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24 Reasons To Run A Tough Mudder

And 1.5 reasons why you shouldn’t.

World’s Toughest Mudder, 2019

Atlanta, GA, mid-November. Saturday morning rises warm and fresh, burning up yesterday’s cold rain, igniting smiles and hope all around this sprawling city of tents set up on one of the acres of Bouckaert Farm — where they filmed parts of The Hunger Games and Black Panther.

The ground is still muddy but morale is high under a rich blue sky unblemished by clouds. It’s a festival atmosphere, as pit crews put the finishing touches on their organization of the nutrients and gear their runners will need through the long night.

This is the World’s Toughest Mudder

This is 24 hours of misery-by-choice, running, climbing, swimming, and mucking around a 5-mile course of 24 obstacles invoking all the fears you can think of — heights, small spaces, icy water, electricity, and beyond — again and again and again, through the cold dark night.

Culmination of twelve months of Tough Mudder events and experiences, this is the obstacle course race to rule them all — and in the darkness bind them.

Why do people do this? Let me count the ways…

1. When’s The Last Time You Did Something For The First Time?

One of the abiding slogans of Mudder Nation is the tongue-in-cheek reminder that most of life is mundane and rut-driven. Get up, go to work, head home, go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Well here’s a chance at sheer diabolical adventure, pitting yourself against yourself for the duration of the race.

It’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of life and forget that we thrive — indeed survive — through new experiences and fresh challenges to activate body and soul and regenerate the electricity that makes us who we are.

2. The Call Of Adventure

A loudspeaker interrupts my musing to summon participants to the starting line — and the tent-city crowd surges, snapping last-minute Before pics and hurried words of encouragement.

Spectators line the hillside above the starting chute, locating friends among the packed-in runners as Tough Mudder CEO Kyle McLaughlin reviews the rules and cracks wise. He reminds us that the race is actually 25.5 hours…runners have an extra hour-and-a-half to finish; as long as last lap starts by noon.

Flags stir in the breeze above the participants; Mexico, Switzerland, UK, Canada, Finland — and one printed with a smiling face and the somber caption: 1959–2018.

3. In Memoriam

Sean Corvelle, Tough Mudder’s resident morale officer and spiritual guide, takes the mic and everyone knows what’s coming:

“Take a knee.”

We obey and he weaves a motivational yet solemn speech — practically a prayer — reminding us that, “Flesh just wants to survive…but the spirit wants to live.”

He introduces someone who’s running in the name of a fellow Mudder who just succumbed to cancer, and urges us to make every moment count.

He assures us that in this race, “You don’t finish at the finish line…you finish somewhere out there and make it to the finish line.”

Hoo-rah!”

He brings us to our feet and two runners sing the national anthem. Then Jon Copper plays Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, and we bow our heads for a moment of silence…

Then Sean calls Ten! and our collective pulse surges with excitement.

Nine! and we join in.

Eight!…

4. Because It’s Hard

Noon sharp and they’re off! in a burst of acrid orange smoke, trotting around the chute and out into the woods toward the Devil’s Taint obstacle as the cheering crowd snaps pics and blows kisses. Scents of pine and fireworks, fresh dirt and lyrca.

Medical 4x4 gators rumble off to take their places at the obstacles which will open after the first hour. The elites take advantage of this “sprint lap” to sail through two rounds of easy crosscountry, chalking up ten miles before the realness even starts.

Last year’s winner made 100 miles total. That’s twenty 5-mile laps in twenty-four hours.

5. A Crazy Way To Beat Boredom

Pit crews pass the time between laps chatting and exploring the pit area and hospitality tents with their microwaves and hot-water urns for later. Or hitting up the Black Key coffee booth, which will stay open all 24 hours, keeping us charged and warm.

Then we take our places in the Quick Pit between finish line and start line, armed with water bottles and electrolytes and nutrition packets as our runners appear, asking what’s next? Want your longsleeve? Honey stingers? Crustables?

We record lap times, nutrients taken, notes for the next pit stop. And they’re gone again in a flash of sunlight and cheers. Still no mud — not yet…

6. Be Part Of A Community

I wander past the Orphan Tent, sponsored for participants who have no pit crew. Tough Mudder, I’m quickly realizing, is more about the community than the race itself. Some of the obstacles like Pyramid Scheme and Blockness Monster can’t even be surmounted without teamwork.

McLaughlin’s words echo: “We’re just stewards. You make this event.”

The community is the lifeblood of this strange and wonderful thing. It’s a network of support and camaraderie, a brotherhood of ordeal and self improvement. Every skidding footstep, every ragged breath, every desperate groan and helpful message-board and viral innovation…

7. Innovation And Creativity

Undeniably one of my favorite aspects of this whole thing is the vibrant human ingenuity in the face of hardship. This is why we’re here — still here. Tool use and invention. We gamified survival long ago and now here we are.

