“If you’re going to get electrocuted you may as well do it for charity,” says Tara Castle, explaining why she decided to tackle global obstacle racing sensation Tough Mudder on the Sunshine Coast last year.
The 38-year-old mother of two had conquered triathlons in the past and was drawn to the event out of curiosity.
“I quite liked the novelty,” Castle says.
“The element of surprise and not knowing what the next obstacle might be and trying to navigate your way through.”
For the uninitiated, Tough Mudder was founded in the US in 2009 before expanding globally.
The endurance event tests mental and physical strength throughout a course of obstacles which include climbing walls, plunging into muddy pools of icy water, or crawling under barbed wire.
People want novelty when it comes to exercise. Rather than just your typical fun run or plodding away at the gym
Australia has six events across the country after beginning with two in 2012.
The demographic breakdown shows 69 per cent of participants are male and half of the people taking up the challenge are between 18 and 29.
This year more than 90,000 are expected to sign up.
Rather than simply complete the challenge, Castle opted to use the event to help raise money for Mummy’s Wish, a charity which supports families with mother’s battling cancer.
She set about organising a Tough Mudder team and rounded up people from her social basketball squad.
Castle says the experience proved a great team building exercise and also presented an opportunity to train for a unique fitness goal.
“It was hilarious fun. We all just pretty much laughed at each other for the entire course. We got dirty, we got cold, we got electrocuted, we did it all.”
Castle enjoyed Tough Mudder so much that she and her friends are fronting up again to this year’s Sunshine Coast event in August.
This time the group will don school girl outfits to raise money for the education geared charity Do It In A Dress.
“I’m not as scared going in to it this year knowing what I know. You don’t know what ten thousand volts of electricity is going to feel like until they zap you.”
Point Cook mother Amanda Steidle says she joined the bandwagon when looking for a fitness challenge.
The 36-year-old completed this year’s Melbourne leg of Tough Mudder with her husband on a biting winter’s day on Phillip Island.
Steidle found the course challenging and counts the entire process as inspiring.
“Because everyone does have their own story and their own things to conquer doing something like this can actually help you break down personal barriers. It makes you feel like everything is possible.”
We all just pretty much laughed at each other for the entire course. We got dirty, we got cold, we got electrocuted, we did it all
While training for Tough Mudder, Steidle struck a friendship with leading female obstacle racer Deanna Blegg, winner of the 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder race in 2013.
Steidle will now join Blegg as part of a team of four women tackling a military style obstacle course dubbed True Grit, in Sydney in August.
Christian Bold, a 36-year-old father of three from Cronulla, completed the event in 2012 and reported similar ripple effects within his own life.
Bold, who runs a trailer repair business, played competitive sport regularly until injuries took their toll.
He now uses his Tough Mudder experience as daily inspiration.
“The view I have on life now is that I put myself through hell doing Tough Mudder and pushed myself to the limits both physically and mentally. It helps with every decision I have to make.”
But not everyone is as convinced.
Matt Collins has run gyms in Queensland for 15 years and oversaw a team of ten individuals who trained over 30 weeks to get themselves fit enough to take part in last year’s Sunshine Coast Tough Mudder event.
Collins says he found the experience underwhelming and reckons the concept doesn’t have a long shelf life as more competitors flood the market.
“Don’t get me wrong there was one or two [obstacles] that were very impressive but for a four or five or six hour event that was probably five or ten minutes worth of the day.
“I definitely see it as a plus for getting the average Joe off the couch but that’s not how they marketed it or promoted it.”
Melbourne-based psychologist Jeremy Adams suspects the growing popularity of obstacle racing is merely another example of everyday people wrestling with the exercise merry-go-round.
“People want novelty when it comes to exercise. Rather than just your typical fun run or plodding away at the gym I think something that is different is good.”
Adams says events like Tough Mudder tend to be undertaken as a team and that has social benefits as well as building a strong sense of camaraderie.
He stressed anyone contemplating the event, especially those over 35, should do so only after months of training and a clearance from their GP.
“The mental health benefits of exercising and training with other people is all great. But the downside can be the excessive competitiveness.”
In Western Sydney, 25-year-old IT systems administrator Steven Lopez is about to begin training for his second Tough Mudder in November.
Lopez decided to bite the bullet and take part with a group of mates last year.
“It seemed like one of those once in a lifetime opportunities where you get to challenge yourself and test your limits,” he recalls.
“It was fantastic. It was definitely challenging. Constant motivation was required. There was a lot of camaraderie as well and that helped us get through to the finish line.”
So why is having a second crack?
“Just to capture that sense of friendship and being thrown in together to do something kind of militaristic,” he says.
“I sit at a computer for most of my time and doing things like this kind of give me that freedom and the ability to get outside and do some awesome fitness kind of thing.
“I guess there’s worse things in life to spend money on.”
Upcoming Tough Mudder events in Australia in 2014
Sunshine Coast – August 16-17
Perth – September 13-14
Sydney – November 15-16
Adelaide – December 13-14
For more information visit: toughmudder.com.au