The Complete Guide to Toughest Mudder

I can picture it now… The Tough Mudder team is held up in a room trying to figure out what kind of event they can come up with to both bring together their most devout followers from the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) Community as well as possibly entice the average Joe racer to consider THE most epic of obstacle race down the road. If you were to create a “Baby” WTM experience what would it look like? What can we do that is more badass than a Tough Mudder and kind of resembles that 24 hour sufferfest but is something doable for most people and how do we include the most unique pieces of WTM so that we have a totally different event that people want to both participate in as well as interesting to watch on TV? Well you need to have this event go for a long distance or time in order to elicit a similar effect as WTM. You also have to have that unique component of darkness so it’s going to have to be at night. Lastly, we need to make sure we up the ante on the obstacles because those are our staple! Throw all of those things together and you come up with…Toughest Mudder?!?! While the name may not be all that original, the events are and I think they will bring a whole new experience to the sport of OCR!

Ok so now we have this awesome new event that’s going to attract a lot of new people to our sport but if these virgins step into these races without proper education then what you could end up with is a train wreck of athletes who show up ill-equipped and unprepared for what lies ahead of them. Such was the case after WTM moved to Vegas where this race was basically a new environment to everyone. In order to avoid issues that could occur from confusion for what will be necessary in the seemingly warmer environment of the Nevada dessert like the often asked question “do I need a wetsuit?” World’s Toughest Mudder Facebook Community Admin, Keith Allen, came up with the idea that maybe I should write both a Nutrition and Thermoregulation Hack to help people prep for WTM. I feel that these have a been a great help to many a competitor so when I heard about some of the difficulties after the premier of the Toughest Mudder series I figured this series needed its own “manual” so-to-speak. The following is more of a guide than it is an article and it is based on my five years of experience at WTM as well as my varied knowledge from within the sport of OCR since I began my involvement back in 2010. When necessary, I have also sought out input from others in the field whom I respect and I feel can add some valuable information. There are many ways to approach a race such as Toughest Mudder but it’s my hope that this piece will be a reference and at least help guide you as to how you might take on Toughest Mudder.

Toughest Mudder is NOT WTM!
For those who have participated in WTM and are now doing a Toughest Mudder, let’s get something straight right off the bat. You pretty much cannot approach these two events the same at all. Your pre-race prep, gear selection, nutrition, and most of all your racing pace/ tactics will pretty much be entirely different. Sure, you will most likely have everything that you need but how you utilize the gear and your race experiences will only slightly resemble WTM. I will try to break things down as best I can so you can be ready for what you will face at Toughest. Remember, for many participants WTM is more of the ultimate sufferfest. Toughest Mudder, on the other hand, is a full-fledged OCR!

Another key thing to realize about Toughest Mudder versus WTM is the difference in the environmental stresses between the two races. One of the most difficult aspects of WTM is the thermoregulation issues that can go on with each participant. The human body can adjust to being too warm; the body can also adjust to the cold. However, when you ask your body to quickly switch from being warm to being cold all while you are fighting overall fatigue it can sometimes mean flirting with a medical DQ due to hypothermia. God help you if you make the mistake of going from overheating in a wetsuit to actually removing that wetsuit rather than just venting it or taking it down. This will, most certainly, not end well as the body is now in “heat loss mode” and before it can readjust you will be hypothermic which at WTM often means your race is over. The Toughest Mudder races are different because you will start the race at night when the temps have already dropped. Therefore you will start cold and since the race ends not long after sunrise there will not be much change in temperatures overall. This means you will most likely never need a wholesale gear change, but only slight changes which will help out immensely. This is why having flexibility in your gear is much more important at these events but I will go more into this in the “Gear” section below.

APPROACH TO RACING
Race Day Prep: Toughest Mudder starts at 12am. Pretty much no participant is used to this. Most of us race early in the morning and even WTM started at noon in 2016. With this night start you have to be careful how you approach your daily nutrition as the wrong choice of a food that is difficult to digest during the latter half of the day could land you in the Port-a-Potty early in the race. To avoid this scenario you might want to consider flipping your daily diet upside down so that you are eating your typical pre-race foods closer to the event.

I would also plan on getting to the event location as early as TMHQ will allow you (9pm?). Remember that this event is new to Tough Mudder as well so expect things to go a little rocky for the time-being. Getting there early will also allow you a better staging area for your food and gear.

Remember this is an eight hour event so you should be able to run a lot of this race. Three time WTM champ and winner of the inaugural Toughest Mudder race, Ryan Atkins, actually recommends your pace for Toughest be “comfortably uncomfortable.” This is basically what exercise scientists call a high Zone 3/ low Zone 4 on the Heart Rate Zone scale. For a simple general calculation for using your heart rate (HR) to pace you can use this formula:

 (180-your age) + 5 to 10 = Heart Rate Goal in beats/min for the race

This type of pacing should allow you to run a lot and keep you moving as long as you are taking in the proper nutrition. Ryan told me that he thinks your best bet is to “shoot for even splits for your lap times.” Combining your monitoring of your HR and checking your lap times should keep you going at a decent clip and allow you to properly gauge whether you will reach you distance goal for this event.