It’s the little things:

  • Closet-door shoe-organizers for nutrition and equipment
  • Pickle juice to stave off muscle cramps
  • Tube socks of dry rice, microwaved to warm numb toes
  • Reflective emergency blankets between laps
  • Tiny buckles instead of tying on bibs
  • Wrapping feet in plastic bags to slide easier into wetsuits
  • BleggMits

The first lap is easy — just a moderate run through woods and fields. It’s the next lap that’s the hardest. Always.

8. Bragging Rights

Once upon a time Tough Mudder offered cash prizes. But 2019 marks the first year winners will walk away with nothing but the satisfaction of being the best. Plus the chance to get sponsored, like any other worldclass athlete.

Don’t slip! A runner hangs out at Funky Monkey

But for the non-elites it’s always been about personal accomplishment, standing out from the office crowd, a glowing sense of achievement in an otherwise banal life.

9. A Badass Weightloss Strategy

I gobble Oreos and gnaw cold jerky and think about how many calories these people are burning. The average human body digests 250 calories per hour. What if you’re burning more than that for 24 hours straight?

Maybe I should sign up for this next year. Force myself into a training regimen, into running shoes. Find focus, something to work toward. Self-improvement and teamwork is the name of the game.

The diversity of difficulty in this obstacle course race is a hub with many spokes. A full 360° of self-improvement at your own pace. Set goals, whittle your mile time, increase your grip strength, hone your mental toughness…

10. Funky Monkey

I cross the hills past a line of Mudders shimmying across the slacklines of Spreadeagle to watch my favorite obstacle from yesterday’s fun-run. Funky Monkey gets harder every round, as hands get numb and weary and the grips get cold and wet. But as a climber, this is my bread and butter.

Pitched monkeybars leading to spinning wheels you have to catch and swing — not too fast! — to the next one. Slick with mud and mist. Above freezing cold water. And if you fall in, the penalty is you have to haul yourself out and jumprope soaking wet after dragging a heavy rubber mat over a quarter-mile of mud.

11. Face Your Fears

Shadows lengthen and the sun creeps down among the trees, splashing swaths of gold here and there as runners start donning wetsuits and warm gear as they cross the finish line. I hear someone crying about Waterworks, the large plastic culvert tubes half-sunk in cold water — so you have to keep your shit together and breathe in the few inches between water and wall as you shimmy through.

No effing thank you.

At 5pm begin Dark Ops, when runners must wear headlamp and red flasher; when medics man the finish line with posterboards of basic math equations for cognitive checks, reading between the lines for signs of hypothermia.

The water obstacles like Cage Crawl and Augustus Gloop are already desperately, shockingly cold — stopping breath and slagging mind, tightening skin and lancing through aching bones. Yet still they run…

And it’s only getting colder.

12. Defeat Disease And Disability

Tough Mudder legends are legion, and everybody who’s even dabbled in the community knows the names of the stand-outs. Everyone here is a serious badass, from those who will breeze through twenty laps to those who struggle to finish one.

And if you think you can’t do it, consider these heroes:

  • Blind Pete, who doesn’t hesitate even at the edge of King of Swingers
  • Grant Polson, making 50 miles and easily crossing Black Widow with only one hand
  • Deanna Blegg who won the 2013 women’s division while battling AIDS
  • Jim Campbell, first to complete 200 Tough Mudder events — just 10 years after being crushed in a motorcycle accident, not expected to live through the night, much less ever walk again.

13. Overcome Addiction

I talk to one pit-crew member whose sister decided to replace the needle with Tough Mudder training after reading about it on facebook while typing a suicide post. Three years and still clean.

“Cheaper than some Malibu rehab center, that’s for sure,” she says and lights another cigarette. She cheers as her sister emerges from Mudder Press under headlamp glow like some chthonic birthing, covered head to toe in pale orange mud, screeching in triumph before trotting onward to attempt The Gauntlet.

14. Midnight On Everest

Between laps I wander around to various obstacles, watching lines of headlights bobbing through the dark toward stage-lighted structures that seem doubly imposing now.

Everest stands like a cresting wave frozen in mud and plastic; half a halfpipe scrawled with the cryptic graffiti of muddy knees and kicking toes as runners scrabble up the curved wall toward helping hands reaching down from the top.

The Everest Angels. Who sign up to spend this entire 24-hour race atop the foreboding obstacle, helping people over. No matter how cold. No matter how dark. True heroes of the #Assist100Mudders movement.

A black papier-mache rose is their banner, spotted with mud but never wilting.

15. Electric Avenue

By this point in the night the daunting heights of Everest send most runners to the alternative bypass to crawl under or sidle through the hanging wires of Electroshock Therapy administering a jolting 10,000 volts right through wet neoprene.

How steady are your hands at 1am?

They push to their feet and lurch a few steps before slumping to their knees again and into a shallow pool to slither under the crisscrossed wires of Electric Eel.

Then another quick stumble to the gallery wall of Operation, guiding a long metal pole through an electrically charged hole to hook a rubber bracelet off a nail in the second wall behind…and draw it back through the charged hole, without touching —

Oww! FUCK! She screams frustration and drops the pole. Cries a little. Picks up the pole to try again.

