Mar 19, 2010

A review: Tough Mudder Debacle

READ THIS: If you're here looking for a review from someone who's actually done Tough Mudder, go back to Google and click somewhere else. This page is about a February 2010 incident between me and TM's marketing/PR team. There is nothing here about the event itself that you'd find useful.

My previous two blog posts about Tough Mudder generated a surprising amount of interest and I continue to get visitors to them. To avoid confusion, I am summarizing what happened for the benefit of anyone who comes across my site from Google or another search engine. The other blog posts will be edited to link back to this one.

1.) I wrote a critical blog post about some copy I found on the Tough Mudder web site. After the criticism, I pointed out that I still wanted to do the race. (A true statement, and an attempt to try to be positive.)

Then, a week later, an anonymous person left this comment:

They've changed the wording on the site now - it reads:

"Marathon running is simply boring – FACT. And the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon. Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley. At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-round mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line getting bored out of your mind on your own for hours on end."
2.) I wrote a follow-up blog post because of this. I was glad they revised it, but still critical because it the copy was still negative. I also mentioned a competing race, called the Warrior Dash.

And I thought that was the end of it 1.

3.) Warrior Dash contacted me on Twitter, and I don't remember exactly what they said but it was nice.
4a.) Tough Mudder posted on Twitter, apparently angry that I said something bad about them.
4b.) Tough Mudder posted on their facebook page, and photoshopped an image of me. This has since been removed, but I took a screenshot:

I want to be clear here: Despite my defensive attitude, more than anything I was shocked that they cared. After all, who the heck am I? It's rare that my blog gets more than 30 visits per day, not counting the people who subscribe in an RSS reader or see it on facebook.

Anyway, the conversation on facebook got deleted.

And I thought that was the end of it 2.


I just heard one of our interns posted something about you on our Facebook page this afternoon. My COO caught this within 20 minutes but not before you had a chance to view and comment.

My apologies, this won't happen again. I think they were just trying to be funny, but it was misjudged. Please accept my apologies on behalf of the Tough Mudder team. If you do want to do our race we would be delighted to have you as our guest (free of charge).

Again my sincere apologies. I hope there are no hard feelings.

Kind regards,

Will Dean
CEO, Tough Mudder LLC
I thought that was nice. Really, I appreciated it. I then signed up for Warrior Dash and paid the fee there.

And I thought that was the end of it 3.

But there is a lot of interest, apparently. But I've had a half-dozen comments since then:

FYI, Dean creatively generates all of TM's FB/Twitter content - the interns just execute his thoughts.
Other people have said (via private message) that he's "manipulative" and "duplicitous." Ok.

Interestingly, I also got a couple of notes by people associated with the Tough Guy challenge, which, as far as I know, has been doing this kind of event longer than anyone. They're based in the UK.

Hi chap, interesting blog! I actually help the chaps at Tough Guy and was fairly struck by what you have written. TG has a problem with the Tough Mudder thing - they approached TG whilst doing their MBA at Harvard, and asked for access to all the info to write a project plan to take TG to the US, for college credits. Now look what the chaps done! Starting a business is hard enough, doing it pinching other folks trade secrets is not just silly, it's the quickest way to destroy a reputation. Tough Guy appointed the first set of lawyers this week. More to come. ADD? Or just arrogance?
My thoughts

Apparently, the folks at Tough Mudder have managed to make a lot of enemies. I don't consider myself one of them. I feel a little like I have been dragged into a bitter fight here - a fight in which I have no stake and, frankly, no interest. The idea of an obstacle course with mudpits and fire and barbed wire seemed like a good time. But I really never considered that kind of thing as particularly challenging; rather, pure fun. What really interests me are the physical and especially mental challenges that go into running 100 miles without stopping, like I will attempt next weekend at Umstead. Races like Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder are merely an idle diversion and a good way to have a stress-free afternoon.

And I hope that really is the end of it.

Unless something crazy happens again, this will most likely be my last post about Tough Mudder or Will Dean.

Original Posts:
Feb 12: Tough Mudder and its Brilliant Copyrighter
Feb 22:Tough Mudder update, and I compare it to two others

October 2010 update!  A friend did Warrior Dash in New York and I compared it to my California experience in this post: Warrior Dash - NY vs. CA

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time


  1. Hey Steven,

    I'm the guy that posted right below you on that Facebook debacle. Just wanted to let you know that I didn't think you were being childish. I thought you were pretty cool about the whole thing and have since started reading your blog because of it.

