With the Tough Mudder happily in my rear view mirrow I can finally take some time to reflect on the experience. In a word, all I can say is, “wow.” The event was fun and for some a success, but the day did not go anything like I had expected, then again, rarely anything ever does.
I have been known to obsess over details. Far, and I mean far from a perfectionist, every so often, something crosses my path and I get into my “I have to know everything about this” mode. The latest such thing was the Tough Mudder. As soon as we got the date of the event I checked an almanac for the average temp over the last 15 years. I knew that it would be warm but feared it may be hot, or worse, hot and humid. As the day approached, concerns regarding heat were replaced by the threat of severe thunder storms. 10 days out it looked like we’d be okay, the 7 day forecast called for storms on leading up to and after, but not not the day of the event. To be honest, it didn’t really matter. I completed Tough Mudder Georgia in 40 degrees. As much as I wanted to know, no regular weather challenge would have stopped me from competing. The day of the race, the temp was to be between 79 – 91 degrees with a storm coming sometime after 1:00pm. With a 9:20 start time, we had 3 hours and 40 minutes to get our work done.
My team, comprising of 7, included 4 in my car, 2 coming from Jersey, and another mudder coming from the DC area on his own. Two miles from the race traffic hit a standstill. My boy Wat, the co-pilot, pulled out his iphone, brought up his maps application, within minutes were were driving through residential neighborhoods carving shortcuts that we later found saved us hours of wait time in automotive purgatory.
The Tough Mudder is a team event. It’s untimed to promote teamwork rather than competition. Throughout the course you see signs that say, “I will not leave my fellow Mudder” posted everywhere, but what if your fellow Mudder is stuck in gridlock? and has poor/no cell service? My 4-man crew arrived to find that the other 3 members were stuck in the parking lot that had become highway 15 with no discernable eta. After making an executive decision to sit out our wave, and the next and the next, I finally bit the bullet and made the decision to break into a 4 and a 3 man team. hoping that the other 3 would compete together when they arrived, and we’d all celebrate later in the day. I later found out that the two guys from Jersey didn’t arrive for 3 more hours and the guy from the DC area, left his car and wife in the gridlock and ran the two miles to the venue only to arrive as we started the race.
Our course was just about 11 miles and comprised 20 obstacles. Located on Cumberland Farm, it wound around and through corn stalks and past barns and odd equipment. There was even one part where it went through some sort of farming equipment graveyard adorned with faux mutilated body parts and other creepy holloween accouterments. I don’t remember all 20 obstacles, there was barbed wire and underground tunnels to crawl under and through, at least 4, 12 foot walls to scale and 2 mountains of hay bales to traverse. Most of the challenges are simple and just require a bit of fortitude and common sense, but there were some that deserve to be highlighted.
Imagine jumping in a 5 foot pool of 34 degree water. It’s about 20 feet to the other side, but at the midpoint is a wooden beam with barbed wire atop it. . The only way past it is to submerge your head in the water and wade to the other side. The challenge here is mental. There is no swimming or lifting but if you stop to consider what you’re doing, you’re sunk. When we started our wave the heat was blistering; we welcomed the enema (never imagined myself typing that phrase). When I got out, I was completely numb. Not hot, not cold, I couldn’t feel how wet my shoes were, so, feeling no pain, we ran on.
As a group, we’re making good time (my personal goal is to beat my last time of 3.5 hours). Then, one of my teammates achilles began to tighten up on him. We slow the pace a bit but keep trudging, then we see it on the horizon..
Walk the Plank
Imagine climbing up a 20 foot wooden structure, only to jump off the other side in an effort to swim (fully dressed) to safety. I’m not scared of heights and I’m a pretty good swimmer but somehow on my first go round, this obstacle crushed me. I’d stepped off the edge and hitting the water with a spine-smashing thud. What followed was only the desire to go home. My boy Wat told me later that afterwards he looked in my eyes and thought I’d left a part of myself in the water. I know that’s how I felt. This time around I was committed to tackling the obstacle on my own terms. Some guys dove off the top, others flipped, one guy tried to climb down the platform to minimize the length of his drop (clown). When I got to the top, I simply took a breath and jumped… Splash, murky water, kick, kick, kick, and I was done. For the first real time, I start to believe that this Mudder would be different.
For my teammate Jeremy, it wasn’t as seamless. Committed to meet the challenge head on, but fully aware that he could not swim (or at least not in a muddy pond with shoes and gloves on) Jeremy stayed atop the plank for close to 10 minutes. We yelled, encouraged, cajoled, and threatened him, all to no avail. Then, just when I’d made up my mind to go back around, climb up the apparatus and kick him in from behind, he took the leap of faith. 2 seconds later, a whistle blew, and a life guard was pulling Jeremy (all smiles) to safety. He beamed as we shook our heads. Then, we ran on.
