Motivational Mudders: America’s Toughest Mudder Midwest

Competition Vs. Camaraderie?

To be honest, I didn’t know what to initially think of the Toughest Mudder series. Besides World’s Toughest Mudder once a year, Tough Mudder always emphasized teamwork and camaraderie over course time. Finding your personal best and having fun were two of its distinguishing characteristics from other races and I didn’t know how this new series would effect Tough Mudder’s culture. I was worried that the inspiration and motivation I drew from these events would be overshadowed by competition.

But there I was, pulling into the final race of the 2017 Toughest Mudder Series. The stage was set. Five races down, one to go. Coming into this race, I sought out inspiration and motivation from my fellow competitors. I wanted to find something more than just competition at these races. I could only hope that the Tough Mudder culture and the spirit would be upheld.

Starting the Day at Toughest Midwest

As I arrived at the festival area, it was filled with welcoming hugs, hellos, and nervous energy as people prepared for eight hours of racing at the Rockford International Airport. Toughest Mudder Midwest had the highest registration and it was obvious as the energy was immediately palpable. I noticed a mix of first time and repeat Toughest competitors. There were even a few people who attended all six Toughest Mudder events including Jim “Da Goat” Campbell, Melissa “Sharkbait” Dugan, Sara Knight, and Mark James.

Mark James, Sara Knight, Melissa Dugan, and Jim Campbell.

Whether athletes were out there for a podium spot, earn WTM contender status (25 miles) or experience an event unlike any other, everyone was equally excited and nervous for what the night would bring.

As we prepared for the race, it was noticeably warmer at the start line. With a chance of thunderstorms looming in the distance, we weren’t sure how long these near ideal conditions would last. Every endurance event brings an element of the unknown and I was all too aware that conditions can quickly change. While elevation gain would not be a factor in this race, I knew Tough Mudder would have a few surprises for us along the way

Countdown to Midnight

As the countdown to midnight began, we were shuttled away from the pit area, giving many competitors a chance to warm up to the start gate. Surrounded by tall fields of grass, we were isolated in our own little world. Sean Corvelle inspired us like only he knows how to, with a riveting speech about achieving our personal best and overcoming our obstacles on the course and in life. His spirit is behind every one of these events as he reflects on the inspiration he draws from the community. Just like that, the tone was set and we were ready for what the night would bring.

Sean Corvelle at the Starting Line

The countdown ensued and just like that, we were off.

The elevation profile pointed to every sign that this would be a fast course and it lived up to the expectation. In TMHQ’s attempt to slow us down, we quickly encountered a river crossing known as the Kishwaukee Krusade. With no way around it, the river crossing was the only obstacle open from the very start. As the obstacles began to slowly open, it was clear that without epic hills of LA or Whistler, the double mud mile of Atlanta, or the cold from the UK or Philadelphia, that this was going to be a fast course. It held true throughout the race.

Obstacles

The flat fast course was mitigated by the obstacles, which slowly opened until 02:00 am. It was clear that TMHQ wanted to keep us wet, with multiple water obstacles scattered throughout the course. “Operation” had a shockingly (pun intended) long penalty, enticing competitors to at least attempt it. Arctic Enema was placed right before Funky Monkey, making it cold and wet for the grip-strength intensive obstacle. Everest 2.0 and the Grappler both had ropes that competitors could use, but the slippery slopes of the quarter pipe still left them difficult to complete.

Competitors

The race provided plenty of room for competition. Ryan Atkins dominated in his usual fashion and Allison Tai stayed well ahead of the competition throughout. The competition between second and fifth place was heated throughout the race as athletes continued to change places throughout the night. Amidst the competition, I was searching for inspiration to keep me going throughout the race. These races are difficult, period. No matter who you are, whether you are going for 50 miles or 10, everyone is out there trying to find their “personal best”. It is the very thing that Sean Corvelle preaches at the starting line, yet is something that is often hard to reach. I looked to my fellow competitors for inspiration and luckily found it throughout the night. Amidst the dark of night, competitors brought the light.

Men’s and Women’s Top Five.

Inspirational Athletes

Dan Kosick was one such athlete. With his sights set on 25 miles and contender status at WTM, he fell just short at the Toughest Mudder Northeast. Even though he knew he didn’t make it, he completed the final lap just minutes past the 08:30 am cut-off time. As I saw him finish, the look of defeat covered his face as he crossed the finish line. I was proud of what he accomplished, but it was clear he wasn’t satisfied. That defeat turned into motivation as he returned for another shot at 25 miles at Toughest Midwest. Throughout the race, his no-quit attitude resonated in his voice as he continued his relentless forward progress. This time, the course would not stop him. He overcame disappointment at Philly to complete 25 miles in less than 8 hours to earn contender status at WTM.

