Does the domestication of Wall Street really grind your gears? Does it kill you to sign emails “Best” or “Thx,” when what you’d really like to do is walk over to the person you’re corresponding with and simply grunt out your request? Are you shamed of the fact that your hands not only look like you’ve never done manual labor in your life but that you get regular manicures to keep lines and ragged cuticles at bay? Does it burn you up inside to order yet another lunch of salad and diet Coke via SeamlessWeb, when deep down inside you know what you should be doing for lunch is hunting and killing it yourself via bow and arrow? Does it chap your hide to no end that the JPMorgan 5K is considered a physical challenge, when real challenges are supposed to involve carrying someone for many miles on your back and being electrocuted? Do you want to bond with like-minded individuals looking to put hair on their chests and pay a fee of $80-$200 so your nipples can finally know real pain? Then Tougher Mudder* might be right for you.
Started in 2010 by a Harvard Business School graduate, Tough Mudder has exploded onto the fitness scene, with 35 races this year in 4 countries and 660,000 participants to date. Next year, 55 events are scheduled for 5 countries. Along with other quasi-military obstacle courses like the Spartan Race and Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder is the new gantlet for body-conscious Gen Xers. Though the muddy details vary, each challenge consists of a 3- to 12-mile course spiked with cheekily named obstacles like Ball Shrinker…The common motivator could be called the Walter Mitty weekend-warrior complex. While the races draw a fair share of endurance athletes and ex-military, many of the muddiest, most avid, most agro participants hail from Wall Street…“Obstacle courses like these are the physical representation of masculinity, which is lacking for people like lawyers, doctors, bankers and others in softer careers,” said Dr. Robert Heasley, a sociology professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the president of the American Men’s Studies Association. “By associating themselves with the military and military training, these men are becoming masculine by association.” founders of these tough-guy races are intimately familiar with that primal urge. Mr. Dean, a former intern at Bain Capital, developed the business plan for Tough Mudder as part of a competition at Harvard. “Finance people are in a weird juxtaposition,” Mr. Dean said. “They may make 100 times more than their fathers, but their hands are soft. We designed Tough Mudder to fill that void.”
Interested but need to know about what day of ball shrinking and void-filling will entail? Here’s what you can expect:
* A colon cleansing and sense of smugness come Monday.
Michael Cugini would be back at his desk at a major Wall Street firm, another high-powered cog in the engine of finance. There would be men on his left, men on his right, all yelling into their phones and scanning the stock ticker. But Mr. Cugini bore unseen scars beneath his crisp custom suit. Twenty-four hours earlier, Mr. Cugini (nickname Cujo) was shirtless, face down, crawling through a 40-foot-long pit of cold mud, while being electrified by low-hanging wires. He also scaled a 15-foot-high wall, ran 12 miles and underwent something called an Arctic Enema, in which he jumped into a Dumpster filled with ice water, dyed neon green, and swam under concertina wire. “There’s always a lot of moaning on Monday morning,” said Mr. Cugini, 31, a small man with a bald head and a strong grip. “And I just think, ‘Come on, what did you do this weekend?’ ”
The chest thumping began before the first obstacle. Next to a cheesesteak stand, a barbershop was set up to dispense free mohawks. A chin-up bar was erected next to a chalkboard, where the highest scores were posted. Nearby, men warmed up by tossing kegs at a cardboard cutout of Fabio.
*Electric shock therapy.
A few miles ahead, Brian Polakowski, 36, a vice president of BlackRock, the giant money manager in Midtown Manhattan, had collapsed into a muddy pit after being electrocuted in the Electric Eel challenge. As he crawled from exhaustion, a stranger grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to his feet, saying, “You did it, man, you did it.” Mr. Polakowski stumbled on.
*Hugs when warranted.
Male bonding, needless to say, figures prominently. Like Iron John before it, these obstacle challenges are designed to forge camaraderie. The bonhomie is reinforced by challenges like the Everest and Berlin Walls, which require the men to work together and, in some cases, stand on one another’s shoulders. There are many one-arm bro-hugs, and even some full embraces.
* A terrorist attack on your erogenous zones.
“Goldman brings a massive team,” said Will Dean, the 31-year-old founder of Tough Mudder. “So does Morgan Stanley.” That they do makes sense since Mr. Dean tailored his sport for cubicle-bound masses yearning to breathe free. “When we started Tough Mudder, we identified a few key demographics,” he said. “One of them was the white-collar urban professional.” From a distance, the Tough Mudder course at the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park looked more like a medieval battlefield than a 400-acre racetrack. Beefy figures, silhouetted against a frigid slate gray sky, faltered up steep hills. In the gravel parking lot, teams of men prepared for battle. Some stretched, others squeezed into compression shirts. One man, placing surgical tape on his chest, said fearfully, “This is going to be 9/11 on my nipples.”
Who is in?
Forging A Bond In Mud And Guts [NYT]
Related: New Trend On Wall Street Involves Chopping Wood, Hypothermia, If You’ve Got The Balls
*Similar to the Spartan Races, which include not just physical but mental challenges and also weed out the men from the men who can dice onions (“The 24-hour Dantean course — which involves chopping wood for two hours, carrying rocks for five hours, cutting a bushel of onions and memorizing the first 10 presidents of the United States — was partly inspired by the film ‘300,’ which chronicled the Spartan stand at Thermopylae”).