Marathons are dull, apparently.
Running 26.2 miles is so yesterday for some people. The new thing, the fun thing in the personal-challenge industry, is mudding, which is pretty much what it sounds like.
Participants slog along in the wet, cold and dirt for 24 hours. Not 23. Not 23 ½.
And taking on the toughest mudder known to man has become Steve Larson’s next challenge.
On Saturday in Englishtown, N.J., Larson, who works with the animals at the Sedgwick County Zoo, will compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder, simply trying to overcome the odds and finish what he starts.
Too bad there’s nothing simple about it.
Last year in the inaugural race, Larson said, only 10 of 1,000 participants made it through the grueling competition, which really isn’t a competition. Everybody who finishes is a champion; everyone who tries is more brave than most.
“I’m prepared as much as I can be for this,” said Larson, whose hobby is pushing himself to ridiculous extremes. “But you really can’t prepare 100 percent. There’s always going to be some question in there.”
The laps on the Tough Mudder course are 10 miles and as if that’s not intimidating enough, they are fraught with danger — 40 obstacles that test a participant’s ability in climbing, jumping, crawling, pushing, pulling and, of course, running.
And for good measure, there are some electrical shocks thrown in should a participant not get low enough while crawling under some wiring. It’s not enough to hurt anyone, but a shock is a shock.
Larson, who went directly from 10Ks to ultra-marathons, bypassing marathons altogether, is addicted to being challenged.
“I’m the guy people live vicariously through with stuff like this,” he said. “Last year in this race, 300 people had to drop out because of hypothermia. It was just an awful day there, from what I understand. Part of the race is having to climb on barbed wire, and some of the guys were having to break through ice to be able to do it.”
Having fun yet?
Larson’s wife, Susanne, isn’t sure she is. Asked when she realized her husband was a lunatic, she replied: “Day One.”
Susanne will be there to support Steve, whatever that means. He’ll be out on a sadistic mudder course and she’ll be … somewhere. She’s not exactly sure where.
“I’m nervous,” she said, “but he’s very prepared. And he’s so excited about it.”
When Susanne got home from work Tuesday, she said, Steve was submerged inside a horse trough full of freezing water, part of the training. He’s been working for weeks to prepare for the mudder of all mudders.
“He thinks anybody who is stubborn enough to keep going can finish a marathon,” Susanne said. “He thinks it’s just mind-over-matter thing. I think it was when Oprah and P-Diddy ran marathons that he decided something like that was too easy for him.”
Larson is into pushing his limits, which helps explain why he works with zoo animals. He’s currently with the penguins, which sounds docile enough.
“During breeding season, though, they’ll defend their nests with ferocity,” Larson said. “We all have multiple scars on our arms and legs from the penguins.”
He also went through a competitive eating phase, one in which he still dabbles. Can you dabble in competitive eating? Anyway, Larson did spend a few years on the competitive eating circuit.
“I was never a big name, by any means,” Larson said. “But I won a few dollars here and there.”
He is a former champion of the Andover Eating Contest, taking the top spot by downing 14 hot dogs in five minutes.
But his biggest accomplishment in eating did not come in a sanctioned event.
“I gained 10 pounds at a Chinese restaurant here in town in one hour of eating,” Larson said. “My buddies and I got together and we took a scale and weighed ourselves in the middle of the place. I think the people who ran the restaurant thought it was kind of funny.”
There is nothing humorous about the bite Larson will attempt to chew Saturday in New Jersey. He’s prepared for the toughest endurance test of his life.
“People like to tell me that I can’t do something, so that makes me do it,” Larson said. “I’ll always try to prove the people who doubt me wrong. But this is the biggest challenge yet.
“From what I understand, there are going to be doctors on the course,” Larson said. “They’ll look us over after each lap to make sure we’re not going to die.”
That’s a joke, folks. Probably the last one Larson will tell for a while. He’s ready to go, ready to put all of his training to the test. This is why he has spent all these weeks training by sitting in ice water, carrying heavy logs on his shoulders through his neighborhood, climbing anything that can be climbed, lifting anything that can be lifted..
“Our neighbors give him strange looks,” Susanne said. “They see a guy in a wet suit running down the street carrying a giant log in the mornings. That’s a little different than a casual jog.”