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Tough Mudder 2016

Article by Private Aaron Lauritsen

(Webmaster's Note: "Tough Mudder" is an annual event begun in 2010. Currently running in locations across six countries, the event is a 10-12 mile mud and obstacle course designed to test physical strength, stamina, and mental grit. According to the official website: "With no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, it’s not about how fast you can cross the finish line. Rather, it’s a challenge that emphasizes teamwork, camaraderie, and accomplishing something almost as tough as you are." Their website is at http://www.toughmudder.com )

The Calgary Highlanders' Tough Mudder team setting a course record on the Shock Therapy obstacle. Team members, from left to right: Corporal T. Hyunh, Corporal E. Burow, Corporal J. Mazerolle, Corporal J. Brar, Corporal E.Clark, Captain A. Pittet, Corporal R. Raidugin, Private A.Lauritsen, Corporal L. Wang, Corporal A. Hardiment, Corporal D. Janzen.

On the events of 6 August 2016:

It was an overcast day in Drumheller, but hot, and by 10 am when we arrived to the registration table after the short walk from the parking lot, we could already feel sweat trickling down our backs where it soon pooled at the base of our kilts.

Once through the gates, we gaggled for a quick pep talk from Captain Andrew Pittet, but distracted by the thousands of eccentrics dressed in elaborate get ups, hero costumes with capes and even masks, instead of nodding along to acknowledge him, we smirked collectively at a culture we knew little of, except that they are ‘groupie like’ veterans of this race who call themselves ‘Legionnaires’.

“Game day” someone in the Highlander clan says to make light of the spectacle, but all of us know the sights, sounds and heat greeting us now will certainly foreshadow the gruelling test of endurance ahead, an eighteen kilometre obstacle course that cuts through the lunar landscape of Alberta's iconic Badlands called ‘Tough Mudder’.

Led forward by Captain Pittet, the eleven member strong team tucked itself in behind a huge crowd warming up at the start line. It was an hour earlier than our scheduled start time, but the move was covert enough to get us past course staff and secured us an early spot to depart. Wanting to avoid the intensifying heat of midday, no one complained.

The Drumheller course, notorious on the international ‘Mudder’ circuit because of its steep slopes and slippery descents, began appropriately with an uphill jaunt of close to a thousand meters. The ground on this short leg was an uneven dirt path, but dry, until the first obstacle appeared hidden over a small ridge. There in defilade was a deep mud pool called ‘Six Feet Under” that we had to jump into from a ledge, then wade across. Soaken wet after, with sand in our teeth and covered from head to toe in muck, we all laughed that there was no turning back.

Pushing forward, we did a ‘Hero Carry’ through earth soft enough to rip our shoes off, then descended into the canyon below via a long rappel down a cliff. From there we cruised for another kilometre or so until we were greeted by the ‘Devil's Beard’, a heavy fishing net used by whalers that we had to crawl under for 60’ through pebbled ruts. Emerging on the other side out of breath, our knees and elbows were now bloodied up, but we advanced undeterred to the next stumbling block.

Like military obstacle courses, each challenge pushed the limits of physical endurance and mental stamina to build the confidence participants needed to move forward. Some though, like the ‘Arctic Enema’, were too much for even seasoned Legionnaires, and as we arrived at its base we were held up by a group who had climbed to the top of the ladder, then after seeing what awaited them, climbed back down to walk around it.

What had stopped them dead in their tracks was a pool of murky water below with 20,000 lbs of ice floating in it. But it wasn't the risk of hypothermia that had them waffling, it was that to get through the pool you had careen down a slide, then pull your weight blindly under a cage while fully submerged. Once on the other side of the cage, participants had to climb over a wall and swim to the end of the pool to climb out. The confined space presented by the cage had evoked claustrophobia in the group ahead of us and the fear of the unknown was enough to force them off the platform. To rub salt in their wounds and steal the pride they left as they climbed down, the Highlander team plunged right in without hesitation.

Emerging from the chop, our limbs were numb and frozen, but our bodies clean again, if only for the moment, and with rejuvenated vigour we picked up the pace to warm up and passed a number of teams who were beginning to gas around mid-point of the course. Down one hill and back up the next became the leg burning norm and after a log carry, the ‘Mud Mile 2.0’ and a quicksand stand called ‘Quagmire’ we soon stumbled onto the upper body obstacles.

These were broken up by a few kilometres of track to allow some recuperation, but included the ‘Blockness Monster’, which was three rotating blocks where competitors had to hold on as they were dragged from water, over the obstacle, then back into the mud head first. Following it were the monkey bars which were long, sloped up and included a slide portion where body momentum had to be used to reach another set of bars, if you weren't fast enough and missed them, you simply fell several meters into the mud-pit below. And just when we thought our arms were burnt out, next was ‘Balls to the Wall’ which was a rope climb over a 20’ high wall.

The final leg of the course saw another rope challenge, but this time up a cliff, then via a winding trail along a ridge we encountered and conquered ‘Everest 2.0’ and the ‘Pyramid Scheme’. The Pyramid was challenging because it forced teamwork and required us to stack our bodies against a near vertical structure two stories high to form a human ladder so each member could get to the top. But the organizers saved the best for last, a stand they called ‘Electro Shock Therapy”. The obstacle is a series of electric cables hanging above an open pit of muddy water and each cable carries a painful punch of 10,000 volts. Most racers do everything possible to avoid being zapped, but The Calgary Highlanders team would have none of it.

To get this far we had worked hard to tackle each obstacle they put in front of us, proved that dread of heights and claustrophobia are words some use to convince each other fear does exist, and despite an elevation gain of nearly to 2000’ over the eighteen kilometre trek, we had passed countless other teams and moved from nearly last in our heat and into the top ⅓ of our pack. Now after all that, and with bodies that were battered, beaten, bruised and blistered up, we knew we had to finish in class by setting a course record.

Preparing to enter the Shock Therapy pit, we locked arms and formed a daisy chain. The act to finish together was a symbolic one, but it would come at a painful cost. It meant that every time one member was struck with 10,000 volts, all members were struck with 10,000 volts. Aware of the fact, we pushed ahead. Two feet in and the first shock rippled across our ranks, it felt like a baseball bat to the chest and was strong enough to drop many of us to our knees as we groaned in protest. Although the daisy chain was tested, it never broke and as we edged forward into a melee of non-stop zaps and cracks by pulling one another ahead, the crowd, seeing our distress and our resolve, began to roar and cheer us on.

By the time we got to the finish line the announcer, who was perhaps more excited than anyone else, declared we had set a new Alberta Mudder record for the longest daisy chain to endure Electro Shock Therapy. As we gathered around the camp flag to capture the moment with a picture, the record set was the icing on the cake for us newly minted Legionaries and was a great segue into beers and laughs at the pub later after a quick shower.

There were a lot of people involved in getting this team organized, but a special thanks to Corporal Drew Janzen for taking on a leadership role to ensure all members were informed and prepared to run the course. In the Army we usually do our business hidden behind the boundaries of training areas or abroad, so it’s a rare occasion that we can actually get out and show the pedigree of our members like we did in Drumheller that day. In hindsight Tough Mudder was a grueling test of endurance, but rewarded by allowing us to project our service values of fitness, competition, teamwork and soldierly grit. More than that though, it was an exercise in esprit de corps and everyone who took part agrees it was a good go and highlight from the summer.


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