Monday, May 21, 2012

Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder – Minnesota

I competed in a Tough Mudder race on Saturday to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday.  I was finishing up some pretty serious training with a marathon 4 weeks prior and a HM 2 weeks before so I was looking forward to something different.  But, I’ll be honest, I was really unsure about how my lack of strength training would hurt me during the race.  I was banking on my distance running and mental strength to get me through. 

For those who don’t know, Tough Mudder is a mud obstacle race that is 11.5 miles long with 28 obstacles.  There is no timing system, the focus is on team work, not just helping your own team but others that need it along the way too.  Proceeds go to support Wounded Warrior Foundation.  I checked out the map on the website and was greeted by names like Arctic Enema, Spider Web and Berlin Wall.  Gulp. 

My parents and I drove the 10 hours to Minneapolis on Friday.  I did some carb loading on the way up there and we went to a nice dinner that night.  I did not sleep well on Friday night (nerves, hotel room).  Up about 6:00 and headed to Josh’s house with him and teammate Chris and Lauren.    We drove about an hour to an amphitheater in Wisconsin that boarder a farm, which is where the race would be held.  Got parked without a problem ($10 parking) and got up to the registration area to get our bibs.  My parents came along to cheer and take pictures ($20 per person spectator fee on-line, $40 at the gate). 

I’m wearing a black CrossFitMN s/s tech shirt and short, booty style shorts (figured they might help me get a boost if I needed it).  Trail running shoes too.  Weather is hot, 80* at the start.

We got our bibs (pinned on to our backs so they wouldn’t rib off during the race), had our bib numbers marked onto our arms and found our other two team mates who we hadn’t met before.  They signed up with the Cross-fit gym and joined our team. Here is a team pic about ½ mile into the race, see how clean and happy we are? Our team consists of these people, left to right:

John: 5’ 6” Cross-fitter, played college football, hasn’t ever competed or ran in any race before, not a runner, has never gone more then 5k

Jeff: 5’ 9” Cross-fitter, has run up to 7 miles before, first competition/race of any kind

Chris: 6’3”, ex-Army, marathoner, long distance bike rider but has a titanium shoulder therefore no shoulder strength

Me: 5’ 0”, marathon runner, trail runner, small

Lauren: 5’4”, runner training for her first marathon, average 10:30 min miles

Josh: 6’, brother, Cross-fitter with some shorter distance running experience

We start off by taking the TM oath, scaled an 8’ wall to enter the starting corral and took off.  We would run about ¾ mile around rolling hills to our first obstacle, named Arctic Enema.  I was first in line so I climbed the ladder and looked down into a 4’ deep pool of neon pink ice water, being kept near freezing by a huge refrigerator trailer next to it.  I jump in and am instantly shrieking in shock.  I wade about 5’ to a wood wall with arrows pointing down so I’m forced to completely submerge to get under it.  DA@N that’s cold water!!   My body is now instinctually running the next 5 feet to the ladder to pull myself out.   Ok, that will wake you up.  One down, 27 to go.  Here’s a pic from Brightroom, not of me (Brightroom posted 200 pics of random people on the TM FB page so lots of these pics aren’t of me but just the obstacle).

Next up was hay bales; my dad was here to capture the moment.  These weren’t too hard.  John, having the best upper body strength volunteered to go first and help everyone else up.  I took a running start and leapt for his hand.  Then I climbed over the bales and slide down the other side.  Not too bad!

Kiss of Mud was next.  This was probably 25 yards of foot deep, muddy water with barbed wire about 8 inches over the surface.  I did very well with this one as I’m small enough to easily slide under the wires.  And it was funny to get muddy too.  My mom did see a guy get a 2” long cut on his bald head.  The mud was a blessing, it kept us very cool and comfortable in the heat.

The terrain was hilly but not ski mountain hilly.  But my trail running strength really came through with this.  I wasn’t having any problem tackling the endless hills.  But I’d wait at the top for the rest of my team. 

