Most people celebrate a birthday by going out for dinner or getting together with family and friends.
Cliff Acob went a little more hardcore last month. Off the wall actually. He and fellow teacher Aaron Hoffman competed in the World’s Toughest Mudder last month at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.
Tough Mudder events are 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all-around strength, stamina and mental grit before getting handed a beer when you’re done. There is mud, fire, ice-water and 10,000 volts of electricity everywhere as you climb 12-foot walls and crawl through tunnels.
Organizers describe the premise as a way of thinking, where entrants unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a unique camaraderie with fellow participants.
Acob, who runs the High Performer’s program at VSS, and Hoffman, an Okanagan Landing Elementary teacher, qualified for the New Jersey obstacle race by doing well at the Seattle Tough Mudder last summer.
The World’s Toughest Mudder is a 24-hour race where you do as many laps as you can, with 40 obstacles, compared to the one-lap (two to three hours), 20-obstacle Tough Mudder.
Acob and Hoffman Aaron finished 389th and 340th, respectively, out of the 1,300 participants who started the event. They completed 60 kilometres and 112 obstacles.
“It was a neat way to celebrate a birthday (41st),” said Acob, who has done two Ironman Canadas and enjoys mountain biking, skiing, canoeing and rock climbing. “It was my toughest race/event I’ve ever done. That being said, I’m in one piece and I’ll be going back.”
Acob, who specialized in the sprints and long jump while at Seattle Pacific University, said his wife, Heather, reminded him that he needed to come home to their four children with his limbs intact.
He found the opening 16-kilometre lap rather easy, but he struggled with muscle cramping on the second lap.
“Somewhere in lap three (50-km), the 10-foot walls seemed a little more than 10 feet and the water seemed a little colder. My hamstring was very tight – I learned later I had pulled it – but it was my 41st birthday. Pretty funny to hear the most unenthusiastic birthday song as other athletes tried to celebrate my birthday as they hovered around a portable heater in the medical tent.”
Every summer, Acob gets together with university buddies and does the weekend warrior thing. Last year, they mountainbiked for three days in Whistler. The year before that, they climbed Mt. Baker. Last summer, it was Tough Mudder in Seattle. Before Washington, Acob and Hoffman entered the Vancouver Tough Mudder.
“We didn’t know what to expect and relied on our current condition to attempt the so-called Probably the Toughest race on the Planet,” said Acob, who played volleyball, hoops and football in high school in Richmond. “After the mud and freezing lake swim, Aaron and I finished the course in two hours. Now Tough Mudder gives you the opportunity to enter your time to see if you finished in the top five per cent (even though it’s not a race).
“If you do, you are eligible to participate in the World’s Toughest Mudder. I didn’t think we were that fast, but sure enough, a week later we received an e-mail stating that we can sign up for the World’s Toughest Mudder. It was awesome.”
For Hoffman, a 38-year-old former Merritt Centennials’ defenceman who still skates a zillion miles an hour, the New Jersey torture test was just another day in his hectic life.
He said the last few months have been completely at a red-lined pace as his family is getting ready to move to Australia for a year’s teacher exchange.
“Between teaching, performing power skating lessons, coach mentorship in North Okanagan Minor Hockey Association, playing rec hockey with the boys and occasionally helping out with my daughter’s hockey team, and fitting in training sessions sometimes starting at 10 at night, it really makes you realize how much one can take on in life. This cannot be accomplished, however, without support. My family is amazing and helped me a lot. I will never forget my kids cheering me on as I ran at Kal Beach in early November and counted my chin-ups under the dock after every lap.”
Hoffman has done six Ironman Canada races, a few marathons and trail runs of various distances, the longest being an 80-km with his wife, Kara, a few years ago in Kelowna. He found the ultimate test in New Jersey.
“Simply put, this was the most difficult race I have ever been involved in. It was incredibly challenging and an unbelievable event to be involved in. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of; the people were awesome. Although the day did not go as planned, I know that I will be back and ready to go next time. I had a great adventure with Cliff from the days of late-night runs, to taking on the obstacles at night with head lamps in Coldstream, in anticipation of the big race.
“It was a lot of fun working with Cliff on race day. I wish him luck in this year’s training as I am sure he will be back next year to kick it in Jersey. For now, I will surf and have registered for Ironman in Western Australia for next December. It might be a couple years ‘till I get back to Jersey but I’ll be back and next time I will be bringing my wife. She’s the toughest girl I know.”