Tough Mudder Toronto
A Lesson in Business



I first heard about the Tough Mudder about a year ago.  At the time it was an event but not the worldwide extravaganza it’s turned into.  At less than 3 years old the Tough Mudder obstacle course is the fastest growing fitness event in the world.  I had no idea there were sooooo many stupid  really fit people.

The Tough Mudder is a  16 – 19km (10 – 12 mile) obstacle course designed by the British Special Forces.  Obstacles include propelling yourself up a half pipe, crawling through mud under barbed wire, running through a field of live electrical wires, and running straight up a mountain.  Repeatedly.

It’s a public relations dream this thing.  And I’m pretty sure the creator intended that.

The Tough Mudder event wasn’t invented by a group of athletes, or a former gym trainer.

The Tough Mudder was created by a graduate of the Harvard Business School.  Will Dean.

All of his professors told him his idea would fail.  It sucked.  He was a loser.

In this, its second full year of operation, Tough Mudder will make $70 million dollars.

Part of its success is the marketing of the course.  Associating it with the military, having you sign a death waiver prior to doing the course, giving participants a beer instead of a banana at the finish line.

And good for them.  In 2010, Will Dean took a $300 website and a $20 Facebook advertisement and turned it into a money making machine and a badge of honour for anyone who has entered it.  One $90 ticket at a time.

The race takes anywhere from 2 (if you’re young, lithe and insane) to 5 or 6 hours (if you’re old, lumpy or injured).  The thing about the Tough Mudder though is they won’t call it a race.  They do not time you and say the goal is to finish and help others finish it.  It’s not a race.  It’s a challenge.

That the fella completed in 2:55 minutes.


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The start line.


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The obstacles began before they even began.  Just to get INTO the starting section participants have to scale a flat wood wall. It’s hard to see the height here, but it’s around 8′ high.

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Every 15 minutes a new group of people burst through the start line.  The Tough Mudder took part over 2 days with people starting the race every 15 minutes.  Thousands took part.  Which kind of leads me to believe, if that many people could do it .. is it really that tough?  I mean I’m sure it’s tougher than sitting on the couch watching TLC, but …

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The second obstacle on the course was the Arctic Enema.  A tub of ice water the Mudder had to jump into after running up and then down a mountain.  To ensure it was sufficiently cold to send your gonads into your ear canals, fresh ice and snow was dumped in regularly.

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In, swim across, out the other side.  According to what people who did it told me it was the 2nd worst obstacle on the course in terms of sheer pain.

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And … back up the mountain.

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And that, my friends, was the last I saw of the fella for the next 2 hours.

You see, as well thought out a business venture as the Tough Mudder is, there are still a few kinks.

The spectator paths were non existent.  There were random “Spectator Path” signs placed here and there but they were spaced about 3 km apart.

Which isn’t as helpful as you’d think.

Neither was the map they provided us with.

It was almost impossible to make sense of and no I’m not saying that because I’m a “girl” and girls can’t read maps.

I can read a map with the best of them, and this one was useless. Everyone walking around said so.  My mother and I even picked up a stray girl who lost her friends as we wandered around.  She was around 30.  But still.  She was a stray.

It’s hard to get the right perspective from this photo but my 77 year old mother and I walked up this mountain looking for the fella.

My mother is 77.  It’s a mountain.  She walked up it.  In Fit Flops.

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This gives you some idea of the strength, stamina, drive and determination it takes to get through this course.

People literally dragged themselves through it.

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After wandering kind of aimlessly by way of the useless map, I finally made the decision to just head towards the end of the course.  By this point I had no idea what obstacle the fella could possibly be at or what kind of time he was making.  I could end up sitting at an obstacle he’d already done and never see him again.  Until we found each other and had our car ride home.

So after 2 hours of being lost I figured out how to get to Obstacle 14, where we waited, hoping the fella hadn’t already been by.   Out of a clump of trees he came.  Running way faster and looking much happier than he did when he ran The Around the Bay Road Race.

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Obstacle #14.

The Funky Monkey.

A monkey bar obstacle that runs up to the peak of a roof and then down.  Over water.

