Exclusive Interview: Two New Zealanders Finish Among the Best Obstacle Racers in the World
As Tough Mudder returned to New Zealand in 2017, a different sort of Tough Mudder took place on the other side of the world. In the United States somewhere in the desert of Las Vegas, people gathered for 24 hours of what has been described as the “most extreme, insane, imposing, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping 24-hour obstacle course challenge on the planet”. Among them were a handful of Kiwis.
In this interview we hear from two of the New Zealand participants, and two of the race’s top finishers: Scotty Thornton and Andrew Robinson.
Unlike standard Tough Mudder events, World’s Toughest Mudder is a competition, with the top-ranking man, woman, and team receiving prize money. The competition itself consists of a 5 mile (8.0 km) looped course, which participants continuously run through for 24 hours. The participant who completes the most laps is declared the winner. The winners receive the title of “World’s Toughest Mudder” and a $10,000 USD prize for the winning solo male and female and a $12,000 USD prize for the winning team.
Scotty and Andrew both achieved incredible results at World’s Toughest Mudder 2017:
- Scotty Thornton, a land surveyor based in Auckland, finished 10th male and 12th overall at World’s Toughest Mudder.
- Andrew Robinson finished 6th male and 8th overall at World’s Toughest Mudder. He is currently starting a business with his partner and training full-time.
Talking with Max Bell from Obstacle Racers NZ, they discussed endurance, race strategy, community, equipment, sleep deprivation, Tough Mudder in New Zealand, and more!
Read on to hear from two of the leading obstacle racing athletes in New Zealand.
Interview with Scotty Thornton and Andrew Robsinson
Obstacle Racers NZ (ORNZ): Scotty, I heard that you and Matt Ansley, who ran at World’s Toughest Mudder as well, were the fastest people to finish the course on the day at Tough Mudder Auckland?
Scotty: Yep. We jumped in the first wave, and I guess we were the only ones who had experience and knew what we were doing, so we went quite quick and ended up with a good time.
ORNZ: Andrew, did you run in Tough Mudder New Zealand recently?
Andrew: Not in 2017.
ORNZ: You ran back in 2014?
ORNZ: What’re your thoughts on Tough Mudder Auckland compared to other Tough Mudders you’ve done around the world?
Scotty: Overseas there’s more money so they can build the bigger, harder obstacles.
Andrew: Like Scotty says, it’s smaller in New Zealand. Obviously a lot’s changed since 2014 when I last did the Tough Mudder here. I did Sydney in 2013 which was my first Tough Mudder, and New Zealand was more of a long mud run with a few crawly things and… there was a few cool twists on some New Zealand obstacles like they had a big pile of tyres at Hampton Downs which they made the most of.
Scotty: That was the in the exact same place this year, it hadn’t moved.
Andrew: Compared to Tough Mudders internationally like Chicago, SoCal or Vegas the obstacles there are just huge, they’re full budget obstacles…
ORNZ: It seems like New Zealand is coming along. This year they built Kong, which for New Zealand was a pretty huge obstacle. Obstacle racing in general is slowly progressing here, and I’d love to see it grow through websites such as this and talking with people such as yourselves who have experienced the largest-scale championship obstacle races internationally!
ORNZ: What do you guys do for day jobs?
Scotty: I’m a land surveyor. I went to uni, got the degree and have been in Auckland for three and a half years doing that.
Andrew: I’m a wanderer. I was in sales for five or six years where I met my now partner. We hitchhiked Europe, and when we came back I went back in to real estate but figured out I really didn’t like corporate, so quit and went to America for four months. Now that we’re back we’re starting our own business in photography. However that’s mostly Aimee’s job and I’m basically a full-time athlete now.
ORNZ: How far in advance of Worlds did you set it as a goal of something you wanted to do?
Scotty: The day after last year’s Worlds. I did it last year, and I had a goal of getting 75 miles but I got injured and fell one lap short. I wanted to go back and redeem myself.
ORNZ: So did you!?
Scotty: Yes, I got 80 miles this year.
ORNZ: What were your results from World’s Toughest Mudder 2017?
Scotty: I was 12th overall and 10th male.
Andrew: I was 8th overall and 6th male.
