Monday, December 17, 2012

World’s Toughest Mudder- Part 3- The Race

The Battlefield

I have to admit I had bigger expectations concerning the course than what I saw. No doubt, this course was more difficult than a traditional Tough Mudder. There were 50% more obstacles than normal over a slightly shorter (at 10 miles) course than I have normally seen. And yes, some of the obstacles were made slightly to significantly harder than normal. But it seems like compared to last year’s WTM, they scaled things back a little bit even though they added 1.5 miles?

The race was held at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. It is simply a drag strip race park with some motocross tracks off to one side. We seemed to make use of the entire facility including a couple of loops into the woods. The same site was home to a traditional Tough Mudder about a month earlier, so Tough Mudder is able to reuse many of the obstacles.

I did wear my GoPro for the first lap so I could capture all of the obstacles on film. Lucky for me, someone else did the same and did all of the work of editing. Here is a video of all of the obstacles and where they were located on the course.

There were two types of obstacles on the course, obstacles that you must complete or you would face disqualification (or so they say) and those that you must attempt or face a penalty obstacle. The penalties consisted of either an additional 200 meter run or an extra Artic Enema obstacle. Both of the penalties were a joke and ended up being easier than the obstacle itself.

Pre Race

So after getting a decent amount of sleep, all things considered, my brother and I got to the course around 8 a.m. or so. There was still frost on the tents from the night before but it was sunny out and warming up quickly. They announced that we all needed to be at the start by 9:30 for the safety meeting which was annoyingly early. The weather forecast was for low 50s as a high and 36 for the low overnight.  I debated with myself for quite a while as to what gear to wear for lap 1 and finally made my decision. By 9 or so, we were alll dressed and hanging out in the pit area, just waiting for the show to begin.  We went to the staging area a few minutes early when I noticed a couple of areas on my wetsuit where the seams were coming apart. Not good. I knew if my wetsuit failed me, it wasn't going to be pretty. My brother had brought some wetsuit glue and duct tape so we ran to our tent to try to make an emergency repair. There wasn't much else we could do at that point.

The pre-race stuff was pretty typical with the addition of the race rules and safety concerns that were never really followed anyway. The only notable differences were the lack of out of shape people and the fact that all but a few people had full wetsuits on. I noticed a guy dressed as Spiderman in Spidey tights. We saw him in the medical tent half way through the first lap. I supposed the other big difference is that by the time it was time to start, there were puddles of pee everywhere as people generally decided against waiting for the first water obstacle to take a leak. 

Lap 1

At 10:00 a.m. on a cold sunny morning,after countless hours of training and 100s of miles of running over almost a year,the race began.  As is typical for long races, most people started out way too fast and way faster than they said they would. We didn't. We did a very slow jog just to get ourselves moving and took in the scenary. It was actually kind of cool seeing the mass of people twisting and turning through the hilly motorcycle section of the raceway because I knew I was going to pass most of them eventually.  Lap 1 was pretty uneventful. I typically start to get a feeling of dread halfway through the course as I realize that I am about to go face to face with Electric Eel and Electroshock Therapy. This time, I didn't give it much thought until a couple of hundred yards before we got there (other than the lap where my brother chose to bring it up much earlier). 

I hate the Electric Eel. I have always hated it and I the more I do this obstacle, the more I hate it.  Getting shocked and possibly knocked out sucks.  One would think that in a race filled with veteran hardened racers that have likely all been through this numerous times, that we would all just face the obstacle and do it.  The reality is that I saw more people hesitate at Electric Eel the first lap than at any Tough Mudder I have ever completed. Most people don't have a clue as to how much it sucks until they have been hit with it.  We came up to the obstacle (around mile 8 or so) and started to look for a route through.  The wires that hang down all have a varying amount of curl to them so there is always a chance of getting through untouched.  I did notice one athlete walk right up to the obstacle and just start crawling...three seconds later I heard someone screaming like a least it WAS a girl so I guess it was okay. Nothing like hearing the screams of a fellow competitor right before I face the same suffering.  I paced back and forth several times and chose a route that looked like it might work. A few deep breaths and here we go! I have a problem with staying calm once I take the first hit as I seem to go into fight mode so I figured I would slowly wind my way through until I take the first hit and then crawl as fast as I could once I took the first shock. My brother and I both started our low crawl. We would lower our head underwater while going under the wire then lift it once past a row of wires. That way we could see where we were going.

