**With my rampant memory loss, I wanted to document some of the experiences I had at WTM before they were lost forever. This is an account I plan to reread over time as a reminder of the fun that was had. I can’t promise the details will be terribly interesting to you, but hopefully you’ll get a laugh or two. If not, you are welcome to send a request for a refund. Please also excuse excessive use of metaphors and over-dramatizations.
Observations from the World’s Toughest Mudder:
Call me what you will, but I’m a sucker for Rocky. Going into World’s Toughest Mudder, all I really cared about was making it the full 24 hours. I wasn’t sure what that meant for mileage, laps, or anything else. I just wanted to go the distance or “go the time”, as it were. Here is how things unfolded…
I was lucky to meet up with some great guys (Ted & John) in DIA on the way to Newark. Setting up tents in the cold wasn’t nearly as bad when you had friendly faces around. I spent most of the evening packing food OCD-style into individual zip lock bags by lap. A good night’s sleep would have been great, but that wasn’t in the cards for me, or anyone else I’m sure.
On the morning of the race, about a thousand or so of us were huddled at the start gate, listening to safety briefings and a pump up speech from “Start Line”Sean Corvelle. Many were in wetsuits. Some were in speedos and one was in a tiger costume. The field was ready to go. I was pretty pumped up that TM was giving us about a mile or so before the first obstacle. This meant we could stay dry for at least the first few minutes of the race. Wrong. Dead wrong. After the gun went off, we were running through shin-deep water & mud about ¼ mile into the race. This was the start of 24 hours of cold, wet feet.
Lap 1: The Happy Lap
The temps felt good and I managed to cruise through most of the obstacles without exerting too much effort. My only real “fail” was at Hangin Tough. I’d like to blame slippery rings for dropping me into the water, but it could have been my effeminate grip. It was great getting to do obstacles that had not been available at TM Colorado…(Walk to Plank, Ladder to Hell, Peg Legs, Smoke Chute (aka Poop Chute), and more). I noticed a lot more mud in New Jersey than in Colorado. There was also a larger degree of cow shit smell coming from the mud in Jersey. With that in mind, I’ll be updating my vaccinations. The obstacles at WTM were also more dangerous than what I had experienced before. More to come on that.
I ran most of Lap 1 by myself. Ted and John were just a few minutes behind me. I wore my 1mm wetsuit which worked very well in the upper 40 degree temps. I chose not to wear gloves on lap 1 and my hands felt fine. That would change quickly as the temps moved lower. I finished lap 1 at 3 hrs:19 min :23 sec, which I was informed through text later that was a ranking in the 800’s (out of 1100 people). My brother admitted to me later that he was wondering if I was OK with how slow I was going. I’m glad I didn’t realize at the time that my family and friends could see my place and were likely assuming I would get near last place in another race. A standard I’ve set a strong precedent with.
I headed back to tent city to refuel and change socks for 25-35 minutes. Ted made it back with John and decided to join me for lap 2.
Lesson learned on lap 1: When swimming under the barrels, I did not have a hat or hood on. This turned out to be a mistake as a crushing ice cream headache set in. My warm dive hat would later reduce the feeling of being punched in the face to a mere limp wristed slap.
Lap 2: Cramps and other feminine issues
Ted and I started with a nice easy jog, chatting about how well things were going for us. As I was finishing patting myself on the back for all of my training, the first waves of cramps set in. First it was the left calf, then a few miles later; the right groin. Eventually, I would have fingers cramping where they would squeeze painfully and uncontrollably into my palm. What the hell is going on? I downed bananas, cliff bars & water which helped the cramps to subside towards the end the lap. I prayed that they would not return.
Notable WTM Run-in #1: About halfway through the lap, Ted and I were running with a guy and girl from California. They were hoping to be the next “Joel and Amelia” from 2011 who both did very well as an ”unofficial” team in the previous year’s WTM.
While we were running together, I asked, “I wonder when some of the elites will be lapping us.” Our new lady-friend yelled out, “YEAH! I want to see BOONE!” As she screamed this out, we all heard, “I’m right HERE!” Just then, Amelia Boone came blazing by us for her 3rd lap. The timing couldn’t have been better. We tried to keep pace with her, but I lasted all of thirty seconds… (Insert “lasting 30 seconds” jokes here)
**Amelia Boone went on to win the race for females and 2nd overall with 9 laps completed… That’s 90 miles to you and me Russ.
Notable WTM Run-in #2: As I was shivering my way through the pit area at the end of lap 2, I knew it was time to make a wet suit change. I happened to come across Ray Upshaw as he was trying to warm up for his 3rd lap. Ray is well known for having the Tough Mudder pledge tattooed across his entire back. A commitment that earned him free entry to most, if not all, Tough Mudder events. I introduced myself and asked if he was going to throw on a wetsuit. My mind at this point was already starting to lose some of its capabilities, but I recall the words, “wetsuits” and “for pussies” coming out of Ray’s mouth. It then occurred to me that I heard an interview with Ray where he expressed his distaste for neoprene as it wasn’t tough enough. I departed from the short conversation and put on my thick, cozy and warm 6mm wetsuit. …On to lap 3.
