Tough Mudder: You’re Not Pretty if You’re Not Dirty

DCTC’s Karianne Loula met the Tough Mudder challenge

I say TOUGH, you say MUDDER: Tough! Mudder! Tough! Mudder! Approximately 15,000 participants heard the opening speaker, amping them up, at the Somerset Ampitheater in Somerset, Wis., May 19 and 20, before competing in a 12-mile test of strength, grit, stamina, and camaraderie: Tough Mudder.

Designed by British special forces, Tough Mudder features more than 20 military-style obstacles, such as “Artic Enema,” a bath of ice cold water; “Fire Walker,” a run through 4-foot-high flames; and “Electroshock Therapy,” a gauntlet of 10,000-volt-charged dangling wires. The event is not about a finish time or winning medals – simply completing Tough Mudder is a badge of honor. On average, only 78 percent of participants finish a Tough Mudder event, and with a course designed to be impossible to complete individually, 80 percent of participants register with a team.

Who on earth would choose to endure such a challenge? Karianne Loula, Admissions Representative at Dakota County Technical College, chose to. We sat down with Karianne to ask her a few questions about her experience at Tough Mudder.

How did you make the decision to do Tough Mudder?

My brother does similar competitions and heard about Tough Mudder so he asked me to sign up. I looked at the course and saw that it wasn’t an event for just two people. I also asked my husband, Kevin, to join the team. He works for the VA, so it seemed appropriate because Tough Mudder raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project. It just went from there- my siblings and their spouses decided to join, my husband’s co-workers, a bunch of our friends, and it turned into a team of 30.

What did you do to train for it?

We signed up in September 2011 and started training for it in January. We did a lot of running, several times each week. We started off slow, a mile, mile and a half, and worked our way up. We eventually worked up to six or seven miles, doing strength training, lifting weights, any type of cardio, anything we could think of to get ourselves into shape. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy, two-minute event; it was going to be several hours. We wanted to make sure we were taking it seriously.

How did you prepare for some of the unique events, like Electroshock Therapy and Artic Enema?

I was actually really lucky that I didn’t get shocked at all, but other members of my team did. I heard quite a few yells and screams. I know there a few times we were training when it was so cold we had tears running down our faces and my husband did offer to drench me in water before running outside to get me in the Tough Mudder mode. I opted out of that and decided I’d just handle the obstacles when they came.

We were really lucky that the weather was as warm as it was on the day of our event because the ice bath (Arctic Enema) actually felt nice. Once I got out of the ice water, it definitely gave me a brain freeze because it was so cold. Just the camaraderie of the event was amazing to see. People you didn’t even know where helping you, grabbing your hand, telling you good job, keep it up. We had people with different abilities on the team, but we all had the same determination. It was really great to see people outside of your own team that were  encouraging us, even a couple miles in. I had never done an event like Tough Mudder so I was a little nervous going into it, but I left feeling it was a huge success.

There were waves of 600 participants starting every 20 minutes, so an awful lot of people you didn’t know were cheering you on. Even the spectators on the side were passing out water and energy drinks to keep us going.

What was going through your mind when you were at the start point?

To get to the start point, we had to jump over a smaller wall and I remember being really proud of myself because I ran up to it, jumped over, hooked my arm, and got my leg over without needing any help. I thought, “I can do this, I’m a Tough Mudder.”

There was a really good emcee, pumping people up. He went with the flow of the crowd and definitely got them really motivated. I don’t think I saw a single person who wasn’t cheering, “Let’s go, let’s go!”  They shot the gun and everybody took off. I remember the first mile in thinking, “Okay, what did I get myself into?” I didn’t know what to expect, it was the anticipation of the unknown. I questioned if I did the right training. Did I prepare enough?

Our entire team learned a lot from the event: what type of training to do, what we would do differently. We would do more trail running because a lot of the running was on a trail with sticks on the route and up hill, which is very different from running on a treadmill or on a street.

What was the course like compared to your expectations?

They had a picture of the course and listed the obstacles that were supposed to be on there. They had some that were not posted, so we didn’t completely know what to expect. There were a couple different kinds of monkey bars, but no rope climb. I don’t remember seeing the Fire Walker and some of the obstacles were in a different order. Everything went by so fast that some of it was just a blur. At the 3-mile mark, one of our teammates said we were a quarter of the way in and I remember thinking, “Wow, we’ve already finished three miles!” And every mile marker or obstacle, you just forget what you’re doing and keep giving it 100 percent. There were some people getting injured or having a harder time getting over the obstacles than others, but in general, it was a really positive atmosphere. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone that was upset or bummed out, even if they were winded or working out a cramp. Everyone was so motivating and everyone kept talking about the orange headband. I know that I was also part of that group. I’ve been talking about my orange headband at work since January and I kept telling them that I’m not coming home without that headband. It was a nice feeling to come to work after the event and show it off with pride.

