Tough Mudder
Credit: Warren Zelman Photography

Inception

I almost quit three times. And that was before it even started. Admittedly, I agreed to do the Tough Mudder while sipping beer at the lake with a longtime friend who suggested I join her team. The intoxicated goal: to be in better physical condition than we were on that day. Sure. Why not? At that point everything sounded good—a fun team, a getaway to Whistler and motivation to shape up. The event was a year off… deep down I didn’t think it would really happen.

A month later, I started receiving emails from our team leader about limited availability and registering before December to receive the reduced rate. She had secured a team name, attire and accommodation. Apparently we were serious. I let the email sit for a few days—60 to be exact—debating whether or not I could pull this off. 

There were reasons for my hesitation. The first was embarrassment. Would I make a fool of myself? I had never entered an adventure race, marathon or anything of the sort. The whole concept was foreign to me—I can’t even do the monkey bars at the park. The second was being unprepared. For the last six years I’d been pregnant, breast-feeding, toting around three children or a combo thereof. Throw me a “Tough Mother”—installing car seats (it’s harder than it looks), feeding babies in awkward places and managing tantrums—and I’d kick some ass. The third reason was that I had no time. Managing a busy workload and raising three young kids means few openings to properly train. 

Those fears did not even touch the whole “crawl-in-mud-under-barbed-wire-and-squirm-through-a-dark-tunnel” scenarios that Tough Mudder is notorious for. To be fair, that trumped all else.

Tough MudderWarren Zelman Photography

Doubts

In fact, nothing about the race was turning me on. Yet, despite it all, I was still curious about what I could do. After all, at 20 pounds, my one-year-old offered a great bicep workout. I sought some advice from team members and friends who had done the event and the common themes were: train to run, build upper body strength and remember it’s a personal challenge, not a race. With that in mind, as well as my husband simply saying, “You’ll be surprised how strong you already are,” I went for it. 

Like so many New Year’s resolutions, January 1 commenced with a painful five-kilometre run and marked the beginning of my Tough Mudder training. It felt good to get going and I visualized an ambitious mix of running, biking, climbing and yoga. The plan looked amazing on paper. However, by April—two months until D-Day and only a dozen runs in—I needed to change my approach or I wasn’t going to make it. Pulling the plug became tempting. In fact, I tried to, but my encouraging teammates always said the right thing to make me stay.

Renewal

My new tactic was to do something active every day that I could integrate into my regular routine. Real-life stuff: walking the long route to work, running to pick up kids from school, climbing stairs everywhere I could, carrying multiple bags of groceries, biking rather than driving and my personal favourite, putting a kid in the carrier and climbing the 30 flights of stairs in our building, over and over again. That one was perfect on nights when I only had 25 minutes to spare between dinner and bath time.

Tough MudderWarren Zelman Photography

Activation

Our team was a group of positive, respectful friends—some going back 30 years and others meeting for the first time. We weren’t caught up in the whole “Mudder Nation” hoorah—we just wanted to have fun. But on the day of the race, music pumping, crowds cheering and starting-line MC Sean Corvelle passionately asking “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” ignited the right inspiration to belt “Booyah!” and give it our all.

We ran and climbed over 18 km of mountain trail in Whistler’s Callaghan Valley. Averaging two to three kilometres of terrain between stations, we actually started to look forward to an obstacle just to take a breather. Surprisingly, thanks to the positive energy of our team, spirits were high and we maintained a solid trot for a good 12 km. Then the wind and rain started. Then hail. And it didn’t let up. Freezing, slick and sopping wet, the remaining six kilometres felt longer than the first 12. Morale went from giddy banter to utter silence. “Let’s get this thing done,” became the new mantra. 

And that we did. Crossing the finish line through electric shock (yes, that’s actually one of the challenges) and pouring rain, we prevailed!

Victory

As it turns out, besides completing the extreme obstacle course, I also was able to squash my initial fears. Tough Mudder wasn’t embarrassing. Nothing is timed, you have the choice to pass on a challenge and no one cares. The camaraderie between teammates and strangers is palpable. There are helping hands all around you. Also, preparing for the race was less intimidating than I thought. (My stair climbing regime was one of the best things I did to train.) And finally, there is always time. Even when demands of work, family and schedules are overwhelming, there are creative ways to work toward a goal that matters to you. After all, when was the last time you did something for the first time?

Tough MudderWarren Zelman Photography

Real-World Obstacle Training

Obstacle: Funky Monkey

What It Is: Adult-sized monkey bars and trapeze swing over a muddy pit

Training: Pull-ups, chin-ups and good ol’ monkey bars at your local playground

Obstacle: Balls to the Wall

What It Is: Scale a 3.5-metre wall with a muddy rope and descend down a rope on the opposite side

Training: Stair runs, climbing walls and, again, your local playground

Obstacle: Berlin Wall

What It Is: Scale a three-metre wall 

Training: Pull ups; grab a partner to practice boosting and being boosted

Obstacle: Cry Baby

What It Is: Crawling through an enclosed tent of water and mud in a (safe) tear-gas-like vapour 

Training: Plank holds; deep breaths while chopping 10 pounds of onions

Obstacle: Arctic Enema

What It Is: Sliding into frigid water

Training: Jump into lakes and rivers; cold showers; hold breath for 30 seconds, inhale, then repeat, for three times in a row

Tough MudderWarren Zelman Photography

If You Go

Tough Mudder is a challenging, 18- to 20-km obstacle course designed to build team camaraderie and test physical and mental strength, set in outdoorsy locations around the world.

April 16: Los Angeles

May 21: Chicago

June 18: Whistler, BC
(only Canadian location!)

June 18 & 19: New England

September 24 & 25: Seattle

For more information and locations, visit toughmudder.com.

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