Victory and struggle for UMD student training for Tough Mudder

In a few weeks, while other college graduates are donning their cap and gown, I will be stomping through the mud, falling into icy waters and running through a field of live wires. Some competitors sign up for Tough Mudder to prove that they are tough, fearless, and never give up. I signed up for the 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces so that I can’t give up.

Last summer I tipped the scales at 235 pounds. That weight was built around a 6-foot-2-inch frame, but it was a far way from my weight prior to college, which was 190 pounds.

College living had taken its toll.

In high school I was always active. Most of the summer and fall my days were spent on the football field. I was at practice five times a week, which ranged from a few hours to all day.

When I wasn’t at school or at practice I was hanging out with friends. All we cared about was sports, so hanging out usually meant playing basketball or a pick up game of football. We lived in the suburbs so finding space to play basketball or football wasn’t hard.

With constant physical activity healthy eating didn’t seem to matter. I could eat what I wanted and I would still be fit. All of that would change when I went to college.

Collegiate living

I wasn’t a good enough athlete to be on any college teams so all of my physical activity would be on me. I had no coach to tell me to run laps, or to hit the weight room, all I had was free time to do with what I wanted.

At first I was relatively active. I tried to play basketball a couple times a week and found free time to play football. As the schoolwork got harder, my time was more often spent studying and doing homework.

Moving to a new city also had a negative impact on my physical activity. Finding an area to be outside became more difficult. There were less open areas for me to go play football and the few basketball courts were always crowded. This meant that hanging out turned into playing video games more often than not.

At the end of my junior year of college I finally saw how unhealthy I had become. My clothes weren’t fitting anymore and even playing a pick up game of basketball left me exhausted. I decided that I needed to make a change so I started going to the gym.

Losing the weight

My friends from high school were always at the gym so going there was fun. We would go five or six times a week and joke around and have a good time. The conversations of “what are we going to do tomorrow?” turned into “what time are we going to the gym?”

A few of my close friends had become fitness buffs so they helped me lose weight. They had me buying all the latest in protein powders and pre workout mixes. One of my friends even sat down with me and set up a diet plan. He had me eating lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole wheat, all things I should have known and done before.

With the help of my friends I was going to the gym constantly and eating healthier. I was losing weight fast. Some weeks I would lose upwards of five pounds. Everything seemed easy, but there were no obstacles in my way. There were no classes to go to, no homework, and probably most importantly, I had my friends with me.

Summer ended and it was back to college. I did my best to stay healthy. I was making fruit smoothies daily, eating vegetables, cooking lean meat, and I was still going to the gym. It was easy at first, but I soon fell back into the same rut.

Old habits are hard to break

I was taking 19 credits and working part time at the Statesman, so most of my days were spent at school. Homework started piling up and so did my excuses to skip the gym, or to just order out instead of spending 10-20 minutes in the kitchen. I was swapping my protein shakes and smoothies with beer, and my vegetables were whatever I ordered on my pizza.

The tipping point came when I went home for winter break. I was hanging out with a few friends and we were going to go out to the bars. I went to my closet to throw on a hoodie and I reached for my favorite hoodie, a bright red one with the words “Always be dopeness” on the back. This is my favorite hoodie because it was the first thing I bought after I lost weight, and because it is from my favorite rapper/comedian Childish Gambino.

I threw on my hoodie and realized it was a little tight, but I wore it anyway. When I rejoined my friends one of them made a joke about how tight it is. I took a second look and realized that it was way too tight. I didn’t realize that it didn’t fit anymore, just like I didn’t realize that I had gone back to my unhealthy ways. I needed to make a change and stop making excuses.

My friends that had helped me lose the weight were kicking around the idea of doing Tough Mudder. They showed me videos of people falling in the mud, crawling underneath barbed wire, and my first thought was that it looked fun. Then I did some research and saw that it is a 12-mile obstacle course, and my interest all but completely dies.

As a new semester starts I find myself again struggling with my schedule and going to the gym. I begin to see that I will almost inevitably fall back into my bad habits. I begin thinking of Tough Mudder again. Maybe training for Tough Mudder could be a way to break the cycle, after all, fear of failing Tough Mudder could be enough to keep me going to the gym.

Training for the battle

I begin to look into Tough Mudder. I watch the videos, I read articles on it, and the prospect of doing it scares me as much as it intrigues me. The more I read about it, the more I realize that it is all about teamwork. There are individual obstacles like rope climbing and carrying a log up a hill, but there are others where you need your friends to get you past. At one point there are 12 foot high walls that you would need to have a boost from a friend. Now when I watch the videos I see people helping each other up, giving someone a push to get them through. I now know that this event is for me.

Now comes the toughest point in my journey, running. My history of running comes from team sports like hockey and football. I am used to short bursts and rest. The only long running I am used to has been tied to punishment. Missed practice - run laps. Penalty - run laps. Needless to say, I hate it.

After consulting with a few of my friends who are used to running long distance, being able to run eight miles is my goal. Shit. I can barely run a mile without getting bored or wanting to stop.

But I signed up for Tough Mudder already so I can’t turn back now. So I set out with a plan to run two or three times a week until I reach eight miles. Each day I try to find a way to make running tolerable. I try different music, I run on the treadmill while watching tv, but nothing seems to work. I finally decide to listen to an audio book while I run and it seems to work.

After a few weeks I am up to three miles when I hit another speed bump. My knees are bothering me to the point to where I am prescribed muscle relaxers and told to stop running for a week, which means I will be off my feet for two weeks as it took me a week before I finally decided to see a doctor.

This brings back all of my fears of not being able to complete Tough Mudder. Then something happens that calms my fears. Childish Gambino breaks his ankle. He postpones his tour, a tour that I planned on going to. The new date for his concert is May 10, a day after my birthday, and nine days before Tough Mudder. Now I am not one for seeing signs from divine intervention but I take this as a sign just to ease my fears.

After I while I hit the five-mile mark and start to think that I may actually be able to complete Tough Mudder. But as always I find a way to worry again. I find an article online that brings my fears back. The article shows the ten toughest obstacles and claims that Tough Mudder could be the toughest challenge in the world.

The article shows people crawling through the Boa Constrictor, a series of pipes that aren’t very big (I am extremely claustrophobic), people running through live wires, and running up a slippery half pipe.

I start to panic a bit so I go on Skype and talk to my friend Luke who is also going to compete in Tough Mudder. I start telling him how I don’t think I can do it, how I cant climb a rope, how I don’t think I can run eight miles, all my fears come pouring out. Then Luke says something to calm me in true Tough Mudder spirit.

“If you don’t get up the half pipe, I’ll throw you up.”


To follow James to the finish, read his blog for updates on the May 19 event.  


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