For Tough Mudder founder Will Dean, there’s much more to fitness than getting your heart pumping and sweat flowing. We sat down with this thrill-seeking entrepreneur to chat about escaping your comfort zone, overcoming obstacles (both literally and figuratively!), pushing your mental and physical limits, and finding the camaraderie to get you to the finish line.
1. What inspired you to come up with the Tough Mudder concept?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and grew up knowing that I wanted to start my own company. For many people, going to Harvard Business School tends to lead you towards careers in finance or banking, and I was determined not to head towards a career in either. I was always into marathons and triathlons in my 20s, and one of my early aha! moments with Tough Mudder really stemmed during one of my triathlons; it actually started with a zipper during the race. My wetsuit zipper was jammed, so I asked a guy to give me a hand in pulling it up. He refused – yes, refused – to assist me because that simple act would add on too much to his time. Mind you, this wasn’t a race that either of us had any chance of winning. That moment stuck with me, as well as an overall attitude around races hyper-focused on your own performance. I knew from then on that I wanted to create an event that emphasizes supporting one another, teamwork and fun over competition.
2. Tough Mudder, much like Flywheel, is built on the excitement of the challenge. What brought you to this approach to fitness?
I found that training for and running marathon and triathlons was incredibly tedious and intimidating for many people. Tough Mudder, on the other hand, provides our participants with truly engaging and innovative ways to achieve their fitness goals. You see people from all walks of life and athletic abilities taking on our events, and a large part of that is because we’ve built a community that’s not about your fitness level but overcoming and facing the challenge itself. What’s more fun than incorporating challenges and overcoming them alongside teammates and friends? We have a dedicated team that is constantly working to innovate and develop new and unique challenges that will test participants both mentally and physically. We’re always dreaming up new obstacles that will keep everyone on the course constantly challenged, as well as event series that provide different entry points into the brand for people of different fitness levels.
3. What are the benefits of infusing competition with fitness? Does it push people harder? Makes them more likely to succeed?
The obstacles certainly create a sense of fun and memorable competition, but it’s really a competition within yourself as you attempt to achieve fitness goals and experience a sense of personal accomplishment. People come to Tough Mudder to get out of their comfort zones and push themselves harder than ever. They get to do that while having the support and encouragement of teammates and event total strangers that are fellow participants. It’s a shared challenge. It’s the Tough Mudder way. At our most popular events, Tough Mudder Half and Tough Mudder Full, it’s a challenge, not a race. There is no clock and no punishments for skipping obstacles, and teammates will always be there to support along the way. It strikes a healthy balance between pushing past your physical and mental limits, overcoming fears, working together and generating a huge sense of accomplishment, and it’s rare you’ll find that balance in other fitness activities.
4. Tough Mudder is also all about teamwork. How have you seen building a community helps people succeed in fitness?
Tough Mudder provides our participants with a genuine sense of achievement as they overcome mental and physical obstacles and support and help others along the way. That was missing before Tough Mudder. We tap into a unique set of core values for people of all ages and backgrounds, and that will continue to drive and motivate us to improve the product and make it even more accessible. It’s very true that most people today value experiences over mental goods, and there’s no experience like stepping outside your comfort zone with your friends and family by your side – and getting good and muddy while you’re at it.
5. How many Tough Mudders have you completed?
I’ve done at least 20 Tough Mudders over the years, and quite frankly I’m starting to lose count! I’ve personally tried every single obstacle we’ve put out on our courses, and I’ve tried almost every one that’s been in the testing phase as well, event those that never made it on the course.
6. I’m sure you get this a lot, but Tough Mudder can sound intimidating to some folks (at Flywheel, we’ve heard it too!). What do you tell people who are scared to do it?
Tough Mudder is about teamwork, camaraderie and overcoming personal obstacles while taking on an incredible challenge unlike anything else. The obstacles are admittedly a bit daunting and require physical strength or mental grit, but fear is also a motivator and facing your fears is an incredible feeling. When you complete a Tough Mudder challenge a sense of pride just overcomes you. Maybe you tackled one of your greatest fears, like conquering your fear of heights with an extremely high obstacle. In my experience, however, it’s always a good idea to put a team together and motivate one another. Ask for help if you need it and be the person who lends a hand to a fellow Mudder that might need it.
6. When you’re not diving into mud or dodging electrical cables, what’s your favorite workout or way to train?
When I’m not training for the next Tough Mudder or taking a Flywheel class, I’m traveling quite a bit all over the world, so I’ve started to find favorite studios in various cities. Basecamp Fitness in San Francisco is a great workout and perfect when I need to squeeze in a good workout when I’m pressed for time.
7. Highest score in a Flywheel class?