Every once in a while, I could hear a sizzling sound of electricity when I had my head under the water and every once in a while I could heard screaming (and a couple of cuss words...this WAS New Jersey) as others were getting hit. Slowly but surely I got to the other side with NO SHOCKS!!! My brother took one to the leg at the very end but I made it shock free. I crawled out of the obstacle, raised my arms in victory and shouted "NO SHOCKS"!!! Unless you have been in this torture chamber and knocked out in it you probably don't understand but this was a huge morale booster. I knew if I could beat it once, it could be beaten every time.

The rest of lap one was where the bigger water obstacles were. None of them were of any issue early in the race. We also had to drag some tires for 1/3 of a mile near the end. On the first lap, I just grabbed a set without looking at them. Big mistake as they were bigger than most and had a very short rope. Lesson learned.  The last obstacle was electroshock therapy which was a joke this time because the wires were so high you could just crawl under. From there, it was maybe a half mile jog on pavement back to the stadium area for the finish of lap 1.

Time: 3 hours 31 minutes.
Position: 1022 of 1097 that fnished lap 1.


Wetsuit: I had a 3/2 and a 5/4 wetsuit with me. The 3/2 was a cheapo that I bought off of Ebay for $20. It was a little looser and my testing showed it let in much more water than my 5/4. I really hoped to be able to wear it for a couple of laps but given the cold temperatures in the morning and since we were going to go slow from the start I wasn't worried about overheating with the 5/4. I ended up putting the 5/4 on right from the beginning and never took it off until 26 hours later. Under the wetsuit I made the last minute decision to wear my off brand long sleeve shirt that I wore in Houston (the one my girls decorated). The reason for the shirt was because my 5/4 fit so tight that it took forever to get situated around my shoulders and comfortable. The shirt helped the wetsuit slide. I also had Bodyglide smeared all over myself to try to prevent any rashes. I also smeared plenty of Vaseline around my crotch area to prevent urine burns (thanks to a recommendation from a previous years' competitor).  I have to say, other than some missing skin behind my knees, I came away 50 miles later completely unscathed.

Headwear: Neoprene swim cap.

Shoes: I brought two pairs of shoes....Innov-8 Roclite 318s and Innov-8 X-talon 190s. I love the 190s but only brought them as a backup since I had never done anything close to 24 hours in a minimalist shoe. The 318s are a very light shoe but still offer full support. I did end up drilling some small holes around the perimeter of the shoe to allow them to drain water better. My pool testing showed me that they didn't drain well unmodified. I wore the 318s the entire time.

Socks: One pair of drymax calf length socks. I also smeared a paste of Goldbond foot powder / Vaseline on my feet before the start of this and every lap. Again, this was an awesome tip from a fellow competitor. I never got a blister, never got a hot spot, and my feet never even wrinkled up even though they were wet for 24 hours.

Gloves: Mechanix gloves.

Jacket: One cheapo windbreaker. I mainly wore it on this lap because it was bright orange and stood out among everyone else's black wetsuits. This made it easier for our cheering section to find us. I wore this windbreaker the entire time and had a letter my daughter wrote to me before the race tucked inside a zippered pocket.

I also wore an armband with "Neeve" and "Tatum's" photo inside. The intent was to replace the photo every lap. I ended up wearing it for two laps before abandoning the idea as it kept getting hung up on the obstacles.