One of the other major differences between WTM and Toughest Mudder is the “pit” area… or lack thereof at Toughest. The pit station we have become accustomed to at WTM has been reduced to a small area inside a tent within the festival area. This tent also serves as the participant gear tent for the regular Tough Mudder so this all sounds like a major pain in the you know what. Given the fact that this is actually off of the course tells me you need to plan on making limited trips to this stage area. If you have a pit crew then have a list prepared for him/her ahead of time so that person knows what to bring you and have him/her meet you at the proper spot to hand off your gear and nutrition. This will greatly speed the process and decrease the congestion in the staging test. I plan on using my Hydration pack to carry enough nutrition so that I will only need to pit after every other lap.

GEAR SELECTION
Depending on the location of the Toughest race, you could springtime rainy weather, summer time warm weather, or a feeling of nip in the mountain air of Whistler. My recommendation is to maybe not bring ALL of your gear…but bring more than you think you will need. It’s better to have it and not use it than to wish you would have brought something. If you are purchasing gear for these events I am a big fan of versatility. The more ways you can use an item then more value it will bring to you. As an example, there is pretty much no point in having a 5mm full wetsuit for a Toughest Mudder unless you plan on walking the entire thing on a cool night. A good plan is to have clothing that you can vent or partially remove should you get hot or if there is a portion of the course where you remain dry and don’t need the extra insulation. Items such as a quick drying windbreaker, possibly a front zip short wetsuit, and a Neptune Thermoregulation System all allow you to use them in a variety of temperatures and in a variety of ways to provide you a lot of flexibility during a lap to make sure that you stay comfortable. The Neptune allows you add chemical body warmers (you can choose how many you need based on the environmental exposure of the event) and easily wear a jacket over it to help keep you covered. Should you get hot you simply open your jacket to vent the heat. Worst case scenario you can dump the body warmers mid lap. Another item that is recommended by WTM vet Keith Allen is the Hyperflex 50/50 Polyolefin Top. “This shirt/vest can be layered over the top of a base layer to help keep you warm during the coldest portions of the race and then quickly removed between laps should you get too warm or it can be worn by itself depending on your needs.” The one downside is that this top cannot be vented so you still risk overheating mid-lap but at least it can be quickly removed in between laps if necessary.

Certain items can present issues based on their design. The problem with using something like Frogskins is it cannot be vented nor easily removed. In fact, Battlegrounds Battle Corps racer and WTM vet, Leah Hensley, told me “I wore my Frogskins during one of the races at the 2016 OCRWC and one of the biggest issues was the lack of venting and how freaking hard it is to get on and off. It’s so damn tight you can’t even lift the shirt to get air in to vent it!”

The point of reviewing this information is to understand how your plan to use your gear to keep you moving at the fastest pace possible. I have listed some of the items that I recommend you have for this event as well as some that I don’t recommend below. This is not a complete gear list by any means but it’s a start!

Recommended

NOT Recommended

  • Full wetsuit over 3mm
  • Frogskins Top
  • Insulated clothing of any kind that will hold excess water
  • Gloves (they usually don’t improve your grip)… and they make dry obstacles wet! L
  • Neoprene socks (these won’t insulate your feet as well as Medium weight Smartwool socks will)
  • Sunscreen… The race is at night!!!

NUTRITION
The old saying goes “you are what you eat.” In regards to racing, what you eat before and during an event can definitely determine whether you have a good race or a bad one. The key thing to understand when it comes to race nutrition is that you must find what works for you. This means it’s a good idea to trial and error, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider what “Science” says as well when considering what and when you should be consuming your nutrition! J

Research shows that the average endurance athlete can absorb about 350 calories/ hour while exercising (assuming they practice eating while training). If you are following the guidelines of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this will equate to 50-60 gr of carbs, 15-20 gr of protein and 10 or so gr of fat each lap at Toughest (depending on your size and level) and the time it takes you to complete your laps. The fact that these events are only 8 hours versus the 24 hours at WTM means you can get away with eating less but I would still use this as a goal for each lap. I also recommend at least some of this food be taken in during the lap and then loading up in the staging area.

