Thursday, November 29, 2012

World's Toughest Mudder- Part 2 - Homework / Training

“I’ll do today what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”

So I should probably start by stating that I am of average athletic ability.  Anyone that knew me growing up knows that I played one sport in high school, football. And I might have been slightly above average (at best) on what everyone would have to say was an absolutely horrible team. We sucked really bad. In fact, we were so bad, even our cheerleaders left one of our games at half time.  So for anyone out there that thinks I have some type of ability better than anyone else, you are wrong. Lucky for me, my stubborness was a plus for this event and proper training and doing your homework all but guaranteed a much better than average finish. I should also point out that while we placed 61st and 62nd out of 1300, my brother and I only did five laps. The top two finishers completed 9 laps and 90 miles so our "acheivement" really was nothing compared to the winners when you consider how each additional lap is exponentially more difficult.

My brother and I did a ton of homework on this event. There were several blogs out there from last year's participants and we read pretty much all of them. Some, like the first place woman's finsiher (Amelia Boone) this year, had some real good bits of information (her tip about using Vaseline and Foot powder was probably the most valuable thing I learned through all of my research).  Most of the others simply told us what not to do through their failures. And there were many.

Very simply, last year's participants "died" due to a number of factors:

1. The extreme cold / hypothermia. A ridiculous number of people did the first race and only had a wetsuit on during the last part of the course or none at all. There were a few knuckleheads that tried that this year. One guy dressed up as Spiderman wearing Spidey tights.  He, of course, was in the medical tent half way through lap 1.  Others had wetsuits but no experience in the cold. I remember even reading one blogger talk about how when he got his fingers thawed out that they starting burning in pain so he sprinted back to the medical tent "for treatment".  Umm....every kid in MN experiences that pain almost daily during the Winter months when they come in from playing outside. Deal with it!!!  Even Tough Mudder itself underestimated the cold as they set up a wetsuit tent on the course which implied to a participant that they only needed it on during part of the course. There were even some that were complaining about having to bring a wetsuit at all. Getting the gear right took some homework and testing on our part but was the easiest thing to address and you could do it without spending a crazy amount of money on gear.

There were lots of zombies in the medical tents during the wee hours of the night. These zombies didn't try to eat your brains, they just sat there and stared off in space...

2. Going into their tent between laps to warm up. While it may sound like a good idea and some may have used that strategy with success, most people went into their tents to die. Mentally, only the toughest competitors are going to be able to step out of their tent after getting warm, get hit with 20 degree winds, and then proceed to put on a frozen wetsuit when they are already exhausted and it is 3:00 a.m. The cold on top of the fact that muscles start to tighten up very shortly after stopping a strenuous activity told us we would have to avoid the temptation of taking any breaks outside of quick gear changes and food. Period.

3. Weak feet / legs. A TON of people had issues with their feet. Most had significant pain and swelling in their feet during and/or after the event.  From reading their posts several weeks after the event, it was obvious that almost none of the people that quit due to their feet or legs giving out had actual injuries (some of course did). They just weren't adequately prepared to go a long distance. Toughening up my legs and especially my feet were the top priority.

Training for me in general consisted of Crossfit 4 times a week at 5:15 a.m. On Tuesday and Thursday nights I would normally run a 7.5 mile hilly loop. Sometimes I substituted a few laps up and down the hill at the end of our road, sometimes with a backpack on my back, sometimes with one of my daughters on my back.  Depending on what we did during crossfit that morning, this run could be easy or it could be pretty slow. I just went with the randomness of it all to keep my sanity. Sunday mornings I would do a longer run before church. Up until three months before the race, I kept this run under 13 miles so that I was done in under two hours. There is research out there that suggests your risk of injury skyrockets after two hours and that your muscle can actually start to break down as well.  I am pretty lazy so I used that excuse to take things easy early on.  In the final three months, I ramped up the mileage and started to mix in some much longer hikes and weighted hikes and/or runs. The furthest I ever actually ran was just over 19 miles and by then it was really pretty easy.

I should also mention that I always wear Vibram's five finger shoes at crossfit and I fully transitioned to minimalist running shoes for my other runs after my marathon early this year. This put a huge amount of extra loading on my feet compared to regular shoes but once I worked through the transition, I felt my feet, calves, and legs were solid and unbreakable (although still not as strong as I would like).

