Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tough Mudder Fudders: Tough Mudder Experience

#1: ***Pictures sourced from Tough Mudder Facebook, no clue if this illegal, but they’re downloadable so I assume it’s legal/please no need to sue me, not even my mom reads this blog****
#2: This cheddar’s sharp (read: this gets cheesy)
Chadz (sorry :) I can't help it) and I headed out of Brooklyn around 3:15PM Friday evening headed to Mt. Snow, Vermont. Clouds parting, sun shining for our 5 hour drive:
The traffic was kind to us and we flew through the first 3 states of travel with no problem getting to the Tough Mud house. Originally a few friends from college were going to race, but all but Chadz dropped out so we went with his team he had last year; a group of awesome people with adventurous hobbies that make my stay in Europe seem like a resort vacation.
As the title of this event had “mud” in it and I’m already clumbsy with my camera I decided to leave it at home. Regret. I wished to have had taken pictures of the house, the stairwell (that everyone fell down once or twice…or three times), the obstacles, the bruises, the smiles, but I’ll supplement with pictures everyone else took that I have now stolen off of the facebook, but we’re totally cool bc of the disclaimer up top, right guys?
The rest of Friday night consisted of arrivals, whiskey, outfit coordination and nerves. Three of the five of us had run the course before. GCT and I were the newbies. I went to sleep with butterflies and had a restless night thinking that somehow with the four of us sharing a room and setting our respective alarm clocks that we may still somehow be late or miss it. It was all just so exciting; it felt like the night before the first day of school.
5:30AM and everything in our room starting screaming. I think GCT’s alarm was a zoo of animal noises (what foreshadowing to our game of animal noises later on that day). We were up an at ‘em immediately. If lions don’t get you out of bed I don’t know what will.
We rised and shined and packed into the bed of Brian’s jeep at 6:30am, bellies full of oatmeal and water bottles filled with branched-chain amino acids.
(not an actual team member)
The ride down with four of us in the bed of the truck was freezing. Here is the first time I was thinking I might not be able to do this as we were heading to a day long physical challenge where we’d be jumping into ice baths, and I’m already feeling whiney-- don’t let them see you sweat. My one rule for the course was that if you see me crying, pretend you don’t. It’s just mud in my eye. The other rule was for no reason was anyone to cut off Sams pants. And we stuck to both of them. Go team!
We got through registration, now adorning our registration numbers, wrist bands and a new set of butterflies. We got one with our number and another for the free beer at the end. I would check for the orange one after every obstacle. Be damned if we paid all this money and then don’t collect a “complimentary” beer.
tough 014
After bathroom stops, stretches, freshly streaked faces of mud and last minute butterflies we were off to the course. In order to get to the start line you had to get over a wall, the first taste of teamwork and grit.
On the other side you gather with your heat and listen to the guy giving a run down of the course, the dangers, the inspiration and the money we had raised.
A lot of “hoo-rahs” and adrenaline building screams, the national anthem, shoe lace checks and then the oath:
(holy crap that’s how you spell “camaraderie”)
It was around 8:20AM when we burst out of the start line and up the hill. Our course was in Vermont on Mt.Snow and the obstacles were sprinkled around ski slopes. This lead to a lot of up and down hill runs. The first uphill obstacle, the Brave Heart Run
We brave-hearted the crap out of it and then ran back down to the dreaded Artic Enema. That is ice being poured into the pool we were about to jump in. Is it redundant to say it’s freezing? It’s freezing.
You climb up the ramps while hearing the gasping screams of others ahead of you. You can't think, you just jump in and as soon as the ice hits you, your breath leaves you.
Everything in your body tells you to get out but at the same time you have to mentally persuade and remind your legs how to move. The water is up to your shoulders and as if that wasn’t enough you have to submerge yourself underwater. There are some things during the course you are better off not allowing yourself time to think. This was one of them for me. I was already in a slight state of panic having to concentrate on moving that I hesitated for a second thinking I would lose myself under water. I grabbed onto the bottom of the wood to feel the other side and guide myself as I was under.
