It’s official. Junyong Pak’s name is Mud. He’s conquered the Boston Marathon and even dared to defy the Death Race. But all of that was a walk in the park compared to getting electric shocks while trudging through the mud in New Jersey. Welcome to the arena of the World’s Toughest Mudder, an extreme sports competition like no other, and one in which Pak rules supreme.
It’s official. Junyong Pak’s name is Mud.
He’s conquered the Boston Marathon and even dared to defy the Death Race. But all of that was a walk in the park compared to getting electric shocks while trudging through the mud in New Jersey.
Welcome to the arena of the World’s Toughest Mudder, an extreme sports competition like no other, and one in which Pak rules supreme.
The 5-foot-8, 138-pound Beverly, Mass., resident was crowned the first-ever national men’s champion of the World’s Toughest Mudder competition Dec. 18 in Englishtown, N.J. It was the crowning achievement of Pak’s ever-expanding extreme sports resume.
“Doing what I had to do out there was without a doubt the biggest accomplishment of my life,” says Pak, 34. “But I think that would have been the case whether I had taken first or 100th.”
Billed as a hellacious 28-hour hardcore obstacle course, the WTM lived up to the hype. Designed by British Special Forces, the course tests competitors’ all-around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie, in a daunting athletic tour de force.
Pak originally qualified for the event after acing the New England Regional in May. Roughly 1,000 people registered for the world championship, with 800 competing representing seven countries.
The World’s Toughest Mudder is not for the meek. An average of only 10 percent of the competitors completed the race during the regional qualifiers. But giving up has never been an option for Pak, despite going up against some rough customers.
“There were, without a doubt in my mind, some of the absolute toughest human beings in the world out there on the course over those two days,” says Pak, a mechanical engineer by trade. “I wasn’t nearly the toughest of them all, nor the fastest or strongest, but I was a little of all of these things. I showed up well-trained and prepared, and executed an intelligent race leveraging my capabilities against the course and field.”
Although he’s sure his newfound moniker as the World’s Toughest Mudder will undoubtedly garner plenty questions about his sanity, Pak is keeping his success all in stride.
“Despite whatever conception the mud and obstacle racing community seems to have of this title, I actually happen to know exactly how much it is worth,” Pak says. “I didn't magically develop any super-human abilities after winning; I am still the same guy who will get beaten handily at most races where talent is the only requisite to win. But if it comes down to a race of who wants it more, the other guy better have a Ph.D. in hurting.”
The rules of the World’s Toughest Mudder are somewhat complicated.
The competitor, both male and female, who completes the most number of laps in 24 hours is declared the winner. In order to be declared a finisher, one needs to match the number of laps completed by the winner within 28 hours.
The twist is that the winner has to finish whatever lap they were on after 24 hours elapsed. So if a competitor was in the pit area when 24 hours elapsed, they had to do another lap. Each lap was approximately 8.5 miles long.
“I wanted to do as few laps and be out there for as little time as possible to mitigate injury,” Pak says. “For me this equated to seven laps in 24 hours and six minutes.”
Pak’s game plan was a little easier said than done, however, as he had to struggle in the muck while temperatures dipped into the low 20s. And that didn’t even include the icy water challenges the athletes also had endure, repeatedly breaking through quarter-inch sheets of ice.
“What they made us do could only be described as inhumane,” Pak says. “And under different circumstances and without voluntary consent, this would have been considered statutory torture.”
According to Pak, that particular sequence consisting of five consecutive water obstacles near the end of each loop included an 18-foot jump off a platform that nearly broke everyone. Those who lacked the foresight to bring one or more wetsuits were doomed from the outset.
And then there were the electric shocks.
A Tough Mudder signature station, the Electroshock Therapy area featured an array of low-hanging conductive wires that would pulse every two seconds, delivering a 10,000 volt charge with a disturbing crackle. The 50-foot charged course was made 10 times more extreme with the introduction of high mud barriers that competitors had to climb over and crawl through, making it almost impossible to avoid a paralyzing shock, let alone four or five.
“I had always prided myself on how well I could handle electric shocks, but after getting hit badly a couple of dozen times over the course of these 24 hours, it had me questioning the legality of these obstacles,” Pak recalls. “The sensation was similar to smashing a funny bone, only through the entire body, repeatedly, over and over again.”
At 4 a.m., 18 hours into the race, Pak’s body shook with the onset of hypothermia. The 22-degree temperatures, coupled with freezing water obstacles, nearly pushed him to the breaking point.
“The urge to quit became so primal that I nearly shut down without my permission,” he says. “But I managed to pull out of it driven by a will not to fail myself and those who believed in me.”
“This is what made WTM so much harder than even the Death Race,” he adds. “By comparison the Boston Marathon hardly registers as a blip on the radar.”
By 7 a.m. on Dec 18, Pak had to call on his mind and body to start his seventh and final lap.
The Beverly native barreled through the course one last time, on his way to the championship and the $10,000 first prize.
“To put in so much hard work and to see the plan come to fruition was the most gratifying feeling in the world,” Pak says. “The reality of what I had just done didn't hit me until the next day as I was driving home. I actually had to pull over to wipe a tear or two from my eyes.”
Pak gave his $10,000 prize to his father as an early Christmas present.
Although he’s nursing a tendonitis injury in his Achilles, Pak is almost well enough to start up heavy training again for the Boston Marathon. Then it’s on another date with the Death Race in June.
So there will be no rest for the weary for this extreme sports enthusiast.
“I was asked to search a place deep inside of me for strength I never even known had existed,” Pak says. “And found it.”
To read Junyong Pak’s World’s Toughest Mudder diary, visit http://tinyurl.com/JP2011WTM.
Contact Christopher Hurley at email@example.com.