to define the issues at play and if you have any information I’d like to incorporate it.

Thank you,

Greg Landgraf

The responses were… well, only one was useful, but another was interesting.

Warrior Dash wasn’t really helpful at all—the customer experience team referred the question to the Venue Relations department, so I emailed them and haven’t heard anything back. Although to be honest, Warrior Dash probably isn’t particularly representative on this issue, since it’s a fairly short run that has a relatively high percentage of first-time runners who are unlikely to carry a lot of gear onto the course.

Tough Mudder’s is the interesting one. I got a fairly sincere message of apology for the frustrations and inconveniences I experienced at the event, and for how the Tough Mudder experience didn’t live up to my expectations. Since I wasn’t complaining (and in fact have never actually done a Tough Mudder), it doesn’t provide any actual information, but it does raise a question: Just how unempowered are Tough Mudder’s customer service people? I mean, I get that a lot of customer service is done by boilerplate, and it even makes (a frustrating sort of) sense to respond to common complaints with a response designed by experts to give an official answer and nothing additional and do it in a way that will not inadvertently escalate the situation. But this wasn’t a common complaint, so a little bit of personalization in the response might have been helpful.

<NotBasedOnFact>I just have this vision of the customer service department having a set of, say, six permitted responses that they’re permitted to use to cover all customer comments. And if you’re working for Tough Mudder, you’re not going to go against that kind of policy. I mean, you’re working for a company that thinks electric shocks and tear gas are fun. Imagine what would happen if they’re trying to punish you.</NotBasedOnFact>

Spartan’s response was useful, although perhaps more from reading between the lines than because of what was actually said. The representative said that Spartan does not track litter separately from other trash, but he did confirm that the race does clean up the venue after (and during) the race. He also noted that the race will make announcements about littering and starting-line threats to assign  Did Not Finish results if they’re caught littering.

If we assume rational behavior—and this is getting dangerous, because humans don’t always behave rationally, and my perspective of what “rational” is in this situation is based on very incomplete information, but I’ll do it anyway because I think it’s at least an interesting thought experiment—the response suggests a couple things. Based on the fact that Spartan doesn’t measure the litter generated, combined with the not-necessarily-always-accurate-but-often-useful “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” maxim, it suggests Spartan’s level of concern. Specifically, it seems that Spartan’s opposition to litter is the same as the average person’s opposition to air pollution: opposed, but not really looking to go far out of its way to fight.

That’s got a negative connotation that isn’t fair, so let me be clear: I don’t think Spartan is responsible for measuring the litter generated by a race. By cleaning the venue after an event, they’re fulfilling any kind of moral obligation to minimize the ecological impact of the race. (OK, not necessarily any moral obligation—I know just enough about soil engineering and soil suspended in water to know that there could be issues there that I’m not remotely qualified to address—but any moral obligation related to garbage production.)

But to go back to assuming rational behavior, these between-the-line-readings suggest that Spartan does not consider the amount of added effort resulting from cleaning litter from the course to justify the effort necessary to measure that litter (and then develop procedures to address it).

Not definitive, certainly, but it leaves me inclined to categorize littering on the course as an annoyance rather than a major OCR problem.

(Still, littering is jerky. So don’t. But going overboard in talking about it is also jerky. So don’t do that either.)


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Filed under Commentary, Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash

Medal Culture, T-Shirts, and (again) Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder has certainly dropped some news bombs this week. After the tear gas news, they’ve done something that will really make obstacle course racers cry: They’ve announced that they will stop giving finisher T-shirts. (Which I learned via @muddy_race.)

Even from my disinterested, non-Tough-Mudder-racer perspective, I’ve managed to become of several minds of this news.

On one brain, there’s a rational understanding that putting on an obstacle course race is a business, and that cutting costs are sometimes part of doing business.

