In search of World’s Toughest Mudder at Lake Las Vegas

It’s known as one of the most extreme endurance events in the world, and this weekend 1,300 competitors from around the world will take on its 5-mile loop course at Lake Las Vegas with 25 brutal and grueling obstacles in a bid to be crowned “Toughest on the Planet.”

In addition to the title, there’s a grand prize of $100,000 for a winning team that completes at least 100 miles together. The event is timed over the course for 24 hours to find the World’s Toughest Mudder. The runners take on Las Vegas desert terrain, steep hills, mud pits, the lake and 12 miles of military-style obstacles.

It’s the third consecutive year the event has taken place here. It starts at noon Saturday and ends about 1 p.m. Sunday. For the first time, four-member teams will participate in a relay format with at least half of team members required to be on the course at all times. Last year’s winners were Ryan Atkins and Amelia Boone, now featured in Oberto jerky commercials.

“Last year’s event offered competitors an unparalleled challenge with grueling raw terrain, erratic weather conditions and matchless obstacles,” event innovation director Nolan Kombol explained. “This year we have even more in store.”

New this year: “Electroshock Therapy,” where competitors run a gauntlet of 10,000-volt, charged dangling wires; “cry baby” crawl through tear gas; and 12-foot pendulum swing into water. Contestants pay $220 for registration.

Perhaps the worst obstacle is “Arctic Enema,” a bath into freezing water after a short slide down under a chain-link fence. The water is so cold, competitors’ muscles freeze, and they suffer brain freeze.

There also is a “Ladder to Hell” and “Greased Lightning” that takes them through a pit of mud. Another has just a muddy rope to help them scale a 12-foot wall angled to face them rather than just vertical.

Las Vegas residents are entered. Claudine Grant, public-relations executive for The Venetian and The Palazzo, told me that she’s ready: “I work out five to six days a week doing a combination of cross-fit and running.

“The best training for me is cross-fit. It builds strength and power and is super intense. You do squats, push-ups, pull-ups, weightlifting, rope climbing, running, rowing, and the list of torture, I mean fun, goes on and on.

“Cross-fit can be a love/hate relationship. Sometimes it’s so hard you hate it, and other times when you accomplish a personal goal and you are dripping with sweat and feel exhausted but can’t stop smiling, that is the best feeling in the world. Plus, James, Mike and Eric from Kaizen Crossfit are the best coaches anyone could have.”

I asked Claudine, who has run seven Tough Mudders, what the experience was the first time: “I was terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was scared that I wasn’t fast or strong enough. Some of the obstacles scared me, such as ‘Artic Enema.’ You jump in a pool of ice water, swim under a wooden barrier and climb out the other side.

“What was I thinking? But I jumped in that monster mess of ice because I signed up for it and said I wouldn’t quit. I now know what a human Popsicle feels like. It is the most bizarre sensation, and once you get out, you start running again. It’s an adrenaline rush.

“Hard to believe but when we finished, I was sad that it was over. It was so much fun. Cody Taylor and I are the only ones from the first team who have continued with Mudder madness. Everyone else quit.

“So I joined another Las Vegas team. For my second Mudder, I decided to train for ‘Artic Enema.’ One cold day in February, I went for a run, came home, jumped into a freezing, unheated pool in my workout gear and runners and did six laps. I shivered for the rest of the afternoon, but that really helped me for the next race to mentally prepare.”

Claudine doesn’t believe in quitting a race. She told me: “Quitting has never been an option once the race begins. It is so much fun crawling in mud with friends and feeling like a badass.”

Two million people have participated in Tough Mudders. The average age is 29 to 35, and female competitors make up about 35 percent of the participants. Claudine, who has raced Tough Mudders in Beatty, Lake Tahoe and Lake Las Vegas, said:

“My favorite part of Tough Mudder is the camaraderie. This race is not timed. It’s all about sticking together with your team and cheering each other on. Everyone has an obstacle they fear, and when you see your teammate break through that fear, it is the best.

“Mudder is not just physical. It’s also a mental challenge. I never thought that I would pay someone money to go in ice water, run under live wires at electric shock therapy, slide through a ring of fire or be tear gassed, but I have. Some of my friends think I need my head examined.

“It’s hard to mentally prepare for Mudder. You just have to trust that you can do it.”

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