Tough Mudder is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. Forget finish times. Simply completing a Tough Mudder is a badge of honor. With the best obstacles and the most innovative courses, it’s no surprise that Tough Mudder has ten times more participants than any other mud run and half a million participants globally. Tough Mudder has raised over two million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project - http://www.toughmudder.com
A lot of people confuse Tough Mudder as a run but there’s not a lot of opportunity to run — specifically not in Wintergreen, Virginia this past weekend. Of the 10 miles included in the race it seemed like 6-7 of them were either up or down a mountain/ski slope. Have you ever tried to run up (or down for that matter) a ski slope? It’s no joke. After signing our four-page Death Waivers at registration we began on a four hour stint of madness, mud, and complete and utter insanity. While it was painful, torturous, and mentally challenging along the way, it was also fun, joyous and beyond thrilling! The satisfaction of completing the race is so much more worthy than I could have imagined. To understand that I must share some of the journey with you…(not necessarily in order, my memory is sparse!)
After pledging at the start line to “leave no mudder behind” it was evident that this was no race to the finish line, but a journey to support and conquer with teammates and fellow runners. Within a quarter mile we were hosed with cold water and headed for our first of many climbs up a long steep mountain. Mere minutes later most participants had slowed to a walk and as we progressed uphill many were already resting or using all fours to climb. It was daunting to think we had not completed a mile and most were exhausted and drained. Before lugging logs up another steep ski slope we faced two wooden walls back to back. Team spirit kicked in as 2/3 mudders worked together to propel each other over the walls.
After another short run we arrived at the Funky Monkey where rows of loosely screwed in bars (designed to twist with your grip) rested over a pool of filthy ice-cold water. Watching much stronger and more agile men and women take the plunge I was less ashamed of my slip after the third bar! Too deep to wade through I attempted the front crawl but cramped up with the cold, turning to the breast stroke to get to the other side. Another similar pool was placed under multiple balance beams, each no wider than a slender foot. A former gymnast, balance is one thing I can manage and luckily got me safely across — but that wasn’t the end of iced pools.
Another pool was covered with a set of logs, some allowing you to maneuver under while keeping your head above water, but one or two requiring a full dive and duck to clear. The freezing water was no welcome addition to those who may have been saved from a fall at the monkey bars or balance beam, there was no avoiding this one! After a short run (read: climb) though fallen trees and strategically placed logs we met the mother of all ice pools — the Chernobyl Jaccuzzi, an icy mixture of assorted carcinogens. That’s what they said. I say a pool filled with below freezing water and more ice cubes than needed to shake a year’s worth of martinis for the state of Virginia. This obstacle in particular was one of my two greatest fears of Tough Mudder, this and the live electric wires waiting for us at the finish line. Caught up in the excitement and bewilderment of it all I jumped right in alongside my teammates, not allowing myself to ponder for a moment the cold hard truth of what my body was about to be hit with. Immediately you start to move to the other side and are met with a log (covered in barbed wire on top) requiring you to plunge your head under water to bypass. Once you shoot up on the other side you hear screams from companions as everyone tries to forge on to the end, made more difficult by people too stunned — or unable — to move. It was at this point that I panicked (for the first time) and realized I could not get myself out alone. Seeing my fear several team mates pulled me up, requiring one to grab my legs as well as they had no ability to move at that moment. No one really lingered once out, you had to move to shake off the shock and freezing cold running through your limbs. I remember screaming for several hundred yards before we met yet another wall, not as easy when wet and trembling.
Other obstacles included the Boa Constrictor which required hands and knees through muddy wet pipes and water and the Turd’s Nest was a fragile net that was almost a welcome addition to an otherwise set of more challenging obstacles. We crawled through more mud than pigs roll in leaving my knees and elbows rubbed raw, cut, and bruised. Some more mental challenges (while also physical) called for faith in fairness as we crawled through winding black tunnels praying for the absence of rodents. My most bloody battle wound? — The Mystery Obstacle. Climbing up extremely tall wooden ladders (while an evil employee with a powerful fire hose ensures you are hit from face to toe with even more freezing water) each mudder faces a dark hole and no choice but to enter. Smarter people lowered themselves off the edge and let go while those delirious like me — having forgotten how high we’d just climbed — choose to lunge off the edge into darkness. The result? A solid hard smack to my butt and back as I hit a tunnel moving faster than imaginable. A teammate later tells me my screams didn’t help her as she sat on the edge! Arriving at the other end I was bitter and angry and showering later I found out why — a black and blue bruise on my butt and inflamed scratches running up and down my back. Good times.
After all the highs and lows, the mud baths and the hose downs, it was a battle of wills to clear those last steep climbs. For each hill we went up we knew we had to come back down, no small feat by any means. Some were so wet and muddy you spent more time focused on not falling, some people walking backwards and others sliding down slowly on their backside. If you want to train for Tough Mudder then take to the hills! Rounding the last bend we faced smoldering fire pits. The firemen in place for security only added to the insanity of it all as we marched though choking smoke barely able to see the charcoals around us.
At the end of all this comes the worst part of all, for me that is, the Electroshock Therapy. Dozens and dozens of live wires dangle down in close proximity to each other demanding you to run through them in order to cross the finish line. Some of these wires carry a voltage of 10,000 volt shock, enough to take even the toughest mudder down. They’ve played in my mind for the last two miles and I’ve decided I’m not mad enough to run through them. I don’t need to do this to finish. I’ve come 10+ miles and faced 23 obstacles. I’ve plunged into the Chernobyl. I’M. NOT. DOING. THIS. That’s actually the argument I was having with Ahmad, a teammate and trainer with MyBootcamp, as we stood before our destiny. And I was winning…or so I thought. When the team turned and started to charge I stood alone for a brief moment and knew I couldn’t let them go without me. There is certainly something about that power in numbers theory. Remember when you used to whine to your Mom that all your friends were allowed so why weren’t you? And she’d say “well if Liz jumped in the fire would you do that too?” Yes Mom, apparently I would.