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Still, I felt like there was nothing on this course I couldn't handle. Until the seven-mile mark that is, when my knee nearly buckled in stabbing pain. I didn't know this at the time, because I'd never heard of an IT band, but I was sure that with each step, some tendon or muscle—something—was sawing into the lateral part of my knee. The intense friction made it difficult to put much pressure on it, forcing me to limp when the trail was level, and lock my good knee and skip when descending. I knew it looked graceless (at best), like I was galloping on an invisible broomstick, but for once in my life I had little bandwidth for vanity. I just wanted to cross the finish line on my own two feet. And though the final four miles went by excruciatingly slow at times, as I limped, lurched and skipped forward, I'm sure that when I arrived at "Electroshock Therapy," I forgot all about the knee.
I didn't know what 10k volts felt like yet, but after watching dozens of YouTube clips of people face-planting in the mud and hearing the screams of those ahead of me, I knew it wasn't going to be a party. Some people slowly needled through, careful to avoid any wires, while others crawled beneath reach. There was a rumor going around that once a wire was triggered there was a refractory period while it recharged. If the theory held, you could avoid getting shocked by running behind someone. But none of those options seemed appealing.
As I stood there, pondering how to best attack this final challenge, I realized that I secretly wanted to get shocked. I didn't want to willingly shortchange the experience. I'd come all this way, and at the end of the day, as much as mud runners love showing photos of themselves looking like Navy SEALs at these events, we love telling you all the gory details. And let's face it, the story about how I deliberately avoided getting shocked just doesn't woo at the water cooler as much as the one about the moment of impact.
This is what I told myself, at least—over and over—until finally summoning the courage to charge ahead. And while I may look less like Rambo in this pic, and more like the Boy Who Cried Shin Splints, as I left Squaw I knew I'd earned something I didn't have before charging into the fray: the pride that only comes when you can look yourself in the mirror and say, Today, I WAS William Fucking Wallace.
The Dirty Race
Is Tough Mudder an entirely clean company?
Last fall, I journeyed to Tahoe with hopes of writing a funny, experiential essay about doing my first Tough Mudder. After reading up on the company, however, I chanced upon a riveting scandal in the comments sections of various news stories, blogs and YouTube clips: Tough Mudder was being slammed for stealing the idea from the Tough Guy Competition, a popular obstacle race in the U.K. What's more, they claimed that Will Dean, Tough Mudder's 31-year-old CEO, did so while studying for his MBA at Harvard.
I wasn't exactly sure where this would lead, but I dove headfirst into the mud pit anyway, and by some magic or miracle, I sold the pitch to Outside magazine. After a year of research and reporting, writing and rewriting, my 5,600-word investigative feature about the scandalous origins of Tough Mudder is its November cover story, on stands now. Given the CEO's Harvard pedigree, and the popularity of his company, the exposé has garnered widespread attention and generated headlines, including in the Huffington Post, which asked, "Is (Will Dean) the Mark Zuckerberg of Mud Runs?" You can find the story on newsstands now, or read it online, but in the meantime, I wanted to take this opportunity to share the story I initially set out to tell—the one about Tough Mudder and me.—Scott Keneally