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With just days left to sign up for World's Toughest Mudder 2014, contenders are approaching their final, yet pivotal stretch of training. Faced with the extreme task of covering 100 miles of obstacle-riddled terrain in 24 straight hours for any chance at victory, one would assume training is a full-time job - and it very well could be.
The truth is, however, that many WTM contenders are average Joes and Janes-- everyday, hardworking family men and women with affection for adrenaline and an aversion to their comfort zone.
Eric Jenkins is one of these people.
An intensivist at a surgical critical care unit outside of St. Louis, Eric works anywhere from 66 to 100 hours a week. He has five young children, ranging from four to 12, including two adoptees from Ethiopia. He’s a community man and a proud Tough Mudder ambassador and volunteer.
Talking with Eric last week, I found that it’s not time that he lacks, but excuses.
By the end of 2014, he’ll have completed 45 Tough Mudders-- more than any other Mudder in one season in Tough Mudder history. But with his year’s most arduous event, WTM 2014 at Lake Las Vegas, still in his crosshairs, I caught up with 2014’s most decorated Mudder to talk about family, commitment and how both are the source of his WTM success.
Here’s how it went down:
You work an average of 66 hours per week. You have five young children. How do you find time to train?
Some weeks I actually work up to 100 hours a week. No matter how busy you think you are, everyone has pockets of time throughout the day that could be used for training. I just got off an 18 hour shift, and as soon as I get done talking to you, I’m going to lift at the gym. During Mudder Season, Tough Mudder events are my cardio. For example, I ran 21 miles completing two laps at Tough Mudder Dallas this past weekend. Two weekends ago, at Tough Mudder Michigan, I did three laps on Saturday and one lap on Sunday (47 miles total) and have not run since.
What are some similarities and differences between a regular Tough Mudder and World’s Toughest Mudder?
Even though it’s a competition with prize money at the end, the camaraderie and support from other runners at WTM is the same as Tough Mudder. During WTM 2013, I saw [2013 WTM 2nd Place Finisher Junyong Pak] helping people on top of Everest multiple times. I heard someone yell to him, “You have better things to do, get out of here!” But that’s the Mudder spirit. Everyone is your teammate. The biggest difference is that WTM is 24 hours straight with no sleep.
But that’s the Mudder spirit. Everyone is your teammate.
Additionally, the WTM obstacles are tricked out, much harder and way more frequent than a Tough Mudder. At WTM there’s an obstacle every quarter of a mile. It’s crazy.
What advice do you have for people who might be intimidated to run WTM?
WTM has to be your own personal challenge. It doesn’t matter if [2013 WTM Champion] Ryan Atkins completed 100 miles last year. It’s all about the personal challenge. I’m not going to win WTM, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. Last year my goal was 40 miles, and I completed 55. I’ve discovered I can cover half as many WTM miles as my longest weekend run. This year my goal is to complete 75 miles. I may not reach it, especially with the changes coming at the Vegas WTM course, but I definitely wouldn't make it if I didn't set that goal. Find your goal and train for that.
Do your kids and wife think you’re crazy?
Maybe a little. But everyone is super supportive. We actually make family vacations out of my Tough Mudders. All seven of us went to Niagara Falls before Tough Mudder Upstate New York. My wife and I went to Whistler for our anniversary, and she volunteered both days at Tough Mudder Whistler. My wife and I made a trip out to Disneyland without the kids before Tough Mudder Temecula, which was beautiful. After the Dallas event, we visited family down in Texas. Being in the health profession, if anyone thinks I’m crazy, it’s my co-workers.
You plan to add 20 miles onto your 2013 mileage total of 55. How is your training different than it was last year?
Running Tough Mudders in 2013, I never completed four laps in one event. This year, I’ve done that twice in the past two months. I’ve never been a runner, but my body has adapted to running much better over the past year and a half. The short answer is this: I’ve been running a lot more.
How are you preparing for Tough Mudder’s Lake Las Vegas desert venue?
It’s one of the few Tough Mudder courses in the U.S. that I haven’t done. However, I read the WTM elevation change blog post and learned that each lap has 700 feet of elevation gain. I’m going to approach this elevation change realistically. If there is a steep incline, I’m going to walk it. Otherwise, I’ll burn right through my muscles. Training wise, I’m doing more squats and lunges in the gym and strengthening my hip flexors and glutes. I am also not going to be fooled by the warm daytime temps. I am bringing my wetsuits.
We’ve heard that you’re a WTM ambassador of sorts. How have you taken on this role?
I’ve volunteered at a bunch of Tough Mudder events to get the word out about WTM. A lot of people have never heard of it, and I’ve recruited a bunch of people just through word of mouth. I also mentor 15 Mudders who will be running WTM for the first time this year. We have a Facebook chat group, and I answer their questions about things like gear recommendations and give out other tips.
To follow Eric’s well-chronicled Mudder journey, follow him via his Facebook page.