There's a whole category of athletic events that I'm sure have been around for years*, but have been increasing in popularity recently**: mudders or mud runs. They're runs out in some countryside somewhere with obstacles thrown in at various points, at least one of the obstacles always being, of course, some sort of mud pit. Erica and I and some friends did the Muddy Buddy last year, a 6-mile race that throws in the twist that you have one bike between two participants ("buddies", if you will) and so each person runs and bikes half the distance. Shaun has done the Warrior Dash, a 5K run with obstacles.
So this year Shaun found out about the Tough Mudder. It's a 10 mile run with a bunch of obstacles: 25 on the Wisconsin route. Their website really talks up how difficult their course is, and even puts down other mud events—calling out the Warrior Dash by name. They're so sure you're going to be so proud of finishing, for example, that they have a tattoo artist at the finish line ready to give tattoos of their logo. Shaun convinced me and improv legend Sean Cusick to give it a try, but going in we weren't sure if they were really just masters of hype, or if we were going to die.
Spoiler: We didn't die. But that's not to say that it was easy or anything. In addition to the explicit obstacles, over half of that 10 miles was in a ski resort—a Wisconsin ski resort, so we're not talking 10,000 ft elevations or anything, but still. So just the up and down and up and down all those hills really got to me. And many of the obstacles were pretty tough. I do not like 12 foot tall walls, no not at all, it turns out. And the second half of course is in a golf course, and they kept routing us through water hazards and it just got tiring going into the water and out again. So by the time I got to the end of the course and encountered the obstacle that was freaking out all of my friends beforehand—running through some wires that shock you with 10,000 volts—it was something of a relief because you didn't have to think about how to conquer it, all you had to do was run through, endure a little pain, not slip in the mud, and then you were done.
Fuzzy injury report: I made it through without any real heel pain nor IT-band pain, which were my two biggest fears going in. I did, however, get a big cramp in my left calf by being a smart-ass and jumping off the balance beam challenge and landing weird in the water. And then I got an even bigger cramp in my other calf about 10 minutes later in a super-stinky pond, as far as I can tell just from the stress of trying to keep balanced in the muck. I'm still very sore today all over my body.
And it's not a race, but just for my own records, it took us about four hours to do the 10 miles, which is… just below a normal walking pace. I know Sean and Shaun could have finished faster, so I'm glad they held back with old man me.
There are a number of things I really liked about the event. For all of the tough-guy talk, they also stress that the event is not a race and even make you swear a pledge just before you start that includes "I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. … I help my fellow Mudders complete the course." We really saw that in action, from just the simple fact that people were very polite in any line for an obstacle, to really helping each other get over obstacles like the walls. At the Walk the Plank obstacle, it took Sean and I a few tries to help an older guy to get up on the platform. When I reached the shore on the other side and looked back, he still hadn't jumped and his friends were encouraging him and I stopped to make sure he made it into the water—I was invested in his success.
Given how blistering hot the day was, they could have used a few more water stations. If I wasn't wearing my new Camelbak (thanks Erica) I probably would have been in a bad way, water-wise. And the parking situation was defintely not ideal. There was a huge traffic jam coming into the event and we ended up parking across the street from the offical parking (which seemed to be full) in just someone's yard who was charging double the official parking rate (I mean, just $10, but still). I know it's tough for these events who have to balance their popularity with the capacity of the somewhat remote places they need to hold them.
With the level of muddiness of the Muddy Buddy in mind, I had brought along a regular disposable camera, not a waterproof one. That proved to be a mistake, as we were definitely quite submerged a number of times and not all of the film made it. But a few shots survived.
* Columbia, South Carolina's USMC Mud Run is in it's 16th year. As we just learned on King of the Crown***. Ahem.
** Possible translation = "I finally noticed them"
*** The first and only season is on Netflix streaming. Episode 4 has the mud run, if you're curious. The show takes place in Columbia, South Carolina and there keep being little things we 'get' because we've visited Christopher and Katie. When Cyrus was complaining about a kid playing in his studio, for example, he said "what is this, Frankie's Fun Park?"