Tough Mudder

Various locations
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Type: Outdoors, Adventure
Category: Entertainment
Company: Masochistic Friends
Cost: Varies depending on when you sign up – between $80 and $180

Quickie: Cross country mud and obstacle race, varying from 10 – 12 miles, incorporating mud pits, elevation changes, ice water, wall climbing, and a dozen other sadistic challenges.

OTC Tip: A big pre-race question is what to wear. There isn’t one type that works best for each obstacle, but I recommend a light trail shoe.  You want grip and ankle support, but also something that wont build up weight from the mud and water.  Ditching the shirt is also a good idea - you’ll get scratched, but you’ll also stay drier.  And you’ll avoid nipple chafing.

Review:  Tough Mudder advertises itself as the “Toughest Event on the Planet” and it does a damn good job of backing up the claim.  With races throughout the US (and now in Australia and Japan) about once a month, there are plenty of opportunities to subject yourself to an afternoon of hell.  And yes, I mean that in the best possible way.  Obstacles and distances depend on the local terrain, but you can count on two dozen challenges that will test your physical and mental fortitude.  And in my case, it will test friendships. (My apologies to my buddies whom I managed to talk into running it under the guise of “its fun and easier than advertised”.  Oops)

TM SoCal was my second race; I completed TM NorCal in Oct of 2010. TM SoCal was at least twice as hard as NorCal, and even that might be an understatement.  But consequently, SoCal was twice as fun as I had expected, despite the bloody shins, knees, elbows, nipples (yes, I said nipples), blisters, and sunburns. 

Side note: I use the term “race” very loosely.  TM is big on reminding all participants that it isn’t about winning, but rather the act of finishing.  Obstacles are designed to have be completed with the aid of other Mudders, and there was never a lack of comraderie. Everyone had a positive word to say; not once was anyone negative.  Not even under their breath. It was extremely refreshing to see the human spirit triumph, even after being dunked in 45 degree water.

Between the main obstacles, the course consisted of relentless treks up and down the ski slopes.  I thought snowboarding down double black diamonds was hard enough, but running UP them?  Excruciating.  A quickie highlight reel of some of the more challenging/interesting obstacles follows.

OTC Tip: Check your course map carefully, if there are going to be multiple hill climbs, pick and choose when you want to be an idiot and attempt to sprint up.  I made the mistake of killing myself early on the first major ascent.  

The easy downhill start quickly got real, as multiple snow blowers were positioned to assault runners with sprays of ice water.  10 seconds in, and my ears were already going numb and I was soaked to the core.  And one of my good friends already cursed my name.

After a short queue, I dropped to a full commando position and shimmied through a narrow irrigation ditch.  The “Boa Constrictor” was filled with rocks, mud, and 2 inches of water.  Oh, and there are two of them.  At this point, both forearms were bleeding.  But at least the mud acted as an external coagulant. 

At the top of the next hill awaited a mud pit to crawl through. And I literally mean crawl – the Kiss of Mud is a maze of barbed wire a foot off the ground, to discourage anyone who doesn’t want to get dirty.  At the end, other runners were offering a helping hand to pull/drag me the last few feet past the sharp wires.  How kind.

OTC Tip: Do not wear a Camel-Pak of any type.  Aside from the extra weight, the pack will definitely get caught on the barb wire, as well as other obstacles throughout the course.

The steady line of snow blowers felt like a day at the beach compared with the next challenge – The Blood Bath.  Empty bags of ice taunted us as we were forced to fully submerge ourselves under wooden partitions and climb back out.  The water was cold to the point of completely numbing all senses.  It was hard to think, but luckily natural survival instincts kicked in and I climbed out and chugged (non-ice) water from the first aid station.  And because I’m apparently an idiot, I doubled back and dunked again with the second half of our team. 

Monkey bars, bbq pit, and a log carry from hell met us next.  The monkey bars were a grade-school gym teacher’s wet dream: the bars were loose and slippery; the gaps between each rung weren’t consistently spaced, and they veered up before heading back down.  And TM employees kept a constant spray of cold water on each climber, thus increasing the odds of slipping and landing in the muddy water pit below.

