Tough Mudder and the romanticism of a global event with local flavours

This week’s Digital Sport Insider podcast saw Dan McLaren chat to Matt Riches, Commercial Director, EMEA, at Tough Mudder, an ever-growing collection 10-12 mile obstacle course which is growing more and more popular around the world by the year.

As suggested on the pod, the success of Tough Mudder is thanks in no small part to digital media: the advertising, the promotion, the social media sharing of the participants which in turn attracts more people, everything is done online. The irony is that this is a particularly digital-free event – as Riches points out, if you take your phone with you on a Tough Mudder course, it’s unlikely to stay in working order for very long.

The desire for people, in an age where we spend most of our days living our lives behind the screen, to get out there and experience the world has never been greater, and indeed events like Tough Mudder play in to that greatly. Important, too, is the recent surge in fitness as a lifestyle choice, a way of being sold to us by brands and very much at home on Instagram, perhaps, but for everything from fitness and self esteem to even mental health it’s certainly an important contribution to our lives.

Tough Mudder itself is a worldwide phenomenon. Coming from the US to the UK in 2012, it has events all over the world. Indeed, that’s very much one of its charms: there’s a globalised feel to a series of events which takes place all over the world, but depending on where you are, that might feel just a little bit different.

“The underpinning premise is always going to be the same, but there are always slight cultural nuances and certain obstacles,” Riches told Dan McLaren. “We bring new obstacles out every year just to make sure that no two courses will ever be the same, and that experience is different, the content that we produce is also different and some markets have different pick-up with certain obstacles than others. That’s part of us being a global and a local business.”

It’s not just about the importance of making sure you’re tailoring your event to the culture and locality of the area in which you’re setting up a course, though. It’s also important for those loyal participants who take part in several events in different places to feel like they’re trying out a new flavour of the race they enjoyed participating in so much in the first place.

Perhaps on a slightly less extreme level, it’s a similar premise as other events like Parkrun who now hold races in parks all over the world. If you like, there’s no need to stick to your own local park – you can explore a whole new world of parks, paths and wooded glades all around the globe and experiencing something different every time: after all, the world is a more interesting place for its variety and its different identities.

“Our events are ‘glocalised’ to use a geographical phrase,” says Riches. “The top layer feels the same – if you’re doing an event anywhere in the world, you’re part of the Tough Mudder tribe and you’ll have a shared experience – but we want to be local and understand that even within the UK an event in the south is slightly different to an event in Scotland or the north.”

“We have to make sure we have a genuinely local feel to things, and that might be simply through who the caterers are and how you cater for different cultural tastes. But at a global level the experience is the same, and that allows you to be a global business but understand how different markets interact.”

In the end, it all comes back to that idea of people wanting more and more experiences outside of their smartphone screens. People want to be fit and active, and they want to challenge their bodies. But they also want to experience the romanticism of trying something new every time. There’s a lot to learn from putting that sentiment into practice.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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