With around 20 major obstacles along its 11-mile course, Tough Mudder is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet.” With that kind of macho come-on, when your oldest son suggests tackling it together as “a bonding experience,” you just have to say okay, right?
The chest-thumping tag-line turns out to be more marketing copy than reality, as anyone who has served in the Marine Corps or completed an ultra-marathon—or had a baby—will confirm. Still, the event is certainly far from a stroll in the park. Names like Arctic Enema, Cry Baby, and Electroshock Therapy signal that the obstacles along the way aren’t exactly a cakewalk.
And then there’s the mud, of course, lots of it—even more than you’ll find in the average celebrity gossip magazine.
Still a regular runner and spin-class cyclist, I’m in pretty good shape for my age. I even did a couple of months’ upper body work to prepare for all the climbing and hanging. But I was relieved to finally stumble across the finish line after three-and-a-half hours. Especially after getting knocked to my knees by the third jolt I got in the last obstacle, the electrified cable run said to deliver 10,000 volts.
Still aching in places I did not know I have, several days later, I now pass along some Tough Mudder life lessons.
Keep your hands clean. From monkey bars to poles to ropes to pegs, many of the obstacles required a good strong grip. Not easy when your hands are covered in slippery mud. That meant washing them off during one of the many water passages, or scraping them as clean as possible on any nearby grass. If your hands aren’t clean, chances are things will slip through your fingers.
Don’t look down. As someone who gets nervous standing on tiptoes, I took a deep breath when we reached King of the Swingers. You had to run off a plank about 15 feet or so high, jump out to reach for a bar and swing out on it to ring a bell, before falling into 12 feet of water. My fingers touched the bar for a second before I dropped my eyes, lost my focus, and everything went pear-shaped with a big splash. Concentrate on where you’re going, not where you could end up.
Lend a hand. While many people took part in teams, there were a lot of solo participants, too—until they reached the next obstacle. Many simply couldn’t be tackled alone, whether that meant getting a boost to reach the top of a high wall, or grabbing an arm from someone leaning down to pull you up. You don’t need to know someone to team up along the way, you just have to acknowledge that you require help. Or, be ready to offer it.
Enjoy the waiting. Participants ran at different paces between obstacles, but there were some bottlenecks once you reached the next one. For example, only so many people could crawl through the (safe) tear-gas tunnels at one time. Given that promoters billed the event as a challenge rather than a race, no one got bent out of shape about having to wait. En route there is time to catch a breath, see how the folks ahead tackle the obstacle and maybe get some pointers, offer encouragement to those around, and even make some new friends.
Finishing, not Facebook. I had hoped the official photographer would have his camera set on its Noble Elder Statesman filter to capture me in action, all grit and grace. The results suggest it must have been turned to Feeble Old Guy, more huff and puff than anything. But when all is said and done, getting to the end is more important than looking good along the way.
As we recovered, I was moved to offer Matthew, who had gotten me into the whole thing, a high five. Sadly, I couldn’t lift my arm that high.