Thoughts On Tough Mudder / Chicago 2013

On Saturday afternoon, May 18 2013, I completed my first Tough Mudder. Way back in the Fall of 2012, I think I saw a Twitter post from Jesse Noller talking about the race.

I spent half of 2012 working my way back into some sort of shape. I entered some races. 2 5K’s (YWCA Race Against Hate and Turkey Trot), 1 10K (Geneva Trick or Trot) and an 8K (Run for Walk). With some good help and advice from my friend Brett, I was able to set consecutive PR’s in each event. In March 2013, I busted 27:30 @ the PyCon 5K.

I figured I was ready for this race. And then it all kind of went to shit. My training got all jacked up in April due to illness, travel and work. I really didn’t train much over the past two weeks. I really wasn’t feeling my best going into this thing and really I was a bit freaked out since a couple of people who had run the race told me point blank, “Yeah you’re fucked.”

Well, I survived. I’ll likely do the same race next year. Here’s what I learned. Here’s the course map.

1. Train, Train, Train and Train. You need some combination of distance and strength training. I knew I could hack the 12 miles, I knew that I would be screwed on the obstacles. It worked out that way pretty good. Distance wise I was fine, but the obstacles coupled with the running – not to mention the mud, the cold water – well, it messes you up. If my training didn’t get so messed up, I think I had the right idea of lifting weights for 60 minutes and running for 60 minutes in the same session. You really need to get used to being fatigued and lifting and then running or vice versa because that’s what it’s like out there.

2. Trail Running is Different Than Treadmill or Smooth Paved Road Running. When I’m in a good training mode, I rack up 20-25 miles per week over three different runs. It’s not a ton, but it’s a fair amount and I find that it’s just enough to keep me interested in running. The biggest thing about Tough Mudder is that it’s 12 miles over a trail based course. This is *way* different than running on a road, treadmill or track. Mentally, trail running is tougher and you need to participate more actively (e.g. “Don’t step in that hole. Watch those roots. Fuck, a rock! Dammit, mud, move to the side.”). And on top of that because you’re on uneven ground it’s way more taxing on your core, hips and back. If you have a chance to run trails for a run per week – do it.

3. It’s As Tough As Advertised; But Doable. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. I think mentally all week leading up to it, I was pretty sure I was going to die. And even when we got there I was very unsure of myself. Oh and then on the *very* first ditch jump I landed all ice skater like on my left leg hip and groin tweaked *immediately* like .1 mile into the course. Anyway, it was hard. The mile markers laugh @ you. You lose track of how many obstacles you’ve done. You wonder how the hell people run through this shit. But it was doable. See next point.

4. Do It With a Team of People. My team, Sorry for Partying, had 16 people on it. We naturally divided into the fit people = 5 and everyone else. The 5 jumped out ahead of us, but the core 11 stayed together and gutted out the whole course together. I was there to help my teammates over obstacles, to stretch out cramps, to fist bump after knocking out an obstacle or to pull someone out of the water. Doing it with a team of people made it a heck of a lot more fun. I still owe Corey and Ron for pulling my arse up over Everest.

5. Hydrate, Eat and Hydrate. I was only gripped by fear a single time during the race. On the “Ladder to Hell” obstacle (p.s. the one that Pvt. Gomer Pyle can’t get over in “Full Metal Jacket”), I felt my left calf cramp up when I was 10 feet off of the ground. I had skipped a bunch of bananas between mile 2-3 which in retrospect was dumb. Hydrate, yes. But also consume calories. They had bananas and Cliff shot blocks (which I prefer over gels). Eat whenever you get a chance and drink a couple of glasses of water @ each stop.

6. If You Gotta Skip an Obstacle, Skip It. I skipped four obstacles in all. (a) Walk the Plank, (b) Hanging Tough, (c) Berlin Walls and (d) Underwater Tunnel. Each of these requires you to be a good swimmer. That, I ain’t. See next point.

7. Be a Strong Swimmer. All of the obstacles have some notion of water but the three I skipped have deep water. I’ve been taking swimming lessons for awhile now, but still aren’t balls confident I can get it done. That said while I did skip Hanging Tough, I did do the Funky Monkey and basically had to swim 25 yards across the obstacle.

8. Wear Light Shoes. I wore a pair of Asics Gel Neo 33′s that were over their mileage limit. They were broken in, comfortable, had been through 250+ miles of running. I knew this pair of shoes really well. Anyway, they were light and drained well. What I noticed is that your feet are covered, caked in mud and soaked. You want a pair of shoes with decent tread that drain well. Also, don’t get attached to them. I donated my pair of shoes after the race.

9. Wear As Tight Fitting Stuff As Your Comfortable With. My team got Under Armour compression shirts and as I donned my while en route I thought, “Man this is tight.” Well, the gear was perfect. The compression meant nothing got snagged on anything, water/sweat/mud all wicked and rubber away. Minimal chafing. I had a pair of CW-X compression shorts and some North Face Flash Dry running shorts as well. It all worked.

