Couch to Tough Mudder: My Journey

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Couch to Tough Mudder - Photo of Tough Mudder's Everest Obstacle

I slipped on my sneakers in the dim light, quietly making my way out of the house to avoid waking my three children still slumbering in the early morning hours. Walking to the end of the driveway, I paused for a moment and then began to run.

It felt good, the blood pumping, ground moving quickly beneath me, cool air in my face. It was a familiar sensation, one that I had grown to both love and hate in my school track days.

Then like a freight train, the reality of my situation hit me. My lungs and legs began screaming, “WTF are you doing to us???!!!” Panting, pain shooting through my side, I slowed down, stopped, and looked back. My heart sank. I had moved less than 50 yards, less than half the length of a football field. How had I allowed myself to get to this point???

Have you woken up to find yourself in this situation? Overweight and out of shape, wondering how you allowed yourself to get there? Keep reading. I hope my story will inspire and give you the tools to equip you for your journey from Couch to Tough Mudder.

A Wake-Up Call

A few weeks earlier, my wife of 15 years, mother of my 3 children, had unexpectedly announced that she wanted a divorce.

In my early 30s at the time, this was a wake-up call for me. I opened my eyes and looked around, seeing things clearly for the first time in a long time. I looked down and realized that I was now 40lbs overweight after having been ultra skinny most of my life. I looked around and realized that I was deeply unhappy, on autopilot going through the motions of every day. I started to reach out to friends to talk and realized I had very few left. With my personal life in shambles, I made a conscious decision and commitment to change.

The Beginning of a New Healthier Me

Heart still pumping hard after idling for the last five years, I continued to walk down the road, the early morning fresh air and short run having awakened something in me that had been missing for a long time. I reflected on my life as I walked a bit farther. Weary now and feeling more than a bit discouraged about the run, I turned around and trudged back home to begin waking up my girls for school.

Over the next few months, I continued to put on my shoes most mornings and even some evenings, and I found myself going a little farther each day. It became a game to see if I could make it to the next telephone pole. I installed the MyFitnessPal app on my phone and started eating a little healthier.

A Tough Mudder Challenge Issued

I went to counseling, and then to a DivorceCare support group as it became obvious that my marriage was over. It was there that I met Tim, a fellow dad who had also stumbled into some hard times. He said he had been considering doing a Tough Mudder this fall. I asked what it was, and he said it was a long muddy obstacle course. That actually sounded fun, so without hesitation, I said, “I'm in!” Looking a little taken aback which surprised me a little, Tim said, “Let's do it!” Committed now and feeling good about myself for taking on a challenge, I finished out the session. Later that night, I pulled up this video on YouTube.


Now I knew why Tim seemed a little surprised when I enthusiastically agreed to run a Tough Mudder with him. I thought briefly about finding an excuse to back out as any sane person would do, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Barely able to run a mile now, I knew I was in deep shit, and I needed to get my rear in gear if I wasn't going to get seriously hurt.

Challenge Accepted, Queue The Rocky Music

That night, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, and signed up for a 5k a few months away to hold myself accountable. I also ordered P90X. It was time to get myself back in shape (queue the rocky music).

Unfortunately, I was much more like the old guy in pain after lifting a tiny dumbbell at 0:25 in the video than Rocky… Oh well, I figured if I worked hard enough I could do it, even if I wasn't a spring chicken anymore.

The next day, I started running using the Couch to 5K app. This was actually fairly easy to use, and I felt like I was progressing pretty well. I received P90X a few weeks later, and started doing that as well. It was tough to find the time, within a few days I was wondering how I could possibly fit in an hour and a half workout combined with another half hour or more of running each day, but somehow I figured it out and stuck to it. In retrospect I wish I had started with Insanity, which is much shorter but higher intensity. I used Insanity for my second and third Tough Mudder and liked it better as it helped a lot with my cardio and the constant up and down grind of the course.

