Obstacle course racing – Spartan vs Tough Mudder


Obstacle course racing (OCR) is an event where individuals must run the length of a course; they typically involve mud and trails. Depending on the event type there are various obstacles which involve climbing over walls, carrying heavy objects, crawling under barbed wire, so forth. Spartan and Tough Mudder are the two most popular types of these events and held all over the world. If you’re into these events, it is a great way to see destinations you normally would not otherwise travel to. I am signed up for my fourth Tough Mudder race later this year, and earlier this year, I tried out my first Spartan race in Tuxedo Park, NY. I will review the differences between the two.

Types of events

Spartan races are mainly categorized into three types:

  • Sprint – 3+ miles and 20+ obstacles
  • Super Spartan – 8+ miles and 25+ obstacles
  • Spartan Beast – 13+ miles and 30+ obstacles

You can obtain a Trifecta medal after completing all three types of races in one calendar year. I did a sprint in Tuxedo Park, NY which was around 5 miles. From what I have heard, this was slightly harder than most other sprint events because of the hilly terrain.

Tough Mudder generally has two types of events: Tough Mudder and Tough Mudder half. Tough Mudder events are around 10-12 miles long and have 20-25 obstacles. Tough Mudder Half events are around 5 miles long, with about a dozen obstacles.


Spartan races are timed and you can see how you stack against people who have done the same event. Times are meaningless when comparing across events as the courses are all different and times can vary greatly. For example, Tuxedo Park Sprint participants can expect to have a higher time than people who run other sprints since the course is a bit harder. The problem with the timing is you are less focused on having fun and completing the course safely. It is a recreational event, after all, and the last thing you want to do is get injured trying to get a fast time. Focusing on the timing also discourages a group from staying together.

Tough Mudder events aren’t timed and the completion of the course is a challenge itself for most people. A lot of the obstacles are not achievable without help from others in your group or strangers. Without the focus on timing there is more bonding and a “let’s go out and achieve something” camaraderie feeling with your group. Even without the timing aspect there are a number of people who do give up at Tough Mudder each year.


A lot of the obstacles are very similar between the two. However Spartan’s obstacles are more straight forward and a lot less fun than Tough Mudder’s. Spartan obstacles are all designed so an individual can complete it alone and are very similar to things you would find in a gym. Tough Mudder’s obstacles tend to be more fun and creative. For example in one obstacle you have to jump off a high tower into the water which isn’t a measure of strength but very enjoyable. The obstacles tend to be more group focused in that you’ll need to work with your group or strangers to accomplish them.

Fun Tough Mudder obstacle you won't find at Spartan.
Fun Tough Mudder obstacle you won’t find at Spartan.

Spartan is more individual focused. I didn’t enjoy the Spartan event I did as much because these are recreational activities for me–and if it’s not fun there’s no point to doing it. They’re good if you’re running the race individually or in a small group with a few people. With Tough Mudder, you are in for a physical challenge also but you are going to have a ton more fun with your group. Tough Mudder’s group focus is probably why you’ll see a lot of companies and workplaces sponsor team building exercises. I am unlikely to do another Spartan race unless it’s at an interesting venue (like Citifield), but on the contrary, this year’s Tough Mudder will not be my last.


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