They wade into ice cold water, crawl through mud and run through bursts of fire. ANGELA VALENTE talks to some who’ve put their grit to the test in the Mudder of all challenges.
THEY finish the courses bruised and battered, splattered with mud. Their hamstrings and calves are tight and everything else is just sore or numb.
The 20-kilometre obstacle course with mud pits and ice baths is a challenge to tick off the bucket list.
Vaunted as the 'toughest event on the planet', Tough Mudder is not your average mud run. Designed by the British defence ministry's elite special forces to test stamina, it's garnered a following among amateur athletes over the two years it's been run in Australia.
Sunbury's Andy Cockell still relishes the exhilaration of tackling the Tough Mudder course.
The 51-year-old stepped up to the challenge in March at Phillip Island with his 49-year-old brother Chris and son Matt, 22.
'The process is enjoyable — getting there and then accomplishing the goal," Cockell says.
"We did something we set out to do. You push through the bits that are a little bit tough, but you're with thousands of others who do just the same."
Cockell played cricket and football in his early years and, more recently, over-35s football in Sunbury.
Nonetheless, Tough Mudder demanded quite another level of fitness.
"We thoroughly enjoyed it and we're backing up to do the next one in January," Cockell says, having already completed Hidden Warrior, a similar 10-kilometre event held at Calder Park.
"I think I'll continue doing it.
"When you get to a certain age, people say, 'You can't do that' or 'You're too old to do it; you'll have a heart attack'. This is what keeps you focused — it's a challenge, but an enjoyable one."
The course requires teamwork and camaraderie. "It's designed so you're helping your mate out to the end. You don't get there on your own and you don't run off on your own.
"It's helping each other through. It's the kind of situation where perfect strangers help each other."
Sunbury's Mandy Bennett, who lost 34 kilograms to tackle Hidden Warrior, describes herself as an "obstacle junkie".
Another Sunbury fitness buff, Gary Murphy, will again pit his physical and mental toughness against Tough Mudder next month. He completed the Sydney version last September and backed it up on the Hidden Warrior course.
Choosing to fly solo, Murphy bucks the trend of tackling the course with friends.
"If you go and compete by yourself, you're forced to make friends along the way. You tend to see the same people at obstacles and you help each other out.
"I really enjoy it. You're a little bit sore afterwards, but you push yourself through."
It's that sort of camaraderie that helped Mark Stiegler push through the World's Toughest Mudder in New Jersey last month.
The former elite triathlete from Darley finished among the top 5 per cent at the Melbourne Tough Mudder in March with his friend Adam O'Sullivan. Both qualified for the world titles.
It's not something Stiegler set out to do. The appeal was that unlike other Tough Mudders, the world title was a race, with the lure of prizemoney.
With only six months of training under his belt, Stiegler took on the world, representing Australia.
The World's Toughest Mudder put him through a 24-hour test of body and mind. The 16-kilometre course had 32 obstacles per lap, the challenge being to complete as many laps in one day as possible.
Not to mention that temperatures were about minus three degrees.
"We ran continuously for just shy of 15 hours before the fingers and feet and the obstacles froze over," Stiegler says.
He ran alongside O'Sullivan and Paul Strycharczuk, from the UK, whom he met in the registration queue the previous day.
The trio ran from 10am to 1am the next day. Stiegler wanted to complete seven laps — equalling the winner the previous year.
After four laps, Stiegler was spent, physically, and dreaming of a hot shower and food.
"It wasn't the mental side that stopped me; I couldn't feel my fingers, or my feet."
A month later, his fingers still tingle. He finished 187 of about 1300 competitors.
Although disappointed with the result, Stiegler is ecstatic at knowing what it took to achieve that.
And he's ready to do it all over again. "I want to go back to New Jersey next year. I'm now a little wiser as to what it takes to compete there."
Stiegler qualified to return to the world titles next November.
But before that there's the Tough Mudder next month to look forward to. Just for fun.