On the first Friday of every month, John Fagan can be found at 3 a.m. beginning a 15- to 20-mile trail run.
His run is regularly interrupted by a set of pushups in the cold water at the base of a waterfall or occasionally picking up boulders along the trail and carrying them a short distance.
Fagan isn’t alone in his strenuous workout. He’s joined by three friends, all connected by their passion for Tough Mudder events, that endure the training in preparation for obstacle-course races throughout the year.
In their own words, they’re just “four ordinary guys attempting extraordinary things.”
The Tough Mudder “pushes you to your mental and physical limits,” said Fagan, who lives outside Baltimore.
The teammates, better known as the 3AM Waterfalls on the Tough Mudder circuit, have participated in almost 20 Tough Mudder events since 2011. Combined, they have run nearly 700 miles worth of Tough Mudder obstacles.
Tough Mudder competitions take place internationally and involve of a 10- to 12-mile trail run over rugged terrain, featuring about 20 obstacles.
The first Tough Mudder in Western New York took place last summer and the second will be held July 12-13 in the same spot, Tall Pines ATV Park in Andover, Allegany County. It’s less expensive to sign up early – you can order tickets for the closest event at toughmudder.com/events/upstate-new-york-2014.
Fagan is joined on his team by Baltimore resident Tony Fontana, Jeremy Bucalo of Shrewsbury, Pa., and Kevin Lasko of New York.
They say their goal is to keep pushing themselves to see where their breaking point is.
“We haven’t found it yet,” Fagan said
The 3AM Waterfalls won the 2013 World’s Toughest Mudder team competition in November, which carries with it a $12,000 prize. The team covered 80 miles in less than 25 hours at the event in New Jersey. Their closest competitors were five miles behind.
There have been more than 100 Tough Mudder events held throughout the country since 2010, with more than 1.3 million people participating, according to Tough Mudder spokeswoman Carol Gottshall.
In 2013 alone, there were 53 events with 750,000 participants, Gottshall said.
All in their early to mid-30s, team members say the Tough Mudder events serve as motivation to stay in shape and represent a chance to build team camaraderie.
“I just like testing my body to see my limits,” Bucalo said, adding that he likes to run the events with friends and family as a social activity.
While their families, especially their wives, thought they were crazy at first, Fagan said they are now supportive. Their families attend many of the races and before each race, Fagan said his wife offers him these words of encouragement, “Good luck, don’t be stupid.”
Bucalo, Fagan and Fontana first participated in a Tough Mudder event in April 2011 in Bear Creek, Pa. They all have a running background and figured Tough Mudder would be worth a try. After finishing in the top 5 percent, they were invited to the World’s Toughest Mudder, the series’ culminating event.
They’ve been hooked since.
Teammates say they expect to be participating in these events into his 50s, adding that they plan on being “ultra competitive” for the next five years.
Fontana, who has run a number of marathons and ultramarathons, said that being competitive in the events serves as extra motivation.
“Knowing that we can combine the running skills that we have, the strength, the mental endurance, it really balances the playing field,” he said.
Although the Tough Mudder series has grown in popularity over the last three years, participants’ safety can be a concern.
In April, an Ellicott City, Md., man drown while participating in a Tough Mudder event in West Virginia.
While members of 3AM Waterfalls can recount stories of hearing ambulance sirens as they’re running in races during the middle of the night, they say they’re not concerned about their safety.
“If I know I’m already fatigued, I won’t do an obstacle,” Bucalo said.
Fontana added that they run the races together and are always there looking out for each other.
Bucalo, Fagan and Fontana knew each other through college and work, but they recruited Lasko through a Tough Mudder Facebook page so they could field a team.
The teammates will look to defend their title at the 2014 World’s Toughest Mudder, but in the meantime, they have a handful of training races scheduled in 2014.
Fagan said they think they have a strong chance for a repeat. Their training started Jan. 3 at 3 a.m.
“We’re going to be training hard all year long,” he said.