OTC Tip: There was a lot discussion regarding climbing with or without the help of gloves.  Overall, gloves made the entire course easier; not having to worry about splinters is always a plus. However, with slippery monkey bars, there was fear that the gloves would actually worsen the grip.  To test the theory, I completed the bars with and without gloves, and noticed no real difference.   

After the bars was the BBQ pit – wooden tunnels with a clearance of about 3 feet billowing with smoke (dry ice).  Expecting the internal visibility to rival that of Los Angeles during the summer, I was briefly relieved to find that it was just pitch black...which was hiding the fact that the bottom 8 inches consisted of muddy water.

At this point, all of the obstacles were of the quick and physical variety.  That all changed with the log carry.  Runners grabbed a chunk of timber and made a long trek up and back down the slopes. Making it worse was that I could see just how far I had to go up, and in the back of my mind I knew I had to go back down.  About 15% of runners chose to grab a longer log and buddy up.  I made the dumb mistake of choosing one of the largest logs there, and only one buddy to carry it with.

OTC Tip:  Don’t be a hero.  Challenge yourself with the log carry, but don’t take it to the extreme.  There will be plenty of challenges.  

Now the real water challenges were upon us.  First were the Underwater Tunnels – bob under 3 tubes and swim back to shore. Next we had to get across the entire width of the lake, using steel cables to pull our weight across.  But then we had to get BACK across the lake, without the aid of any wires or ropes.  Taking the plunge into the lake off of a 15 foot platform, I realized how difficult swimming with muddy, rock-filled trail shoes is.  To make matters worse, the freezing temperature of the water resulted in numerous runners cramping up and/or having difficulty breathing.  Two members of our team personally helped save two drowning racers we came across.  The lifeguards that were there did a great job, but TM needed to employ about 5 times the number.  It was the only obstacle that was poorly designed, and should be re-designed for future races.

OTC Tip: Don’t listen to any TM employees when they tell you “it’s the last hill climb” – I heard that claim a half dozen times.  Lies.  All lies.

Mixed among the series of death climbs were a variety of fun obstacles.  There was a slicked down ramp/slide, inviting runners to gather their speed and attempt to get a good enough jump to grab hold of the top and pull themselves up.  Other runners stayed at the top to offer a hand or two to make sure everyone could make it up.  It was a great moment of camaraderie and encouragement.  There was also one more water pit, which was essentially a giant downhill slip n slide into a lake, and then a swim/walk across. 

OTC Tip: While diving headfirst is certainly more fun and results in more speed, the face plant into the water was awful.  

The last big obstacle before the homestretch was a series of 4 walls to climb over.  After nine miles of hell, the mere act of getting a good hold on the top was next to impossible, so pulling myself up was serious hell. At this point, spectators lined the run, offering praise and high-fives.  It was a much needed morale boost to finish strong.  Well, until we hit the obstacle at the finish line – electrified wires.  Spaced at 1 foot intervals and spanning a 10 yard square, we were hosed down before sprinting through.  Not every wire was charged, which resulted in the temporary conclusion of “Wow, I might make it without getting..” then BANG.  Similar to touching a bug zapper, the shock twisted my entire body in ways I usually reserve for drunken dance-offs.  Then another BANG.  I managed to make it through with just the two shocks, but I met people who got as many as 5.

The end of the race was filled with random hugs and high-fives, Clif Bars, water, and the best tasting beer I’ve ever had/deserved.

So, was the course comically challenging?  Yes.  Did all of my friends spend equal amounts of time cursing/thanking me for talking them into it?  Definitely.  The only problem now is that I miss it.  Maybe it’s just Stockholm Syndrome, but I’m already excited for the next Tough Mudder I enter.  As the Dos Equis banner at the end of the race reminded us:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pretty sure you said ditching the shirt is a good where are the topless photos?

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