Next we had Devil’s Beard, which was just a long, long net that people held up as we walked under it.  I attempted to help but since my vertical reach isn’t much, I just walked through.  We also had black plastic tunnels that were about 24” in diameter to crawl through, again, no issue for little ol’ me but it did slow our bigger guys down.  More hills.   Next was Spider Web, a cargo net climb.  Men were already holding the bottom of the opposite side to secure the next so John and Josh climbed over and relieved two of them so I could climb over.  Jeff and Chris also took turns until the team behind us had enough people over to relieve them.  I cut up my knees a little here but got fist pumps for being the first to bleed.  Josh did get mud dropped into his eye which he struggled with for the rest of the race.

Berlin Wall #1 was next.  12’ walls with no foot holds of any kind.  John got a boost from Josh and Jeff and pulled himself up and straddled the wall.  Then Josh got up.  I was next so Jeff boosted me up and I was easily pulled over by John and Josh.  Chris, with the bum shoulder, walked around the wall and helped me down.  Lauren was next, she was convinced that she couldn’t do it but she was able to.  Jeff got a boost from a stranger and got over as well.  Josh stayed up to help up the next team’s first person and then we were on our way. 

Next up was the most difficult one that we had, the Mud Mile.  Nine 10’ mounds of the slickest mud on the planet, with water between the mounds.  Our team got split up some in the chaos of trying to find footholds and such.  The first mound wasn’t hard, there were several footholds to use but the rest of them, none.  Just slick, slick mud.  I did climb on the side of a few where it was more dirt then mud but couldn’t keep my balance and fell.  If you were able to get a boost from someone, then you would stretch up to whoever was straddling the mound and they would try to pull you over where you would slide on your back or butt down into the water for the next one.  Try because the people on top were slick and you were slick so many times I just slid right out of their grasps.  It was exhausting but we finally finished.  We all agreed that it was by far the most difficult. 

I don’t remember exactly what ones were next but we each carried a log down and up a hill, crawled through another muddy water stretch with barbed wire but this time there were live wires with 10K volts of electricity flowing through them (again, smallness won out as I didn’t get shocked, two of our team mates did and said they were numb for 20 minutes).  There was a stretch of about 1.5 miles of “trail” like this (I think they couldn’t get some obstacles set up or something because the map showed 4 that we didn’t do at all).  It wasn’t safe to run most of this part so we would run and walk it.  John got a bad calf cramp about this point too that bothered him to the end.  It’s very dusty as we’re winding our way around an unplowed cornfield and the wind is blowing.  We are all struggling with dust in our eyes and throats. 

I thought it was strange that we had such a long time between obstacles and then it hit me that they must want our upper bodies to recover for the next challenges.  I was right.  We hit the hanging rings next.  I was really worried about this as I don’t have much upper body strength and it was an individual challenge.  I grabbed the first ring and swung to the next one.  Then my lower body swung me forward so I could grab the next.  Continue to the end and yes, I did it!!!  I had such a sense of accomplishment after that one.  I think 4 of our members made it. 

Next up was the Boa Constrictor, another set of black tubes, one descending into a pool of muddy water and one going out of it.  No problem again for me.   Then Berlin Walls #2, this time they were 15’ high but we used the same strategy to get over these.  There were also numerous pools of mud with pits dug out in them so you’d be walking through and then drop down.  Nice. 

We keep trucking along, Chris and I are running ahead as we both find it easier then walking.  My shoes are filled with sand, mud, tiny rocks that are just cutting the heck out of my heels.  We see several pairs of shoes along the course from people who figured it would be easier to go on without shoes.  We’re about mile 10 or so now.  We’re starting to see spectators again.  I round a corner and see my mom, cheering in a group of people.  She looks pretty happy to see us.  Then I turn to look at what our obstacle is.  Holy crap.  It’s Mt. Everest, the ¼ pipe that’s 25 feet high and probably 40 yards wide.  The top of it has wall to wall guys catching and pulling people up.  There’s a line at the bottom so time for us to figure this out.   We decide to continue with the plan that’s worked so far, send John first and then Josh.  It looks like there are foot holds every 5 feet or so but it’s just the wood overlapping, the ramp is totally smooth.  My dad is on the sidelines getting amazing pictures. 

