A fever is spreading across the nation. It has expanded from its original 20,000 participants in 2010 to infect 1 million people to date.
Describing itself as "Ironman meets Burning Man," Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces that tests participants' "strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie."
My bruised knees look like the surface of Jupiter and I have a sinus infection that will keep me on antibiotics for almost a month after my first Tough-Mudder finish line was crossed.
As my nose drips and muscles ache, I wonder, "Why did I do this to myself?" In the state I am in I did not look any better for that big outdoor concert that I was looking forward to. How did I convince myself this was a good idea?
Let's rewind to a pre-Mudder state of mind. Here are some arguments pro that might trick you into thinking a Tough Mudder is a good idea:
1. Fitness in time for summer: I had been to the gym once in a year and a half. I was not about to look cute in a bathing suit at any summer music festivals.
2. Goals: Having just returned from South by Southwest, the office seemed less thrilling. I wanted an adventure to look forward to.
3. Camaraderie: It's nice to have.
4. Bragging Rights: I am definitely tougher than the chick I saw on Facebook who did it.
Here are the arguments con, learned through hard experience:
1. First, you sign a death waiver.
2. In order to get to the start line, you have to jump over a wall. "How?!" I demanded of my teammates. It was too late. The testosterone was flowing and the Nike logo in my head said "just do it." I jumped. I came right back down. I was going to die.
My concerned teammates came running up behind me, prepared to throw me over. I kicked one of them in the face and made it to the other side.
3. When my comrades joined me at the start line, I smiled at the one wearing the GoPro camera. If you do a Tough Mudder, you hope your fear will not be shown to the world via social media. It will be. He returned a look of horror. "You have blood on your face!" I was DEFINITELY going to die. Luckily, the wound turned out to be the equivalent of a paper cut.
4. If you decide to do a Tough Mudder, you will wind up on one knee, listening to a pep talk by the famous Mudder voice. The booming voice will warn you of the risk of severe dehydration. He will tell you not to leave wounded Mudders to die. Due to my severe paper cut, my red, white and blue shirt had a lot more red by the end of our pep-talk.
5. You will then jump up and down, huzzah and hurrah until you are high enough on adrenaline to begin your race.
Our team was made up of four Italians and four Americans, one of whom had joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) instead of doing a semester abroad. He taught me tricks to getting over walls and how to rappel down them. If you decide to do a Tough Mudder, you should have an Israeli commando on your team. Otherwise I would have played cat-in-tree and just stayed put at the top.
6. At some point halfway through, we realized we had split into two groups. In the first group was Americans, in the second Italians. "Thank God this isn't WWII," my IDF teammate joked. None of us got it. At first I thought the split spoke to competitive, American individualism vs. caring, family-oriented Italian culture. Then I remembered that all the Americans had split an Adderall before starting. If you decide to do a Tough Mudder, I do not clinically advise taking stimulants beforehand due to increased risk of dehydration or heart attack. I cannot advise against it either.
7. You may eventually be faced with a challenge called The Electric Eel. This obstacle demands you slide on your belly through frigid water or ice and try to avoid the dangling shocks. I did not plan to do any electric shock obstacles because, really, what's the point? Yet when the time came to army crawl through the mud through unavoidable voltage, I threw down for my teammates. Must have been that adrenaline. Or the Adderall.
Your first jolt, or "brain reboot" as Tough Mudder calls it, might feel like waking up with a start. Like when you sleep through your alarm and realize you're late for an exam. Only you have to finish a 12-mile mud race. I started to move a lot faster after that. I was so proud to pull myself out of that obstacle that I forgot the second half of my body was still in the Electric Eel. My tush felt the heat.
8. Now that you have volts of electricity running through your muscles, the next mile is much easier. For some. Mile seven was where we lost our IDF man. He went the way of the Italians. If you decide to do a Tough Mudder, be warned: Your teammates might just leave you halfway through.
9. During this race you may come across a pile of haystacks. I welcomed the hay. I realized I could sit on the stacks, swing my legs down, then hop to the next one. This is not what Tough Mudders do. It was not until I saw the despondent look on my teammates faces that I realized you are supposed to run up and down said haystacks.
10. You will then swing on Tarzan rings and monkey bars, and inevitably fall in some refreshing mud water. If you are determined not to leave any obstacle incomplete, repeat until you finish every obstacle successfully. My cousin did that. I found the water refreshing.
11. One particularly nerve-racking obstacle is the Walk-The-Plank. You will jump 15+ feet into muddy water. I overcame my fear by not looking down. When I resurfaced, I saw tension on my cousin's face. I felt good that he was scared, too. Nope. Turns out he was getting set to execute an illegal (because dangerous) back flip and did not want security to notice.
12. The most intimidating obstacle for many is the giant half pipe that demands you "Do More." After you've run 10-12 miles, you must then sprint, jump and grab hands to get to the top. I told my two remaining teammates, "I'll go first." They looked at each other with an expression that said, "What is she thinking?"
You may realize during your Tough Mudder that you feel a superhuman strength you never knew you had. I sprinted right up to where someone SHOULD have grabbed my hand. No one was looking for it since my teammates were on the ground behind me, watching me sadly slide back down. You might not actually have that superhuman strength you sometimes feel during the race, but you still feel it, which is nice. Both of my teammates made it up with no hands, to the ooohs and aahhs of the crowd around us. Apparently Tough Mudder might give you wings.
13. The last thing you will do is run through more voltage. Live wires with 10,000 volts, to be exact. I thought my brainpower might compete against the electricity and suggested to the stranger next to me that we link arms. "It will spread out the voltage and be easier on us." Brainpower was down 2-0 when that girl pulled me down before the announcer man could say "and they're already down!" My teammate turned to save me. He, too, went down. Once you get shocked, you will abandon attempts to stealthily avoid the live wires and sprint as hard as you can in order to not get shocked again.
Suddenly, it's over.
The joy surging through me was more shocking than any of the voltage that had just shot through my body. WE HAD SURVIVED! We smiled big for the camera and eventually greeted our Italian teammates with beer, hugs and vows to do it all again three months from now. By three months from now, we would definitely be more prepared.
Even though my knees were bruised for the music festival the following weekend, I put my fence-jumping skills to use. I went over and under multiple barriers into over-priced VIP sections and made it backstage a number of times. There I ran into one of my favorite groups, who I had first seen at South by Southwest three months before. The adventure had come full circle. And it turns out the mud race was great preparation as a big storm made the outdoor festival even more of a mud pit than the Mudder itself.
So was the Tough Mudder worth it? 110 percent. Why would anyone EVER do a Tough Mudder? Pure can-do insanity. It's the American (and sometimes Italian) way.