I’ve always loved a great challenge and cross country running and trail running have always been a part of my life. Now I’ve taken up biking. But one challenge that’s intrigued me since I saw it in action on a local course was the Spartan Race. At the time, I had no idea there was a Tough Mudder race, let alone the differences between the Spartan Race vs Tough Mudder.
Make no mistake: both the Spartan and Tough Mudder races are incredible challenges, and about the most creative races you can enter.
But before you sign up, I want to tell you about the main differences between the two races so you pick the correct one. I’ll also provide information about training plans, nutrition tips, types of races, and the best gear for both races.
So get ready for a dive into the exhilarating world of Tough Mudder and Spartan Races.
Bottom Line Up Front Summary:
Both Tough Mudders and Spartan Races are challenging courses with obstacles and running. While both tests your endurance, Tough Mudders are usually less physically demanding and are team-based. Spartan Races, on the other hand, are timed, more individual events that offer more prize money.
Main Differences Between Spartan Races vs Tough Mudder Races
The main differences between Spartan Races vs Tough Mudder Races are:
- Spartan Races are timed and offer higher prizes, while Tough Mudders are team-based, often without time limits
- Spartan Races have penalties or disqualifications for missing obstacles, while Tough Mudders allow team members to skip obstacles
- Spartan Races have countless unique obstacles, while Tough Mudders have just 13 types of obstacles
Who It’s For & Risks: Spartan Race vs Tough Mudder
Both the Spartan and Tough Mudder races are races with teams where speed, endurance, and overcoming physical obstacles are all important. These obstacle course races are known for their difficulty, but there’s a bigger difference between Spartan vs Tough Mudder races than I imagined.
Who Can Compete
Fun Fact: Over Five Million People Have Competed in Spartan Races
The series of Spartan Races is pretty inclusive. While you have to be at least 14 to compete “as an adult” there are also kids’ races. Kids as young as 4 can compete in smaller-scale races! Technically there is an age limit, but as it’s set at 99, I doubt that’s going to cut out a lot of competitors.
The Sprint Race is considered to be the best for beginners though I have to warn you it’s no sprint, but a solid 5K (or just over 3.1 miles). There’s also the stadium series, intended for beginners. And if you don’t have a team, no problem. The Spartan Race is intended to be an individual even though you can join a group of people.
Injury Risk and How Hard It Is
Spartan Races are considered harder than Tough Mudders for their physical obstacles. They also carry a notable injury risk especially if you don’t train properly. Sprains are the most common.
While there are rumors about a ‘death toll,’ I’ve only been able to find very few, isolated incidents and even those are unclear. Simply put: though there are races for beginners, you have to be pretty fit, smart about training, and aware if you’re entering an adult Spartan race.
Tough Mudder Races
Who Can Compete
Fun Fact: More than 6 million people have competed in Tough Mudders
Unlike Spartan Races, which are more like the individual events I’m used to, Tough Mudders are team events. Despite the name, they’re considered easier/ generally less physically demanding. There is a kids’ version of Tough Mudders for kids as young as 5 years old, up through 12.
There’s not an age limit for competitors but what’s interesting is that different events have different age minimums. Most adult Tough Mudders require you to be 14 years old but most challenging races require a minimum age of 18.
The biggest issue is finding a team. If you don’t have a team, you don’t get the same starting time, and, honestly, I don’t think you get much of the same experience. So if you’re not into team events, it may not be the best race for you.
Injury Risk and How Hard It Is
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: even though there are races for beginners and the Tough Mudders are considered easier than Spartan Races, they aren’t easy. It still takes time and proper training to do well, and you need to be in good shape. The injury risks are pretty similar, and with a muddy course and obstacles, gear is especially important.
Plus, while Tough Mudders tend to be less physically demanding, they require a bit more creativity, strategy, and the other challenges that come with competing with a team. The one exception is the highly competitive Toughest Mudder Races which are the hardest races of all.
Both Spartan Races and Tough Mudders are challenging. While there are kids’ races, the adults’ races- even those for ‘beginners’ are only for those in great physical condition and who have been training.
If you’re prone to knee or lower leg issues (including Achilles and shin splints) please be careful and listen to your body. I love that there are races for different groups, but neither race is easy. And if you don’t like teamwork, the Spartan Races are a better fit.
Race Lengths, and Rules: Spartan Race vs Tough Mudder
There isn’t just one Spartan Race and there isn’t just one Tough Mudder race and that’s why the community is so huge. They’ve even added new obstacles, and the locations where these races are held are growing by the day.
I was overwhelmed when I first started getting interested in these races, but I soon saw how exciting the possibilities are. Each race is a little bit different, and because of this, even advanced competitors can find new ways to challenge themselves.