Completed a 5K Race

I showed up at the 5k I had signed up for. I had run several 5ks at this point during training so I felt confident that I could complete it at least. Maybe I could even do pretty well, I had been running nearly every day now for months after all! Off the starting line, I watched as several people took off at what seemed like a sprint to me. I could probably catch them later after they wore out I thought. Slow and steady wins the race, right? I took off and held a slow steady pace. I never saw those guys again. Later I found out that they never slowed down and beat me by almost 15 minutes… I should have known what was going to happen from my old track days, slow and steady is certainly a good thing, but fast and steady wins races!!!

Slow and steady is good, but fast and steady wins races!

Overwhelmed, Only 4 Months To Go Before The Tough Mudder

The enormity of what I was trying to accomplish started to set in. I was not even remotely competitive in a 5k race, and I had but 4 months left to get myself in condition to run 4 back to back 5k's. That's 12 miles or nearly a half marathon. And not on the level dry ground, no, this half marathon was going to be through mud, water, up and down hills, and over obstacles. The Tough Mudder is designed to mess with your mind, it's as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one and it was starting to get to me. Feeling like giving up, I instead renewed my efforts.

A Renewed Committment

Now doing a second session of P90x for an hour and a half and running an hour or more every day, I felt myself getting stronger. I drank lots of protein shakes, and found creatine supplements which seemed to help me recover quicker. I researched shoes, and found the Salom Speedcross 3 trail runners, which were amazing in the mud. I only used them a little during training so they lasted me through all three Tough Mudders. Life interrupted on and off, kids and work tend to do that, but for the most part I was able to keep up with the regiment, fueled by fear of not being able to complete the challenge that I had agreed to.

My First Tough Mudder

The week of the Tough Mudder came, and I was feeling pretty good. Then it rained most of the week, and I knew the course would be even more of a challenge. Showing up onsite, I met my team and headed out. Before we even got to the start line, there was a wall to climb. It took me a few times before I scrambled over it, and my suspicions that I hadn't properly prepared started to sneak back up on me.

After a quick pep talk, we were off, running as a group to our first obstacle, a cold creek to wade through. No worries, I had grown up in rural Missouri so was used to that sort of thing, I passed with flying colors. Then the walls. Ugh, I hated those walls, greased with mud, they were tough, but with the help of my teammates I managed to get through (OK, full disclosure, one dude from my team practically threw me over. He was ACTUALLY in great shape).

10 miles later, I hit my first real barrier. My calves locked up while I was wading through another cold muddy creek. Panicked, I wasn't sure I could make it out. Repeatedly throwing myself against the bank, I finally managed to somehow squirm up the slippery slope without my legs which had given me the finger and went on strike. This is it I thought, the end of my journey. Well, at least I got most of the way through it. I could barely move my legs, it felt like I had torn something. My teammates gathered round, and suddenly feeling a fresh sense of determination, I waved them off and got back up and limped for the next mile. Miraculously my legs loosened up again and I was off.

I finished my first Tough Mudder, no rock star time, but at least I made it. I was back. I lost 10lbs that day which came back a few days later and it took two weeks to recover from that first event, but I had done it. I had lost about 35lbs in the last 9 months, packed on a bunch of muscle, and regained a sense of pride in who I was.

Me taking a break during the Tough Mudder Wounded Warrior Carry

After The First Tough Mudder

I went on to eventually complete two more Tough Mudders, and find myself as an individual again. My second Tough Mudder was by far the easiest, I'm pretty sure I could have gone a few more laps. I used Insanity instead of P90X to prepare for that one and I highly recommend using that as it takes less time and is better suited for these types of events in my opinion.

I joined Toastmasters, became involved with my church, built new friendships, and found my love of nature once again. I eventually remarried, and now have a wonderful wife and 5 kids. My physical journey from Couch to Tough Mudder was a challenge, but more than that, it was the start of a new life. A healthier life.

I hope my story will inspire you to write your own. Where are you at? Where do you want to be? If you aren't where you want to be, when will you start down that path?

The best time to start something is long ago, the second best time is now. What do you need to start today?

If you're interested in some practical tools you might use to take on this or any other physical challenge, check out my article 5 of the Best Tools to Get in Shape Fast. This outlines the best tools I've found to get in shape while completing these challenges.

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About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith founded this site, owns a technology company in the Midwestern USA, is a former bank director, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

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