Imagine being tasked to crawl through the mud. For good measure there are wooden beams above your to keep you honest. Then see if you can envision some masochist affixing dozens of electrified strings to the beams spaced about 6 inches apart. Then for laughs, picture the whole scene with water. Voila, I present to you, the Electric Eel. Like every challenge, there is a way to get through the eel, The key is to sacrifice your body while protecting your head. I got shocked on my shoulders and legs, but was able to navigate through the mud-pit without taking one to the face, I call that a win.
I emerged from the obstacle to find Eddie also finished but Drew crawling sideways with his eyes clenched shut cursing and Jeremy crawling at a snail’s pace. Drew corrected his path but took several nasty shocks towards the end but makes it through. Jeremy on the other hand gets juiced several times inches from the exit and jumps up, and goes over the final beam to exit the eel.
We pass miles 5, 6, and 7 with no hangups or fanfare. Everyone has gotten their second or third wind and is moving at a steady pace. Eddie fishes out an open pack of skittles from his pocket and offers the sugar if anyone needed it. As much as I’d have loved some, I think back to the dirty water and the muck we’ve been through and I politely decline, Jeremy and Wat, follow suit.
Around mile 8 Drew gets a cramp trying to go over a wall. Our pace slows but we’re all still in great spirits. None of us mention the dark clouds rolling in…
As if climbing up a 15 foot curved half-pipe after 10 plus miles were not enough, I learned that the “good” folks at the Tough Mudder have been known to coat the wall with slippery substances to make the challenge more interesting. *Sigh. The worst part of Everest is easy, it mocks you. On other challenges, you’ve got one shot and you either do it or you don’t (e.g. you cross on the monkey bars or you fall in the water and move on), not Everest. It looms, mocks you, and invites you to attempt it time and time again. During my February Mudder, I didn’t make it. My cramps were so bad I could not walk, running was out of the question. This time, for all intents and purposes, I was good to go. I took off, ran hard and grazed the top, and slid down. As I was falling it felt like two dogs were simultaneously biting my calves. I yelled, not from the pain, but from the frustration and familiar disappointment of letting Everest get the best of me. Then I heard my kid.
From the side of the runway, in a prime location amongst other onlookers was Ella. She was in her srtoller, next to her mother who was saying, “look there’s daddy.” It had begun to drizzle and I could barely walk with the knots in my calves, but I smiled and greeted them both. When I bent down to reach for Ella she reared back (I’d forgotten I was covered in mud). I straitened and she held out Yaya, her newest prized weird doll. Trying not to draw Kid’s Mom’s wrath I give Yaya a quick peck with out getting her too muddy and I hand her back to Ella. Resolve renewed, I rub my calves furiously until the the knots begin to loosen, then I rub them for a few more minutes for good measure. Knowing I only have one good run left in me I make for the ramp, I decide that I’m not going to jump, that I’m just going to keep running and hope it works out. I took off; when my legs finally give out, Drew has my left hand, and Eddie has my right, neither let go until I’ve made it safely onto Everest’s peak. Jeremy joins us a few minutes later.
No less than 5 minutes after the 4 of us climb down Everest, the storm hits. We cross the finish line anticlimactically and unceremoniously; we collected our finisher’s headbands tshirts and a free beer apeice. I noted that we finished 30 min ahead of the Tough Mudder Georgia time, but it did not seem to matter anymore. 20 minutes later, we retreated to our cars in the muddy, rain-soaked parking lot to begin the long trek home.
In a privious blog post, I wrote that one of the reasons I love mud runs is because it’s something for me. I was reminded Saturday that the best part of these races is the comraderie and sharing in the experience.
Congrats, to Kevin, Andrew, and Jason. It sucks that we weren’t able to compete together, but I’m glad you all were also able to conquer the course.
Thank you to Kasara, for paying attention during the 30 second tutorial and proceeding to take awesome pictures of us during the race.
A special thank you to Ella’s mom (Tamika). While we’re not together, you knew how much it would mean for me to have Ella cheer me on during the Mudder. I don’t know how long you were in traffic, or how you found us amongst the 20,000 competitors, but I’m thankful that you did. Seeing Ella made all the difference.
Two days after the race I receive a UPS package from a friend in California. In it were two shirts, the black to be worn before the race, the white to be worn after. I’m inclined to agree with their sentiments.
In the days after my first Mudder, I could barely move. Not only was I sore, I was pretty sure I’d done irreparable harm to my legs. In the days following this Mudder, I ushered in church, and took boxing and spin classes. What a difference preparation makes!