Tough Mudders are gluttons for punishment — and Lake Tahoe has become their latest playground

Drew Hanley and Joe Sisk power through the shocking Electric Eel obstacle during the Tough Mudder event at Northstar California last summer.

Drew Hanley and Joe Sisk power through the shocking Electric Eel obstacle during the Tough Mudder event at Northstar California last summer.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the 2014 summer edition of Lake Tahoe Magazine, available now throughout the Lake Tahoe and Truckee region.


 They poured into Northstar California Resort by the thousands, high on adrenaline and camaraderie, willing to experience an Arctic Enema and Electroshock Therapy in the name of becoming a Tough Mudder.

Some 15,000 people participated in the two-day Tough Mudder Tahoe Summer event last July — one of two Tough Mudders held at Northstar (the other in September 2013) — while countless viewers contributed to the spectacle. The event returns Saturday and Sunday at Northstar.

In the end there were no winners or losers, just legions of muddy finishers enjoying their hard-earned rewards — a beer, T-shirt, headband, CLIF Bar and, above all, a beaming sense of accomplishment.

Originally conceived by British Special Forces, the popular Tough Mudder events are designed to test all-around stamina, strength, mental fortitude and ability to work as a team. Courses measure between 10 and 12 miles, and send entrants through a series of obstacles — some more unpleasant than others.

The Northstar event was roughly 10 miles and featured 19 obstacles sprinkled throughout the resort, from mid-mountain to the top. Waves of several hundred Mudders, packed like sardines in a can, went off every 20 minutes, each following a series of war cries led by a motivational man with a microphone.

First up was the Glory Blades obstacle, then the Kiss of Mud and Arctic Enema — a chilly plunge and swim in an icy pool. After tackling four more obstacles on their ascent to the top of the mountain, Mudders faced the daunting Electric Eel — a shallow pool of water and mud with live wires of up to 10,000 volts dangling just above.

It was a shocking experience to be sure.

Crisp “zaps” of electricity, followed by shrieks of disapproval by the Commando-crawling participants, drew collective cringes of empathy — as well as nonempathetic snickers — from the crowd of spectators.

One participant, Joe Sisk of Carson City, likened one of his shocks to a club over the head. He caught one particularly live wire straight to the forehead as he entered the pool, briefly knocking him unconscious. “It didn’t feel good,” he said.

More than a few women cried. Some Mudders, disoriented and wobbly-kneed, needed a minute to regain their bearings.

On they pressed, down the mountain to the Berlin Walls, Kiss of Mud 2, Boa Constrictor, Funky Monkey, Mud Mile and Hold Your Wood. From there it was on to Walk the Plank, Cage Crawl, Warrior Carry and Everist.

With the finish line and beer tantalizingly close, the Mudders were tasked with one final, smarting test — Electroshock Therapy. Like the Electric Eel, the obstacle features live, dangling wires of up to 10,000 volts, but with a shallow, muddy pool that participants must run through to reach the other side some 50 feet away.

In a mad, painful dash for safety, many exhausted Mudders stumbled and face-planted into the muddy pit, adding a fresh coating of sludge in time for the finish line.

Despite their struggles, most of the Mudders wore giant smiles of satisfaction as they exchanged high fives and sipped their “free” beers in the finish corral. Some were bloodied. All were caked in filth. Asked if they’d do it again, the common answer was an emphatic “Yes.”


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