What it means to be Tough

Fast Company - - Contents - By Ni­cole La­porte

Once dom­i­nated by ex­treme ath­letes, ob­sta­cle-course com­pany Tough Mud­der is ex­tend­ing a hand to fit­ness en­thu­si­asts around the world.

TOUGH MUD­DER, THE OB­STA­CLE-COURSE COM­PANY THAT PUTS REG­U­LAR PEO­PLE THROUGH AL­MOST COM­I­CALLY EX­TREME CHAL­LENGES, IS TRY­ING TO CLEAR ONE OF THE BIG­GEST HUR­DLES IN BUSI­NESS: SCAL­ING FROM ONE-HIT WON­DER TO GLOBAL PHENOMENON.

IT’S JUST BE­FORE MID­NIGHT ON A SATUR­DAY IN APRIL, AND HUN­DREDS OF MEN AND WOMEN IN WORK­OUT GEAR AND RUNNERS’ HEAD LAMPS ARE STAND­ING IN THE MID­DLE OF AN OPEN FIELD IN FAIR BURN, GE­OR­GIA, ABOUT 20 MILES SOUTH­WEST OF DOWN­TOWN AT­LANTA. DE­SPITE THE HOUR, THEY’RE TO­TALLY WIRED, SHAK­ING OUT THEIR LIMBS

and bob­bing ner­vously in place. One guy has a pink mo­hawk. An­other looks like an ex-marine. A group of young women in Ly­cra shorts and tank tops gives off a more cor­po­rate vibe. What unites them is a shared de­sire to com­plete an eight-hour ob­sta­cle race, pro­duced by the Brook­lyn-based com­pany Tough Mud­der. The Tough­est Mud­der, as this event is called, kicks off at mid­night and in­volves glee­fully sadis­tic chal­lenges such as the Au­gus­tus Gloop (in which com­peti­tors have to climb up a plas­tic shaft as wa­ter pours down) and Elec­troshock Ther­apy (where par­tic­i­pants run through a gaunt­let of dan­gling elec­tric wires). Also, there’s mud. Twenty-five-hun­dred acres of it.

Sean Corvelle, the night’s spir­i­tual leader and em­cee, leads the group in three rounds of “HOORAH!” and then asks ev­ery­one to raise their right hand to re­cite the Tough Mud­der pledge, a creed that a num­ber of ath­letes have tat­tooed on their bod­ies: “I un­der­stand this is a race. But not an ex­cuse to be a self­ish jerk. I will up­hold the Tough Mud­der val­ues of team­work and ca­ma­raderie. I will help my fel­low com­peti­tors com­plete the course. And I will not whine. Losers whine . . . . ”

When the last words are chanted, Corvelle booms, “All right, let’s get ’em outta here! Mud­ders, here we go!”

The rac­ers whoop and howl and charge off into the dark­ness.

Me? I’m nearly 3,000 miles away in Los An­ge­les, watch­ing the event un­fold via Face­book Live, pumped up on pain killers and mus­cle re­lax­ants af­ter a back in­jury kept me from board­ing a plane to At­lanta 24 hours ear­lier. But be­ing a spec­ta­tor isn’t so bad. This is quite a spec­ta­cle. Tough Mud­der be­gan seven years ago as a wacky ac­tiv­ity—a 10- to 12-mile mud run with 20 cheeky ob­sta­cles to con­quer—of­fer­ing av­er­age work­ing peo­ple Mon­day-morn­ing brag­ging rights. Tens of thou­sands of view­ers are stream­ing this markedly longer and more elab­o­rate week­end event on Face­book, while tens of thou­sands more watch on Periscope, Twitch, and Snapchat. Ob­servers chime in with “Go get ’em” and “Wish I were there,” which flicker down my screen by the sec­ond. Some boast about stay­ing up all night, as if it’s their own ex­treme chal­lenge.

For a sport that re­quires par­tic­i­pants to sign a death waiver, Tough Mud­der has al­ways put hav­ing fun first. Of­ten de­scribed as a cross be­tween Burn­ing Man and an Iron Man, the event prom­ises free beer for fin­ish­ers and has tat­too artists at select events to ink the Tough Mud­der logo on peo­ple’s skin—some­thing the com­pany claims 20,000 peo­ple have done.

To­day, though, Tough Mud­der it­self is fac­ing a hur­dle. The com­pany is no longer a scrappy, twop­er­son startup housed in a Brook­lyn ware­house,

Tough Mud­der Cen­tral Texas, which took place May 6 and 7,

2017, and is de­picted through­out this story, is renowned among par­tic­i­pants as one of the messier cour­ses of the 130 events that the com­pany will stage this year.

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