Two months out, I did an overnight hike to a neighboring town 17.5 miles away. Somehow I got a friend to join me for the first half.  He really seemed to enjoy himself.  I almost didn't make it home as my legs got extremely tight at around mile 25 and the last 5 miles were especially horrible! It was very apparent to me afterwards that proper nutrition (I ate just peanut M&Ms and water) and mixing up my power walking with running and/or stretching were going to be necessary.  This hike actually scared me because I knew if I felt like I did that night during the actual event it was going to be unbearable once I threw in the cold, a wetsuit, electricity, and all the other nonsense that is Tough Mudder.

After the hike, it was apparent I needed to change the training strategy somewhat. I also had another Goruck Challenge coming up so I needed to start getting some harder miles in.  That is when I started running with 3 bricks in my backpack and hiking with double the load.  It seemed to make a big difference in working my legs and I like the weighted runs so much I plan on getting a weighted vest in the future.  I also participated in a 100 mile challenge where everyone had to put in 100 miles of weighted hiking in the month of October.  All told, I put in about 140 miles in both September and October plus whatever running we do at Crossfit. Nothing impressive to a runner but certainly more than I had ever done in my life, for sure when you consider the extremity of crossfit all by itself.

I also mixed in a couple of wetsuit tests. Living in Arkansas, I didn't have the luxury of cold weather so my opportunities for testing were limited. I do have a swimming pool so my testing consisted of jumping in the pool when it was 34 degrees out and running a mile lap around the neighborhood, then repeating for 13 miles. The two biggest learnings there were that I could very easily control my body temperature through the changing of headgear and by changing my exertion level through walking or running. The other thing was that the testing gave me 100% confidence in my gear. It is a little intimidating jumping into a freezing cold pool in freezing cold temperatures the first time. Once you know your gear (and by the way you realize you can't drown in a thick wetsuit since it is so buoyant), the intimidation is gone. My brother, living in MN, also did some testing so I was able to learn from him as well.

Two weeks before World's Toughest Mudder, I did my final test. The goal was to do 45 miles to see what it would be like. I would do my normal 7.5 mile loop, mixing in two miles of running per lap and walking the rest. At the end of the loop, I would consume my nutrition. I ended up going with the Hammer Nutrition's Perpetuem product. It is geared towards very long endurance activities and is supposed to have the right blend of carbs, salt, protein, etc.  I ended up doing quite a bit of reading up on this stuff and decided I needed something quick, easy, calorie dense, and something I could stomach even when I didn't have the desire to eat at all (a lot of people last year stopped eating and crashed soon after). I did three 7.5 mile loops and then had my youngest daughter join me for the fourth. By then I realized that:

1. My daughter is pretty awesome for joining me.
2. I could do this forever.
3. I am completely bored.
4. The only thing I could gain by going further was a potential injury.

I quit the test at 30 miles with 100% confidence that I had a workable plan that wasn't going to fail me unless my mind failed me.

I look back at the training and a few things come to mind. One is that the crossfit coupled with all of those miles looks ridiculous. I couldn't even imagine doing all of that a couple of years ago.  Two is that it really wasn't that bad and it really isn't a big deal. And three is that I think now that I have learned so much about my body, I wouldn't have had to spend nearly as much time training if I knew those things at the beginning.

All in all, there aren't many things I would change if I could go back in time:
1. I could train smarter and reduce the hours I put in.
2. I would make one small tweak to my gear, which I will talk about later.
3. I would make one significant change to my race strategy (which I will also talk about later).



  1. Few questions Loren:
    1) What shoes did you wear for WTM? And would you recommend the same shoe for a regular TM?
    2) Did you wear the same shoes for GRC?
    3) How do you like the VFFs for CrossFit? Any thoughts on the shoes Reebok makes for CF?

    As you can tell I'm footwear/care obsessed after having to tap out of the GRC due to injury mostly caused by training in the wrong shoes.

    Also, great tip on the Hammer Nutrition.

  2. I will go through all of our gear in a later post but...

    1. I wore Innov-8 Rocklite315 for WTM. I have a pair of Innov-8's X-Talon 190 that I prefer for a regular Tough Mudder as they are feather lite. I ended up modifying the 315s by drilling a few holes in the side so they would drain water better. This made a big difference.
    2. I also wore the Rocklite 315s for our Goruck. They have a lot more support (the Talons have zero support) so I thought they would be a lot better suited for 50 miles.
    3. I love the Vibrams for Crossfit. For me it just seems like they go with the rawness of Crossfit better than any other shoe. I would go barefoot it we didn't have to run out on the pavement or if I wasn't worried about picking up some random foot disease or something. I can't comment on the Reebok shoes since I have never used them. Vibrams definitely take some time to get used to but it seems to me if you are going to strengthen every other part of your body, why not strengthen the heck out of your feet too?

    Hope that helps.