John gets up, grabs the hand of someone on the top and gets pulled up.  Josh follows and gets up on his first try.  I’m next.  My confidence is pretty high after all I’ve done so far but when there isn’t anything between me and the ¼ pipe, I get a little nervous.  So I sprint the 30 feet to the bottom of the pipe and reach up.  Ah, yeah, they don’t have Go, Go, Gadget Arms so I quickly slide back down.  Ok, that’s just a warm up.  Try #2, I sprint again and hear them both yelling “Keep running, keep running” so I run further and stretch as far as I can.  Nope.  Ok, not a problem, 3rd time’s the charm.  This time I sprint and keep running until my feet literally are climbing the wall and I reach as far up as I can.  Josh grabs my hand and John gets my other hand.   They pull me up and I keep saying “Don’t let me fall, don’t let me fall” so John hooks my knee and pulls me over.  YES!!!  I did it!!!!  

Jeff was next and he made it up the first try.  Lauren took 4 times but Chris gave her a boost and that got her there.  Then Chris made it up, even with the busted shoulder.  We were so elated to have conquered Everest as a team.

Funky Monkey was next, monkey bars that rotated in your hands.  I fell after the 3rd bar and only Jeff made it all the way across.  Twinkle Toes was after that.  This was a balance beam that wasn’t secured so it wobbled in the middle.   To add to the fun, it was covered in mud from everyone’s shoes.  I’ve got good balance so moved quickly across it and was the only teammate to make it without falling!

A really high jump into really deep water was next.  I climbed the ladder and waited my turn.  The guy in front of me did a fancy flip off the board.  For some reason, I froze up.  I’m not afraid of water or heights but I just was really hesitant to go.  I look over and Josh is next to me and he says “Go together?” so we jumped.  The water was so deep that I seemed to plunge down forever and took a long time to break the surface.   But I did (lost my headband).  The lifeguard asked if I needed help but I didn’t so I just swam to the end and climbed the cargo net out.  Woo-hoo!

Last but not least was Electroshock Therapy.  It was a run about 15 feet long with hay bales every few feet.  Wires, some of them live with 10K volts, were hanging down.  I know this is the last one so I run through first (too fast for my dad to get a picture).  Again, being little paid off as the wires were spaced about 18” apart and I’m only 12” wide!  I make it through without a problem.  Several of my teammates were shocked but we all were cheering at the end.  Then we turn a corner and there’s the finish line!  We charge across it as a team and are crowned with our bright orange sweat bands.  Sweet!!  Before this day, I thought it was pretty lame to get a sweat band instead of a medal for this event.  But afterwards, a medal didn’t seem right for it.  But an obnoxious orange terry cloth band?  Yes, that’s the right bling.  We also got our finishers shirts and some XXEquis beer. 

So…that’s my RR.  It took us just under 4 hours to complete the 11.5 miles.  A 20:52 pace.  LOL.  I’m scraped up and bruised, my shoulders are sore.   But I’d do it again in a second.  If you’re considering doing it, you should.  It’s intense but so fun.  They had a Medivac helicopter doing circles in the sky and I saw it land twice to get people out.  An ATV passed me on a trail to get someone and another passed me with a guy holding his ankle.  Another team lost a member to a broken arm when she fell off the Berlin Wall.  So injuries do happen so I wouldn’t do this race if you’re training for a goal marathon!  Do it with a team though, an individual cannot do it by themselves.  They would have to get help from other teams (which is freely given, BTW).   I had a blast and am proud to be a Tough Mudder.