Tough Mudder tales: What you can expect and why I'm inspired to try more
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely thinking about participating in a Tough Mudder Mud Run (TM) and are very excited about it. Or one of your friends has somehow coaxed you into signing your life away and you will need to be dragged to the course on race day.
Last month, I was in the latter camp—having no want or desire to run in mud puddles (which were even deeper than I thought) and climb things for half a day, only to be sore for the rest of the week. I could think of a million better ways to spend my weekend (e.g., Netflix, food, napping, etc.).
For a little background of this writing: This spring, I told my old Michigan State University dorm roommate, Will Gill, that since I was already traveling across the country so much, I might as well start a travel blog. He took me up on my offer (called my bluff), and invited Storia to check out Tough Mudder in Central Texas.
Last year, he became a national “Muddervational Speaker” a.k.a. TM National Start Line Emcee. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of his social media posts about TM, but they didn’t motivate me to ever want to challenge myself to an obstacle course race.
So before I share my thoughts on my first crazy OCR, I’ll let the TM Legionnaire share his. Here is a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of my conversation with Will:
Renwei Chung (RC): How long does the average Mudder run take to complete?
Will Gill (WG): Four hours to run the 10-12 miles of obstacles and mud pits. I mean, it can be less, but it's inevitable that you wind up connecting with people and having great conversation, which results in walking, talking, and quite a few selfies.
RC: What are three of your favorite TM obstacles?
RC: What's been your favorite TM memory so far?
WG: Still a newbie in 2016, I co-emceed TM Wisconsin 2016. A city in which I had no intentions of running. 50 degrees? No thank you. That was until a guy by the name of Dennis H. introduced himself, shook my hand, and welcomed me to the Mudder family. We chatted for a bit.
He said this weekend marks his 41st (Saturday) and 42nd (Sunday) TMs. For those reading, know that the real crazies among us run more than one TM over a weekend.
He then told me he’s looking forward to reaching 50 TMs, but I won’t be seeing him for a while because in 12 days he will be undergoing surgery for his third brain tumor.
I couldn’t imagine what he must be going through, and all I could do was look at him and listen to his story while getting choked up.
Long story short: After he took off, I turned to the volunteer handling my start line music and said “WTF have I been complaining about? 50 degrees outside? If that dude can do it, I’m in.” I clocked out at 2 p.m. and ran the obstacle course.
Let’s be honest… I still complained the whole run about how cold it was, but I carried Dennis on my mind and got my third headband at the end. It would not have happened if it wasn’t for Dennis. I dedicate my blue headband to him for sure.
RC: What cause or charity has stuck out to you?
WG: Nissi Salazar is simply amazing. A TM Legionnaire with Cerebral Palsy who, with the help of her best friends, gets through 10 miles of TM hell—never letting being confined to a wheelchair stop her from getting that next headband.
RC: What’s been your favorite TM location?
WG: Lake Tahoe because of the mountain. Mudder Village is on a ski resort and being able to hit the casino (we were on the border of Nevada) afterwards was fantastic.
RC: What are people most surprised about after finishing a mud run?
WG: For first timers? Simply put, because they actually did it.
RC: Why should someone sign up for a TM?
WG: These obstacles are set up for you to overcome. But in the end, it's just a scrimmage; a reminder that everyday there are obstacles that you can and will overcome.
This made me want to do it even less the following day. The obstacles were bigger and more complex than I thought. The mud pits were deeper. The weather hotter. The course longer, 10-plus actual miles.
After watching more than 4,000 participants complete the course on Saturday, I watched more than 400 hit the TM Start Line on Sunday.
If you like the crowds, definitely go on Saturday. If you like a more chill atmosphere, Sunday is fantastic.
Either day will be grueling, so be ready to challenge yourself mentally and physically.
Will did not warn me, but I will warn you. Do not purchase a new pair of shoes and wear them for this OCR. Thousands of pairs of shoes are donated after every TM.
It is likely your shoes will be ruined. We ran through mud, puddles, creeks, ponds, and ice water.
Yes, ice water.
Do wear sun block. And don’t be afraid to bring a bottle of block with you. You can carry a small backpack, preferably somewhat water resistant and set it aside during each obstacle you tackle.
You can also bring snacks, I noticed peanut butter to-go packs were a TM favorite among the Legionnaires. Don’t worry too much about a water bottle, there are plenty of water stations throughout the mud run.
Don’t be too intimidated as several of the 20 obstacles have two different levels—one for beginners and one for Legionnaires.
Do train a little bit. During the month or two leading up to your first TM, try to start running two to three miles a day, do some push-ups, and work on pull-ups.
I discovered the true spirit of Tough Mudders was about camaraderie, culture, and community. After all, it isn’t a race. It’s not timed.
You don’t have to complete each obstacle, although I think you should give it your best shot.
I had the opportunity to meet with veterans who were using TM for a five-year reunion, after meeting each other while serving abroad. I was inspired by those who were running to raise money for resettled refugees. I couldn’t help but feeling all the feels for those who were running in memory of loved ones who passed away from terminal illnesses, such as brain and breast cancers.
I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time outside, unplugged; continually challenging myself both physically and mentally.
I’ve never swung on rings, let alone swung on them thirty feet in the air like Tarzan, but Tough Mudder is all about pushing yourself and finding your limits.
Now I’m already signed up for the next one. And I’m ready to drag others to the course on race day.