Lap 3: The Race is Over
The thicker wetsuit was terrific for keeping warm, but god-awful if you want to actually move in it. I struggled to waddle my way to keeping up with Ted. I spent most of the lap falling behind him like a younger brother who just can’t seem to keep up on the way to school. Luckily, the temp was dropping and Ted planned to change into a thicker suit at the next pit stop. However, we would need to make it through the lap first.
As we approached mile 28, we were nearly 12 hours into the race. We started the obstacle, “Pirate’s Booty” with a 50 meter swim. We made our way across the 43 degree water which was mostly shielded from the body by the wetsuit, but continued the deep freeze of my feet. At the end of the swim is a cargo net that climbs roughly 15 feet up onto a platform. I walked up from the water to the net and began the cold climb. About halfway up, I noticed the grip in my hands was beginning to quiver. I started to hustle up the net, knowing that I didn’t want to get stuck there without any strength left. As I got to the platform, I began to reach my hands up to the next rung and realized my hands were no longer working. My brain was saying I should hold on, but much like the listening skills of my children, my hands were not responding. With my grip slowly releasing, I went into a full panic. I could not hold on and I was now falling backward. My first thoughts went to my left foot, which was griped into the netting. I thought my foot would get stuck. In that split second, I was asking, would my foot getting caught save me from a fall? Or …would it break my leg? As I lurched backward, I flipped upside down and went into a head-first free fall back down into the shallow water. On impact with the water, everything became very black and disoriented, which could have been the result of my headlamp coming off. I jumped up out of the water gasping for air and in what I like to call, “full freak out mode.” Luckily a safety guy in a Kayak (Joe I think…?) guided me around the net and onto dry land under the obstacle.
I do my best not to be a drama queen, but at this point, I was scared. Scared like I haven’t been since I was a little kid. To make matters worse, when I asked Joe if I could go around the obstacle, because I didn’t think I could make it up the net, he replied that this was a “Must Complete” obstacle. That means that either I go up, or I’m out of the race. At this point, I nearly broke down because my race looked to be over.
I was lucky that Joe in the kayak must have been the calmest person on the planet. By the way he spoke, it could have been Ghandi in that boat (less the accent of course), but I’m not 100% certain. After several attempts to stand up, Joe kept sitting me down to talk and rest. He also showed me the correct technique for climbing the net by locking your elbows and arm pits into the net, rather than using my feeble grip to keep me up. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but I remember the terror I felt as I got back on the net. I slowly made my way up, locking in with my arms. Although I was trembling with a combination of exhaustion and fear, I made it to the top. I yelled down a big thanks to Joe and continued on. However, I was spent both physically and emotionally. As we made our way through the last few miles & obstacles of lap 3, Ted talked me down off the ledge. He reassured me that all would be fine. We would take a long break to eat and rest before we set out for lap 4. I agreed, but didn’t express the doubts I had about going on. I crawled into my tent, wrapped myself in a tarp to keep in any heat that I had, and felt defeated.
Lap 4: Get up “that cargo net” you son of a bitch!… cause Mickey loves ya.
We had spent nearly three hours in the pit. I was refueled having eaten and mentally recharged after reading supportive texts from family and friends…, most of whom were out getting drunk at that time. When we set out at 1:15 AM, I told Ted that if I felt unsafe back on the net, I was going to drop out of the race. A serious injury wouldn’t just affect me. It could affect my family. Ted agreed and we did not discuss the thought any further during the lap. I set the worry aside and just focused on what we were doing in the moment. I tried to remember to have fun. The lap reciprocated this effort.
The miles in lap 4 were cold. We saw a lot of people dropping out due to hypothermia. This was a point where guys who are 10x the athlete that I am were being pulled from the race. Luckily my gear planning worked well. I also found a new love for chicken broth which we were drinking for the sodium & warmth, but also pouring it on our hands and feet to de-thaw.
Notable WTM Run-in #3: Walking into the medical tent at mile 6, I saw two guys getting a picture with and shaking the hand of a third dude. Even with the full wetsuit and hood on, it was not hard to recognize Andy “Mustache Man” Thom. For those that don’t know, Andy has a training video that made the rounds in the Tough Mudder world back in 2011. He also has a blog and website for Mustache Man Training. About a week prior to the race, I read Andy’s blog about his 2011 WTM experience. The post actually focused more on his friend Jason who moved slowly through the bitterly cold race of 2011, but never gave up when many others were dropping like flies. Jason, a normal guy, went on to place 5th in WTM 2011. At the time, reading this blog post was exactly what I needed. I was unsure if my slow pace plan could actually work. It could.
