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Monday, May 6, 2013

Tough Mudder 2013 - West Virginia / DC

You may have heard stories; you may have seen the photos...but neither can prepare you.  A couple week ago ten of us embarked on a quest to complete a Tough Mudder in an area of West Virginia about an hour outside of Washington D.C.  Two would be spectating and the other eight (4 girls, 4 guys) would be competing in a trial of both physical and mental endurance.


Physical -
I would classify myself as a mid-level athlete person.  I can pick up most sports quickly and play them well enough to not embarrass myself.  I spend about 20-60 minutes working out six days a week at activities ranging from yoga to hiking to lifting weight at the gym to running 3 mile loops around NYC.  I would say by the end of the race I was thoroughly exhausted but I did manage to stay at the front of our group and keep up with/pass many other mudders.  So I'd say you don't need to get a trainer or anything.  Just try to be in relatively good shape although I saw plenty of people who were still in it at the end (walking of course) who did not look like they trained at all so you can probably manage.  Just depends how much you want to hurt after!

As a side note I also stopped drinking alcohol for the 20 days leading up to this and it definitely definitely helped.  Not sure you want to be that hardcore but thought I should mention.

Clothing - 
I scoured the internet for information on what to wear and got plenty of conflicting advice.  My outfit choice was pretty much spot on and cost me $180 (although this was me starting from SCRATCH).  Here's what I went with...
  • REI full length spandex running pants - I don't care how hot you get working out WEAR full length pants or be willing to deal with the cuts and bruises you will withstand otherwise.  I walked away with one or two bruises on my legs versus my friends who were covered in some fairly intense cuts.
  • UnderArmour long sleeve compression shirt - it's not about looking pretty so beware this shirt will hug ALL your curves.  However it will keep you warm, dry very quickly and withstand most of the terrain.  It's also fairly easy to take on and off.
  • Spandex bra (for you ladies) - DO NOT wear cotton unless you want to run with wet  boobs the entire race.  Also pick something you feel comfortable in without a shirt on because believe me, after the Arctic Enema you will be stripping as much off as possible.
  • Wool socks - sounds uncomfortable but they were the BEST part of my outfit.  Highly recommend.  Don't be an idiot.  Kept my feet dry and happy.  In fact I think that was the only body part that survived.
  • Shoes - Don't buy new shoes because they will get trashed and unless you LOVE them you will want to donate them at the end.  I definitely recommend wearing REAL running shoes (not sneakers, etc) because you are running 13 miles and will cry in shoes that don't feel good.
  • Gloves - The only area where I feel like I went a little wrong.  I bought gloves for kayaking because I felt like that meant they could withstand friction, water and cold.  They held up great in terms of wear but my fingers were FROZEN inside.  By the end of the race they were tucked in my pants.  Some of my other teammates wore half-gloves (fingers exposed) which seemed to work a lot better because it saved you from most of the splinters but dried a lot quicker.
Mental -
It's as intense as it sounds but not scary.  Also remember that this is supposed to be FUN and you will be fine.  There were a couple obstacles that I decided to pass on (I'll explain why further down) and at no point did I feel pressured or stupid for skipping them.  So push yourself but enjoy yourself.

Below is a list of many of the obstacles I encountered.  They aren't all listed on the Tough Mudder website so I did my best to make up names or reference ones I went through that I couldn't find.  I also explained how and where the setup was slightly different then what you see in the picture from the website.  These are mostly in order although after all you lose track completely because you are just trying to finish.  Note, that in between each obstacle you are running through mud pits, sprinting up HUGE hills, running through bushes, etc, so don't think for a SECOND this isn't a half marathon... the running will kill you before anything else does.

The games began with a rousing pump up chant before we plunged unknowingly into the West Virginia wilderness.

The first obstacle of the day luckily only involved a little mud and wire.  She is making it look fair harder than it was.  You'll get some mud on your front but this baby's easy.

  Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

After a ton of running we approached a similar obstacle but this time featuring live wires that would pretty impossible to avoid.  Choose to power through and potentially get shocked or meander and you can avoid them (I did this). My friend got shocked and she winced but was fine.

 Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

The first true water event.  It doesn't look far from the pictures but it's a totally different story standing on the edge.  You have to line up together in a row and jump at the same time (for safety) and then swim across the water and climb up nets to get out.  The water is cold but not horrible.  I love jumping off things (I bungee, skydive and bridge jump) so this one was easy for me but definitely caused some of my team mates to take a second look.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

The pictures on the website make this one appear easier than it actually is because the hay bales are not that perfect.  By the time we got to them they were falling apart so you literally had to stick your hand INTO the bale and just grab at whatever you could to pull yourself up.  This was the first obstacle that truly brought us together as a team and people helped pull and push each other to the top.  Not difficult though.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

There are two mud obstacles that in my opinion seemed exactly the same.  They were Mud Mile and Dirty Ballerina.  Dirty Ballerina seemed to last a mile and Mud Mile seemed dirty so you tell me.  Regardless these two were my favorite obstacles.  Just be willing to get absolutely covered in mud and you will have the best time on these.  I literally would climb up the side (easy because others have left footholds and worst case your teammate boosts you) and then slide down the other side to splash into the dirty water.  LOVED IT.  Be VERY careful on this one though that you tense your biceps if someone pulls you up or you could dislocate your shoulder.  That almost happened to me on the second set because my friend pulled too fast and I wasn't ready.  Also watch out for your knees when you land in the water!

 Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

Hold Your Wood
I have to admit I kind of cheated on this one because I shared a log with two of my guy friends who are so tall that the log hovered over my shoulder (I promise I wanted to help).  Anyways I more or less just jogged next to them but they looked miserable so I'd have to put this one up there as a fairly difficult obstacle physically.  We had to go down and then back up a pretty steep hill.  Not fun.

 Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

Post mud bath we ran FOREVER and I was starting to feel really tired and dirty and cold.  I remember turning to one of my teammates and saying "Boy I hope Arctic Enema isn't next."  Yup, it was next.  Other than Walk the Plank this is one of the more mentally exhausting obstacles.  You jump into a FREEZING pool of water and ice and must then completely submerge yourself under a wooden plank to get to the other side.  Note - make sure to grab the bottom of the plank before you go under so you can remember which direction is up and spend the least amount of time possible in that water.  

As an addendum, immediately upon getting out of the ice bath I stripped off my gloves and shirt and kept running.  It took about 2 miles for me to go back to my normal skin color (from BRIGHT red) and I couldn't feel my fingers for at least another mile after that.   Taking off the shirt, ringing it out and waiting until it was mostly dry (the next obstacle) was really helpful.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

There are a lot of versions of this obstacle so I pulled the picture that best matches what mine looked like.  This one was pretty easy as well although for shorties you may need someone to help bolster you over the highest logs.  You pretty much just go over one then under the next and so on.  Again fairly easy. 

 Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

This is where those long sleeve/full length shirts and pants come in handy.  This isn't particularly hard unless you are claustrophobic but the ground is littered in sharp rocks so for those in shorts and t-shirts prepare to get torn apart.  Again not physically difficult just painful if you didn't plan ahead.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

One of the obstacles that is legendary, and completely impossible without teammates unless you are just crazy good.  I came home with massive bruising all along my inner arms from trying to climb this F*CKER.  Oh and the best part?  There are two sets of two walls so even after you go over the first set of two be prepared to encounter even bigger ones later in the race.  Level of difficulty is definitely HARD. 

I recommend having the tallest person go last.  Basically they hold their two hands like a stirrup and you step in with one foot and then do that with the other leg (kind of like in the picture below) until you are high enough to grab the top with your arms and pull a leg over.  Careful you don't get moving too fast or you will fly over the wall and seriously hurt yourself.  But also don't come down too hard on the wall (especially you boys)...

I tried to give a good indication below of the difference between the Tough Mudder website photo and mine.  There are a lot of mud hills.  Some are steeper than others.  My picture below isn't of Cliff Hanger but my general overall comment is get a running start and you will make it up all the hills.  I didn't see any hills that were as steep as the one pictured below.

 Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

Please.  This obstacle was a welcome respite.  It's a fricking slide into water.  Yeehah!


Another one that seems more threatening on approach and in theory than it actually is.  If you fear confined spaces it could be a little scary but again not a problem for me.  You basically go through a dark tube on a decline into water that is cool but not frigid.  You wade through the water to another set of pipes you have to climb up.  This takes some abs because the ribbing on the pipes is slippery so you have to engage your core to sort of worm your way up and out.  Again not that hard.

So the website shows "Fire Walker" pictures which is people running through fields aflame.  We didn't have that.  Instead we had more of a fire/water jump.  You basically pick up speed running and jump over a line of fire into water.  I mean you can't hop, you definitely need to JUMP up and out but unless you are terrified or campfires you will be just fine.  Like I said, if you are mentally prepared this one will be easy for you.

