A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (7): Final Thoughts

I hope you have enjoyed this series.  Here are my final thoughts on the Tough Mudder:

1.  Expensive: If you’re going to run the Tough Mudder, register as early as possible or wait for a Groupon.  It is an EXPENSIVE race, and on top of the race fee they tend to nickel-and-dime you.  Someone is making a lot of money here, though hopefully it’s the Wounded Warrior Project.

2.  Worth it: That said, I think it was worth the money I paid.  It was so much fun, an unforgettable experience.

3.  Heat Time: Registering early will also ensure that you get to pick as early of a start time as possible.  This is important for several reasons.  First, you get a fresh course.  There is still grease on the monkey bars, for example.  But more importantly, if you are in the early heats, you don’t have to stand in traffic jams at obstacles.  You can breeze through without waiting for stragglers from previous heats.  This is especially important if you are hoping to qualify for the World’s Toughest Mudder.

4.  Photos: If you want good pictures of yourself, bring someone along.  For a spectator fee ($15), they can walk throughout the course, meeting you at key photo ops and taking pictures.  Tough Mudder contracts professional photographers to take pictures of participants, but they tend to only focus on certain points in the race and certain heats (the early ones, I think).  I had to dig through thousands of pictures online to find the 2 pictures they took of me, both of which were rubbish.  And the prices for the prints were pretty outrageous, but I suppose a lot of people are willing to pay.

5.  Gear:  I wore a pair of North Face hiking shorts, which dried pretty quickly. No shirt.  I wore goggles on my forehead, which were indispensable.  I carried latex-coated Grease Monkey mechanic gloves ($3) with the fingers cut off in a zipped pocket of my shorts.  I don’t think they were necessary, but if you want to wear gloves, these took good care of my hands on the ropes and monkey bars.

6. Training: I was probably overtrained when it came to the obstacles, and undertrained when it came to the distance.  Do a lot more running if you are training for this, since it is primarily a race.  I think a person could do this course with little training other than long-distance running since you can get help on most of the harder obstacles.  No one, however, can help you run.

7. Toughest Event on the Planet?  Probably not.  The World’s Toughest Mudder might be.  But it is great marketing for an unforgettable experience.  So get some friends and go for it!

A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (6): Obstacles 21-25

And now we come to the last three miles of the Tough Mudder!  The race organizers definitely saved the best obstacles for last, and I have no complaints about any of the final five challenges of the course.  Well, maybe one or two. 🙂

Directly after the rope bridge came the dreaded balance beam, Twinkle Toes (#21).  Whereas in most cases I felt that the pictures I had seen made the obstacles look harder than they actually were, in this case, the pictures I had seen didn’t even come close to the difficulty of the obstacle.  What I had seen was something like this:

What I got was this:

That’s right, a long and high balance beam suspended at least 10 ft. over water.  On top of this, you weren’t allowed to walk the beam alone.  By the time you got on, there were 1-2 on the obstacle ahead of you, and if they shook, you shook.  If they fell, you had a hard time not falling in yourself.  I didn’t make it very far, and I’d like to blame it on someone ahead of me shaking the beam, but who knows if I would have made it.  I do have to say that of the 50+ people that I watched trying to traverse this obstacle, only one made it across.  We cheered for him.  This was the only obstacle that we didn’t complete.

We swam across the water, climbed out the other side and then ran for about 400 meters until we came to ANOTHER water obstacle, and the worst one at that.  Dry Wood (#22) meant having to pick up a log and carry it into the lake, going a good distance out to the middle of the lake and then back to shore.  I think the idea was to keep the log dry, but a lot of people used it as a flotation device.   The water was stinky and nasty, filled with algae and various other forms of swamp life that covered your body when you came out.  But you couldn’t complain, because it’s Tough Mudder, and they can make you swim in whatever they want. It took at least 15 minutes to complete, and was pretty draining, especially if you picked up a big log.

It was a grueling mile and a half before we got to the Mystery Obstacle (#23), which looked like another simple water obstacle, walking up to your waist.  The difference is that they had dug several holes at various points along the way, meaning that every few steps, the bottom would drop out and you would go up to your neck or deeper.  A cool idea, and at that point I was just happy not to be running anymore.

