Lots of obstacle races claim to be the toughest thing out there. Do you think that’s true?
There is a place for obstacles races. Tough Mudder, for instance, laudably promotes teamwork over the individual, and raises millions of pounds for charity. It is the rhetoric that is laughable. At the south west Tough Mudder, ‘you will soon think you’ve stumbled into hell’. Tough Mudder, apparently, tests ‘physical strength and mental grit’. And the clichéd ‘hardcore’ is the umbrella term for Tough Mudder events. It is perspective, of course, but obstacle races are contrived. They are the natural off-shoot of a society dominated by social media. They are not real.
Entry to Tough Mudder is now a whopping £140. Do you think that’s good value?
I once paid £4 to enter Cioch Mhor – a nine-mile race (about the same length as Tough Mudder) in the Scottish Highlands. Traversing farmers’ fields, a river, bogs, barbed wire fences, pathless hill-sides of grass and heather, and climbing 660 metres, Cioch Mhor is spookily like Tough Mudder – except, again, this is real, Tough Mudder is not. At the end, volunteers from the organising club, Highland Hillrunners, had laid a table piled high with sandwiches and cakes. I ensured I consumed £4 worth of food. Cioch Mhor is £5 now, my mate Dougie in Inverness told me. ‘We’ve had to put Meall a’Bhuachaille (a hill race in the Cairngorms also organised by Highland) up to £8,’ he said almost apologetically. That was the long answer. In short, is Tough Mudder worth 28 Cioch Mhors? Never.
What could mud-hungry runners seek out instead of obstacle course races?
Two words: cross country. Join a local club that competes in a winter cross country league. The races are likely to be free and provide outstanding preparation for athletes competing on the road or track in the summer. I have competed in no harder races than the first division of the Surrey cross country league, for instance. And a controversial statement to end on: Rather than chucking obstacles in your path, try – whatever your ability – simply running faster. Now that is ‘tough’.
This article was first published in Men’s Running.