Perhaps the most appealing aspect of sport is its ability to bring out the very best in people. Unfortunately, it can also bring out the very worst.
With the spotlight firmly fixed on the FIFA World Cup, soccer fans have enjoyed a bit of both. We’ve seen exciting and inspiring play from the upstart Costa Ricans who managed to oust former Cup champions Italy and England from the group of death, to the dramatic Greek victory over the Ivory Coast in extra time on Tuesday that hurled them into the Group of 16.
Contrast that to the Suarez biting incident and the English fans who refused to leave the stands after a dour 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, and competition on the whole seems at once inspiring and absurd, an ongoing tension between the ridiculous and the sublime.
However, one event manages to transcend the more coarse elements of this sporting paradox, that embraces participation and good sportsmanship over competitiveness and cheap play. It supports a higher ideal and proclaims no winners, and it is one of the most challenging events on the planet – the Tough Mudder.
The Mudder is a 20 kilometre military-style obstacle course devised by the British Forces to test mental as well as physical strength. Obstacles often play on common human fears, such as fire, water, electricity and heights.
I have written about others who have done the Mudder, like Fruitvale’s Russell Patterson who qualified and participated in the World’s Toughest Mudder, and Pride Gym’s Corey Colwell who has helped more than a few locals complete the event.
Yet, I never seriously contemplated taking part until my brother-in-law, Mitch, on some bleak winter’s day in January, suggested we do the Whistler Tough Mudder on June 21 (this past Saturday).
I surprisingly agreed, and we then recruited two more similarly gullible friends to join us.
Well, it took longer than I anticipated to get motivated, but by April I was running fairly regularly, having found an ideal trail that followed a gas line from the Salmo Ski Hill to Erie Lake, a scenic if not torturous run of steeps, runoffs, rivers, and mud that I thought might simulate the Whistler terrain.
In the end, it did prove helpful, because the course on Saturday was all up and down, beginning with a three kilometre run to the first obstacle, the ‘Arctic Enema,’ which was a C-can full of water and ice, and barriers that you had to swim under before emerging a walking Popsicle.
It didn’t get any better after that, more hills, more obstacles that ranged from scaling 12-foot walls, to crawling under razor wire, running more hills, ascending the ladder to hell, scurrying through mud and water-filled tunnels, clamoring over inclined walls, more hills, more obstacles, and still more hills, all with the panorama of the white-crested mountains looming in the distance. It was beautiful.
I started bleeding from my shins and elbows after the razor-wire crawl 5-k in, and pulled my groin at about 13-K. Yet, the kilometres ticked away. Helped and encouraged by teammates and strangers alike, we overcame the ensuing obstacles and kept a steady pace, until my teammate’s calves seized up close to the half-way mark. But he didn’t stop, he was slowed, yet, amazingly he kept going, never gave up despite the pain.
After 16-k they tried to kill us; as we ran, walked, and eventually almost crawled up an agonizingly steep hill about the height and slope of Red Mountain.
But we made it, and we finished as we started, running together just as fast as we could through a hanging forest of electric wires that sent a spear of pain through you with each and every contact, before bursting over the finish line into a host of volunteers, that would hand you a beer, adorn your head with the laurel of the coveted Mudder head band, take a photo, and deliver a high five. And as you stood there with your Mudder team, your friends, your beer, you felt like you had indeed accomplished something special.
Somewhere along the way I realized how much fun I was having despite the difficulty. Maybe the Mudder’s not for everyone, but it’s the challenge that counts. Doing something everyday that gives you a sense of satisfaction is important for your physical and mental health. Start small, try a short run, go for a bike ride, hike the antennae trail, or walk around Champion Lakes.
The Tough Mudder seemed an intimidating prospect until I heard that a good family friend, at age 79, was cycling from Sicamous to Whitehorse, Yukon, a distance of exactly 2,278 kilometres, for no other reason than he wanted to see if he could do it.
So get active, eventually, it may lead to bigger and muddier things.
Can’t wait for next year.