Live wires and watery tunnels at Tough Mudder

Cindy Marcotte might seem quiet, but she's one 'tough mudder.'

There’s something that doesn’t quite add up sitting across the table from Cindy Marcotte.

The women in the chair seems shy and soft-spoken, not brash and bold. This is confusing, because the interview is about a grueling athletic competition called the Tough Mudder, and your friendly neighborhood sports reporter is expecting someone … tough.

Marcotte is supposed to be that person.

A few days earlier, one of her spin-class pupils sent an email.

“Tell Cindy she’s a brutal spin-class instructor,” she lamented. “And I don’t know why I’ve been going for two years!”

Reading that, one naturally gets the visual of some crazy off-the-wall drill sergeant, perhaps wielding a bull-whip as she conducts her classes.

The woman sitting across the table seems far more likely to bake the class some cupcakes.

Is this some sort of Jekyll and Hyde scenario?

“Don’t put this in the paper,” Marcotte laughs before admitting she does have an alter-ego. “It’s kind of a Lara Croft Tomb Raider sort of thing, putting it all out there. Full guns. Don’t quit.”

Lara Croft?


Lara Croft is exactly the sort of woman who would tackle the Tough Mudder. Tough! Indomitable will! Tremendously athletic! But, how does quiet Cindy Marcotte flip the switch and become this competitive juggernaut, this whirling dervish of athletic fury?

Does it involve spinach?

“When I’m not at the gym or running, I’m an oncology nurse who deals with a lot of death,” she says. “Flipping that switch is how I cope. I want to do as much as I can while I can. And when I get into something, my attitude is that I want to own it because life’s too short to do anything less that your best.”

Marcotte will need to be at her Lara Croftish best as she heads up to Whistler on Saturday.

The 42-year-old has done marathons before.

Pfft! Easy.

The Tough Mudder? That’s something else entirely.

“Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley,” the Tough Mudder website says derisively. “At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind.”

The Whistler Tough Mudder course is 10 miles of hell.

There are 23 obstacles along the way. Some are nice and light, like the ‘Swamp Stomp’ through a pit of waist-deep sludge.

Others are a little more daunting, like, for instance, running through fire.

The Funky Monkey compels competitors to swing across greased up monkey-bars with an ice-cold pool waiting below for those who fall.

The 24th and final obstacle is called Electroshock Therapy.

Competitors go charging through a field of live wires, some carrying up to 10,000 volts.

Good times.

The map even has a couple of ‘mystery obstacles’ that promise ‘something truly bad-ass.’

The one that makes Marcotte nervous is the Boa Constrictor, an obstacle that has her crawl through a series of pipes full of freezing water and not much air. Not fun for someone with an admitted fear of water.

“That’s the biggest thing for me doing Tough Mudder is to face that fear,” Marcotte says. “I almost drowned twice when I was a kid, so when I get near water, cold water especially, there’s a gnawing feeling in my stomach. I can swim, but I’m not comfortable around it. What better way to overcome fears than to dive in head first.”

Easy to say now.

But what about Saturday, when she’s face to face with that Boa Constrictor (check out visuals at

“I’ve never faced this fear quite like this, but I’m going to look at it and say, ‘I’m going to destroy you,” Marcotte says boldly. “And then, if I feel I can’t, my teammates will push me in.”

With her marathons and other activities, Marcotte has always trained alone. The team aspect of Tough Mudder presents something new.

A perfectionist by nature, Marcotte has faith in her physical abilities and mental toughness, and she doesn’t expect anyone will actually have to toss her into the watery tunnel.

In marathons, her final time is her own, for better or for worse.

At Tough Mudder, her end result will be affected by those around her.

She has to fit her perfectionist ways into the team dynamic, and that will be another challenge.

“It’s neither good or bad, but different, and it will be nice to have teammates to cheer you on and help you through,” she says. “As far as results, I’m in this to do it. I’m not in it to win it. The competitiveness for me will be  doing things that challenge me. Jumping into cold water from a platform 15 feet in the air, that is a challenge to me. And there’s no backing down.”

Whatever the end result, Marcotte is confident the experience will be worth the trouble.

“It’s not going to feel good on a whole lot of levels,” she says. “But I expect the same feeling that I get when I finish a marathon — the rush will be the same. The only difference will be finishing with a group. I’ve never done that before, and it will be different. More hugs and high fives should be good.”

Marcotte’s adventure starts at 9:15 a.m. Saturday morning.

Check the Progress next week to see how she did.

Chilliwack Progress