After most races I feel cheery and optimistic. Tough Mudder managed to completely break me. It was hands down the most difficult thing I have ever done. That’s not to say it’s the most difficult thing ever (I think an Ironman would be much more grueling physically), but in my experience having done marathons, sprint and Olympic triathlons and century bike rides this completely took my spirit and crushed it. Did I have fun? Absolutely. Was it awesome? No doubt. But I have never felt so crushed by an event like I did for Tough Mudder.
It was like some sick psychological experiment. Like the guy from the movie SAW just messing with you and letting you think you had a hope of living and then crushing you.
You can get a good sense of what the race is like by watching this:
For starters the race started at 6,255 feet and capped at 8,837 feet at the top of Squaw. For those of you that don’t know what that means let me explain a bit. If you live in San Francisco you are at sea level (0 feet of elevation). Even in Russian Hill we are only at 200 or so feet. If I went out for a leisurely run in SF at a 6 out of 10 difficulty rating in Tahoe that would feel like a 9 out of 10 because I was processing air less efficiently at such high altitude. It’s why you hear elite athletes that “train high and race low” (train at high altitude and race at low altitude). It’s no secret that I hate running hills at sea level so I was in for quite a shock when I had to run mountains at elevation. The first mile of the race was up a crazy switchback that while not particularly difficult pushed my heart rate to about 180 beats per minute. Eventually my heart acclimated a bit and my hear rate calmed down but it was a shock.
Tough Mudder also tests your whole body. I am without a doubt a lower body athlete. I run and I bike. I rely on my legs. Tough Mudder requires serious upper body strength which I don’t particularly have. There are several events that require you to pull your own weight for sustained periods of time and potentially the body weight of your teammates.
So yeah – I survived but by no means did I rock this event. It completely domimated by it. At one point I was so malnourished that I was looking for open packets of shot bloks and gu gel packets to feed myself as I was feeling light headed. On the upside – there were a LOT of injuries and I was not one of them. I think a very common injury would be a serious ankle sprain.
What I really liked about Tough Mudder was the camaraderie. No man is left behind and you help each other out. I was towards the back of the pack on the runs and people waited for me which was really nice. On events where people couldn’t pull themselves through we all helped each other as well. It was definitely a misery loves company situation. When people were cold they hugged and kept each other warm. Even amongst total strangers at one point we were starving and a guy from another team was eating a snickers bar and we joked that we were going to jump him and he kindly offered us half his snickers bar even though he was also starving and had been through the same mayhem and could have easily killed the rest of the snickers bar. Despite the event being a bunch of uber-competitive people everyone cheered for each other and motivated one another.
As I write this I’m thinking of how a lot of race reports have a positive spin to them. Beyond how much I loved the event this event completely rocked me and I don’t know how to spin that positively. This thing is no joke…and that’s what is so great about it. Their signs even mock you. Signs along the route poke fun at the fact that you’ll probably break an ankle or die. Since we sign a death waiver in addition to the usual waivers you sign at marathons they were serious that this was dangerous.
The only things I didn’t like about the event were that there was a serious lack of aid stations. There were about 4 aid stations for a race that took us 6+ hours. For those of us coming from the triathlon / marathon world we are used to an aid station at every mile or every other mile. Also, the aid stations only had water and apples (sometimes bananas). It would have been really nice to get something with electrolytes. Towards the end of the race I was so lightheaded that I needed to pick up Powerbar energy blasts off the floor so I wouldn’t pass out. It was no joke one of the highlight of my day to find 2 uneaten powerbar gummy things.
I’ve never even remotely had to do that at other races. Maybe that made it even more hardcore? My girlfriend’s dad (cat 1 cylist and former Marine) once wisely told me that if I cared about my nutrition I would need to carry my own. In this case I should have brought my own gels and things to eat to get me through the day.
The 2nd thing I wasn’t a fan of was the bottlenecks. They had too many participants 2 or 3 of the obstacles had 15-30 minute waits. At the very end the last singletrack trail was at a complete standstill.
Would I do it again? Good question. When I finished I told Sofia something to the effect “thank God that’s over. I would NEVER do that again.” Now that I’ve had time to gather my thoughts and actually have some food and rest a bit I think I’d do it again. It is a great way to spend a day with your buddies. Much like hazing…that allegedly happens at fraternities… it is a way of bonding with your friends. Miserly loves company.
Caption (above): Team Snuggle Bunnies at the finish. You get a shirt, an orange headband and a beer. Awesome. These guys (and girl) were awesome teammates.
