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A woman helps a teammate over the final obstacle of the Mud Mile portion of the course. (2014 and 2013 photos by Chuck Nowlen/Hudson Star-Observer and Tough Mudder Inc.)

Pumped-up competitors, team spirit mark Tough Mudder in St. Joseph

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It didn’t take long Saturday morning, July 19, for first-timers to get a taste of how Tough Mudder is different from other endurance challenges: They had to climb over a seven-foot wall before they could even get to the starting line.

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“You’ve tried a marathon…you’ve tried a triathlon…well, let me tell you… this ain’t that!” a pumped-up official shouted into a microphone to each group of competitors at Game Unlimited in St. Joseph, drawing cheers during the 20-minute orientation/psych-up sessions that followed.

With the Red Hot Chili Peppers and other high-octane music blaring in the background, the first group of about 500 packed the starting area around 7:30 a.m. to get last weekend’s Twin Cities Tough Mudder underway.

They kick-stretched their legs and paced in small circles in anticipation. They pounded their thighs, chests and abs with their fists. They hugged and power-shook each other’s hands as the official stoked their emotions.

“I’m telling you … you all inspire the hell out of me!” he shouted at one point before showcasing the $6.5 million the event has raised for the Wounded Warrior Project to date, pointing out competitors who had finished more than 10 Tough Mudders and ordering the group to pound out 10, then 20, then 30 pushups in the dirt and grass.

Organizers reported late Sunday that more than 10,000 attended Saturday’s Tough Mudder. Another 5,000 showed up for day two. About 80 percent were competitors.

By all accounts, the event went smoothly, with no serious injuries or other incidents, although traffic moved slowly early Saturday for the last two or three miles of what was billed as the “preferred route” to the 900-acre site from Interstate 94 along county highways A and E.

Diverse crowd

“It was just very well-run,” said town of St. Joseph EMS Chief Tim O’Brien, who checked in at the event periodically July 19-20 with Fire Chief Ron Burton, Second Assistant Chief Ryan Flattum, and former EMS Chief and First Assistant Fire Chief Tom Carlson.

“Traffic was heavy early on, but it kept moving -- I think it took me about 20 minutes to get into the parking area Saturday morning,” O’Brien added. “There weren’t a lot of injuries, just scrapes and bruises, and maybe a few turned ankles. Sunday was the hotter day, but there weren’t any dehydration issues at all.”

According to the Tough Mudder website, the weekend generated an estimated $2 million to $10 million for the local economy.

Some competitors were ultra-buff. Some were not so buff, and a few weren’t even close. About 30 percent were women.

They weren’t all young fitness fanatics either.

“I’m 65. This is my 12th Tough Mudder,” retiree Bill Redmond, of Escondido, Calif., said matter-of-factly as he waited with his green-kilted, 45-year-old son John, a native of Olathe, Kan. Saturday was John’s 14th race.

Asked why they’d traveled across the country for the Twin Cities event, the elder Redmond replied simply through his bushy grey Fu Manchu mustache: “This is what we do.”

By the end of the 10-mile obstacle course –- which featured a long monkey-climb over a vast, deep water pit; a sprint up a greased, 15-foot quarter pipe; hand-walks along 10 yards of parallel bars and much, much more -- they would all be exhausted, covered with mud and maybe a little bruised and scratched here and there.

Team approach

“Be prepared to get very muddy,” warned a “What to do on the day” flier that was sent out to participants beforehand. “There’s a good chance you’ll want to throw away the clothes and shoes you wear.”

A group spirit was everywhere, one of Tough Mudder’s primary goals. Most Tough Mudder participants run the grueling “World’s Toughest Obstacle Course” as part of a team.

“I think one reason we’ve grown so much is that people really identify with doing it as a group,” Tough Mudder Head of Communications Ben Johnson said in an interview from the site after Sunday’s conclusion.

“This is not so individualistic or centered around individual times. People here are mainly motivated by overcoming challenges as a team.”

The starting-area official drove that point home often before sending the first group on its way just before 8 a.m.

“We don’t care about your time…this is about toughness!” he shouted over the constant heavy-metal din.

“We have people with diabetes here! We have people trying to overcome PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) here! We have people who are trying to lose a lot of extra weight here!“ Long pause amid a swell of cheers. “And let me tell you …they are all your brothers and sisters!”

A few exchanged shouts of “boohyah!” later, they were off.

The next group of 500 or so climbed the wall and packed in the starting area within 30 minutes.

And so it went, all day long.

Asked early Sunday evening whether Tough Mudder will return to the St. Joseph site next year, Johnson said: “Obviously, it went wonderfully here this year from our perspective, so we’d love to come back. We check back (with local officials) after each event, and that’s something we’ll all look at over the next few weeks. Then we’ll start planning for 2015.”

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Chuck Nowlen
Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.
(715) 808-8286
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