Some key points to remember prior to the event:

  • Start carb loading about 5 days before the event. Take in a 30-50% more carbs that you have been eating. I even utilize a carb depletion phases during training to allow my body to adjust to fueling in this state. I do this again starting about 13 days out and then at 5 days I start loading.
  • On the day prior to the event make sure that you eat a lot of carbs while limiting your excess fat at every meal. Please be careful on the portions on both Friday and Saturday during the day prior to the event. The last thing you want is to miss-time your bowel movements and have to hit the head during the event. You also want to up your electrolyte content on the day prior to the race since the Sodium/Potassium pump system has a correction period of about 18 hours. The morning of the event should include a high carb and low fat meal. Fat not only slows the absorption of the meal, but it also can cause gastric distress during exercise leading to “the trots.” Fat, however, is not the only culprit of digestive issues during exercise. Keep in mind that single source sugar can also cause problems so try not to eat too much fructose or sucrose at one time before nor during the race. This is the reason that products like Gatorade and Tailwind utilize two forms of sugar in their products. Another thing to consider is the fact this event starts in what is basically the middle of the night will throw most people off so I think you might almost be better off flipping your meals on the Saturday of the race. For example, my dinner (with my usual race day breakfast foods) will be around 8pm. Then I will have a Clif Bar around 10pm and my 32 oz of Gatorade from 11pm-12am when the race begins. This is the same routine as my normal race morning.

Keep in mind, you must eat and drink constantly throughout the event in order to keep fueled. If you wait until you are hungry or thirty to replenish then you have already failed!!! It takes a minimum of about 18-24 hours to replenish your muscle glycogen stores after strenuous exercise much less while you are still moving when your digestion isn’t all that efficient during exercise.

Some key nutrition/hydration points during the race:

  • I suggest having an electrolyte drink either in your hydration pack or at least as your main source of fluids in the pit. Liquids absorb quickly so this will help you immensely. Tailwind seems to be the most highly recommended for this purpose. During the pit stops, have a plan with about what you need to eat so you get enough calories. You will get less hungry as you become more tired. This is a natural effect as your body is trying to conserve digestion energy to keep you moving figuring that you will eventually stop to fuel but as endurance athletes we can’t stop moving. You simply have to keep eating! Again, this is where calorically dense foods and engineered foods help you get in those calories.
  • Due to the higher level of intensity during this event versus WTM it will be much more difficult for your digestive system to do its job. This is the reason most ultra distance runners resort to liquid only nutrition such as Tailwind. I recommend that Toughest Mudder participants limit their “real food” intake to avoid the increased possibility of having issues. Instead, I believe it is more prudent to rely on “engineered” foods because these supplements will not only be easier to digest and provide less bulk but they are also easier to carry and faster to ingest. I will include a list of recommend types of nutrition at the end of this section.
  • As far as hydration goes, your body needs about 8 oz of water every 15 minutes (1 liter per hour) during exercise. The easiest way to ensure you get this is to have a hydration pack but as long as you drink when you can then you will be fine. I drank about 35 oz per lap (14 laps in 25 hours) last year at WTM and my level was spot on for me. A great gauge on this is how often you urinate. If you are doing so once a lap then cut back on the fluids. If it’s like once in the first three hours then you want to pick up the pace!

Nutrition List

  • Liquid Options
    • Gatorade
    • Tailwind
    • Hammer Nutrition
    • Cytomax
    • Endurox R4
    • Acclerade
    • CarboPro
  • Gels/Gummies
    • AccelGels/ GU/ Boom
    • Clif Blocks/ Gatorade Chews/ Sport Beans
    • Apple Sauce/ Fruit Sauces
  • Energy Bars
    • Clif Bars/ Powerbars/ Complete Protein Cookies
    • Granola Bars/ Nutrigrain Bars/ Snickers Bar
  • Other options
    • Beef jerky
    • Pickles/ Pickle Juice/ Pickle Juice pops
    • Mustard Packets
    • Hammer Salt Tabs
    • Hammer Perpetuem Solids
    • Stimulants- Cellucor/ caffeine pills/ Monster/ Red Bull

Remember that every person is different in how they like to approach a race. This guide represents a coherent approach toward tackling Toughest Mudder. Take this collection of information and use it as a base to develop a plan of attack as you prepare for the Toughest Mudder events. It is my goal to help prepare you so that you can give your best effort out there when the rubber hits the road… or trail in this instance.

Good luck and Godspeed!

Are you fit for the F.I.T. Challenge?

A short OCR course, based in New England. This OCR brainchild of Robb McCoy, brings its racers a non stop experience. With three words defining it, fortitude, integrity, toughness, F.I.T. Challenge tests physical capabilities on a multitude of levels. So are you fit enough for the F.I.T. Challenge? According to McCoy “Everyone is fit for the F.I.T. challenge.” His question is to what degree is your challenge? Covering distances and skill levels from multi lap survivor to mandatory obstacle completion, open waves and even coming out for a fun time as a team. “…there are so many challenges with in the one event you cant go wrong.”  Still unsure? Here’s a quick peak behind the curtain.

