Nine miles of muddy hell

By SCOTT FAYNER  |  May 26, 2011

Is he running the course today? I ask. He tells me no, that he always runs the course the day before the event — testing it out, as it were.

Tough Mudder was born out of (former British government terrorist hunter) Dean's disdain for humdrum exercise: "I was trying to come up with a business idea, and got to thinking about how incredibly boring triathlons and marathons are. You get a sense of achievement doing them, but they're just so boring to do. I thought that there has to be more to exercise than that."

England's Tough Guy Competition, which began a quarter century ago and claims to be the "safest most dangerous event in the world," is currently suing Dean and his business partner for stealing the idea and bringing it to America. Since launching last summer, Tough Mudder has invaded Florida, Texas, California, and Georgia. This year, it expands to Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

"We've taken all the elements of Special Forces training and given you a taste of it," Dean says. "Each challenge tests something different, and we make sure to get you out of your comfort zone quickly."

Considering my comfort zone consists of a bong and some old pizza, that shouldn't be too hard a task. Bring it on . . . I guess.

Testa and I approach the starting line. Smiles are rare among the hundreds competing alongside us, and a few even hug their friends goodbye just in case something goes wrong. "We're fucked," I tell Testa, just as our last-minute stretching is interrupted by the reciting of the Tough Mudder pledge: we promise to help out others, not to whine, and to remember that it's not a race.

We shake hands with the people around us, say good luck. "You don't look so good," a chick to my left informs me. "Thanks for the pep talk," I shoot back. Then I cough up a big glob of phlegm and we all laugh.

And then the clock runs down. Off we go!

>> SLIDESHOW: "Scott Fayner does the Tough Mudder" by Tony Testa <<

My first challenge is called the "Death March": I am to run almost two miles of deep mud, rocks, and frigid water, uphill all the way. It is not fun, and my calves begin to buzz instantly. Formerly gung-ho fools in their silly costumes are now bent over, trying to breathe, or holding their legs in pain. I bring my run down to a fast walk, and slog forward. Every time I think the top is just over the next hump, it just keeps on coming. Forty or so minutes later, I'm at the peak, looking down at my accomplishment. Unfortunately, I'm also looking down at my next obstacle.

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