“As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…
I understand Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge
I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time
I do not whine- kids whine
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course
I overcome all fears.”
by Montana Ross (Pretty Lil Mudder)
People around me responded to Sean Corvelle leading the Tough Mudder pledge with raucous cheers and fist pumps in the air in the final minutes before the 10:00 wave of the Atlanta Tough Mudder began. There was a chill in the air early in the morning that was getting warmer by the minute as the Georgia sun beat down on those of us not able to stand in the shadows of the barn at Bouckaert Farms in Fairburn, Georgia, where the ‘Atlanta’ course was run. It seemed no time at all had passed since arriving on site around 9:15 to now, when my fourth Tough Mudder had begun in the hills of Georgia. Directly uphill, in fact, through wooded paths that this Florida girl was definitely not prepared for. Runners of all kinds surrounded me, a testament of Tough Mudder’s promise that it is ‘not a race but a challenge.’ One of the main things I love about Tough Mudder is that it doesn’t cater to a specific ‘type’ of runner as some other events do, but welcomes everyone with open arms- old, young, short, tall, overweight or thin. There were grandmas and grandpas running alongside those of us in our 20s.
Up and down several short hills later, those of us who aren’t used to running on hills make the decision to just walk quickly in lieu of running. If they do try to run, we take turns passing each other later on as they tire when we pick up the pace. Gradually the trail steepens and the masses fade away as many of them realize that, despite the strength training and road running they may have done, the only way to prepare for running hills for 10 miles is to run hills for 10 miles, which many have not done. The first mile of ascent wasn’t pleasant on my quads, but it wasn’t horrible either, running in the shaded woods, with the sun peeking through between the trees, offering glimpses of the valleys of hills around us. The first four miles were heavy on running and short on obstacles- mostly barbed wire crawls, mud pits and around the mile 4 marker, the infamous King of the Swingers.
After a few more obstacles (Devil’s Beard, Mud Mile and Bale Bonds) and a long climb up a seemingly never-ending hill we encountered the first ‘new’ obstacle- new to us because it hadn’t been in the Florida locations yet- Pyramid Scheme. A signature obstacle of Tough Mudder’s that requires teamwork to navigate, we build human ‘pyramids’ to navigate the slanted wall, which was slick with the Georgia clay mud many Atlanta courses are famous for. We spent about 20 minutes helping others over this obstacle, Deb forming a base at the bottom of the pyramid, and myself being held by my arms and lowered back down the wall for other participants to use my legs to help them get up to the top.
Tough Mudder Atlanta has been hailed as a ‘runner’s course’ and they weren’t joking. The course led us once more through the hills and wooded paths before we came to the Hero Carry, another Tough Mudder staple ‘obstacle’ in which one person has to carry another a set distance before you switch and the person who was carrying you becomes the person carried. This time we were carried by a group of guys who were running next to us, which was lucky for them as I’m sure we were much lighter than it would have been had they tried to pick each other up!
Directly after the Hero Carry, we are subjected to one of the first tests of upper body strength and hand-eye coordination on course- Funky Monkey. The very first time I encountered this obstacle, when it was simply monkey bars with an incline/decline, I was able to complete it without issue, however, since the addition of the trapeze-to-pole swing, I’ve only completed it once. The bars felt further apart this time, but I made it successfully to the pole, only to lose my grip due to wet hands and fall into the 6 feet of water awaiting me below. While there is no fear of a penalty for missing an obstacle like in Spartan or BattleFrog, there’s the disappointment in myself, knowing that I’m able to complete the obstacle but don’t. The next obstacle is one of my least favorite- Birth Canal, a large tarps stretched between boards with water on top that force us to crawl beneath them, attempting to keep the heavy tarps from squashing us below. As people begin to peek out the opposite side, shouts of “He’s crowning!” or “It’s a girl!” come from the crowd standing around to watch.
We’re in a rather flat portion of the course, where we encounter our first ‘Legionnaire’ obstacles- Rain Man, a portion of Cage Crawl that captures participants between a pool of water and fencing with only a few inches of breathing room, only this time there are spouts of water that pour down on us from above as well. This one didn’t feel that hard; it was, in fact, refreshing after being out in the hot sun for several hours. Further down we encountered the second legionnaire obstacle on course- Backstabber, a more challenging portion of the Liberator. Instead of two pegs to place in the holes on the incline wall to help make it to the top, legionnaires were only given one, with footholds a good 4 feet up the board. After nailing two back to back obstacles, I failed miserably at the rope wall, made more challenging by footholds less high on the wall that require upper body strength my arms will have no part of.
Block Ness Monster was one obstacle I had been waiting all course to try- large, slippery blocks partially submerged in water that rotate as we try to climb over them. The trick to this obstacle is to keep the blocks on a constant rotation or risk falling backwards into the water, which is actually quite cool for the heat of the middle of the day. Over more flat grounds and up a short hill (short being a key word here) we came to Everest, the warped wall. Then it was back into the woods for more hills, this time considerably longer and steeper than the ones in the field. These climbs are annoying and seem cruel at this point, almost 10 miles into the event, when my legs are ready to collapse under me and my quads are screaming in defiance. After coming out of the woods for the last time, we are faced with the final three obstacles- Arctic Enema, Frequent Flyers Club and Electroshock Therapy. Arctic Enema is as cold as ever- solid ice straight down to almost the knees when standing, which makes it doubly hard to throw myself over the board into temporary relief from the cold only to be forced back into it on the other side.
Finally we reach the legionnaire tent- prior to the finish line this time- where we collect our colored headbands (yellow for all three of us) and make our way to the top of Frequent Flyers Club, the new legionnaire finisher obstacle on course. It’s half intimidating, half fun, standing atop the 20 foot platform, knowing we have to leap off while watching the unsuspecting first timers (and maybe some masochistic repeat Mudders) make their way through Electroshock Therapy before heading to the finish to collect their orange headbands. A few minutes later, we all make the plunge, though I missed hitting the yellow stick hanging that represents the headband I now wear before falling onto the crash pad below.
Everyone who talks about Tough Mudder in comparison to other events mentions the teamwork that makes Tough Mudder unique, along with the ‘type’ of obstacles most common at these events- obstacles that test more of your mental fortitude and are psychologically challenging rather than physically challenging. Ice cold water, shocks, heights, Tough Mudder has them all. But, as Sean Corvelle very wisely said at the start line hours before I crossed the finish, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?“