My muscles were extremely tired as I neared the Chernobyl Jacuzzi (#24).  This was a big pool of multi-colored water.  You had to jump in the water, submerge and swim underneath a barrier to get to the other side.  They chilled the water, so it was like jumping into a slushy.  This was the coldest water I’ve jumped into outside of a lake in Siberia.  (Pretty impressive.)  Coming out of the water was a visceral experience.  It made you feel alive, like getting baptized again.  As soon as I emerged from the water, I let out a primal whoop.  It was strangely rejuvenating, an ice bath of sorts to my cold muscles.  One obstacle to go…

Probably the obstacle that gets the most hype is the last one, Electroshock Therapy (#25).  It involves running through an wooden structure with live electric wires suspended from the top.  The wires carry as much as 10,000 volts.  After watching videos of this on YouTube, I thought that it would mainly be a mental exercise and the electricity wouldn’t hurt that badly.  It was just having the guts to run in there.

We stopped to watch a bigger guy and a petite woman run through there.  Oddly enough, the big guy got knocked down while the woman made it through unscathed.  I thought to myself, if she can do it, so can I!  At first, it felt like static electricity, no big deal.  But at the end a few wires converged on my chest, delivering an incredible shock.  It was an involuntary muscle response – I went down.

This isn’t me, but this is basically what happened to me. I did a somersault in the mud, popped up, high fived Dave and we finished the race!

What was it like to be electrocuted with 10,000 volts?  It was epic.  It didn’t hurt, it was just… a shock.  I know, I know, lame.  But they call it a shock for a reason.

Next: Final Thoughts on the Mudder

A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (5): Obstacles 15-20

After the “Walk the Plank” obstacle, in my mind, I was running downhill.  I felt little anxiety about the remaining obstacles, and so the greatest challenge would be to keep running until the end.

After taking a short water break and eating(?) some energy gel, we ran for about half a mile before reaching the next obstacle, Spider’s Web (#15).  This was basically a 10 foot cargo net built into a hill.  This was a ridiculously easy obstacle, since the hill gave the net all kinds of stability that cargo nets don’t always have.  Plus, there was no need to climb down the other side.

That led to one of the longest runs of the course, and at this point the distance was really starting to get to me.  I was pushing the upper limit of the furthest I had run (6 miles) and with some of the adrenaline gone after the Plank obstacle, it became about grinding it out on the run.

We came to another set of Berlin Walls (#16) which I have written about, then after another short run came to Greased Lightning (#17).  This was not so much of an obstacle as a giant slip and slide down a hill.  So much fun!  This was one of the highlights and a great pick-me-up from the long runs.

After another run, we came to the Firewalker (#18) which was a 25 meter winding run through blazing kerosene soaked hay bales.  At first, I thought of it more emblematic of the Tough Mudder than as an obstacle, but it was actually pretty cool.  The air was really thick and smoky amidst the flames, meaning that when you came out of the obstacle, the fresh air hit you like, well, a breath of fresh air.

Immediately after the Firewalker came a obstacle called Everest (#19), which was a huge slippery quarter pipe.  You had to run up the pipe and grab the top to pull yourself up.  If you couldn’t, there were plenty of helping hands at the top to grab you and help you up.  My goal was to run straight up the ramp, which I did.

Just around the corner was the 20th obstacle, Ball Shrinker.  This was a rope hanging low over the water.  You had to hang from the rope and pull yourself along, hand-over-hand.  My original goal was to put my feet up rather than letting them rest in the water, but the ropes were burning my ankles.  This obstacle was actually long enough to make your grip strength pretty tired by the end, but it was pretty fun to pull yourself across the surface of the water.

As a whole, I remember this section of the race more for how much the runs hurt than how difficult the obstacles were.  When we finished the 20th obstacle, we hit the 7 mile marker, meaning the rest of the race would be a 5k…. with some crazy obstacles mixed in.

Next: Electrocution and The End!

A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (4): Obstacles 11-14

As a whole, obstacles 11-14 were on the weak side.  But one obstacle was potentially one of the most psychologically difficult of the course.

The eleventh obstacle was called The Log Bog Jog (#11).  It is supposed to be a run through the woods while climbing and jumping over fallen logs.  It was about as difficult as climbing over hay bales earlier in the course (an unmarked obstacle).  On top of this, they were pipes and it wasn’t in the woods.  So it should have been called the Pipe Crawl Over and Under.  It took very little time and athleticism to pass.

After rounding a corner, we came to The Shake and Bake (#12).  The idea behind this is that you go through a muddy pool of water and then crawl through the sand, effectively coating you in bread crumbs to bake in the hot sun.  The idea sounded awesome, but the reality fell short of it.  There was nothing to force you to crawl through the sand, only a low cargo net that could be easily surpassed like the previous Devil’s Beard Obstacle.

It seems TM intentionally makes some of the obstacles very easy and others more difficult.  The more difficult obstacles tend to make for traffic jams, but it feels truly epic to pass them.  The easy obstacles are added in to up the obstacle count, and you feel a little annoyed when you pass them because they were so easy.