Depending on the race, there are pass/ fail obstacles that allow one or multiple attempts so you can be penalized if you fail to pass over an obstacle. A group is mandatory.
But burpees are a little different. For the Sprint, Super, Beast, and Ultra races, you must conquer 20 or more burpees those who don’t get a harsh 10-minute penalty. If you conquer less than 30, yet more than 19, then it’s a simple half-minute penalty for each one you don’t do.
In my opinion, these penalties are what make these races all that more challenging- and should not be neglected in training. Below obstacles are from the Spartan Rules Manual, which details each obstacle.
Multiple Attempt Obstacle Examples- Penalty Applied
a-frame cargos, atlas carry, bender, bridges, fire jump, gauntlet, Hercules hoist, inverted wall, plate and tire drag, rolling mud trenches and moats, ropes, snow quarter-pipes, ladders, sleds, tire flips, our bikes, hay walls, log flips, columns, slam balls, burpees (weighted), box jumps, jump ropes, push-ups, and rowers
Pass/ Fail Obstacle Examples- Penalty Applied
Adductors, ape hangers, balance beams, beaters, helix, monkey bars, multi-rigs, Olympus, pi[e lairs, rolling epic, spear throw, twister, tyrolean traverse, z wall, slackline, monkey in the middle, memory quiz, low rider, Tarzan swing
Must Pass- Disqualification
Barbed wire/ cord, bucket carry, dunk wall, farmer carry, jerry can carry, log carry, sandbag carry, water crossing, chain carry, weighted crawl, lily pads, cliff climb, cargo crawl, stone carry, weighted vest running
|Race Name||Distance||# Of Obstacles|
|Spartan Sprint (easiest/ for beginners)||3 .1 miles/ 5 kilometers||20|
|Spartan Super||8 miles/ 13 kilometers||25|
|Spartan Beast||13 miles/ 21 kilometers||30|
|Spartan Ultra Beast (hardest Spartan Race)||30 miles/ 50 kilometers||60|
|(Team Races; Less Common)
Spartan Hurricane Heat ;
|** 3-4 or 12-hour team challenge** other races are individual
Agoge is an intense 60-hour team challenge
|Varies. These races are not as widely available in the US|
Tough Mudders are all about team building in addition to physical and creative challenges and so the obstacle course is less strict. You are allowed to skip obstacles none will disqualify you. A lot of races have some team members who only perform what they feel comfortable with. Many events aren’t even timed.
So while Spartan Races are all about time and penalties, Tough Mudders are more about the creative and physical challenges and thus, more beginner-friendly. There are also far fewer obstacles to contend with or train for, all of which are described in detail on the Official Tough Mudder Obstacles Page.
Those 13 obstacles include arctic enema (ice bath), Everest, blackness monster, rudder horn, electroshock, mud mile, well swung, castaway. Gloop, black widow, gauntlet, entrapment, texas hold’em, funky monkey, cage crawl, berlin walls, skidmarks, kiss of mud, lumberjacked, pitfall, devil’s beard, and hero carry.
|Race Name||Distance||# Of Obstacles|
|Mini Mudder *for kids 5-12*||1 mile||10|
|Tough Mudder Classic||8 to 10 miles depending on the course||26|
|Tough Mudder 5K/ Urban||3.1 miles||Varies includes most obstacles except fire, ice, or electricity (urban takes place in major cities)|
|Toughest Mudder||It Varies, around 8 hours each a series of 6 races||Varies|
|Tough Mudder X||. A race series with 12 heats of a one-mile course and finals||Varies|
|World’s Toughest Mudder (Hardest Tough Mudder- due to length, hardest of all races)||5-mile loop, but continuous for a full 24 hours||It Varies but is very intense|
Prizes, Medals, and Results for Spartan vs Tough Mudder Races
I am being honest when I say I enter races or do athletic events now mostly to enjoy them. But I’m also being honest that I have a competitive streak, and I think a lot of us do especially anyone considering a race as challenging as either the Tough Mudder or a Spartan Race.
But there are some interesting differences when it comes to race medals, photos, prize money, and the acclaimed “trifecta.”
For most Spartan Races, if you complete the course, you’ll be awarded a t-shirt and a race medal. The Trifecta simply means you’ve finished the Sprint, Super, and Beast. Prize money is usually reserved for World and National championships.
The 2021 top prize was $115,000. Most who compete in Spartan Races don’t earn revenue, aside from elite winners. The fun part is that you can easily check Spartan Race Results and Photos Online by tracking or searching for your race.
Anyone who completes a Tough Mudder gets a participation medal, and you can compete in the most popular events to earn an Endurance Series distinction. Now, prize money is a little tricky. While it was offered in 2021 for the hardest (World’s Toughest) races, there was none offered in 2019.
