Tough as Mud

Two weeks ago, my husband, Ken, and I traveled to Vermont where he was going to take part in an event called Tough Mudder.

A view from the top.

A view from the top.

“Probably the toughest event on the planet®”

What is the Tough Mudder™? Done in many locations all over the world, the Tough Mudder™ is an event consisting of a 10 to 12 mile long track which includes 20 physical obstacles. Former British special forces members developed the course, and made sure that each obstacle tested either your mind or your body, or both.
Tough Mudder™ is a sponsor of the Wounded Warrior Project, so far raising over $5 million to military personnel returning home from battle. When you think about the physical and mental fortitude required of members of the military, you start to understand just what the Tough Mudder™ is all about.

Preparations

Just getting to the day was long and hard on so many levels. With the help of his teammates, Ken trained as best he could, running up local Sleeping Giant Mountain, working out various muscle groups in the gym, and continuing to build endurance. I jokingly told him that if he falls or gets hurt training, make sure it isn’t his right shoulder – which just had surgery last summer, or his right leg, because otherwise how would he drive? He trained while still working 60 hours a week, running a summer darts league, and still doing all that he does when it comes to my health and the house, which is why I would not have missed this for anything.

Boys Will Be Boys

Of course, when you put a bunch of guys together, they start talking smack and issuing challenges, all in the name of helping each other prepare as much as possible for the mental and physical punishment they so willingly volunteered – and paid – to do.

About a week before the event, Ken was “running” up the side of a mountain with one of his teammates. He took a spill, sliding down, shredding skin, landing on his (LEFT!) hip, and hurting his (LEFT!) knee. When he came home, he looked like he had been in a fight with a thorn bush and a bear. I put on my “Doctor Hat” and thankfully still have a lot of medical supplies from being on home IVs. I cleaned and bandaged up the gashes on his legs and arms and palm of his (LEFT!) hand.

One week before the big Event, Ken took a spill down a hill. This is one of his many wounds suffered that day.

One week before the big Event, Ken took a spill down a hill. This is one of his many wounds suffered that day.

I told Ken that I was scared that this would happen, but his team told him he was finally “one of them” now. Oh, boys!

Pump Up the Volume

I had my own type of training to do if I wanted to be healthy enough to go up to Vermont with him and watch the event.

I had to turn up the volume on everything I do medically, and whatever I could do in addition to feel well enough to travel (which I haven’t been, in years), to spend the day “out” (I had planned to go back to the hotel to rest for a few hours in between), and packing/planning for every medication, possible symptom flare-up, treatments, etc.

Hoping these were enough to slow down my infections.

Hoping these were enough to slow down my infections.

Preparation included vigilance to any changes in my health, and it was the right choice. A few days before we were to leave, I was starting to feel the familiar symptoms of pneumonia. I called my doctors and they put me right on two oral antibiotics, with strict suggestion to call if I worsen, no matter where I am. Thankfully, the medications helped!

Mama, am I coming with you?

Mama, am I coming with you?

All of the preparation, the packing, the lists, the rewriting of the lists, the double checking that I had all of my medications, all of my machines, in addition to our normal stuff you need when you’re packing to go away, was a bit overwhelming, but I am a list maker, and there are very few joys that come as close to crossing off things on the list.

Six More Sleeps…

The final week before the event was a tough. Ken had his last training sessions. I wanted to clean the house and get all the laundry done so we’d come home to a calm environment, and later had my mom come over to dicuss what she needed to do for the cats, since she was going to come over and feed them.

One More Sleep…

Friday, we had some proper Mudder weather – monsoon-like storms, which I thought was God’s way in making sure the course was wet and muddy.

More rain = more mud!

More rain = more mud!

It took a bit longer to get there, but we arrived, safe, soundly, and a bit tired!

The Big Day

Saturday morning arrived in a burst of sunshine.

One of the two ponds in view from our cottage at a local Inn.

One of the two ponds in view from our cottage at a local Inn.

Fueling Up the Tank

The long day began at 6:30 AM. We showered, ate breakfast at a cute diner – Go bacon! Go pancakes! Go Diner coffee! –  then headed over to Mount Snow, which in winter is a Ski Slope.

Enjoy the greenery now, next you'll be inhaling mud!

Enjoy the greenery now, next you’ll be inhaling mud!

Put the Engine in Gear

At check-in, we signed “death waivers” – yes even spectators  had to sign them.

He is *my* Superman.

He is *my* Superman.

Participants also wrote their bib numbers on their heads and arms, to ID them.

Get that Sharpie out!

Get that Sharpie out!

The team of 9 began that morning at 10:20 a.m., among a total of 10,000 Registered participants.

All smiles right now...

All smiles right now…

But First, the Reason We’re Here Today…

Notice the Military members in the front, in gray. Each wave, or heat, included members from all branches of the Military. It was really awesome to see civilians, side by side these warriors, testing themselves on every possible level.

"This is one of the hardest things you will ever do."

“This is one of the hardest things you will ever do.”

Everyone take a knee.

“Everyone take a knee.”

"You are doing this today for those who cannot do it themselves."

“You are doing this today for those who cannot do it themselves.”

And, They’re Off!

It was all so exciting that I never made it back to the hotel, so I hung out with the wife of a member of the team, and we spent the day trying to watch as many of the events as possible.

Out of 20 obstacles, I think we saw our guys do five or six.