How did you feel when you crossed the finish line?

I think that was the fastest I ran throughout the whole event. When I saw the finish line, I just took off sprinting. It was such a surreal moment because that was a 12-mile course. The last three or four miles went by really fast, then all of a sudden there was the Electroshock Therapy, and then the finish line. I remember thinking, “I am done! This is amazing!” I just had a high, thinking I was one of the people who finished.

What does it mean to you to be called a Tough Mudder?

For me personally, it means I have a lot of physical and mental determination. I know it was a large team activity, helping other people that I didn’t know, keeping people positive, cheering others on who were struggling, not just my team but other people there, but really proving to myself that I have the ability to overcome a really big challenge. There was a lot of time and determination spent toward this. It’s true that if you put you’re mind to a task, you can complete your goal. My goal was to finish, as well as my team, my husband, my siblings, everybody, so it was just a really proud feeling to know that everyone who signed up took it seriously on the day of the competition and  worked as hard as they could to finish and get their orange headbands.

Tough Mudder is about overcoming fears. What fears did you overcome?

I’m just not a huge fan of heights so the obstacle with the 20-25 foot dropoff into ice cold water was the biggest obstacle for me. When I got up to the top, the person running it said he was going to count to three and I was just supposed to jump off. He gave me some pointers and said if I don’t jump off a certain way, I was going to hurt myself. He said “three” and I just stepped off. I was not positive I was going to be able to jump off without someone holding my hand or pushing me, but I did it. I remember the water was so cold and I hit the water with such force that my capri pants just rolled right up. I popped up out of the water and gasped for air because it was so cold. Someone down by the water asked me if I was okay and I said I’m great! I actually made it! I impressed myself that I got over my self-doubt. That was the only obstacle that I had to convince myself that I could do it. It was just a lot of fun. Messy and dirty, but a lot of fun.

What kind of advice can you give someone who is thinking about participating in Tough Mudder?

The sooner that you start your training, of any type, is going to benefit you in the long run. It’s pretty common that not everyone can run 12 miles. I wasn’t able to do that, so we started off small and our first challenge was to run up to two miles. Once we mastered that, we increased it by half-mile increments. We just tried to build it up instead of overwhelming ourselves by going zero to 12; we set more achievable milestones. I started to see a huge difference, like running two miles without sweating. I was able to increase the amount of weight I lifted on a bench press. We definitely have become a lot more active and feel healthier. When we started to get ready for Tough Mudder, some of our team members seemed to get burned out because they did too much training too quickly. It’s important to have balance. We started training in January for the event in May and we tapered down the last couple weeks because if you’re not ready by that time, you’re not ready. This was definitely one of those events that you want to seriously train for and get yourself into better overall fitness.

I definitely think Tough Mudder is achievable for anyone. We saw people of all ages, all shapes and sizes, and everybody that I saw were all finishing. I was proud of everyone. It was worth the hard work. It was worth the money. The event itself was phenomenal; it was well organized, they had so many wonderful volunteers. For a group of that size, the communication was very clear and you just felt the enthusiasm when you walked in there.

Will you do the Tough Mudder again?

We already signed up! My husband and I pre-registered for 2013. We had such a good experience and so much fun. We have some cuts and bruises and are a little bit sore, but not nearly enough to stop us now that we finished our first one. We actually are signing up for some smaller ones before then, but Tough Mudder is actually something to look forward to.

Any final thoughts?

It was an amazing opportunity. I would encourage anyone who has the desire and motivation to take a challenge, something they’re maybe not ready for, and work toward that goal. My husband and I lost 25 pounds, just from the training. We changed our eating habits and our exercise habits, so we saw so many positive changes. The experience is what you’re going to make of it. If you want to have a really good experience and take it seriously, there are definitely things you will be able to do to overcome the challenge and cross that finish line. I would definitely recommend doing the Tough Mudder, to everyone.

For more information on Tough Mudder or to sign up for the toughest event on the planet, visit To donate to the Wounded Warrior Project, visit

To learn more about DCTC, visit or call 651-423-8301 / 877-937-3282.



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