If there is prize money, it’s usually the top 3 finishers and includes a top prize for teams and individuals, both men’s and women’s. $10,000 to $12,000 have been offered in the past- but to be clear, this is limited to elite levels. Finding results and photos for races is also more difficult. It’s simply less organized local races may post on Facebook or their websites.
If you’re competing at the elite level, the prize money is more generous and consistent for Spartan Races. I love that you get medals for both, but Spartan Races is also a lot better about posting race results and photos.
Training and Nutrition for Spartan and Tough Mudder Races
If you’ve decided what Spartan or Tough Mudder race is right for you, one of the biggest mistakes is skipping training.
Whether you’re preparing for your first Spartan Race or a 10th Tough Mudder, training properly, and getting in the right nutrition isn’t just important for your racing performance. I know all too well how important it is for preventing injuries and burnout.
The two races have different obstacles to train for, and there’s also the difference between a team and individual races. I recommend training for either at least three months in advance. You don’t need to be the fittest person on earth, but you do need to regularly cycle in both strength training and cardio.
It’s important to do a dynamic warmup before practices, increase your volume gradually, and incorporate static stretching to prevent injury. Training in proper shoes is also key.
Here’s a Basic Spartan Race Training Plan and here’s a great series of Official Tough Mudder Training Guides and Workout Plans.
For nutrition, you need to incorporate common sense. You want a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. I don’t think you need to bulk up on protein powder, but adequately fueling your body is so important. When I’m training, I add in electrolyte sports drinks for a very intense workout otherwise, water will do the trick.
The week and night before your races have electrolyte and hydrating foods, such as potatoes and bananas, along with protein with healthy fats (salmon is great). Now everyone is different the day of. I’d never recommend going on an empty stomach, but I’ve also never thrived on a big breakfast.
I recommend testing a few times to see what works best for you. Usually, a little protein and easy-to-digest carbohydrates are best. For example, a pre-race snack could consist of oatmeal and nut butter, a banana and nut butter, or avocado toast. I’d stay away from too much dairy, though some do okay with yogurt a few hours before.
Not sure where to start? While your plan of course depends on personal needs, such as calories burned, I love this Guide to Nutrition for Obstacle Course Racing. You can also buy race-day snacks from the Nutrition Spartan Gift Shop.
Best Attire for Spartan and Tough Mudder Races
Training is important but so is having the right gear. Even when I was racing back in junior high there were rules and pros and cons to wearing or not wearing certain things.
That certainly applies to both Spartan and Tough Mudder races. You can get by with about the same gear for both, with a few exceptions. Here is my top recommendation for the best gear, based upon customer reviews, materials used, and special features to keep you performing at your best.
Best Gloves: Franklin Sports Spartan Race Multi 1.0 OCR Glove Pair
Gloves are useful for gaining a good grip on obstacles. They also protect your hands from blisters, which, trust me, could slow you down otherwise. But instead of buying cheap gloves, I look for ones that are suited for all weather conditions, won’t slip, and are breathable.
These gloves check all of those boxes, with PVC and silicone grips with padding. The curved design is meant to move with you and reduce bunching, while the materials can be worn in rainy and sunny weather. Available in sizes X-Small to XX-Large; Buy Here.
- Padded Palms
- PVC and Silicone Grips
- Secure, Non-Bunching Fit
- Slightly Expensive
- Not as Warm for Winter Weather
Best Socks: MudGear Premium Compression Socks
There are no hard and fast rules for socks for a Tough Mudder or Spartan but don’t the mistake I have made on a muddy run and opt for simple cotton socks. You absolutely should have socks that wick away moisture, won’t weigh you down, and help prevent blisters. Nylon, polyester, and spandex/ blends are good bets.
The plus of a compression sock is that it increases blood flow and keeps you more stabilized. That’s a big advantage for performance and reducing injury risks for an obstacle course race just test run compression socks first to see if they are right for you.
These socks include graduated compression, providing support at your weakest point (ankles), and tapering off for a comfortable fit. Buy Here.
- Graduated Compression
- Made in the USA
- Lifetime Warranty
- Perfect for Different Weather
- Only Small through Large
Best Affordable Shirt: Joe’s USA All Sport Neon Color High Visibility Athletic T-Shirts
Sure, you can buy a dedicated compression shirt. But if I’m wearing compression socks, I prefer a regular moisture-wicking shirt. This shirt costs a fraction of the price from the Spartan Gift Store comes in highly visible colors, and also works for training.
The 100 percent polyester shirt has a nice, lightweight, and comfortable fit. It’s meant to keep you cool and comfortable with a standard, athletic cut. Buy Here.
