IN the summer of 2011, I decided that I wanted to be in the best physical and mental shape of my life by my 40th birthday.
This meant I had exactly 16 months to reach my goal before the big one hit on Nov. 8.
That fall, I came across an online advertisement for something called the Tough Mudder, an event planned for June 2012 in Whistler.
What is the Tough Mud-der? At the time, I didn't know either. Turns out it's a highly-intense obstacle course and run originally conceived by British Special Forces guys. You can start to imagine the details . . .
On the Tough Mudder website, I discovered that the course would consist of a 12-mile run up and down the trails of Whistler (half the time running on snowy ground in almost freezing temperatures), including 20-24 obstacles like: The Arctic Enema, an open storage bin filled with ice and water that we would dive into and swim through; The Electric Eel, seeing us crawl under barbed wire while trying to avoid getting shocked by any of the hundreds of electrically charged wires hanging inches above our backsides; and a frozen lake that organizers would chip the ice off in the morning so we could descend into it via an ice slide and flounder our way out and up the embankment of snow on the opposite side.
Obviously any sane person would stay as far away from this event as humanly possible. So of course I was on the phone immediately, and within hours had registered myself and a team of five friends (they're still friends, honestly! At least I think so).
We were tough, right? We liked mud - 30 or so years of playing soccer in Vancouver after all. We were ready to train and conquer what organizers describe as the toughest challenge on the planet.
I think I can still hear the snorts of laughter from my brother and sister when I told them what I was planning for my 40th birthday challenge, especially after they watched the video on the Tough Mudder website.
But as any of you with older siblings can attest to - there is no sweeter feeling than proving them wrong.
My Tough Mudder team lived right across the Lower Mainland, from Port Moody to Kitsilano to Lions Bay. Training together was as much of a challenge as the event itself. So instead of trying to schedule group training into busy lives, we trained separately and kept each other up to date about how it was going. We did manage to do the Grouse Grind together a few times.
As a personal trainer on the North Shore I have the benefit of training an absolutely fabulous group of clients. One of my clients, Munir Ali, is on the board of a new athletic clothing company called RYU - Respect Your Universe. He was another important source of inspiration as we geared up for race day.
Now we just had to perform well enough to make our sponsors - and our wives - proud of us, and secure bragging rights for ourselves and our kids. No pressure.
A starting gun and we were off! The Tough Mudder is all about camaraderie. You cheer your fellow "mudders" on whether they are on your team or not. I've never experienced such a degree of support from other athletes or spectators in all my racing life.
It was intense. Dirty. Freezing. Hardcore. And, utterly amazing.
In the end, our team dragged our wet, cold bodies across the finish line in two hours and 25 minutes. A fantastic result, placing us in the top five per cent of the day's competitors. (Thank you Grouse Grind!)
We celebrated with showers, hot tubs, and a weary, but elated, night out in Whistler. Those bragging rights kicked in as we relived every crazy obstacle. The last comment made before heading to bed that night was, "Maybe we should sign up for the Seattle Tough Mudder."
So, a few weeks later on Sept. 29, there we were, heading back into the craziness.
A few key things were different this time. First, we knew what to expect, and we approached our training differently. There are certain muscles that get used in an event such as this that don't normally have the focus given to them that they should have, and our experience helped us train harder, train faster and train those small muscle groups that weren't too happy up at Whistler.
In Seattle, we had the extra excitement of having United States Marines as volunteers on the course. You wouldn't believe how much faster you'll complete each obstacle when you have a Marine screaming at you, "Hurry up! Move it! What are you waiting for?" above your head. Very motivating - thanks guys!
We quickly realized that we were in much better shape for this race and that the course was much flatter than the nasty cold steep mountainside of Whistler. It was thrilling to pass groups that had started ahead of us. We hammered out all of the obstacles including the Berlin Walls (12-foot vertical walls), Everest (a slippery half pipe), Boa Constrictor (a corridor dug into the ground and covered with plywood making it pitch black), and of course the dreaded Electro Shock Therapy.
But the last difference we noticed was in the Electro Shock Therapy obstacle. And, having taken a shock back at the Electric Eel in the beginning, I was already dreading it. Five hundred hanging wires, too close together to be able to sneak through them without getting hit. I saw a route that looked like I could go along at a slow pace and not get touched by the wires. Halfway through, it was going well. But that's when a volunteer with an evil smile saw me. Clearly he didn't like the fact that I was outsmarting his obstacle, because next thing I knew he pointed his hose at me and fired. A direct hit. Now I was surprised, soaking wet, and incredibly attractive to every live wire that was between me and the finish line. There was no other option but to grind my teeth and go for it. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. And about 10 more. These things honestly hurt like nothing you have ever felt before. At one point they knocked me down flat, which just meant more of Kevin to hit. Finally, and desperately, I crawled my way across the finish line. What an ending!
The exhilaration of ending quickly replaced the pain. And laughter helped, when my kids stopped millimetres short of a paternal bear-hug: "Ew, Daddy, you're dirty."
Recovered and back in Vancouver (and looking forward to a quiet fall), Munir urged me to report our time to Tough Mud-der headquarters to see if we qualified for the World's Toughest Mudder, an event scheduled for New Jersey for the top teams from Tough Mudder events around the world.
To my (anxious) excitement, we qualified! So the week after my 40th birthday on Saturday, Nov. 17, you will find me deep in the freezing mud of a New Jersey November, competing alongside the toughest men and women on the planet, racing to see who can finish the most laps in 24 hours.
That's right - I'll be tackling mud, freezing lakes, and "obstacles on steroids" in the middle of the night. Last year was the inaugural World's Toughest Mudder. Eight hundred qualifiers from around the world competed. And out of those 800, 300 mudders were in the medical tents after lap one, being treated for hypothermia.
Armed with that knowledge, my team and I will be wearing wetsuits for the entire 24 hours. But still, we know it is going to be even more a mental challenge than a physical one, despite the "obstacles on steroids."
But this is what we've trained for. This isn't a marathon, this isn't a triathlon, this isn't even an Ironman. This is definitely the "toughest challenge on the planet."
And when the World's Toughest Mudder is over, my teammates and I will be sticking around to see if there's anything we can to do to help a state going through the toughest challenge in its own history. Because that's the spirit of the world's toughest mudders.
Kevin Boardman is a North Shore-based personal trainer and owner of Soul Fitness. He's also a freelance writer. Want to be a Tough Mudder in 2013? Train with Kevin at his 6 a.m. boot-camp, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-318-4818.