Jesi Stracham, a wheelchair bound athlete, took on the course with a team of friends throughout the night. I saw the definition of teamwork portrayed throughout the night with her group. She proved that Tough Mudder is more than physical ability as her spirit and determination propelled her and her team to complete 15 grueling miles of the Toughest course.

Yancy Culp (often referred to as Yancy Camp), a legend within the OCR community, is another example of using racing as fuel to overcome life’s challenges. After battling cancer over the last year, he credited obstacle course racing as giving him a purpose to stay healthy throughout the chemotherapy process. He didn’t let cancer stop him from crewing at World’s Toughest Mudder in 2016 and even though he didn’t compete, it served as one of the most defining events of his athletic career. He knew he wanted an event to circle on the calendar for 2017 and chose to tackle Toughest Mudder Midwest. It was during the race that he found the joy of running and competing again. He wasn’t out there to win, but rather enjoy the process of racing and living life to the fullest. While he said the Tough Mudder community inspired him throughout the race, he is an inspiration to all of us.

Billy Richards was another inspirational individual as he carried the American Flag throughout the entire event. Every time I saw him and the flag on the course, it gave me chills. It is one of many ways Billy shows his patriotism. After serving as a United States Marine from 1999 to 2003, Billy decided to honor our military and law enforcement by carrying the American Flag in every race he does. So far, the flag has traveled with him to over 150 races, including four 100 mile ultra marathons (more information on his endeavors can be found at the link under the photo).

For more information click here.

Inspired By The Midwest

If I took anything from Toughest Midwest, it is that this is an awesome community, filled with amazing people. I came to the Midwest looking for inspiration and I found it.  While this race is a competition, it is much more than that, filled with incredible stories of everyone who accepts the challenge of completing 8 hours through the night. The final race in the Toughest Mudder series was a memorable one and only time will only tell what next year’s Toughest series brings. One thing is for sure; the finale at World’s Toughest Mudder is destined to be the best one yet. I’ll see you in the desert one last time!

 

Photos Courtesy of Melissa Dugan and Tough Mudder

Canada’s Toughest Mudder Eh?

Why We OCR
The idea of running 8.5 hours through the night is simply insane. Now, let’s add some mud, obstacles, and freezing cold water to up the ante. Since Canada’s Mother Nature is a little more badass than most, let’s race on a cold morning filled with overcast skies and some rain. By the way, racers need to carry a whistle for protection against the bears that have been patrolling the venue… #whistlesinwhistler. Sounds like a great event, sign me up!

Why would anyone put him or herself through that kind of torture? While the answer is different for every one of us, we found ourselves at the starting line of Canada’s Toughest Mudder, in the land of maple syrup, extremely nice people, and harsh weather conditions. Let’s just say Canada didn’t disappoint.

Canada’s Toughest Mudder gave me some time to reflect on why I started running these races. My previous two races had some people judging my performances as failures. Remarks from people I barely knew began to shape my perception that I wasn’t good enough. While these comments were in the minority, I let then dictate how I thought about my performance. Instead of focusing on why I began to run these events in the first place, I was suddenly focused on external result. That needed to change. While it is nice to do well, it isn’t the reason I began running these events and isn’t the reason I like running them today.

Between Northeast and Canada’s Toughest Mudder, I thought about the joy of running with the Tough Mudder community centered on teamwork and camaraderie. I reflected on the “personal best” that Sean Corvelle so frequently discusses at the start line of a Tough Mudder. Even though I’ve heard his speech multiple times, I needed a reminder. I was out there to be my best and not for anyone else’s definition of success. So that was my focus going into this event, give it my best and enjoy the people that make this community so special. So my main question to you: Why do you run? What motivates you?

Check In and Start
As I pulled up to the venue on Saturday night, I was ready for over 8 hours of fun. I heard Whistler was one of the most beautiful OCR venues but my expectations were tapered once I realized I had to wait until sunrise to appreciate its full beauty.

Check in was noticeably less busy that previous events and I didn’t have to wait for my registration packet and bib. Looking at the numbers, only 250 people would make it to Canada’s Toughest Mudder, much less than the 750 that were at Toughest Mudder Northeast. The pit area was much less crowded however the energy was still high, as everyone anticipated a cold and intense event.

We rallied in the starting area, motivated by Sean Corvelle’s ever-present motivational speech that make any Tough Mudder event truly special. Coach T-Mud (Kyle Railton) continued to add motivation as we began to channel our inner spirit animal for 8 hours in the wild. After a few short minutes, midnight came and we were off.