Caption (above): The way this worked is you jumped in the the first section and it was water. You had to submerge yourself under the wooden panel to get to the 2nd part. The surprise was that the 2nd part was full of ice water. I had NEVER experienced anything like this. I felt like my brain shut off and my somebody flipped the off switch on all my bodily functions. I had to sit down for 5 minutes after this to be able to think clearly and feel my fingers again. While it wasn’t “difficult” it was a huge shock.
Caption (above): About half way into the race they gave us logs and made us carry them up and down a hill for about half a mile. Pieces of that course were gravel so traction wasn’t so great.
Caption (above): They were kidding…but not really. Several people injured themselves.
Caption (above): This was the boa constrictor. This was the only obstacle I didn’t do. Not because I was afraid but because we were nearing the cut off time for the course and if we didn’t make it to the next obstacle we would be pulled off. We exercised our option to go around it since there was a good 10-15 minute wait for it. Basically – they made you crawl through really long tubes filled with water and mud. NOT for those afraid of confined spaces of fears of drowning.
Caption (above): While I knew we’d be at Squaw I had * NO * idea we’d be doing so much climbing. We went up to the top of the peaks of squaw from the base camp. It shocked me when we got to high camp where I had been snowboarding during the winter and it dawned on me that we had hiked quite a ways. And from there we looked up and saw people very far away so we had a LONG way to go. It was brutal to say the least.
Caption (above): The over under logs were fun. You went under these logs with barbed wire and crawled on rocks and then you went over them. I think this was one of those event where if you were tired, big or had a backpack you were going to get cut up. I did see people running around with bloodmarks on their backs and I’m assuming they came from barbed wire on the course.
Caption (above): Speaking of barbed wire…this was one of the first obstacles on the course. You got down low and got completely soaked ten minutes into the race. If you got your head too high you would be cut by barbed wire. If you got too low you would have mud all in your face.
Caption (above): The Marines that staffed parts of the course must have had a field day with this. You would run through a part of a trail where Marines would launch these giant bouncy balls at you. The couple of people that were hit were completely knocked off balance. My team was able to make it through as we sprinted through as the Marines chased around loose balls.
Caption (above): At the start of the race…this is the sign that you make if you are in need of help so other tough mudders or first aid can help. Not a good sign if they have to tell you this before a race. Also something I had never seen at a race.
Caption (above): The race started off with orange smoke bombs. Nice.
Caption (above): There were some seriously ripped people doing this race. I think the spectators that were there to cheer us along can 2nd me on this one. While triathletes, cyclists and runners are lean and incredible athletes this race appealed to adrenaline junkies and the guys in particular seemed much larger. A friend said she noticed the difference as soon as she got out of the car in the parking lot.
Caption (above): Oh, the monkey bars. If you make it across, congrats. If you don’t, you fall into cold water…again. To make it tougher the bars rotate and some are greased up. And it’s not like the momkey bars when you were a kid. There are like 20 of them and they are at an incline to start off. I had no chance. I got like 5 across and then decided to conserve energy and just swim across. Props to some of my fellow Snuggle Bunnies that rocked this obstacle.
Caption (above): I am happy to report that none of our team members suffered any major injuries. People tweaked ankles a bit and had foot pains but there were not traumatic injuries. It was very easy to hurt yourself on this thing and it was troubling and yet sobering to hear the ATV’s go by to help people. I considered myself fortunate that I hadn’t hurt myself yet when I heard them go by.
Caption (above): This was one of the toughest events and at the same time was the coolest because it was ALL about teamwork. There was NO way you could do this one your own. You had to depend on people to boost you up and to help pull you up if you couldn’t pull yourself up. Then you had to help others and others had to help you as you pulled friends, teammates or randoms so you wouldn’t go over.
Caption (above): This event was tough for me since I didn’t have a lot of weight or upped body strength so if I pulled someone that weighed more than me I had to have someone hold my legs otherwise I was going to go over. I was helping a random guy and almost went over the side head first since he had so much weight on me.
Caption (above): I didn’t have to have people stand on my shoulders but I was grateful for my teammates who took one for the team and volunteered for this one. It sucks to have someone that is 180+ pounds stand on your shoulders and potentially fall on you.
Caption (above): I found this picture funny. There were women that needed help on the wall and it was easy to help them because they weighed less. If you helped guys it was so much tougher. I overheard someone saying that he couldn’t say no because every girl that asked for help was so hot. Haha.
Caption (above): This event was called the plank. Man, I thought this would be cake since I am a decent swimmer. I was very wrong. Again, I feel they plan these obstacles to break you. For starters you have Marines yelling at you. 2 – this is about half way into the course so you are exhausted. When you climb to the top of the ramp you look down and it’s about a 20 foot drop. I am not afraid of heights but I hesitated for a millisecond and decided to just go for it. You hit the super cold water (they put ice in it) and it takes your breath away. To make things more interesting your clothes and shoes are soaked so they act like anchors weighing you down. Normally I’d swim in a speedo or something that doesn’t weight anything or dries quickly. The swim is about 1-2 laps in a pool so not long but you are so tires plus the water is so cold that even very fit people struggles. Thankfully they had islands you could swim to which I definitely took advantage of.