  2. Karstan,

    I appreciate the comment. No hard feelings. Thanks for reading. Good luck in your training and racing.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Came across this post by searching for "tough mudder review" and I simply had to comment. A few friends and I are thinking of participating in a TM event so naturally I was planning on looking through some online reviews. Being a runner and triathlete, I found your post and Tough Mudder's response very interesting. The fact that this company is so openly ignorant about endurance sports and so arrogant to claim that their event is the “TOUGHEST one day endurance race on the planet” makes me pretty annoyed. Not to mention the way they treat potential customers (you) is downright offensive.

    When I first looked at the TM website, one of the first things I noticed (and chuckled to myself about) is how they dogged running as seemingly the most boring activity known to man. I laughed to myself because some days I completely agree with this statement! While other days I think running is a blast and don't find it boring at all. I wasn’t offended by these comments but rather intrigued as to what their events offered as an alternative to a marathon. However, learning how they claimed that “marathon running is simply bad for you – FACT” is incredibly ignorant and really discredits the entire organization and it’s events. Apparently Mr. Dean wasn’t studying exercise phys at Harvard. Regardless if someone finds it boring or not, harmful or not, it's hard to argue that it isn’t a challenge to run 26+ miles as fast as you can. In my experience, anyone who does try to make this argument has never tried it themselves.

    I would think TM would be smart enough to understand that some of their customers also enjoy running, cycling, triathlon, and other endurance events. To lash out at you because you stated your opinion doesn’t make much sense to me. Especially when your opinion seems to be completely accurate in describing the product they are offering, and in alignment with many, many other comments out there (active forums). Yet another reminder that being smart and being a jerk aren’t mutually exclusive. Oh yeah, and I don’t buy the ‘my intern posted that comment’ BS one bit.

    For TM to claim that their event is "the TOUGHEST one day endurance event on the planet" is simply laughable. Granted, I have yet to partake in one of their events and I could be completely shocked by its difficulty (highly doubtful). I would be amazed if a 2.5 hour TM event is even in the same conversation as the difficulty of completing and Ironman, a double century ride, a marathon, a 50 or 100 mile running race, or any number of unique adventure races around the world. Like you, Steve, I was thinking of signing up for this purely for the fun, and don’t expect to push my body harder than ever before. Even though I’m having second thoughts about giving my money to this company, I now want to do one just to compare it to the other races I’ve done and know for myself.

    Thanks for posting and good luck with your upcoming races!

  4. Anon,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Steve,

    I completed the Tough Mudder NorCal yesterday with three friends. Following the event (and even during the event), we discussed at length our disappointments with the course, difficulty, and TM claims about each.

    I will not go into the specifics of our discussion as our conversation lasted at least an hour and half. But we concluded that unless TM creates a more challenging course-one that makes a person truly question if s/he can complete it because of physical or mental fatigue-neither of us would take part in TM again.

    As perspective, two of us are more weekend-warrior types who did little to train yet remain somewhat active during the week, and two of use have competed in ultra-marathons, half-ironmans, and other endurance events.

  6. Hi Anon,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Yeah, "disappointingly easy" is how I walked away from Warrior Dash, except that Warrior Dash definitely didn't put the effort into branding itself as "super-hard" that Tough Mudder did.

    One comment I thought interesting about your comment was when you said, "person truly question if s/he can complete it." Sounds like what you really want is the Pittsfield Peaks Death Race. After reading the reports from the last couple of years, I'm not sure I have the nuts to enter it.

    By the way, a friend who did Warrior Dash in NY made me rethink my impression of it being too easy. I posted on that a few weeks ago here:
    (I guess I should update this post..)

  7. Agreed - I did NorCal as well. It was fun - but the obstacles weren't that hard. The altitude was a challenge and running up steep terrain, but there's no way this is the toughest challenge on the planet. Also, I'm pretty sure the mud was manure, which transferred into the pond, which was like swimming in cold poop. Stomach ache for 2 days following...coincidence or e coli?

