It was time to approach the starting line. Joining the crowd of anxious adrenaline-junkies, I shivered in the 50-degree air as a gust of wind brushed by me. An authoritative voice projecting from the loudspeaker instructed us to take a knee and repeat after him:
“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 whine.
I help my fellow mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.”
The gun sounded and we were off.
Nearly 5 hours later, I had completed my first Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile obstacle course that nonchalantly hails itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”
It was not until I had graduated college that I started taking on physical challenges like Tough Mudder. Though I was fortunate enough to secure a job working as a clinical research assistant, I could not help feeling directionless. The sudden absence of grade point averages and standardized test scores, which had for so long quantified my productivity, made me question my self-worth. In lieu of the numerical validation I had grown accustomed to in college, I left my office every Friday at 5:00pm wondering if I had done enough. Weekends were uncomfortable too. I was restless without the reading and coursework that normally dominated my time. In the effort to stay busy, find tangible goals to work towards, and make observable progress, I pursued new endeavors like bikram yoga, a half marathon, and eventually a Tough Mudder, pushing myself to stretch deeper, run further, and grow stronger.
I first learned of Tough Mudder from one of my best friends—a fellow exercise enthusiast. Though we moved to different cities after college, I loved hearing about the new workouts she was trying like tabata, kettlebell kick-boxing, and barre. Her new fitness venture was to train for a Tough Mudder, and she suggested we run one together. I was immediately on board. Unfortunately, an ankle injury would force my friend to put her Tough Mudder plans on hold. Nonetheless, she encouraged me to go for it. When I learned that one of my roommates had just signed up for the Tough Mudder New England in West Dover, Vermont, I registered, joining his 9-member team.
Arriving at Mount Snow on the morning of the Tough Mudder, our team was all smiles:
Over the course of 10.1 miles, I would overcome not only sixteen intimidating obstacles, but also my own internal barriers to success.
Mile 0-1: “Kiss of Mud”
Our first obstacle was a barbed wire crawl, uphill. Although exiting unscathed, I was completely covered in wet, sticky mud.
Mile 2-3: “Funky Monkey”
While attempting to make my way across the brutally long expanse of monkey bars, I lost my grip, plummeting into a cold pit of water. The fall left me soaked, freezing, and discouraged.
Mile 3-4: “Balls to the Wall”
I could feel my reserves dwindling, and I seriously questioned my ability to make it through the next obstacle, let alone seven more miles. Our next task was to rope-climb up, over, and down a 15-foot wall. My hands were so numb that I could barely feel my fingers. Though I somehow mustered the strength to pull myself up to the top, I was struck with panic as I looked down below. My vulnerability dawned on me. Nobody below was spotting me. There was no net. If I fell, I was sure to break a bone. The realization made me dizzy, and for fear of fainting, I started to climb back down the wall. Suddenly, one of my teammates leapt up the wall and beckoned me to grab his hand. Though nervous and weak, I took a deep breath, and hurled myself up towards him. My other teammates cheered us on as he helped pulled me over to the other side.
Mile 4-5: “Arctic Enema”
After making it over the wall, I felt ready for the next challenge. Without hesitancy, I plunged head first into a 34-degree pool of ice water, swimming underneath a barrier, and surfacing on the other side. Here I am on my way out:
Mile 5-6: “Berlin Walls”
After several miles, we were faced with two 12-foot walls. Though chilled to the bone, our team managed to boost each other up and over.
Mile 9-10.1: “Electroshock Therapy”
As we paused before the final obstacle, my heart was racing. Meeting the eyes of my teammates, I nodded silently in agreement, and sprinted ahead through a field of live wires. Despite registering a couple of shocks, I emerged triumphant, crossing the finish line to be crowned with my official Tough Mudder headband.
Our team, post-Mudder:
Mile 10.1 and Beyond:
The Tough Mudder challenged my body and mind, forcing me to surpass my physical and mental limits. When I thought I couldn’t move another inch, somehow I pushed myself another mile. When my body froze, chained by fear, somehow I shook myself free. I surmounted every impediment thrown my way, and in the process, conquered the self-doubt that had plagued me for so long. Though my bruises and scratches have faded and healed, my sense of accomplishment will endure. As a result, I confidently welcome adversity as an opportunity to achieve. While the road ahead is uncertain, I run forward into life, ready for the new obstacles I will surely face—each step taking me further, making me tougher.
Want to try a Tough Mudder? Check out the list of upcoming events. Not ready yet? No problem. Here are several shorter alternatives to consider:
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Photo: Angelica D’Aeillo