WTM 2013 game changer

By SOLO

If you have completed a Tough Mudder in the past little while, chances are you have received the following email:

“Mudders,

If 10-12 miles of Tough Mudder grit is somehow not enough for you, you’re going to want to read this email closely. World’s Toughest Mudder 2013 – a grueling 24-hour challenge designed to find the toughest man, woman, and 4-person team on the planet – is on its way. With an amped-up course, more prizes, and new qualification guidelines, it’s more badass than ever. Registration is now open – but don’t even think about signing up unless you’re physically and mentally prepared to be pushed beyond your limits.

PRIZES

We’ve increased the cash prize purse to $60,000 and made cash available to the top five men and women (and the top three teams) – but we’ve also added a few more prizes to acknowledge all forms of badass. Click here to get a taste of the prizes waiting to be claimed.

QUALIFICATION

It’s pretty simple this year – If you’re crazy enough to think that 24 hours of torture sounds like fun, then you’re eligible. Previously, we’ve asked people to qualify by submitting their times from a Tough Mudder event during the season. But this year, we’re going to be feeding you something even more intense, with more obstacles per mile. So how fast you can run isn’t as important – what really matters is how much pain you can push through. We’ll leave it up to the course to decide who the World’s Toughest Mudder is.”

To a lot of people, this email was quite a bombshell. Why mess with a good thing?

Seemingly, we still have “a brutal 24-hour test of physical and mental grit”. Same idea. Same time limit. Same venue.

What’s different? Let us consider the good, the bad and the ugly…

THE GOOD

  • cheaper registration

That’s good. I think? The early bird special is $350, which is almost $150 less than last year.

The price tag will probably still deter many. But for those who have to scrounge up the funds not only for the registration, but also for travel and gear, this is a welcome change.

  • more cash prizes

WTM 2013 presents one of the largest cash prize purses in OCR history, totalling $60,000. More prizes are available this year, including not only top 5 men and top 5 women, but also most night time laps, World’s Oldest Mudder, and others. No surprise here, as cash prizes have been growing in size along with the growth of the sport.

There is no doubt that a large cash purse will serve as bait. The top 5-10% will be racing to the death.

  • support crew

“We also know that no competitor does it alone. This year, we’ve designed an even better experience for your Support Crew of friends and family. Just because you’ll be tired and cold for 24 hours doesn’t mean they have to be. Stay tuned for more details. “

This is an interesting move. Some racers commented that WTM 2012 was very poorly set up to accommodate spectators, most of whom were freezing their butts off. It’s good to see TMHQ addressing this particular concern.

  • more obstacles

Again, I’m putting this tentatively under the good.

Last year with the winners covering over 90 miles, it was clearly a runner’s race. Few elite racers have expressed the sentiment that while longer should not necessarily mean better, in the world of obstacle racing that has been a trend. Spartan Ultra Beast, Death Race, World’s Toughest Mudder all required participants to cover a marathon distance or more.

It seems that WTM is planning to change that this year with “more obstacles per mile”, so “how fast you can run isn’t as important”. The response to this change seems to be mostly positive, although I’d argue that it’s always been about how far you can run, rather than  how fast.

So less running… Yay?

I hope we are careful not to start targeting the races to the “lowest common denominator”, so to speak… If people don’t like to run, do we make the races shorter? Really?

Few weeks ago running Toronto Tough Mudder 2013, I overheard a fellow Mudder complaining about the Arctic Enema, and how they should get rid of it. And put what instead? A jacuzzi?

 

Maybe we’ll get rid of the mud next.

THE BAD

  • removal of qualification

The fact that I’m placing this change under THE BAD clearly gives away my position. This was the change that caused the most reactions by far. Indifference, grudging acceptance, frustration, disappointment, red rage – emotions galore.

Many racers are upset, because they perceive this move as a cash grab. Despite a fairly expensive registration, I do not think that’s the case. TMHQ has commented before that given the infrastructure and scope of the event, they lose money on WTM every year. [Compare that with the Spartan Death Race, which has a comparable registration fee but no obstacle course to be constructed. And racers essentially pitch in with work around the farm. Talk about a high profit margin. Jackpot!]

