I wrote earlier about the Tough Mudder obstacle courses that have attracted 500,000 people in just two years to these incredibly demanding physical challenges now at 28 different locations. Russ St. Hilaire has done three of them in just the last year. He also teaches kobukai jujitsu at his dojo in East Hartford, Ct., which you can learn about at his web site.
The Tough Mudder—what can I say? The name says it all. It is very muddy and it is very tough! 10-12 miles of dirt and cold and water and mud and suffering. It would be just as easy to do a 10-mile road race and only suffer a little sweat and tired feet. But no—I had to go find the toughest race on the planet. Why, you may ask? Well I think everyone has their own reasons for wanting to torture themselves for 3-4 hours, but I had some of my own specific reasons.
A little background first. I have been practicing and teaching one of the most physically demanding martial arts in the world: Jujitsu, for over 30 years. In that amount of time I have achieved a 7th degree black belt, and have accumulated numerous hematomas, injured elbows, a neck injury, and a knee injury resulting in surgery. So you see—maybe there is something a little “off” in my head already.
But it was natural for me to want this physical challenge. My own parents brought it on. They took me hiking and rock climbing and camping, since I was a little kid. I grew up feeling like hiking the White Mountains was natural. Swimming in freezing cold mountain rivers was just something we did and enjoyed. Later in life, I took on swimming as a sport in high school and did very well, going to several state championships. After that I took up weight lifting and fitness as a hobby, as well as the martial arts. After receiving my black belt, I joined the Army. Why? Because I wanted the challenge. I loved the long ruck marches. I loved the obstacle courses. I loved rappelling out of a helicopter. I wasn’t a big runner, but I could hold my own.
Now decades later, I still train and teach Jujitsu three or four times a week. I still lift weights. I still run. I still camp and hike the mountains. But I wanted more of a challenge.
So there I was a couple years ago—49 years old, doing all of these physical activities. Physically fighting with men 10 and 20 years younger than me in Jujitsu several times a week. Taking my whole dojo on crazy runs up hills, through the woods, across rail yards, in the snow—and I felt good! I still felt good! I wanted more.
Just by luck someone told be about a 5k Mud Run put on by Merrill. I gave it a try, having no idea what to expect. It had a dozen obstacles and some mud and runs through the woods. I had a blast—but it was way too easy. Then my girlfriend’s son Sean told me about a race he just heard formed called the Tough Mudder. I researched it and found out just how crazy it was supposed to be—and immediately signed up. That was a year and three Tough Mudders ago! I found the type of physical and mental challenge I was looking for. Plus it combined teamwork and camaraderie. It attracted military and fitness folks, and it gave money to the Wounded Warrior Project. It was—well—perfect!
Here is Russ and his buddies walking and falling in the mud. You really get a sense of how gritty and sloppy this particular obstacle is. Ready to do it yourself?
One of the key things that attracted me was that with each successive race, I began to see more and more people 50+ years of age taking on the challenge. They, like me, had kept very active over their lifetime and still craved the physical challenge. Many of them were smoking the young guns on the course. That really sparks something in me. It shows me that age is just a thing. It happens. But it doesn’t have to happen the way we are taught growing up. You don’t have to become frail and feeble and doddering. You can be active and an athlete well into your oldest senior years! (Part 2 posts tomorrow)