How I Survived My First Tough Mudder

I’m writing this with mud still under my fingernails. (Though, for the record, I started writing it Saturday night.)

Saturday morning, I survived my first Tough Mudder.

For those not familiar, a TM is basically a half marathon with obstacles. Tough obstacles. Obstacles with names like Electric Eel, Everest, and Arctic Enema.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it was happening. Here’s how it all went down.

A couple of months ago, my friend Diana asked me if I wanted to join her Tough Mudder team. I’ll be honest: My immediate answer was thanks, but no thanks. I have a few friends who have done Mudders in the past, and I could never get over the fact that there are obstacles that involved running or crawling through electrically charged strings that would actually shock you whilst you tried to scramble through.

I mean, I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to exercise, but that seemed crazy even to me.

A couple of weeks ago, though, Diana was telling me how one of her friends had dropped out of their three-woman team, and since so many of the obstacles require some serious team effort to get through, “If only I could find someone who would take her place.”

I took a deep breath.

“Well, I guess if I could just have her entry, I could do it with you.”

Also known as the words they’ll engrave on my tombstone.

Of course, Diana quickly made the arrangements, even reaching out to a friend of hers who works for TM to get my name on the entry, and the deed was done.

Honestly, I tried not to think about the event too much in the (terribly) short weeks leading up to it. Diana and I are also doing a half marathon next month, so we were already training. We both continued with our conditioning training regimens as well. So we were preparing. We just weren’t thinking about what we were preparing for.

The morning arrived all too soon. Diana and Stephanie (our third team mate) met us at the course in New Jersey. The weather was uncharacteristically good, which actually boded well for the rest of the day.

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That Arctic Enema I mentioned? It involves submersing yourself in a dumpster filled with icy water. Like, the top three to four inches of the water are just chunks of ice. It would be just swell if it wasn’t freezing outside when we got out of said dumpster.

So anyway. Around 10:45, we crossed the starting line. Around 10:46, we had to scale a sheer wood wall.

The race had begun.

Besides running about 12 miles, we also did about 12 obstacles. (I’m honestly too tired to remember exactly how many. Plus, there’s a lot of running up and over steep, muddy hills throughout, and while those don’t technically qualify as official obstacles, they should.)

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You can read the descriptions of all the potential TM obstacles you could encounter here, but the ones I can remember that we did were the Electric Eel, the Cage Crawl, The Cliffhanger, Electroshock Therapy, Everest, Fire Walker, Funky Monkey, Island Hopping, Just the Tip (not as dirty as it sounds)(actually, it was really filthy), Kiss of Mud, Mud Mile (lots of mud), Walk the Plank, Boa Constrictor, the Arctic Enema, a Wheelbarrow Crawl, several Berlin Walls, and Warrior Carry.

The worst parts? Easily the Arctic Enema and the shock stations. As I said, the electrocution had always been my least favorite part about the event, and actually living it lived up to my perception. It hurt. And in a way that just made you kind of angry about it. I did not like it.

Here’s a video of it happening (the weird jerking motions we make are us reacting to the electricity):

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The icy dumpster was just the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been. I mean, I’ve done a polar bear plunge, so I guess I thought I had an idea of what to expect.

I. Had. No. Idea.

The second you hit the water, your breath just leaves you. As does any sense of reason. We made the mistake of popping back up for air before swimming under the divider (yup, they make you swim through the icy water completely submerged), so we had to force ourselves to go back under just to get out. I vividly remember swimming toward the end and feeling several inches of ice move around my head as I broke the surface.

As we burst up again, Diana just screamed, “I NEVER WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN.”

There was a mad panic as we desperately just tried to fight out way out of the dumpster. I may have kicked a teammate. I honestly don’t even remember.

When you get out, you just have to keep moving. I couldn’t think. I just knew I couldn’t stop moving. You warm up again fairly quickly, but the shock to the system takes a bit to wear off.

Okay, I just made the whole thing sound pretty awful. Let’s talk about the fun parts, shalllll we?

The Warrior Carry was actually probably my best moment. We were a three people, but at the Carry you’re supposed to run down a stretch of the path carrying a partner on your back, then switch midway through. Since we needed a fourth partner, we paired up with another team of three. That was two girls and one dude.

One 6-foot-three, 200-ish pounds dude. Named Adam.

He and I made our acquaintance, and then I hopped on his back. I honestly could barely to put together a sentence because my brain was still a little frozen from the Arctic Enema, but as we approached the switch point, he asked me if I wanted to switch.