  8. I also did the NorCal race, and like previous posts, not the Toughest event, (compared to ultras and ironmans etc) It was tougher than other 'mud' races I've done. Mostly because the elevation and climbs were difficult (coming from training at sea level) but the obstacles were actually a fun break from the course itself. Not really a challenge. I was pleased with the event overall and would do it again. And from what Ive heard/seen the death race is probably the only race that really can claim to be the toughest and thus only gets a handful of participants compared to TM. Overall it was a fun and challenging time and id do it again. Im not familiar with the politics behind TM. But like i said was a decent race and with some changes could be more challenging/satifying. And yes the water was awful smelling, but I was lucky enough not to taste it.

  9. You are right Tough Mudder has made allot of enemies, they even stole the whole concept from the UK Event Tough Guy they even had the ordacity to go to the event Take photos and put them on the site before there first event.

  10. found your blog, after I was tipped off to the debacle following a comment left on my blog post.

    and, am very dismayed at the apparent truth to this matter ... I am still running the event 2-days from now, but will not do so again. Am looking to support Tough Guy and will fly to England to complete!!

  11. Hi Robin,

    Tough Guy sounds like an amazing event, and I envy your decision to fly to England and do it.

    As far as Tough Mudder, at least half the traffic to my blog (which has 500 posts) is from people searching google for "tough mudder" - somehow, this page is one of the first results.

    Because of this, I feel compelled to point out that even though I will vouch for the truthfulness of what occurred, my posts represent just one side of the a story about an isolated incident. I don't feel comfortable with the idea that this actually influences people's decisions not to run the race. For all I know, they could be missing out on the best experience of their lives and it would be my fault.

    Good luck this weekend, and don't forget to have fun. (:

  12. Skilegap is so clearly Richard Lee from Spartan Race! Candidly, he should be ashamed of himself for resorting to these tactics. No judge in his right mind is going to shut down a race that raises $600,000 for a group as important and good as the Wounded Warrior Project. Steve, I did the NJ event and it was awesome. I think Tough Mudder has grown up a lot since their first event. Check out this review below. Maybe you should take them up on that offer for a free place!

  13. Agreed. Steve I just did the NJ event and I have to say it was awesome from start to finish. I GPS'd the course and it was a full 12 miles. I suspect most if not all of these negative comments are from Spartan. Having searched around your blog is high on the list and I can't help but think that this post is hurting the injured US servicemen and women Tough Mudder helps support. I

  14. This post hurts Servicemen and Women? That's a rather creative thought..

  15. Steve,

    We are just reviewing this blog for the first time in a while and it appears that it has been totally hijacked by a handful of detractors from our event who are posting entirely false comments about our events. As has already been pointed out, we recently receive an A+ rating from the Travlete (the highest grade ever given to an event). We feel these comments in no way reflect actual customer sentiment.

    6 months we directly and unreservedly apologized for a misguided Facebook post that was intended by a then intern as a joke. We even offered you a free place at one of our events.

    You very fairly point out that you have not done our event. Yet to the casual reader and through no fault of your own your blog post now gives an entirely false impression of what our events entail and the customer experience associated. While we do not support the claim that your actions are directly hurting injured US servicemen and women, we would respectfully point out that this blog may now be deterring participants from our event and this does have an impact on our ability to raise funds for our partner charity Wounded Warrior Project. We are very proud that we have now raised over $630k for the charity and hope to raise a further $3m from our events in 2011 which we believe will attract over 100,000 participants.

    We respectfully ask that you contact us at to arrange a time when we might be able to discuss this matter with you. It is clear you and a reasonable and sensible man and we feel that you have been left with an entirely unjustified impression of our business and our event and we are keen to address this.

    The Entire Tough Mudder Team

  16. I think it's time to forgive and forget. They said sorry, and whether you like it or not, this is probably turning a few people off Tough Mudder and thus impacting on the charity they're supporting. I see Tough Mudder won best adventure race of the year and raised $850k for the Wounded Warrior Project. Maybe it's time you gave them a 2nd chance or at least deleted this post.

  17. I agree completely George. I did the Texas event this weekend, and honestly Steve you should be ashamed of yourself. The internet shouldn't be for this ridiculous petty stuff. Tough Mudder is an awesome event and they raise money for an amazing cause that is pretty close to my heart. I hope YOU lose a limb in Iraq. You probably hate Tough Mudder because you're too our of shape to get over their obstacles.