16. Gain Some Perspective

The fatigue is palpable now, contagious. Runners stuff handwarmers into the cheeks of their neoprene hoods as they set out again into the dark. Others wander listless through the pit area, drinking hot chocolate and mechanically chewing nutrients. Dreading the next lap.

Medics at the finish line identify and escort hypothermics to the medical tent to warm up and be monitored.

Problems like finding parking or how many “likes” your latest post got or looming project deadlines seem remote and meaningless in the small hours of a World’s Toughest Mudder. This is survival.

17. Find Out Who You Are

How far could you go if you were running for your life? What if you had to climb walls or slog through water-filled craters like the Mud Mile? Could you get to the border in 24 hours? Could you run all night?

You know who can answer those questions? People who run a World’s Toughest Mudder. People who’ve scaled Skidmarked and Berlin Walls long after midnight, when every fiber screams Stop. People who’ve tasted sludge under the barbed wire of Kiss Of Mud or kept their tiki torch alight wading through the lake for Statue of Liberty.

18. 3 AM

And getting colder. Mist swathes the land and a gibbous moon rises past the trees into the cold clear air. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

This is where the mental hurdles loom larger than life like fevered monsters lurking in the distant dark. (Or is that just the hurdles of Lumberjacked?) Pushing violently away that nagging voice saying, Can’t…can’t…can’t…

Destroying the very notion of quit, again and again and again —

Until you can’t.

It takes a type of bravery you only find in the spaces between — the tiny withins you can only uncover by squelching deep in the mud and bile and lactic acid of such a primal breakdown of expectations and comfort and identity…just muscles moving at willpower’s whim.

19. Coach’s Corner DJ Booth

Strange and disconcerting vibes at the center of the course…EDM and prismic lasers flashing wildly through the mist, loud and fast and jarringly bright in this dark and muted farm in rural mid-Georgia.

Coach is still up there dancing and spinning at the table in his orange hat and famous handlebar mustache, atop a scaffold straddling a tunnel of cargo containers — filled with dancefloor smoke and neon flashing lights. Mud-soaked zombies stumble through the chute; warm and rejuvenating for some…for others just another obstacle to pass.

20. Rite Of Passage

In the small hours I find myself reflecting on human history and symbolic ordeals. We don’t really have that in our cushy American life, unless we sign up for it. We have no hunt-or-die imperative, no journey through the desert for water, no walkabout.

Unless we choose to.

But we need rites of passage like we need companionship and human touch. We’re desperate for a sense of breaking through, of turning the page, of leaving one passage behind and facing the next. Without it we get crusty, sclerotic, rigid. We forget what it means to be alive.

21. The Home Stretch

A line forms at Arctic Enema, a tub of tooth-crackingly cold water with a crossbeam to duck under. “One breath and go!” is the mantra. But dread fuels panic in the dark.

Just beyond, between us and the finish line, Mudderhorn smokes like a volcano as athletes crest the 50-foot A-frame of cargo netting, puffing triumphant columns of breath and steam silhouetted in the glare of gasoline-powered stadium lights, just a few yards from the finish line.

On my next stroll I realize the horizon is going pale and stars are fading. Morning is coming.

22. Bagpipes At Dawn

At sunrise Copper pipes a reveille. Soft pastels replace cold ink and tent city stirs to wakefulness as 8am approaches — meaning “finisher” status is available.

Just one more lap.

We’ve reached the trudge phase of the race. Sleepers, denizens of the warming tent, everyone who can muster one more push, to get that status. Everyone’s a zombie, hobbling spraddle-legged by sheer willpower through the last few miles and the last couple obstacles.

23. The Finish Line

You’ve never seen anything as beautiful as the finish line of an endurance obstacle race.

Sean Corvelle is back, in parka and TM beanie, with a mic and emcee energy and a hug for anyone who wants. Runners lurch under the inflatable arch, breaking into tears, laughter, antics and dancing. Pictures and embraces and an addictive flood of relief. It’s over.

Except for those pushing one more lap toward their goal —

Rise up! Push! Finish strong!

24. Cleaning Up And —

Zzzzzz…

But Here’s The Thing

Tough Mudder is one of those before and after deals. If you run one, especially a World’s Toughest Mudder, your life will never be the same. Every puddle will call your name. Every hill will defy your lethargy. And you’ll make friends.

Don’t run a Tough Mudder if you’re feeling fulfilled. Don’t run a Tough Mudder if you’re happy with your lot in life. Don’t run a Tough Mudder if you’re confident in your abilities, if you’re feeling strong.

Because the World’s Toughest Mudder will strip you to the core of your essence, will reveal you to yourself, will hold up a mirror to your ego and turn it to crumbling stone. And maybe that’s something we all need. From time to time.

The tiny things said during these small hours and chance encounters approaching an obstacle will be forever lost to the strata of time — but not before adding a little mica sparkle to the foundation of humanity.

See you in the pit.

See you in Dallas 2020.

Thank you for reading. Say hello: Paul D Blumer

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Paul Blumer

Paul Blumer

I write about brand story marketing, sex & mental health, and other human entanglements | www.quillpoweragency.com

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