I plunged into ice-cold water, was dragged through the mud, kicked, tripped, electroshocked… and I loved every minute of it! If you made it up to Snowmass, CO, the weekend after Labor Day you would have seen about 9,000 people taking off in waves around the 2014 Tough Mudder course. What is Tough Mudder? It’s brilliant, that’s what it is.
Tough Mudder (TM) was founded by two British guys, Will Dean and Guy Livingstone while living in NYC studying at Harvard Business School. They took the design of a British military obstacle course, typically 10-12 miles in length with 20-25 obstacles, that tests mental and physical strength. The obstacles are designed to play on human fear incorporating ice-cold water, heights, electricity and in some cases fire, requiring team work and camaraderie to complete the course.
Basically participants get their butts kicked, dance with hypothermia and get muddier than a 7 year-old on a mud bath mission, all for a registration fee of $100-$220 dollars per person (depending on when you register.) Add the $10 bag check, cost of parking, food and beverages, a $35 fee for spectators, $10 to enter the after party and of course ‘must have’ merchandise. Harvard Business School should be proud.
The first Tough Mudder event was held on May 2, 2010 at Bear Creek Ski Resort in Pennsylvania. Promoted through social media it drew more than 4,500 participants. After three events in 2010, 14 events in 2011 and 35 events across 4 countries in 2012, Tough Mudder has been valued at over $70 million dollars, attracting over 1.3 million participants.
So why sign up for such abuse?
For me there was never any hesitation. Why would I NOT?
In preparation for the event I increased my core training and doubled the amount of hikes and 5-6 mile trail runs I would typically do each week. I had hydrated and carb loaded the day before, then arrived early for registration and to met with my 17 person team called ‘In Play Athletics.’ The team was named after a new sportswear brand created by team captain and clothing designer Kalle Edwards.
Twenty minutes before our designated start time we were corralled into a warm up area for some group exercises and a safety briefing. After hurdling a 9-foot obstacle, we finally made it to the start line. There we experienced a memorable and inspirational ‘pump up’ speech by Tough Mudder motivational MC, Sean Corvelle, as he told us to “take a knee.” Sean fired us up with comments like:
“When was the last day you did something new?”
“Live every day like it’s your last!”
“You CAN do anything you set your mind to.”
But was it really necessary to state “If you can’t swim, DON’T jump in the water!” I guess sometimes you need to spell out the obvious.
Sean spoke about our soldiers abroad and freedom at home. He paid homage to the Wounded Warrior’s who are the major beneficiaries of TM events in the USA. Over $6.5 million has been raised for the Wounded Warrior Project through the TM challenge to date. Sean spoke about some veterans out on the course in front of us, including a double amputee and a participant in a wheelchair.
By the time we took the ‘mudder pledge’ and turned to the flag for the national anthem I was in tears.
Then we were off.
The first big shock to my system was an obstacle a couple of miles in called the Arctic Enema. Essentially it’s a shipping container filled 5 feet deep with ice water and a wooden fence across it forcing you to swim under. Your body basically goes into shock leaving you gasping for breath. It’s offensive, it’s scary and extremely uncomfortable, but in hindsite it was exhilarating.
After about 6 miles the obstacles started coming hard and fast, and the spectators thickened as exhaustion began to set in. With aptly named features like ‘Balls to the Wall,’ ‘the Funky Monkey,’ ‘Walk the Plank,’ ‘Everest’, and of course the infamous ‘Electroshock Therapy,’ there was never a dull moment. I have a gymnastics background so it was liberating to climb, swing, lift and jump my way through obstacles I seldom get to do as an adult. I must admit there was a certain amount of humor in watching participants flop, splash, fall and crumble through features, all in good spirit, with a smile and determination.
There were 2,700 vertical feet gained throughout the course which was grueling in itself. Add to that an elevation of 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level and the Colorado Tough Mudder is now acknowledged as one of the toughest in the world. It was great to see athletes push themselves, teams carry their weak and some obvious couch potatoes rise to the challenge.
If you’ve read this far and still think TM is a walk in the park, then tune in to this years World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) November 15th, 2014 in Las Vegas. These pre-qualified hardcore men and women take on a 5-mile loop with twice as many obstacles as a regular TM, for 24- hours. Yup, a whole day and night, from 10am Saturday to 10am Sunday. Can you imagine? This event is proof of what the human body is capable of. Even a team of Navy Seals struggled last year. The winner cracked 100 miles and some 500 obstacles. Now THAT is nuts. But to be fair, first place takes home a $15,000 prize.
My team finished in three groups. I was in the second wave with a time of 3 hours 30 minutes, receiving my bright orange, first time Mudder headband, and a heroic congratulations. Within seconds of crossing the finish line I was given an energy bar and beer, a participation t-shirt and was able to conveniently drop off my mud-caked sneakers to be cleaned and donated to charity. One less thing to worry about.
Even before my heart rate was back to normal, I was already thinking about my next TM event. It’s an addictive high. It was messy and sometimes painful, but brutally rewarding. There were tales of people who planned their vacations around TM events, sometimes traveling consecutive weekends to take on a new challenge.
TM makes you ask yourself ‘when was the last time you tested your limits, stepped out of your comfort zone and pushed yourself to the edge of what’s possible?’
So what about you? Come step outside your comfort zone, take ‘the pledge’ and sign up for a Tough Mudder.
After all, who doesn’t want to be one Tough Mudder?