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I am a Tough Mudder.

That’s right. This past Saturday I completed the 2012 Tri-State Tough Mudder event at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey.

For those not familiar with Tough Mudder, I’ll let them tell you what they’re about (from their website):

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. As the leading company in the booming obstacle course industry, Tough Mudder has already challenged half a million inspiring participants worldwide and raised more than $3 million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project. But Tough Mudder is more than an event, it’s a way of thinking. By running a Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.

I got the idea to run the event from my friend Mike, who was looking for a new physical challenge beyond his normal gym routine. He recruited me and eight others, and we had our squad.

I’m running the New York City Marathon in two weeks, so my first priority was surviving the course without a major injury that might jeopardize my marathon hopes. I’m happy to report that I completed the course relatively unscathed apart from a few knee scrapes.

Tough Mudder prides itself on its badassness. Its branding is all about being a counter-culture event, more exciting and physically demanding than distance running. In fact, here are Tough Mudder’s thoughts on marathons:

Marathon running is boring. And the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon. Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley. At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind. Our obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test you in every way and are meant only for truly exceptional all-around people, not for people who have enough time and money to train their knees to run 26 miles.

Well, having completed my first Tough Mudder, I can say that any of my longer training runs (13+ miles) have been physically tougher. (I can neither confirm nor deny whether I have a stronger upper body than Keira Knightley.) Still, if it takes that sort of in your face rhetoric to drum up business, I can’t fault them for it–besides, it seems to be working.

Rather than taking you step-by-step through the event, here are some of my thoughts from the day:

Smells like team spirit. Tough Mudder is incredibly rah-rah, meaning it’s a lot of pump-me-up, Jock Jams kind of stuff–which I’m not a big fan of. Before we could begin the event, our emcee did a 20-minute spiel that included many a “hoo-rah.” I just wanted to start the race.

Once I got past all the hootin’ and hollerin’ and hit the course running, I realized that the spirit of the event is genuine. Anyone who needed a push, whether it was over a wall, through a tunnel, or up a muddy hill, got one. And there always seemed to be someone standing on the other side with an outstretched hand to pull you through. It was very cool to see that sort of teamwork from people who didn’t know each other.

During one of the mud hill climbs, a team of men wearing blue shirts with the Wounded Warrior logo formed a line and set up a pulley system with rope. It appeared that they were clearing space so that only they could use the rope. Several among us started to question them–it seemed against the spirit of the event that they brought a rope but were only allowing their own group to use it. However that notion quickly vanished when we realized that they were clearing space to haul a man in a wheelchair–an actual Wounded Warrior–up the hill. As we all started to realize what was happening and the crowd broke out into hearty applause.

One of many Tough Mudder walls that needed climbing. (Photo credit: Linda Germann)

Yeah, no…we get it…it’s very muddy. The majority of the obstacles involved athletics running through, being submerged in, or slipping in mud or muddy water. While I fully understand that the event is called Tough Mudder, the amount of mud on the course seemed borderline gimmicky. Nevertheless most of the obstacles were challenging. Here are my favorites:

  • Arctic Enema: The very first obstacle, it’s nothing more than a plunge into ice water. We got lucky with gorgeous weather so hypothermia wasn’t an issue, but this would have been much tougher on a cold day.
  • Funky Monkey: Monkey bars are set up over some muddy water. The bars are spaced far apart and slippery with mud. The first half of the bars inclined, and the second half declined. Despite my lack of height, I managed to get across.
  • Hangin’ Tough: Five hanging gymnastics rings are set up, you guessed it, over muddy water. I was happy to have completed this one without the entire contraption falling on me–as we waited in line for our group’s turn, we noticed repairmen fixing a few of the rings with duct tape.
  • Twinkle Toes: The goal here is to walk across a thin wooden beam, else you fall into muddy wa…you get the point. I nailed it, Gabby Douglas style.
  • Everest: The final hurdle before tasting sweet victory (and a free pint of Dos Equis), you must take a running start and run as far as you can up a half pipe, and either grab the top of the wall or catch a fellow Mudder’s outstretched hand to pull yourself over. My teammates were standing by and, with their help, I got up on the first try.

Who the hell would pay $100 to run in mud for four hours? Though most participants seemed reasonably fit, you need not be physically elite to complete the course. Tough Mudder hits you over the head about it being a teamwork event, not a race to the finish. Conquering all the course’s obstacles isn’t mandatory, but I didn’t see too many people who didn’t at least attempt an obstacle before deciding to skip it.

It was great to see so many women participating–I’d guess it was about 20% female–and all the ones I saw handled the course as well or better than their male counterparts. There was no, “Let me help you with that, sweetie” stuff either. On the Tough Mudder course, everyone is treated as an equal. (According to Tough Mudder’s site, 25% of registrants are female.)

Many people wore costumes while running the event. I don’t know if it had to do with Halloween or just because. I saw a couple of princesses, a guy in an ape mask, and four dudes wearing nothing but leopard print thongs. In hindsight, as I’m still figuring out how to de-muddify my own clothes from that day, the thong guys might have had the smartest outfit of all.

Did I mention it was muddy? (Photo credit: Linda Germann)

A few gripes. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the few negatives of what was largely a really positive experience:

  • Wait times for baggage were very long and didn’t seem particularly organized.
  • The “showers” were literally garden hoses with no hot water and no water pressure. (In fairness, I didn’t think they’d even have showers, so I can’t complain that they at least had something to wash off the caked mud and allow me to be semi-comfortable on my way home.)
  • The parking lots were 40 minutes from the site of the event by shuttle bus, which is a long way after a four-hour race.
  • They nickel-and-dimed participants, charging $10 for parking if your car didn’t contain at least four people; and spectators were charged $20 to watch the event (or $40 if they hadn’t bought their tickets in advance).

I’ve participated in a lot of running events, many in Central Park through New York Road Runners, and save for the above points, I thought that overall, Tough Mudder, was pretty well run. Tip: If you decide to do the event, sign up as early as possible–it’s $95 for early entry and the price increases as you get closer to the event. I can’t say for sure whether I’ll do the event again, but I feel like I got my money’s worth.

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