When you walk into Spartan this week, keep an eye out for a handful of Spartans wearing orange headbands and walking with a little extra swagger I their steps. Those people are the members of the Spartan Strength Dirty Dozen who participated in the Tough Mudder this past weekend. The Dirty Dozen included both male and female participants ranging in age from 26 to 44.
The Tough Mudder is an event like no other. It’s a 10 mile obstacle course designed by former members of the British Special Forces and is billed as the toughest event on the planet. It’s truly a test of all-round toughness, strength, stamina, and mental grit. Tough Mudder gives participants the opportunity to test themselves in every way possible – all in one place, and all in one day.
March 5, 2011 is the day peer pressure got the best of me. While at Spartan, Trainer Kim Presley asked me if I had signed up for “The Mudder” yet. My answer was more or less a blank stare. Kim explained to me what The Mudder was and asked if I wanted to sign up. My answer this time was something along the lines of, “I don’t know if I can run 10 miles, let alone run 10 miles up and down hills, climb over walls, and crawl under barbed wire, all while covered in mud.” I told Kim, with a great deal of sarcasm in my voice, that it sounded like fun, but I’d have to pass. I thought that would be the end of our Tough Mudder conversation, but I was wrong. Later that evening two more Spartans joined Kim in the assault on my ego. The three of them were prepared to crush any excuse I could conger up. They pointed out that I had plenty of time to prepare and that practicing together would be fun. The most convincing arguments came from Kris Archer (a.k.a. “Team Mom”) and Kim. Kris reminded me that, “Brad and I are old enough to be your parents and we signed up. Don’t be a wuss.” Kim simply stated, “Pansy.” How could I argue with that? Next thing I knew I was looking up the Tough Mudder online, reading about the required death waiver, and signing up. My wife wondered if I had gone completely insane.
We began training as a group as often as our schedules would allow. We would frequently meet up for a mid-week run, and none of us will forget the extra special Saturday morning workouts. These workouts included endless lunge walks, army crawls through wet grass, sprinting with tires strapped to our bodies, bleacher runs, and the occasional use of the monkey bars at a nearby park. Nick workouts were getting us in great cardiovascular condition, but more importantly we were being transformed from individual competitors into a team.
There’s nothing in the world that can replicate the feeling of belonging to a team. You develop an overwhelming sense of pride and responsibility. You know that your success is required in order for the rest of the team to succeed and that is a motivation you can’t get by simply going to the gym. Your accomplishments are no longer your own but are shared by the team. I hadn’t felt like part of a team since I participated in high school sports and I’d missed it greatly.
The next few months of training passed rather quickly and before I knew it it was time for the Tough Mudder. My nerves were floating in my stomach as we put on our warpaint and pinned on our bib numbers. We made our way to the starting point for the race and chills ran down my back as they played the national anthem.
The race started with a rush down a hill littered with gullies that were camouflaged in tall grass. Loose rocks were prepared to upend anyone not paying close attention to their footing. When we got to the bottom of the hill I knew the easy part was over. We began our assent up the next hill and every time we reached the top and turned a corner the treeline revealed yet another hill to be conquered.
Approximately every half mile or so we reached a new obstacle. Some obstacles were exceedingly difficult and required a great deal of teamwork – others were just flat out fun. A few of the obstacles were quite intimidating (keep in mind we had to sign a death waiver before beginning the event). Throughout the course every Spartan had to overcome a personal fear. For some, the fear was jumping into a small pond from a plank 15 feet in the air. For others, it was swimming through a tub of nearly freezing ice water. For myself, it was running through wires containing 10,000 volts electricity. But even though the fear may have caused us to hesitate momentarily, we all pushed through and moved forward because we knew we had no option but to finish together – as a team. During the obstacles we collected an impressive display of bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes, but I loved every second of it.
By mile ten I was physically exhausted, my feet were burning with blisters, and I was fighting leg cramps with every stride. But as miserable as I was, as the finish line appeared just beyond the final obstacle I had an odd realization – I didn’t want Tough Mudder to be over. The sense of camaraderie combined with the incredible physical challenge and the feeling of accomplishment created an experience that was simply indescribable and I didn’t want to let it go. But the time had come. One by one each Spartan ran through the final obstacle and we regrouped on the other side. As a team, we marched victoriously across the finish line where we received our orange headbands, a frosty beverage, and the title of a Tough Mudder. At 9am twelve Spartans started the Tough Mudder and shortly after noon, after being physically exhausted, facing our fears, and having the time of our lives, the Dirty Dozen finished it.
I know the feeling is mutual when I say that I could not be more proud to call each member of the Dirty Dozen my teammate and friend. Keep an eye out for one of the 12 Spartans that conquered the Tough Mudder this past week and congratulate them on a job well done. The Tough Mudder is not for everyone and the group of Spartans that have earned the right to be called a Tough Mudder is small for now but hopefully not for long. If your ready for a challenge like no other and willing forget your self-doubt and put in the ridiculous amount of extra work required to get prepare, ask Nick, Kim, or Michelle about running the Tough Mudder next year. I look forward to calling you my teammate!