Spartan Race vs Tough Mudder: Which Is More Grueling?

Fans of adventure sports, reality shows and, endurance events have all been cheering for some increasingly popular yet unconventional races that have popped up in recent years. Two of which include the Spartan Race and the Tough Mudder. 

Of course, they both demand qualities like endurance as well as physical and mental strength, but which one is the most grueling? Even better, what does it take to actually finish one of these events?

While physical fitness obviously plays a major roll in the ability to compete in one of these events, supplementation should not be ignored. If you plan on signing up to be a Spartan or a Mudder, you should definitely take care of your body. Ramp up your energy with some creatine, and soothe sore joints with glucosamine.

The Spartan Race

spartan race barbed wire crawlThis race is actually a series of several different events all staged around a similar theme. These are obstacle races with distances that vary from 1 mile to marathon distances.

They include the Spartan Sprint (3+ miles of obstacle racing), Super Spartan (8+ miles), Spartan Beast (12+ miles), and the Ultra Beast (26+ miles). There is even the Spartan Death Race which is a 48+ hour extreme test of endurance and resilience.

These events were founded back in 2001, with the first actual live Spartan Race held in 2010 in Williston, Vermont. The event drew 500 competitors who underwent all types of ingeniously clever obstacles.

Each athlete who finished receives a medal and the top athletes receive prizes. Over the course of just the last few years these events now draw thousands of competitors.

One of the most interesting things about this race is that the company does not provide a course map or a list of the obstacles to competitors until race day. Each runner must complete the obstacle or perform burpee penalty exercises (a full body combination exercise that is a cross between a squat lunge and a push up).

Nevertheless, there are a number of obstacles which do seem to show up regularly in these events. They include: 

  • Fire Jump: Just as it sounds, competitors leap over flames, usually placed at either the beginning or the end of the race.
  • Barbed Wire Crawl: A crawl that ranges between 20-100 yards, through mud, and under barbed wire.
  • Spear Throw: Throw a wooden spear into a target from a distance of 10-20 yards. If it does not stick, there is a penalty of 30 burpees.

The Tough Mudder

a tough mudder obstacleThe British Special Forces developed the Tough Mudder in 2010, another grueling event meant to test the endurance and the will of participants. This is a series of events where athletes attempt a 10-12 mile long military style obstacle course. Interestingly, this event actually encourages teamwork with a number of the obstacles designed to be nearly impossible to complete alone.

Even though most events are untimed, only 78% of entrants successfully complete the course. The first event was held in the US in 2010 and it is currently the fastest growing adventure series in the world. In 2012, nearly 500,000 people competed around the world in a total of 35 events.

tough mudder electric fieldThe typical course is 10-12 miles long and includes between 20 and 25 obstacles. Since the natural features of the terrain at each course location are incorporated into the design each place offers a unique experience. And although the obstacles do vary, some of the most common include:

  • Arctic Enema: Plunge into a dumpster full of ice water, dive underneath a plank, and then pull yourself out on the other side.
  • Electroshock Therapy: Live wires with up to 10,000 volts of electricity hang over a field of mud. Participants must negotiate their way through this to reach the finish line.
  • Funky Monkey: A set of incline and decline monkey bars cross over a pit of cold water. If this sounds too easy, fear not; the bars are covered with a mixture of butter and mud just to make things more interesting.
  • Everest: Simply run up a quarter pipe that has been slicked down with mud and grease.

Spartans vs. Mudders

So which is more demanding? Hard to say, although I think from sheer popularity and growth we would have to conclude that at the very least the Tough Mudder seems more fun to watch. I have a feeling, though, that the Spartan Ultra Beast and Death Race are probably the summit of true endurance challenges, both physically and mentally.

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