Pitstop #1

I wore my GPS watch for the first two laps so I could measure how long the laps were, capture the layout of the course for later, and most importantly, to get a feel for how many calories we were burning.  The course came in just over 10 miles and said I burned 1,004 calories. I figured we burned a couple hundred extra through the obstacles and I decided to take in 1,000 calories per lap. My fuel of choice was Hammer Nutrition's Perpetuem powder.  It is geared towards ultra endurance events and like I mentioned in my previous post, it seemed to work for me.  Even between laps 4 and 5, I was still able to take this in without feeling sick.  Between laps we also pulled off our shoes, wiped down our feet, checked for any issues (blisters, hot spots), reapplied Vaseline/Gold Bond powder, then put on dry socks. We never had a pit stop where we didn't do this.

Total time: 35  minutes.

Lap 2

At roughly 2:00 p.m. we head out for lap #2.  I made two slight gear changes for this lap...I added my 2mm neoprene vest over my wetsuit. I did this simply to try to protect my failing wetsuit from further damage. I also added some windbreaker pants. I did this because of the "Skid Marks" obstacle which was basically the Everest obstacle but we climbed up the back of the obstacle on a tactical ladder and then slid down the obstacle. The obstacle was pretty dry on lap 1 and I thought I was going to tear the butt out of my wetsuit and thought the pants would be good protection. Big mistake as the pants ended up being a constant drag when wet. By lap 2, skid marks was muddy and slippery anyway.

Going down "Skid Marked"

Lap two was uneventful. I got through Electric Eel again without getting hit and I found a much lighter set of tires to drag towards the end of the lap.  By the end of lap two I was starting to realize that any tiredness I felt around mile 8 disappeared once we went through the two long water crossings (roughly 300 feet). The cold water, while unpleasant, was doing a great job of rejuvenating my legs! My feet were pretty cold after this lap though. Time to try out the neoprene socks!

No problems with ripped pec muscles at Everest this time!

Total Time after two laps: 7 hours 32 minutes.

Position: 834 of 1097.


Wetsuit:5/4 wetsuit with 2mm neoprene vest over the top

Headwear: Neoprene swim cap.

Shoes: Roclite 318s

Socks: One pair of drymax calf length socks.  Goldbond foot powder / Vaseline on my feet.

Gloves: Mechanix gloves.

Jacket: One cheapo windbreaker.

Pants: Windbreaker pants

Pitstop #2

Same as the first pit stop but this one took us a few more minutes as it took almost 45 minutes. We were wasting valueable time. By now you could see a few people here and there that were limping. Several tents in the pit area were already missing. People were calling it a day.

We took in the same nutrition, checked our feet, and made some significant gear changes because we could already feel it getting cooler and knew it would be dark by the time we returned. I added a second windbreaker, changed into 5mm neoprene gloves, added my 2mm neoprene socks, and put on my neoprene hood.

Total time: 45 minutes.

Lap 3

At roughly 6:15 p.m. we head out for lap #3. It was now dark and the course was pretty empty already. By now, the conversation between my brother and I was becoming even much more limited than it already was.  You can't really hear much with a full neoprene hood on. One conversation I remember vividly was at the midpoint of lap three when we saw the mile 5 marker and commented that it kind of looked like there was frost on the sign. was only supposed to get down to 36 degrees overnight, why would there be frost on the sign? This was going to suck a little worse than we thought. By lap three, I could feel water leaking into my wetsuit through the hole I noticed early in the day. Not fun.

Within another hour we could see ice forming on the obstacles. By this point I felt fine physically. In fact, I was pretty excited about how good I felt. The misery level was probably what I expected, nothing too bad really but the ice forming so early in the evening just told me it was going to be a long night.  The colder the better was our thought as we always thought we would be able to handle it better than most.  I will say it felt good knowing that my brother and I were out there and most people were not.  Every step taken was another step gained on probably a couple hundred people.  We heard several competitors comment that this was their last lap and no one was going to talk them into another one.  Good. Go home!

Total Time after three laps: 12 hours 12 minutes.

Position: 473 of 1097.


Wetsuit:5/4 wetsuit with 2mm neoprene vest over the top

Headwear: Neoprene hood.

