My tough mudder story

Editors note: Gary Brown of Paso Robles completed his first tough mudder in September. This is his story.

Misery never felt so good

Why am I here? What’s my age again? 42? Is that old? I was at a friends house for an after golf tournament dinner party. I was happily consuming whatever I wanted: beer, pizza, wine, cheeseburgers, you name it. I overheard a couple of guys talking about the “Tough Mudder Race”. 

“Lets do this!” I butted in. “We can run as a team and we have about 3 months to get ready”. My enthusiasm was not met. I was dismissed as crazy.

 But I did not feel crazy. In fact in that one moment, my summer plans of relaxation went out the window and a summer of discipline was put in its place. 

The course

The NorCal Tough Mudder is a ten mile race through mud, sand, cold water, hills, and other obstacles at the Northstar at Tahoe ski-resort, designed by the British Special Forces. The course tests your strength, courage, will power, and camaraderie. The Tough Mudder is raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. They have raised over $3.6 Million thus far. 

I made my donation to the cause and I was ready. My reluctant friend signed up as well, his wife signed him up, and herself. Finally my cousin Chad joined us to form our team ‘The Wine Mudders’, since we’re from wine country of course.

The race

I trained 6 days a week. My goal was to go from 229lbs to 200lbs. On race day I was at 197lbs. Nervous, but ready, I knew I had done all that I could to prepare.

It’s race day. To get to the starting line you have to get over an 8 foot wall. The starting group gathers on the other side of the wall and the MC begins pumping us up with some chants. He has us take a knee and we take the oath: “The tough mudder is a challenge, not a race. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine, kids whine. I help my fellow mudders complete the course. And I overcome all my fears”. 

Then music starts to drown out the apprehension. The crowd is jumping up and down, chanting, pulsing. 

BANG. The race begins at 6,800 feet and rallies to the 8,610 feet peak. The group spreads out fast as the competitive runners advance. Chad and I fall somewhere in the middle, and our teammates Tony and Julie slow to their own pace. The first challenge is a mud crawl under barbed wire. The muddy water is cold but not deep. The barbed wire is about 18 inches off the ground so crawling is difficult. 

If you’re hurting now…

The climb is unrelenting. We push hard and keep a good pace up the mountain to meet our next challenge. There are signs along to trail meant to put you back in your place if you were starting to feel good about yourself. One sign reads, “If you are hurting now, I hate to see you at the half way point”. A mix of music, yelling, cheering, and the dreaded splashing of water approaches. Dreaded because we know its going to be cold. Really cold. Snow run-off cold.

We climb a 15ft tower only to drop another 15 feet to the man made pool below. A cargo net extends from the water. My plan: jump in, hit the bottom, push off, and climb out. Its a perfect plan. That is of course until I find myself plunging deeper into what has to be the coldest water I have ever been in and I continue sinking into this bottomless icy abyss. My body is freezing slowly and soon I will ice over and shatter. Before that happens I find myself grabbing the net and pulling myself out as Chad grabs my arm and helps me gain my feet. “Whoa, that was deeper than I expected!” his eyes wide open as he exclaims. “And a lot colder” I add. We shake our heads like dogs with two huge smiles. More climbing.

For about every half mile or so of running a new obstacle provides a break, to break-you-down. We are on our bellies crawling through tubes then climbing over 10 foot high walls. We carry a log for a mile. We get near the top of the mountain to the one challenge that we feared the most, the Arctic Enema. As we approach we hear our families cheers. A welcome sound giving us an extra push in the legs. We have to look strong for the ones we love right?

