Sure there are marathons and duathlons and triathlons. But there was bound to be a “next big thing” for weekend warriors and even the more serious athletes that would challenge the very fiber of their being. Enter mudder endurance events, part obstacle course, part test of brute strength and mental grit, part team camaraderie, part craziness. The most well-known in this category – Tough Mudder - came to the Wisconsin Dells area last summer and it more than lived up to its tough guy and tough gal billing.
Over a period of three weeks in July and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, a diabolical 10-mile course was laid out that had paid participants climbing through pipes that force you into muddy water, scaling 12-foot-high walls, crawling under wire just eight inches from the ground, walking the plank into a pond below, running through fire, you get the picture.
The mastermind behind this wildly successful concept is a soft-spoken, charming young Brit by the name of Will Dean. He hails from the Sherwood Forest region of Great Britain noting “this part of Wisconsin is similar to my home.” Dean spent five years working for the UK Diplomatic Service in overseas counterterrorist finance operations before heading off to Harvard Business School. It was at Harvard that he conceived of the idea and is duly pleased to tell us that he entered the idea in the university’s Business Plan Contest. And lost. In fact, his professors told him the idea was all wet. Now they’re inviting him back to his alma mater as guest lecturer.
It was the “ton of requests from our fans and followers on Facebook and our web site and the region’s great appreciation for the outdoors,” that had Dean selecting Wisconsin as an event site. He wasn’t disappointed. Some 10,000 participants from 49 states (North Dakota was the hold-out if you must know) and 12 countries turned out for the Wisconsin event. Dean also mentioned that there are about 300 die-hards with “season passes” who travel all over the world to participate in every Tough Mudder they can.
While not a season-pass holder, Wisconsin Dells’ own Patti Fichter, an avid runner better known to locals as the marketing director at Chula Vista Resort, participated with Team Monk’s, named after the famous burger joint Monk’s Bar & Grill in town. She was on a team of ten that ranged in age from 18 to 52, with several serving in the military. We asked her to keep a journal chronicling her training leading up to the event. Here are a few excerpts:
I am now 48 years old and decided that one of my goals this year is to do the Tough Mudder. Not completely committed to doing it yet.
Running daily and new boot camp exercise class twice a week. My friend Heidi has decided she is definitely doing it with her four kids – ages 21-30. I wouldn’t have fear of commitment if I were that age.
I went on the Tough Mudder website to check it out – big mistake - there is no way.
OK, I now have a plan – mudder boot camp and continue running at least 5 to 6 miles daily. I am going to do it.
I have never done so many bear crawls in my life. I feel good.
Both my boys – ages 12 and 16 – are in similar conditioning program for school athletes – it is cool that I can do as many push-ups as they can!
Running almost 30 miles a week now.
Have stopped looking at the website – those walls are in my nightmares.
Heidi and I have been running the bluffs at Devil’s Lake State Park.
Mudder is next week – I think I am ready!
Despite those pre-event trepidations, when queried at the starting line how she slept the night before, she replied without hesitation, “Slept well. After all, half this stuff we did as kids!” The team crossed the finish line hand in hand and the next day Patti dropped us this e-mail:
“It was awesome. We made it through all the obstacles – I even made it up the half pipe on my first try! My son and husband were in the crowd watching at a couple obstacles so they were excited for me. It was hard but well worth it.”
As a side note, Tough Mudder supports the Wounded Warrior Project and participants have raised more than $2 million to support warriors “from the battlefield to bedside and beyond.”