If, like me, you've struggled around a Tough Mudder course, you've probably wondered who would create such evil and torturous obstacles. I know I did, as my whole body was dunked in ice cold water, then electrocuted, then made to crawl under barbed wire.
What diabolical madman could come up with a slide that goes through fire? Or a tent full of nerve gas?
The 31-year-old product manager is one of the brains behind Tough Mudder’s gruelling half-marathon obstacle courses. With a new raft of challenges announced for 2016, Nathan told The Telegraph about the nefarious tests that competitors can look forward to this year.
“We are focusing on one called Block Ness Monster,” he said. This forces competitors to use teamwork to hoist each other over a series of rotating blocks in waist-deep water. The blocks are also on bungee cords, so if you’re standing on one and your team let go, you might get a bird’s eye view of the whole course.
“An intern came up with an idea involving balancing boards across water, and if people behind you step on the board too, you could fall in.
“But when we tested it, we found it was much more fun to climb over a block while it was in water, so the board became a block. We initially built it for a Tough Mudder in Las Vegas, and the feedback we got was incredible. Competitors rate it as one of the best obstacles we have ever created.
That’s just one of around 20 obstacles on a cross-country course that stretches for more than 10 miles. Some have been revamped, while others are completely new, offering dedicated 'Mudders' a fresh – but no less muddy – challenge.
Dead Ringer, in which participants use rings to hold themselves up and navigate across mud, has gone. It’s been replaced by Frequent Flyers’ Club – a 15ft drop from a platform onto a crash mat.
Rain Man offers a twist on the terrifying water obstacle Cage Crawl – just the top part of your head is sticking out the water as you lie on your back and pull yourself along a cage.
“It's a great leveller,” Nathan said. “You can be the toughest guy but if you can't handle tight spaces, you are going to struggle.”
And that is the crux of Tough Mudder – pushing yourself to your limit while having fun as part of a team.
“We really enjoy making fun obstacles,” Nathan said. “We'll have internal competitions where people in the company can put forward ideas, we run focus groups and talk to competitors. We often get an idea and end up drawing diagrams on the back of a napkin while we’re down the pub.”
After the ideas have been vetted and mulled over, and the company is confident the obstacle won’t kill anyone, it’s on to “alpha testing”.
“First, we build and test out the obstacle in a warehouse, gaining feedback from people in the Tough Mudder company who try it. Based on those views, we change things about the obstacle.”
Next it’s “beta testing” – putting the structure on a live course and letting only the most experienced Tough Mudder participants have a go.
Construction teams, which source all the materials from the UK, are usually at an event for four to five weeks prior to the starting gun being fired. That gives them enough time for building and final testing.
More than 2m people have entered a Tough Mudder across eight countries since the company was created by Nottingham-born Will Dean six years ago while he was studying at Harvard.
This year, the company is running shorter versions, which shrink the challenge down to five miles and leaves out the ice pools, electricity and tear gas.
“Tennis ball cannons. That got to Alpha testing, though, before we decided against it,” Nathan said.
“We trialled one with an ice bath where you had to eat a jalapeno pepper before doing it. People starting vomiting, so we scrapped it.
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“We are trying to push boundaries but whatever we put out on the course has to be safe. There are a lot of things that get left on drawing board. We always ask ourselves during testing: ‘would we go through this ourselves?’”
“The product team is already working on the future, looking at what technology we can add, what fears we can tap into and how we can we take this to the next level.”
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