While frustrated, I, however, am not surprised. Even a little bit. And I’d argue that the primary driver behind the change is logistics. The qualifications simply became too cumbersome to track.

While this seems like a radical change on the surface, many wondered if the whole qualification system had been a sham for a while…

Months ago, as I asked on the forums whether anyone has actually applied for WTM and been rejected, I have not heard back from a single person. In fact, some told me that people could just sign up days before the event.

In 2012 I qualified with the time of 3:40, achieved on my second lap – when I was tired and stuck in multiple bottlenecks at obstacles for as long as fifteen minutes. Are we feeling exclusive yet?

From the very beginning, the qualification for WTM was based on the honor system. You were to time yourself and submit the time to TMHQ. If that time was within the top 5%, you received an email, stating that you qualified for the World’s Toughest Mudder. If you did not qualify, you could apply through the wild card option. No one really knew what that meant, but everyone got in.

Some said that no qualification is the same as honor system qualification. Maybe… If we don’t have any honor. Yes, anyone could lie and submit whatever time they wanted. Somehow, I always thought we were better than that. You know? As athletes?

Ethics aside, it is true that the qualification standards for WTM have never been checked or reinforced. So why then, as one racer put it, “get our panties all bunched up”?

Note that most controversy and discussion has been around not the removal of qualification, but rather what the removal of qualification may mean.

For example…

… more injuries

It is possible that with the removal of any qualification standard the event will attract a less fit crowd this year. A good chunk of WTM participants in 2011 and 2012 were grossly underprepared, only completing 2-3 laps, with most dropping out with nightfall. Few hundred did not complete even one lap.

Chances are that just like in the previous two years after five to six hours into the event, this race will thin out considerably (just like it did in the previous two years), and only the strongest racers will remain.

It’s hard to tell whether this year’s event will attract stronger athletes or a more general crowd. Will it be a harder competition? Or easier competition?

… overcrowding

If anyone can sign up, does it mean that we end up with parking issues, shuttle bus nightmares and bottlenecks at the obstacles? Serious athletes are especially concerned about the latter, not wanting to be “stuck” behind others on multiple laps.

However, with the event organizers capping participants at around 1,500, overcrowding does not seem likely.

… event selling out

On the flip side of the issue, many worry about not getting a spot now that you do not need to qualify. After all, in the previous years, it could take months, as racers planned travel to a particular event, sometimes in another state or country!)

In the case that the event does sell out, will the additional spots will be offered? Will the event run over the two days to accommodate larger demand?

… loss of… eliteness (ha!)

What can I say? We seem to be quite fond of our eliteness. Any chance we get to feel special… Arbitrary or not, obstacle racers were proud to say they qualified for WTM. Hell, I was proud.

Qualifying for the WTM was a training goal for many. Some completed multiple Tough Mudders across the country to maximize their chances of getting in.

The Spartan Death Race has no qualifications. Hever had. (Not that I don’t think it should…). However, the premise is clear – we are going to try and break you over the course of long long hours. If that sounds like fun, please be our guest. There is plenty of prestige once you have your sweaty little hands on that skull. Until that moment, you are all the same sorry bunch of losers, lugging your asses up a mountain and chopping someone else’s wood.

Many racers suggested to stop bitching, stop whining, stop being children, STFU and either not come to WTM or come and show what they are made of. As Joshua Gustin Grant, WTM vet and Spartan Death Race 2012 winner, put it: “It’s not how you get in, but rather what you do once you get there”. I agree.

Yet if we insist on calling this a sport, it would make sense to heighten standards, not lower them. I still think it should take more than thirty bucks to run in an elite wave. In order to be in Corral A at the Chicago Marathon, you have to run a 3:10 marathon. Either that, or pay a little bit extra. Then you are in. Imagine…

However, this is yet another reminder that obstacle racing is a business before it is a sport.

