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Getting tough in the Black Diamond mud with Tough Mudder this weekend
Tough Mudder course designer Nolan Kombol thinks there’s no better place to have a mud-laden obstacle course than in Black Diamond, where there is always mud.
For the 10,500 people who will be participating in the Tough Mudder event Sept. 29-30 there will be plenty of mud to crawl and run through.
Tough Mudder, which creates 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces, tries to provide the same grueling physical training as military obstacle courses. The course also varies from each location, taking advantage of the region’s geography and natural terrain.
Kombol, who is the head of course design and operations for Tough Mudder, began searching for a city to host a new event. After making several site visits in both Washington and Oregon, Black Diamond presented numerous advantages.
A Enumclaw native who grew up in Black Diamond, Kombol had ties to the community, including at Palmer Coking Coal Company, where he had formerly worked for his uncle Bill Kombol.
Kombol was able to obtain permission to use the company’s privately owned land, including a large pit and backwoods area behind Lake Sawyer, ideal locations for an obstacle course. This was crucial, as much of the problem they had encountered when scouting for a location in the Pacific Northwest were environmental restrictions that prevented them from using land, which can be roughed up a bit during an event.
“To be honest, running 8,000 people through a mud path will do damage to the earth,” Kombol said. “The pit has a lot of private land, the earth is already disturbed, so it’s not really an issue.”
Also, having grown up in the area, Kombol was able to put his knowledge to good use when designing the course.
“It’s a great place to do it,” he said. “I’m connected to it. Being on the design team of Tough Mudder I knew exactly how to make it work and fit like a glove.”
As a part of the obstacle course, one of the main features includes a run up a large coal slag pile, which had gradually been covered with vegetation. In an appropriate tribute to the city’s coal mining heritage as well as a nice challenge to feature, Kombol had the pile cleared and a trail placed on it.
“I said, ‘We have to climb that pile.’ Palmer Coking Coal has been great to work with,” he said. “They’ve been a great partner. They’ve been good to make sure we develop a safe course.”
In addition, Kombol also tests each course designed to ensure it meets the Tough Mudder reputation for being as physically demanding as military training.
“I think it was (originally) designed to give people the ability to test themselves in the way the British SAS test themselves,” he said. “It’s really a way to challenge yourself without having to join the British SAS. It’s quite an accomplishment for people who do do it, but it’s not strict military training.”
For those brave enough to participate, the Black Diamond course will be 11 miles long and include numerous mountain climbs, hills, back trail running — and yes, plenty of mud pits, which in Black Diamond was easier to create than in states like Arizona or Texas, where rain is less than plentiful.
“You pick up the dirt from the ground you’ll find mud,” Kombol said. “We’ve come to problems in Arizona trying to come up with mud. We’ll have to become very creative to create mud on the course. Here’s it’s a breeze. Mud is in our brand.”
At the same time, they decided to hold the event in September because weather is generally milder and drier.
While every course has its own unique aspects, Kombol said they design each course to fit specific standards in terms of distance, usually 11 miles, and average time to complete it, around three hours. The distance can be longer or shorter, depending on the elevation and terrain.
Another benefit of Palmer Coking Coal’s gravel pit was it worked well as a parking lot to accommodate the thousands of athletes who will participate — 7,500 on Saturday and 3,000 on Sunday — which will be needed for the 4,000 vehicles organizers anticipate will need parking.
The runners primarily come from the Seattle and Portland area, although Kombol said they expect runners from all over the country, which he sees as a testament to the popularity of the event.
“You tell people and they understand,” he said. “You’re out there and you really have to push it. As a male in my late to mid 20s I looked at that sort of stuff and said, ‘That is a lot of fun.’ Even if you go to a military base and see their obstacles courses you look at it and say ‘Wouldn’t it be great to give it a shot.”
The Tough Mudder on Saturday will start with a first wave at 8 a.m. Waves will begin every 20 minutes until 1:30 p.m.
Sunday will start start at 9 a.m. and last wave will be at 11 a.m.