Tough Mudder: The Craziest Obstacle Course

A reader asked Maxim to join his team at the craziest obstacle course in the country, and we stupidly said yes. Please pass the Bengay.

A reader asked Maxim to join his team at the craziest obstacle course in the country, and we stupidly said yes. Please pass the Bengay.

My balls are still not speaking to me. But after repeatedly dunking them in frigid Jersey swamp water, I can’t really blame them. Let me explain. A few months ago I got an e-mail from an old college buddy. The subject line: “Eff getting old!” He and a group of guys were getting together to take on something called Tough Mudder, and he dared Maxim to join in the insanity. Without hesitating I wrote back, “Hell, yes!” Then I went to, saw what I was in for, and squeaked, “God, no!”

VIDEO: The Tough Mudder Challenge,AAABnwxt8sE~,TdyFq09iMr7kioKT_wX2C8w8xLyk5_f2&bctid=1866401522001

VIDEO: Moustache Man Trains Maxim For Hellish Race,AAABnwxt8sE~,TdyFq09iMr7kioKT_wX2C8w8xLyk5_f2&bctid=1866450781001

Tough Mudder is a traveling 10- to 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces that’s been crisscrossing the country and hurting Americans for nearly two years. How tough is it? Will Dean, CEO and founder, explained to me, “We’re going to zap you with electricity, run you through fire, dump you in Dumpsters full of ice, take you up hills of mud—basically beat your ass.” It somehow sounded charming coming out of his British mouth. Almost like Mr. Belvedere waterboarding you.

The plan was for Team Maxim Sparkle Pony to train like maniacs in the months leading up to our dirty date with destiny, then destroy the course with our hill-eating quads. Some of the team members actually did train, some of the team members actually did not. “Well, I did a lot of carb loading,” said team member Greg, 37, from upstate New York. “By race day, I was more P ‘Zone than man.”

After months of grueling ignoring of my jogging sneakers, the day finally came. At 8 a.m. on a freezing November morning, the nine members of Team Maxim Sparkle Pony assembled in the parking lot of Raceway Park in New Jersey. We spilled out of our Jeep Cherokee and immediately began regretting this whole deal. As much fitter folks stretched and got psyched up, we mostly huddled for warmth and wondered where the Porta Potties were. The downside of hydrating before physical exertion is needing to piss every three seconds.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Groin Pull!

We gathered with our heat of the 20,000 Mudders running that weekend. The start line emcee led us in reciting the Tough Mudder pledge (I don’t remember what it was; I was so nervous I was shitting other people’s pants), the gun went off, and despite my brain’s protests, my legs started running.

The beginning was a breeze. We ran, climbed a few cargo nets—piece of cake. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all, I stupidly thought. We were joking, laughing; we were oh so happy. And then it happened. We faced our first real obstacle: the Chernobyl Jacuzzi. This is a Dumpster filled with green water and ice. Assloads thereof. You had to jump in and swim across, ducking under a submerged barrier at one point. We made the leap and—wham!—shit got real. “It felt like my entire body had brain freeze,” said Jim, 37, an online traffic manager. “My testicles disappeared up into my body like a groundhog that saw its shadow,” said Ed, 37, an accountant. Our team managed to get through it, but many around us cramped up and had to be pulled out by safety officials.  

Team Maxim Sparkle Pony stood outside the Jacuzzi, our bodies in shock. Just 11 more miles and 20 obstacles to go…

Inspiration, Perspiration, and Sanitation

Just the Tip was next, a military-style rope crawl across a muddy bank. It takes strength and balance to get across that bastard, which is why 100 percent of Team Maxim Sparkle Pony wound up falling in. Luckily, a bath was up next. Walk the Plank had us clambering up a 15-foot tower among other freezing idiots and jumping into a river that looked more like a running septic tank. All I can tell you about falling that far is that it takes a lot longer than you think it will to hit the water, and when you do, you wish you never did. With eyes and mouth filled with brown nastiness, we swam for the opposite shore. Or at least tried to. “I was so disoriented, I lost my hat and ability to swim,” said Julian, 37, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “At one point I screamed, ‘I can’t swim anymore!’ and the lifeguard was like, ‘Sir, just stand up and walk.’ Oops.”

We climbed out and wobbled on. “My legs started to convulse,” said Stephen, 37, a writer. “I gave myself a 20 percent chance of having to go all 127 Hours on the frostbitten limb in order to finish the course.” At the Funky Monkey (crossing more freezing-cold water on greased-up monkey bars), someone advised us, “Four people have broken their ankles falling off the bars. You might want to just wade across.” Most of the team took that advice, but I had to at least try not to plop into more icy horribleness. I got three bars into the traverse before I dropped. I didn’t break an ankle, but my brain was so scrambled that I went to pee and forgot to turn off the GoPro video camera strapped to my chest. (If you’re into muddy golden-shower videos, send me a check for $10,000.)

We all found personal points of inspiration along the way. “My knees were killing me, and I was thinking, I can’t go on,” said Matt, 40, a music teacher in New York. “Then a veteran ran past me in full gear. I figured they sacrifice a hell of a lot more than I have, so I’d better keep going!” (Tough Mudder has raised millions for the Wounded Warrior Project, and we were all floored when we saw a badass vet with prosthetic limbs beating the shit out of this course.)

Other teams provided inspiration in other ways. “The guy racing around in just a neon green Speedo pushed me to go faster so I wouldn’t have to run behind that any longer than I had to,” said Ed. Jose, 44, a TV producer, had even simpler motivation: “I wanted to quit after every obstacle but couldn’t build up the strength to actually do it.”

Shocking Finale

Five and a half hours later, we reached the final obstacle. I would have been thrilled if I weren’t so terrified. This is because the last obstacle is called Electroshock Therapy— a field of dangling wires, some of which carry 10,000 volts, that you have to run through.

We gave it the once-over and someone, maybe me, said, “That doesn’t look like it’s hooked up to anything. They’re messing with us—there’s no electricity!” Rejoicing, we sprinted into the sea of wires and—blast!—I got zapped in the forehead. No, the Mudder people weren’t messing with us. When they promise pain, they deliver.

We crossed the finish line and were handed an orange headband and a cup of beer. I was shaking so crazily that I spilled most of it before I could get it to my lips. We were all so frozen that none of us could really comprehend that we actually finished and weren’t bleeding from every orifice. There was no shortage of miracles out on that course, but none so great as the one pointed out by Stephen: “Jose’s knit cap stayed on his head, and completely free of mud, the entire time. Has anybody alerted the Vatican to this miracle yet?” When my body stops shivering, I’ll shoot them a line.

Got a good dare for us? Tweet @maximmag #dare and see if we’re man enough to do it!

Photos by Tim Soter & Videos by Zach Goldstein