I completed a Tough Mudder yesterday (so I initially wrote this two weekends ago. It needed a bit of editing). I’m writing this from my bed. My limbs are jelly, I feel like I’ve done a day’s worth of situps I have a strange burning sensation in my forearms I’ve never experienced before. However, I feel like I’m going to be able to get up and function regularly at some point today which is much more than I’d hoped for.
The Tough Mudder, for those of you living under a rock, is one of the mud runs that burst onto the scene a couple of years ago, and are rapidly gaining popularity. When they first begin gaining prominence, these mud runs appealed to elite athletes and ex-military (both of which, I’m clearly not) but since gaining traction have started to become accessible to a much wider audience.
It’s safe to say that the Tough Mudder is the premiere mud run at the moment. There’s also the Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, and countless others, but Tough Mudder holds the prize for being the most publicized and talked about. Tough Mudder sets itself apart from it’s competition by being a much longer race (Tough Mudder’s are between 10-12 miles, while most of the others are 5ks) and there’s an emphasis on teamwork and camaraderie; it’s about finishing, not winning. Tough Mudder also justified (in my opinion) it’s high entry fee by donating part of the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project. To date, they’ve raised over 5.5 million dollars to help injured veterans, which is a cause I could get behind. You also have the option to do independent fundraising for your team, which I was sadly unaware of until yesterday. If I do this again, I’m definitely going to try and help out more.
Because I routinely think that I’m in better shape than I am, I convinced my buddy Eric to sign up with me. We signed up in the spring of 2012 for what I thought was going to be a fall date. I’d initially thought I’d signed us up for an October race in New Jersey but the Wednesday before, when I was going to print out our tickets, I realized that I’d actually signed us up for the race this May in Philadelphia.In hindsight, I’m glad I made the error because I was in no shape to be competing in a race of this magnitude at that time. I’m not also sure I would have been able to/want to endure the colder October temperatures. There was a lot of submerging involved.
I haven’t been “training” per say for the raise, but in the past two months are so I’ve been doing a lot more cardio based workouts, and running 5-6 miles twice a week, that I really feel helped me endure the race. That being said, I’m not in super shape or anything and Eric, my running partner just completed an Iron Man. I went into the race thinking that I was going to be the embarrassing slow one.
Even though the event advertised itself as a “Philadelphia Location”it was actually located in Fogelsville, just outside of Allentown. We wisely abstained from partaking in any Friday night imbibing and went to bed at a decent time so we could wake up by 7 and be on the road by 8. We signed up for the 11:00 wave and the website suggested getting there two hours early. Saturday was hot. Temperatures in the 90’s, which didn’t help my nerves. They gave us the option to switching to Sunday but we both agreed we’d just suck up the heat and I invested in some SPF 100 to prevent the dreaded Irish tan (fact: even SPF 100 didn’t keep me from getting straight up fried).
We arrived around 9:45, parked our car, boarded the bus that took us from the parking lot to the race course and got signed in, all in under 20 minutes. The whole event is really well organized. There was hardly any waiting around. I was relieved, in observing the parking lot and signing area, that the majority of the people did not look like fitness freaks. In fact, Eric and I were probably in the top tier, shape-wise. I also noticed that we were in the minority with just a two man team. Most people had groups of 5-6 with a lot of much larger groups.
Since the sign in process took much less time then anticipated, we got ourselves into the 10:40 wave. We figured why sit around and wait, our adrenaline was going, and frankly the heat was making me wish for some sort of water challenge. Tough Mudder presents you with it’s first obstacle, a climbing wall, before you could even get into the start pen, which was kind of cool. Once the starting pen was full, my least favorite part of the entire experience began.
Some guy, who Eric dubbed “The Face of Tough Mudder” (though I don’t think that was his official title) introduced the race, and went over the rules, etc, which was fine, but also got the crowd “pumped up.” Now maybe it’s just personal preference, but normally I don’t like people who pump up the crowd. He made every scream “hoo-rah” more times than I was into, and generally got everyone pumped up over how tough they were.
