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When Ryan Atkins told the border control officer his reason for entering into the US from Canada in mid-November, the officer noted that Raceway Park, host of World's Toughest Mudder 2013, was a common calling for crossing Canadians that day. Without missing a beat, his girlfriend, Lindsay, sitting beside him, wittingly remarked, “Yeah, but you haven't had the winner come through yet, have you?”
Days later, Lindsay's quick-witted prophecy would ring true, and Atkins, a virtually unknown dark horse, would be crowned World's Toughest Mudder after racking up an astonishing 100 miles of obstacle-riddled terrain in 24 hours. Eager to get to know Mudder Nation's Canadian course-crushing role model, we recently caught up with Ryan to talk strategy, inspiration and what it means to be a Mudder.
Name: Ryan Atkins
Occupation: Design Engineer / Trail Builder
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario
Headbands Earned: 2 (1 Tough Mudder, 1 World’s Toughest Mudder)
How does World's Toughest Mudder compare to other endurance races you've done?
It was probably the biggest endurance event I've ever done.
One hundred miles. Unbelievable. Did you have a mileage goal going into WTM?
My first goal was to win. I figured that in order to do that, I would need to run between 90 and 110 miles. Having a nice round number was just the cherry on top.
In spite of WTM being a competition, did you still feel a sense of community and camaraderie on the course?
I felt a massive sense of community the whole race, and since finishing I've felt the same. It was such a cool moment to be a part of and share with all my Mudder friends. Seeing everyone out there giving 100% was really inspiring to me.
While chasing the title, you were continuously stopping to lend a helping hand atop Everest. What motivated you to do so?
I guess I'm a believer in karma and how doing good things for others ends up doing good things for you. I was always extremely thankful when someone gave me a helping hand, and I wanted to return the favor whenever possible.
Which obstacle was the most intimidating to step up to each lap?
By the end of the competition, I was dreading nearly every obstacle I approached, but I never really gave it too much thought. I just got past them and kept running.
It seems like you did some homework on two-time defending WTM champion Junyong Pak before the race. What did you learn about him?
Prior to WTM, I read all that I could find about Pak and his training. This helped a lot, as I was able to see where he was coming from and what sort of preparations he did for the event. I also learned that he is just a mortal and that he eats and works like everyone else. I have only respect for him, and I hope we can run alongside each other in the future.
What was the most inspiring thing you saw at WTM 2013?
I think there are too many to list. One woman was running with a prosthetic limb, which really impressed me. Additionally, seeing the volunteers out there all night long was very inspiring.
How do you spend your free time in between competitions?
My favorite hobby is being active and outdoors which ties in nicely with any training I do. Whenever I have a three to four day stretch without any races or work, I head out hiking and camping for a few days.
You seem open to dishing out training tips. What is your advice to Mudders starting to train for WTM 2014?
Make sure that you do lots of training in the gear that you decide to use. Make sure it works and that you know it very well. This alone can make or break your race. Also, learn to replicate as much of the event as possible in training.
Lastly, the question on everyone’s mind: will there be a 2014 repeat?
I'll be back in 2014—running as far and as fast as I can! I can't wait.