Again mine was different from the pictures but the closest thing I encountered to Devil's Beard was swimming in a ditch of water for about 50 yards with wire netting over the ditch.  Rather than trying to swim on your stomach and keep hitting your head on the wire when you try to breathe I recommend turning onto your back, grabbing the wire with your gloves (not barbed) and pulling yourself through with your arms while kicking your legs.  WAY easier.

Pirates Booty - Ball Shrinker meets Spider's Web 
Again an ingenious new obstacle that was introduced at our Tough Mudder event.  It's a combo of Ball Shrinker and Spider's Web basically.  For this obstacle you wade into a fairly large body of cold water (like Ball Shrinker) and pull yourself across with a rope.  However, at the end of the lake you must then climb the rope netting (like Spider's Web and/or a pirate ship sail) up and over to get to the other side of the lake. 

I desperately wanted to do this obstacle but by the time we got there it was really backed up and people were basically just sitting in the freezing water.  At this point in the race you are already frozen and the only thing keeping you from hypothermia is the fact that you are still moving.  So eventually after running in place for 10 minutes before even entering the water, we made a team decision to pass this one.  I was super bummed.

And we finally come to the beast of the race- Everest.  A halfpipe covered in sweat, blood, water, and oil to keep even the most nimble from reaching the top.  You basically sprint towards the wall at breakneck speed and hope that you can reach up high enough to connect with someone's arms at the top so they can pull you up and over.  Two of my teammates made it over and they both got CRUSHED.  Also you need to be REALLY careful about dislocating a shoulder on this one and you pretty much throw your arms out to the person to catch you which puts all your body weight on your shoulders. No thank you. Level of difficulty - CRAZY.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

After Everest we were pretty much over it and Funky Monkey was immediately after so I watched a couple of the guys try to cross and they all immediately fell in.  I would've done this obstacle if I thought I had a chance of getting across but I was too cold to want to make it one rung and fall in water AGAIN.  You eventually get really really tired of falling in freezing water.  Level of difficulty seemed pretty impossible.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder Website

And last but not least, the most feared of the Tough Mudder obstacle... the finish line.  My recommendation?  Put your arms in front of your face and make a bloody run for it because only fate will decide if you get hit with the electrical wire that will blow you off your feet.  The gods were looking down on me because I made it through without getting shocked.  I walked a fellow teammate get tagged pretty hard.  It was not pleasant according to him.  At this point all you care about is getting through and having the whole ordeal be OVER.

It appears as a mirage but is in fact real.  At the finish you are awarded the sacred orange sweatband of the Tough Mudder elite and an ice cold beer.  In the Tough Mudder post-race survey I'll be sure to note that an Irish Coffee or Hot Buttered Rum would be FAR preferable.  I took one sip and put it down because I was shaking so hard from the cold.  I was much more interested in the space heaters.

Another side note... you can store your stuff in a tent so that you can change into warm, dry clothes.   If you have a spectator with you I HIGHLY recommend having them grab those bags before you finish so they are waiting at the finish line ready for you to change into.  It is the best feeling in the world and then only thing that will get you to stop freezing... other than teammate hugs.  Those work well too.

On the note of teammates, it's true that this isn't a race about finishing first; it's about spending a grueling, yet rewarding, day with a group of people who whether they are your best friends or people you've just met you will bond with more than any night over beers.  I want to congratulate my fellow Mudders - Sexy Gumby, The Twins, Buck Hunter, Cap'm, DJ Dance Party, the Bearded Berlin-er, and Dayjogger for "crushin' it" on what for all but one was our first event.  Let's make it an annual thing!

Highlights include:
  • Bearded Berliner's random partner selection for Piggyback
  • Cap'm's nancy-dance through the Electric Shock (granted he was puking the three days leading up to the race, ate only bananas and still competed.  So the nancy dancing makes more sense)
  • Sexy Gumby's less-than-sexy-face as she approached every obstacle
  • Dayjogger's girlish screams jumping into Anema
  • Twin #1's inability to scale Everest gracefully due to her large boobs
  • Buck Hunter's tiny spandex pants  
  • Twin #2's ability to make even a space blanket look chic
  • DJ Dance Party's large man dance moves
And lastly, a special thank you to Team Mom Tom for all these amazing pictures and for keeping all the MILFy spectators entertained.

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