We climb up the short tower to the top of what can best be described as a large dumpster. Of course this dumpster is full of a florescent green water with a wooden wall half way across and barbed wire over the top of the wood. Obviously they want us to go under the wall forcing our heads into the almost frozen water. Easy enough. We jump as close to the wall as we can, put our hands on the bottom of the wall and pull ourselves under to the other side. The temperature of the water dropped from very cold, to “WHAT THE....?” Our heads spread the ice as we breach the water. The cubes are about a foot thick at the top of the water and swimming through it is difficult at best. Now its cold. My joints are frozen so running will have to wait until I thaw. My ankles are useless and I feel like I am running on stumps. So we walk for a bit to bring motion back to our bodies. The only joy here is that this obstacle is done and it looks we are beginning to head down the hill. We must be near the half. 

The obstacles keep coming. Some are more physical and some are more mental. There are about 25 in total. What becomes evident soon though is that the running is becoming more of the challenge now. After about 8 miles of running up hill and then down, the knees start to sting. We conquer the challenges one by one as we descend the mountain in a half run half trot. 

When we see the finishing area break through the trees we also begin to hear more commotion. It’s time to finish strong and run into the finish with our heads high. We pass the 11 mile mark and make the final turn to the second to last obstacle, Everest. 

Final pulse

As we approach our families are cheering. I am focused on the massive wall in front of me as I hear Chad’s daughter yell “You guys are going to get electrocuted in a minute!”. She was very excited about it I guess and wanted to be the first to tell us. I broke down laughing. We both did. We knew that obstacle was coming but just in case we forgot, she reminded us. Thank you Ariana! 

Its a 14 foot or so curved wall. There are people laying across the top desperately grabbing the outreached hands of other trying to get to the top. Some are snagged, some fall just short, sliding to the bottom. I go first as I make my way toward the ramp. I am certain that I am running like a cheetah with blurring speed as I hit the bottom of the ramp. Video later proves that it looked more like a circus clown on stilts in slow motion. 

The fact remains that I ran up that ramp, reached my hands out and somehow they found the top. I planted my feet, and pulled myself up and over. Chad made easy work of Everest and we headed over to the last obstacle. 

Electroshock Therapy. I don’t think I can expand on this one much more than our lovely Ariana did earlier. It’s a 30 foot corridor with wires hanging like vines in a jungle. This jungle is thick. The wires hang down to varying points between your thighs and your chest. There is no way to avoid them and they just get thicker as you go. 

As we approach we see people in front of us attempting to get through it. Some run, some walk, some fall as they get nailed by the charge. Once down their backs are exposed to more of the wire ends and they go down again as if the charged vines demand your submission. 

The MC taunts us “Are you walking or are you going to run?” Well with the crowd eagerly awaiting our answer Chad defers to me “I guess were walking” I say reluctantly.

Not all of the wire ends happen to catch your skin so they don’t immediately hit you. The first one is about a third of the way through. I feel my spine light up and I hear the pop. I twitch as I lunge forward. One step then another pop! I get hit again. I have to keep going as stopping is not an option. POP! I think I got hit about 5 or 6 times. Chad took at hit in a particularly special place for men and spun around only to be hit again and taken down. He hit a knee and then POP!” He reached his hand out and I grabbed his arm and pulled him out from the angry wires. 

We stood up and could not help but start to laugh hysterically. It was one of those moments where the joy is so overwhelming that a smile just doesn’t cut it. We hugged and laughed. “We made it!” I yell as we continue laughing. 

That orange headband

We gather ourselves and we cross the finish line together. This is the moment that we become Tough Mudders. The moment they don us with the tough mudder orange headband crown. They don’t crown one winner because everyone that crosses that finish line is victorious. It was an experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

We went back to the Everest to greet our other two teammates, Tony and Julie. When they arrived we helped them over Everest and walked them to The Electroshock Therapy. Obviously we walked around this time and they battled the electrified jungle on their own. When they emerged from the other side we got to relive that moment of victory with them. They were crowned as well and we all basked in our accomplishment. 

That night, at our cabin, we feasted and retold of our day. We drank wine, laughed, and enjoyed each others accounts of the challenges. Each of us with a look of pride that only comes through hard work, sacrifice, and teamwork. We are Tough Mudders. We are The Wine Mudders.

Gary Brown - is a Paso Robles resident.