This summer I had the opportunity to run both the MN Spartan Sprint and the Twin Cities Tough Mudder Full. I’ve been a certified Spartan SGX Coach since 2016 and I’ve run 3 Spartan Sprints and one Tough Mudder Full since that time. Here is my totally subjective comparison of the two races.

Course Length and Toughness

It would seem there should be no comparison here, because a Spartan Sprint is always only between 3 and 5 miles, and the Tough Mudder Full falls somewhere between 10 and 12 miles. This year’s Spartan was around 3.5, and the TM Full I ran was a hair over 10. However, my total course time for the two races was not that different – I finished the Spartan only about 20 minutes faster than the Tough Mudder.

How is this possible?

Hills.

While the Tough Mudder course was situated on what I would call rolling terrain (at the Wild Wings of Oneka hunting preserve in Hugo, MN), the Spartan was, once again, held on the ski slopes at Welch Village. I know the hills in Minnesota can’t be called mountains, but it sure felt like it on race day. This is typical of all Spartan races (except Stadium Sprints) – the terrain is intended to be it’s own obstacle. I don’t know if other Tough Mudder races are typically held on steeper or more rugged terrain, but in the Minnesota comparison, the Spartan race course was definitely tougher, even though it was shorter. (Note to readers: My time at the Spartan race was a bit slower than it might have been because I was running with a team and we ended up walking up ALL of the hills. However, last year when I ran it by myself for time, I also did a LOT of walking up those hills.)

You Call Those Obstacles?

When I ran my first Tough Mudder, I realized that it’s a very different event than a Spartan race. I’m sure this is by design, since people don’t want to simply run the same race at different venues with different logos on the finisher’s shirts at the end. Here was my impression of the obstacles, as expressed to my brother (who ran both races with me this summer) in breathless gasps around mile 7 or 8 of the TM: “At the Spartan race, it felt like the running parts were a rest between obstacles, and here the obstacles feel like a rest between the runs.” Of course there are a couple of logical reasons for this. First, there was a lot more running at the Tough Mudder because it was a longer race, and second, there was actual running at the Tough Mudder because running was possible for me on that terrain. But those aren’t the only reasons. Read on to learn more.

A Race Vs. A Challenge

The Spartan Race is a race – look, it says so right in the name! The Tough Mudder, however, is a challenge. Unless you opt in to a special (and relatively new) competitive pool, you don’t even get a timing chip and official finish time, and that’s by design. Whereas the Spartan racecourse is filled with competitors (many of whom will be glad to give you a quick hand up and over a wall or even do a few burpees for you), the Tough Mudder course is filled with comrades, who are charged to help their fellow Mudders complete the course successfully. Indeed, before each starting wave, an incredibly buff guy with a microphone makes you raise your right hand and swear that you will do so. So the obstacles at a Tough Mudder are designed for you to need help. I’d love to see a TM competitive heat sometime, because I have no idea how one person could possibly get over the Block Ness Monster or up the Pyramid Scheme alone. (Perhaps even the competitive heats require one to run as part of a team?) By contrast, the Spartan obstacles are intended to be overcome on your own, yet they are made to be incredibly hard (probably because the race’s creator, Joe DeSena, is crazy and he wants you to think about quitting a hundred times during the race, but at some point you realize the only way out is through the finish line). Here’s a good anecdote to give you a sense of the two races: At several points during the Tough Mudder, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is actually really fun!” By comparison, during my first Spartan race, at several points along the course I found myself thinking, “I think I’m actually going to finish this!” For me, the feeling of joy in each case was pretty much the same.

Burpees Vs. Electrocution

I think we all know the real difference between these two events, though, don’t we? It really just comes down to a question of what kind of masochist you are. Would you rather do 30 burpees for each obstacle you miss (and you will miss some, even the elites do), or would you rather get shocked with 10,000 volts of electricity, probably more than once?¬†After running both races, I think I’d take the shocks over the burpees (and the most obstacles I’ve ever failed in a Spartan race is only 4). But that just tells you how much I hate burpees.

So, in Spartan and Tough Mudder we have two OCRs that are very different from one another, but that leave you with a similar feeling of accomplishment at the end. I had a great time running both races, and I’ll definitely run them both again next year.