Cigar Aficionado

Before you go, you’ll sign a death waiver. After you’re done, you’ll be picking off mud for a week while nursing bruises. In between, you’ll spend nearly four hours running, climbing, crawling, slogging, swimming, and yes, being electrocuted, all over a 10-to-12-mile course that features obstacles designed by British Special Forces. You’ll also come away convinced of the truth in its name: Tough Mudder.

Tough Mudder is a leading example of the extreme obstacle race industry that, despite being negotiated in slogs and crawls, has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. Started in 2010 with three events and 20,000 participants, it now comprises several dozen events worldwide and 460,000 participants. Tough Mudder differs from such other “mud run” events as Warrior Dash and Spartan Run in that those are shorter in length (three to seven miles), billed as races and formally timed. Tough Mudder is not only the longest and arguably toughest, but a culture of teamwork and camaraderie surrounds it. Participants are told it is not a race, but a challenge and that helping others along the way is a requirement. The event also helps raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps disabled veterans.

Those aspects are what partly drew me in, along with its distinct change of pace. Working out at a gym or running outside is eventually limiting. After hemming and hawing with myself for a few months (do I really want to crawl under barbed wire?), I finally took the plunge, hooked up with a few teammates (highly recommended) and then entered the Tough Mudder Tri State 2013 in New Jersey.

How hard was it? Legitimately tough. My regular running regimen (I’ve topped out at a half marathon) provided the stamina to easily handle the cardio aspect—you’re never running full tilt because of all the mud and never more than a mile or so separates obstacles. I added a few CrossFit sessions to get the upper body strength and mobility needed for the hanging and climbing obstacles, some of which proved basically impossible, such as shimmying along a wall sideways while clinging with my fingers to little more than a 2 x 4. And then there’s the mental aspect—the dangling wires you run through at one point deliver a zap of 10,000 volts, and are enough to knock you off your feet, so it’s better not to think and just do. Add in my fear of heights and the drop off a 15-foot-high plank into chilly water was a knee-knocker. Despite that, I attempted every obstacle while extending a helping hand every time.

The end result? A terrific feeling of accomplishment while also raising money for a good cause. Plus, those who complete the course hit a finish line where they are given an orange headband and a cold beer. As you hose off the mud and recount the day with your teammates, you’ll be living the good life.