Why The Tough Mudder Experience is Different Than Any Other by Gabrielle Kassel
A Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile mud-slicked obstacle course that has a garnered loyal fans, regular competitors, and a world-wide community of finishers. With the mission statement: “Whether you arrive to the start line alone or with a team of friends, there is always a place for you to be a part of the Tough Mudder community. We train together, carbo load together, get dirty together, make memories together. We are all tougher together” as its guiding compass, it is no surprise that Tough Mudders have been able to cultivate an ethic of teamwork and joy.
I didn’t train specifically for the Tough Mudder I competed in at the beginning of October. And while doing a Tough Mudder had been on my bucket list for some time, if I had not been signed up by a friend without my knowing, I might never have made it to the start line. In the two weeks between when I got the email that I had been signed up for the event and when I headed to Englishtown, New Jersey I didn’t alter my training; I decided that no two-week alteration to my workout routine was going to make me somehow more prepared for the event than I already was.
The day of the race I huddled close to the woman I was doing the race with. Anxious energy radiated from me: I hugged myself tight as we signed the waivers, I made joking and self-depreciating comments like “what’s the worst that could happen” and promised to contact at least 10 of my friends when the race ended with eery texts like, “If you don’t hear from me in 6 hours, assume the absolute worse”. I was terrified of the unknowns of the course in such a way that blinded me from looking around at the people around me: they were of all ages, all body compositions, and all laughing with their friends, some already with a beer in their hands. Because the event is run in “heats”, and we were in the latest heat, some of the men and women had already finished the course. And they were smiling, “what the fuck are they so happy about”, I thought to myself.
But then five hours later when we crossed the finish line, I was beaming. I was caked in mud and hungry as hell, but as I stripped off my muddied clothes in the parking lot behind the car door, I couldn’t help but glow. I was addicted.
This experience made me realize how often my nerves take away from an experience that is meant to be enjoyable. I love rugby, but I get so nervous before stepping on the pitch that the glory of the game is often lost on me. I’m an introvert, an excuse I often use for staying home on both Friday and Saturday night, but when I adventure out I am almost always glad for the forced social interactions, even if it’s just an hour or two before practicing my ‘Irish Goodbye’. My first Tough Mudder showed me, with astonishing clarity, that there is great benefit in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. After finishing my first Tough Mudder, I am completely hooked and I’m already looking forward to the 2017 Tough Mudder season, so I am vowing to Say Yes More so that I can continue finding new activities that fill me with as much joy.
Laughing is an integral part of my identity; if I don’t have at least one outburst of laughter a day, I don’t feel like myself (Perhaps, this explains my recent obsession with celebrity comedian memoirs). I have a contagious laugh. It’s loud, a bit high-pitched, and girlishly giddy. And I am always the first to laugh in an uncomfortable situation; my mouth turns upward into a smirk during any uncomfortable confrontation, countless lovers have been hurt, even pissed, at the upturned self-indulgence of the smirk, and more than one relative has used the phrase, “Let me know when you’re ready to have a serious conversation”. But as integral as laughing to my everyday routine, when I thought about participating in a tough mudder, “laughter” was not an action I would have predicted would mark my experience. With obstacles with names such as “Electroshock Therapy” and “Arctic Enema” how could I expect anything other than terror to shine across my face?
Yet, I spent the ten mile course laughing as mud slicked my skin, knotted my hair, slimed across my chest, and catapulted from my fingers at the woman who convinced me to run my first course with her. As much as I laugh on a typical day, the giddiness I felt during the obstacle course unpredicted. I finished the course and not only felt like a total badass, but I felt a deep happiness while doing the course.
I know what you’re thinking. You laugh enough. You’re already a badass. You feel no need to complete a 12 mile obstacle course. But I firmly believe that everyone should complete at least one Tough Mudder in their lifetime. If only for the beastly profile cover photo you will get out of it ;).
There are so many reasons to complete a Tough Mudder, whether it’s a fun weekend with friends, raising money for charity, completing a new fitness goal, or simply pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. But none of these reasons fully encompass the joy of participating in a Tough Mudder, and the valuable sportsmanship it mandates and ethic of teamwork it enforces.
Meaningful Success Can Only Be Achieved With Help From Others. This lesson wasn’t new to me, I played rugby in college and learned a very similar thing at sleepover camp. Yet, this ideal seems to have slipped from the minds of adults, instead an effort to get ahead and achieve solo-success permeates our money-hungry culture. When was the last time you saw five people helping a stranger muscle their way over a wooden wall before the entire audience below clapped? Tough Mudder participants operate under a strict no (wo)man left behind policy.
My first obstacle was a mud pit, a 4 foot by 4 foot by 4 foot pit of mud, “easy” I thought to myself, and jumped in to slosh through the thick mud. When I got to the other side of the pit two people reaching their hands down and muscled me out as I used their leverage to climb to dry land. Sure, I could have gotten out by myself, but it would have taken longer and tired out my body less than one mile into the course. I, in turn, reached my own hand down to help the person sloshing through behind me. Tough Mudders aren’t about proving your own strength and ability to muscle through an obstacle, they are about how much stronger and capable we are with the help of others.
Whether it’s through a helping hand or an extra vote of confidence, your fellow Mudders will be there for you every step of the way. Whether you arrive solo or with a team, all you need to come with is the strength to leave your fears in the parking lot and the willingness to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. The camaraderie is truly unprecedented.
Kindness is Underrated. “You are so strong”, “you are so close”, “you can do it”. These phrases fell from my lips over and over during the course. Just as “damn, girl”, “you got it”, “you can do it” came from strangers, directed towards me as I tackled new courses. At the end of each obstacle, we patted each other on the back, “hey nice job”, “great work, bro”. The positive affirmation was steady, and the kindness was as constant as it was genuine. Imagine if we all navigate life with this level of support? With no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, it’s not about how fast you can cross the finish line. Rather, it’s a challenge that emphasizes teamwork, camaraderie, and accomplishing something almost as tough as you are. It’s an obstacle course that values kindness over competition.
Adventure Make Great Dates… Oh, did I forget to mention that the woman I took on the course with and I were on a date? Three words: Best date ever. When was the last time that your first date was someone was spent on an obstacle course ? I promise you that this date idea makes any dinner date, coffee date, or walk through central park seem boring at worst, and unoriginal at best. I truly cannot think of a better date than one spent smeared with mud, muscling strangers over fifteen foot walls, and kissing between obstacles. What a better way to get to know someone than both of us being pushed to our limits, making friends with strangers, and literally lending muddy hand to men and women of all ages and shapes. I learned that adventure make great dates because adventures are a great way to get to know somebody. As I continue to try to make friends in New York, I am going to invite possible friends on more adventurous outings like urban hikes, antiquing, and 5K’s through Brooklyn.
Completing a Tough Mudder at a time of great flux and transition in my life reminded me to say yes, always lend a helping hand, to choose kindness, and to engage in adventure. Being a Mudder is all about taking on the obstacles in your life and the enormous sense of accomplishment that you feel when you overcome them. The rush of joy and accomplishment was exactly the rush I needed as I continue to navigate a new city, a new job, and make friends post-graduation; I can’t imagine a time when a rush of joy and accomplishment wouldn’t be welcome.