Tough is the term that applies to participants of both events. Tough is what it takes an individual to train. Tough is what is takes an individual to finish. Ultratough is a term for women and men who complete both. This and the question “Are they crazy?” is often the general public’s opinion of Tough Mudder and American River 50 participants. But what are these really? Are they measures of strength? Are they tests of endurance? Maybe, they represent blind faith? They are all of these and much more.
In the Tough Mudder events, participants follow an obstacle course, using all the muscles in their body. Muscles in the arms, chest, groin, upper leg, lower leg, and feet all work together. They climb. They crawl. They jump. They swim. They run through fire. They are not timed. On the website, they call this a test of stamina, strength, grit, and camaraderie. They encourage the participants to help each other, especially to participate in teams. Ultimately, the goal is to have fun. They even have a “Tough Carnival” at the finish where crazy awards, such as best mullet, worst/best costume, and least clothing, are given out. Vouchers for tattoos of the logo are given out on a first come, first serve basis.
For the American River 50, runners line up on the track at Sacramento State, CA and head out on a bike path eventually hitting the foothills, running trails and arriving at the finish in Auburn, CA. Unlike the Tough Mudder, the AR 50 is a competitive ultrarunning race on trails whose biggest demands are an ability to run far and to keep your wits about you for a long period of time. In the ultrarunning world, camaraderie is what makes these type of races so appealing. AR 50’s drop out rate is usually less than 10%. Through the asphalt, flatter dirt trails, and climbing up hills from mile 32 on, the AR 50 continuously follows an uphill route. From the final 2 1/2 miles and last aid station, you can see the steep, wide open fire road and hear the finish. The participants and supporters are screaming, shouting, and cheering. These sounds echo down the canyon while running up to the finish. This part of the race always motivated me. In all my five AR 50’s, I always ran this part of the race. The year I ran under 8:30, I spotted a female runner about a mile+ up the trail. I ran so hard that I only missed catching her by 11 seconds.
Training for these two events involves different regimes. Tough Mudders are people not afraid to get down and dirty. Completion is the challenge. Each participant is expected to recite and take a pledge. The pledge has 5 parts:
• 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 my fears.
This event challenges women and men to test their limits. The ultimate goal is to face your fears and finish. The preparation for Tough Mudders involves the entire body. You are rated according to how you answer a series of questions. The ratings are Mudderling, Maybe Mudder, and Tough Mudder. The idea is to train up to the Tough Mudder fitness level by the time of the event. The schedule is set out in a circuit series format. The circuit includes running, lifting, pull-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, squats, slide planks, climbing, lunges, and towel pull-ups. The circuits vary by cardio vs. obstacle. This is an event where you get muddy, wet, cold, and strive to participate in team camaraderie. Team participation is encouraged but there are individual participants as well. You need to be focused in the present, one obstacle at a time, just to finish. The drop out rate runs about 22%. The Tough Mudder swag is merely an orange headband and a beer according to the website. Definitely not an event that motivates you by the swag.
The American River 50 is a race about endurance running, persistence, and mental strength. This race can be highly competitive. Going beyond the limits of running, we once thought impossible for human beings to do. There is a step process for running this event, starting by running a half marathon on trails. Next, you need to train for and have run trail marathons (26.2 miles). This just sets up a foundation for you’re running a 50-mile trail race. Learning to run when you are tired is important. My very best AR 50 unexpectedly arrived when I had only one hour of sleep. Another important step to take is running a 50K in training for the race. Consistent training, including long runs on the weekend, is more important than overall big mileage. Training also includes rest days, which are meant to actually rest the body. Pacing yourself is critical in this race. In the years of running AR 50-mile (5 times), I watched a number of participants make poor choices. One young man (Ken, 25 years old), started out at a blistering pace, he did the first 27 miles in 2:56, but actually finished in over 9 hours and was whipped.. Usually, a moderately hilly course, such as the AR 50, takes anywhere from just over 5 1/2 hours to this year’s final finisher was in 14 hours. The swag reward is significant at this event. Only if you finish are you presented a brand new jacket from top notch sports clothing manufacturers, such as Hind. Definitely, an event to be completed for the finishing swag.
Tough Mudder and AR 50-mile race are for tough competitors. Tough Mudder involves all over fitness for completion and AR 50 requires solid running legs with overall fitness optional but helpful. Both events expect participants to have stamina, strength, grit, and camaraderie, but the Tough Mudder additionally requires participants to face their fears. These are ultimately both challenges not for the feint of mind.