“Yeah, sure, let’s do it!” I replied without thinking. The next thing I know, I’m running down the path with him on my back. His two partners turned around one point and marveled at my Herculean strength. (Really, they shouted, “Oh my GAWD, how are you doing that?”)

When we got to the end, we high-fived, and Diana ran up to me shouting, “Justine, you carried a man!

I felt kind of awesome.

Thinking about doing your own Mudder but not sure what to expect? Here are the four things I think you really need to know:

1. You should train for this. I know you did a Warrior Dash or a 5K without any extra training, but this is different. Even if you weren’t doing anything else, you’re going to run between 10 and 12 miles. You should probably be able to run 5-6 without stopping. It also wouldn’t hurt you to work on your upper body strength. There is a lot of lifting yourself over things or pulling yourself through things.

2. You will get dirty. Embrace it. Because you will literally get coated in mud. Mud will be in your toe nails, in your ears, in your eyes, in your belly button. At one point, Diana looked at me and said, “You have mud in your teeth.” At another point, I was looking for Diana, and I realized I had literally been staring at her for ten seconds, I just didn’t recognize her because she was completely covered in mud. You will look like a swamp monster. It’s easier to just accept it. (Plus, there’s probably a water obstacle in the next half mile to help rinse you off a bit.)

Thanks to Stephanie's mom for this pic!
Thanks to Stephanie’s mom for this pic!

3. You will get a little hurt. But probably not too much. I have a bunch of scratches and bruises on my elbows and shins (on top of being sore as heck), and I smacked my elbow falling over the other side of the Berlin Wall. But unless you are actually a spider monkey, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid. Fortunately, you won’t really realize that you are getting beat up until the end (and even then, not really until the next morning). Adrenaline sort of just powers you through everything.

4. Believe in Tough Mudder karma. You won’t be able to get through the whole course yourself. People will pick you up, give you hand holds, pull you through tunnels, and in some cases carry you through portions of this race. Accept the help (because you need to — you will actually find yourself thanking some dude for pushing you over a mud hill by your butt), but also pay it forward. When you get over the hill, reach back to give someone a hand over. Help the 40-year-old dude get through the narrow, slippery tunnel. Carry the man on your back because it’s part of the fun.

5. And most importantly, you’d best have a sense of humor if you want this to be fun at all. It’s important to choose team members that you can joke with (or at least just make “are we really doing this” eye contact with), and it helps to be friendly with everyone else. Thank people. Cheer people on. Remember that everyone is being ridiculous, and you’re not the only one planning to go home, shower, and not jump in the mud again for at least another year. And if all else fails, remind yourself that there is free beer in the end.

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Honestly, I’m glad I did it. It was extremely challenging, but I think it’s important to challenge ourselves. And I sort of had a similar thought as I did during the polar bear plunge that it’s just nice to do things that you never thought you would do. It’s nice to surprise yourself. It’s kind of fun to crawl around in the mud and get dirty, then jump into cold water from a 20-foot plank, then scramble up a muddy hill, then run a mile through the woods, then crawl on your back through cold water, then carry a tire half a mile, then crawl through mud under barbed wire, then slide down a muddy hill, and finally run up a sheer wall with only the hope that someone will grab your hand and pull you up.

No, really. It’s kind of fun.

So that’s how I survived it. Now I’m sore, scratched and bruised, and still swabbing mud out of my ears.

But also? Kind of awesome.

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7 thoughts on “How I Survived My First Tough Mudder

  1. Hahaha, I can’t believe you did one of these. Much like an ultra-marathon, this is likely a never-ever for me. My boyfriend did one about a year ago and PR’d a marathon the next day (hate him). He still said the Tough Mudder was harder, haha.

    • It’s funny, because a couple of months ago, I would have said never-ever too. But now, I’m really glad I did it. And I honestly think I could do it again — now I know to just clear my schedule a couple of day’s after to heal 😉

      Also, yeah, I hate your boyfriend too now. (Kidding.)(Mostly.)

  2. I’ve done 2 TM’s. I swore after the first that I’d never do it again. But a couple months later – when you forget the pain and only remember the glory – I signed up for another. I liked it better the second time! And they do a great job of making each event unique.
    Congrats on your Mudder Bad Ass-ness!

  3. Gaaaah, one of my closest friends keeps trying to get me to do a Tough Mudder with her. If possible, the real thing is even scarier than I thought. Kudos to you! (And I will happily watch from the sidelines, you beast.)

  4. So proud!!!!!!!! This took real determination and, wait for it,… no crying! I can see why you were exhilarated, and exhausted.

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