EBH engineer and weekend warrior Andrew Brunner didn’t know exactly what to expect as he approached the Tough Mudder starting line where a mass of about 5,200 participants gathered Saturday morning at Heartland Park in Topeka.
“I was pretty nervous, my heart was racing as we walked down the stairs to the racetrack,” Brunner said. “I didn’t know if I was in good enough shape to do the running and I had been reading articles online about getting shocked.”
The Tough Mudder website describes the event as a hardcore 11-mile obstacle challenge designed to test all-around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.
“There was a guy standing on top of a Hummer with a microphone working the crowd and getting everyone pumped up,” Brunner said. “He reminded us we had signed a waiver because there was an element of danger to what we were doing. People could easily get injured if they weren’t careful.”
Waves of 150 people took off every 20 minutes and by the time it was Brunner’s turn, he said, it was too late to be nervous anymore.
Along with teammate and friend Jason Corwin, Brunner jogged about 1.5 miles before encountering the first obstacle.
“We had to use a rope, like a gym rope, to scale a 12-foot wall. “It wasn’t easy. My wife, Jenna, saw a person slip and fall off the top of the wall.”
After the first obstacle, Brunner encountered 23 more obstacles, each with its own challenges.
At one obstacle, he had to leap from a 15-foot platform into a muddy pool of cold water.
“I was nervous before I jumped but then I thought the water might actually feel good because I was starting to get hot,” Brunner said. “The water was really cold, probably about 40 or 45 degrees because it felt like it had been pumped directly out of a well.”
At another obstacle, he had to run through a series of 3-foot deep trenches that were completely filled the same cold water.
“You just jump in and run and then jump out, then in again and out, until you were through,” he said.
The hardest obstacle consisted of a wall that had 2x4 and 2x6 hand and footholds, Brunner said. At one point, the footholds disappeared and he had to use all upper body strength and his fingertips to support himself as he shimmied sideways on the obstacle.
However, over the course of the event Brunner said he began to look forward to each obstacle as a brief break from running.
“I absolutely hate running,” he said. “Around mile seven or eight both my calves tightened up and I had to walk. It worried me because we had a lot of the course left to go.”
Brunner said that was one instance where he was happy to have Corwin as his teammate, who also experienced some severe cramping and a lot of pain in one of his knees toward the end of the race.
“We were both hurting, but we just talked about something else to get our minds off of it,” Brunner said. “At other times we would push each other and motivate each other to go a little further before we could rest.”
Brunner said he and Corwin also helped lift, boost, and pick each other up during the course of the event.
In the second to last obstacle, called “fire in the hole,” Brunner jetted down a 20-foot slide, and passed through fire before shooting out the end, and splashing into more cold water at the bottom.
Two of the obstacles featured live electrical lines. In one called “electric eel,” Brunner crawled on his belly through water. The open lines dangled just above him.
“I got shocked there once,” he said. “And every time Jason got shocked I could feel the jolt through the water too.”
However, it was in the last obstacle, “electroshock therapy,” that Brunner really got a charge.
“They had a skeleton of a big tent set up with live wires hanging down,” he said. “I think they said there was something like 10,000 volts running through it.”
Below the wires was a series of small hay bales scattered in a sticky mud pit.
“I sort of picked my path and high stepped through the mud,” he said. “At the very end, just before I made it out, I hit a wire with my back and got shocked. My muscles seized up for a second.”
The event’s overall extreme nature initially attracted Brunner. However, for him it was just as much about fun and overcoming fear as it was a chance for him to test himself physically.
“Andrew really likes to challenge himself,” Jenna Brunner said. “But I am not going to miss his alarm going off at 5:30 a.m.”
Getting up early in the morning, Brunner trained for the event for about four months by running one to two miles a day when it wasn’t too cold and doing push-ups and other non-weight bearing exercises to keep up his strength and stamina.
The training paid off for Brunner because he accomplished two goals he set for himself.
“I made it through all of the obstacles without having to quit and go around,” he said. “And I finished which was my other goal.”
It took Brunner and Corwin about three hours to complete the course. Brunner plans to compete in the event next year. He enjoyed it so much that he might make it a family tradition.
The Brunners are expecting a baby boy in July.
“Andrew told me after he finished, that when our son is old enough, he would like to try it with him,” Jenna said.