It’s been a little over a month since World’s Toughest Mudder. As I’m soaking in the holidays and spending time with family, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my experience. I entered World’s Toughest Mudder confident about achieving my goals. After a strong performance at Seattle’s Toughest my Mudder partner/fiancé and I were certain we could obtain the coveted milestone award, the 50-mile brown bib. We quickly learned that the course and the night had different plans for us. Plans that in the moment felt like pain and disappointment, but as we trudged through the night these emotions settled into a quiet reflection on the true values and meaning of Tough Mudder.
The first couple five-mile laps went by quickly and were a blast. After training and running Tough Mudders together all season, my fiancé and I partnered up as an unofficial team. We happily charged the course after three hoorahs. At the Tough Mudder endurance races (like Toughest and World’s Toughest Mudder), the obstacles are scheduled to gradually open one by one. As the obstacles opened, the Everest Angels (Mudders who dedicate themselves to helping others up and over Everest) got set up with fresh hands at the top of Everest and began encouraging and heaving Mudders over the quarter pipe. A crew got set up at the base of Mudderhorn to help Mudders tackle the wall, and affectionately earned the name “The Men of Mudderhorn”. A single Mudder stationed himself out at Skidmarked, to provide a knee to help conquer that awkward wall. It was hard and the obstacles were intimidating, but we were doing well, felt supported, and were making good time. We were well on our way to reaching our 50-mile goal.
Around 1 a.m. our race took a critical turn, after 25 miles on course my fiancé twisted his knee coming down off an obstacle (later we found out he twisted his tibia bone and had to have it twisted back into place, ouch!!). I found myself wet, cold, and exhausted in the early hours of the morning while my race partner was in pain with little I could do to help. This was a turning point in the race, a point where we realized we weren’t going to be able to achieve our goals. We finished our lap and met our pit crew feeling frustrated, discouraged, and disappointed. We took off our wetsuits and sat by a campfire to dry out. It was hard to sit by that campfire while others were out there on course, both of us feeling we should be out there but knowing we needed the break. At that point, my fiancé encouraged me to go out on course on by myself, but I simply was not willing to. We had done all our races and training together up to that point and I would not leave my partner behind.
So, we warmed up, got our wet suits back on, and slowly worked through another five-mile lap. This lap was different, we took our time. We stopped at obstacles and helped other mudders for longer periods of time. We cheered for the elite runners who were dominating the course. We stopped at the end of the lap to hug Clinton Jackson (the beloved finish line MC), who enthusiastically cheered on each Mudder throughout the entire night. It was emotional and hard, we were exhausted. But we helped our fellow mudders and we kept on going.
We headed out on course for our final lap after 8 a.m. in order to be official finishers. The sun was up, it was warmer, and we felt energized and rested after taking a brief nap. We hugged and gave our thanks to the Everest Angels and the Men of Mudderhorn. We hugged the lone Mudder out at Skidmarked, who spent hours and hours by himself through the night helping over a thousand mudders over that wall. By that point they each had bruised shoulders, knees, and swollen hands but still greeted us with smiles and high fives. Our pit crew met us at Everest, one of the last obstacles before finishing, to cheer us on (and let us know she had cold beers and sandwiches waiting for us).
So, after 35 miles, we finished. We hugged and shared tears with Clinton at the end of the course and then returned to our pit area to celebrate with our crew (and drink one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever had in my life). At that point, our pit crew shared that another Mudder that had approached them to ask that they thank my fiancé and I. To tell us that he couldn’t have gone through the race without us, and that we had helped him through obstacles all throughout the night. That night my fiancé and I helped hundreds of people through obstacles and that’s when we realized that we had been overly focused on defining our success by mileage and that brown bib. We went from feeling disappointed to proud and realized we needed to reembrace the values of Tough Mudder. Community, stewardship, empathy, grit…lots and lots of grit.
Trust me when I say that we fully intend to return to World’s Toughest Mudder with the goal of earning that 50-mile brown bib! But that night our race was about being there for someone in need and cheering on the incredible successes of others. It was about that Tough Mudder Community built up by the Everest Angels, the Men of Mudderhorn, and the lone Mudder out at Skidmarked and it was raw and strong. So in the end, we all did a damn good job.