October 13 2017
Editor Caitlyn Pilkington parts ways with Women's Running and writes her final goodbye.
I like to think of myself as savvy risk evader—but really, I’m kind of a wuss. I’m terrified of downhill skiing and open-water swimming. I will die happily never having skydived. That car going 45 mph in the slow lane? Yup, that’s me.
Needless to say, standing in a dusty field, surrounded by hundreds of bare-chested dudes chanting “Oorah” while waiting my turn to scale a 12-foot-high wall is a little, well, out of my comfort zone. But that’s exactly where I found myself last Saturday at 2 in the afternoon—1400 hours in Tough Mudder-speak.
To my right stood Tracy, the woman responsible for getting me into this mess. Tracy races 50-milers for fun, benches more weight than I could load onto a barbell and drives like a maniac. Two months ago, my badass friend asked if I wanted to do Tough Mudder Florida and for some reason (the challenge-seeking runner in me maybe? the inquisitive journalist, perhaps?) I said, “Sure.”
Tough Mudder is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet” and it delivers on that promise by way of a 12ish-mile race packed with 25 or so extreme obstacles. Each event varies slightly, but in order to cross any Tough Mudder-finish line, you’ll first have to be shocked by live wires, swim through a bucket of ice water and sprint up a slippery quarter pipe. Despite the sadistic premise, the event is the fastest-growing adventure race in the world with over half a million finishers this year alone.
I was very curious about one thing: If 500,000 other people can do it, how tough can Tough Mudder be? There was only one way to find out. I had to finish the race with Tracy and our online editor Kara, tackling every single obstacle that came my way.
After the testosterone-fueled start full of chanting and warnings about runners who’d dislocated knees and bitten through lips, the air horn sounded and we were off. The first obstacle was the hardest: a 100-meter wide, ice-cold lake barricaded by strings of large barrels we’d have to swim under to get to the other side. The wimp in my screamed, “Hell no!” as I clung to the first line of barrels, afraid to dip into the dark water. Tracy said, “Don’t think. Just go.” And on her “three” I dove under and popped up on the other side just fine. My fear immediately abated.
To my surprise, I spent the next two and a half hours having fun, not full of fear. I went feet first into the bath of ice without delay, trusted strangers to hoist me over tall wooden walls, jumped off a 15-foot high ramp into a ditch of dirty water, crawled through a pitch-black tunnel, climbed up a small mountain of slippery mud, shimmied under barbed wire and sprinted through a chute of electrified wires with a smile on my face.
How tough was it? I’d give it a solid six out of 10. In my opinion, racing for a personal best in a 5k is more difficult and emotionally challenging. The point of Tough Mudder is to finish, not to win, and I never got that gut-churning pain that comes with road racing.
The wuss in me was able to make it through thanks to the fact that while the obstacles were thrilling, I was never in grave danger. Ducking under dark water might play on your fear of drowning, but you’re not going to drown. Crawling through a dark tunnel is uncomfortable, but you will come out the other side. Despite the “toughest” premise, and its reputation for being a race for the bros, Tough Mudder is eminently finish-able—even a wimpy chick can do it.
I want to know, would you ever try a Tough Mudder? Let me know here or tweet me @JessieSebor!