ORNZ: What made you want to enter a 24-hour race? 24 hours is pretty insane for the normal person!
Scotty: I heard about it through a friend, and thought it looked cool. I was doing Triathlons and half Iron Mans at the time, but it felt like I’d done all I’d wanted to with that and was looking for the next thing to do, and this popped up. It was a jump from doing normal things to crazy things.
Andrew: You mentioned Matt Ansley who ran in Tough Mudder Auckland this year with Scotty, I ran Auckland in 2014 with him. He looked like he was running alone and I was running alone, and so we started running together. He said was doing another lap afterwards… which at the time seemed crazy. We were probably two of maybe four or five people who did two laps in New Zealand. And then he went on to do Worlds that year in 2014. And I watched him through Facebook do it… and I said that one day I would do that. It was one of those “one days” in the future, but after we hitchhiked Europe we said well if I can do that then I’ll just buy the ticket for Worlds and we’ll figure the rest out.
ORNZ: What sports or fitness activities do you do outside of OCR?
Scotty: Before OCR I did cricket pretty much my entire life. But I kept getting injured. So I stopped and was looking for other ways to keep fit. I got into running, and then into triathlons and then trail running… and from there you chuck a few walls and obstacles in the way and I was doing obstacle racing.
ORNZ: OCR’s your main pursuit at the moment?
Scotty: Yep. Everything I do is working towards OCR.
Andrew: I was definitely not a sporty child. When I left school I got into power lifting a bit for strength, and then I got into the whole physique, body building thing because that’s massive when you’re 19 or 20. I started doing a bit of boxing next, then a bit of crossfit and just realised that I loved being out and moving and being physical. I did Tough Mudder, enjoyed it, and set a goal to run Worlds. At the end of 2015 when I bought the ticket to enter Worlds that’s when I started running properly. So now I’ve been trail running and training for obstacles, with a bit of crossfit and a bit of rock climbing. Same as Scotty, obstacle racing is my main focus, primarily long-distance obstacle racing.
ORNZ: For completing a 24-hour race would you say the physical or the mental aspect is the most important?
Scotty: For me physical… because I always get injured. Just looking after yourself, making sure you don’t go too hard and too quickly, or you don’t do something you’re not physically capable of doing.
Andrew: I would say probably the opposite. I mean… the first 8 hours is physical and fast but like Scotty was saying pacing yourself and holding yourself back and just knowing that as long as you keep doing what you need to do and keep moving forward for the 24 hours then you’ll do alright, that’s the mental aspect. As well as obviously the pain you go through and the cold and the hills and all of that, just continuously pushing but just knowing that you need to keep moving.
Scotty: For me the mental side is everything leading up to the race, like waking up early every morning to train, and some days it’s cold or raining and you don’t want to do it but you just go out anyway. Once you get to the race and start the course, you know that you’ve done everything you can leading into the race so you can just go out and do it.
ORNZ: On an average week before the race what sort of distance were you running?
Scotty: For a few weeks I was doing maybe 100km, but I never did any more than that. It was usually around 70 to 100km. My standard week was to run every second day.
Andrew: In the three months leading into Worlds we were travelling America so one month before Chicago I hardly run, and failed in Chicago. Then it was mostly hiking but with a heavy pack for 50 to 60km a wee, then I’d do a couple of trail runs at around 10km a piece – so maybe 60 to 80km a week.
ORNZ: Did you have any pre-planned strategy of how you were going to run the race?
Scotty: Having done it the year before I knew how quick I had done each lap so my goal was to beat those times. My strategy was basically just to be ahead of my last year’s times at every lap.
Andrew: My goal was 100 miles. I knew that I needed to do 75 minute laps for the entire race. My plan for the first lap was 48 minutes which was 6 minute kms, I did it in 46. And then slow right down to 9 minute kms and just keep moving at a slow consistent pace. At midnight they changed the course and added a lot of elevation–
Scotty: And they added four more obstacles.
Andrew: Yes, they opened more obstacles too. There was more water, it was colder, it was steeper. The middle mile went from 15 to 20 minutes per mile to 25 to 30 minutes per mile. It was literally just a mile of walking up a hill, it was hell. And it was on the way to the obstacle ‘ladder to hell’. What I didn’t realise was that they weren’t going to open the obstacles all at once. They ended up opening them over three hours, so I was a little bit faster over the first laps.
