Junyong Pak is 35 years old, 140 pounds, 5’8” tall, and has six Tough Mudders under his belt. But that’s not what makes this Boston entrepreneur such a badass. After a near-heroic performance in November 2012, Pak has now won back-to-back titles in the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM), proving that his body can take a major beating. Bearing electric shocks, ice-slicked hanging rings, and hypothermia-inducing temperatures, Pak completed 90 miles in just over 24 hours during last year’s competition, surpassing his 60-mile feat in 2011—and setting an all-time record for the competition. Curious about how he does all this without dying? The Pak man dished to Men’s Fitness about the diet and grueling training that made him the two-time winner of the hardest obstacle race in the world.
Men's Fitness: You trekked through the course nine times, beating out over 1,000 men. How the hell do you get ready for a challenge like this?
Junyong Pak: I’ve been doing races year-round to prepare—everything from the mile to the marathon, obstacle courses short and long. Depending on what I’m training for, I shift gears and change up my regimen. Aside from running, I try to simulate racecourse conditions whenever possible. For those long sustained hills, I’ll oftentimes do runs dragging a tire. For all of the hanging obstacles, I’ll do lots of pull-ups, rope climbs/traverses, and dead-hangs for time. My rock climbing background has helped enormously as well, and I like to use my own bodyweight for resistance in functional movements.
MF: You outdid yourself by 30 miles this time—and without taking any extended pit stops during the race. How do you manage that big of a leap in just one year?
JP: I actually only had about a week and a half window to train specifically for the WTM, so I went from 40 to 50 miles a week up to 130. Most coaches would absolutely cringe at the idea—you’re just begging for injuries to occur—but with the right nutrition and the right recovery techniques, it was possible. I was doing 17, 18, 19 miles a day, and I capped that off with a marathon-length run before the competition. That’s what you can do with proper nutrition and training.
MF: Speaking of nutrition: you’re lean, mean muscle. What do you eat to keep your endurance up?
JP: I’ve never been much of a stickler for diet, but when I got to a point where I was pushing my limits to the absolute max, I realized nutrition was important. And when I did start focusing on my diet, I definitely noticed improvements in recovery. I have a lot of protein immediately after I run—BSN Syntha-6 in strawberry tastes just like a milkshake—and I often mix it up before I head out and slam it before I finish. I also regularly use three things from Boku Superfood: their protein, energy bars, and super-fuel. I find it extremely important to take this in immediately after I work out.
MF: Any vitamins or supplements?
JP: I typically take a multivitamin, B-complex, C, D, echinacea, gingko biloba, ginseng, and glucosamine chondroitin, which helps to reduce joint wear and tear.
MF: You’re burning through calories at an immense rate during the race. What did you use keep yourself going?
JP: I want to say I consumed 11,000 calories during the race—not counting stops before and after. I started off the first third of the race on PowerBar gels and canned peaches—foods high in fructose and glucose—and had no caffeine for the first six to eight hours. Then, as I transitioned further into the race, I started taking some protein, super-fuel, and caffeine. My diet was really simple for everything—and it worked.
MF: To say the course is hellish is an understatement. Did you have any gear that made a difference?
JP: I went through two pairs of Inov-8 shoes. They’re minimalist with a very aggressive tread and are made for events like this. For apparel, it was really just a wetsuit and some base layers. I learned from last year—you cannot make it through an event like this without a serious insulated layer, no matter how tough you are. It’s just a matter of physiology and biochemistry. Once your body drops to a certain temperature, it stops functioning properly.
MF: Let’s talk about race day. Being the incumbent winner, guys were definitely vying to take you down. What was the competition like?
JP: Last year, the weather was the biggest struggle—in terms of the course and the cold. This year, it was the other guys in the race, especially with people gunning for me. I had a big target on my back. The first four laps I had company. I was running stride for stride with two other people. For a 24-hour race, this is not the wisest move to make. You should run as evenly as possible—sprinting is going to take a toll further down the line. Fortunately for me, it broke the other guys. They wanted the glory of taking someone down, but I was just too stubborn to give it up.
MF: It sounds like physical strength is only half the battle. How important is you mental state in a race like this?
JP: Zero of my training runs are done in the mornings—I’m not a morning person—which means that all of my volume is done pretty late at night on a single run. There are some days when I finish work and it’s freezing cold. It’s raining, snowing, sleeting—and I’m exhausted. These are the days I garner the most benefit mentally because I have to summon the will to get out there. If you say you might go for a run after work, you probably won’t. If you say you absolutely will...that’s what happened here. I said I cannot stop if I want to win this year. Making that mental commitment to carrying out the plan— that’s how you do it.
MF: Each year Tough Mudder raises the stakes. Were there any unexpected challenges on the course this year?
JP: There were numerous obstacles, like the funky monkey, that started to get so extremely muddy they became almost impossible. You had to put 150 percent of your effort into it. It was no joke.
MF: So what are you going to do with the $15,000 prize?
JP: I’m going to take my parents on a really nice vacation. My dad is 81 years old and he still works six days a week. He hasn’t had a proper vacation in years—so I’d like to take him on one and help him retire.