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

The Fall Fit Challenge VII was located in Cumberland, Rhode Island, a 3+ mile course stacked with 40 obstacles and a solid 1,100 feet of elevation gain. Needless to say, this is not your average 5K in the woods. Taking off, racers immediately hit their first climb. A direct shot up the mountain. What goes up, must come down, right? Lucky for us it goes back up too. After making the first descent we hit a back to back climbs over walls, vertical cargo nets, over-under-through combo walls, before the first of two carries, the log carry. A quick, but steep loop followed by hitting to more jumps and a floating inverted wall, before our next climb. Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-ChallengeAre-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

This climb wasn’t as rough, but the obstacles that followed were stacked. Descent into a hoist, pulley curl, Double Ups, and a, choose at your own risk, Wreck-bag carry. If you were questioning your fatigue now F.I.T. presented you with the first Destroyer before going back into the trails. Where we faced a cargo net style monkey bar, back to back peg board and rope climb. Hitting an incline, army style crawl then a final steep rolling hill and climb.

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

Just when you think your out of the woods and in the clear, F.I.T. Challenge makes sure to get in some of its toughest obstacles. Over-Under Rig, walls, The Destroyer 2.0, 3-optioned Rig, Atlas Balls, and a slip wall, with a few walls and crawls sprinkled in between, before you were able to cross a finish line you know you earned.

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

So, are you fit for the F.I.T. Challenge?

Yes, your physical capabilities will be tested in many areas, pure brute strength, cardio endurance, lifting and carrying, along with speed and agility, if your racing it, but being super human is not a necessity. F.I.T. Challenge opens itself to catering to many different athletes, whether interested in an Elite, open, or Multi-lap Survivor option.

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

If your looking to have a challenging, but fun race, check out the open wave option. With ability to take your time and learn the obstacles, you’ll be able to build your confidence. Joe Crupi, founder of Team Panda Fit Camp SGX, says going out as a team is one of his favorite ways to take on a course “…It makes for an outstanding and fun experience, helping each other over walls, coaching each other through challenging obstacles like the rigs, and motivating each other to try our best and discovering abilities you never new you were capable of”.

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

“Signing up for the elite heat in F.I.T. challenge is definitely intimidating” – Sarah Kelly

Ready to fight for your band and take on the Elite course? If 3 plus miles of quick elevation climbs and 40 obstacles wasn’t tough enough, F.I.T. Challenge has a mandatory obstacle completion for its Elite wave. Upside is you get to give that Multi-Rig another shot if need be. Female Elite, Sarah Kelly’s advice is to be confident. “It’s a small and stacked group…but it’s a great way to see what your made of and how hard you can push yourself, since it’s such a brutal course.”

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

Now if Open and Elite waves don’t quite feed your appetite, F.I.T. Challenge offers you the Multi-lap Survivor wave. Giving you a solid 5 hours to get in as many laps as possible, with a mandatory last lap start before the final noon wave takes off. Get three or more laps in and earn yourself a handmade block to show off your toughness. Taking on a multi lap course, competitively, takes a bit more grit and mental preparedness then the others. As competitive multi-lapper and elite racer Antoni Favata would say its “an entirely different animal.” Aside from training, he stresses the necessity of having fun in order to keep a good and competitive mental state on the course. His advice is to “…get familiar with pacing. Train time on feet!” and to toss out the “cookie-cut 60 minute workout window”.

Whether Open wave, Elite racing, or Multi-lap Surviving, or having fun, the best way to see if your fit for the F.I.T. Challenge is to cross the start line.

Are-you-fit-for-the-F.I.T.-Challenge

Spartan Race – Killington Ultra Beast 2016: No Small Undertaking

The 2016 Killington Ultra Beast was no small undertaking. Two laps of one of the toughest Spartan Races on the map is not a feat to be taken lightly. One of the most challenging aspects of the Ultra Beast for me was knowing on the first lap that I would have to complete everything in front of me not only this time, but another. And when I dared set foot back out on that monstrous course for lap two, I already knew every last detail of what waited ahead.

I had never raced at Killington before, let alone attempt the Ultra Beast, but I figured why not. I know I could do the beast. Let’s push it a bit here.

My drop bin was prepped long before we arrived at the venue emblazoned with the words “You ran FIFTY MILES… You got this.” I was surrounded by family and friends, words of encouragement and good food leading up to the race. I was ready. Nothing much was different from any other race.

