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What's It's Like to Train For Tough Mudder Race

From "Soft Mommy" to Tough Mudder: What It's Like to Train For the "Toughest Event on the Planet"

We are excited to share one of our fave stories from espnW here on FitSugar!

By Valerie Gordon

Valerie Gordon was never one to exercise restraint when it came to her sweet tooth, but at age 40 she realized her waistline had gotten out of control and turned to a Tough Mudder to get her body back.

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November 17, 2011
I celebrated my 40th birthday last year with a return to my favorite city, New York, and a get together with friends. We toasted with champagne and indulged in cake. I'm sure I had seconds. I've always wished I could be one of those women satiated by one small square of dark chocolate daily, but in reality, I'm more of a king-size Kit Kat kind of gal. For most of my life, I was athletic and thin and my metabolism helped balance my sweet tooth. Then, the decades caught up with me.

Facing 40, I was far from fit. I was, as my 5-year-old daughter pronounced when she poked my stomach, "Soft Mommy." Three years earlier, we had moved from the city to the far suburbs. I drove everywhere, sat all day at a desk and rarely visited the gym. When I did, I'd loll on the elliptical for a half-hour, lazily flipping through a magazine, and call it exercise. After foot surgery, I gave up the gym altogether.


I put my energy into work and family and dropped my health to last on the list. The scale went up, just a few pounds at first, and then a few more. I took advantage of vanity sizing and insisted the dry cleaner was shrinking my sweaters. It wasn't until my plus-size contractor, who himself looked like he was in his third trimester, inquired when I was due, that reality hit me: I was no longer who I once was and who I wanted to be. I had let myself go.

Around the same time, my marathon-running, triathlon-competing, low-carb eating (and therefore somewhat annoying) husband signed up with his like-minded brothers and a few male friends for a Tough Mudder race. We decided to make a weekend out of the spring event at Mount Snow in Vermont. The families would come and cheer the guys along the 10-mile, 28-obstacle course. On a mountain. In the mud.

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For those unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, this is no fun run. Billed as "Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet," Tough Mudder courses are designed by British military and include freezing water, fire, electroshocks and — of course — lots of mud. A Tough Mudder video showed shirtless Marine-like men traversing monkey bars, carrying tree-trunk sized logs up a mountain and army-crawling beneath barbed wire. It looked fierce, impossible and & oddly appealing.

Read on for more of Valerie's journey from "Soft Mommy" to Tough Mudder after the break.

And that's when my pasta-laden brain did something crazy. It convinced me that I, too, needed to complete a Mudder. I didn't want to be Soft Mommy. I wanted to be a Tough Mudder. I told my husband I wouldn't spectate, I would participate. I plunked down the $135 entry fee and joined their all-male team, determined to either keep up with the group or go at it alone. I had less than six months to prepare, 30 pounds to lose and a pair of trail-running shoes to purchase.

Sure, I could have started simpler. Maybe a series of Zumba classes. Or a 5K for charity. But the more I learned about the Tough Mudder, the more I was convinced it was exactly what I needed and something truly terrifying to jump-start my routine. I wanted — no, I needed — to know I was the kind of person who could train for and complete this event. But to prepare, I'd need some help. I joined a local CrossFit program that offered 5:30 a.m. workouts, the only time I figured I could commit before each day got the best of me. I struggled to get out of bed for my 4:45 a.m. alarm and squeezed into old yoga pants and a T-shirt. At CrossFit, the workouts are short but intense. I scoffed at the 13-minute AMRAP ("as many reps as possible") of push-ups, squats and lunges. Three minutes in, I was keeled over, jelly-legged, sweat-laden. I wanted to go back to bed. Well, no one said this was going to be easy.

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One nutritionist visit later, I learned to lose weight I should aim for 1,400 calories per day. I was embarrassed to admit I probably ingested that much each afternoon in M&M's alone. I was encouraged to dump my daily glass of wine in favor drinking one a week. Around the same time, my fit husband visited his primary care physician for a checkup and learned his good cholesterol was low. "What I want you to do," the doctor instructed him, "Is have a glass of wine daily." Well, no one said this was going to be fair.

My new routine could have easily gone by the wayside, to the graveyard of good intentions, except for one thing: I began to see results. I learned how to deadlift and back squat. I discovered I like the rowing machine, mostly because you get to sit down while using it. I cut cheese from my diet and find I don't miss it as much as I thought I would.

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After one month my pants no longer left angry marks on my stomach. The scale dropped, then dropped again: five pounds gone, then 10. My stomach flattened and this made my daughter cry because I no longer looked pregnant and she had really wanted a little sister. The workouts never got easier, but I began to lift heavier, run faster and dread the early alarm less. My body began asking me to move it and I obliged. Fifteen pounds gone. I rewarded myself with $95 Lululemon running capris with just the right amount of stretch to show off the results of all those squats.

But all along, the race loomed in the back of my mind. I became obsessed with all things Tough Mudder. I watched YouTube videos of obstacles from water-filled tunnels to the balance beam. I researched the best dry-fit gear. I even Googled "Has anyone died during the Tough Mudder?" and made sure my life insurance was up to date. Some things scared me. Hills. Heights. Hypothermia. Even down 20 pounds from where I began, I don't think I truly believed I could get through the course. But I knew I had to.

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Read the rest of Valerie's journey (including what the actual race was like!) over at espnW

espnW — connecting female sports fans to the sports they love and follow.

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