(A quick note that as we walked up and down the mountain, I was physically exhausted, overheated despite drinking tons of water, and sunburned despite slathering on sunscreen, and had to camp out in the First Aid building for 45 minutes to cool down and get some electrolytes in me. I was able to get out of there in time to see Ken and the team finish!)

In between each obstacle, participants “run”. Since I didn’t run, we took some shortcuts to get to the more interesting obstacles.

One of the earlier obstacles, the Electric EelSM  is one of crazier (a few are kind of easy). Some people go quick, others go slow, but either way, you’re  crawling on your belly in a soup of water and mud, with live electrical wires hanging down.

At least the water was refreshing. No?

At least the water was refreshing. No?

Never mind actually getting into the mud and doing these challenges, being a spectator was hard enough! First, watching people in what most people would call “ridiculous” and dangerous situations made me feel a bit guilty. Like, I am letting these people – heck, my husband – do this to themselves.

It makes you think, Why would otherwise normally functioning adults put themselves through such an experience? Aren’t marathons and Polar Bear swimming enough of a challenge? Apparently not, because at the New England event alone, nearly 10,000 people registered.

It’s Not a Race

Though some repeat participants keep track of and try to beat their best finish times, it’s important to note that Tough Mudder™ is not really a race. It’s not even a competition. It’s a mission. It’s an intimate exploration of self-confidence, strong-mindedness, and personal power.

Some souls brave the Tough Mudder™ on their own, others take part in teams or groups, but at times, it didn’t seem to matter. If someone was in trouble, you could bet that soon enough, someone coming along would help you, whether it’s a fellow team member, a random participant muddling through, or even encouragement from the spectators, nobody does the Tough Mudder™ alone.

I was so blessed to see humanity at its best that day.

  • A man carried his wife through an obstacle because she twisted her ankle.
  • A man from another team who had just crossed the finish line saw a young woman who he didn’t know, literally freeze in panic halfway through the final obstacle. He turned around and went back into the obstacle, put one arm around her shoulders, and the other on her back, and pulled her alongside him, helping her take those final five steps into glory where she earned her headband.
  • A crowd of people standing atop one of the climbing obstacles, a half-pipe covered in oil. I watched as a man with one leg and one arm threw himself into the air, confident that those standing at the top would help him if he needed it.
  • Spectators lined up along a very muddy area where many participants began to slide as they ran down a steep hill, yelling out to each person coming along, that there was a huge mud puddle, to be careful because it was very slippery.

They Call it “Mudder” for a Reason

Most of the 20 obstacles contain some sort of water/mud/dirt combination, some of them rather, shall I say, insane?

Here are few of the crazier obstacles:

  • Walk the PlankSM – Climb onto a platform 20 feet high from where you will jump into 20 feet of muddy water, and swim across to the other side.
  • Electroshock TherapySM  – Run through a field of hanging (live) electrical wires while jumping over hay bales and avoiding face-planting yourself into the muddy puddles. (Did you know that water is a great conductor of electricity?)
  • Arctic EnemaSM – Jump into a box filled chest-high with ice and water. Walk/swim/teleport yourself to the other side.

Perhaps it’s the danger, the idea of overcoming fears, or the thrill of venturing into the unknown that brings people to the Tough Mudder™. It’s the global equivalent of those obstacle course retreates that corporations or summer camp directors put their employees or students through, to break the ice and bring them together.

Or perhaps witnessing humans at their best when facing nearly the worst possible conditions?  Most of these obstacles play on various fears – fear of confinement, isolation, pain, heights, etc. So many moments sent goosebumps up my arms. No wonder it took so long for my natural “high” to wear off!

“I Finished the Tough Mudder™ and all I Got Was This Headband”

Okay, you also get a t-shirt and a cold beer. Oh, and the bragging rights for the rest of your life that you finished “Probably the toughest event on the planet®”!

The coveted orange headband.

The coveted orange headband.

Seriously, though, the payoff of finishing this event is the ultimate personal reward, so when I saw our guys approaching the bottom of the hill that winds around to the line for the final obstacle – after which they will get their cold beer and treasured Headband – I almost couldn’t contain my excitement.

It was through sheer luck that I was able to capture the final obstacle on video amid such chaos. I have to admit that I’ve watched it at least 30 times! Click the link to watch the team blast through Electroshock Therapy. (Ken is in the red Superman shirt.)

Congratulations! For all of your hard work, you get: A beer and a Headband! (Note: those headbands are like Olympic medals!)

Congratulations! For all of your hard work, you get: A beer and a Headband! (Note: those headbands are like Olympic medals!)

I thanked the Lord in Heaven that I was able to witness my husband’s greatest physical and perhaps mental challenge (I know I’m a mental challenge, but that’s different, lol). 

It’s difficult to explain what we experienced that day. Seeing Ken give every possible effort, literally blood, sweat, tears, the aches and pains that later became bruises, to something that was purely for him – not for work, not for me, not for the house, not for financial gain – but to prove to himself that he has the mental and physical fortitude to go through something like this.

Heck, my usual boy scout of a husband even had his hair shaved into a Mohawk! It comes down in the back to a point, like an arrow. I rather like this “dangerous” look and might have him keep it. He’s bad-ass now!

That orange headband means everything!

That orange headband means everything!

I mean it when I say that this day compares only to my wedding day. We did this together. Sure, I’m still pretty tired 10 days later, but it was worth it and I will never, ever, forget the joy and the natural high that we had from that day.

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