- Great For Training
- Comfortable, Moisture-Wicking Fit
- Not Fitted/ Compression
- Limited Colors
Best Trail Running Shoes
If you want a great pair of shoes to train in, trail running shoes are absolutely the best. Not only do their work for training but Spartan Races and Tough Mudders as well. Honestly, I love trail running shoes anyway and made the switch even for walking and hiking, because they provide far more support and stability for your ankles and lower legs.
One of my favorite options is the Allbirds Trail Runner SWT. These shoes, offered for men and women, are sustainably constructed. I love the multiple-direction lugs for improved traction, even in rocky and murky conditions.
Merino wool is paired with rubber and recycled polyester for a weather-resistant, soft, and snug fit. Shop Allbirds Trial Runners Here.
- Sustainably Made
- Multi-Directional Lugs
- Ideal for All Weather
- Merino Can Get Stinky
- More Expensive than Some Trail Shoes
Best for Collection for Cold Weather & Shoes: Spartan Gift Shop
While I love some clothing options through Amazon or a local sporting goods store there’s not quite anything that can beat this collection for both shoes and cold weather beanies. For shoes, you need something that provides stability and enough traction for muddy courses.
Some heavy-duty trail shoes can work, but I do like the SPARTAN RD PRO OCR Running Shoe for women and SPARTAN Nordic Speed Trail Shoe for men. Features I love include breathable, weather-proof exteriors, heavy tread on the bottoms, and anti-slip and draining technology.
Of course, shopping in stores is easier if you have unusual sizes or foot conditions. Of their winter collection, stand-outs include the SPARTAN by CRAFT Active Intensity LS Top and SPARTAN ’47 Quilted Pullover – Women’s for women, or the SPARTAN by CRAFT Pro Series 2.0 Compression LS Top and SPARTAN by CRAFT Core Trim Thermal Midlayer for men.
The store also includes beanies all with moisture-wicking and weather-resistant materials.
- Durable, All-Weather Materials
- Used for both Tough Mudders and Spartan Races
- Lightweight Warmth
- More Expensive
- Can’t Try on in Store
How to Sign Up for Tough Mudder and Spartan Races
Signing up for a race is a commitment, but an exciting one. And it’s pretty easy to sign up for either a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. Even though they have different schedules, you’ll be dealing with the same customer service because of the merger that happened.
The founder, Joe De Sena acquired the Tough Mudder under the Spartan company. Because of these, discounts, scheduling and discounts are handled in a similar way for both races. You can sign up for Tough Mudder Events Here or Search for Spartan Races Here. You can search these schedules for places near you trust me when I say that there are a lot of locations.
I see a lot of promo codes and discount codes but I’d never download them from an external website. One thing I do like is that there are military discounts for Spartan Races.
Best Alternative Races
As I said, the Tough Mudder and Spartan Races aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. If they aren’t the best fit for you, or if you want to branch out, there still are some pretty creative races out there.
Want more mud? Consider the Wolf Run, which consists of mucky trails over 10K and plenty of obstacles. The Bonefrog Challenge is another great one. It’s hosted by the Navy Seals, honors veterans, and has creative obstacle courses that are pure fun.
I will say this: no matter if you decide to compete in a Tough Mudder or a Spartan Race, you’re up for a challenge. I’d start with a race for a beginner and give yourself a few months to train. Whatever you do, don’t neglect nutrition, training, and rest.
Question: How heavy is the bucket and sandbag in Spartan Race?
Answer: Two major challenges for Spartan Race include a bucket and a sandbag. The bucket is filled with gravel up to 25 liters and is taken a few hundred meters, while the sandbag weighs in at around 60 pounds for men or 45 pounds for women. It’s not an easy feat and another reason why these races require plenty of training. Meanwhile, the ripe climb is about 16 feet high.
Question: How many people participate in Spartan Race?
Answer: The Spartan Race is popular, and I think it’s so exciting to see it continue to grow. Of all races in the United States, the Spartan Races are the quickest to grow, with ver 450,000 people in the United States alone. That’s not even to count people who just enjoy watching the races.
Question: How deep is the water in Though Mudder?
Answer: The water is part of a Tough Mudder course which makes it both fun and challenging. While it may vary some depending on the course, the average course has a water depth of around 13 feet. That’s a consideration to make while you’re training. I also think you need to be realistic about how that could impact you, especially during cold weather conditions. There’s a reason it’s called the Tough Mudder, and the water is part of it.
Spartan Race vs Tough Mudder: Final Recommendations
I love seeing people pursue their passion, and, as someone who’s been a track counselor before, I also know how exciting it can be to be part of helping put together races, coach or help run an event.
The Spartan Race company offers benefits to full-time positions, including medical, dental, vision, life and disability, pet insurance, flexible spending accounts, 3 weeks vacation + holidays, discounts, and more (depending on the position). They don’t always have open positions, but you can search for open positions here.