This Marysville mom recently finished second in a Women’s Toughest Mudder competition, against 450 athletes.
MY TRUE STORY — I have yet to run across a cold, muddy field; scale a 10-foot wall; jump into a ditch filled with ice water; or run through hanging electric wires.
I leave those challenges for people buffer, or at least bolder, than me. Obstacle-course races have grown so popular, there are now professionals who spend their days and nights taking on icy water, sometimes for 24 hours at a time. Shudder.
Marysville resident Sarah Knight, 30, is one of the pros, racing in Tough Mudder events around the world. She is not only good at the races; she likes them.
She started like the average racer, taking on a Warrior Dash in 2013 to get in shape after having her second baby. She loved the combination of being active and getting dirty, “like a little kid again.”
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The next year, she decided to compete and see how she would do — she came in fourth. That clinched it; she wanted more.
She and her family lived for a couple of years in Mount Vernon, where she had access to property where she could set up obstacles and train for real. She did Tough Mudders (10- to 12-mile courses filled with obstacles) and learned she also could do longer, tougher races, including the eight-hour Toughest Mudder race, which starts at midnight, and the World’s Toughest Mudder, an even more-excruciating 24-hour course. She recently placed second at a Women’s Toughest Mudder event, competing against 450 athletes.
Why subject herself to such an intense environment for hours on end? Knight loves pushing herself to see how far she can go. And there is a camaraderie that emerges during a race. During one recent event, she was running next to the previous World Cup champion, and they were helping each other over obstacles.
“It’s not like any other race,” she says. “It’s just a really cool format, where you’re in it together until the final hour.”
It also requires intense training to prepare, particularly in the winter months, waiting for the season to begin. In addition to the endurance required to run for hours, which she trains for with trail runs, Knight focuses on grip strength, needed for rope climbs and other obstacles. One of her training strategies is to take a lap around a track with two full water coolers.
“It just destroys my grip,” she says.
Beyond strength and training, obstacle courses also require icy buckets of patience.
“I surprise myself pretty much every time I get out on the course,” Knight says. She says sometimes she has to pause, and tell herself, “I’ve been through worse.” Then she keeps pushing.
Knight is a personal trainer, and people come to her wanting help to train for races. She has them build leg strength with lunges and squats, and has them run — short and fast at a track doing 400-meter sprints five times, on a trail for an hour, or mileage days, until they get up to the 10-mile race distance. She also has them hang from monkey bars to strengthen their hands.
I’m impressed, and with all the running and obstacle craziness, I’m still convinced I will leave the obstacle-course races to the pros and the folks who love a muddy, potentially shock-filled challenge.