  18. Okay, you're petty bickering has encouraged me to do the tough mudder, warrior dash, and a marathon. I imagine they're all different events and I bet I won't win any of them, but I'm sure they'll be fun. I don't hope you lose a limb anywhere (saw that in A-Stan and Iraq and don't wish it on anyone. ever.), but I will support the TM effort to help the WWP even if it comes with a bit of a machismo attitude that might include some inaccurate bashing of a different event type. I'm doing the TM in October and whether it's easy or impossible to complete, I hope it's fun and the preparation training is healthy. Happy running, mudding, biking, or whatever blows your skirt up highest!

  19. *your sorry.

  20. Tough Mudder: 1. Steve Tursi: 0.

  21. Wow, people are so funny. Thank you for the insight, this is exactly why I cannot run a blog- because of stupid, childish comments from ignorant people. TM sounds like a bunch of douche bags, and yes- I was able to read between the lines of all opinions. I see it is very clear you, the blogger, had no intentions of stirring up such trouble for those folks- but the backfire seems to prove a guilty conscience. You are completely entitled to defend your name when someone wrongly slanders it... so kudos. And never delete this. I hope it prevents more people from wasting their time- and you know what, if you want to donate to a charity- why not cut out the middle man?! To say "you are hurting service men/women" is completely absurd. Just like this WHOLE debacle.

  22. Hey guys, a couple of things.

    I'm now working for Spartan Race. I love these guys. Simple as that. I did their race in Tuxedo NY and liked it so much I sent them my resume. 7 weeks later, I'm working for them.

    We DO NOT engage in negative commenting about Tough Mudder or any other events. There's room for everyone in the sandbox.

    If anyone out there wants to try a Spartan Race, shoot me a message and I'll get you a discount for any event you want. If you don't have fun, I'll come shovel your driveway when it snows.

    Give me a shout!

    Tom McCormack
    Spartan Race
    Twitter: @tommymccormack

  23. Hi Steve, Interesting Tough Mudder info. I was telling some friends how I had read an article (WSJ) about a TM competitor who had won multiple TM events. The article said (what I remember) the person was trying win a $100,000 prize offered by TM.

    Have you heard this story before? I can't seem to find any reference to it "googling". After reading your experience, I am wondering if TM somehow squelched it.

    Thanks for sharing

    Thanks for sharing

  24. Hi Steve,
    Found the answer to my question, Spartan Racer Hobie Call.

  25. What really irritates me about the marketing stance Tough Mudder takes is how I have to see their ads on facebook. One of their ads states; "Marathons are for rookies, step up to the big leagues." If Tough Mudder advertised that shit on their own website I would not care, but to see that absolute BS when I'm trying to see what my friends are up to is a joke. It's not harder than a marathon, I've had multiple friends confirm this. I would seriously support the race, if they stopped having their damn ads that I cannot avoid seeing, insulting marathon running on facebook.

  26. HI, It is interesting how troutboymagic stated that your blog/opinion is hurting US service men and women. However, all Tough Mudder cares about is making a buch they honestly don't care about our military, yes they donate money and I comend them for that but when it comes down to it I think its just for show. Again, just one persons opinion. I participated in Tough Mudder SoCal and then decided to do the upcoming NoCal event with my husband. My husband is a member of the Air Force. Being in the military you have no control over orders or being sent somewhere, they tell you when and where to be. We found out Around August 20th that he received orders and would be TDY (away with the military) on Sept 17th when we were supposed to do NoCal. I know the TM policy is that you cannot transfer if you're within 30 days of an event, but I emailed them, after all they're supposed to be military friendly! You can get out of a lease, phone contract, or anyother contract with military orders so I gave it a shot. The first response I received stated that they don't allow transfers within 30 days but since he's TDY they'll allow it. After some back and forth they told me how to go online and change the event where registered for. When it didn't work I wrote them again and received a response yesterday that stated there was a "miscommunication" and that we cannot transfer! Really???? We don't even want our money back we just want to do another event and they won't let us! There wasn't a "miscommunication" they lied and getting a buck is more important than supporting those in uniform! Feel free to look up the complete email thread on facebook, I posted a note about it my name is Tori Young Thanks!

