World’s Toughest Mudder 2013: and it won’t change a thing?

World’s Toughest Mudder registration went live two weeks ago, and judging from the Facebook and social media reaction, you would have thought TMHQ had punched a baby.

“NO qualification process?!?” seemed to be the resounding outcry. Hundreds (read, in reality: dozens) of
affronted people, worried that the race wouldn’t be “elite” enough, or that the out-of-shape masses would crowd Raceway Park in New Jersey, leaving the finishers to step over frozen bodies littered around the course after 24 hours. I skimmed the new changes, and the only thing that came to mind was “meh”.

Newsflash, folks: it’s going to be the same, miserable race we keep going back for, year after year. It’s still the undeniable pull to brave the winter New Jersey weather, just to say you did it – the worst form of voluntary torture.

What doesn’t matter

Let’s be honest: there was NEVER a true qualification process for WTM. You submitted a “time” on an untimed event, an event that prides itself on teamwork; magically, everyone I know that submitted a time was accepted. And even if you didn’t run a Tough Mudder that year, you could be a “wildcard.” And all of those people that I knew of, all got accepted. Simply, if you were stupid enough to fork over the registration fee, WTM would take you.

In 2011, a little under1000 people lined up at the start. 2012, a few hundred more. The vast majority of those quit after one lap. By late afternoon, the course was a ghost town both years. And in the middle of the night, I welcomed meeting warm bodies along the way. This year, they are capping the event at 2500. If that many people register (which I doubt), the course may be a bit crowded for the first two laps. But don’t forget that the number of DNS’s will be high like in past years (especially if the weather takes a turn for the worst a few days before the race).

Personally, I’m looking forward to have more people out there to help pass the time.

If only the starting like was like this #nowetsuitneeded

So chill out, everyone – numbers, lack of qualifications, etc. – WTM will still be the WTM we love and hate. (oddly enough, the most outspoken critics appear to be people that have never even run a WTM. I’m not even going to go there.)

But…..a Game Changer?

Of the WTM changes, the only one that bothers me is the one that no one is talking about: allowance of a pit crew.

I hate support crews. I hate the concept of them. I’ve always hated that the Death Race allows them (that’s an entirely different and very entertaining rant). I firmly believe that (1) they get in the way; (2) they make the race less about the racer’s abilities; (3) take away a key element of what makes WTM so hard: self-sufficiency and strategy.

Foraging in the tent during WTM 2011
Foraging in the tent during WTM 2011

If you have someone in your pit area prepping warm food and drink, drying out your clothes, etc., it could be a game changer. In the past, I’ve had to strategize how to lay out clothes, lay out nutrition, make sure that wet clothes don’t freeze between laps.*

The race should be about the racer’s athletic, mental, and physical wherewithal, not who can hire the best support staff. I full acknowledge that, in other races (such as ultras), crews are expected. But WTM isn’t, and shouldn’t become, like other races.

But even this isn’t an “OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING” change. You live, you adapt. In the end, it’s still going to be handful of people out there at the 23 hour mark, hurting and miserable, cold and exhausted, thinking to themselves “why the hell am I do doing this” and telling everyone who will listen “please don’t ever let me do this again.”

Yet we will.

*Sidebar: People complained all last year about the lack of adequate numbers of microwaves, or hot showers, etc. Personally, I’d do away with both (except for having the showers post-race. That, I can get on board with). Racers shouldn’t rely on TMHQ to provide these, and if those are your biggest concerns, then it’s probably worth rethinking why you are there.