Tough Mudder Pittsburgh 2013

Tough Mudder participants do a 12-foot-high jump into Walk the Plank.

Earlier this year, you had a goal. Then life happened, and so did the weather. But now that spring has finally arrived, it’s time to get back to that moment, a couple months ago, when you told yourself that 2014 would be the year of getting back into shape.

And what could be a better way to get motivated and enjoy the spring weather than to visualize what could be all yours to enjoy: Moments like trudging through waist-high mud … and scurrying in mud pits with electric wires dangling just inches from your face … or jumping into a vat of ice-cold water that, surprise!, you can only escape by swimming underneath one very long headboard … or climbing over a 9-foot-high wall, affectionately known as the Berlin Wall, while praying you land in one solid piece on the way down? And finally — in the piece de resistance — running through dangling wires juiced with 10,000 volts of electricity so powerful it’ll knock you to the ground.

Tough Mudder's Arctic Enema

A Tough Mudder plunges into Arctic Enema. The name says it all.

Yep, you guessed it: I’m talking about the granddaddy of all mud races, Tough Mudder — the same race that, inspired by British Special Forces training, may have led someone you know to tackle — all for the sake of securing the crowning glory at race’s end … an orange headband.

Yes, that Tough Mudder.

You in?

Shockingly, I got something close to a lukewarm reaction when I asked a colleague of mine this past year if she’d sign up for a Tough Mudder with me. I believe her exact words were, “No.”

I signed up anyway. I certainly had the hard-body creds to tackle this baby, notwithstanding the time my back muscles seized up and I was escorted out of the office in a wheelchair. Or the time, shortly after, a surgeon diagnosed me with disc issues in my lower spine. And nevermind the fact that I’d never been all that athletic. Or athletic at all. Those were all minor, minor details.

This was one event worth trying.

Tough Mudder's Hype Man

The Hype Man gets Tough Mudder participants in the zone.

Sure, the very first time I saw a Tough Mudder video — this one, here — I felt something on the order of adrenaline-inducing awe … and a little pit in my stomach. But something had moved me to try this out.

There’s a whole slew of Tough Mudder inspirational stories, and I won’t bore you with one here. But you may want to read about one guy, a young man named Alex Teves, who just so happened to be a Tough Mudder alum and who saved his girlfriend in the horrific Colorado theater shooting back in July 2012. If, after reading his story, you’re not inspired, you might as well just hang it up.

So I started training. Hard. Five months. Upped the intervals, core and strength training. And found a friend to partner with.

We were ready. We were stoked. We could taste victory.

And then it happened: The course got rained out by Tropical Storm Andrea, and organizers canceled, exercising perhaps extra-caution in the wake of the recent, tragic, and to date, sole Tough Mudder death, in Maryland. Then, on the more-good-news front, just when I transferred to another race, I received some not-so-cheery personal news.

This all seemed like a good time to bail.

But here’s the thing about Tough Mudder: Once you sign up, it takes on a life of its own. My friend was already vested in this, he’d trained hard; and a second friend had taken the day off to be a Tough Mudder spectator (yes, your friends really will pay to watch you get electrocuted). I couldn’t back out now, especially after my friend reminded me of the many veterans, sometimes without limbs, who tackle this course.

In the wee hours of the morning, one August day, we converged, along with thousands more, on a field in southeastern Ohio. That’s when something happened. Something I didn’t expect.

Tough Mudder's Boa Constrictor

A Mudder heads into the Boa Constrictor … and there’s only one way out.

Whatever yesterday, or the day before, had brought quickly faded to this moment — to the field down below and the plume of orange smoke rising from it. I could hear the roar of the crowd and the Hype Man, standing with mic in hand; he soon led us all in a pledge to help each other.

Really? Do Tough Mudders really help each other?

I’d had my pre-race jitters, especially after the news out of Maryland. But less than 2 miles in, when I sprained my ankle, I felt like I was being surrounded by a hen of concerned mothers, as several Tough Mudder participants flagged down one of the many medic teams circling on the outskirts of the field in golf carts. I did a few stretches, and kept on going.

I could rattle off the list of obstacle courses my friend and I tackled that day: The terror and euphoria of the Arctic Enema … the glory of the Berlin Wall, which, in the words of good ole Frank, “I did my way.” I could talk about the Funky Monkey. And the towering Everest. But what I was left with most, after more than 3 hours of trudging through mud and electricity and barbed wire, was a very simple feeling: Accomplishment. And trust.

You tackle 1 course, and then another, and then something happens: You start feeling like you can do more. And be more. But it doesn’t happen alone. As you make your way up a steep, slippery slope, with the tread of your feet giving way to mud and no anchor in sight, something happens. Somewhere, out of nowhere, a hand reaches for you and tells you to grab on. You’re pulled forward, and before you can even say thank you, that person is gone.

Tough Mudder Pittsburgh

Flexing up with fellow Tough Mudder Colin Campbell at the finish line.

It’s that kind of moment I found that day, in the fields outside of Belmont, OH; and it just may be the prevailing snapshot that many people — more than 1.3 million worldwide, to date — are left with once they’re christened with their orange headbands and toast each other over a round of Dos Equis.

After months of training, after hitting the mud … and surviving the barbed wire … and the 10,000 volts of electricity, you just may be left with one very simple feeling: Getting in shape never felt so good. Here’s how to get started.

4 Responses

  1. Kecia says:

    Good Job Lisa

  2. Samer Kokaly says:

    Good Job Lisa, all the best

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Lisa SinghLisa Singh is an Interactive Producer at Her multimedia career has spanned print and online publications. One of her first stories involved following a convicted felon into the Mexican...


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