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Tough Mudder event lives up to its name in Rocky Mountains


 Steve Kopff, a two-year participant of the Tough Mudder in Beaver Creek, Colorado, moves through a watered-down muddy pit while dealing with electrical wires in the Electric Eel obstacle

Steve Kopff, a two-year participant of the Tough Mudder in Beaver Creek, Colorado, moves through a watered-down muddy pit while dealing with electrical wires in the Electric Eel obstacle

By Loren Kopff

Tough Mudder logo

Tough Mudder logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BEAVER CREEK, CO-They come in droves from across the nation and all around the world. They show up as individuals and as teams of two, three, four, and more decked out in matching colors representing their places of employment and colleges they attend.

They are affectionately called “Mudders”; men and women of all ages who participate in the Tough Mudder race in many locations across the world. The Tough Mudder is just that-tough and muddy. Since 2010, the Tough Mudder has elevated itself to one of the most brutal, gut-wrenching, non-timed races around. It’s a race that will test your mental strength more than your physical ability, although you do need to be willing enough to run 10-12 miles up and down hills, mountains and on flat surfaces. The Tough Mudder is not for the weak. Mudders will go through over 20 grueling obstacles that were designed by the British Special Forces. Just in 2013 alone, there are 39 Tough Mudder races scheduled in North America and another 14 worldwide.

One of the obstacles at the Tough Mudder in the serene, ski resort of Beaver Creek, Colorado with the highest point of the course nearing 9,000 feet above sea level is the Electric Eel. It is there where Mudders crawl, or roll, across a muddy pit with water hoping not to get zapped too many times by the numerous electrical wires dangling just inches above their bodies. There are other obstacles like the Funky Monkey, in which you cross a series of monkey bars across a water pit, Walk The Plank, in which participants climb a 12 foot wooden platform before jumping into cold water below and swimming to the exit, Hold Your Wood, in which you carry a heavy log over a section of a trail that makes up a ¼ mile loop and the Berlin Walls, where participants scale a series of 10 foot wooden walls.

“We love being here,” said Jane Di Leo, spokesperson for the Tough Mudder. “First of all, it’s a beautiful location. Second of all, there are just really excited participants. It’s definitely a family friendly environment. People are coming out to the resort, coming out to the area, staying for the weekend and making a vacation out of it. We love it.”

Last year, over 460,000 people with an average age of 29 participated in 36 Tough Mudders across the world. Di Leo expects over 750,000 this year. Last Saturday, the Beaver Creek location drew approximately 10,500 participants and another 3,500 the next day. Waves of 500 people start in increments of 20 minutes from 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Di Leo said it takes a few weeks from beginning to end to set up the 20 obstacles at Beaver Creek. She added that the Tough Mudder has a team dedicated to finding and selecting locations throughout the world.

“All of our courses are different and all of our locations are different” Di Leo said. “Beaver Creek, what makes it unique, is the high altitude. Just being in Colorado is a little bit different. You have streams, you have a little bit different terrain and it’s beautiful.”

One of the participants in last weekend’s Tough Mudder is Steven Kopff, a 12-year resident of Parker, just outside of Denver, who was making his second straight appearance in the Tough Mudder. Last year, a friend told him about the Tough Mudder and Kopff, who has also participated in the Military Spartan Sprint in Fort Carson, Colo. and the timed, 5K Copper Warrior Dash in Copper Mountain, decided to try the Tough Mudder.

“The thing I love about it is it’s not a timed event,” Kopff said. “It’s about camaraderie; about helping your fellow person over a wall. It’s about doing it as a team, although I did it with one person. Most people are doing it with three to 10 people on an average.”

Last year, Kopff ran the Tough Mudder with a co-worker and ran harder than this year’s race, which he did with a female friend. This year, he said he just took it easy due to a knee injury and as a result, finished the race in nearly five hours. The average time a Mudder finishes the race is three and a half hours. Kopff says his favorite obstacle is the Funky Monkey while his least favorites are the Arctic Enema, where you jump into a dumpster of dyed ice water with a divider in the middle and climb under the divider before exiting the dumpster and the Electroshock Therapy, similar to the Electric Eel but instead of crawling through the mud, you simply sprint through a series of overhead strands of string charged with a pulsing electric charge, powered by an electric fence battery system. That’s the final obstacle before crossing the finish line.

“I liked last year’s course better but I think this year had more water obstacles,” Kopff said. “There were things about last year’s [Tough Mudder] that were fun, but there were things about this year that were fun.”

“You’re really putting your fitness to a different test,” Di Leo said. “It’s not just running in a straight line. It’s really about testing your all around strengths, stability and flexibility. It’s more fun to get outdoors and do that.”

The Tough Mudder is also in conjunction with the Wounded Warrior Project and in the first three years of the event, the Wounded Warrior Project has raised over $5.5 million. Di Leo said that the Tough Mudder was looking for a charity partner; something that resonated with what Tough Mudder is doing when the Tough Mudder race first started. It’s not uncommon to see someone in a wheelchair or someone with one arm participate in the Tough Mudder. The popularity of the Tough Mudder is nothing short of amazing, starting with 20,000 participants in 2010 when there were just three Tough Mudder races, to over 460,000 in 36 races last year. Over 75 percent of Mudders complete the race and about 80 percent of the participants race as a team.

“These guys and gals come back and they are just amazing,” Di Leo said. “We have a Wounded Warrior team running in every event and our participants help raise money for Wounded Warrior projects.”

“Everybody does Tough Mudders for their own personal reasons,” Kopff said. “For me, it’s self reward, accomplishment and it gives me reason to go to the gym and to run. I train anywhere from three to six miles, then one or two times I build it up to eight to 11 miles. It’s hard to split yourself to run but I would say running is probably one of the most important training things you can do for this, and running with some vertical.”

“Train, for sure train,” he added. “I’d say do it at your own pace. Have fun with it and know that it’s not a race. It’s more about accomplishing it. A lot of the obstacles are mental more than physical like jumping in ice water.”

There are Tough Mudder races virtually every weekend until the middle of November with one in San Diego Nov. 9-10. The next six Tough Mudders in North America are nearly sold out for Saturdays and over 60 percent sold for Sundays.

“I’m going to go on record and say that it’s probably a lot harder doing it in a ski resort in Beaver Creek, Colorado versus somewhere flat like Indiana,” Kopff said. “They do them all year round in different places. But for me, doing it in a ski resort is just that more rewarding. Also, the scenery is breathtaking in every direction.”


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