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Tough Mudder 2012 - (Graham Hunter)

By: Graham Hunter
By: Graham Hunter

The Tough Mudder is considered one of the most challenging obstacle events in the world. It's 20+ obstacles over a 12 mile course at over 10,000 feet designed to wear you down mentally and physically. Here's what it's like to take the challenge:

 

The trail was littered with it. The open fields covered in it. Ski lifts now dry and dusty were drenched in it. Desire and will were left everywhere along the 12 mile course alongside broken hearts and even more real, broken ankles.

It is, “not a race but a challenge.” So goes the opening line to the credo of an obstacle course featuring ice, electric shock and mud, lots of mud.

With a name like the Tough Mudder one expects to spend at least part of the day slogging through ankle deep mud but it’s the unforeseeable obstacles that often present the biggest challenges.

Each Tough Mudder course is provided to competitors via map, pre race, informing them of what to expect as they battle across mile after mile of terrain typically reserved for high speed snowboard runs. Every Mudder event includes at least a couple of “mystery obstacles” and the 2012 event at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, CO was no exception. Billed originally as a 10-mile event one such obstacle was an extra two-mile grueling hike up hill to over 11,000 feet; after completing 19 obstacles over 7 miles.

(Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, CO. Site of Tough Mudder 2012)

It didn’t take long. People were laying all over the course, broken physically and mentally as helpless teammates looked on. This was just three miles in! What would those who continued on be rewarded with for overcoming crushing pain and mental anguish? Tangible rewards included a headband, a t-shirt and a high five from other competitors washed down with ice-cold beer.

What was earned was far more worthwhile than physical incentive. Crossing the finish line represented the culmination of preparation and good old-fashioned hard work; in a word, validation. But as with most adventures it was far more than just the destination but the journey that made the experience worth repeating.

***

 

 

For me, the journey started in my mind. It was a dream, just out of reach but always there, demanding me to grab hold.

Doing a race is something that requires a deep commitment and I had always admired those who did them. I always asked myself what it meant to make that type of commitment. What was really involved? Could it be that hard? Could I do it?

The answer to the first question is easy, what is involved is work and lots of it. Growing up in Colorado I always had a deep-seated desire to run the Bolder Boulder, a 10k that annually draws over 50,000 racers.

To be a part of something that huge would be incredible, I thought, so many people coming together with a similar passion for self-improvement and pushing past the point of comfort.

So I went out, into the cold and ran. By myself, lungs burning, I ran. I hate running. I always have. I played sports growing up and every sport involves running. But in most sports you get to kick a ball or a make a tackle at the end of your run. With running, it’s just running. You get out what you put in and so I pushed.

I had never run 6.2 miles in a row before and I didn’t know how to approach it. So, steadily I increased my distances until the week before the race I ran 5.5 miles. I felt good. I felt ready.

At the starting gun, flanked by a close friend, I leapt out flanked also by thousands of others who wanted nothing more than to cross the finish line. Music raced by, marshmallows struck my face and I ran. It took 1 hour and 6 minutes, not great but I finished, stopping only for a slip and slide laid out in a yard.

When I ran into Folsom Field I knew I couldn’t stop, my final questions answered, it was hard…but I could do it.

***

The Tough Mudder was for me, the ultimate challenge. Not only does a Mudder feature running but also jumping, climbing, sliding and requires an ability to push through the pain. Our team started out enthusiastic and large, as much as ten strong. However, as I would later learn, a problem faced by many teams was the inevitable thinning out of those who wanted to do it and those who needed to do it. Two months before the Tough Mudder it was down to only two. A close high school friend was all in. He bought his plane ticket and we both bought our entrances into the Colorado Tough Mudder 2012.

 

(I find it’s best to flex before a race. Who needs to stretch?)

I have always found the gym to be a spiritual place. The physical world dripping away with your sweat until all that’s left is an inner voice telling you to keep going. I have been a weight lifter for years and in more recent memory found running. None of that prepared me for what it would take to complete a Mudder event.

On the Tough Mudder website is a list of suggested training routines intended to help you prepare. There are three routines. I started on the second. What I encountered was the most intense circuit training I had experienced since high school. After my first go, I almost passed out. Well, first I almost threw up and then I almost passed out…almost.

I knew I had more to give so I went harder, mixing in workouts emailed to me from the Spartan Workout of the Day (Spartan events are similar to Tough Mudders but have different skill levels. Tough Mudders all race together).

As soon as I got comfortable I moved up to the most difficult circuit, pushing hard, sometimes cheating but never quitting.

Those two months ripped by. Work, gym, eat, bed and repeat.

June 8th the day before the race, hit me hard with realization. It was time. I drove to pick up my friend and his alter ego Murdock from DIA. His excitement for life is always teeming at the forefront of his personality but I had never seen him quite like this. Bouncing around, yelling at strangers, smiling, laughing and screaming at the top of his lungs, “Tough Mudder!”

