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Muddy Days Ahead at Gunstock

Thomas P. Caldwell - May 20, 2013





Something new is coming to Gunstock this summer, and it’s drawing adventure sports participants from around the country.

The Tough Mudder challenge, scheduled June 1-2 at Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, is expected to bring between 15,000 and 17,000 people to the area. The challenge typically comprises 10 to 12 miles of obstacles that involve plunging into an ice-filled pool of water, leaping over four-foot-high flames, climbing a greased wall, and racing through a field of hanging, 10,000-volt wires.

With courses designed by British Special Forces to build strength, stamina, mental fortitude, and camaraderie, the event also raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project that provides programs and services for severely injured members of the armed forces. To date, Tough Mudder has raised more than $5 million for Wounded Warrior.

Gunstock Marketing Director Bill Quigley said Tough Mudder had been talking to Gunstock for a couple of years but the resort had been under a two-year contract with the Warrior Dash, a five-kilometer event that draws a similar clientele. As a result, it was not until last fall that Mudder officials, looking for a Boston area event, were able to come up and take at a look at the property.

“Space here wasn’t a concern for them, because we do have 2,000 acres, fully within our boundaries,” said Quigley.

Gunstock saw Tough Mudder as a great event for the Lakes Region, coming just ahead of Bike Week  and three weeks before the summer season really gets underway. “If this becomes an annual thing, and we hope it will, it will be a great kickoff for the Lakes Region in a traditionally slow weekend,” Quigley said, noting than, within six hours of announcing the event on Gunstock’s website, six area hotels were fully booked for that weekend.

“It’s a big boost to the local economy, and there are a lot of other things happening in area that weekend for people who come here.”

Tough Mudder combines serious, hard-core challenges with a sense of humor and team spirit. While  successful participants prepare for the challenge with rigorous training and exercise beginning months before the event, it takes teamwork to make it through the various courses. Many of the participants create unique, often outlandish team costumes and help each other achieve things that, as individuals, they would not be able to accomplish. At the end, all participants gather to share laughter and beer before a live band to celebrate their accomplishments. Indeed, teamwork and camaraderie are integral elements of the Tough Mudder experience.

While fun and safety are paramount for organizers and participants, it remains a genuine challenge with the potential for serious injury. Earlier this year, Tough Mudder saw its first fatality — a 28-year-old man, Avishek Sengupta, drowned at Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic on April 20 after jumping from a plank into a pool of muddy water.  Twenty other participants were treated at a local hospital for hypothermia, head injuries, and orthopedic injuries, with two people suffering non-fatal heart attacks. Last year, in Wisconsin, 26 participants were hospitalized after a Tough Mudder event, including one with a fractured neck vertebra and another with a broken femur.

Chief Executive Officer Will Dean said of April’s fatality that Tough Mudder was “devastated by this tragic accident” and reiterated that the obstacles are designed by trained engineers with safety experts and third-party engineers providing a thorough safety check and inspection. Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic had more than 75 professionals on hand, some trained in advance life support, others emergency medical technicians or paramedics, as well as water rescue technicians and emergency personnel. It was the first fatality in the three-year history of the company which has conducted more 50 events on four continents, involving more than 750,000 participants.

Of those who take part in Tough Mudder events, 76 percent have been male and 24 percent female, with an average age of 29. The average time to finish a Tough Mudder course, which can have from 25 to 30 obstacles, is three and a half hours, with 78 percent of participants typically finishing the challenge. Eighty percent of them come as part of a team.

Among the obstacles they face is a dumpster filled with ice and water, with participants having to dive in and swim under a wooden plank before climbing out the other side. Other challenges include going through a stack of uneven hay bales, crossing an icy pool of water with just an overhead rope to hang onto, scaling 12-foot wooden walls, crawling through a series of narrow pipes, leaping over four-foot-wide mud pits, and crawling under a series of live wires. At one point, there’s even a dash up a steep, muddy incline while being sprayed from both sides by high-pressure hoses.

The muddiest of the Tough Mudder events have participants crawling, commando-style, under barbed wire set eight inches from the ground, or sloshing through up to a mile of waist-deep sludge that, in some instances, requires the participant to fully submerge in the mud to make it forward. Or how about crawling through dark, muddy trenches with obstructions to test the mental grit of those who fear dark, confined spaces?

Then there are the frigid underwater tunnels, the 15-foot leaps, and the cargo nets that must be mastered. No wonder it is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet”.

Gunstock’s Operations Department has been working “constantly” with the Tough Mudder crew to set up bus routes, spectator areas, and employee parking. “It’s a pretty massive event,” said Quigley. “Their building teams have been here almost a month already, building obstacles. It’s really spread out, from the Pistol parking lot, to our cross-country trails. The Warrior Dash was only a 5K, and this being 10 plus miles is pretty hardy.”

He added, “I can see from my office this massive wood wall. This team of people are a pretty bright group, and it’s been a lot of fun working with them.”

With the huge crowds expected, Tough Mudder has arranged with the NH Motor Speedway in Loudon to have people park there There will be 19 shuttle buses carrying contestants for every wave that goes off. There are 500 competitors per wave with the first starting at 8 a.m. and the last at 2 p.m. On Sunday, the event continues from 9 a.m. to noon, with six waves that day.

Registration to take part in the event continues through Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Spectators, too, are able to register online, with advance tickets selling for half price.

Registration on the day of the race begins at 7 a.m., with the parking lots open at 6. For the spectators, children 10 and under are admitted free.

“It should just be a great, fun day,” said Quigley.

Sheetal Aiyer, vice-president of venues for Tough Mudder, summed up in a press release, “Our event promises to challenge even the toughest of men and women in New England on multiple levels. Participants will be challenged physically and mentally, and they will need the help of one another to make it through the course. We are changing the way Americans think of endurance challenges and having a lot of fun along the way.”

For additional information on Tough Mudder, see www.ToughMudder.com . For more information on Gunstock Mountain Resort, see www.gunstock.com

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