MUD CHRONICLES: The Argument for Electrified Obstacles

An article posted today on Today.com has reignited the debate over Tough Mudder‘s electric obstacles.

Tough Mudder gained fame due in no small part to its electrically-charged obstacles — such as Electroshock Therapy and Electric Eel — in which participants brave being zapped by electric wires while wet or actually in water. The article on Today.com interviewed emergency room doctors, who saw a rash of Tough Mudder participants, most with injuries related to electric obstacles, following a Tough Mudder in Pennsylvania last spring. The doctors in the article state the obvious: Getting zapped by electricity can be dangerous.

For some obstacle racers, the article was the latest excuse to take to message boards and complain about TM’s electric obstacles, with some calling them too dangerous, while other opponents dismiss them as little more than a gimmick. electroshock burnPersonally, electroshock therapy has left me with wire burns in the pits of my elbows, where I can only guess they burned my skin while reacting with the salty sweat in my elbow pits (see photo). At World’s Toughest Mudder 2012, electric eel knocked me unconscious. I didn’t feel anything. I was crawling along, then suddenly felt the sensation of my head nodding down, then jerking back up, like falling asleep in class. In my confusion, trying to remember where I was, the guy behind me yelled about a huge spark he saw go off on the base of my skull. And then there’s the several times I’ve felt the charges swim down my entire body, into my quivering legs.

But I love Tough Mudder’s electric obstacles.

electroshocktherapyPhysically demanding obstacles, although challenging, are relatively easy. The hardest obstacles are always the ones that mess with your mind, that tap into your fear, that demand a certain mental grit. I’ve watched tough guys, people who could crush any physical obstacle Tough Mudder or Spartan could throw at them, cower in the face of electric obstacles.

These obstacles aren’t about if you can leap and pull yourself up and over anything. It doesn’t measure how fast you are or strong you are. They make you look inside yourself. You know it’s going to hurt. But you know you’re going to be okay (and, if you have medical reason to believe otherwise, you are asked to go around it). Can you brave that pain for the short time it takes to get through this obstacle?

In that way, the electric obstacles are a better metaphor for life than all the Everests and Berlin Walls combined.

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