Scaling 12-Foot Walls: The Tough Mudder
Yesterday, we survived a Tough Mudder. Over the course of five hours, we ran 12 miles, climbed up (and down) Gunstock Mountain’s slippery, steep slopes four times, and conquered 20 different obstacles along the way. Think you could do it? Here’s what you should expect:
What it is:
Tough Mudders are 10 to 12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to (seriously) kick your butt. Events take place all over the world, and each course is specifically created to test participants’ mental and physical stamina. It’s a half marathon combined with rigorous and terrifying obstacles—running through fire, crawling through ice cold water with live wires above your head, jumping into a dumpster of ice water, and scaling multiple twelve foot walls. Groups of Mudders start the course every twenty minutes all weekend, and most complete the course in three to five hours, receiving a free beer, Tough Mudder T-shirt and headband at the end of the course.
More than 700,000 people have participated in Tough Mudder events so far, making the race another component of the wildly popular hard core race trend. Most participants compete in teams of five to 10 men and women—our favorite team yesterday was the Wicked Sensitive Crew—complete with matching T-shirts and chants. Competing alone is allowed, although you’ll likely team up with another group along the way because those 12 foot walls are relatively impossible to get over without a team. Interestingly, yesterday’s Mudder participants varied from soldiers to sorority girls to mothers, which has become more common as the race has become more popular. In previous years, the number of male participants far outweighed the number of females, but this year, more women than ever before have showed up to conquer the mud.
Although the Tough Mudder is “probably the toughest event in the country” according to the Tough Mudder website, the environment at the race is surprisingly light hearted. The Tough Mudder is not technically a race—there are no awards for first or second place and participants must keep their own times on the course—so there isn’t much competition. Rather, strangers hoist each other over obstacles and cheer each other on as they climb mountains side by side. After we finished the New England Tough Mudder, we got hugs from strangers and back slaps from the drill sergeant running the race.
The Mental Grit
Tough Mudder events are designed to test not only your physical strength, but your mental strength as well. Participants pay anywhere from $75 to $180 (depending on when they sign up), and then receive email updates about the event for months before the actual race. Because each course is designed by local contractors, the folks at Tough Mudder can’t tell you what to expect. Instead, they give you a list of possible obstacles and warn you to begin training. This is where the mental grit of the race comes into play. With months to speculate about the horrors that may await you on the course, many Mudders drop out a few weeks before the race. Two days before the event, the Tough Mudder staff sends out a course map. The hours before the race are filled with anxiety (the participant information packet warns you not to throw up) and pre-race jitters.
The Physical Challenge
That being said, the obstacles themselves are often easier than they were in your head during the months before the race. We barely felt the electric shocks during the electric eel, an obstacle that requires you to army crawl under barbed wire with electrical live wires hanging down. The arctic enema, a participant favorite, involves jumping into a container full of ice and water, swimming under a partition and then pulling yourself back up onto a platform. Because of Sunday’s 90 degree weather, that one wasn’t too terrible, either. The real energy zapper wasn’t the obstacles, it was climbing the mountain multiple times.
The Tough Mudder staff recommends being able to run at least six miles, and they also recommend circuit training in order to build muscle. Pushups, frog jumps, burpies, crunches, and mountain climbers will help build strength in your arms and legs, which you’ll need for many of the obstacles. We’d also recommend going on lots of trail runs—you’ll likely be running through rough terrain for the entire race—and spending time on hills during your pre-Mudder workouts. If you’d like to be able to move the day after the race, that training will help you immensely.
The Bottom Line
There is nothing quite like the feeling of crossing the finish line of a race that you didn’t believe you could actually complete. The triumph of facing your fears and your insecurities, and of running across difficult terrain for five hours, is second to none. Although the Tough Mudder is dirty, expensive and terrifying, it’s also worth every penny. We may not be able to move for the next week, but we’re glad that we did it. And we promise, it doesn’t matter if you’re a tall, muscular guy, or a smaller, slimmer woman; with the proper training and some serious mental grit, you’ll be able to conquer this race.