What It Is: Tough Mudder presented by Merrell, which calls itself “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet”
Who Tried It: Grace Gavilanes, PEOPLE.com associate editor
Level of Difficulty: 10/10
It’s been a few days since I made it to the finish line — and my calves, thighs, butt, arms and abs are still sore. But for a little over a year before that, I worked out consistently five days a week. I would kick off each morning or end each day with a HIIT class at Equinox (RIP, expensive membership; I still dream of those showers), boxing at Title Boxing Club or barre at Pop Physique.
But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I began to wane in discipline, swapping daily workouts for king-sized chocolate bars and double decker burgers — all while binge-watching Shahs of Sunset and Impractical Jokers. (Side note: I lead a very interesting life.)
You would think I’d be more motivated to work on my #summerbody2017 considering the sun begins to set after 7pm as opposed to 4pm, like it does in the winter. Longer days! Happier mood! No. I was growing bored with each passing jab, cross and burpee that was asked of me.
So, you could imagine how psyched I was when I scored an invite to participate in this year’s Tough Mudder on Long Island. Okay, I wasn’t just excited. I was also nervous, and was immediately taken back to 2011 when I had first heard of the epic event, which subsequently found a place on my bucket list.
Tough Mudder — which has plans to launch its own boutique fitness class in Brooklyn, New York in Fall 2017 — offers different types of competitions, but the one I was doing featured a 10-mile run with 20 obstacles trickled throughout.
Did I look up this critical information before the big day? NOPE. I’m ridiculous and knew that if I read about every obstacle and came up with a strategy before Tough Mudder, I’d either be so intimidated that I would convince myself I wasn’t fit enough, or I’d become so obsessive/nervous that I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would instead re-watch The Keepers on Netflix, which if I’m being honest, is the opposite of an insomnia remedy. I’m also terrified of heights and can’t really swim, which I knew would be a problem, but I decided to ignore those little fun facts and participate.
On Saturday morning, a.k.a. Judgment Day, I exited the minivan after a 40-minute commute to Old Bethpage on Long Island, along with the rest of the Tough Mudder hopefuls on our team, and we were faced with a sneak peek of the event’s second-to-last obstacle, Kong, which just so happened to be the brand’s newest attraction for 2017.
I felt perfectly fine a few minutes into Tough Mudder. I’m not a runner but I kept a steady pace for about two miles before we hit our first obstacle: crawling in the mud to avoid contact with the barbed wire above us. It was fun and a great foreshadowing of all the mud that was to come in the next four hours.
An obstacle came every few miles. Some were fun, like The Block Ness Monster, which had Mudders help one another push, pull and roll their way through 60-feet of slick, rotating barriers — all while splashing into muddy water.
Others were grueling, like the Electroshock Therapy course, which asks participants to run through a field of live wires. I chose to carefully walk through the obstacle when it was my turn in order to avoid as many wires as possible. I was still shocked twice.
But my proudest moment of the whole ordeal? Conquering Everest 2.0 with the help of my wonderful teammates. At 15 feet, this obstacle called for each participant to run as fast as they could to attempt to run up its recurved top. As I awaited my turn, I noticed a pattern. Almost every person reached their hand for help from those who had already made it to the top of Everest 2.0. We all did the same. I was the last of our group to go. I ran halfway, reached my hand up, but was unable to grasp my teammates’ hands. I slid back down and tried again. The same thing happened before I took a deeper breath and went once more on my third try. I made it to the top! The strangers who stood behind me in line cheered, my teammates hugged me, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel empowered.
It was difficult, but not just for physical reasons. Yes, it was exhausting (I fell asleep after taking a 40-minute shower, while examining my bruises and blisters), but what I completely underestimated was the required mental endurance. I found myself hesitating when it was my turn. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do pull-ups (even though I really can’t do more than two, tops), but the fact that doing pull-ups meant I was that much farther from the ground. My fear of heights got the best of me.
But there was an upside: I did take on a handful of obstacles that I 100 percent would have avoided well over a year ago. And for that, I’m proud.
Verdict: You don’t need to be in the best shape of your life to participate. You just need to be willing to let your fears take a 4-hour hiatus to embrace something totally foreign — because it’s not every day you get to jump into a pool of ice water, after all. While I didn’t complete every obstacle, I did take on well over half of them and have every intention of returning next year to do it all over again.