Shoes: Roclite 318s

Socks: Injinji toe socks. 2mm neoprene socks. Goldbond foot powder / Vaseline on my feet.

Gloves: 5mm neoprene gloves.

Jacket: Two cheapo windbreakers.

Pants: None

Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm

Pitstop #3

When we got to the pits after lap 3, it was obvious that most people were done. I talked briefly with a neighbor who told me he was too old for this (41) and that he was going to take a nap and see what he felt like in a couple of hours...he never returned to the course.  Many others had taken their wetsuits off and were walking around the pit area or climbing into their tents. We knew the tents were where you go to die and it appears that this is what happened to most of them.  I pulled off my 5mm gloves and could barely get my 7mm gloves back on.  By now, all of the climbing and / or the cold was taking a toll on my hands as they were starting to swell up. Thanks to a volunteer in the pits, we were able to wrestle my gloves back on.  It was freezing out so I added my third and last remaining wind breaker.  We did the normal routine and headed back out for lap #4. Where is everyone?

Lap 4

By now, I won't admit I was tired but things were no longer fun. It was freezing out, the festive astmosphere of earlier hours was long gone, and I knew things were only getting started.  At roughly 11:00 p.m. we went out for lap #4. The course was really thin now and I was really glad my brother was out there with me. Shared suffering is the best suffering. It was pretty cold by now and it was very obviously below freezing as every obstacle was frozen over and slippery.  We had been smart enough to save our energy in the beginning so running was no more of a problem than it was in the beginning although it wasn't enjoyable either. When we were cold, we ran until we were warm. By lap four, they had shut down the top rung of the "Ladder to Hell" obstacle so that if we fell, we wouldn't fall as far. The only thing I really remember about lap 4 (they all kind of run together) was how quiet everything was other than the same old music they were playing over and over and over again through some cheap crackling speakers. Crossing the long water obstacle "Pirate's Booty" was now becoming interesting.

It was a 300 foot (roughly) swim and after crossing the pond we had to crawl up a twenty foot(?) cargo net that was hanging into the water. My hands were freezing cold during lap four and I wasn't all that enthused about climbing it again in the dark for sure since all of the rescue workers had decided it was so cold out that they were going to go sit in vehicles or elsewhere much further away from the action than they should have been. The good thing is that the water was shallow enough the whole way that I could walk the entire distance and hold my hands out of the water. It slowed me down some but seemed to make the most sense.

Pirate's Booty- Lap 1

By this time, "Balls to the Wall" was pretty dangerous. This obstacle was a "simple" rope climb against a wall followed by a climb down the other side. The transition from one side to the other was very oddly / poorly designed and it just seemed to be designed to capture limbs and snap them off.  I have read numerous posts and comments about people that fell off this obstacle and I witnessed three people that couldn't make the obstacle walk right around the obstacle in front of a Tough Mudder official. So much for enforcing any kind of rules on a "must complete" obstacle. I did hear one woman cry out with tears in her eyes on lap two with "won't anyone help me?" as she couldn't make it up. Myself and another guy gave her a boost and she was fine but I was surprised how difficult this obstacle was for so many people.

"Balls to the Wall"

We crossed the finish line for the fourth time and wondered where we were in the standings but confident that we had to be in a pretty respectable position.

Total Time after four laps: 17 hours 12 minutes.

Position: 192 of 1097.


Wetsuit:5/4 wetsuit with 2mm neoprene vest over the top

Headwear: Neoprene hood.

Shoes: Roclite 318s

Socks: One pair of drymax calf length socks. 2mm neoprene socks. Goldbond foot powder / Vaseline on my feet.

Gloves: 7mm neoprene gloves.

Jacket: Three windbreakers.

