Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Last weekend I did the Tough Mudder, a 10-mile mud run, better compared to an obstacle course than anything else. I'd never done anything quite like it before; I've only ever done footraces on roads and organized road biking events. This would be a different kind of challenge altogether. The Tough Mudder is designed to test every part of you, as well as your mental toughness, by making you run through sloppy mud, climb over 10-foot walls, jump into pits of ice-cold muddy water, and even get shocked with 10,000 volts. So the 10 miles of running were the least of my concerns.
Many organized athletic events like marathons make you sign a health release, but Tough Mudder is the only event I've ever been to that refers to this document as a death waiver. If you read it carefully, it includes death and injury not only based on the actions of yourself or participants, but also negligence on the part of the event itself. Right away, it becomes clear that this ain't your average run.
I got there about an hour early, since previous emails had said to allow up to 45 minutes to get registered. Apparently since I had already done it online, and had already signed my death waiver before coming, it only took about 10 minutes. Got my bib and pinned it on, but since the mud often obscures it, you have to get your bib number written in permanent marker on your forehead and either your arm or leg. Got that taken care of and still had 45 minutes before the race started. Went and checked out some of the course. The folks there were busy hosing down the mud pits one more time to make 'em extra sloppy, and were even adding bags upon bags of ice into all the pits of muddy water.
The event was going on all weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, and on both days there were several start waves. The highest bib number I saw was 4,000-something, so I guess 4,000 or so people did this thing, but only a few hundred were in each wave, which spreads it out enough that each obstacle isn't overcrowded at any given time. A lot of people do Tough Mudder in costumes; I saw Shrek, Batman, Spider-man, and the Blues Brothers, to name a few. Quite a few people also decide to do the whole thing in a thong. I just stuck to my normal running clothes.
About 10 minutes before gun time, we were rounded up and read some last-minute safety instructions. Things like "If you can't swim, don't jump into 15 feet of water," or "If you have a pacemaker, don't go through the obstacle where you get electrocuted." You'd think that'd be common sense, but then again, this is a group of people that voluntarily signed up to jump in and out of icy water for two hours. We then had to recite the Tough Mudder pledge, as follows:
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 whine. I help my fellow Mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears.
After some Rocky music, we were off. I decided it'd be a good idea to get off to a fast start so I wasn't behind a large group of people at each obstacle and I could scurry through them quickly. The course was at a motocross track, which meant we had to run up and over giant ramps and jumps constantly. That got tiring right away. After almost an entire mile, our first obstacle: crawl on the muddy ground under barbed wire only about a foot off the ground. Most people had to crawl on their bellies, but I'm short enough I could hands-and-knees that thing. See ya later!
Not much later, our first muddy water pit. There were still hunks of ice floating in it. Jumped in, jumped out, kept running. We were now all soaked head-to-toe in icy water. Only thing to do is keep running and hope you warm back up. The obstacles came rapidly for the next few miles, and most of them involved watery mud or muddy water.
Around mile 4, the obstacles stop coming so quickly and it turns more into a run. There's just a long stretch of trail that heads out into the woods and back, with only an obstacle every mile or so. This was by far the easiest part of the course for me, since I'm a decent long-distance runner. I could see some people having trouble though. I'd almost forgotten that the course was 10 miles long, so if you're not comfortable with the idea of running 10 miles, Tough Mudder isn't for you. Amazingly, way back at the start, I saw some people walking from the very beginning. They were gonna have a loooong day.
In the stretch in the middle with few obstacles, most of them were just downed trees in the middle of the trail, or as a shocking development, mud pits in the middle of the trail. One in particular was extra deep and extra sloppy, and when you get out you look like some kind of swamp creature. You just keep running anyway and mud flings in all directions. It was strange being out there, because in the long stretches in between obstacles, it was very quiet out in the woods, and you could occasionally hear birds chirping. A reminder that the the rest of the world was unaware of the insanity going on in that one spot.
The obstacles start getting much more frequent between miles 7 and 8, and started getting more difficult. The two toughest ones, if you ask me, both involved awkwardly hanging from something and trying to pull yourself across another pit of muddy water. One was a long set of monkey bars, set up in an A-frame that forces you to pull yourself uphill. Another was a set of two steel cables that were slack and hard to balance on, and you had to go from one end to the other. The final obstacle, fittingly enough, was the one that electrocutes you. There's a thing set up with tons of dangling wires, all charged to 10,000 volts, with random exposed sections. There's no strategy really, you just have to run through. I made it about halfway through before I took a good shock in the leg and bit the dust. I kept getting shocked in the same leg after that, so I just crawled out, dragging the one leg behind me. After that, just another 100 feet of running and you're done.
At the finish line, you get a free beer, and if you want, a free mohawk or mullet. I took the beer and passed on the haircut, but my roommate Ben, who was out there to videotape, actually got the mohawk. Awesome. There were supposed to be free tattoos as well, but Texas health regulations wouldn't allow that. Instead, we're supposed to be emailed vouchers for the tattoos sometime. I don't plan on getting one, but the voucher would be a nice keepsake.
This is what my sink looked like after I rinsed and wrang out one sock:
For the most part, the whole thing was just fun. It actually wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was definitely tough, and easily the most unique challenge I've ever taken on. I'd say the toughest part were the obstacles at the end that involve hanging and swinging, but that's probably just because upper-body strength isn't my forte. Overall, it wasn't as tough as I thought it would be. The icy water doesn't get you that cold, most of the obstacles don't wear you out, and even the electricity wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated. Now I'll admit that the icy water would've been a lot worse if it had been cold outside, but instead, it was in the 60s, so you warmed back up pretty quickly. But you don't have to be in ridiculous shape to get through this thing, so if you're comfortable with the idea of running 10 miles, I recommend it. I'm definitely coming back next year.