NEW CASTLE, Colorado - When we were young, most of us loved the simple act of playing in the mud. Unfortunately, as you get older, the opportunities to wallow around in the muck - outside of politics - become few and far between.
But in 2010, a challenge arose that offered adults the chance to relive those dirt-covered glory days of youth.
The Tough Mudder event series was born on May 2, 2010, at Bear Creek Ski Resort near Allentown, Pa.
The series was created by Will Dean, a former counter-terrorism agent for the British government, and Guy Livingstone. In the first competition, the British entrepreneurs sold more than 4,500 tickets to the event.
Since that day, the nascent sport's popularity has skyrocketed, and it has become an international sensation, with around 450,000 participants worldwide.
The competition is a military-style obstacle course on steroids.
The Tough Mudder events take participants through a series of obstacles, testing strength, stamina, wit ... and sanity.
It's the brainchild of British special forces: start with a nightmarishly long and difficult obstacle course, add equal parts creativity and sadism, throw in a dash of freezing cold water, apply mud and grease liberally and voila, the Tough Mudder competition. The courses are 10 to 12 miles long, and include 12-foot walls, greased monkey bars, icy pools of water and a series of mud tunnels. Oh, and there's the live electrical wires, too.
Who in the world would voluntarily subject themselves to this kind of punishment?
Meet valley native Ed Murray.
Murray, 32, grew up in Glenwood Springs, and graduated from Glenwood Springs High School in 1999. He now lives in New Castle with his wife, Cherri (pronounced sha-ree), 31, and son Wyatt, who turns 5 this month.
The Murrays were first introduced to the Tough Mudder competition by a friend.
"You know, it was probably April of this year," Ed Murray said. "My wife's friend learned about the competition and suggested that we make a team. I looked it up and said, 'Sign me up.' I did it and it's a blast."
That fateful competition took place on June 15 at Beaver Creek, and Murray's love for mudding was born.
"The obstacles, I love obstacle courses," Ed said with a smile. "It's a test, it keeps you fit and gives you something to strive for."
Competitors not only battle the obstacles, but their own limits and will, as well as the elements.
Mudders, as the competitors are called, often look more prepared for cold-water diving than running an obstacle course. Many wear 6 mm wetsuits, gloves and hoods, while others simply don a microsuit and vest.
Participants may either form a team of four to compete or endure the course solo.
"You can do it as a team or an individual, but in the world's you must have a team of four," Murray said. "But everyone must cross the finish line. There is a lot of cooperation involved."
Of all the obstacles on the course, Murray likes Electroshock Therapy best.
This particular challenge forces runners through an area filled with hay bales, deep mud and dangling, live electric wires - some offering up to a 10,000-volt shock.
"You just kind of duck and run and go for it," he said, eyes lit with excitement. "That one tests you the most mentally, because you have to run through it knowing you'll get shocked."
"I've watched men get knocked out, men go face down in the mud," Cherri, 31, said of the obstacle. "Some of the wires are hot, some are not, but I've seen grown men turn into puppies there."
Ed Murray did well at the Beaver Creek event, placing in the top 5 percent, and earning a berth to the World's Toughest Mudder 2012 competition, held at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., Nov. 17-18.
Hosting the planet's top competition, the New Jersey course was designed to be the toughest yet. Obstacles were enhanced to offer maximum difficulty.
"They took all the obstacles from the regional comps, amplified them by 10, and put them together for the world's," Ed said.
Mudders have to endure a total of 132 obstacles and run 40 miles in 10 hours. There were 1,300 mudders competing, with waves of competitors released in 20-minute intervals.
"Parts of the Log Bog Jog at world's were tough," Murray said. "Where you're out in the swamps for a couple of miles. And a lot of the mud was up to your chest in places - everyone came out of that one looking the same.
"They strategically place freezing cold water. You're in it, then you get out and break a sweat on another obstacle, and then it's back into the cold water. Your body temperature spikes."
The dangers are obvious, and Mudders have to be checked every lap by a medic. Waivers must be signed releasing liability if death occurs as a result of the competition.
"You have to be prepared, this competition is no joke," Murray said. "The chance of injury is high."
"They have signs posted that read: 'I do not whine, kids whine' and 'Remember, you paid for this,' " Cherri said. "One person got flown out on a Flight For Life helicopter ... it's for real."
Thankfully, Ed didn't suffer any serious injuries, but was labored by a painful bunion on his foot at world's.
"You train and test yourself, and that's where you find the weak link," he said. "Unfortunately for me, the feet are what carries you through."
Murray proved his endurance and skill, however, and placed in the top 10 percent at the competition.
The Murrays are an active family, so training for a competition comes easy. They snowboard, raft, mountain bike, run and bag 14ers. Ed has been atop 23 fourteen-thousand foot peaks, while Cherri has climbed 12.
"We don't do conventional sports like soccer," Cherri said with a laugh. "We do run lots of 5Ks."
"I now train year around, but before the New Jersey race I upped my training," Ed said. "I do a lot of mountain biking, running, a lot of weight training, and after work I run around New Castle, about eight to 10 miles a night. Sometimes I push the kid in a stroller -he's 45 pounds - on runs from the house to Harvey Gap and back.
"Wyatt's a big part of my training. He asks me, 'Are we going for a run, Dad?'"
And while Ed is excelling at this grueling sport, Cherri has no plans for competing in a mudder event.
"No, I won't do it. I'll stick to mountain biking and hiking and running," she said. "I'm not doing electricity, and I don't do monkey bars, especially oiled ones, but I do get a thrill from watching my husband. I get pins and needles watching him compete."
And the international scene can be exciting, too. Tough Mudder events call to athletes from all over the world, and competitions are now held in Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and all across Europe.
"We met people from all over the world, New Zealand, Hungary, everywhere." Cherri said.
Ed is looking forward to another season of competition in 2013, and for the foreseeable future.
"As long as it's in Colorado I'll do it, and, as long as my body will allow, at least another time with the worlds," he said. "But I'm not sure how long my body will do it.
"If I qualify, I'll go back. it's a lot of fun."
And when he does, Cherri knows her beloved husband will have what it takes to succeed in one of the world's most fierce and demanding athletic competitions.
"He's that guy, he's quiet and lethal, they say it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for," she said with a smile. "He's very humble, but he's also an animal."