After he finished his schtick, they played the National Anthem, acknowledged all the veterans running, which was nice, and then counted down for the start off. Off course the first stretch was uphill. The heat, which had been unbearable when we were waiting in the holding pen, isn’t as bad when you’re moving. I think the terrain was the toughest part to me. Whoever designed the course and picked the locale was some sort of evil genius. You were never on flat ground for long. The obstacles were strategically placed on the bottom and tops of hills and the course basically just wove back and forth and up and down. Here’s where the heat might have helped us out a bit. Running up a hill is tough (although by the halfway point almost everyone walks a bit) but I could only imagine how much more exhausting it’d be if those hills, which for us were practically dusty were muddy. Aside from the obstacles, we didn’t encounter much mud. Had it been wet or raining, then the struggle up the hills would have been tortuous.
The obstacles themselves were challenging and fun. Some of them were difficult, and once again we lucked out with the weather, but my take is that they weren’t as challenging as the website’s videos and descriptions made them out to be. In general, if you’re in decent shape, I think the Tough Mudder is very doable, which is probably by design.
Our course had 24 obstacles. If you want to check out all the Tough Mudder designs, click here. Not every location utilizes every obstacle and I was particularly disappointed that we didn’t have the balance beam, because I’m good at that stuff. I think that’s part of the reason I liked the obstacles because of number of them utilized climbing, which I’m generally good at. What were really challenging, I thought, were the monkey bar and ring obstacles, again things I’m normally good at, but in order to amp up the ability level the greased the bars. I embarrassingly made three rungs on the monkey bar and two on the rings.
The obstacles were another instance of the heat working to our advantage. A lot of them were water based, and were pretty refreshing. For example, “The Devil’s Beard“, is a trench filled with water and covered by a rope net. You lie on your back and hold onto the ropes, whose tension relies on other participants, to propel yourself from one side to the other. In order to do this you’re practically submerged. I imagine that in October or November this is excruciating, but everyone emerging was joking how relaxing it was compared to the heat, it almost had a lazy river feel. Another, “Walk the Plank” was simply climbing up fifteen feet and jumping into a pool. It was fun.
The standout obstacle was the “Arctic Enema“, an ice bath you had to swim underwater through. I can’t imagine completing this on a fall day because it was painful on a 94 degree day. The only good part of that was that it shocked your system and woke you up. We agreed that the mile after we completed that was our fastest mile.
The two obstacles I really didn’t enjoy were those with an electricity element. I could deal with lugging myself over things, climbing, face planting in mud, and embarrassing myself. I don’t like to get shocked, and you can’t avoid them. Every single tough mudder ends with a muddy run through an expanse of dangling wires, with voltages of up to 10,000 volts. I dealt with something like this when we did our Run For Your Lives. That time the wire field was big enough that you could slowly snake your way through. Unfortunately since this was literally feet from the finish line, a crowd of spectators chanted for people to barrel through in waves when they yelled run. There was no other option but to shield your privates (I did this and some guy commented that I looked stupid, I’d prefer to look stupid then get 10,000 volts in the balls) and charge. I got shocked good a number of times, but nothing like the guy to my right who was literally jolted to the ground, twice.
As cynical as I was about the whole camaraderie and team spirit mantra being shoved in my face at the starting line, it did feel good the way they celebrated everyone that finished. As soon as you crossed, you had someone place a tough mudder headband on you, give you already filled water (they had five water stations en route where you had to fill up yourself) and then collect Dos Equis backpacks, Cliff Bars, tee shirts, and a beer. This might have marked one of the few occasions that the beer didn’t get me excited. I chugged it because, it felt wrong not to, but all I really wanted was a water and to get my shoes off.
Like many of these races, Tough Mudder has a party at the end with a bar, bands, and all sort of vendors, however I’d really be curious to see how many people actually stayed at it. Unlike a 5k, where you’re pumped up and ready to go at the end, you’re literally exhausted and we couldn’t wait to get back on the bus and find our car. Judging by the wait for the bus, a majority of participants agreed with us.
All in all, the Tough Mudder wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. If you’re in decent shape, and take a few weeks to start running, then I feel most people out there can get this done. The emphasis on teamwork and the deemphasize of competition made it a lot less pressure and a lot more fun.