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Kate Bourassa struggles across the water on a wire course that was just one aspect of the Tough Mudder competition in Merimac on July 23.

Tough Mudder mania: Local race fans catch the fever

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It's hard to believe anyone could become addicted to crawling under barbed wire, jumping into ice water and running through hundreds of electrical wires, but for two New Richmond women, they can't get enough.

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Darla Britzius and Kate Bourassa participated in the Tough Mudder event at Devil's Head Resort in Merrimac on July 23. They said the event was one of the most physically challenging and mentally rewarding experiences of their lives. And they want more.

According to its website, Tough Mudder is probably the toughest event on the planet. "Tough Mudder is not your average lame mud run or spirit-crushing 'endurance' road race. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie. Forget finish times. Simply completing a Tough Mudder is a badge of honor."

The workout partners and close friends heard about the event from one of Britzius' co-workers.

Britzius, a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, said she was shocked when Bourassa agreed to the challenge.

Britzius, Bourassa and Bourassa's husband, Todd, joined a team of strangers (they met through Britzius' co-worker), called Apocalypse Cows.

Their goal was simple: "To try every obstacle, finish the course and not die."

"I went into it thinking, I'm going to try this because it's nuts and it's crazy and we'll see what happens," Bourassa said.

With obstacles like: Death March, a rough run up and down a ski hill; The Quantlet, a high pressure hose down from both sides as you run; Boa constrictor, crawling through pathways of pipes; multiple 12-foot high Berlin walls; The Firewalker, a hot run through kerosene soaked straw; and Electroshock Therapy, a sprint through a field of live wires, some of which carry a 10,000 volt shock, it's apparent that the Tough Mudder is no easy jog through the park.

Britzius and Bourassa continuously reiterated that the Tough Mudder isn't your average mud race. The difference is evident through the Tough Mudder pledge every participant must take before they embark on their grueling 10-mile challenge, and after they sign a death waiver, they said.

The Pledge: "As a Tough Mudder I pledge that ... I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine - kids whine. I help my fellow Mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears."

It became apparent quickly that Britzius and Bourassa would have no choice but to overcome each of their biggest fears if they were going to complete the course.

The motto of the day was, "Don't think about it, just go," Britzius said.

Through the obstacles Britzius overcame her fear of water and Bourassa challenged herself to tackle her fear of descending from steep heights.

Britzius and Bourassa said they never could have conquered their fears and completed the course had it not been for the strong sense of camaraderie they had with their fellow mudders.

"I did every single obstacle and I didn't even think of being afraid because every single time an obstacle came up there were people there encouraging you," Bourassa said. "There were always hands extended to you, sometimes it was somebody on our team that we didn't really know or sometimes it was just a total stranger to boost you over the wall, to haul you up. It was the most incredible experience."

She said Todd entered the challenge with a different focus than her own.

"For him I think it was more of a personal experience, whereas for me, the minute I realized that atmosphere I was all about being part of it," she said.

In addition to testing ones toughness and mental grit, camaraderie is one of the main Tough Mudder philosophies.

According to the website, "Tough Mudder is also about experiencing a true sense of camaraderie that, sadly, is rarely seen outside of the military these days. To get over some of our obstacles you will need the help of others - they are simply too much for one man to tackle alone. Tough Mudders, unlike some other types of endurance runners, are team players; they help out other Tough Mudders. We want everyone to compete, but being a Tough Mudder is also about making sure no man is left behind, not worrying about your finish time."

While the herd of 21 Apocalypse Cows separated throughout the challenge, Britzius and Bourassa said they always managed to meet up at some point.

"There was no cow left behind," they joked.

One of Bourassa's best memories was when a man she'd never met caught her from falling face-first into a slippery half pipe.

"That's what was amazing," Bourassa said, in reference to the help from a stranger. "I bet I was 'high' off of that experience for at least a week. I was ready by mid-week that if there was another one this weekend I'd go do it."

Britzius said her fondest memory of the day was witnessing a heavy-set woman confidently ask for help to get hoisted up a Berlin Wall, showing that anyone can conquer the challenge when there are others around for support.

It took more than four hours for the Apocalypse Cows to finish, since they waited for team members and helped others -- the average time of completion for individuals competing for time is around two hours.

One would think that a 10-mile course of more than two dozen, grueling obstacles would make one tired, but Britzius and Bourassa said they never felt fatigued, thanks to energy boosting snacks and drinks and continuous camaraderie.

"I don't remember getting tired once, because the experience around you just carries you right through." Bourassa said. "I didn't get tired until the next day, that's when the wall just kind of hit me."

Both Britzius and Bourassa said they struggled to go down the stairs in the days that followed the event.

Grueling good time

Britzius and Bourassa said the Tough Mudder incorporates a lot of fun elements into the event day.

Between a finish-line beer, music, games, costume contests, free mohawk and mullet cuts and real tattoos, Bourassa says, the creators of the event have "found the perfect way to take something that could be so scary and so daunting and just make it fun."

Team Apocalypse Cows participated in the fun by sporting some cow spot bandanas and other accessories, but the winners of the day's costume contest went to a group of men dressed as "Chip 'N Dale" dancers.

"There was never a dull moment," Britzius said. "It became a lot more fun than it did work. It was physical and grueling, don't get me wrong, but it was like a 10-mile-long party."

The Tough Mudder wasn't a party for everybody though.

Although Britzius and Bourassa were not seriously injured during the challenge, getting only a few minor cramps, cuts, bumps and bruises, during the event they witnessed four people leave in ambulances and one in a Life Link helicopter.

Apocalypse Cows II is already registered for next year's 12-mile challenge though, and if next year's Tough Mudder goes well and injury-free, Bourassa said she'll consider buying the Tough Mudder season pass to go to as many events as she wants across the country.

She's even trying to get her wedding party to participate in the event to celebrate her and Todd's 10th wedding anniversary.

One thing Britzius is looking forward to next year is raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Since it started, the Tough Mudder has raised more than $1 million for the Wounded Warrior Project.

"How wonderful it is that there is a company and people out there that are instilling in people the camaraderie that soldiers have. That's pretty tight. You don't know without going through it, but I get it now," Britzius said.

Britzius and Bourassa say everyone should experience the Tough Mudder atmosphere.

"It's life changing," said Britzius.

Britzius and Bourassa said they cherish the orange Tough Mudder headband they received at the end of the challenge.

Although the bandana seems simple, Britzius said it represents an important life lesson.

"The significance of the headband is basically, if you do life alone it's hard, if you do it with a different attitude and do it together, it becomes easy," she said.

For more information about the Tough Mudder, go to http://toughmudder.com/. Britzius and Bourassa say anyone is welcome to join their team.

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