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I rented the flick in hopes of psyching myself up. I felt that familiar adrenaline flash when Rocky went to Russia to fight Ivan Drago. In fact, I was so worked up by the Vince DiCola-scored training-montage scene of Rocky running through snowdrifts that I wanted to charge the course that night. Tough Mudder was my Drago, and I wanted to take the evil S.O.B. out. Unfortunately, however, the intoxication didn't last long. In the very next scene, when his wife Adrian shows up unannounced to support him, I started snot-bubbling so fervently you'd think I was watching The Notebook. My hard-won mental grit was now crumpled up in Kleenex. I had a long way to go, obviously, but there was no time to go anywhere but sleep.
By some strange magic, I sprang out of bed the following morning full of confidence. I dropped down for 20 pushups, beat myself in the chest for effect and declared to the man in the mirror, Today, I will be William Fucking Wallace. And I meant it. This vibration intensified upon arriving on the scene, spiked when I signed my death waiver and reached a fever pitch while reciting the Tough Mudder pledge in the starting corral. "I will not whine—kids whine!" we chanted, though within moments of the gun going off, as we began the steep, initial ascent, I found myself looking longingly at the gondola. Who would know?
Twenty-five lung-busting minutes later, after dragging myself in a mud bog beneath barbed wire, I came across one of the most dispiriting things I thought I'd ever seen: the first mile marker. "MILE ONE," it announced, simple and direct, like a middle finger. Panic rushed forth: I've got 10 more miles of this?
If there was one thing that set my mind at ease, however, it was the camaraderie on the course. It didn't feel competitive as much as collaborative, reflecting the pledge, "I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge." And true to word, Mudders were always helping other Mudders out. Most people were not concerned with their course times, like the "Gockasauras" team that carried an inflatable T. rex. This was just fine with me, as I couldn't run up the hills at this altitude anyway. Instead, I adopted a run-when-I-can strategy, picking my spots and pacing myself, which, if I'm being honest, is another way of saying that I only ran when the trail was level or going down.
Of course, the obstacles are the big sell here, and while they weren't all "tough," they were all uncomfortable. Some, like carrying logs, were physically taxing. Others, like crawling through tunnels filled with rocks, were just annoying. And a few were kind of depressing, like the monkey bars that illustrated just how little upper body strength I have. But the worst ones for me were the cold ones.
The shock of leaping from a 12-foot platform into a snowmelt pond, for instance, left my head feeling like I'd just mainlined a milkshake—though it paled in comparison to "Arctic Enema," a plunge through a dumpster filled with slushy ice water that taught me the difference between a simple brain freeze and a full skeletal shudder. That paralyzing cold was hard to kick, too, since I had no chance to move around and warm up before walking up to an obscenely long, 30-minute bottleneck at the next obstacle, "Everest."