The Tough Mudder, in any of its iterations, will provide a stiff test for those who take it on.
But Vancouverite Jenna Reed-Cote had a little extra to figure out as she took on the Tough Mudder Half course in Whistler Olympic Park on June 25.
Reed-Cote has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair to get around, but with accomplishments like a second-degree black belt in karate already notched, she's always been up for pushing her body's limits. A friend encouraged her to consider taking on a Tough Mudder event, and 10 months ago, she ramped up her training for this past weekend's obstacle course.
"I like to feel alive and...training for this made me feel alive," she said.
Reed-Cote enlisted three personal trainers to help her prepare for the event — Adam Crow of Revival Fitness in Vancouver, John Blok of Whistler Core and Garick Nelson of Phases Executive Fitness Studio in Toronto, her home as a teenager.
Reed-Cote noted she looked at the course when it was released, and tried to decide which obstacles she could reasonably do and which might not be feasible. But hers wasn't the only voice. Her original plan was to bypass the first obstacle, the Berlin Wall, but her three coaches overruled her, encouraging her to at least give it a shot. She nearly made it, but coach Crow said he and the other coaches weren't quite tall enough to get her all the way over. Reed-Cote eventually opted to head on to the next challenge.
"I finally said 'No, this isn't working. This isn't using my energy in the best way or my spirit in the best way. I don't want to feel defeated after the first one,'" she said. "There were times where we had to make those executive decisions and not feel bad about it."
The next two on the docket were crawling options, which Reed-Cote could tackle. After that came her favourite, the Block Ness Monster, where competitors must make their way through barriers while swimming. While some of the race staffers initially seemed concerned and tried to get her to wear a life jacket, Reed-Cote convinced them to let her give it a go.
"I've been swimming since I was a baby, so that was easy," she said. "I was so grateful for the cold water at that point.
"I had so much fun doing that one."
However, further along, Reed-Cote had to pass on three obstacles she felt she could do because the terrain to get there was impassable for her. Even before that, she opted to figure out some clever ways to get around rather than be carried throughout the course.
"There were some people who stopped along the way to help and there were just so many times where they'd say 'We'll just lift you in the chair,' and my mind didn't want to accept that," she said. "I felt awful that that would have to be the way that we would have to go through the forest area. I just thought that was so unfair to them and I said 'Why don't I just get out of the chair and I'll bum my way through this area? I'll slide along the logs and basically sit on the forest floor and just go backwards.'
"That was a lot of what we did for a lot of the really steep parts or the terrain that, no matter what, you just can't wheel over."
She has a suggestion for organizers to help people in the future — attach a GoPro to a golf cart and post the video to give potential participants an idea of the terrain in between the stops. Reed-Cote noted there is plenty of video about the obstacles available to help people train, but she would appreciate getting the lay of the land around the obstacles as well, as she didn't realize how much she would need to lean on her trainers.
"It really hurt, I guess, to have to rely on them so much, not because I have a big ego but because this was my dream, not theirs," she said. "I was so grateful for every ounce of blood, sweat and tears that they were willing to offer me to help me realize this dream."
Reed-Cote praised all three trainers, and especially Crow, her primary coach, for adapting to her needs.
Crow said while the exercises she could perform may have been limited, there weren't many changes he needed to make for those she could do.
"I'm a pretty open trainer so it's not my way or the highway. When she called me, I was open to the challenge to train her in the way that she needed and modifying exercises she needed, but to be honest, she didn't need too many exercises modified. Some of them, I would have to hold her chair so she didn't slide toward the machine... and I'd have to hand her the weights to do lat pull-downs and hand her the weights for pretty much every exercise, but she could do the exercise with pretty much the full range of motion once she had the weights in her hand," he said.
Crow said he was exhausted at the end, and was thrilled with the ground he and the team covered in roughly four hours.
"(Reed-Cote) is a really tough-minded individual," he said. "I'm proud of what we did. That was the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life."