10. Gloves Might Work; They Didn’t Work For Me. I felt like gloves would be a good idea and I can say that I think the best thing they did was keep my hands clean.

11. Obstacle Guide. Here’s a rough guide to the obstacles and some tips, as best as I can remember them.

a. Arctic Enema – This is the trailer filled with ice. Don’t ponder the jump. Don’t ease in. JUMP! Jump as close as you can to the board. Go under. Get the hell out and start running.

b. Kiss of Mud – This is barbed wire above, mud below. Real simple, get on your belly, keep your butt down and start moving. Use your arms to pull you and your legs to push you. I was making jokes about how my High School football coaches would yell about people keeping their butt’s down when coming out of a three point stance during this one.

c. Electric Eel – This is electrical shocks above you, mud below. Same as kiss of mud, get on your belly and go. Do, however, give yourself some room with the person in front of you. And find as good a path through the wires as possible.

d. Glory Blades – 9 ft walls at inverted 60 degree angles. This one’s a pain. Have someone help boost you up, swing over and slide down.

e. Trench Warfare – These are long tunnels with left and right doglegs in them. Slide down and keep pushing forward. Little guys – smaller than 5′ 8″ – might be able to get into a crawling position, like I did, to move faster.

f. Walk the Plan – 15 ft dive into a muddy pond, plus a 25 yd swim. I skipped this one. But you dive and you swim. Make sure the area is clear below you.

g. Log Jamming – Over and under logs about 6x. This seems easier than you think, but then you realize that the lowest log is offset or set back from the top one. Basically, because it’s deeper than the top log you cling onto it’s way tougher to get over.

h. Wounded Warrior Carry – Carry a person 100 yards. Find someone roughly your size since you have to switch halfway through. Basically you’re giving someone a piggyback ride – which I think is the most effective. Get a grip on them, get steady and take short quick steps. Breathe. Joke. Don’t fall.

i. Hold Your Wood – Carry a large log about .5 miles. This is where having a team is key but pick people roughly the same height. Also find a suitable log. Don’t pick a big one, if you can help it. Switch shoulders and sides regularly.

j. Ladder to Hell – 30 ft ladder climb. Go SLOW! You’re about halfway through the obstacles now, and you’re almost halfway in mileage. This is where you start to really decline in performance and feel. One leg at a time. Hold on tight as you swing over. Descend slowly once you know your feet are set and situated.

k. Hanging Tough – Ring cross over 25 yards. I skipped this one. Basically you need to be American Ninja during this one. I can’t even comprehend how people make it across this one.

l. Fire Walker – Jump over some ripping hot burning coals and fire into a deep ass pool. Find a segment that isn’t muddy. Some people were slipping on the jump off points and got burned. Don’t do that – this is real fucking fire.

m. Dong Dangler – Rope suspended over cold ass water. Get as deep as you can, swing your legs over, lock them and use your hands to pull you across. I made it halfway before I ate it in the water. At that point, grab the rope/wire/whatever and start wading to shore.

n. Berlin Walls – Scale a 10 ft wall. I wasn’t up for this as I was cramping like crazy and had just run 1+ miles uphill in a fucking muddy hell that should have counted as an obstacle in it of itself. Basically, you need someone to help boost you up. Careful coming down.

o. Mud Mile – 300 yards + of mud trenches and mud hills. Look for the hills where previous people have dug in and made natural footholds. Slide down the hills into the trenches to save energy.

p. Dirty Ballerina – Jump over multiple deep ass trenches. Start running like Mario – not that run, the speed run! – and jump then don’t fucking stop until you get to the end. Some people in front of me were trying to Frogger this obstacle and because you have no momentum when you stop the islands don’t allow you any running start.

q. Underwater Tunnels – Bob under four sets of barrels in deep ass water. Skipped this one too. Deep water, not a good swimmer.

r. Twinke Toes – 50 ft balance beam with four steps in the middle over cold ass water. I fell three steps into my run, so I don’t know shit about this one. If you do get wet, go on the side of the beam that has a ladder, much easier to get out of the drink.

s. Boa Constrictor – Downward into water drainage pipe and then up. This was similar – for me – to trench warfare. For little people these obstacles are easier since you can get into a crawling-like position on the way up. My teammates who were 6′+ said that this was the worst obstacle on the course – going up was near impossible and all upper body pull.

t. Funky Monkey – Monkey bars going up and them monkey bars going down. Yeah, again, over cold ass water that’s deep. I think I kind of grabbed the first monkey bar and then ended up in the drink. Was able to swim – badly – across and not die. No advice on this. Basically, do pull ups and don’t use gloves.

u. Everest – Greased up half pipe that is easily 25 ft tall. Sprint, sprint, sprint and then jump up to the people helping you. Don’t stop, keep sprinting. This one, I failed the first time around. The second time, I only succeeded because two of my teammates pulled up my arm and grabbed my fucking leg.

v. Electroshock Therapy – Running through electrodes to the end. Let the person in front of you get ahead. Find a path, keeps your arms in front of you and keep fucking moving.