10 things I learned from my first Tough Mudder

asweatlife_10 things I learned from my first Tough Mudder_1 1. No matter how douchey you think Tough Mudder is, you will inevitably get a little hyped up by it.

You can’t go to a Tough Mudder without feeling a little bit ridiculous. When you walk into the warm-up pen, you’ll find yourself surrounded by neon, spandex, protein drinks and glamour muscles alongside an inevitable array of tribal tattoos. Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but it just feels so excessive and surreal.

The event’s MC is shouting into a megaphone using terms like “swoll” and “jacked up” and you’re looking around wondering how you got here in the first place (especially because you are legitimately in the Middle of Nowhere, which happens to be an hour and a half away from the city you signed up to do the Tough Mudder in). A few minutes pass, and you find yourself looking around at the people next to you thinking “this person is nuts!” and slowly come to the realization that, oh my God, you’re a little nuts too.

A man they call “Coach” comes up to speak to your wave about the obstacles and what you should expect on the course that day. And then you feel it – a little bit of hype, slowly building. You start to look at your fellow Mudders as companions instead of weirdos. You even just called them “fellow Mudders” in your head instead of “weird people around me.” Sure, the man next to you has a weird tattoo or a skull on fire that he decided to get when he was a teenager (or last week), but he also has been training really hard to help you get over a wall 4 obstacles down the road. Before you know it, you will find yourself with these strangers singing the national anthem at the top of your lungs, absolutely pumped up about “giving it your best out there!” just like that random Coach guy said.

2. There’s no “I” in “Tough Mudder.”

Tough Mudder camaraderie is real, you guys. I guess you could do it alone if you REALLY wanted to, but let’s be honest, that wouldn’t be very fun. Tough Mudder gets a lot of criticism for not having any time tracking, but after I ran it this past Saturday, I am personally glad it doesn’t keep Mudders on the clock. People who would most likely leave me in the dust were more willing to stay and offer a helping hand. I never felt like I needed to rush others or my team members. Everyone seemed to take every obstacle in stride, together. There is no “I” in Tough Mudder, but as first-time Tough Mudder participant Kevin Martin jokes, “there definitely is ‘Mud’ – oh good God is there mud.”

3. Guys with big muscles are great to have on your side.

I have a new theory that there are guys who sign up for Tough Mudder and just stay at certain obstacles helping others to collect compliments as personal trophies. Rarely did a helping hand go unnoticed without a “Wow! You are soooooo STRONG!”

Men, if you are looking to build some self-esteem, go build some muscle and help some people over the Mount Everest 2.0 obstacle.

4. You’d be surprised by what you can do without guys with big muscles.

I was on a team of 4 girls. We knew each other from college and may have slacked off a bit in the preparedness department, but we are all relatively strong young women in our own right. There were a few obstacles when the muscle men weren’t readily available, and we used our brains and brawn to get through ourselves. I’m not going to lie, it was very empowering to figure out how to get each other up and over a massive slanted wall. And you better believe we are #betterforit.

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5. There’s no such thing as a free … anything.

During the race my friend Gwen did a great impersonation of an old man, saying, “how much did you kids pay to go run around in that mud? Back in my day we just ran around in the dirt for free!”

It’s no secret that Tough Mudder is a bit expensive. You pay to run around in mud, you pay to check your bag (I know, weird, right?!), you pay to spectate (!), you pay to park, and you pay to eat some satisfying Chipotle afterwards. But I guess you can’t put a price on feeling like a complete badass*.

*A badass who may or may not whine to her mom on the phone afterwards about newfound cuts and bruises.

6. “Easy” things can be deceptively difficult.

I’ve done the ice bucket challenge. I’ve survived Chicago winters. I know what cold feels like. So when I saw the ice water obstacle at Tough Mudder, I thought, “no big!”, but as my friend Andrea says it best, “you think you’re tough until you jump into a tub of ice. Then you realize you are powerless in this world.”

“Hitting a wall in a race typically means one thing,” says Kevin, “hitting a wall in a Tough Mudder could literally mean anything. And getting over an obstacle is great, but sometimes getting down is even better.”

If Tough Mudder’s various obstacles taught me one thing, it’s that sometimes you just have to scream out an expletive, get a grip (physically or mentally), and keep moving forward.

7. Laughter is the best medicine … after some Advil and Neosporin.

It isn’t called “Easy Mudder” or “Walk in a Muddy Park” for a reason. Tough Mudder can be capital-t Tough. The sheer distance can be grueling (not to mention the difficulty level of various obstacles), but if you have a fun team and a little bit of humor, it can help you out a lot. From screaming “midget power!” as my friend Andrea leapt over the first wall we encountered to laughing at my friend Gwen’s mud mustache, our team kept our spirits up through humor.

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8. Like in Vegas, time stops mattering.

Tough Mudder may be one of the rare times in the past few weeks when I went hours without my phone. Call me a product of my generation, but I nearly always have it on hand. I ended up leaving by phone at gear check because, well, mud and water don’t mix well with technology. Without my phone and an easily accessible clock, I stopped worrying about time and started enjoying the people I was with and the challenges we encountered. Instead of looking at my running stats on an app, I enjoyed running and catching up with my friend Courtney between obstacles. I stopped getting anxious when we hit a line and would chat in anticipation about the obstacle ahead with my team.

Occasionally, we would hear people talking about what time they started the race – with a complete variety of responses from others in the crowd. “We started at 10:30, I think.” “Our group started at 12, maybe? What time do you guys think it is anyway?”

Where are we? What time zone are we in? Has it been hours? Minutes? Days? Does anyone have a watch? Bueller?

Needless to say, we were shocked when we finally finished and checked the time. WAIT, HOW MANY HOURS HAVE PASSED?!

9. Like in marriage, looks stop mattering.*

No matter how much you tested that waterproof eyeliner, we’re all going to come out of this thing looking like a creature from the black lagoon (at best). There comes a point (usually about 10 minutes in) where you just have to throw away any qualm about what you look like doing all of the weird and gross things that a Tough Mudder is all about.

*Disclaimer to married friends: I’m totally kidding. You’re all still as handsome and beautiful as ever. 

10. It’s all about attitude.

Fellow fitness friend Kevin puts it best, “Running has its place in my life, but I enjoyed this on a completely different level. The bond you form with not only your teammates but with complete strangers is so unique for an event of this nature. The course will absolutely test you, but the sheer ridiculousness of some of it also forces you to laugh.”

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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.

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