Off Course
The course started off with some wide trails that quickly narrowed into technical terrain that was difficult to navigate in the dark. Under three kilometers into the race, the top 20 or so competitors were directed down a muddy path. We continued down about 1km until realizing that we had been directed the wrong way. So, we had to go back up that thick and muddy hill we just came down. So there we were, trying to work our way back for the better part of the next few laps. It was definitely a tough (some would say toughest…) blow to take at the beginning of the race, already feeling so far behind. It was hard to mentally get back into the game, but we had to press on. Luckily, Trevor Cichosz and I spent those early laps laps joking around and trying not to get lost. It was fun to see a lot of my friends out on course sooner that I would have without the misdirection, trying to see the positive in the error. Besides, I was there to have fun! After a couple laps, most of us had regained our positions near the front and Tough Mudder Headquarters (TMHQ) gave those affected by the mishap extra time at the end of the race to ensure a fair race for everyone. Although I don’t think the twelve additional minutes that group received fully covered the full effects of the misdirection, I was impressed by their ability to quickly make an adjustment. Kudos to you TMHQ!

On Course
Like the past 2 Toughest Mudders, the course was 8 kilometers, with 17 obstacles that slowly opened throughout the first couple hours. By the second lap, all of the obstacles were open.

The majority of the obstacles felt like they were in the first half of the course however that was probably due to the slower pace during the first few kilometers. After looking at the course map again, I realized the obstacles were well spaced out. The technical terrain and elevation gain in the first half of the course set up a quicker second half. I never felt like I was running for too long without another obstacle and thought the obstacles were well placed. The second half of the race had wider trails that allowed runners to open up a little more and get into a groove.

While the obstacles ran smoothly, one concern  involves the scope of what a volunteer can do at the Grappler on top of Everest. Typically, if you get the knot in the hold, the volunteer can help ensure the ball is in place. Let’s just say that there was no such assurance during this race. I am not sure what the official policy is for this obstacle is, but like the problem with Stage 5 Clinger at Philly, I think this should be clarified. Anyways, onto more important matters.

The obstacles at Canada’s Toughest Mudder did not disappoint. Hangtime (aka King of the Swingers on steroids) continues to be one of Tough Mudder’s signature obstacles. It provides a technical and physical challenge.  The transition from the T-bar to the cargo net, and then traversing down the rope makes this the most epic obstacle I’ve encountered.  Hangtime simultaneously taps into racers fear of heights, potentially ruining racers aspirations. Tracey Roberts, who traveled all the way from New Zealand, did not let Hangtime get the best of her thanks to the support from her Mudder team.

The obstacles were ordered in a very methodical way that made the entire course difficult yet enjoyable. Unlike Toughest Philly, Funky Monkey Revolution wasn’t placed 30 meters after Arctic Enema, making it much more manageable as the night progressed. Arctic Enema was very cold and shocked my body, even with Frogskins. This freezing cold obstacle was immediately followed by Operation. Personally, I thought this was a great combination. Shock the body with cold and then taunt it with the opportunity to be shocked by electricity, a well-played mind game by TMHQ.

For the most part, the obstacles ran smoothly throughout the race. Alisha Miller, first lady of the World’s Toughest Mudder and Ground Pounder PNW, decided that she would single-handedly shut down Kong once and for all. I don’t think even the World’s Toughest Mudder has done that yet, not too shabby for a first timer (take notes Carlo Piscitello). Kong was closed for the remainder of the race, however, we had a bonus obstacle quietly taunting us throughout the night (more on that later).

As the race progressed, sunrise came much sooner than any race to date. Unlike the other Toughest events where darkness consumed ¾ of the race, light began to illuminate the cloudy skies just after 0430. I guess that’s what happens having a race so far North close to the summer solstice. We were met with weird mating calls from grouse birds (a deep and haunting noise), bears, and many other animals. I could feel the forest come to life and enjoyed a boost from the natural wildlife.

Austin Azar Crushing the Soul-Crusher.

Shortly after the sun came the most EPIC change to the course, the SOUL-CRUSHER, the hill to destroy all hills, and apparently third place Shaun Stephens-Whale’s b!t+h (https://www.redbull.com/us-en/red-bull-400-has-record-breaking-debut-in-whistler). This wasn’t just any hill; it was the one you see for the Red Bull Race 400 meters, up a 37-degree incline. While Soul-Crusher sucked, it was also an incredible experience that I actually enjoyed (apparently I don’t have a soul for it to crush, muahaha). How many times in your life do you have the opportunity to run, or bear crawl, up something like that?