There was a long run before the 13th Obstacle, Walk the Plank.  This was the obstacle that I had been dreading the most.  I have a thing about jumping into water that I can’t see through.  Part of it is fear of losing my contacts and being blind the rest of the way, part of it is fear of the unknown depth of the water, part of it is fear of drowning (though I’m a decent swimmer).  Something about jumping off a high platform into the water just freaked me out.

As we climbed the wooden ramp, I was surprised not to be feeling more apprehensive.  The lady in front of me freaked out and tried to go back down, but everyone encouraged her until she jumped in.  It was my turn, and I was thinking, “let’s just do it.”  It all happened so fast, it’s like I didn’t have time to be afraid.  I took a flying leap, went under and quickly resurfaced.  Both contacts were safe, though I lost my headband in the process (I would get another one later).

Immediately after the jump, you had to swim across the pond to the other side.  Making this more difficult was the next obstacle, Underwater Tunnels (#14), which involved bobbing underneath three rows of plastic barrels that were on the surface of the water.  For this I used my goggles and got through it fine, climbing triumphantly out of the water on the other side.

There was a water station when we climbed out, so Dave and I took a break to drink some water and eat our energy gel packets.  For us, this was the halfway point of the race.  We were feeling great!

(Next: Longer Runs, Mt. Everest and Fire!)


A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (3): Obstacles 6-10

All along the race path there were signs giving us encouraging messages like:

“Remember You Signed a Death Waiver.”

“Beware of Velociraptor Attack.”

“Warrior Dash Finish Line.  But you signed up for the Tough Mudder, so you’ve just begun.”

Here’s another good one:

One nice thing about heats being released every 20 minutes was that it gave you a sense of how long you were out on the course.  We could hear the cheering and fanfare as the 1:00 and 1:20 heats left the starting line.  So we knew that we were at about the 40 minute mark when we found ourselves working through obstacles 6-10.  We had only run 3 miles!

The first obstacle that had a significant traffic jam was the Berlin Walls (#6).  These were a series of 2 12-foot walls, where probably 100 people were waiting in line and helping each other over.  Fortunately, it was a nice rest from the hills and didn’t take as long as you might imagine.

It was during this obstacle that my CrossFit training was most valuable.  All of the box jumps, pull-ups and muscle-ups delivered a great sense of confidence as I approached the wall.  I jumped, grabbed the top and muscle-upped my way up and over the wall.  It felt amazing.  (Although, I’m pretty sure that means that the wall wasn’t 12 feet.  It was maybe 11 feet, but I shouldn’t have been able to grab the top if it was 12. If I could grab the top of a 12-foot wall, I would be able to dunk Vince Carter style instead of Candace Parker style)  Still, I felt like a total beast when I vaulted over both walls unassisted.

After the walls we started to stand in line at a water station, but decided that it was taking too long and ran on ahead to the next obstacle: Devil’s Beard (#7).  This was basically a large cargo net that you had to go under by passing the rungs of the net over your head.  It was annoying, but not super challenging.  My advice would be to treat it like monkey bars.  Again, double the length and it would have been a lot harder.

The next obstacle was a very steep (albeit short) ascent called The Cliffhanger (#8).  This looked much steeper and more difficult that it actually was.  I think that this was because earlier groups had made the mud more compact, making it easier to get a foothold.

Up until this point, Dave and I had been able to stay on our feet.   We were pretty clean, although I was sweating more than ever before.  But the next obstacle gave us no option other than to get dirty:  The Kiss of Mud (#9).  Advertised as a mud crawl under barbed wire that was 8′ off the ground, I was a little disappointed to see that the barbed wire was more like 16′ off the ground.  But they surprised me by putting jagged rocks under the mud!  This made the crawl pretty painful, and it gave me some good scrapes on my knees.  It also added about 5 pounds in mud that clung to my shorts after the crawl.

Fortunately, the crawl was followed by a downhill section of the course that ended at the tenth obstacle: Turd’s Nest (#10).   This involved climbing out on a cargo net suspended between two platforms.  It was pretty fun, but would have been impossible to get out of the net without a helping hand from Mudders who had themselves been pulled to safety.

(Next: two lame obstacles, then a leap of faith…)

A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (2): Obstacles 1-5

The Wisconsin Tough Mudder took place at the Devil’s Head Ski Resort in Merrimac, Wisconsin.  This meant that we would basically be running up and down the ski runs for the first hour of the course.

The race started running down a slope (“Braveheart Charge“, #1), turning the corner, and then proceeding up a very long red graded ski run then went up around the side of the mountain.  They called this the “Death March” (#2), and it was very effective at thinning the pack.  Dave and I made it about 3/4 of the way up before we started walking.  After that, we walked up all the hills.  By the third or fourth hill, no one around us was running the hills anymore.