Once you’re up you’re gasping for air to fill and expand your frozen lungs. GCT and I could not control our vocals at this point and were whimpering like puppies while clawing our way through the ice to the exit. Which I can only assume looked this adorable:
You have to jump up and hoist yourself out of the ~4ft pool which when you are in ice water proves to be difficult even on trained muscles. COB tried to help out Sam and wound up Hulk-like tossing her onto the down ramp. No teammates were injured in this event and we were off to the next run, soaking, iced (Chadz even found ice in his pockets later on) and still trying to stop the involuntary noises pouring from our faces.
This was serious. Your bones are frozen, your muscles are shocked and it’s time to run. For the duration of the race I tried to keep myself bopping or at a slight jogging so as to keep my muscles from seizing up from the cold. The down hill runs were rough on my 28 year old knees and ankles, but then someone older than your parents pass you on the trail and you remember you have the mental grit to keep going.
I do not know the exact order of our course and the one posted on the TM website is inaccurate so I’m just going to summarize them as best I can. After the artic enema we were uphill again on the Death March up to the next obstacle, Mud Crawl. We were yet to get too muddy beyond our shoes sinking into mud holes and legs splashed by passers by. You start thinking about how clean you are and then bam, mud crawl: Yes, bring it. Face down in the mud army crawling under barbed wire feeling like a certified bad ass.
Every event was followed with high fives and slaps on the back and even intermittently between runs making sure we were all together and feeling good. This is a challenge, not a race. These are your teammates, not your competitors.
Our course had a lot of running in the beginning, the obstacles were few and far between. We came upon the Devil’s Beard, which if you entered alone realized how much more difficult it was than when you got behind someone and into their stream. That was the point of this right? Things are easier when you work together.
This was uphill, I believe onto the next event and maybe the most panic inducing, Crawl Under. Easily the worst title for the best event. The crawl under? How about “trench crawl” or “fear factor” or “buried alive?” That all sounds terrible, so why the favorite? We had to wait on line for this one and got to really examine the obstacle. As I said before, the less time you have to think about what you’re about to do, the better off you are. We saw people going in these tiny holes and then not coming out the other side. We heard people tell you it was pitch black, we saw TM volunteers digging up the holes when people were getting stuck. Nothing about this seemed like a good idea.
We decided to all go in together and while we were in there we were going to stick together and we were going to belt out a song. You jump down into the knee deep trench and get on your hands and knees and crawl onward into compete mud-filled darkness. Chadz was the fearless leader going in first. Sam next, then myself, GCT and COB.
It’s pitch black in the hole and you’re laying down on your chest pulling your body through this tiny space and looks a little like this:
You can’t see the person in front of you, but you can feel how small the space is. Immediately hearing Chadz and Sam in front of me singing Lee Greenwood was ever so comforting. No time to think, you just had to crawl and sing and it was intensely necessary. My mind tried to wander to what it would be like to get stuck, but you just keep singing and crawling. Cheese alert: this was hands down the best part of my day bc I would not have been able to do it without the team. You reach the light at the tunnel and hands are there to help pull you out, high five and then continue on.
At this point you are 90% covered in mud and you jog to the obstacle adjacent, Berlin Walls.
(not us)
Two walls, something like 10-15ft high. We hoisted COB up to stay up top and help us over, Chadz at the bottom giving us a boost. We step on his hands or knee and grab COBs hands and get yourself to the top to spin around and jump down. Getting up was a cinch due to our boys, but you’re on the way jumping down and my freezing knees and ankles were not excited about pounding on the ground in full force. I pictured them shattering as I got down, but all was intact. I think this is where most of my bruises came from, including back of the legs and knees as your holding yourself as close as you can to the wall to have a controlled dismount. Chadz gets some help from other mudders while we wait on the other side and he swings over like a champion covered in mud and we’re on our way.
We’re off again and surprise! You’re running up hill. After almost every event it’s about a half mile trek either straight up hill or bounding down hill trying not to slip in the mud or break your ankle on a rock.
Next up was likely the Electric Eel another one of my favorites. You kneel down in what looks like a harmless shallow water bath, until you reevaluate the name and realize those things hanging down are live electrodes. There is only one way through so you’re in and under. I didn’t think too much about a slow strategy or trying to avoid the shocks and instead barreled across, first feeling my elbow get shocked, then feeling it on my feet as I scampered along and then again through the water of other mudders getting shocked. It hurts, it travels through you, but it was oddly exciting.
electric eeleel
We came upon a much needed water station that also had organic energy gummies. They were tasty, but damn hard to chew so sort of counterproductive. Then we were down hill again tromping through mud puddles and rough terrain, warnings of “dangerous terrain” were all over the course.
