Tough Mudder – Lessons Learned from Setting Big Goals & Getting Dirty

Early on before things got very messy!

11 miles of mud, water and perseverance.  22 military style obstacles.  Signing a death waiver.

Tough Mudder Missouri was the real deal and the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically. 

But it’s also a testament to the power of goal setting put into action.

Making the Choice to Get Tough

Sometime back in March, I saw a Facebook post from my brother-in-law saying he was putting a team together for something called Tough Mudder.

At the time, I didn’t know much about it, but as soon as clicked the link to go watch the intro video, it had my full attention:

I told my wife Bethany that I was going to do it.  She told me I was crazy but that she’d support me.

That was all I needed to hear – I committed to signing up that day – I was scared but also feeling an instant nervous energy.

Training for Tough Mudder

The good news was that I had six months to train.  The bad news was that I was nowhere near in condition for something like this, not even close.

My first training runs were ugly, as I was getting up at dawn and struggling to run steady for more than a mile.  I’ve never been a runner (more on that below), and I was hurting.

The six months that ensued were challenging, very painful at times and enthralling.

If you’d like to hear the details, let me know in the comments below and I’ll write a post to share everything I did in preparation for the race.  In a nutshell, I did a lot of HIIT, a lot of strength training and a lot of running.

The progress was mostly steady, and my before and after fitness tests showed pretty amazing improvements.  I lost 20 pounds in the process, and I’m now in the best shape of my life.

It’s easy to see success in hindsight, but along the way I battled a ridiculously hot summer, suffered from not having a training partner available during the early morning hours I had to train, and several nagging injuries kept me company instead.

To top it off, I majorly pulled a muscle in my neck three days before we left for the race – a lot of chiropractor visits and pain pills got me mobile enough to make the 4 hour drive down to the race before adrenaline took over.

Game Day!

Tough Mudder Missouri took place in a huge off-road park near Poplar Bluff, Missouri.  It was everything a great course should be – full of steep hills, lots of cold creeks and more mud than I’ve ever seen.

Our Tough Mudder Team

I was part of a team of six guys that were half Air National Guard and half civilian.  I was blessed to run the race with this amazing group, which included my brother-in-law and one of my best friends.

The race was incredibly challenging with what seemed like 7 miles of mud and creek wading separated by crazy obstacles and 4 miles of steep, slick muddy hills to climb.  We went non-stop for over 4 hours and finished together as a team before enjoying a well-deserved beer together.

That was the best part of the event – we were a team and that made a HUGE difference in the spirit of making it through electrocution, ICE cold water and running for 11 miles in wet shoes filled with rocks.

If you’d like to see every obstacle and get many more details about the race itself, I’d encourage you to check out this post.  Jeff is an online friend who happened to be running Tough Mudder Missouri the same day as me, although we didn’t realize it until afterward.

3 Lessons Learned along the Way

In many ways, Tough Mudder was life-changing.

Not in the same way as more important things like family and faith, but it taught/confirmed several valuable lessons for me.

1. When you commit, sh*t gets real

I was one of probably a dozen people who responded enthusiastically to my brother-in-law’s call to join his Tough Mudder team.  Do you know how many completed the race with us?

One (me).

I realize now that this was because I took decisive action.  I sought appropriate counsel (talking to Bethany before signing up), but then I decided I was going to do this.

Then I did it.

It’s in that second step that so many of us get tripped up, and it’s happened to me many times in the past.  You talk about losing weight, think about getting out of debt or contemplate how much better you’d be as a spouse if you spent dedicated time devoted to making your wife or husband feel special.

That’s the easy part.  When you make a firm commitment and make it publicly known, progress follows and you actually get big stuff done.

2. Goal setting + Consistency = Success

I’ve always been big on goal setting, and it’s served me and my clients very well over the years.

However, Tough Mudder was taking BIG goal setting to a new level for me.  It took six months of very dedicated and consistent training to get me ready.

I only missed a handful of workouts along the way, and I pushed myself very hard in every single training session.  I knew this big goal required a big commitment.

And there were real consequences for failure.  Not only would I let my team down, but I would seriously increase my chance of major injuries during the event, or risk not finishing.

I should be clear – when I told people what I was doing, most thought I was crazy and would respond with “well you can always quit if it’s too hard, right?”

Those reactions fueled my training and my mantra became I DON’T QUIT.

I completed the event in October, but like most big goals, my success actually came from the sweat and pain that I consistently faced for the six months prior.

3. Our limits truly are in our mind.

This is the biggie.

Again, I’ve always thought this was true.  It’s a great cliche.

However, I’m telling you that I now believe it to my core because I’ve lived it.

This is best exemplified in my running abilities.  Prior to this year, the furthest I’d ever run was 3.1 miles (5K).  The fastest I’d ever run a 5K was around 32 minutes.

These are mediocre stats, especially considering I was in great overall shape for much of the last several years.  However, I carried around a limiting belief:

I am not a runner.

This was also my single biggest fear when I signed up for Tough Mudder.  I can take electrocution and swimming in ice since it’s just temporary pain.  But I can’t run that far.

The first several months of my training were crippled by this belief until one morning I decided I was going to run 4 miles no matter what.  It wasn’t pretty, but I made it and my mind started to change.

Over the next several months, I hit several long runs of up to 8 miles and my best solo 5K time was 24:57.  I’ll be starting to train this winter for the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon in April 2013 with a goal to finish under two hours.

Now, I am a runner.  Why? Because I decided I am a runner.

What’s Your Next Big Goal?

Now’s the time to be thinking about your next big goal.  As we approach the end of a year and the start of a new one, it’s a natural time to assess where we are and where we’re headed.

I actually met a few other major milestones lately.  As you may be aware, in addition to the work I do here with Tony at Fit Marriage, I also run a business where I focus on helping busy couples enjoy a married life they love.

Engaged Marriage is now over three years old, and I’m proud to share that we just crossed over 1,000,000 views and completed an entirely new design for the site.  Helping couples achieve more in their marriage and family life is my passion, so it’s amazing to see these goals being met.

I would love to have you join us at Engaged Marriage.  We have some pretty fantastic free gifts for you when you sign up for our Marriage Time newsletter, plus we’re doing a giveaway this weekend just for our subscribers there.

We’d love to hear about your next big goal in the comments below.  Thanks for supporting Fit Marriage and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!


  1. I find it odd that you found this so tough. Most of the guys I know and myself didn’t even train for it. It was a very easy course and you just take your time going through the hurdles. Nothing really too challenging about it.
    Try Ironman if you want to feel pain and commit to something that is challenging. Mudder is kind of a fun day at the park w/ the guys.
    Fun event though!

    • Mitch,

      You’re obviously much too advanced in your fitness to understand my perspective. Tough Mudder was an absolute challenge for me, as expressed in this post. Keep in mind that I started with a below average running ability, and even now my next goal is a half marathon. MOST people would find a half marathon to be a big challenge as well.

      That said, if you have completed a full Ironman, then a half marathon or something like Tough Mudder wouldn’t be a challenge at all. It’s a matter of perspective and pushing yourself forward from where you are currently.

      I’m guessing 99% of those reading this post would find Tough Mudder to be a major challenge. You’re part of the 1% that enjoys an elite fitness level – I hope to join you one day as I progress in this journey.


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