The rain and clouds from earlier in the day gave way, and the sun came out in full force.  It was very humid – felt about 95 – and it couldn’t have come at a worst time than during the hills.  What made this easier was high pressure streams of water that you would run through at various points in the course.  I think that the map called these streams another obstacle (“the Gauntlet“, #3) but, it was the opposite of that. (At one obstacle, people were pleading with a fireman to spray them with the hose).

When we finally came to the first real obstacle, “Boa Constrictor” (#4) we were pretty pumped.  This obstacle sent you down a slope through a narrow pipe that went into the water, and then up another pipe rising up out of the water (you had to submerge in the muddy water to get out of and into the pipe).  This was a lot of fun.  I only wish it had been longer.  It wasn’t long enough to make you claustrophobic, though the water element messed with you a little bit.  Having goggles helped big time.

After another half mile or so, we came to the “Funky Monkey” (#5) – basically a long stretch of monkey bars over a pool of water.  I read that in one of the earlier Mudders they didn’t dig the pool deep enough and enough people broke their ankles that they had to shut the obstacle down for the day, so I definitely didn’t want to take any chances.  I had trained on monkey bars as part of my training, but was a little worried.  I watched several videos of the obstacle on YouTube and saw a lot of people fall off.  One of my pre-race goals was to make it across.

It turned out to be pretty easy.  Any grease that had been on the bars had been worn off by earlier heats, and the bars were  lot skinnier than the ones I had trained on, making it pretty easy to go across.  Dave, who hadn’t trained on monkey bars at all, also made it across fairly easily.  I think if the obstacle had been twice as long it would have been much more challenging.  Nevertheless, it felt great to blaze through there, especially while others were splashing down around us!

(Next: Obstacles 6-10, 12 foot walls, and a lot more hills)

A Blow-By-Blow Walkthrough of the Tough Mudder (1): Starting Line

“So, what was it like?  How’d it go?”

This is the question everyone has been asking me, so I decided to take the time to write a summary of my experience with the Tough Mudder.  My goal is to both give a window to the curious as well as to better equip those who are thinking of participating in a Mudder-like event.

It took us 2.5 hours to get to Merrimac from Chicago, and about an hour to park.  It really wasn’t that frustrating, though it might have been if we had been under a time crunch.  (Incidentally, if you missed your heat time, you could just jump into a later heat, so it wouldn’t have been a big deal either way.)

Once we parked, we dropped off our death waivers, picked up our race packets, and checked our bags.  Zero wait time.  In addition to wearing a race bib with our number, they wrote the bib number on our foreheads and arms.  They said this was to help with identification for photography as well as in emergency situations.  It also looked pretty cool.

Food-wise, I ate a breakfast of 2 eggs, 3 strips of bacon and 48 oz. of water at about 6:30 in the morning (which is my standard breakfast). Dave and I both ate a PB&J sandwich and a banana for lunch at 10:45, which was 2 hours before our 12:40 start time.  About 30 minutes before start time, we ate 3 blocks of a shot block, drank a good amount of water, then headed to the line.

We got there just in time to see the 12:20 group take off.  The PA announcer went through important announcements (i.e., don’t go through the electroshock obstacle if you have a pacemaker) before having the participants recite the Mudder Pledge.  He played a recording of the national anthem, worked the crowd into a frenzy and then sent them off running down the hill.

What kind of a person signs up for the TM?  I’d say that about 80% of the people who did the Mudder looked pretty fit.  In other words, the kind of people who sign up for the Mudder are the kind of people who are already into fitness, challenges, etc.  I’d say it was about 70% male and 30% female.  The armed forces were well represented, as were MMA gyms and CrossFit boxes.  About 20% of the runners were wearing costumes (there is a costume contest).

The first heat started at 9:00 in the morning, and then they released 500 people every 20 minutes.  Dave and I were in heat 12, so by the time we started, over 5,000 people had been released onto the course.  Getting there early allowed Dave and I to start at the very front of the pack for the 12:40 heat.

The announcer went into his spiel again, but this time it was different.  The atmosphere was electric, and everybody was jumping up and down like warhorses spoiling for a fight.  In this moment of adrenaline, I felt a calm come over me and the most natural thing to do for me was to pray.

I wasn’t praying for safety or anything like that.  I think what I said went something like this:

Thank You for giving me a healthy body and the desire to do something like this, the strength to push myself to the limit.  Now, I want to give the strength back to You.  So for however long this takes, let this be worship.   Amen.

3, 2, 1, go!  And we were off and running down the rocky slope…

(continued in the next post)