At midnight I was at 50 miles and the temperature plummeted, hills got higher, obstacles got harder, and I slowed to about 1 hour and half, to 1 hour 40 minutes per lap. I just had to keep moving forward as quickly as I could.
Scotty: The strategy did change quite a bit during the race. Me and Andrew ran it completely differently. I think I did my first lap in 39 minutes, but then as it got to the hour mark all the obstacles had opened and this year every 20 minutes they’d open a new one and so you didn’t really know what was going to be open at what time. My strategy quickly changed to, I’m just going to run as quick as I can and try to get past as many things as possible. I ended up running the first 3 to 3 and a half hours a lot quicker than I had initially planned, and it ended up working in my favour a bit.
ORNZ: Is that a strategy you can use in the race, timing your pace to the obstacle opening times? Or is that something you can’t plan for and it’s just luck if you manage to just make or just avoid an obstacle?
Scotty: Every other year they opened every obstacle at the one hour mark into the race, so some people had the strategy to try to get past a certain obstacle within that hour, but that was the only one you were able to get past. And then the other one time during the race it changes was at midnight they would maybe swap an obstacle out and bring a new one in. But this year they did it completely differently. You didn’t really know when they were opening certain things, unless some of the obstacles you ran past and the volunteers would say “you’ve got until 2.30 to get past this one” or they’d say something like that. There was no way of knowing when things would open and it was just the luck of the draw really.
Andrew: Like Scotty was saying, there was no way of knowing what would open when and it was just hectic. My initial thought was ok cool I can use this to try to get past certain obstacles. But after probably half ad hour of thinking about that, I thought if I try to do that too much over the next three hours I’m going to speed up too much and I’m going to wear myself out. I just needed to stick to my plan. So I ended up giving up on thinking about when obstacles were opening. If I got to the obstacle and it was open then cool, and if it wasn’t then that was cool too.
Scotty: There were a few spots in the course that were higher so you could look ahead. If you could see other people running around an obstacle because it was closed then I tried to run quicker so I could get around it as well. But if they were doing the obstacle, I tried to slow down.
ORNZ: What about equipment during the race? There’s a lot of discussion around wet suits and when to put them on and that sort of thing. How did you guys go about using wet suits?
Scotty: I did it very differently from a lot of people. The first time at Worlds I got scared by everyone’s stories saying how cold it gets out there, and that if you get cold you’ll never warm up. So I put I my wet suit on as soon as it became dark, and I massively overheated and never really recovered from it. So this year I was just going to do the complete opposite. I was just going to run in compression gear until I got cold and then I’d put stuff on. I was one of the only people I saw who never put a wet suit on the entire race. My body temperature was warm enough that I didn’t need to.
Andrew: I put a shorty on at about 5pm. I run quite cold, I feel the cold. So my shorty was just an Orca swim-run suit at about 5pm and at about midnight I started to cool down quite rapidly and I was getting brain freeze every time I’d come out of the Augustus Gloop obstacle so I ended up putting my sharkskin pants underneath my Orca, putting my shirt over the top of it, and putting a hood and hat on and just pushing through till the end. The only thing is – make sure your wet suit fits well. Don’t let it get too tight!
ORNZ: That’s something you learnt from experience?
Andrew: Did you hear about the guy who passed out at the end of Worlds during the Facebook live feed?
Andrew: Basically I was on live interview with the Facebook feed at the end of it and I think what happened was my suit was a little too tight and when I got out of it my legs were pale, like a gross jaundice kind of colour. So I think what happened was I was running around excited about where I’d placed and didn’t think about sitting down and recovering, so all the blood from my internal organs rushed to my legs… and I literally passed out the live interview. I hit the ground pretty hard and ended up in the medic tent. So that’s why I recommend finding a wet suit which fits well, but not too tight.
ORNZ editor’s note: We tracked down the video interview! You can watch it embedded below, or on ORNZ’s Facebook page.
Continued on next page (scroll down for link).
On the next page of the interview Andrew and Scotty discuss pit stops, coaching, and Spartan Race!