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Tough Mudder: Making it to the Finish

Associate Editor Kristen Haney survived the ice water, electric shocks, and greased monkey bars and made it to the finish of the 11-mile Tough Mudder at Northstar. Here’s what it took to earn that orange headband.



Northstar California Hosts Tough Mudder from Northstar California Videos on Vimeo.

Before Tough Mudder

One of the cruelest tricks Tough Mudder organizers can pull on participants is changing the course the night before the competition. When my partner and I saw the new plan for the course on Friday, it came as a complete surprise—and not a welcome one. Gone were the obstacles I thought I could complete: running through fire, climbing across cargo nets, and slip and sliding into muddy water.

Eight obstacles were removed altogether, which meant more steep running up and down Northstar’s rocky ski slopes in between obstacles. A few were replaced by a set of 12-foot-tall walls we had to climb over and a second round of crawling under barbed wire. Even the loss of one of the swimming obstacles, which I was dreading, didn’t do much to improve my spirits. This race was going to be a tough mudder; I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and tried to get to sleep.

I was filled with mixed emotions the next morning. I was dreading the unknown (would I even be able to finish?) but also excited to finally be tackling the 11-mile course I’d spent months training for. We arrived at Northstar two hours before our start time and took the gondola to mid-mountain, where the race kicked off. We watched the first group take off, then fueled up with caffeine and energy gels, and made our way to the start. After scaling a wall (yes, before the course begins), an MC gathered racers to yell a few dozen “hoo-rahs,” and we were off.

A few days before the course, I had run into some high school friends also running Tough Mudder. They were drinking at a bar (while I stood by sober), and one mentioned how her training had mainly been a few pilates classes. Any concerns I had that night about overtraining were quickly squashed at the outset of the course. The hills were brutal, and many participants were reduced to walking during the final uphill ascent to more than 8,000 feet. I stopped a few times to wait for my partner to catch up, grateful for the work I had put into interval training and hill runs.

The first obstacle, a crawl through mud under barbed wire, introduced us to pain and dirt. My hair got caught on barbed wire twice, but it was the dragging my body across rocks that was brutal. The rest of the obstacles, designed to train British Special Forces, unfolded much how I imagined, with only a few surprises. I made a few of the ring swings before falling into the water, and I couldn’t keep my grip on the rotating monkey bars. I wasn’t surprised; I know that despite all my training, I still lack upper body strength.

The real surprises were the obstacles that involved swimming. By far my least favorite part of the course was “walk the plank,” a leap off a tall platform into cold water. A volunteer at the top yelled at me to “Jump! Jump! Jump!” Before I had time to think, my stomach was in my mouth and I was in freezing water without any air. I clawed my way to the surface and kicked my way to the edge of the water, convinced I was going to drown. Swimming is not my strong suit.

But the toughest part of Tough Mudder wasn’t the obstacles, or running 11 miles on the side of a steep mountain. It was sticking with my partner and putting teamwork before my completion time. A little before mile eight, my partner helped hoist me over the first 12-foot wall before recruiting a couple of strong guys to help him over. Through a crack in the wall I saw him fall and come down hard, twisting an ankle.

He wasn’t able to put much weight on his right foot, which started to swell immediately. And he refused to stop at the first aid stations for fear that they’d make him quit the course. We had to walk or slow jog the remaining three miles when all I wanted to do was run. I could hear the clock ticking as my partner tried to ignore the pain and run for my sake. I knew he was hurting, and still all I could think about was how much energy I had and how much faster I could be going. I hadWe did it! counted on his strength to get through some of the tougher obstacles, and now that I could tackle the rest I was dying to fly through the remainder of the course. I felt frustrated, and selfish, and I realized that this was the part of Tough Mudder where my mental grit was being tested.

Sometimes it’s not about how fast you can go. Sometimes it’s about being a better person and finishing with the team you started with. So, I walked and slowly jogged the last three miles, almost faceplanted into mud during the final electrical shocks—and I finished side-by-side with my partner.

It took us a little over four hours, but the time didn’t matter when we stood together at the end with our orange headbands and beers. We had finished Tough Mudder in one piece, as a team, and I could not be prouder. 


(me, getting shocked at the end)