Stud in the Mud

One man takes on the world of mud racing and lives to tell the tale

| October 24, 2012

The 5k and 10k Russian River Mud Run, a race similar to Tough Mudder, runs Sunday, Oct. 28. Registration is sold-out, but a race festival is scheduled from 9:30am to noon at 3200 Rio Lindo Ave., Healdsburg. Free.

  • JP Lagos/Heckler Magazine

See that guy there? The one wincing? That, dear reader, would be me—a hundred feet from the Tough Mudder finish line last fall. You'd think that after enduring two-dozen military-style obstacles over 11 miles of high-altitude hell at Squaw Valley, I'd be thrilled to be so near the end. Instead, I'm locked in a full-body cringe, terrified of the curtain of electrified wires that hang between me and a free Dos Equis. "Electroshock Therapy," with its promise of a 10,000-volt jolt, is the obstacle I'd most feared. And that right there is the pained expression of a man wondering, What the fuck am I doing here?

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Especially for a guy like me.

  • Tod Brilliant

If you haven't heard about Tough Mudder or read about it or at least seen Facebook pics of your friends doing it, here's a quick snapshot. It's a 10- to 12-mile mud run that employs extreme obstacles like ice, fire, electricity and barbed wire to sensational, almost sadistic effect. And it's insanely popular, with 35 events in 2012 that, by year's end, will have drawn an estimated 500,000 Mudders and $70 million in revenue.

I've never thought of myself as particularly tough. While I was one of the biggest guys on the football squad during my senior year in high school, I was also one of the softest. Whereas Tommy Tremarco and Anthony Cacase played with casts covering broken bones, I'd sometimes ask to sit out wind sprints because of "chronic shin splints," a self-diagnosed condition. "Maybe if you'd actually hit someone instead of just pussyfooting around all the time," said one coach, "your shin splints would go away."

These people all thought me a pansy, though I preferred to think of myself as pain averse. Regardless, not much has changed in the years since. I've been known to sniffle at Applebee's commercials, cry while watching The Voice, sob during Glee and squeal at the sight of spiders. When writers write about the death of the American male, they're writing about me. Which, incidentally, is why I was so shocked by what happened after watching my first Tough Mudder promo video.

At first, I was mortified by the montage of obstacles "designed by British Special Forces." Just watching it made me want to pop a Vicodin. But there was something disarming about seeing all the costumed crazies conquering the course. Tough Mudder, with its festival atmosphere and countercultural vibe, seemed to be doing doughnuts at the intersection of fun and fitness. It looked exactly as promised: "Ironman meets Burning Man." And its motto—"Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet"—was a call to arms for the alpha inside. So without pause or ponder, I decided right then and there to run the next NorCal event, just three months out.

Never mind that I hadn't seen the inside of a gym or run 10 miles—total—in the previous three months. That video and the many others I watched flipped a switch, and for the first time since I realized that a career as a linebacker for the New York Giants wasn't in my cards, I trained as if it were. I ran. I set daily pull-up goals. I did side planks during commercials. And I spearheaded a few healthy initiatives I'd largely avoided. Like eating greens. And drinking less. I thought about going raw, but then I realized I had no idea what the hell I was talking about.

This was all welcome news to my super-fit wife, Amber, of course, a personal trainer who serves as the yin to my sin. I became a regular at her circuit-training classes, even though said classes seemed largely designed to make me puke. I got stronger, strengthened my core. I got to the point where I could do a plank for 30 seconds without my whole body shaking like a Magic Fingers mattress. I ran the same Lake Sonoma loop, five miles a day, day after day, and kind of started loving it. I did interval sprints up steep trails, and sometimes screamed "Fuck yeah!" at the top. I was a man on fire.

But I knew Mudder wasn't just about strength and stamina; it was about mental toughness and grit. And since I will stop a trail run dead in its tracks to pick out even the tiniest pebble in my sock or shoe, I knew I needed to harden up in a hurry. I needed to steel myself like Rocky Balboa might, so I started agitating my routines. I swam in the lake with my sneakers on. I ran up fire roads with stones in my toes. And in anticipation of the ice water obstacles, I took cold showers every once in a while. (Well, maybe just once—but it was for a good 20 seconds or so.)

Slowly but surely, bit by bit, I amassed a thin layer of grit, which I tried to shellac with a viewing of Rocky IV the night before the race.


Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

YES!!!!! While I'm still never going to run a Tough Mudder (the words 'Burning Man' are enough to keep me far, far away), I applaud the hell out of you for tackling this challenge with the sole motivator of getting to write about the misery later. ;)

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Posted by Tod Brilliant on 10/24/2012 at 12:30 PM

Thanks for the cover shot, Mr. Brilliant! Glad you liked the story.

Posted by Scott Keneally on 10/24/2012 at 2:15 PM

What a fun read! Thanks Scott and it was great to meet you yesterday.

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Posted by Lynda Rael on 10/25/2012 at 10:19 AM

Soooo.... am totally a secret admirer of the author, especially after the 5-10 minutes I spent loving this piece more and more ;-) All the g*damn good ones are married. great, well written piece that makes you want to follow this author and join the fanclub. love the realistic, no bullshit writing style, yet still humorous (well hilarious, actually) and optimistic.

It even made me want to do the next one. If you knew me, (the lazy, weakling ass self I am I think you would have a lot of respect for Scott and his piece. Lol. Good job to everyone who did that hell on earth activity and didnt die!

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Posted by G.M. on 10/26/2012 at 11:57 PM

Wonderful piece, Scott! I really enjoyed reading it. So much gratifying fun behind reading a good, published piece by someone I remember fondly.


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Posted by Cheryl Walker Czekala on 11/13/2012 at 1:55 PM

Most people working as "driller or oiler upon a drill rig," get paid above average in benefits and wages. Some work offshore. They are fit from day one. We are called Operating Engineers Local #3 members. We are paid to dress up for the mud and come home complete. We create high-rises, tunnels, railway lines, highways, waterways, levees. Thanks for trying to imitate us without the paycheck.

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Posted by Brad Pipal on 11/28/2012 at 8:21 AM
Showing 1-6 of 6

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