Overall, I thought that it was one of the most beautiful courses I have been to. Set on the location of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Olympic Rings provided a perfect source of inspiration and motivation. Jon Copper’s bagpipes rang throughout the night, making the event even more special. Even though the weather was cold and overcast, you could make out the surrounding mountains covered in snow. It was quite the spectacle. The only thing that would have given me more motivation is Matty Gregg and Keith Allen rapping to me throughout the race, but I guess I have to wait for another time.

Summary
This was an incredible race with great energy from everyone who attended. I highly recommend this race to anyone who is interested in running a Toughest, just make sure to bring a wetsuit. There are also a ton of activities to do here before and after the race, making it a great destination for a race. Additionally, the Canadian’s are always so friendly, that it’s impossible to leave that race with a sour taste in your mouth. Overall this was my favorite course in my years of racing and I hope that they come back in 2018 for Canada’s Toughest Mudder again!

Thank you everyone who made this an incredible experience. I had a great time spending time with people on and off the course. Thank you Team Goat Tough for your support! Thank you Jeff Locke for crewing. Thank you Phoebe Brimer for covering the race (and cutting off my shorts mid-race… probably TMI). I hate you Keith Allen for continually haunting me throughout the race via people singing to me. Thank you Allison Tai for being an amazing hostess and reinforcing my belief that all Canadians are extremely nice and love maple syrup. Check out her OCR Gym, VANCITY OCR, opening soon in Vancouver, BC.

How Much Tough Could a Tougher Mudder Tough if a
Toughest Mudder Could World’s Toughest?

Photo Credit: Jim Campbell, Gameface Media (Tough Mudder)

A 100 Mile Journey: A WTM Recap

This year, I came into World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) with one simple goal; improve on my 80-mile performance from last year. I felt that 90 miles was a significant but attainable goal to reach. Coming into this years WTM, I felt better than I had in previous years, but knew things would have to go just right to reach my goals. With everything from stomach problems, to horrible weather, and everything in between, I felt that by aiming for 100 miles, I would give myself enough cushion to attain my goal of 90 miles. To be honest, I never thought I would be able to reach 100, but put it up there as a “Dream Goal”, so even when I did fall short, I would still be within my 90 miles that I wanted to get.

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One of the things I enjoy about these races is going into them free from anyone’s expectations but my own. Unfortunately, things changed a little bit when I was listed as one of the “top men to watch” (darn you Matty Gregg). I know the pressure got to me for a little bit, but I realized that I needed to just focus on what I had to do and what I had control of.

Thankfully, I was invited to join Team Goat Tough by Jim Campbell, who helped support me getting the prior gear I needed along with the support out on course that I would need throughout the 24 hour grueling race. I think Jim believed in me more than I believed in myself. It was awesome to have 12 other people out on course who I knew were there

I started out the race wanting to get as far as I could during the sprint hour without pushing myself too hard. I found myself keeping up with the leaders throughout the sprint hour, following Junyong Pak, Ryan Woods, and Nickademus Hollon. I settled into a comfortable pace, and found myself running faster than I needed to but was feeling good.

Laps 3-4 I was mostly running with Ryan Atkins and Jon Albon. It was hilarious hearing those guys run together, singing songs and laughing, like it was just another day on the playground. I knew they would eventually take off ahead, but it was a perfect couple of laps to keep the pace up and the mood light.

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After I finished lap 5, I decided to change into my Frogskins, since it was starting to get dark. I was about 45 minutes ahead of the pace I wanted to keep and was feeling pretty good. My pit crew was perfectly in sync and helped me get out of the pits in seemingly no time at all.

Lap 6 proved to be more challenging than expected as it was a little too hot for the Frogskins, and 2 of the water obstacles were closed that lap. I remember seeing Sharkbait that lap who was experiencing the same problem, but neither of us wanted to get caught in an extreme drop in temperature, something we were both too familiar with from years past.

I was keeping on the pace I wanted during miles 30-50 without any gear changes. My lap times were consistent and I was still getting through most of the obstacles just fine. I was still behind Pak and Woods, but wasn’t concerned with what they were doing. Even though each lap time was consistent with one another, I was encountering significant ups and downs each lap, due to some stomach problems. It was nothing terrible, but enough to slow me down for parts of each lap. I was sticking to what I had used in the past, mainly bars, Cliff blocks, and Tailwind. While there were many small problems, it was nothing out of the ordinary for 50 miles

I remember finishing mile 50 around 10pm and thinking “This is what I finished with the entire 24 hours 2 years ago.” I had obviously come a long way since my first WTM, but didn’t think I was ready for the big jump that was about to come.