Currently, the Spartan Ultra Beast seems to be the only event in the obstacle racing circuit that requires some sort of qualification. Although submitting 2-3 sentence application, which was the requirement for Vermont 2012, also seems somewhat laughable. And I am also not aware of anyone who applied to the Ultra Beast and was not accepted. Wait… this sounds familiar…

New in 2013, the Spartan Ultra Beast Sydney seems to be more exclusive (yay?) with a more involved application process:

  • You must have completed a Sprint in 75 minutes or under, or a Super in 150 minutes or under. Ok. Although I’m not sure how running a 3-5 mile race really really fast would do anything to demonstrate your ability to complete an ultra distance. Uphill.

  • You also must include a written endorsement from a registered personal trainer who would certify that you possess the strength, endurance and discipline to complete the UB. The race organizers are very careful to remind you that “your PT must provide HIS name”. I guess it’s so they can go after that him if the participant drops out. Also, I’m assuming female PTs are out. What do they know?

So… if you ARE a registered PT yourself, does that mean you can certify yourself? Don’t even get me started on the fact that most racers who would even consider doing the UB are probably fitter than most average PTs out there. No offense.

But I digress…

THE UGLY

  • lack of common courtesy

Our old friend Wikipedia suggests that to have common courtesy includes being considerate. Behaving with certain expected social conduct.

A little heads-up to previous WTM finishers before the information went public does not seem like an unreasonable expectation. It would only have been… considerate.

However, many WTM vets were unpleasantly surprised to find that WTM 2013 registration was open with no special code required.

Just as many have submitted their Tough Mudder times and were impatiently waiting for that qualifier email. You know? The one that said: “Congratulations! You finished in the top 5% at Tough Mudder [insert location] & have qualified for World’s Toughest Mudder 2013!

Yet, here it was. Open registration. Along with a little cliffhanger that said: “Official WTM 2013 Race Rules will be announced in June 2013. Expect some changes from last year.” No kidding.

  • short notice

We, obstacle racers, definitely are living on the edge. I hope you thrive on chaos, because otherwise all the random and sudden changes within the industry may indeed make you dizzy.

Toronto Spartan Beast is taking place in 2 months, and we still do not have the location. Forget making travel arrangements ahead of time. Living on the edge, remember?

I’d like to think this is an intentional move from the Spartan Race. You know… to keep us on our toes. To prevent athletes from training at the venue and gaining an unfair advantage. That’s why the location is still undisclosed. Right? Right???

Those who applied to the Vermont Ultra Beast, scheduled to take place at the end of September, still have not heard back. Not that there is any cause for concern. Something tells me that you all got in. Just a hunch…

  • false advertising

Two weeks ago I decided to forego completing the Toronto Tough Mudder with my team for the sake of running a faster lap in order to qualify for the WTM 2013. So forgive me that I’m upset when I retroactively find out that I did not have to qualify, after all…

I do not regret doing Tough Mudder for a second – it was an awesome course, and an awesome time. However, I do like to have my options open. An option to not participate in $150 event, or an option to participate in the event WITH my team.

Some athletes have centered their training around qualifying for WTM, and bought season passes in hopes of improving their time over the course of the season. Many have submitted their times this year and “qualified” for WTM 2013. Introducing a game changer halfway into the season just seems sneaky.

Changing rules is ok. Changing the rules is often necessary. It’d be fair to announce the changes in the week after WTM 2012. Some would still be upset, but I doubt we’d get such a vitriolic response.

And I can’t help but feel a little cheated.

* * *

“You are our best, you are our top 5%. You are freaking awesome!”, hollers Sean at the start of WTM 2012 official video.

Fast forward to WTM 2013.

“You are our best… customers! YOU are the fastest 1,500 to get out your credit cards! You are freaking awesome!”.

tm_logored

Ugh. Got my knickers in a bunch.

What are your thoughts on the recent changes to the WTM 2013?
Are you angry? Sad? Indifferent?

Signing off,
Solo

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Posted May 23, 2013

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