How Du Tough Mudder went global

Jay Asser explores the growth of Tough Mudder as it prepares for its UAE bow.

Jay Asser
by Jay Asser
6th December 2016

article:6th December 2016

Strength in numbers: The event breeds camaraderie and teamwork.
Strength in numbers: The event breeds camaraderie and teamwork.

Rolling in mud, being submerged in ice water and enduring electric shocks may sound like a miserable time to many, but for a segment of the fitness world, it’s another way to exercise.

The fitness industry is ever-expanding and far-reaching, with alternative forms becoming more and more mainstream. Obstacle course events are no different and their popularity has surged over recent years to now rival more traditional races like marathons and triathlons.


Arguably the leading name in obstacle course and endurance events is Tough Mudder, which has grown exponentially since starting in 2010. The brand has had more than 2.5 million participants across three continents to date and will finish this year with more than 120 events staged in 10 countries.

Dubai will be the latest city to host the experience as the du Tough Mudder makes its debut in the emirate at Hamdan Sports Complex this weekend on December 9-10. The UAE is no stranger to obstacle course and endurance events, but Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean believes the appetite for the concept is as big as ever.

“I think the younger generation sees experience as being the new luxury good,” he told Sport360.

“What kind of watch we have or what kind of car we drive is less important than the memories we share. Our memories appreciate in value and our iPhones are quickly replaced with something better.

“Secondly, I think fitness has changed. Functional fitness is much bigger now than it used to be. I’m not against marathons or triathlons, but if you only run or bike, you’re not going to be in the best shape you can be. You need to have that functional fitness and that’s what Tough Mudder is about.”

Dean, who is a native of Great Britain, came up with the idea as a second-year MBA candidate at Harvard Business School in Boston. Again, he wasn’t the first person to imagine the obstacle course, but by refining the obstacles, upping the challenge and focusing on values like personal achievement and teamwork, Tough Mudder has thrived.

Tough Mudder now includes its standard 10-12 mile series of military-style obstacle courses, a five-mile version called the Tough Mudder Half, a course created by women for women called Mudderella, an event for children aged seven to 12 called Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder and its signature 24-hour endurance competition, the World’s Toughest Mudder.

An 8km and 16km course will be available to those eager to get dirty in Dubai this weekend, as well as the 1.5km du Mini Mudder for aforementioned children.

Tough Mudder has also partnered with Dubai Sports Council and got IMG on board as organisers, which is one of the major factors behind Dean finally feeling it was the right time to expand into the Middle East.

“Dubai is a market we’ve been planning on coming to for several years now,” he said. “You have a large, young middle class here into health and wellness. There’s a trend around the world – it’s true here as well – more people put more emphasis on being healthy and living healthy lifestyles. But not just that, but challenging themselves and taking on new things.

“This is a part of the world that’s pioneering. People are doing new things and looking for new adventures. You also have a large expat community, so you have a lot of people that have relatively high disposable income, free time and are young enough to come do things.

“I also think Tough Mudder as a company is now sophisticated enough that we can work with third parties and actually support them in the way we need. But in IMG, you have the world’s largest sports marketing company, world-class event production skills and they’re very, very strong on the ground here in Dubai.”

Despite putting on an event for the first time in this region, Dean is confident with his target of 5,000 participants – and he has every reason to be.

As mentioned, Tough Mudder’s participation numbers are through the roof. But maybe the number that truly speaks to Tough Mudder being a movement is 5,000, as in approximately how many people have a tattoo of the Tough Mudder logo.

That dedication and passion is the result of what Tough Mudder puts people through, both physically and mentally.

Just take a look at the list of obstacles. Participants have to jump into a dumpster filled with ice water in Arctic Enema, traverse through a mud field with live wires hanging overhead in Electroshock Therapy and run up a slick quarter pipe covered in mud and grease in Everest. Those are just a few of the insane creations thought up by Tough Mudder’s research and development team, which Dean describes as “nutty professors”.

But more than just pushing your body to the limit, the obstacles are specifically designed to inspire teamwork and camaraderie, whether that’s helping fellow participants or encouraging them on the course. That’s one of the qualities that Dean believes really separates Tough Mudder from the competition.

“I really believe that the best companies out there are purpose-driven organisations, companies that exist to try and make the world a better place,” Dean said. “Maybe that sounds cliche to some but that’s what I believe and I believe Tough Mudder gets people to live happier, healthier lives.

“It gets people to spend time with their friends, it pushes them to do something they weren’t sure they can do, so people feel good about themselves. The key to building self confidence is doing things that scare you a little and Tough Mudder is a little scary. I’m proud of that and I’m proud that it’s something that forces you to turn off your smartphone for a couple of hours and actually spend time with your friends.

“If you’re the kind of person that holds the door open for somebody or helps someone with their luggage, you’re actually going to be a happier person. The brain releases endorphins when you help people and Tough Mudder is just the extreme version of that.”


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