The Tough Mudder claims to “probably be the toughest event on the planet.” Combine 12 or so miles, 20 obstacles, plenty of mud, ice-cold water, and wires carrying 10,000 volts of electricity and you get the general idea. Add treks up and down severe ski-slope inclines, high altitude, and fickle weather and you’ve got Colorado Tough Mudder.
One of the first things that quickly stands out is how well organized the event is. Somehow the organizers were able to get over 12,000 racers, plus hundreds of spectators, parked, shuttled to base camp, checked-in, and on to the course. Despite the large numbers of people, things kept moving as most of the obstacles had no waiting and the longest wait for an obstacle was about 5 minutes.
At base camp you can’t miss that this is an event, not just a race. The atmosphere is charged with live music, vendors, face painters, food, and thousands of eager participants. As you arrive near the starting chute line the starter can be heard delivering a message of hope, excitement, and pure mental will.
Set in the picturesque Beaver Creek, Colorado, you’re immediately reminded that you’re at a ski resort when you scramble up the first of several steep inclines just to get to the starting chute, and the first mile quickly reminds you that you’re running somewhere between 9,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation when you just can’t seem to fill your lungs with enough air no matter how deeply and how often you gasp for breath.
The Colorado Tough Mudder is not a “runner’s” event for the majority. Most start running but it isn’t long before the herds thin out. There is no clock and while some are able to traverse the slopes at a good jogging pace, eventually most chose to put one foot in front of the other and are happy to just get up the mountain. One multi-mudder participant said that other than the World’s Toughest Mudder, this course is the most difficult for him.
The first obstacle is aptly named Kiss the Mud. The menacing, criss-cross of barbed wire barely a foot off the ground ensures you’re not sneaking through this obstacle on your hands and knees, and the frequent fire-hose showers ensure you’re not getting through it without getting muddy. Head-down, face in the mud, body scraping through the gravely grit — that’s the only way through.
Slow and steady works for Kiss the Mud but not for Electric Eel. “Stay Low and Go Fast,” signs advise. If you miss the tip, the shocks from electric wires hanging above you will make you a quick learner. It’s nearly impossible to get out of the Eel without feeling its electric bite as you scramble through the muddy water, and it’s this obstacle that makes first-time Mudders realize that this isn’t your typical mud run.
An expected obstacle with a slightly sadistic twist — that’s the fun of the Colorado Tough Mudder. Think it’s challenging pull yourself across monkey bar inclines and declines? The Funky Munky at the Mudder adds swiveling bars, which dump most mudders. Some only make it a few rungs in while others struggle to get a few rungs away, only to get dumped in the water in frustration.
Arctic Enema is a signature event of the Mudder. Fill a dumpster with ice-cold water and then keep dumping ice into it all day so that a fresh layer of cubes greets each Mudder. There’s a big difference between cold water and ice-cold water. Ice water bites hits and you like a block of wood. Just as your muscles seize in shock, you realize you must somehow convince yourself to fully submerge yourself under the wooden beam that stands between you and the only way out of the Arctic Enema.
Challenging yourself to put your body through unique mind-over-matter obstacles separates the Mudder from traditional races or runs. “This is a challenge, not a race” is the message you hear over and over. Beat the course. And what a course the Colorado Mudder is. The miles snake up and down wicked ski slopes. Sometimes you’re carrying another Mudder (Fallen Comrade Challenge) or a sizeable log (Hold Your Wood Obstacle), taxing the well-conditioned and beating down those who aren’t. The down-hill stretches, when they came, were often so severely inclined that if you were hoping for a respite, you were sadly disappointed. Also, it is summer and temperatures are warm, yet giant piles of snow greet you to crawl over and slide down.
The obstacles start big and stay big. Tough but not overwhelming. Challenging but not impossible, especially with the camaraderie the Mudder breeds. There always was a helping hand reaching down to pull you the last few feet up and over the wall.
After mile 10, you’ve really got to put your faith in random strangers to make it up Everest, a giant wall shaped like a half pipe. Start fast, build up speed, and leap to grab the outstretched hands of other Mudders who’ve made it to the top with the help of others and who repay the goodwill by reaching down to pull up the next.
Finally, you’re cold and wet, and about to run through hundreds of hot wires of the Electro-shock Therapy that you simply can’t elude no matter how much you suck in your gut. Like some of the other obstacles, you simply can’t train for this, but watching other Mudders teaches you one thing: don’t fall. The unexpected intensity of the zapping wires laid out many Mudders face-down in the mud. When they tried to get up, this simply offered more surface area for multiple, simultaneous points of electro shock. So, go fast and be ready for pain that fills your body with each loud popping charge.
With the finish line in sight, thousands of spectators, live music, and a little extra juice in the system from the Electro-shock Therapy, the last 100 yards is truly a memorable experience. Most don their finish-line gear immediately; conquering a course like this one makes it seem perfectly appropriate to wear a bright orange headband for the rest of the day. Dozens of Mudders were still wearing them in their cars on the highway and at gas stations during the drive back to Denver.
Stories can be heard all over base camp about the race, the obstacles, and the many participants that helped and inspired throughout the Mudder. But the hero of the day had to be a Mudder named Travis, war veteran and double leg amputee who conquered this course alongside The Wounded Warrior Project team. He inspired thousands and cheers could be heard throughout the day as Travis and his team took on each obstacle and offered help to others.
It’s a challenge, not a race; it’s camaraderie, not individual glory. It’s the Colorado Tough Mudder, and it’s an event not to miss.