  27. Dear Tori –

    Tough Mudder’s policy is to always provide refunds or free transfers to other events for service members who are called to duty, irrespective of our normal 30-day transfer policy.

    Please email again, and we will be happy to help you out (I am a senior
    customer service manager writing). Sorry for what looks to have been an unnecessary back and forth with our customer service department.

    More importantly, thank you and your husband for your service. Tough Mudder is proud to have helped raise more than $2 million for the Wounded Warrior Project in just our first two years in business.

    Finally, we have a lot of fun with the edgy marketing of our unique event (“marathons are boring”) and make no apologies. It’s a great time, and we encourage everyone to get a team of friends together, take the Tough Mudder pledge (below), and then take on “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.”

    As a Tough Mudder, I pledge that:

    * I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.

    * I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.

    * I do not whine – kids whine.

    * I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.

    * I overcome all fears.

    Stay Tough -
    Tough Mudder Headquarters

  28. I hate to dig up old topics but I am beyond livid at this point with the people at Tough Mudder, LLC.

    Here is my problem with the tough mudder.

    I registered for their PA event on May 12th 2012. A few days ago I received the time list. The date at the top said April 28th. I KNOW I didn't register for that date because at least 10 of my friends are running May 12th. I'll make a few points.

    A. I double checked the date I chose with the date my friends had chosen. The receipt I got after registration did not specify which event I had signed up for. Let's say I did make a mistake (which I did not) and the receipt listed the date I had signed up, I would have been able to rectify the problem minutes later. But here we are 5 months later just finding out that I'm registered for the April date instead of May.

    B. The company states in their policy that events are non-transferable one month prior to the event. Yet... I just found out via an email sent with the times on it 7 days after the one month mark that they messed up my registration and it is conveniently too late to solve the problem.

    C. The team includes two people, myself and my boyfriend. As of right now, their website says the Saturday may 12th event is 98% sold. Meaning they have openings. Yet they refuse to move us or refund us so that we can re-register on the correct date. Hell, even if they gave us our money back and re-registered, they'd make 100 more bucks off of us since the registration fee goes up the closer it is to the event.

    D. We spent $400 to run with our friends and have a good time. 400! for two insane amount of money that we thought was worth a day's event with close friends. We wanted a sense of accomplishment from the event. What we got for $400 was jack shit. We can't run with our friends, we are pissed, we don't want to run on a day that we didn't sign up for and we are out 400$ of hard earned money. Not only did they mess up my registration or make it impossible to correct a problem but they are stealing our money. HORRIBLE customer service.

    I'm close to reporting them to the better business bureau. Not that they give a crap because they still have our money and thousands of happy customers.

    I'm beyond upset and feel extremely disrespected.

    I did the Warrior Dash and enjoyed it thoroughly.

  29. Let me start by saying that overall I think this is a pretty decent event. I have a handful of friends who've completed it and had a great time doing it. To those who claim that it was easy; I think it's the type of environment where you can get out what you put in. There's no time and people tend to work together. There's no pressure if you're taking your time but if you want to go all-out and leave yourself in a state of complete exhaustion, that's an option too.
    I've been training for the past few months to compete in the TM this coming Saturday. I wanted to really push myself and crush my friends I was running it with.
    I'm a veteran and taking advantage of my GI Bill benefits. Due to a clerical error at the Veteran's Affairs office I am not getting paid this month and because of that I can't afford to take time away from work, rent a car to drive to Vermont, and compete with my friend.
    Because I'm from Southern Vermont my friends thought they would just come and support me when TM visits Vermont again in July, but TM denied my request to transfer my registration.
    A military veteran can't make a fundrasier for veterans due to a screw up by the veteran's affairs office and TM won't allow me to do something as simple as transfer my registration. Does anyone see the absurdity in that?
    I do commend TM for the money they've raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, but after dealing with this issue I began to wonder how good the organization really is? How much money do they really donate in comparison to their profits? While looking into that I came across this blog and decided to share my story.
    I'm sure there are some excellent people with nothing but good intentions in the TM organization, and I really believe it can be an excellent and enjoyable event, but I also can't help but speculate there are some in the organization that have their eyes locked onto the bottom line and nothing else.
    (On a side note: my father is also a veteran, made a donation on my behalf, and is also dissapointed they're not allowing me to transfer my registration)