Saturday morning, my friends picked me up and drove me to the venue. They dropped off my bin so I could go directly to the start, being the only one in the 6 am heat. Standing around waiting, I got to talk to many friends I wasn’t expecting to see at the start, but I felt like I was in a daze. After a 15 minute delay and then 10 minutes of explaining the rules and singing the national anthem, we were finally off by about 6:25. Consequently, the cutoff times were all pushed back 30 minutes.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-start

From the very beginning, racers got spread out based on power hiking ability. The course started with a 1,000 ft ascent and from just those beginning miles, I was already thinking about lap number two – how much I didn’t want to do this twice. I knew it was far too early to think like this and I redirected my thoughts to each step, one by one.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was somewhere near the front of the pack. I could count the women in front of me: three. I wasn’t moving like I normally do through the obstacles though. I felt extremely sluggish through the first barbed wire crawl and practically powerless on the vertical cargo net. Something wasn’t right, but I knew I had to get it done; so I opted to keep my eyes on the women who kept passing me on the obstacles. I made sure I passed them back on the runnable portions of the course as well as the climbs seeing as that’s my strength.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-stairway-to-sparta

When we neared the festival grounds, my pace improved greatly, that is until I stepped into the lake. For the remainder of the swim, I was gasping for air because the water was so frigid. I climbed the ladder and made it to the top but chose not to go across the Tarzan Swing since one of the ropes was not knotted and I knew I would slip. I climbed down, swam the rest of the way across and completed my 30 burpees. Back in the lake, rocks and sand in my shoes, and then finally back on solid ground for some more power hiking – rocks and sand still in my shoes because I wasn’t taking them off.

Almost more treacherous than the ascents were the knee shattering and ankle rolling descents. If we weren’t hiking through dense woods on extremely technical “trails” then we were on the ski slopes. Usually, I’d be cheering myself on at this point because downhill running is another strength of mine and typically where I would make up a lot of time, but not on this course. A few steps into each descent and I could feel the pressure building up in my knees. I decided to go swiftly, but not too daringly, at a jog.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-top-of-death-march

I missed the spear throw… SHOCKING. And then a few obstacles later, I made it to the final and easiest object on the multi-rig, the pipe, but just could not shift my left hand forward. I fell. 60 burpees right there at the end before I could get to my sweet salvation: potato chips, sour patch kids, and chocolate covered espresso beans. But why was I so out of it?

After the multi-rig, just before the slip wall (one of the final 3 obstacles), was an exit off to the left which brought us to the transition area. As I entered the transition area, there was a woman holding white bibs. She proceeded to hand me one and said congratulations, you’re in seventh. That was probably the first smile I cracked in several hours. I was extremely proud to be amongst the top 20 females, but I also knew how exhausted I felt. I long thought about stopping here, but it wasn’t what I set out to do. I needed to get back out there for another lap.

After 5 minutes of searching for my bin, which I just couldn’t seem to locate, others began to help and ultimately found it for me. I was greeted by my water, Gatorade, Clif Bars and Bloks, gummy bears and other treats as mentioned earlier. I also had a med kit, towel and extra socks, none of which I used. Very unlike me, I couldn’t be bothered to take my shoes off. A racer nearby took a massive container out of his bin and asked if anyone wanted a peanut butter & jelly. He must’ve had ten sandwiches! So yes, I ate one. I refilled my hydration bladder and packed my race vest with all of my new morale-boosting snacks as well as some solid calorie foods and I was off.

We set out on a short trail run beside the start chute which quickly reconnected to the course. It was there that it was apparent who had just begun the course and who was on lap two. The Ultra Beast participants jogged or even walked as Beast participants sprinted on by. But for the first time this race, I was running with people I knew. And as we approached that first climb once more, we got down on our hands and knees, crawling forward. Before long, I was by myself again and moving slower than everyone around me.

All of the obstacles were textbook Spartan with no real surprises. The course started off with some of the easier obstacles and proceeded to diminish your spirits and crush your soul as you went along. But by lap two, nothing was easy. The Bucket Brigade must’ve taken me 20 minutes the second time around. And at the Tarzan Swing, I barely made it up the ladder at which point my grip was fried. I reached out and grabbed the first rope and then let myself drop into the water. “Well, my headlamp’s gotta be dead now…” And it was.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-tarzan-swing

The burpee area was a mud pit by now and I was thankful we were getting back in the water afterwards. Upon exit of the lake, I took out my Ziploc baggie filled with sour patch kids and espresso beans, drained the lake water out, and ate the espresso beans. It only took 6 miles at a snail’s pace to realize that this would give me the boost I needed. The power hiking expert me was back.

As I climbed up through Norm’s trails in the woods once more, I was soon stuck in a very slow-moving line. I used every opportunity to climb rocks and tree roots just to pass people. Many cheered me on saying, “You go, Ultra Beast,” but I replied “More like ultra idiot.” Although I was completing the obstacles with the most ease I had all day and really began to boost my pace as I watched the clock tick down to 6:30, I was only at the plate drag. Regardless, I sprinted down the mountain to the sandbag carry, got it done as quickly as possible, and sprinted toward the cutoff. I heard a stranger say good for you for finishing strong just before I reached the rope climb… 15 minutes too late. I topped it off with a smile and a heel click, just what I said I’d do when I finished, but it wasn’t long before my timing chip was cut off and I could no longer hold back the tears.

