MIDDLEBURY — Amy and Kyle Buxton enjoy spending time together. Sometimes they take it to the extreme.
For example, the Middlebury couple are training for an “extreme” sporting event — the New England Tough Mudder challenge — in which they will participate on Aug. 10. It will be the second year in a row that Amy, 36, and Kyle, 38, take on the challenging 10-12 mile obstacle course that is run up and down Mount Snow in West Dover.
“Some people don’t get it and they call us crazy or whatever,” Amy said, shrugging her shoulders. The challenge includes ice baths, scaling 12-foot walls and crawling underneath dangling wires juiced with 10,000 volts of electricity. A Tough Mudder takes about four hours to complete, and is billed on its website as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”
The Buxtons could do other kinds of endurance races, but they said most other challenges just do not do the trick for them.
“I have no interest in running 26.2 miles,” Amy said. “We like the obstacles, it keeps it interesting, it keep you guessing … you really push yourself, it’s difficult and I like that.”
In fact, the Buxtons are not alone in their desire to test their physical and mental limits on an obstacle course. More than 700,000 people have participated in Tough Mudder races around the world, which claim to celebrate “strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.” Tough Mudder is the most successful of several extreme obstacle races that comprise a booming $250 million industry. Ex-British counterterrorism agent Will Dean created the Tough Mudder franchise three years ago while getting an MBA at Harvard Business School. He said he based the competition on the British Special Forces’ training camp. Last year, Tough Mudder raked in $70 million, $5 million of which went to the Wounded Warrior Fund.
Amy and Kyle Buxton have competed in another of these extreme obstacle races: the Spartan Beast race at the Killington Mountain Resort. But this year, they will only compete in the Tough Mudder race, and have recruited 11 friends from the area to do it with them.
“The way I like to think about Tough Mudder is that it’s not timed at all so it’s more of a challenge than it is a race,” Amy said, echoing a point race organizers often drive home. “I’m only out there to beat myself in the things that I can and cannot do.”
According to the website, only 78 percent of participants complete all of the obstacles. While her husband finished them all last year, there was one toward the end that Amy couldn’t bring herself to attempt: a half pipe that each person runs up, grabbing the hand of someone at the top and pulling him or herself over.
“I told myself I would try every obstacle and if I fail, I fail,” she said, adding she is poised to complete every obstacle this time around.
Amy, a stay-at-home mom for their three children, and Kyle, who works for Green Mountain Power, have a training regimen that includes lifting weights six days a week and running over 20 miles a week.
“It’s nice to have something to work for, it keeps me going,” Amy said. Closer to the race she and Kyle will start paying closer attention to their diet, increasing their carbohydrate and sodium intake and drinking lots of water to ensure they will not get dehydrated during the four-plus hours they are on the course.
But despite the fact each participant is required to sign a waiver of liability in case of death, Amy maintains that you do not have to be an elite athlete to complete the challenge.
“There (are) people (of) all shapes, sizes, ages — it’s really quite diverse,” she said. “(There are) people that are absolutely ripped, and people not so much. It’s actually really encouraging to see people that might not be in elite athlete shape out there doing it … and you encourage each other as you are going up the mountain or down the mountain or in an obstacle or whatever.”
Amy added that, unlike triathlons and marathons, teamwork is an integral part of a Tough Mudder challenge.
“If you are going to do this course, you can’t get through it without the help of another person. Whether you’re doing it alone, with one other person, or a team, you can still get separated and you might have to ask a stranger to help you over a 12-foot wall.”
At the end of the race, each participant receives a Tough Mudder T-shirt, headband and a Dos Equis beer and joins in a celebration complete with live music.
“You know you look at each other you’re like, ‘Wow, we just did that, we just did that!’ It’s pretty amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it,” said Amy, recounting the scene from last year. And then, after the adrenaline wears off, reality sets in: exhaustion.
“But it’s a good tired, a satisfied tired and you hurt everywhere for a couple days, but that fades away and makes you want to do it again,” she said.