Pants: none

Pitstop #4
By now it was 3:15 a.m. All this time, I had been checking in on Facebook between laps. Amazingly, there were a ton of people that were actually still up and keeping tabs of us. This is where we learned that we were in 192nd position and I was 18th in my age group. A volunteer told me most of the tents were empty but still here because people were dropping but didn't have the energy to pack up their stuff. By this point we knew several things.  A lot of people were paying attention and were cheering us on. Very few people were out on the course. One more lap was going to move us up significantly in the standings.  My brother and I did the usual routine in the pits and got up to do it again. We never discussed quitting. We didn't have any more clothes to put on so we were stuck with the gear we had. I did, however, have a quaterback hand warmer tube that I brought along for lap five. It made all the difference in the world.  It was well below freezing now as the ground was freezing hard as well. Having grown up in MN we estimated it must by mid to high 20s. The ground doesn't freeze up when it is 32 degrees out.  My brother did lose his headlamp somewhere on lap 4. Being the cheapo that he is, he didn't want to take out his spare as he planned on returning it unopened. So he went without one. A Tough Mudder official told him to make sure he put it one as we left the pit area. He pretended to pull it out of his pocket and we sped off. It was too cold and the rules were too slack for them to disqualify him for lack of a headlamp.

Lap 5

This lap sucked. We started it around 4:00 or 4:30 a.m. (I don't really know) with the knowledge that the sun would be up before we finished it and it wasn't going to get any colder than it was when we started it.  I have to say that there was nothing fun about this lap. Nothing. We walked up to almost every obstacle and commented on how stupid, how lame, or how dumb it was. Then we overcame it. By now the simplest obstacle like "Kiss of Mud" (low crawl or roll under barb wire) was dreadful. As I rolled and rolled and rolled, I would stop every thirty feet or so to try to get my bearings. By the end of the obstacle I was so dizzy I was ready to puke. 

I am SO dizzy right now!

My brother's feet were freezing on this lap (and the previous one) so our strategy was to move from medical tent to medical tent and warm his feet for a few minutes each time. It turns out he wore the exact same model neoprene socks but his had a leak while mine were water tight. That seems to have made a difference even though water (or pee) would get in from the top. There were a half dozen zombies in each of the medical tents. Normally, I would get a good laugh out of other people's suffering but even that wasn't funny anymore. Nothing was funny.  We would spend maybe 5 or 10 minutes in the tent, long enough to get some warmth on our feet but not so long that our body furnaces would shut down too much. We knew the heated tents were a bad idea but we needed feet to walk on so I guess there wasn't much we could do at that point.

So we continued. We complained.  We made fun of our selves and our situation. We might have even talked about how stupid we were as we continued to press forward and overcome obstacles. In the medical tent before the rings obstacle, we saw the men's leader and eventual winner walk into the tent as we walked out. He was on lap #8 and he looked pretty rough. I say that, but he still ended up passing us a few minutes later. By then, it was getting lighter out and we spotted our sister who had just returned to continue watching her idiot brothers suffer. It was really cool having her out there watching us.

Midway through lap 5, right after my sister Cheryl found us. We reminded ourselves numerous times while out on the course to put something on our face to prevent windburn but never remembered to actually do it.

Soon we came up to Electric Eel again. By now it wasn't working because ice had built up enough on the wires to pull them down and into the water so it shorted itself out. Bummer. We continued to trudge through the remaining obstacles.

Crossing the pond in front of "Pirate's Booty" on lap five.

By the time we got to the tire drag obstacle, we saw the woman's leader (Amelia Boone) catching up to us.

She appeared to be in much better shape than the men's leader but at the time was maybe 30 minutes behind him? She almost ended up catching him though. Next up was the mud mile, a series of mud trenches that tend to take a good bit of energy to get through. Luckily, they weren't that bad for this course and even after five laps they were weren't that bad.

Finally, after 22 hours and 24 minutes, we crossed the finish line for the fifth and final time!

Total Time after five laps: 22 hours 24 minutes.

Position: 61 and 62 of 1097.


Wetsuit:5/4 wetsuit with 2mm neoprene vest over the top

Headwear: Neoprene hood.

