"I have an impressively high pain tolerance level," says Amelia Boone, the queen of the mud runs. "Stitches. Dental procedures. They don't bother me. I underwent laser hair removal for my underarms, and I had heard that was supposed to be painful. Afterward I was like, 'Meh.' "
Weekdays, Boone, 30, is a Chicago-based attorney specializing in corporate bankruptcy at Skadden, one of the nation's largest law firms. Weekends she spends dragging her mane through the mud, and almost no one in this fledgling sport, male or female, does it better. In 10 of the 15 mud runs (denizens prefer "obstacle races") Boone has entered, including her first (in Wisconsin, the summer of 2011), she has placed first in her gender. Her lowest finish? Third.
Last November, she entered the World's Toughest Mudder, an amped-up, 24-hour trial of torment, and finished second - overall. Of nearly 1,100 entrants, more than 90 percent of whom were "Ooo-rah!"-type alpha males, Boone defeated all but one, Junyong Pak of Beverly, Mass. After 24 hours of repeatedly traversing a 10-mile course erected around a drag strip in Englishtown, N.J., (if Dante had ever gotten around to describing a 10th circle of Hell...), Pak bested Boone by just nine minutes.
"I do well at longer things," says Boone, the reigning female champion in both the World's Toughest Mudder and the Spartan Race World Championship, a.k.a. "Beast." "Over longer distances, things become more mental. I am totally the turtle."
"Amelia has zero quit in her," says Carrie Adams, a spokeswoman for the Spartan Race series. "She works 60- to 80-hour weeks at a law firm, and then she goes out and beats Olympians, or women who are professional athletes. There's no secret to her success. She's just who she is."
Mud runs, or obstacle races, are the fastest-growing participation sport in the country. Only a few thousand people registered to compete in these feats of masochism 10 years ago, and three of the largest brands - Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash - did not even exist a half-decade ago, but more than 1 million people will enter such events in 2013.
The nascent sport's elite are those who are fit and impervious to misery. While climbing walls and hills, hauling cinder blocks, slogging through mud pits or running a gauntlet of electrically charged vines - basically, going Full-Metal Rambo - competitors push through mud, physical exhaustion, hypothermia, a state of unremitting cold and wetness, sleep deprivation, more mud, blisters and, of course, chafing.
"Chafing," says Boone, "is everybody's biggest fear."
This sinewy woman who does not think twice about marinating in her own urine all day - at the elite level, racers wear wet suits - will tell you that she recently backed out of running a 5K. That in college, at Washington University in St. Louis, she competed not in a varsity sport but in an a cappella troupe. That she's not that great an athlete.
"I'm completely surprised that I beat these women, let alone men," says Boone, who was a standout soccer player and softball pitcher in high school in Lake Oswego, Ore. "I'm not the fastest person out there."
Boone is resilient, though, and determined. Her alarm goes off at 4:03 a.m. each day ("I like to be a little different, and I'm a little OCD") so that she can train before work. She finished No. 1 in her law school class at the University of Washington and still seethes over the fact that her dream school rejected her twice, both for undergrad and law school ("Stanford is on my s*** list"). Her favorite book is Infinite Jest, the almost-1,100-page novel by the late David Foster Wallace that may be the literary equivalent of the World's Toughest Mudder.
"I am able to compartmentalize," says Boone, who keeps a blog titled Race Ipsa Loquitur. "If it's an event like the World's Toughest Mudder, which lasts 24 hours, I break it into 20-minute segments. I sing to myself constantly. Last year I was singing Macklemore's 'Thrift Shop' to myself the entire race."
Last weekend NBC Sports Network aired taped coverage of last month's Spartan Race World Championship in Killington, Vt., in which Boone finished first among females, and ninth overall. Next month she will return to Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., to defend her 2012 World's Toughest Mudder title and perhaps overtake Pak.
"I have a hearing the following day in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware," says Boone. "So I'll do the 24-hour race over the weekend, and then I'll be in court on Monday to present our argument."
Tribulations and trials. That's life for the queen of the mud runs.