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Fairly or not, Dean has taken obstacle-course racing to new heights. "Double Mudder!" yelled one zealot during the Hold Your Wood challenge, as he walked along a trail carrying two 30-lb. logs on his shoulders. (The challenge requires participants to carry only one.) Tough Mudder bills itself as "probably the toughest event on the planet," which is a brilliant bit of overselling. The event is difficult for sure. Runners must sign a death waiver; luckily, no one has died on a Tough Mudder course to date. But triathlons require far more training and athletic ability. Since there's no racing, you can jog or walk the course; strangers will help you scale the highest walls (note: I'm a 36-year-old gym rat who runs three to four miles regularly). This format makes Tough Mudder more accessible: people of all ages and shapes finished the Sarasota course.
Given my fear of heights, electricity and pretty much all extreme activity, I never thought I'd be one of them. But the obstacles are addictive. After jumping out of the frigid Arctic Enema tub, for example, my brain--and my neck, for some reason--froze. But I felt strangely elated and practically sprinted to the next test. The two dozen or so challenges are spread out more or less evenly throughout the 12 miles, so you have time to anticipate, or dread, the next one. The adrenaline skews your sense of time: though I was on the course for around four hours, it felt like much less. Besides the shocks and hypothermic baths and mud swims that left my nails caked for days, other obstacles require that you jump off a 15-ft. ledge into a frigid pool (Walk the Plank), scale a 15-ft. wall using a rope (Balls to the Wall) and dangle on monkey bars across more water (Funky Monkey).
Even after suffering through the Electric Eel and all the rest, I spent the last half of the event dreading the final obstacle, Electroshock Therapy: Tough Mudder makes you run through dozens of dangling, live electric wires to get to the finish line. Unlike the Eel, this challenge won't let people squirm under the wires. Crowds gather sadistically to delight in watching runners scream their way through. "Oh my God, face-plant!" one guy yelled. "That's hilarious."
So here I was, staring down the wires. Other racers started looking at me funny as I stepped up to go and then backed off a few times. Finally, I had my screw-it moment and dived in: Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, face-plant, right into the mud.
I crawled under the last few wires, weak. But I actually did this crazy thing. Tough Mudder delivered on its promise: it got me out of my comfort zone, and hell yeah, I felt like I'd done something special. So I chugged the free Dos Equis beer that Tough Mudder awards at the finish and clutched the sacred orange headband. I'm a Mudder, baby. And let me tell you all about it.
FOR VIDEO OF THIS ENDURANCE EVENT, GO TO time.com/mudder