World’s Toughest Mudder champ looks to defend title after training in Aspen

Tough Mudder World Champion Stefanie Bishop at Aspen CrossFit on Oct. 20, 2017.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times |

Stefanie Bishop was often found in the back corner of Aspen CrossFit, quietly and intensely going through her routine while the rest of the athletes suffered through their workout. Unlike most of the people around her who were chiseling away at that six-pack and getting the legs ready for ski season, Bishop was focused on something much grander.

As it turns out, defending a world championship takes a lot of work.

Bishop, from Long Island, New York, briefly called the Roaring Fork Valley home this fall. It was her quiet sanctuary away from the big city, something she needed as she looked to repeat as the women’s World’s Toughest Mudder champion.

“You always have to continue to challenge yourself, and Tough Mudder was just fun. It was a blast,” Bishop said. “I always liked the challenge of doing something that wasn’t always just running or just riding my bike. I like that extra, added element of moving my body in a different way. I just think it’s a lot of fun when you can test your body in those situations.”

Bishop, then 34, won her first Toughest Mudder world title last year in Las Vegas — a feat she admits has changed her life. Saturday, again in Las Vegas, she’ll go for the crown again and this time she wants to make history doing it.

While obstacle-course racing has become the trendy thing to do, Tough Mudder is arguably at the forefront of that push. Bishop actually competed in the first Tough Mudder event, held in 2010 at Bear Creek Ski Resort in Pennsylvania. She didn’t get the chance to go for a world title until last year.

“It was a long time in the making,” Bishop said. “I was like 2016, that’s it. I put all my chips on the table for World’s Toughest last year.”

Bishop moved from gymnastics as a little girl to soccer, fencing and lacrosse in high school. She even played on her high school’s boys soccer team (there was no girls team) and wanted to play ice hockey (again, there was no girls team), although her parents didn’t let her. She went to college at SUNY Binghamton in upstate New York, but didn’t compete for the school athletically.

After college, she became interested in triathlons and eventually obstacle-course racing, competing in things like the now defunct “Death Race” and going on “adventure races” that could take days to complete. She set out to compete at World’s Toughest Mudder in 2015, but injuries kept her out of it.

Then, it all came together for her in 2016. At World’s Toughest Mudder, athletes must complete a 5-mile, obstacle-filled loop as many times as possible in a 24-hour period. The competitors don’t learn of many of the obstacles until race day and they can change every year. Bishop became only the fourth different woman to win a world title since it began in 2011, completing 85 miles over the 24 hours.

“It was glorious. It was not easy. It was miserable,” Bishop recalled of the myriad of emotions that came with her first world title. “Everybody has their own personal goal out there. If you are competing to win, you are pretty exhausted at the end of it.”

Now, Bishop wants more. On top of the $10,000 first-place prize each athlete is chasing Saturday in Las Vegas, Bishop has designs to become the first woman to complete 100 miles in the 24-hour period. To date, Amelia Boone’s 90 miles in 2012 is the record for women.

On top of making history, there is a $50,000 bonus for reaching the 100-mile mark.

“It’s not going to be easy, by any means. A lot of it is going to rely on weather,” Bishop said, noting that sandstorms are far from uncommon in the area. “You don’t sleep at World’s Toughest Mudder if you want to win it. I’m used to that factor. But once the adrenaline begins to wear off and you finally get to lay down for once, then it just hits you and it hits you hard. It’s not fun.”

World’s Toughest Mudder will be streamed live at throughout the day.