We had 15 hours to complete the course twice. We had to be out of the transition area by 2 pm, giving us exactly 7.5 hours per lap. I completed my first lap in 6.5 hours and despite the extra hour, I still didn’t make it. Approximately 28 miles into the 32 mile Ultra Beast and all that remained from that point was the Death March with a number of obstacles back down at the base right before the finish. The Race Directors knew that racers wouldn’t make it to the finish by 9:30 pm if they didn’t get through the rope climb with at least three hours left to complete the final 4 miles. I knew if I could catch my friend and my mom doing the Beast I would make the cutoff, but I never caught up to them.

As I returned to my drop bin, I received consoling words from friends as well as strangers, none of which seemed to help. Still now, I’m not quite sure how to explain exactly what it is I’m feeling, but one thing I know for sure is that I earned my DNF.

I watched headlamps line the mountain slopes as racers completed the final ascent and descent while I waited by the fire. Everything about it was remarkable: from the simple beauty of the lights to the incredible challenge Spartan Race put in front of us on such a magnificent mountain. Although what stands out most is the physical and mental resolve of the competitors who took on, and more so those who were able to finish, the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast: no small undertaking.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-drop-bin

Photo Credit:Kevin Donoghue, Bill Durando, Spartan Race, Justina Rosado


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How to Prepare for an Endurance Event

I’m not going to claim to be an expert, however I have participated in plenty of endurance events such as multiple BFX events, Spartan Hurricane Heat, Spartan Agoge Class 002, multiple road races and an ultramarathon. If you are interested in testing the waters or pushing your mind and body to the limits, you want to be as prepared as you possibly can for anything that might happen. Here are a few of my basic tips on how to prepare for an endurance event:

  1. Always follow the gear list. Then double check it. It may sound stupid, and you may think “I don’t need that item,” but you will. For instance, on my most recent Spartan Race HH12HR event, some of my gear list required 3 balls any size, a condom, a sharpie, a bucket with no handle, a headlamp, 1 gallon of water and a bag/ruck sack with 20lbs for females and 30lbs for males. If you don’t have everything you need, you may not finish. You have no idea what the item will be used for. You may or may not use all the required items during the event, but at least you will be prepared. Also always have duct tape, even if it’s not on the list. You can use duct tape to strap on all kinds of things to your bag or body to keep your hands free. Trust me, duct tape is a life saver.
    HH12 gear list
  2. Create a mantra. Ok, I know this sounds corny, but when you are exhausted and think you can’t continue another step it comes in handy. Being mentally strong is a big part of the battle during endurance events. You will be physically exhausted, but more times than not, it’s not the physical exhaustion that causes people to quit or DNF. It is the negativity that creeps into your mind that will make you feel like you can’t continue another step. Just know that whatever pain you are in, it’s only temporary and you can do it. I personally keep it simple. I just keep repeating to myself, “Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Just keep moving.”
  3. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. If I have an event on Saturday, I start hydrating on Monday or Wednesday at the latest. Cut back on caffeine, because it is a diuretic. My 7 hour drive to Nashville from South Carolina took 9 hours, because I stopped every hour on the hour to pee. Peeing every 10 seconds like a 9 month pregnant chick sucks on a long drive, but, if I hadn’t been hydrated I may have not finished. That wasn’t fun, but I was adequately hydrated for my event the next day. Not drinking enough fluid before a race, can lead to fatigue and muscle cramps. I personally experienced this a few weeks ago at the Asheville Spartan Super, I was so dehydrated that my run turned into a crawl. Fatigue from dehydration is no joke. For reference, if your urine is clear or pale you are well hydrated for race day. For you beer lovers this means, if your urine looks like a pale ale or IPA, you need to drink more water.

    IMG_0893 (1) My 7th pee stop on a 7 hour drive :/

  4. Switch up your training. I’m guilty of gravitating towards the weight section of the gym way too much. I’m not claiming to be a great endurance athlete, but I do know plenty of them. They alternate weights, with trail/hill running, HIIT (high intensity interval training), plyometrics and more. They don’t focus on one type of training, because in endurance events you can be doing anything from heavy carries up hills, sprints to regular PT (i.e. burpees, bear crawls and squats). Endurance athletes must be well rounded. And if it’s a Spartan endurance event, absolutely be prepared to go for long distances under heavy loads.
  5. Eat healthy for you. Now, I’m not going to say carbs are bad or good, or that you should only do a certain type of diet. We all can’t be amazing #wafflehouseelite athletes. Different diets work for different people, but you should try to eat foods in moderation. A well balanced diet that includes protein and carbohydrates to replace the glucose that is burned during  activity is important. Try to eat more natural foods versus processed foods. You can’t out train a bad diet. So eating pizzas, cake, and cheeseburgers aren’t going to make you feel that  amazing while running 10 miles. Common sense people.

    mind over matter

  6. Train your brain. This may go hand in hand with mantras, but honestly endurance events are just as mentally challenging as they are physical. Train your mind to avoid the negative. When you start to think negative thoughts like, “I can’t do this anymore” or “I’m too tired to go on” you need to change your thoughts. Focus on one thing at a time. Focus on that one task or obstacle, not how much more you have to do because it will overwhelm you. Think about how much you have already completed versus how much time you have left. Why quit when you have finished 10 out of 12 hours? 2 hours is nothing compared to all the hard things you already put yourself through! When times are really rough, vision yourself at the finish line getting your finishers medal or patch. Visualization is one of the best techniques that even Olympians have used to help them focus. Finally, just believe in yourself. If you had the guts to sign up for an endurance event in the first place, you must have had some faith in yourself that you could finish. So take that faith, work hard and make it happen.

