A number of people have asked me to compare Tough Mudder (TM) with Urbanathlon (UA) since I have taken part in each event.* I’ll preface my comments by noting that I have only done each event one time, so I’m hardly an expert. Also, I believe that one’s impression of an event can vary greatly depending on a number of variables, both external and internal to the participant. For example, the day I took part in Tough Mudder it was overcast and cool — this made for a lot of very cold (and some hypothermic) participants–the one photo I don’t yet have is of me and my teammates running whilst wrapped in sheets of mylar in an attempt to get warm.
First the basics.
Urbanathlon is a RACE. It is timed and it is competitive.
Tough Mudder is a CHALLENGE. It is not timed and it is cooperative.
These are generalizations: there are competitive aspects of TM and there are cooperative aspects of UA — but the overall vibes of these events are very different.
UA covers approximately 10 miles in a city, mostly paved, with 7 obstacles along the way.
TM covers approximately 11 miles in a rural, non-paved, muddy setting with 20 obstacles along the way.
In UA the obstacles challenge physical fitness and are not extremely difficult, but a competitor is required to complete all the obtacles. (See below).
In TM the obstacles challenge physical fitness as well as other characteristics, e.g. ability to deal with extreme cold, fear of electrical shock, fear of confined spaces, etc. Participants are not required to finish any of the obstacles. The incentive to do so is based on ego, pride, and team spirit.
Obviously, because UA is timed competition, being able to skip or not complete an obstacle would give an unfair advantage to the person/team that does so. Thus, completing each obstacle is a requirement in UA:
WHAT HAPPENS IF I CAN’T COMPLETE AN OBSTACLE?
All obstacles must be completed in order to continue on with the race. Racers are free to work together to complete any of the obstacles. However, racers who cannot complete an obstacle will not be permitted to finish the race and issued a DNF. Race staff will be enforcing this rule on race day
Also, what constitutes “completing” an obstacle has a different meaning in UA and TM. In TM, most of the obstacles have an exit if the participant cannot complete it. Generally, these exits are unpleasant, e.g., if you can’t make it across the water using the rings, you will fall into the (rather cold) water and will have to wade across the rest of the obstacle. In UA, there is no exit, either you can make it over the wall or you can’t. (Note however, that usually another competitor or a race official with give participants a hand if they are really struggling.)
No one on my TM team (including me) was able to complete all of the obstacles without using an exit, but most of us attempted all of the obstacles. And for many of the obstacles, we worked as a team to make sure that we all completed them. This created a real sense of accomplishment and team spirit.
In UA, you either run the whole thing by yourself, or as part of a 3-person team, with each person running one leg of the event. So, even if you do UA as a team, you are running it alone — you don’t have any team members next to you helping and encouraging you.
In TM, you can run solo or with a team with as many members as you like. In TM, teams generally run it together–or at least re-group every so often. TM has its roots in military training and it builds team cohesion in a special way. The mission is to get your team from point A to point B through a bunch of obstacles; each team member has his/her strengths and weaknesses, and we help each other so that we all successfully complete the mission together. I really liked this aspect of TM.
Lastly, I think that UA less physically challenging from a strength perspective but is more aerobically intense. Again, I remind you that I have only done each event once, so I sure some people have a very different perspective. In the case of TM, I did it in Tahoe at an elevation of 7000 ft. The fact that our team was not used to the altitude, that we were all very cold, and that it is not a race, meant that we really were not pushing ourselves to run fast (or sometimes even to run at all) between obstacles. We were focused on finishing, and on doing our best on each obstacle.
In contrast, in UA you are running alone, and you realize that your team is counting on YOU to run your fastest. Also, there is simply a lot more uninterrupted running to do. Recall that the courses in UA and TM are about the same distance, but TM has 3 times as many obstacles.
So, if you are getting ready to do UA, my advice is run, run, run. Run up long hills, run up steep hills (but not down them — too hard on the knees). Run 5Ks as fast as you can. Just run! 🙂
Oct. 6, 2012
* A little bragging here: When I ran the UA in 2011, I had a cold, but my team still managed to take 3rd place in the mixed (co-ed) category out of 67 teams.