Ottney: Tough Mudder proves true to its nameWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
I can’t pinpoint exactly how I first heard of Tough Mudder, but I like a good challenge and I knew immediately this was one I wanted to take.
Taglined “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet,” Tough Mudder events are “hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all-around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie,” according to its website. Born as a Harvard Business School project and now hosting events around the world, the organization has drawn more than a million participants and raised more than $5.7 million for the Wounded Warrior Project since 2010.
During the weekend of June 29-30, I joined about 16,000 people taking on the 12-mile, 20-obstacle course at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.
Three-and-a-half hours later, limping and covered in mud, I crossed the finish line to claim victory and my hard-earned orange sweatband.
With names like Walk the Plank, Kiss of Mud and Trench Warfare, each obstacle offers a unique challenge.
The worst by far was Arctic Enema, which involves submersion in a tub of ice water. I couldn’t feel my legs for the next half mile.
Third-time Mudder Jason Failing, 26, of Perrysburg said the obstacle is actually easier when it’s colder.
“My body was so cold last year, it didn’t feel much colder,” Failing said. “I was sweating this year so it was a drastic change in temperature.”
Electric Eel — a belly crawl through shallow muddy water while trying to avoid getting zapped by dangling wires — was the most exciting, said Philip Meck, 25, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
“It was great watching everyone trying different methods to try and not get shocked,” Meck said. “I got shocked about 20 times. The shocks to the shoulders hurt the most.”
Kate Kelley, 38, of Toledo thought the hardest obstacle was Funky Monkey, a more intense version of the classic playground monkey bars.
“The bars were just too far apart for me to grab. Plus, my hands were muddy, the bars were muddy and my arms were pretty tired by then,” Kelley said. “I got across two bars and had to let go into the pit of muddy water and swim the rest.”
Her favorite was Fire Walker, where participants jumped over flames into a pit of water.
“It was intimidating, but exhilarating,” she said.
Josh Curie, 27, of Detroit said Bale Bonds — stacks of round hay bales to climb over — was the toughest obstacle, while Erica Bechaz, 24, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who grew up on a farm, thought it was the easiest.
Meck’s least favorite obstacle was Boa Constrictor, which involved crawling through a series of narrow pipes.
“I’m 6-foot and have wide shoulders so it was rather hard for me to get up the tunnel out of the water,” Meck said.
Phillip Dahlhofer, 29, of Haslett, Mich., believes there’s no single obstacle that’s the hardest, but that the event is more of a “cumulative stress that gets to you over time.”
That’s where encouragement from teammates and fellow participants comes in — that and most people need help to overcome at least a few obstacles.
I was planning to run with a team, but through a series of mishaps, we never found each other and I ended up running alone. I needed a boost over Glory Blades, Berlin Walls and Everest, but found quick and ready help. Warrior Carry, an obstacle in which one person must carry another, can’t be done alone.
Tough Mudder is billed as “not a race but a challenge.” Participants are urged to put teamwork before course time.
“You can’t help but feel the camaraderie as you run,” Dahlhofer said. “Even when I ran solo last year I was amazed how quickly people started to work together and help each other out.”
“My hamstrings started to seize up around the seventh mile, which was excruciating,” she said. “I could barely jog through all the mud. I ran with my friend Jamie and she was great in helping me to keep moving. I just kept thinking, ‘You don’t have to be fast; just keep going forward.’ It was grueling!
“I couldn’t believe how great the other competitors were with helping. Everyone in our heat kind of kept an eye out for the rest of the competitors and kept the encouragement going.”
Bechaz said she especially noticed the camaraderie at Everest, a 15-foot-tall quarter pipe.
“Everyone turned back and made sure the next person jumping had a helping hand to pull them up,” she said. “Some people were up there helping for quite a while.”
Failing ran with a team of 23 people. Each ran at his or her own pace, then waited for their teammates at each obstacle. They linked arms and ran through the finish line together.
Several participants said they wish they would have run more beforehand.
“I did not run nearly enough,” Meck said. “My advice to people thinking about doing it would be to run, and then run some more. Training for running is the most important. People can help you over obstacles, but no one can help you run.
“You do feel the camaraderie,” Meck added. “There is a real feeling that you don’t want to let your team down.”
Everyone said the feeling of achievement was the best part.
“I felt so awesome and badass when I crossed the finish line,” Curie said. “I wished they would have timed it because I knew I did well. Mentally, I felt amazing. What kept me going is knowing that we are capable of doing so many things we feel are beyond ourselves if we just focus and push ourselves. I loved the looks I got from all the people who had not run the event when I was leaving. I was like, ‘Yup, I just did it!’”
The lone sour spot on the weekend was getting sick 24 hours later. The Michigan Department of Community Health is investigating an outbreak of norovirus among participants and spectators. Several hundred cases have been reported, but a cause has not been determined. However, the news is not enough to discourage most participants from signing up again.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Bechaz said.
Dahlhofer and Failing both love Tough Mudder, but are looking for new challenges. Failing is thinking about the team challenge GORUCK while Dahlhofer’s next goal is World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour Tough Mudder competition.
“You can’t help but get swept up in the excitement of a Tough Mudder once you get there. After your first Tough Mudder you gain a lot of confidence,” Dahlhofer said. “Advice for anyone interested is train hard and just do it. Life is too short to live with regrets.”
Cost is $85-$180. Those who don’t feel ready to enter the course can walk along the route as spectators for $20-$40. Spectators are appreciated for shouts of encouragement, snapping action shots, helping their loved ones hobble back to the car and driving home while they nap.
Organizers of Tough Mudder don’t like to see the event compared to other mud runs, but those who can’t wait for next year can get a taste of the experience at The Survival Race, a 5K coming to Holland on Sept. 28, or Zombie Race, a 5K or 15K coming to Holland on Sept. 29.
Sarah Ottney is managing editor of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: British Special Forces, Erica Bechaz, GORUCK, Jason Failing, Josh Curie, Michigan Department of Community Health, Philip Meck, Phillip Dahlhofer, Sarah Ottney, The Survival Race, Tough Mudder, Zombie Race