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You could see obstacle #15 in the distance so I sprinted to it to make sure I got to see it.

You see … Obstacle #15 is kind of special.

Obstacle #15

The Electric Eel.

Competitors have to crawl in water through rows and rows of  live wires.

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Viewer Discretion is advised for this next picture.

Graphic Content.

My foot got dirty. I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have shown you that. Look away.

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Obstacle #18


A slippery, plastic  half pipe at nearly the very end of the race that exhausted Mudders had to run UP.  Up the slippery,  30′ or so of almost vertical plastic pipe.

One of the girls on the fella’s team ran head first into the wall.

She got 11 stitches.

She finished the race.

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Pondering the stupidity to come.

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The fella climbed Everest.

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After Everest the Mudders only have 1 more obstacle to go, so they round the corner after Everest kind of giddy.

They’re grinning and smiling and high fiving people.  Then … without fail … once they rounded the corner, they all came to a halt.

For the path to the last obstacle and the finish line led them straight back up the mountain again.

My mother and I sat there for a while watching people’s reaction.  They swore, they cried, the crawled.

But they did it.

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Obstacle #19

The final obstacle

Electroshock Therapy

A field of lives wires, some carrying as much as 10,000 volts the Mudders have to sprint through.

I saw more than one person get knocked right off their feet and onto the ground from it.

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19 obstacles, 18 kilometers, 2 rounds of electric shock and 1 very large mountain later … it was done.

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And all for the joy of receiving a beer and this.

The coveted orange Tough Mudder headband.

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And the right to call yourself a Tough Mudder.

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The Tough Mudder enterprise has aligned itself with The Wounded Warrior Project and donates a portion of the proceeds to them.   The charity supports wounded veterans and their families.

To date Tough Mudder has raised $3, 500,000 for The Wounded Warrior Project.

The moral of this story?  Harvard Business professors are stupid.

Curious about what kind of shape I was in after watching the Tough Mudder?  Click here.


  1. Bee says:

    Have you heard of the Run For Your Lives obstacle course? It’s only a 5k but… you run from ZOMBIES! It’s in Toronto on the 26th ;-)

  2. Jeannie B. says:

    Just looking at these photos makes me feel exhausted. Your fella’s shirt was white at the beginning and totally filthy at the end. You must have some laundry secrets you can share with us. Or do you just burn or bury his clothes when you get him back home? Anyhow, it looks like it was a great day and everyone had a good time testing their strength, skills and sanity.

  3. Beks says:

    I was nearly game (some day) until I saw the live wires and water. WTF?

    Also, orange headbands? Why not wear a traffic cone hat?

  4. Ellen says:

    Yay for the fella!!! I get the feeling you’re pretty proud of him…

  5. Dawna Jones says:

    There are a hell of a lot of salad bowls floating around out there!!! LOL!

  6. Patti says:


    The nightmares I will have!

  7. Chris says:

    Wow he is one HOT Mudder! Forget about all your other blog things! Please just post more dirty pictures of the Fella! LOL

  8. Janine says:

    You are the true Tough Mudder, if that dirty foot is any indication.

  9. Jake says:


  10. Janine says:

    Love it…you got great shots!

  11. Nicole2 says:

    I can’t fathom paying $90 to be in pain. Are the live wires at the end there to provide them with a form of electric shock therapy to knock some sense into them? That just can’t be good for you. Maybe that explains why the fella’s head was a salad bowl after this…

  12. Sherry (BTLover2) says:

    I love you more each day…

  13. Jules says:

    wow- that seemed like a lot of work for you Karen – glad you made it through spectating unscathed! Your fella is an animal!

  14. Maggie V says:

    Karen you live with one tough mudder and a cute one at that. You go Fella! Kudoos to you Karen for wandering around aimlessly for over 2 hrs with your Mom in tow to support the fella. Congrats to all of you.