I chatted Andy up for a bit and asked how his team, “Lords of Coventry”, were doing. We had a brief, but good conversation. After a quick break, Ted and I started to head back out. As I began to walk out of the medical tent, I yelled back, “Lords of Coventry!! I love you guys man! I have all your albums!!” The rest of the Lords looked at me with what was either confusion or disgust. Andy cracked a smile and, I think, appreciated this quote from the movie Moving Violations. It could be that he was smiling with the thought of me falling head-first off of a cargo net.
**The Lords of Coventry went on to place 2nd in the teams division of WTM 2012 with 6 laps (60 miles).
Andy’s Video from 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YErZ5GjOyas
Walking into the water at Pirate’s Booty on lap 4, I was unsure of what to expect when I got to the net. By this time in the night, the net had solidly frozen over. Some spaces in the net were too small to fit your hand or foot in. I made my way up, slowly, and deliberately, finding a route that would work. I even stopped halfway to rest while nervously locked into the net with my arms and legs. I was going to make it. I had to make it. As I kicked my legs over the top and stood on the platform, Ted gave me the most solid high-five I have ever received in my life. If it wouldn’t have been so dangerous in the dark, I would have started break dancing up on that platform. I was ready to take on the world. Before we climbed down off the obstacle, we agreed; we were going to do 5 laps. Our spirits seemed to soar the remaining miles of lap 4. We planned to not stop and only grab food for the road to eat during the first mile of lap 5. However, the race can change quickly.
For the final few miles of lap 4, Ted mentioned a few times how he felt a bit of an energy drain. After passing through Electroshock Therapy and moving into the final half mile, Ted stopped and laid down on the ground. I thought he was doing a quick stretch, but he explained that he had to stop. His mind was telling his body to move, but his body was not responding. This was a bit concerning, because Ted is a serious machine. In one of his preparation workouts for WTM, he completed 8 CrossFit Hero WODs in 8 hours, which also raised a bunch of money for Wounded Warrior Project. After some discussion, we found that his mind was in good condition, or at least as good as could be expected. We figured he was hitting a serious caloric wall. After a short rest on the pavement, we were able to make it back to the pit to refuel.
Lap 5: This is possible
The final lap is a bit of a blur, but it was a happy blur. Even though we were tired and beaten down, we moved through the lap with relative comfort and ease. As the sun came up, temperatures also moved back over freezing. This seemed like a benefit until I started regaining feeling in my feet. And that feeling was pain. The good news, was that our lap timing was working perfectly.
At 10:27 am, Ted and I crossed the Finish Line together. We had been racing for 24 hours 27 minutes and 12 seconds. We had completed 5 laps for just over 50 miles and about 160 obstacles. What was a complete surprise for us, was that while we were ranked in the high 800s after lap 1, we had finished the race in 83rd place out of 1097 competitors. I had finally not come in “nearly” last place!?!?
So in the end, I lasted all 15 rounds with Creed and can now say that I’m not just another bum from the neighborhood. (Ok.. enough with the Rocky speak.) I had a ridiculously good time at WTM. The large amounts of cold and pain were far outweighed by the sense of accomplishing a goal that I wasn’t sure was possible. I was completely alive and living in one of life’s great moments. While I didn’t scream for Adrian at the finish line, I did enjoy some manly hugs with new friends and a cold, post-race beer.
Here are some other post race stats & details:
- 2 people completed 9 laps – Junyong Pak & Amelia Boone may not be human.. I’m unsure.
- 3 people completed 8 laps
- 9 people completed 7 laps
- 27 people completed 6 laps
- 102 people completed 5 laps
- 193 people completed 4 laps
- 346 people completed 3 laps
- 328 people completed 2 laps
- 89 people completed 1 lap
- ?? people did not finish a lap
The 2nd and 3rd place finishers were both women. Girl Power!
Approximate Calories Burned: 12,000
Approximate Calories consumed: 8,400
Current injuries lasting longer than 1st week:
- Jammed (hopefully not broken) finger – left 3rd metacarpal – cause unknown
- Bruised foot – right 5th metatarsal – caused by slamming into Everest (lap 2)
- Bruised right 2nd rib – caused when coming down a wall and slamming into my safety strobe
- Swollen feet – caused by 50 wet, cold miles
- Dead toe nail on right index toe – same as cause above
- Right shoulder pain (rotator cuff) – likely caused by walls at end of race
- Numbness in left hand – likely caused by strain in elbow/forearm
- A mild case of being a wuss – likely caused by my upbringing
**I will post a write-up about my WTM preparation soon. I can guarantee there is a high chance for low amounts of entertainment when reading it.