It was pretty fun and a little nerve racking when the camera crews started rolling late into the night, and began to follow me on some of the obstacles (It makes Operation a little bit harder with a camera staring down at you). I knew I had to be near the top if they kept getting clips of me, which kept my spirits up.

I planned on slightly slower lap times for miles 50-75, but I was still keeping a steady pace. After completing Grappler on lap 12, I noticed the cameras shifted from me to the person who was right behind me. It was Trevor Cichosz! I was so excited to see him and knew he was going to make a late night push to the front. I have never been so happy to be passed up by someone and surprisingly; it gave me an extra boost of energy. I knew the race was on and I told him to go win this. I never thought I would be near the front like I was, but I wanted Trevor to breakthrough and finally win this event.

15042048_1118517344910222_1594517493638149194_oI hit the Cliff on lap 12 just after midnight and was ready for 12 hours of my least favorite obstacle of all. By this point, there was no way I would consider running the extra 0.6 miles and faced this necessary evil for the remainder of the race. Once I hit 60 miles around midnight, I began to believe that I could make it to 100 miles! While I created a plan to hit 100 miles, I never thought it was possible. Only the heavy hitters, the Ryan Atkins and Jon Albons of the world could make it to 100. I never gave myself a shot at it.

Even with a glimmer of hope at 100 miles, I struggled through lap 13 as I was still facing some problems with my nutrition and began facing a few extra penalties per lap. I could feel the race begin to wear down on me. I knew that it would be getting colder, so I decided to put on a thick wind-breaker. As far as my nutrition was concerned, my mom (aka awesome pit crew member #1) asked if I wanted hot chocolate after lap 13. This sounded like the perfect thing to keep me going. After lap 13 I began eating a steady diet of peanut M&Ms, Snickers Bars, and hot chocolate to keep me going. They seemed to do the trick for my stomach, as I continued the rest of the race without any significant stomach problems.

As I came in after lap 14 I really felt good. My stomach was fine, my body felt good, and I was ahead of the pace I needed to get 100 miles. On that pit stop, with 70 miles under my belt, I told my pit crew, “I am getting 100 miles!” Everyone was on board and they knew that from here on out, there was one goal in mind. I forgot about what place I was in, and focused on getting to 100 miles.

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Lap 15, I secured my silver bib and was pushing to get as many laps in before sunrise. I continued on the same pace through lap 18. As I was looking to finish up my last 2 laps, I knew that lap 19 would be a tough one to pull through. I aimed at starting my last lap by 11:00am, giving me 2.5 hours to finish my last lap if needed. I struggled through lap 19, and was able to get back to my pit in time. I decided to take off the windbreaker and carry my pack as usual. I had more than enough time to finish my last lap, I was over a lap ahead of 4th and 5th place, and 1st and 2nd were already locked. ALL I HAD TO DO WAS FINISH ONE MORE LAP! It was such a feeling of relief. A caught up with Mike Delanty, one of the first people I ever met at WTM, and we cruised on our last lap, taking our sweet time and enjoying each other’s company. We jogged the last little bit of the lap and I was never happier to be at the peak of the Cliff.

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As I finished that last swim, I got to the final stretch and decided to walk it and soak in the moment. I remember closing my eyes and felt the sun soak in. It was here! This was what all that training was for. I was the fifth person ever to reach 100 miles at WTM.

As I crossed the line, I was lucky enough to get my 100 mile bib from none other than Sean Corvelle. It was such an honor to get my bib from him as he always is such an amazing motivator, an awesome person, and his voice constantly reminds me to give it my very best.

Coming into this race, I put in a lot of hard work, but could have never imagined that I would be the 3rd Place Individual Male and reach 100 miles.

I couldn’t have done it without my amazing Pit Crew: Mom (Katie Mendoza), dad (Danny Mendoza), Tim Slaby, Kelly Druce, Melissa Morgan, and everyone else who was there. I also want to thank Jim Campbell, Dustin Partridge, John Fagan and the rest of Team Goat Tough who were so supportive throughout the entire time. Thank you to my friends, PJ Catalano and Reny Kaufmann (7th Place Woman), who I shared a tent with. Finally, thank you Trevor Cichosz (WTM CHAMPION), who told me before the race if I didn’t get 100 miles, he would take away my coveted Ground Pounder hat.

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I want to thank everyone I saw out on course that made this the most memorable WTM experience ever! There were so many people who constantly encouraged me and supported me throughout the event and I am so lucky to be a part of this great WTM community. I hope to see many of you out on course very soon and I love you all very much!