Its 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, one final check to make sure I have everything and I rush out the front door grabbing two carb loaded, protein packed P90X bars on the way out.
I’m going to need it, I think to myself, its race day!
It’s a short drive to the Starbucks where I’m meeting the rest of my teammates and I start feeling nauseous as my nerves begin to get the best of me, but I force myself to eat the protein bars anyway. I have been told by several people that I am supposed to “carb up” the days leading up to a big race like this. To be honest, I had no idea what carbing up was or how it would help me overcome the 25 obstacle, 12 mile course (this something I will learn and be thankful for later) but I figured I should at least follow their advice.
I meet the rest of my teammates at Starbucks and we quickly decide to carpool to the event to save money on parking. The one hour drive north to Little Everglades Ranch, where the event is being held, is filled with a lot of conversation about what to expect but my mind is still racing and my brain has done a lot of thinking… What have I gotten myself into? How tough is this really going to be? Will I be able to make it? Before I know it, the entrance to the event looms in front of us and my anxiety, curiosity, and excitement skyrocket. What is it about endurance/obstacle races that people are so drawn to? What kind of people like to compete in events like this? All of these questions should have had valid answers since I was currently “one of those people,” but they didn’t and I was still unsure of what I had gotten myself into.
My friend, Arnel, first told me about Tough Mudder back in June of this year. I went on the website and watched the intro video and thought, this looks do-able, so I signed up that same day. I had been on this insane fitness journey for about a year before Tough Mudder was proposed as something to push me to my limits and I figured what was the point of all this training if I can’t prove that I am getting stronger, push myself to my limits, past those limits, and then excel in achieving a new fitness goal? I started training harder and more frequently to get myself ready but as the event drew closer I became more and more worried that I would not reach the goal I had set for myself. I started to think that I would not be able to finish the race and I was getting even more worried that I would get left behind because I wasn’t a runner and wouldn’t be able to keep up with the rest of the team. I began to pre-judge and form a bias about the very people I was going to be competing with.
Pulling through the gates of Little Everglades Ranch had sent my anxiety skyrocketing, my heart began to race and I started to sweat in anticipation of what was about to happen, even though it was a brisk 50 degrees outside (yes, Floridians think that 50 degrees is brisk). There was a sea of people all walking the same direction toward the entrance of the field where everyone had to pick up their race number, packet and information. Everyone was calm, collected and engaged in conversation with their teammates. Just about everyone belonged to a team and the entire team had matching shirts as to be able to keep track of everyone while on the course. There was orange smoke billowing from canisters near the start line, a big, blow-up start gate, and the race path was marked with orange signs and tape. I started to notice that there were people there that weren’t as “fit” as I was and began to think, How are they going to finish? Did they even try and train for the event? The hundreds of people, from all walks of life, all around had some beginning to stretch, warm up their muscles and some walking to the start gate to line up for their race wave – which began every 20 minutes.
Arriving at the start gate for our 9:20am race wave, there was a DJ and an announcer talking and getting the crowd hyped up to begin. They were playing up-lifting music and the DJ was shouting things through the microphone and the crowd answered with “HOORAH!” After a few minutes the announcer made everyone take a knee and began to talk about what they were to expect while on the course and also remember the real reason that everyone was here and competing in the event: The Wounded Warrior Project. “Tough Mudder is a proud supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project and we are honored to welcome Wounded Warriors to participate in almost every Tough Mudder Event. To date, Tough Mudder participants have raised more than $2 million to support the Wounded Warrior Project. These funds help support thousands of warriors returning from the battlefield by providing combat stress recovery programs, adaptive sports, benefit counseling, education and employment services, and other programs that aid in the healing of the mind, body and spirit of these brave Americans,” (Tough Mudder). After remembering the cause, everyone had to raise their right hand and recited the Tough Mudder Pledge:
As a Tough Mudder I Pledge That:
I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
I do not whine – Kids wine.
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.
For some reason, after reading and reciting the pledge, it seemed like a light bulb went on. Participants are not here to see who is the best, is the fastest or the strongest, they are here to help one another finish and complete the course. It doesn’t matter if you come in first, middle or last. You can at least say that you finished. And with that, the race began.