Good luck and I hope to see you at a future endurance event! Next stop for me is the Spartan Agoge in China!!

HH12 Nashville

BattleFrog Xtreme vs. Triple Digit Heat in Portland

If the devil visited the course on race day, he would have worn shorts. My hometown greeted the BattleFrog crew with a blistering 100+ dose of PNW sun.

BattleFrog - BFX Briefing - Portland

The BattleFrog Extreme (BFX) started with a 7:45 briefing / PT Session from the Beard himself, and then an 8:15 send off from Coach Pain (after a person who missed the 7:45 briefing was publically hazed). Our goal was as many laps of the 8k course as possible, but whatever lap we were on 6.5 hours later would be our last. You could stop at 3 laps for a BFX medal, but an extra gold star for each lap would be waiting at the finish line if you wanted more – and a silver star at lap 5.

BattleFrog - Coach Pain - Portland

Coach Pain’s send off was great. The guy channels Don King’s lyricism, Leonidas’ inspirational touch and Jack Lalane’s passion for being awesome in all things fitness. And he’s a super nice! After the race I shook his hand and thanked him for the boost at the start. He pointed to my BFX medal and said it meant a lot to him to see me wearing that. Kids need that sort of guy as a role model.

The race course started easy enough going up a hill. A bunch of people ran up it while I did a slow jog, then it leveled out and I started passing. After a nice downhill in the shade we turned back up for the full sun exposure parts of the course. There were a few standards O-U-Ts, walls, and then a pond / horse toilet where the Normandy Jacks supported low wires we had to crawl under.

BattleFrog BFX Stinky Pond - Portland

After the pond there was a nice trail section again with some shade that didn’t last, and then the Jerry Can carry. These 50 pound containers of water felt easy on the first few laps, but they morphed into instruments of torment as the day got hotter. The unshaded loop we carried them on was long, and had respectable inclines.

BattleFrog Jerry Can Portland

Still, most everything was simple on lap one. The early morning flow helped burn off a lot of the nervous energy. The muddy creek we traversed, mud mounds and the quicksand obstacle were all still fresh – and they all took turns dumping new rocks into our shoes. Later in the day, these became shoe stealing and cramp inducing bogs where the mud didn’t stop until it hit your knees.

What stood out by lap one was the obstacle variety. This was my 12th OCR / endurance event, and I’d developed a bit of “been there, conquered that” cockiness about most OCR things not called an Ultra Beast. Any meathead can push through Spartan obstacles, but the BF stuff is tricky and took some real thought.

On my first lap, I successfully navigated the elite wedge wall. I think the cliffhanger from ANW might be easier. The thing leans backwards, uses rock climbing hand holds that are unevenly distributed and goes on forever. But let’s talk about that platinum rig…  I completed this contraption on 3 of 4 laps, but even after watching my video I still can’t tell you how. Were the course directors downing shots and commiserating over bad breakups when they designed that thing? The rope to Olympic ring transitions were awkward enough, but the varying heights of the rings made that thing exceptionally hard. Battlefrog, I owe you an apology for underestimating your courses…. Those obstacles are about as “easy” as Coach Pain is timid and shy.

Lap 1 ended shortly after I made it up the tall rope climb (above 2 inches of hay?) and through the Tip of the Spear (a really, super fun and semi technical obstacle). At under 1:20, I was feeling good about getting five laps in.

I’d read about the triple digit heat and thought I was ready. Instead of steady pacing the day, I planned to go out a faster and bank as many laps as possible before the heat caught up. I restocked my hydration belt, downed a Gatorade and some Nuun spiked water and took off. About 1:25 minutes later I was back again, with only a minor calve cramp from spacing calories too far apart. Lap 3 took 11 minutes longer, but the body was still showing me love so I took off for #4 feeling cocky.

It had been oppressively hot for a while before lap 4, but I thought I was managing it well. After all, I’d made it through the Platinum Rig three times already – and that thing’s impossible! The medics by the drop area asked if I wanted them to pour cold water on my head before leaving. I tapped the hydration packs on my waist, gave them a cheesy grin and said “no worries, I got this” and took off up the hill.