On a slightly related brain, and one that’s poorly developed with (to gruesomely mix metaphors) grotesque facial features and one arm that’s just a stump and another with a tiny little hand that’s somehow worse than the stump, it seems like over the past couple decades, when businesses shift their focus to cost-cutting it’s a sign that they don’t feel they have any more room to grow the business so if they want to increase profits cutting spending is their only option. So let’s toss that completely irresponsible rumor out there.

On a third brain that’s much more robust and still sort of related, kind of like that third or fourth cousin you have who is Justin Bieber (or maybe someone who doesn’t suck), is the thought that T-shirts are a pretty silly expense to cut. They’re popular and they’re a good form of advertising that’s pretty likely to reach its intended audience. After all, people who run obstacle course races generally spend at least some of their time in a gym or some other fitnessy-type place, where other people who might consider an obstacle course race will also spend some amount of time, and as a race T-shirt is appropriate attire for such a venue, it will in all likelihood be worn there occasionally. While seven bucks a shirt (a value that may or may not be close; it was the first figure I found online for 10,000 printed T-shirts) certainly adds up, it seems like the savings probably wouldn’t justify the ill will.

The fourth brain is safely unrelated and therefore marriageable. And that one is: I don’t get the medal culture—and the other gear gift culture—that seems to run through obstacle course racing like some really good obstacle course racer through a really easy obstacle course. (And boom goes the simile dynamite!) Okay, that’s not 100 percent true—I get it in the sense that medals and horny hats and T-shirts are neat things and that there’s an in-built acquisitive nature to our brains, that says when we see something neat, we must have it.

I can even accept that these schmoogies (a highly technical term I once picked up from a trade show booth organizer) are a nice memento of a nice and relatively unique experience, and even an accomplishment. (Although I can’t let that pass without wondering how many people who are deeply concerned about their finisher gear would in the same breath rant about how the real problem with society is that we’re raising kids to expect a participant ribbon whenever they don’t win something.)

OCR Finisher medals, shirts, hats, sweatbands, and mailers with overly defined dangly bits.

My collection of participant ribbons from two obstacle course races (so far).

From a rational standpoint, I just can’t care too much about these schmoogies. In two OCRs, I’ve got 3 medals (see next paragraph), a headband, a hat, and two shirts, and I don’t think I’ll mind I never get another thingy. I suppose I’m not yet actively bothered at having to find a place to stuff them all, but I don’t see any great value to them, and I don’t understand the great passion when something goes wrong.

As it did, sort of, at the Spartan Stadium Sprint in Milwaukee this year. Whether by typo in the design or a production glitch, the finisher medals said “SPARIAN RACE.” I didn’t actually notice, which is odd for me because proofreading is something I naturally do automatically. I once casually caught a typo in Italian, which is not a language I know. My only defense is that I didn’t actually look at the medal upon receiving it until a few days later, when I saw some hyperbolic complaints on the race’s Facebook page about how the error proved just how far down the toilet the Spartan Race had been flushed and how the poster was NEVER going to do ANOTHER one of those TERRIBLE races AGAIN and how they RUINED Christmas ALSO!!!!!!>!!!

As with most things where words appear in all caps and exclamation points are used, that type of reaction was well over the top.

It should be noted that Spartan Race did send out new medals, presumably to all racers but at least to me, with a correctly spelled medal and even a reasonably charming note. (It also included a few photos, one of which had some reasonably prominent dangly bits concealed only by some yellow Spandex; whether you consider that a plus or a minus is beyond my willingness to judge.) So even if you were traumatized by the incorrectly spelled medal, I can’t imagine not considering that an adequate make-right gesture.

Onto brain 5 and final: T-shirts are a bit of a different animal than medals or horny hats or even headbands, as they have a practical use—preventing you from being distracted by my sexy, sexy nipples. I’ve used both of mine for exactly that purpose, even the Warrior Dash one, which has a design I don’t like and is pretty crappily made besides. So while I wouldn’t miss getting race-completer-stuff if it were done away with, I definitely wouldn’t mind getting more race-completer-T-shirts.

