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Life Arts    H2'ed 7/1/14

Inside The Tough Mudder - Extreme Challenge or Complete Lunacy?

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After the “Walk The Plank” obstacle, TM 2014
After the “Walk The Plank” obstacle, TM 2014
(Image by courtesy of Brad Sugar)
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My guest today is Brad Sugar, survivor of at least one Tough Mudder. Welcome to OpEdNews, Brad. To kick off the interview, please tell us a bit about this event [which I had never heard of prior to talking with you].

Brad: Thanks! This will be fun.

Tough Mudder brands itself as "probably the toughest event on the planet." While I obviously can't verify this (nor can they, actually), I can attest to the fact that it's difficult and requires a certain physical and mental grit to prepare for and complete. The event - which travels to almost every state and to other countries as well is comprised of roughly 25 obstacles over a 10-12 mile stretch. The obstacles run the gamut from the mundane (simply running through thick mud) to the insane (being electrocuted with 10,000 volts via live wires). They've done a great job at creating a fun and crazy event; it seems that most people find out about it via word of mouth.

Tough Mudder has been so well received (and has subsequently made so much money) that dozens of knock-off extreme obstacle courses have been created for men and women over the past few years. It's clear that there's a market for this type of thing.

Also, I'd object to the word "survive." Surviving - to me - implies that something is being done to you that you're either not expecting or is being done against your will. If you've specifically opted for a certain experience in life and you get what you bargained for, no matter how tough it is - to me, that's success, not survival.

JB: I concede that point. You definitely succeeded at the Tough Mudder. If I understand correctly, you weren't previously a super jock. Give our readers a sense of who you are when you're not participating in a Tough Mudder.

BS: No, I'm most certainly not a jock, and really have never been remotely close. I'm not out of shape by any means, but prior to training for the event, I really had never worked out, trained or done anything physical other than the occasional pick-up basketball game here or there.

First and foremost I'm a husband and a father to three young boys - so "relaxation" really isn't in my lexicon. The kids keep me on my toes. Professionally, I work in the non-profit sector - specifically in the Jewish community. I'm the Executive Director of the Jewish Student Connection (www.myjsc.org), which brings after-school educational programming and mentorship to high school students across the country. Other than that, I'm involved in my community in various other capacities when I can be. On the whole - just a regular guy that you wouldn't suspect would do something crazy like this.

JB: So what dragged you off the couch and into what certainly sounds to me like an extreme sport? What did you find enticing? I hope I don't offend you by observing that you don't really sound like the ideal candidate for this event.

BS: Not only is it not offensive, I think Tough Mudder has bet the farm that most of their participants will be "average" Americans. I heard about it randomly on Facebook when I saw that a friend had done it. The pictures were insane, and I had to at least learn more about it. I think there's something to be said about looking beyond the mundane routine of offices, cubicles, meetings - the daily grind - and striving for something really out there that resonates with people. To some extent that rang true for me, but the impetus for my initial involvement was really about setting the bar high. I like to set high goals with the understanding that they might not get met, but with the understanding there's a lot of merit in the process of trying to achieve them. So that's pretty much the approach that I took; I wanted to train for this thing, and be prepared for it. If I wound up doing it, that would be great. But if not, at least I would have pushed myself pretty far physically. I convinced a few of my friends to at least train with me for the duration of nine months leading to the event in Chicago in 2013. Almost all of them fit the "average" profile described above. We hired a former Navy SEAL to create a weekly regimen for us, and we trained together as a group. Half of the group wound up actually running Mudder together. It was remarkable bonding time, both during the training and the race.

JB: I like your attitude! I want to know more about the training process. Did this Navy SEAL simply devise the training program and send your group off to do it or did he actually appear at your weekly workouts? And what were those workouts like? Did he think you could pull off the Tough Mudder or was it always a long shot?

BS: To be clear, you don't really need a trainer or to go to the extreme like we did to hire a SEAL. Mudder has an extensive suggested training program on their website, with most of it not really requiring much equipment or previous know-how. I just knew personally that unless someone was going to be physically guiding me through workouts, it was unlikely that I would actually go through with it. I know this from approximately four or five previous failed attempts at gym memberships.

The trainer was there with us every week. He had done a Mudder before so he knew exactly what we should be working on. The workouts were all extremely intense. They were scheduled for an hour but nearly everyone was physically dead by minute 15, every time. The first three sessions I vomited, as did a few others. I learned not to eat lunch on Wednesdays in preparation...Outside of the "average" guys that did this there were one or two very, very ripped guys that decided to join in this training - and they yakked and cried like the rest of us. It's not weight-training based, it's endurance training, which is something totally different. In hindsight, the training was really overboard and in totality was much harder than the race itself. Which, I think, is a good thing - it prepared us mentally for anything that could be thrown our way. We looked like a pretty pathetic bunch coming in...and probably still do now...but at least he got us ready.

JB: Why was it so important for you to do this as a group as opposed to solo? And how did that group experience affect both the training and participating in the Tough Mudder itself?

BS: I don't think TM is something you really want to do by yourself. Everyone there is very helpful, and there's a general atmosphere of camaraderie (they make sure to repeat that the event is NOT a race) - but doing this alone would likely be lonely and/or boring. I don't think I saw anyone doing it solo. I would assume (not having done it myself) that simply running in a marathon is a solo thing, and is much easier that way. You can tune out everything else except your running. This is a bit different, because most of the obstacles can only be tackled in teams. It was important that I could do this with other people that would push me when I needed it, and vice-versa (plus, the amount of toilet humor when you're a foot deep in foul smelling mud runs pretty rampant. Who would I share jokes with?). Lastly - there were plenty of ladies on the course, so it's not just about guy-bonding. It's team building.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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