I wish I had the order of events. The course took us 4 hours 40 minutes to complete. I’m not sure where we were at this point, but it was still very early on in the race.
At one point we were running up hill and this shmo in the upper right corner with a hose is just spraying you as you pass by. The water wasn’t as freezing as I anticipated.
Moving on to the best of my jumbled memory there was a swamp crawl where you had to get into a smelly ditch and go under logs and barbed wire to get to the other side, turning around and holding the barbed wire up for others. GCT went full face under the water to get under the logs. We all took a second to admire COBs baby blues sparking against his muddy face
(baby blues not featured)
That might have been my least favorite as it smelt like manure and was chilly. Onto the next event, the Spider Web cargo net. You come up to the net seeing a bunch of mudders on the other side holding the net to make it taught so we’re able to crawl over. Once you’re over you volunteer yourself to hold it down for the next batch. You cannot make it through a lot of these things without help from other people. We climb over unscathed and work our way up hill to the next obstacle coming across a water and banana station somewhere in between.
Next might have been Hold Your Wood, you run up hill to a pile of logs, pick your poison and carry it down hill and then uphill around a bend, returning it to the same pile.
Run around the corner and then down hill on that same tricky terrain to keep your legs and knees awake slipping and sliding everywhere, sometimes landing you on your ass or grabbing onto near by trees to steady yourself.
Down the mountain to hay bails to climb over. These are not soft. At this point to feel yourself bounding over the bails and running to the next obstacle I’m impressed at how much the body can take and appreciating the strategic location of the energy and water stations.
Part of the reason it’s so hard for me to recount the order of things (apart from my pathetic short term memory) was that you are just go-go-go the entire time. One thing after another. In a good way; didn’t want the course to end.
We were starting to feel dry so of course there had to be a water obstacle soon enough. We came upon the Boa Constrictor. A short tunnel, but a rocky one. You crawl through going down and then up, the water coming in and out from the person in front of you holding you back and the fact that you’ve been physically demanding on your body for the last couple of hours makes this innocent looking obstacle one of the more grueling ones.
I believe most of my cuts were due to these tubes.
Then you’re up hill again, once of the events was just titled Cliff Hanger and it’s so steep that being on your hands and knees you’re still almost upright. There was a point where rows of people had paused to rub out their cramping calves on this one. It’s strenuous.
Up to the top and off again, we’re almost dry again. Time to jump into a lake.
Walk the Plank you climb up the rope to the platform. Sam and I were up together, I don’t think either of us is a huge fan of heights, but the girl is fearless and jumps right off into the water. I follow suit after the volunteer up top tells you it’s clear. This was the one time the thought of “what the f*ck am I doing…” creeped in, but you have to silence that shit up right quick if you want to get through it. When the volunteer gave me the green light I asked “me?! right now?! I just jump?!” and asking these as I’m leaping from the platform bc I knew if I actually waited for her answer I’d never go. Plunge. Into cold water, nothing compared to the artic enema, but cold enough to induce those involuntary whimpers again. Comically so bc I am not a strong swimmer and was doggy paddling myself out as fast as I could (which was very slow).
We ran down hill again here, again and again. These parts did start to become boring, but we knew we still had a bunch of obstacles ahead of us and soon enough it would be one after another. We were down hill now and going through a log obstacle where you are climbing over huge tree logs and under them and in between them trying to avoid splinters at the same time you’re trying not to slip off the slippery (now barkless due to the wear and tear from mudders before you) tree logs. I think we had a time check of it being around noon here, three hours in.
Another banana station hit and over to the second set of Berlin Walls, this time much higher. More thoughts of shattered ankles and knees, but flawless execution of all of us up and over.
Up hill time! up up up the ski slopes and through the woods to the Ball Shrinker. I thought this looked easy, but just getting your legs up onto the rope you quickly realize how exhausted your body is. It is not easy.
The adrenaline can take over and mask the exhaustion and mentally you may be totally prepared, but then you’re up there and slowly slinking your way across the freezing pond and realize how far you have left to go. It’s exceptionally harder to hold on when you’re sharing the rope and people are falling off around you making the rope fly up and down. Most people drop off half way through and swim the rest. There are ropes on the waters edge to guide you, but with so many big guys holding onto them they were feet under water and when I fell off I couldn’t reach them and doggy paddled my way to the edge, freezing, whimpering, smiling, filling with adrenaline for finishing and high fiving the rest of your bad ass teammates.