So there you have a lovely mishmash of 5 brains on the topic, enough for a full hand or perhaps a basketball team. Which is the center and which is the bird? (Which mixes the metaphors so delightfully that I couldn’t resist even though it will never make logical sense, as the center is the bird on the former, and the Bird is a center on the latter. Except, as I learned on Wikipedia, he was a forward, but I’m not going to let facts mess with wordplay.) As with a great many things, that’s up for debate.

In this case, I would generally be interested in hearing from people who do care more about their medals/hats/bands/etc. As I said, I don’t really understand that perspective, but I wouldn’t mind doing so. So drop your comments in the comments, and let understanding bloom.


Filed under Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash

Tears and Tough Mudder

Crying girl

Creative Commons image by crimfants,

After hearing the news that Tough Mudder was adding a tear gas chamber to some of its courses, I have to admit that my first reaction was something shocked, appalled, and dismayed, akin to one of those creepy “concerned mothers” whose only thrill comes when they see that the local library has purchased one of the books that are on their list of smut, smut, smut so they can go in front of the library board and  demand it be removed For The Children! “Tear gas!” I cried. “They’ve gone too far. I shall never partake in an event with so little regard for its paying entrants!”

I’m happy to report that this overwrought inanity lasted for about fourteen and a half seconds, but the prevalence of overwrought inanity based on poorly understood or outright incorrect information is the root of many of the problems currently facing our society, so I think it’s important to call it out when it occurs, even if it occurs within my otherwise flawless head.

Once I stopped being stupid, I realized that the news didn’t really affect my opinions much at all.

I don’t have much of a relationship with the Tough Mudder. It was one of the first obstacle course events I heard of, if not the first, and it certainly captured my imagination at the time, but as I became more fit and actually doing an obstacle course race became feasible, the Tough Mudder dropped down the list of goals. I suppose it’s still on my radar of things that I’d like to do, but for now at least, it hasn’t crossed above the line of the financial and time resources I’m willing and able to invest.

Why? Keeping in mind that this is based on my not-terribly well-informed understanding, there are a few reasons.

First, the lack of timing reduces the appeal a bit. Not that my time in any event is going to be particularly noteworthy, but as I’m using these events for motivation and as an indicator of my progress, having some form of measurement is nice.

Second, it seems to be a fairly run-heavy event, which doesn’t particularly suit me well. Given that until fairly recently a 5K was a massive run for me, a 10-mile course that appeared to be relatively sparsely populated by obstacles didn’t hold much appeal.

Third, the obstacles themselves didn’t attract me. I’m not exactly opposed to the pain that comes from OCRs—like many participants, I think, I get a perverse joy from the soreness that happens when you exert yourself to or beyond your limit, or even the bangs and scratches when you do something wrong. But the obstacles that Tough Mudder has where the pain is the point—the ice baths and the electric shocks—I’m not as excited by.

But that is an opinion—and, as I mentioned, not a well-informed one—rather than a valid assessment of the value of Tough Mudder and its obstacles. Whether you agree or not, good—either way, you are precisely as right or wrong as I am. The idea of electric shock as an obstacle is neither right nor wrong (as long as it’s not a truly dangerous level, and given the number of Tough Mudders there have been there’s no reason to believe it is). I feel no less or more than other obstacle racers for not being drawn to it.

While tear gas is a new wrinkle, I don’t think it changes anything. It continues the Tough Mudder niche of challenging oneself by putting oneself into clearly unpleasant situations that must be endured. I suspect those who are drawn to that style of self-challenge will and should continue to be drawn to Tough Mudder. I wouldn’t be shocked if I try it before long, and I may even love it.

But for now, it’s not what I’m looking for, tear gas or no. I feel okay with that. As long as I remember, the way I failed to for that embarrassing fourteen and a half seconds, that such an opinion is neither right nor wrong.


Filed under Obstacle Course Racing, Tough Mudder