At about halfway through the course I found myself thinking and laughing at myself because of my very foolish thoughts and pre-conceived biases about the group and people. Yes, at some points I had struggled to keep up with the pace of the group, yes I had struggled with some of the obstacles (the Berlin Walls – 12 foot walls that had a small 1 x 4 board tacked 2 feet off the ground and you had to hoist yourself up and over) but none of that mattered. Everyone was there to help everyone else and make sure that they made it through the obstacle. Everyone kept each other motivated and never left anyone behind.
During the event, I saw many people that truly took my breath away. On one of the obstacles, named “Monkey Bars”, one guy managed to snap his ankle in half, to the point that it was completely sideways. While attempting the monkey bars, he was unable to complete the bars and ended up falling in the pond below but had misjudged the depth and landed wrong. As soon as everyone saw him fall and break his ankle, about 4-6 people jumped into the water to help him out and get him to safety. Everyone currently at the obstacle stopped what they were doing and called for a medic. All you saw was a sea of crossed arms above everyone’s head and everyone stopped and sacrificed their “race time” to help this person that they didn’t even know.
At the Mount Everest obstacle – a skateboard ½ pipe that you had to run and try and reach the top and pull yourself up – there were so many people at the top leaning over the side and grabbing the arms of people running and trying to make it. Those people didn’t even know me, or my team, or barely anyone else, but they were sacrificing their race time to help everyone else and make sure that everyone made it through the obstacle. While we were waiting in line for this event, we saw a guy waiting in his wheelchair. He was a Wounded Warrior and had only one leg but was determined to compete in and finish as much of Tough Mudder as he could. He wanted to conquer Mount Everest, so about 4-5 guys made a human ladder for him to climb up. He managed to climb to the top where there were two more guys waiting to grab his hands and pull him the rest of the way . As soon as he made it to the top, everyone erupted into applause and cheers and some people had even began crying. That one moment was the very definition of what competing in Tough Mudder is about.
At the finish line, you get a signature orange headband, a t-shirt and a free beer. The day after your Tough Mudder event is designated as “Tough Mudder Day” and you are supposed to wear your headband to work. The headband is symbolic and whenever I wear it out people would ask, “You competed in Tough Mudder?” The orange headband is recognizable and symbolic to their brand and when people see that you have it, they give you a little nod indicating that they are also fellow Mudder. Tough Mudder as only been hosting endurance/obstacle races since 2010, with only 16 events so far; however, they have a huge following and there has been over 500,00 participants worldwide. The people of Tough Mudder all had the same attitude, and that was to help their fellow Mudders. They all want to make sure that you make it through the course and if people happen to get injured, that they get medical help right away. Many people give up their race time to help others that have been injured or are unable to complete an obstacle by themselves.
After competing and finishing the race, I found that all of my preconceived notions and biases were completely false. “Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle races designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie,” according to the Tough Mudder website. I had mistakenly made the assumption that it would be “every man for himself,” as it is with runners, triathletes, and most other race-type event participants. Yes, you may begin as a group but then some pull ahead and others lag behind. You just finish when you finish, there is no teamwork, no camaraderie, nothing. The people that run in these endurance and obstacle-type races are completely different than runners or triathletes. The entire motto of Tough Mudder is about teamwork, camaraderie and “No Mudder left behind.” I had been so worried about being left behind during the race and I could not have been more wrong.
Tough Mudder is more that 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 camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days. So many people came up to me after the event and kept asking what our time was or how fast we finished, and I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t know what our time was because Tough Mudder isn’t about finishing first or finishing fast, it’s about working and finishing as a team. Going through all the challenges with my teammates and watching everyone conquer things they never thought possible is indescribable. One question I kept asking myself throughout the day was, Why are people drawn to this type of race? and was truly unsure if I would find my answer. I found that people are drawn to races like Tough Mudder because they are looking for something new, different, and exciting; something that could push them out of their comfort zone and past their limits. People were tired of running the same old races, marathons, 5K’s, 10Ks, half-marathons, etc. They wanted something more challenging and that they would be able to do as a team rather than individually. People read or hear about the teamwork and camaraderie that they experience at Tough Mudder and they want to be a part of that.
The Tough Mudder event is one experience that will forever change my life. The people I met, the experience of racing with them and the teamwork and camaraderie that I saw and experienced will forever be engrained in my head. The people that go to the Tough Mudder aren’t there for the competition, the fastest race time, or to leave people behind. The people aren’t there to compete against each other, they are there to compete against themselves, push their limits and have a good time. No one cares about how long it takes to finish the race; they care about camaraderie and helping your fellow Mudder. It’s not a race, but a challenge, to test your mental and physical strength.