Shoes: Roclite 318s

Socks: One pair of drymax calf length socks. 2mm neoprene socks. Goldbond foot powder / Vaseline on my feet.

Gloves: 7mm neoprene gloves.

Jacket: Three windbreakers.

Pants: None

Other: Quarterback hand warmer and headlamp.


So that was it. We were done.  We decided not to go out to attempt another.  While I am 90% confident we could have made it through another lap in time, we were done. We had proven what we needed to prove.  We decided being able to walk away unscathed was more important than an extra 20 or so places in the final standings and risking anything.  Besides that, I was tired and I am lazy. There were certainly people there to encourage us to continue...of course none of them had actually even completed one Tough Mudder lap in their life so I guess we kind of ignored them. :-)

I have had plenty of time to reflect on this whole thing. One thing I have to say is that the event was poorly organized. As one volunteer that worked through the whole thing said, "it is run by a bunch of kids, what do you expect?".  I won't go on about everything that was done poorly. It really doesn't matter at this point and Tough Mudder isn't known for their customer service so I wouldn't expect many changes anyway. Having said that, I had a great experience, I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish, and I am content. Have I looked back and asked myself if I should have gone for another lap? Of course! But I have no regrets. I went much further than I have ever travelled in my life on foot and I did it in some pretty harsh conditions. While I firmly believe almost anyone could do what I just did if they put their mind to it and put in the proper training, very few people can actually say they did. I am 43 years old and have never been in better shape in my life. Ever. Not even close. And the fact that I was able to walk away in great shape proves that. 

As to the future, at this point I don't know. I suppose I would consider doing the event again someday but only if I thought the event was going to be improved and only if I could assemble a team that had an honest chance at winning the team title (first place team did six laps in 23:15). It wouldn't have been much of a stretch to do even seven laps with a better strategy althoug I recognize it is nothing but talk unless one actually does it. Mentally, it would have been brutal.

As to what I would do differently if I were to do this again, the biggest change would be in our pit strategy. Like I said, we spent way too much time in the pits. Those 35-45 minute pit stops added up into enough time for an additional lap. Other than that, it seemed like we were, as my brother put it, one lap behind on our gear choices, meaning we didn't add the warmer gear fast enough. We never really got to the shivering stages though except while we were in the pits.

Training wise, I think the two days after the event tell the story. My body was almost entirely unscathed. I had some stiffness pretty much everywhere but nothing more than I have after any good crossfit workout...just pretty much all over. I had zero joint pain besides my hands. My hands were slightly swollen for two or three days. I should have spent some time strengthening my hands. Outside of my hands, I had some skin missing from behind my knees but I never noticed any rubbing during the entire race. I also had some mild chemical burns down my legs from peeing on myself for 24 hours but I was expecting that. From numerous Facebook posts and blog posts, it is obvious that many people weren't so lucky. Tons of people fell from Pirate's Booty and Balls to the Wall. One guy suffered Rhabdomyolysis and was hospitalized for three days after completing seven laps. One guy tore the exact same muscle in his chest as I did in Dallas and just had surgery.  And of course plenty of people were taken out by the cold.

Gear wise, I was 100% prepared. The weather got down to almost 10 degrees below what was forecast but our gear was good. As I mentioned, we should have put on more layers earlier but that is about it. My brother should have made sure his neoprene socks were watertight and I should have had some larger sized gloves to allow for my hands to swell. I put an enormous amount of effort into getting my gloves back on and between lap four and five I thought for a while that I was going to have to go out with just my mechanix gloves as they just wouldn't go back on.

I also want to thank all of the donors for "Debra and Ray's" adoption fund. I won't post how much we raised but I will say it was a significant amount of money and I was totally blown away at several people's generosity!

Finally, I have had three dreams about the event since then. Strange, uneventful dreams where I am just back in the race and dreading every step. Nothing scary, nothing worth mentioning really except that this stuff is still on my mind.  During the dream I realize I am dreaming and that I have other bigger things to do some day. Then I wake up. 

Time to buy an axe.

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