'Sheer ball-shrivelling awfulness': why do mud racers do it?

To anyone that hasn't yet done one, there is one obvious question for participants of muddy obstacle assault challenges: why?

Why freeze in ice-cold water, why submit to being electrocuted, and why on earth would you want to get caked in mud and covered in painful bruises and grazes?

Far from being a masochist, corporate finance director Damian Schulz, 46, from Bundoora in Melbourne, is light-hearted about it all: "Having a desk job, it's an excuse to do something totally different and exhilarating on a weekend. The camaraderie and community feel keep me coming back to Tough Mudder."

Web and mobile apps director James Wikita, 37, from Melbourne's Sandhurst, expands on the unique appeal of obstacle racing: "Age, gender, and fitness level mean nothing on the course. Everyone's willing to help the person beside them – there's this mutual respect for just getting out there and having a go. What other sport in the world can you say that about?"

Now with added discomfort

Wikita and Schulz were two of 300 Melburnians who – crazily, some might say – volunteered this month to be the first Australians to test a brand new 18-20km Tough Mudder course. It'll be unveiled later this year and includes 10 completely new obstacles and many updated classics, such as the Arctic Enema 2.0, which now features a new slide into a large ice bath, forcing your head under. They'll feed information back to course designers on whether the obstacles need to be harder, higher, easier, colder or even muddier.

Earlier this year in an interview with founder Will Dean, Executive Style was the first Australian media title to reveal that the new Tough Mudder course would, controversially, include a tear gas-like substance on an obstacle called 'Cry Baby'.

Schulz wasn't initially convinced: "I thought: 'have they gone too far'? Social media blew up and I was a little wary at the idea. But Cry Baby wasn't as potent as I expected. It was definitely a mind-over-matter kind of challenge. You couldn't see more than 10cm in front of you, and throughout the crawl, you were forced to climb over various obstacles whilst consuming that tear gas. Good times!"

So what was the toughest new obstacle? Schulz says: "'Funky Monkey': you have to transition from normal monkey bar, to trapeze bar to straight bar. The fact that the bar was slippery and wet from the rain didn't help. Finger strength was the key to successfully crossing this obstacle, so maybe all that computer work paid off?"

Spartan stuff

The all-new Tough Mudder course is one of a number of upcoming assault course-style challenges.

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Andrew 'Pap' Papadopoulos, 24, from the NSW Central Coast, will be participating in The Ultra Beast Spartan Race. It's every bit as intimidating as it sounds; the Spartan Race comes in several levels to suit your fitness/bravery/insanity: the 7km 'Sprint', the 14km 'Super' and the 21km 'Beast' and 42km 'Ultra Beast' – the latter with 70 obstacles.

It helps that Papadopoulos is the owner/operator of Battle Fit Australia, a 10-week fitness program. He explains the appeal of these intense assault course challenges: "It's a cross fitness activity that requires many disciplines: cardio, strength, skill acquisition and endurance. It's a good opportunity to focus on more than one of these disciplines at a time. It forces you to overcome exercises that only an obstacle course can provide due to equipment and space."

If you're not a man mountain in all the right ways, there's still a mud event for you. For those who like their adrenalin in measured doses, the 8km Tough Bloke Challenge sits as a happy medium, perhaps a good one to try before you step up to a full Tough Mudder or Spartan Beast.

Bond. Group bonding

Grants manager Gary Minford, 37, from Sydney's Naremburn, completed his first one last year. The heart of the appeal is the same for him as those who opt for tougher challenges: "You pass or fail as a group - it's a great bonding experience."

Don't for one second think this will be an easy challenge, though – Minford says: "The third obstacle is essentially dunking yourself in freezing water under a tarpaulin and paddling along for about five metres, all whilst your body is trying to shut down due to the cold shock. It's sheer ball-shrivelling awfulness."

There's a poignant reason some get involved. It feels easier for participants to approach potential sponsors to donate to each event's chosen charity partner when it seems like they're doing something that actually looks impressively challenging and tough.

Tough Mudder's Paul Mudge says: "Tough Mudder is not a boring 5km or half-marathon. It's a chance to leave tedium behind and let loose, getting away from their smart watches and tracking apps and returning to a more primal nature. They're pushing themselves by testing and overcoming their fears."

Charity begins in the mud

Their chosen charity is Soldier On, of which Mudge says: "Their rehabilitation programs support those who've been physically or psychologically wounded in the service of their country."

Minford confirms the charity aspect was a motivation for him – Tough Bloke is partnered with children's cancer charity Camp Quality: "No matter what obstacle you have to swim through or clamber over, it's nothing compared to what these families are going through. Once you see the work done by Camp Quality, you can't go back and say, 'No thanks, the rope swing looks a bit tough'."

Coming up

Beginners

The Tough Bloke Challenge: June 27, Appin NSW (supporting Camp Quality)

The Spartan Sprint: September 12, Melbourne; October 10, Sydney; December 5, Geelong (supporting indigenous fostering service KARI)

The Raw Challenge: September 26, Central Coast

The Stampede: September 5, Brisbane; October 24, Sydney; November 28, Melbourne (supporting the Kokoda Youth Foundation)

Feeling adventurous/courageous

Tough Mudder September 12-13, South East Queensland; October 17-18, Melbourne; November 21-22, Sydney (supporting Soldier On)

Spartan Super: August 15, Brisbane

Spartan Beast September 12, Melbourne

Hard-core only need apply

World's Toughest Mudder: November 14, Las Vegas

Spartan Ultra Beast: September 12, Melbourne