Unchartered Landscape – My Road to Mud Running

I consider Ryan one of my closest friends. We were introduced to each other while working at a bar nearly 15 years ago. In 2010, we found a common bond in our passion for mud running. This is Ryan’s perspective of that journey…A special thanks to Ryan for taking the time to share his story…It’s one we can all relate to. Enjoy!

Mud over matter

Late in the summer of 2010, I was approached by Paul who had read in a magazine about an event called Tough Mudder, a 12-mile obstacle course that included running, mud and freezing water. At 30, the thought of being able to revisit my youth and play in the mud and freezing water was very intriguing…running 12 miles, not so much. During the summer months, I stay pretty fit due to operating my landscaping business and working a second job as a barback at a well-known Jersey Shore bar and beach club.

I remember my very first night jogging–a 2-mile jog along the boardwalk in which I just barely survived.

Weighing-in near 180 pounds, I was slightly overweight for my height by most health standards, but nothing I was too concerned about. However, my diet was a different story consisting mostly of processed foods, pasta and junk food–still nothing really out-of-the-ordinary for your average American. With each day that passed, reality began to settle in over the challenge that I would soon embark. I hadn’t been on an exercise schedule since the ninth grade, so the very thought of having to train, let alone go out and jog, made me want to vomit. I thought to myself, “there’s no way I can run 12 miles.”  But I wanted this, so finally I just had to say, “screw it, let’s go!”

Tough Mudder Funky Monkey

The Funky Monkey got the best of me in 2010's Tri-State, but I got my revenge the next two times!

I had about 2 months to train and get ready for the 2010 Tri-State Tough Mudder. I set myself up on a 3-day per week running schedule to increase my stamina. I remember my very first night jogging–a 2-mile jog along the boardwalk in which I just barely survived. You see, along with my lack of running experience I also suffer from mild asthma. In my old age it doesn’t really affect me much; still, the thought remains in the back of my mind, what if it flares up? But I moved forward with my training and I noticed that I was rapidly progressing in my mileage and time. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed running. There was something about being out on my own hitting the pavement and listening to my favorite tunes that grew very addictive. I set a goal to cross the finish line of my first Tough Mudder, a dangling carrot that helped me stay focused and remain on track each week.  I could tell I was quickly getting healthier and before long I started to feel better about myself.  For the first time in my life, I experienced what is commonly known to the running-community at large as “runner’s high.” This was progress! Before I knew it I was running 8 miles without a problem.

Tough Mudder TriState 2010

Our 2010 Tough Mudder Tri-State team. That's me on the far right (#109) at around 180 pounds.

Prior to signing-up for Tough Mudder, Paul had recently transitioned to a Primal diet in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. I had seen the positive results he was experiencing and while I wasn’t ready to fully commit to a “healthy lifestyle,” I became aware that some things had to change. This inspired me to establish an eating schedule: 5 days of eating healthy, (fruits, veggies, chicken, fish, eliminating all white breads and pasta.) For the remaining 2 days, well we all have to live a little right? Again, my body responded well to the changes. I started doing some research on organic foods, grass-fed beef and whole foods. This could lead us to a whole other discussion, but let me just say that by the end of my first Tough Mudder, I had decided to overhaul my entire diet. You can guess on which direction I headed.

Getting my shoes dirty

Leading up to the night before the Tri-State event, my nerves got the best of me and I could only manage to sleep for a few short hours. Our team, which included me, Paul and two of our close friends, awoke early, grabbed a couple snacks at a local WaWa and headed to Raceway Park, NJ. When we arrived at the scene, I remember getting out of the car in the bone-chilling cold and thinking, holy crap, what did I get myself into! 

Walk the Plank

Walk-the-Plank at Bear Creek, PA 2011. Little compares to the fear as you get to the top followed by the immediate rush of adrenaline as you jump and hit the water!

In the earliest stages of the race, we kept a solid pace…then we ran into Walk the Plank. As we jumped off the ledge and into the ice-cold water, it hit me…this was really on! We made it across still in one piece, and I knew all the training and hard work prior was about to pay off. Crossing the finish line was indescribable and something you must experience for yourself. I was beaten, scraped, cold, tired, and bloody, but so full of adrenaline and a feeling of accomplishment that nothing could bring me down at that moment.

Tough Mudder Slip n Slide at Bear Creek

Tough Mudder is great because it combines challenging obstacles with incredibly fun ones like this giant slip-n-slide at Bear Creek.

Two weeks later, we decided that the April 2011 Tough Mudder in Bear Creek, PA would be the next challenge. Although this was my 2nd Tough Mudder, just getting to the finish line was a feat in it’s own right. I have to admit I took this one a little bit for granted and didn’t train as hard and definitely paid for it. I cramped up on a few hills, but finished whole.  November 2011 Tri-State was our next run and was once again a pretty frigid experience–although, I think this was from all the insulation (fat) I’ve lost in my mud run training. Last year’s Tri-State had about 10 more obstacles than 2010 and some parts were definitely more challenging – but again we reached our goal and finished as a team. (Check out Paul’s full Tri-State review here.) Next up: ABF 10K Mud Run in March, then the Vermont Tough Mudder May 2012.

Tough Mudder TriState 2011 Finish

No matter what the race, the goal is always the same...cross the finish line as a team and have a hell of a good time getting there!

Bring it on!

