When I hit the fourth electrified wire, the shock knocked me off my feet. I received my fifth electrocution as I fell, tumbling into another live wire right before landing face-first in the mud. I crawled out from under the wires — the final hurdle before the finish line of the 2014 Los Angeles Tough Mudder obstacle course — thinking just one thing: Did I actually sign up for this?
To be honest, when I forked over my debit card number and emergency contact info last November to register for the Tough Mudder, I can’t say I really knew what I was getting myself into. Billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet,” the team-oriented course includes 24 obstacles over 10 to 12 miles. As a regular runner, I figured I could handle the mileage no problem and would worry about the obstacles later. But as a 5-foot-7-inch, 130-pound guy who has literally never set foot in the Burns Rec Center, I probably should have known better.
I could barely believe what I saw on the Tough Mudder website when it came time to worry about the obstacles. Nearly all of the 24 stations had intimidating videos featuring dramatic music and really sweaty people who were obviously a lot stronger than I am. I walked away from my laptop convinced that if jumping into a dumpster filled with 80 thousand pounds of ice cubes didn’t kill me, the electroshock therapy would probably do me in.
Fast forward to March 30, the morning of the event. I was feeling super well-rested after spending the night on the floor of a bargain hotel room with my seven teammates. Okay, maybe we weren’t feeling the most invigorated, but fueled by the adrenaline of anticipation, we pulled on our matching “I Woke Up Like This” T-shirts, decorated our cheeks with war paint and made our way over to the starting line.
If there is one thing that characterizes the Tough Mudder, it’s teamwork. From the cheers at the starting line to the helping hands of the other participants, camaraderie is the rule of the game. One of my teammates actually insisted that I step on her head so I could reach the arm of a stranger offering to pull me over a wall.
Did it hurt sometimes? Definitely. The 2,349 feet elevation change tested our endurance, and army crawling through gravel isn’t exactly easy on the elbows. But in the end, I was surprised by how prepared I felt. I guess a few weeks of long runs on the Bluff was all it took. However, I wouldn’t have found the will to finish without the uplifting atmosphere on the course and encouragement of my team. Our go-to call involved one person yelling, “What do we bleed?” followed by an enthusiastic response from the group: “Mud!”
To top it all off, the Tough Mudder is a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that assists injured service members in the transition back into civilian life. In keeping with the spirit of putting others above oneself, the organizers of the event encourage participants to donate to the foundation. To date, the Tough Mudder has raised over $6 million for the cause.
If this column were a cheesy MasterCard ad, it would go something like this – number of times I got electrocuted: five. Temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, of the ice-filled water I jumped into: 34. Length in miles of the course: 10.3. Value of the Tough Mudder experience: priceless.
Two days after reaching the finish line, while I was still stretching out my sore legs, scrubbing the permanent marker from my face and finding bruises and scabs all over my body, I took out my computer and went to the Tough Mudder website. This time, however, I breezed right past the daunting videos, and without hesitation, signed up for next year.