Neall Hards received the shock of his life last summer.
At the time, the 36-year-old Bridlewood man was crawling across an obstacle course, elbows-deep in water, with 10,000-volt live wires dangling over his head, occasionally zapping him on the forehead.
“It felt like someone had taken a bat and smacked you down,” said Hards.
The Electric Eel was just one of the 19 obstacle courses in the Tough Mudder race held at Mount St.-Louis, near Barrie, Ont. on Aug. 18.
Hards finished with a decent time – travelling up and down the hill across a torturous series of obstacles five times in just two hours and 20 minutes – good enough to qualify for the World’s Toughest Mudder race, to be held in Englishtown, N.J. on Nov. 17 and 18.
Nearly half a million men and women participate in Tough Mudder qualifiers held worldwide this year, with the top five per cent finishers eligible to move on to the big event.
The World’s Toughest Mudder is a 24-hour race that exhausts participants and pushes them to their limits in a contest designed to discover the toughest male and female on the planet.
“The Tough Mudder is more of a challenge than running a marathon,” said Hards.
Participants are given 24 hours to complete as many laps as possible on a course filled with punishing – and often pain-inducing – obstacles.
The length of the course and the types of obstacles are only disclosed on the day of the race, said Hards.
The World’s Toughest Mudder was founded by Will Dean, a former counter-terrorism agent for the British government.
Proceeds from the event go to support the Wounded Warriors Project, a fund that assists injured service men and women.
The event features a variety of obstacles including:
- Arctic Enema: participants must jump into bins filled with ice and swim under submerged wooden planks and find the strength to pull themselves out on the other side.
- Ball Shrinker: mudders must cross a body of water with only a rope overhead to hold and another to walk on.
- Berlin Walls: mudders must work as a team, scaling a series of 3.7-metre high walls.
- Funky Monkey: mudders must cross a set of monkey bars greased with mud and butter – those who slip fall into an icy pond below.
- Log Bog Jog: Participants must jump over and crawl under large logs scattered across the obstacle course.
- Turd’s Nest: mudders climb across a cargo net suspended over water, barbed wire or other participants running below.
- Fire Walker: Mudders travel across a trench filled with kerosene-soaked straw set ablaze, with flames 1.2 metres high.
Hards has been running ever since he was old enough to walk, participating in cross country running and track and field events since Grade 3, in his home town of North Bay, Ont.
He also played football for his high school, where he was both a running back and a linebacker.
After he married, Hards took a hiatus from running as family life became more hectic raising his children Kaeline, 15, Eithan, 12, and Masen, 2.
The Bridlewood man, who works for IBM, is now in his fifth year coaching the Kanata Knights mosquito football team.
In the spring of 2011, he decided to lace his shoes up and take up the sport of running again.
“I woke up, dusted off my gear, bought a treadmill and started to run between meetings (at work),” said Hards, who tracked his progress using the Runtastic app for his BlackBerry phone.
Hards’ training philosophy is simple.
“Be a fan of yourself and make yourself your idol,” he said. “Don’t try to be someone else, be who you are – be the best you.”
During the past year, Hards has turned into one tough mudder.
He now eats marathons for breakfast – half marathons and sprints barely qualify as a snack.
“I run on a regular basis,” said Hards. “I run half marathons, marathons – to me that’s pretty monotonous.”
For a real challenge, Hards, who logs 80 to 100 kilometres every week, had to look a little off the beaten path of athletic competitions.
So far this year, he’s competed in the 17-kilometre Tough Mudder competition and the Spartan Beast, a 26-kilometre “obstacle race from hell” held at Mont-Tremblant, Que., on June 30.
“The Spartan is a little more bush whacking than the Tough Mudder,” said Hards. “The next race I want to run is the Spartan Death Race.”
Last summer, when he entered the Tough Mudder, Hards had to sign a “death waiver,” which limits a participant’s ability to sue the competition as a result of death or injury.
Extreme races demand extreme preparation, said Hards, who has been training for the Tough Mudder and Spartan races at the Kanata South Recreation Complex, where he regularly completes a self-designed 16-kilometre course, which includes push ups, burpies and climbing a set of monkey bars as well as the bleachers on Robert Barr Field.
Competing in the World’s Toughest Mudder is pricey, said Hards, who expects to spend $3,000 to $4,000 on travel and training gear including three wetsuits, headlamps – useful during night runs – neoprene socks, gloves, a sleeping bag and running shoes.
Hards is looking for sponsors to defray his costs, including individuals, groups and corporations, and will recognize their support by displaying names and logos on his wetsuits.
A group of women who Nordic walk at the Kanata South Recreation Complex have pooled their money to sponsor Hards.
“They call themselves the Hard Mudder admirers,” said Hards. “They bought a space on my thigh.”
Anyone interested in sponsoring Hards can email him at email@example.com or visit his website sponsorneall.webnode.com.
Fans can track Hards’ progress during the race on Facebook or Twitter which will receive GPS information from his cellphone using the Runtastic app.
“People can send me live cheers during the race,” said Hards. “It will shout it out during the race.”
Fans can also record a message and send it to Hards’ BlackBerry.
“Literally, I get it within seconds,” he said.
The prize for the top male and female competitors in the World’s Toughest Mudder is $15,000, with $20,000 going to the top team.
“I want to win,” said Hards.
“There’s only three ways I come off the course,” he said. “Complete it, being taken off for a medical (reasons) or I keel over on the course. I’m not quitting.”