Caption (above): Without a doubt the most masochistic event was the electroshock therapy. Hands down. For starters it is at the end of the race so at this point you’ve been out for many many hours. In our case we were out for 6+ hours so you’re tired. They put this event after the part where you probably are soaked with water so it conducts the 10,000 volts of electricity that the live wires hit you with very well. I was lucky enough to not get shocked. I was able to get through and not touch any wires since they were swaying and I was small enough to dodge in and out of the open spaces. My teammate Brandon and I were so happy that we made it through and that we were done with the race that we started cheering that we were “f**** Ninjas” to each other. We got to see this before we started the race and these HUGE guys were getting completely dropped to their knees by the shocks. You can only truly appreciate this over video. Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31CblNtL
Now, go to 4:15 and you will see how this electroshock therapy works. It’s insane.
Caption (above): The aftermath. I wasn’t as broken physically as I would be after a marathon surprisingly. I didn’t hurt myself in any way. I am sore writing this the next day but I don’t hurt the way I would after a marathon or half marathon. My arms are very sore mostly because I used muscles I don’t generally utilize. I actually dropped my laptop yesterday when I tried to pick it up after the race and couldn’t gather enough power in my fingers to hold on. The race definitely took it out of me when it came to the little upper body strength I do have.
Caption (above): The elevation for this was cruel. It just kept going up, and up and up. Just when you got to one peak there was another peak ahead. It was psychological warfare I tell you. It might have just been me but the race was advertised as 10 miles, then about a week before the race it was 11 and when we got there they said it was 10+ miles. My gps watch clocked it at 13.97 miles. Not sure what to make of that.
Caption (above): It took our team 6 hours and 37 minutest to complete it. Funny thing was the estimate on the website was that we would finish in 2 and half hours. Superman could have finished that in 2 and a half hours. I felt bad for our lovely supporters who came to cheer us on since they had to wait an extra 3 hours. I remember telling Sofia it would take 3 hours tops. I was very mistaken.
Caption (above): The front of our shirts. We were team Snuggle Bunnies. People loved our shirts. They kept complimenting us. Some teams went ultra macho with the name and we decided to go in the opposite direction. It kept the whole thing fun.
Caption (above): The back of our team shirt. AWESOME choice by the team. My only regret is not having a dri fit shirt. The cotton got wet early on and never really fully dried so when wet was really heavy and cold so when you bounced around it acted as an anchor in the water and on the run. Style-wise was a great choice but as far as function my advice for uniform is to wear as little as possible and make sure everything you wear is made of technical fiber.
Caption (above): For this event you had to walk across a thin piece of wood. If you failed you ended up in the water. This was at the very end so if you fell you would be cold when you finished. It was also before the electrical shock section and we all know how great of a combination being completely soaked and 10,000 volts are.
Caption (above): I wasn’t able to make it across so decided to have fun with it before falling off the wood and cannonballed back so I could splash the spectators. This is an actual picture of me unlike all the other ones which are from the tough mudder website as a representation of the race.
Caption (above): We used eyeliner to draw whiskers and a nose on our faces.
Caption (above): The team prepares before the race. Norm and I decided on giving our shirts some extra flair and having tassels.
Caption (above): The next day celebrated with friend at Sunnyside in Lake Tahoe.
One last thing I really liked about Tough Mudder was that it was that it donates 3 million dollars to the Wounded Warrior project. WWP is proud to support the Wounded Warrior Project and participants have raised over $2 million. These funds help support thousands of warriors from the battlefield to bedside, and beyond. This will help provide much needed respite retreats for devoted caregivers, and also funds WWP combat stress recovery programs, adaptive sports, benefits counseling, education and employment services and other programs that aid in the healing of the mind, body and spirit of these brave Americans.
Last but not least, people asked me why one would do this. The answer is pretty simple: because you can…or at least you think you can and want to prove that you can. I had no idea if I’d finish or if I’d finish without getting injured but any endurance athlete can tell you that they finish an Ironman and either they check out and hang up their gear or they sign up for another round so they can prove to themselves that they can do it faster and do it better. While I ended the race broken and saying I would never do it again I am looking forward to potentially doing the race in SoCal in February 2012 or next year in Tahoe again. Thanks Tough Mudder and a big thanks to my Snuggle Bunny teammates.
GARMIN GPS WATCH DATA FOR THE RACE: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/1152