By Marie Darling
Engineer Research and Development Center's Deputy Commander Maj. Thomas Clair is a proven Tough Mudder after recently placing in the top five percent of the grueling 10-plus mile challenge at Vermont's Mount Snow. According to the Tough Mudder website, their competition is "probably the toughest event on the planet."
Founded in 2010, Tough Mudder looks to be the fastest-growing and most-recognized endurance series. The events are constructed by British Special Forces to offer a 10- to 12-mile trail-running experience with courses based on rugged terrain, featuring steep inclines and water hazards. The courses, offered all over the world, are highlighted by 18 to 25 military-style obstacles that test one's fitness, strength, stamina, mental grit, teamwork and toughness. This event was created to test individual limits in a one-day challenge that showcases the core characteristics of will, intensity, camaraderie and teamwork. Events are not timed and are won by all those capable of completing the course.
Up for the challenge
Initially, Clair became interested in endurance challenges such as the Tough Mudder when his younger brother, Michael, had read in a men's health magazine about an Urbanathlon (a three-city event series comprised of 9.5- to 10.5-mile endurance races that incorporate city landmarks and urban obstacle courses set on the streets Chicago, New York, and San Francisco in the U.S.) in Chicago and asked him to run it with him. But as circumstances would have it, the timing didn't work out and they were unable to make the event.
Running is nothing new to Clair. He has participated in both shorter and longer races including three half marathons and the Bataan Death March Marathon in White Sands, N.M. (not once, but four times). Two years ago, in Tulsa, Okla., Clair and Michael were able to link up and run the Warrior Dash, a 5K obstacle race. This past April, they ran the Warrior Dash again, but this time in Jackson, Miss. "Although the race was fun, I found that it wasn't challenging enough, so I started to look for something else out there to push me," Clair said. "In my research I found the Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile obstacle course with about 25 obstacles on it that range from challenging to practically impossible -- this was the challenge I was looking for."
Clair trained for the event by joining runners in Vicksburg. "Since coming to ERDC in January, I have linked up with a group that runs a few times a week," he said. "They all run faster than I do, so running with them has only improved my running speed and stamina."
The Mudder is both a team and single event. Clair decided to take the challenge solo. "I wanted to run this event by myself because I knew that there would be other participants that would lend me a hand if/when I needed to overcome an obstacle," he said. "If you run as a single, it is encouraged that you help fellow Tough Mudders to complete the course by giving them a hand.
"I did not want to hold anyone else back, nor pull someone along with me to complete the event … I wanted to push myself and I only needed help to get over the two 12-foot walls and up the half pike ramp," he said.
Supporting a good cause
Tough Mudder participants have raised more than $3 million in support of its official charity partner, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), and many wounded warriors participate at the events.
The WWP was established to honor and empower wounded warriors; to raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.
"I was floored when I got an e-mail from the race officials," said Clair. "It was an invitation for me to attend the World's Toughest Mudder this November."
The letter from the Mudder officials states, "Mudder Thomas Clair -- Congratulations! You finished in the top five percent at Tough Mudder New England #2 and have qualified for World's Toughest Mudder 2012! On Nov. 17 and 18, Big Mudder will be delivering the baddest, most epic Tough Mudder course to date in Englishtown, N.J., where extreme Mudders from around the world will come together and compete over 24 hours to determine who the Toughest Mudders in the world are in 2012."
"It's not a race, but a challenge"
"The Tough Mudder motto is 'it's not a race, but a challenge' and that's how I went into the event; I wanted to challenge myself and was not worried about my time or place, I just wanted to push myself as hard as I could," Clair said. "We ran up and down, and up and down the ski slopes (at Mount Snow) through mud, fire, 34 degree ice water, more than 12-foot walls and underground mud tunnels. We even got shocked by 10,000 volts of electricity. The next challenge, the 'World's Toughest Mudder' in November will be a 24-hour race to see who can complete the most laps around an 8-10 mile Toughest Mudder course. The obstacles are said to be tougher, so I've started to work out even harder now. I've added P90X® [an extreme home fitness program] to my running routine. Hopefully, I don't let myself down and am able to finish a couple of laps."
Clair informed his supervisor, ERDC Commander Col. Kevin Wilson, about the Vermont results and his invitation to the New Jersey event, telling Wilson, "I may need to take leave after that trip."