This would be repeated often throughout the weekend.

We drove to Frisco where we would stay for the night. We ate pasta and drank beer (the best beverage for a carb loading diet in my opinion) and made shirts. We went to bed early(ish) and got up early.

Oatmeal for breakfast at our hotel and it was on to Avon. Hundreds of cars filled the dusty parking lot and the temperature soared. A quick bus ride to Beaver Creek Resort put us right in the middle of the chaos. It seemed that everyone had contracted Murdock’s excitement that morning, even me. People did team cheers and jumping jacks and taped up their shoes. We were ready.

 

(Nervous but ready!)

Just before our heat the first competitor crossed the finish line and was the last to do so for at least a half hour. That’s the sort of accomplishment that blows me away.  He was in the first heat and finished every obstacle without any help. He didn’t even look dirty. Some people are incredible.

***

We made our way to the starting box where an emcee started getting us all fired up. He thanked us for coming, he thanked the soldiers for serving and he told us to look upon our new brothers and sisters. Camaraderie. We chanted.

“Tough Mudder, Tough Mudder, Tough Mudder!”

The countdown started and we all counted down in unison. “3..2.1!”

(Competitors head out in waves that leave every 20 minutes)

We ran, passing our families, there in support, through Beaver Creek Resort and into the mountains and up the ski lifts. Alone with only our teammates and fellow mudders, the challenge was on!

First up was an intense hike straight up hill through a mister so cold it took your breath away. We ran along trails and up more hills. Climbed under nets where the ground was littered with safety pins intended to hold your racer number in place but now presenting an unexpected challenge.

The most memorable obstacle from early in the race came soon after. A mud pit filled with water was laid out, with cables hanging down from a canopy made of 2x4s. Those cables were charged with 10,000 volts of electricity. Not enough to kill you, we were told, but enough to wake you up. The only way across was an army crawl, across the mud and under the live wires. I managed to avoid the first half of the wires without a shock but my success was subsequently rewarded with five jolts to the back of my head, shoulders and back.

The sense of exhilaration that comes with completing something so terrifying is remarkable. If that couldn’t stop me, nothing could. Not the walls we would climb over, tunnels we crawled under or hills we hiked up; except, maybe one thing.

Affectionately known as the Arctic Enema, what I stared down looked like a giant dumpster filled with ice and water with a wall in the middle you had to swim under. Barbed wire at the top of the wall prevented an easy way out. This was the only place on the course I recall hesitating. When I jumped in I lost control of all thoughts and most motor control. I opened my eyes, I panicked, forgetting where I was but finally I climbed under the wall across to the other side and up out of the dumpster. I finally breathed again.

 

(Dubbed “Berlin Walls” There were about six throughout the course. I found these to be the easiest obstacles. Like doing one pull up at a time.)

Preparation became a major theme as we traveled along our way. You could tell who had been stricken with unavoidable injuries on the course and who just plain wasn’t ready. At roughly the five mile point in the race we passed one young lady who was shaking and expressing her desire to quit as her teammates looked on, concerned. When one of them asked her what she ate for breakfast her response blew me away.

“A lunchable,” she said.

People around held back their snickers.

It is now I offer my first piece of advice. If you are planning on doing a race of this magnitude, in addition to training, eat. I partook of a carbo loading regime similar to this one provided by the Mayo Clinic. Do your own research, consult with a physician and do not underestimate the toll a race will take on your body. Be ready and make sure you have enough fuel to get through.

More walls, monkey bars, and mountains of ice to scale, it was like a big kid’s playground, including several people crying in the sand box. We sustained no injuries and made it through every obstacle and across 12 miles of mountainous terrain until we stared down the final obstacle.

(Claustrophobic? Try climbing through two narrow tunnels but don’t stand up or be met with a face full of barbed wire)

It was of course more electric shocks. This time the charged cable stretched down from above our head to below our knees. Ankle deep mud, a hay bale in the middle and a hose wetting you down to make sure the shocks really get you. At least we could run through right? We didn’t hesitate, and I was rewarded again with an electric tentacle across the face. I went blind and powered forward even faster, right into Murdock’s back knocking him over the hay bale and face first into the muck. The crowd let out a collective groan for his plight but he got up and we crossed the finish line together.

The Tough Mudder was the rare event that ended up living up to my expectations. It was challenging, energy sapping and fun. I made new friendships and strengthened one of my oldest. We are already planning to do another in December. I can’t wait.

 If there is one final piece of advice I could offer to someone who dreams of competing in such a wild event it is this, as Hunter S. Thompson famously said, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” He couldn’t have been more right. The investment and commitment that comes with that purchase will inspire you to train and get you to the starting line. From there it’s up to you. Fitness is a lifestyle and you reap all of the rewards. Get out there and go!

(Laugh the pain away!)

 

(Celebrate in style with your fellow mudders)

 

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