We ran down possibly the time in the course where you run down hill over jagged rocks, fallen trees, wet leaves and your wrists take a thrashing from falling on slate rocks and knees take a beating from scraping through falls.
At the end is possibly where we came upon the Fire Walk. 4ft walls of fire and smoke are welcoming when you’ve been chattering through the mud half the day.
fire firez
We were down hill at this point so I can only imagine we were sent back up hill, at one point coming across the Tire Run I dug back to my days doing p90x and summoned the voice of Tony yelling “big tires! treaded tires! snow tires! no more!” as we leaped through them carefully placing our footing in the various tire shapes and depth.
This obstacle was near the end of the course, only faced with a few more things to completion. There were mile markers everywhere letting you know how close you were getting to that final tenth mile. Two dry events behind us it was time to get cold again and we ran down to Glacier, a mound of snow you had to climb up. There had been so many mudders before us that we were able to find an express lane where foot prints were deep enough on the hill that we could stick our feet in and climb up like professionals (I think a couple of my teammates are actually expert ice mountain climbers). You climb up, hands frozen, red, raw and then have to slide down. I tried to crouch and slide so my ass and hands would not touch the ice, but fell unavoidably and succumbed to the old butt drag, my hands then burning from the cold.
This was unfortunate as the next obstacle was the Funky Monkey, an obstacle I wanted to dominate so badly, but I stood no chance. When you fall you fall into a cold pool and I only made it onto one bar before that was my fate. We all wound up falling in on this one.
Sadly, this is coming to the end of our journey. The next obstacle being Twinkle Toes. We had just jogged for a bit to this one and were starting to dry off so wanted more than anything to make it to the other side stay dry. There are spectators throughout the course cheering you on that came in handy here to keep you motivated. It gets real wobbly in the middle there.
Once successfully on the other side we knew it was almost over. The penultimate event approached: Everest.
This was the most entertaining obstacle to watch. People run up, trip, miss peoples hands, slow down and then bite it into the side of the half pipe. They get up, run back and try it all over again. It looks so hard from the outside and brutal on the body as they thrash into the half pipe and slide back down. How do you NOT slip on an incline that is covered in mud? How do you run up?? everest1
Some guys were able to run up and get themselves over with no help. It was amazing to watch. COB got himself up to then help us all over. I went next, managing to grab his and another mudders arms who I then pleaded to grab my leg as I scrambled my way up to the top.
Mostly it’s just a matter of running fast enough to reach the mudders leaning over to catch you and help you up.
Awesome feeling to be up there and then terrifying to realize, oh shit, you have to climb down this wet, slippery wood structure on the other side. A fellow mudder next to me heard my audible concern and coached me down checking in on me and watching my footing as I descended. COB stayed up top and helped each of us over. We waited on the other side for the rest of us and then onto the last event. Electroshock Therapy:
It’s simple. You run through the live electrodes jumping over hay bails as fast as you can to the finish while they shock anything they touch. Simple. 
We got together checking out the hay bails you had to run over and then you just go for it, Sam leading the pack. We got through smiling, jumping and group hugging it out at the finish.
They corral you into the finishing area where you collect your tshirt, beer, various protein products and then mudder volunteers put the celebratory head band on your head reading “tough mudder”
“they’re not for sale; they’re earned” rawr!
tough 012beer
It was an amazing experience. The camaraderie you feel the entire time from your teammates and then from fellow mudders is heartwarming. The physicality and mental toughness it takes to get you to the finish is exhilarating and a little bit addicting. Despite the fact that we were covered in bruises and blood we were feeling good. I’m so happy to have gotten to run it with a team already established as bad ass tough mudders and have spent the day with like minded kind of crazy people who find this sort of shit fun. It is so fun. And will definitely happen again next year. Hoo rah.
Hands down best part of the event was crawling through a pitch black underground mud soaked trench singing “Proud to be an American” with these tough mudder fudders.
I was telling Chadz I finally understand adrenaline junkies to which he appropriately responded: “I’m not an adrenaline junkie, just a badass.”

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