To the uninitiated, running through one of Tough Mudder’s mud-soaked obstacle courses may seem like a trial for joining the world’s biggest frat race. More than 10,000 people may line up at any given event to soak in a tub of ice, crawl under barbed wire, or deal with electric shocks. Even though the first race took place only three years ago, organizers expect 400,000 people to compete in 36 events in 2012.
To understand Tough Mudder’s rapidly spreading appeal, you must look at the event format, designed after British Special Forces exercises. Each event covers approximately 10 to 12 miles, with 35 military obstacles thrown in to test your strength and thermoregulatory system. Some of the things you might conquer: the Chernobyl Jacuzzi, a neon-colored ice bath resembling radioactive waste; Electroshock Therapy, a field of wires juiced up with 10,000 volts of electricity; and Everest, a quarter-pipe covered in cooking spray that requires teamwork to get up.
Going it alone is nearly impossible. Tough Mudder ditches the every-man-for-himself mentality in favor of a leave-no-man behind mantra that has inspired a new wave of endurance fanaticism. Forget 26.2 bumper stickers; more than 1,000 people have tattooed Tough Mudder’s logo onto their bodies—some of them in groups.
“It feels like you’ve accomplished something—like you’ve been through a war with your buddies,” says six-time “Mudder” Andy Thom. “I have a bond with my teammates that I don’t have with my wife—until she does her first Tough Mudder next year.”