If you go
What: Wisconsin Tough Mudder
Where: EAA grounds, Oshkosh
Saturday check-in: 7 a.m.-1:40 p.m. Start waves will be released every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants will not be allowed to check in after 1:40 p.m.
Sunday check-in: 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Start waves will be released every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. Participants will not be allowed to check in after 11:20 a.m.
Spectator tickets: $40 at the gate (cash only), $20 online at toughmudder.com. Children under 10 are free and do not need to be registered.
Participant tickets: $200 at the gate (cash only)
The Tough Mudder isn’t the only adventure race on the docket locally. The second annual Warrior Princess Mud Run takes place Oct. 5 at Mosquito Hill Nature Center in New London. The 5K event is less intense than the Tough Mudder, but it’s built on the same ideas — challenging, muddy obstacles and plenty of teamwork and camaraderie. The event is a fundraiser for Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs. To register, visit www.warriorprincessmudrun.org.
OSHKOSH — The Tough Mudder was calling my name.
The king of adventure races — the hottest trend in fitness events over the past three years — sets up at the EAA grounds in Oshkosh this weekend. It’s the first time the Wisconsin edition of the Tough Mudder has been held in the Fox Valley. This close to home, I had to sign up.
Originally designed for training by British Special Forces, Tough Mudder is an obstacle course that tests a participant’s strength, stamina and mental toughness. Those in the know may refer to it as a 10-plus mile obstacle course full of mud, water, high walls and electrical wires.
Upwards of 60 Tough Mudder events are now held each year all over the world. Viewed more as a challenge than a race, Oshkosh’s Tough Mudder will be home to one of the year’s flattest courses, according to Tough Mudder general manager Nick Bodkins. However, it’s also one of the most spectator-friendly courses the company has ever created, with approximately 13 obstacles along the central path for easy gawking.
When I signed up, all I remembered is participants get a complimentary beer at the end of the course. Perhaps I should have investigated a little further.
Growing popularity of adventure races
One of the reasons I was interested in Tough Mudder is it’s not just a lace up your shoes and hit the pavement for 26 miles kind of event. Instead, it’s a premier obstacle course that tests not only endurance but all-around strength, toughness and a little bit of your wild side. Running isn’t one of my favorite pastimes and, personally, I don’t have the passion for getting into grueling marathon shape. However, I can run one mile, stop, army crawl under barbed wire and head back on the course for more.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be on “American Gladiators.” Tough Mudder may be the closest I get to living that dream.
“The commonality that we see, especially people drawn to Tough Mudder, is that they’re looking for something different than what they’ve done before,” Bodkins said. “Anybody can train long enough to do a 5K or a 10K. It’s kind of putting one foot in front of the other, but our courses are built on the idea of teamwork, camaraderie and enjoying the journey that life puts in front of you.”
The Tough Mudder newbie
I signed up for Tough Mudder about four months ago without fully looking into the course. I figured, how hard can it be? A cargo net here, some monkey bars there, maybe a large Slip ’n Slide in the middle of the course just for fun. Then as the event drew closer, I visited toughmudder.com to see exactly what I was in for.
Running through flames? Bobbing in freezing water? 15-plus foot dives? Where did all of this come from? Suddenly, this multi-obstacle, 12-mile course looked more like Alcatraz than Disneyland. What exactly had I signed up for?
After expressing my concerns, Bodkins assured me that although the obstacles are difficult, they’re not impossible. There are some who don’t finish the event, but approximately 75 percent of competitors do.
“We’re not trying to put on an event that no one can finish,” Bodkins said. “We don’t time the event. There isn’t a winner and there isn’t a loser. Another thing somebody new might not fully comprehend is that all of our obstacles are there to test a different part of your body, whether it’s mental grit or brute strength, but no one’s going to give you a hard time if you’re not feeling one of them and you want to go around. Or if you really love a particular obstacle and you want to do it three times. It’s about truly understanding what pushing your own boundaries means.”
So, apparently, if competitors can’t complete an obstacle that’s giving them trouble, skipping it is an option, but not exactly advised. Though I plan to complete all the obstacles, I couldn’t help but scan the list and make mental notes of the ones I’d like to walk around. Two that immediately caught my attention were the “Electric Eel,” an obstacle in which the competitor slides on his or her stomach through frigid water while live electrical wires hang overhead, and “Electroshock Therapy,” in which the competitor sprints through a field of live wires, some carrying as much as 10,000 volts of electric shock. Um, is that even safe? Do I reallywant to volunteer myself to be shocked like a mosquito landing on a bug zapper?
Something about that seems a little, well, crazy, but Bodkins explained the method behind Tough Mudder’s madness.
“The electric obstacles are safe,” Bodkins said. “We’ve now had over a million people go through them and I’ve seen some absolutely, epically hilarious falls in there, but it always ends up with someone realizing they’re only about 50 feet away from the finish line and the free beer.
“I’ve experienced it before and it will sting you. … One of the reasons why we do obstacles like that is there are a lot of things you can train for, but you can’t really train for that.”
That’s true. I’ve done a few pull-ups to prep for the still rings on “Hangin’ Tough,” but you won’t find me sticking my finger in a light socket to prepare for these two events. Some things are just better left as surprises.
Training or lack thereof
Sure, I hit the gym regularly, but as stated earlier, I’m not an avid runner. I haven’t gone on a fun run in at least three years. So three weeks ago, when it dawned on me that the course is 12 miles long, I got reacquainted with my old friend the treadmill. I was pleased to know I could still run a 10-minute mile, which I cut to an 8½ minute mile two days later. Then after a weekend of partying and contracting swimmer’s itch at the lake, I was back to a 10-minute mile. Some call it not taking the Tough Mudder seriously. I call it trying to soak up the last few weeks of summer.
How doomed am I for this event? Should I have started training months ago?
“Everyone will have their own training regimen,” Bodkins said. “Some people decide to do Tough Mudder the night before, some of them have been training for six months.”
Since I’m closer to the former, I asked Bodkins how the more serious competitors train for the Tough Mudder. He noted many competitors prepare with bodyweight exercises.
Though it requires endurance, Tough Mudder is not an endurance race. The longest stretch of straight running is about three-quarters of a mile.
“A lot of people say I can run 12 miles so I can do this,” Bodkins said. “If you can run a couple miles, you can run the Tough Mudder. But I don’t care how fit you are, there will be some muscle that will hurt you the day after you finish our event.”
Bodkins noted the average person finishes the Tough Mudder in about three hours.
One thing for certain about the Tough Mudder is that I, and no one else on the course, will ever be alone. Bodkins stressed that teamwork is one of Tough Mudder’s key elements.
“Most of our obstacles are actually designed in such a way that you have to have a team or you have to have people work with you to get through it,” Bodkins said. “Whereas road races are very much a mental game, our events are not about winning and losing or the time you put up on the board. Our events are about the teamwork and the camaraderie that get you through the course.
“Once I watched 45 people form a human chain up (obstacle) ‘Everest’ and pass a guy who had lost both his legs in Afghanistan up to the top of ‘Everest’ and then help him down. And half the people there had no idea who this person was. Some of the most inspiring things in my life have happened while I was at a Tough Mudder event.”
The social aspect is part of the draw for these adventure races. The experience is meant to be shared with your teammates and fellow Tough Mudders.
“We want the course to be the perfect mix between challenging and rewarding,” Bodkins said. “You want to get done and hug your friends at the end with the team that you’ve come with or the team you found on the course.
“You want to share in the beer and you’ll realize the course just kicked your ass, but you finished with a smile on your face.”
— Mike Thiel: 920-993-1000, ext. 526, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @thielwrites