At this point, I look at each mud run as a new challenge. The runs give me a reason to stay active, especially during my downtime from my landscaping business in the winter months. I run about every other day and along with my diet overhaul, I’m now down to a lean-153 and feeling about as healthy as ever. It’s anyone’s guess, but I think I will continue to run mud runs until a.) they just aren’t fun anymore, or b.) I physically can no longer get myself across the finish line. I’m contemplating some bigger goals now, such as qualifying for and completing the World’s Toughest Mudder at some point before I decide to “retire.” For now though, I’m content accepting the challenges that lie in front of me, conquering them one-by-one and knocking beers with my good friends at the finish line.


Meet the Author


Ryan is the owner and operator of Follow the Sun Landscaping, LLC based out of New Jersey. He's a New Jersey Devil's hockey fanatic, and enjoys death metal, organic foods, playing with his Shi-tzus and spending time with his long-time love Renee. Oh yeah, he's also a freaggin' mud run maniac.

8 comments… add one
  • Ian Clydesdale Feb 3, 2012, 6:59 pm

    Thank you Paul, Ryan’s ‘Unchartered Landscape – My Road to Mud Running’ has really helped me …I’m 43 yrs old with Asthma too, like Ryan I suffered at first but trained through it to the point when I ran a half marathon in 2010, but let myself go afterwards and have been ill for too long. Been down since. I’ve now grown a new pair!….so much so I’ve challenged myself to get fit again, and to do the my first Tough Mudder in Cheshire (UK) on 17th &18th November….I’m going to do both days too. I have a team to enter with me ( 8 mixed) having read Ryans story, the open and honest way it’s been set it out, has given me a big boost as I’ve struggled through to almost my 1st week of training [Doing Insanity work DVD as a bench mark 60 days – 6 days a week Mon -Sat rest Sunday] I’m going to be moving on to a combo of both Insanity and cross country running….like Ryan I’ve changed my diet too [ I’ve cut out white bread, sweets, junk food chips -fries if your American, beer, wine] I feel Ryan’s confirmed for me with his training diet and weight loss that I can get through this …..T H A N K Y O U Paul and T H A N K Y O U Ryan for sharing your story, all the best to you both, you ‘Veteran’ Mudder Brothers..Ian Clydesdale (Saint Helens, Merseyside UK)

    • Mud Run Maniac Mud Run Maniac Feb 4, 2012, 8:30 am

      Thanks for reading and for your comments Ian. I know it took Ryan a good amount of effort to make the switch to a healthy lifestyle, but now that he has made it, I can’t see him turning back. I think your idea to do the Insanity DVDs is great. I’ll occasionally mix-in some P90X workouts into my regimen, just to keep my body guessing. Whatever you do, my best advice is to really ease into things for two major reasons 1) you don’t want to get hurt; 2) you don’t want to burn out. Keep things fresh and change-up your workouts. You’ll find some on the site, such as Maniac Mondays or the GRC-WOWs, that are quite different. Also, if you’re interested in Primal Lifestyle, which includes diet, nutrition and fitness, I encourage you to visit http://www.marksdailyapple.com. A great resource for workouts, recipes, and general knowledge of healthy “primal” living. Keep up the great work Ian, and without a doubt, KEEP MUDDING!
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here.

      • Ian Clydesdale Feb 5, 2012, 8:19 am

        Thank you Paul for the sound advise, I will act on it and incorporate the training you’ve highlighted once I’ve completed this 60 day workout… ‘Mudder through & through’ kind regards, Ian

  • Stevo of Townsville, QLD, Australia Feb 3, 2012, 9:44 pm

    Awesome to read thanks Ryan. Great to hear the solid changes ….
    We are on the TM wagon for sure!
    Phillip Island 31 March is our baptism!

  • John Hughes Feb 10, 2012, 5:52 pm

    Great article Ryan. I thought tossing 160lbs kegs, 500 cases of beer and countless buckets of ice on a weekend was pretty good training in the heat. Good to see you are looking after yourself and makes the transition to 40 much easier – which you won’t see for a while. Looking forward to running with the team in July and maybe sooner once I sort out my schedule.

  • Christine Sep 16, 2012, 8:47 pm

    Hi, I have been searching online for those who have asthma and completed tough mudder. I plan to do tough mudder next year and is kind of worried about my asthma. Did it cause any problems at tough mudder? Especially after the ice bath obstacle? Let me know. Thanks! 🙂

    • Mud Run Maniac Mud Run Maniac Sep 17, 2012, 3:15 pm

      Hi Christine,

      All I can say is that Ryan (my TM co-pilot) has been conquering Big Mudder since 2010 and has yet to have any real issues with his asthma. I know he was definitely concerned at first and I’m pretty sure he runs with his inhaler in a ziplock either in his pocket or in my GORUCK just in case. I think I’ve seen him jump in and out of the ice bath at least 3 or 4 times now and he’s seemed ok to me. Everyone is different though, so being cautious and running with your inhaler, using the buddy system and making your team aware of your condition are all good recommendations.

      Hope that helps.


    • Ryan Sep 17, 2012, 4:24 pm

      Hi christine. My asthma really doesn’t bother me anymore. As Paul said, I do carry my inhaler in a ziplock bag just for precaution. I’ve never needed it though. The dumpster full of ice does take your breath away when you first hit, but you come out the other side feeling energized and invigorated. Good luck in your race.

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