  15. Donna M says:

    I was soooo excited to read about the Fella and the Tough Mudder and gleefully clicked on the email to open it. I could hardly wait to see what witty things you have written about such an awesome event and possible a pic or two of the Fella thrown in for fun. But the absolute best part of the post that made me laugh so hard I actually snorted into my coffee? The fact that the fella was wearing a WHITE shirt!!! I am thinking a post on mud removal and laundry tips is next….keep them coming Karen! And congrats to the fella on a mudder done well.

    • Tigersmom says:

      His T-shirt was white? I had to go back up and look.

      Congrats to the fella on finishing this and with an impressive time, to boot.

      And special congrats to you, Karen, for surviving that onslaught of dirt while having to wear yourself out watching all that physical exertion.

      I don’t know how you did it, (my husband is pretty stubbornly untrainable) but you have somehow gotten the fella to actually look at your camera while doing the most intense things. I’m now envisioning you jumping up and down and waving your arms at him while screaming, “Honey! Look over here!”

  16. Karen J says:

    LOL…my Marathon Man doesn’t pay much attention to the blogs I follow but when he saw me reading about the tough mudder this morning he practically pushed me out of my chair! Good job Karen. You just might have a new follower:)

    • Karen says:

      LOL. It was quite an experience. I must say the fella was in much worse shape after the 30k Around the Bay Road Race though.

  17. Brenda says:

    OK Now I know how he finished his workout with a broken foot..good gawd…electric wires??? I need to go nap.
    Kudos to them and for the money they raise for such a good cause. K, the fella is a keeper.

  18. Kim says:

    My Hubbs is doing one in April with all his coworkers. I’m proud, you could say, but I also think he’s a little insane.

  19. Gayla T says:

    Don’t you have to wonder what they did in a previous life they are having to pay for in this one and never have a clue? My entire focus of my life is to be able to put enough medication into myself to not have the pain of Fibromyalgia and to see people who seek is is beyond me. Too bad we can’t switch brains so he could walk around hurting all day and I could do what ever I would like to do and can’t because of the debilitating pain is causes. Where in this event did he break his foot? How is that doing? I don’t get it and I can tell you don’t either. My brother-in-law and his friends used to put a burning cigarette between the two guy’s arms and see who could stand the pain of being burned longest. He is now an old dude with burn scars all over his arms. He was in high school and his mom had just died and I thought it had something to do with that. He always won though you wouldn’t know it to look at the scars. He told me recently that what no one knew was that there was a bottle of vodka in the bathroom and every time he went to pee he chugged it. He was pretty medicated and his friends thought he was a really tough guy. He really was but not to the extent they thought. Men! What can you say?

  20. mimiindublin says:

    Mmmmmm, fairly sure I could knit a copy of that headband, while sitting on the couch watching tv!
    I can never see the point of this kind of stuff, esp the electric shock bit, I just think it’s dangerous.
    Takes all sorts, doesn’t it?
    Wouldn’t it be great if they had coffee and ice-cream stations all round the course, you know, refreshments for the hard-pressed spectators/supporters? Nothing to do with teasing participants of course.

  21. Krikit says:


  22. Rebecca says:

    Before reading this post, I had considered doing a Tough Mudder. Now I just think it sounds insane.

  23. Theresa says:

    please tell me this was not on the fractured foot– otherwise a weirdly dopey yet noble accomplishment – do they really help each other along the way ?- cause thats the thing that puts this a little further away from stupid for me

  24. Kelly M says:

    There are two guys here your guy should meet, they are brothers, they would gleefully do the tough mudder. They sort of rock, sort of like it seems your guy does. Maybe you and your guy should come to Haines AK for our (small part of a large) State Fair.

  25. Sarah N. says:

    My boyfriend ran the California one in July. Unfortunately I was stuck working that weekend and couldn’t justify flying from Texas to California to watch. He will be running a local one in the spring.

    He likes to say he was the fattest person to finish. (he is most likely right)

    • Chau says:

      This must be the one in Big Bear Lake’s Snow Valley Ski resort. Our neighbor’s friends’ son and his friend participated the event and told us the tail of it. The parking lot was not big enough so they had to shuttle people up the mountain which took at least 35-40 minutes each way. Karen, you cracked me up all the time. Kudos to Tough Mudder and their charity support.

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