BattleFrog - BFX PDX - On Site Medics

Around 1:30 the course felt like Hades. The stinky pond with the Normandy Jacks now felt like an Oasis that I didn’t want to leave. I put all of my body that fit into the water to cool down a bit. After some more trail weaving, those wretched Jerry Cans were back. While lugging that thing uphill my core temp started feeling nuclear, and the heart rate started spiking. I set the can down a few times, but even after rest I felt just as tired as I did before stopping. Then the cramps started. I didn’t realize until afterwards that my final hour on the course was going to be a textbook case of heat exhaustion.

Shortly after posing for my last Jerry Can picture, muscles in my abs started visibly balling up under the skin. Every time a mud obstacle would come, cramps in the legs started firing off like a symphony. And it got progressively worse.

The legs didn’t get all the fun. The 90+ obstacles had taken an upper body toll. My forearms started seizing and locked the affected hand into a claw-like pose. Even flexing for a picture triggered the “claw” cramping. It was pretty grim, but then waves of nausea started and they helped take my mind off the cramping.

After moving like a zombie for a bit, it was round 4 with the rig. This time, I failed. The volunteer told me he wouldn’t make me do the penalty loop. Yeah right, like I’m going to start cheating on lap 4? I insisted. He pointed to a 50-pound wreck bag to carry round the loop. I found out later he was being nice, because he didn’t tell me I was also supposed to grab a Jerry Can. Sorry BF, I tried to honor your rules.

The final trudge to the hilltop cemetery felt appropriately symbolic before turning down to the finish line. After three more obstacles (where it was a constant struggle not to vomit), my 20 mile, 120 obstacle and 2,800 feet of elevation gain journey in the blazing heat was over.

If I were a horse in a 1950’s western, they would have shot me at the finish line. Instead, I was pampered with water and ice, and given a huge medal with 4 stars for my effort. I crossed the finish line 6:39 minutes after I started (too late to go out for another lap) and came in 7th among the men.

BattleFrog- BFX Swag - Portland

After the race, the medics watched us like hawks. I hadn’t been laying down for more than a couple of minutes before they had ice packs under both of my arms and behind my neck. Battlefrog really took everyone’s safety in that heat seriously. Watching them constantly checking on their volunteers throughout the day to make sure they were doing alright just reinforced this group’s class.

The course was great, the people were amazing, and I really fell in love with the way this crew rolls. Count me as one of the BF converts. Easily one of the better times I’ve ever had on a course.

If you’d like a highlights visual of the course with Tchaikovsky in the background, an 8-minute video of the day is available here .

Photo Credits: “cool random guy at the shower station” and Chosen Technologies via BattleFrog. 

The SISU Iron 2016 aka: The Best DNF Ever

I have a list of DNFs going. I’m the one that survived all the time hacks and went 51 hours in 2014 Death Race Year of the Explorer and just kind of…drifted away. I’m the one that didn’t take the time hacks seriously enough at 2015 SISU Iron and missed Victoria’s Challenge by 7 minutes. I was so depressed and disappointed with myself that my vest got flung into the closet where it remains today.

This year I was NOT GOING TO MISS A TIME HACK, DAMMIT. Marion Powell and I even bought scooters in an attempt to garner every possible advantage. But, unfortunately several critical mistakes were made.
SISU Iron Secret Weapon

Mistake #1:
I didn’t check my watch battery. I missed a time hack last year because of forgetting my watch. This time, I had my watch, but the damn thing started beeping and annoying everyone during the bottom sample challenge and that was the end of that.

Mistake #2:
I assumed the weather would be hot as hell because that’s how it was last year, and that’s what the weather channel predicted. Did I bring any cold gear? No, I did not. To that volunteer who asked me if I had any cold weather gear and received hella snark in return: I’M SORRY. I was really cold most of the time. I’m pretty sure I was hypothermic at the end because I was no longer even shivering.

Mistake #3:
Being disorganized and missing my flight. Despite getting a ton of shit done that day after missing my plane, I needed that time to get my pack organized. Instead, I raced from the airport to Dave & Buster’s, threw shit out of my suitcase and into the pack and ran upstairs to be LAST to the party. Ouch!. Then, they took our packs and I never got a chance to reconfigure. I spent the entire event disorganized, barely aware of where necessary items were located. This lack of preparation led to overall chaos from which I would never emerge.

SISU Iron - Gear

Mistake #4:
Inadequate nutrition and hydration intake plagued my entire event. This is the first time this has ever happened to me.  I estimate I took in no more than 2000 calories during my entire 34.5 hours. This probably stems from mistake #3.

Mistake #5:
After last year’s run with Janice Ferguson and our subsequent failure, I read her blog and I was too emotional to really take in the lesson she was trying to share. She said, “YOU CAN’T DO THE IRON ALONE.” Because I’d been with her, I didn’t really get the message. Plus, I was never alone last year.

This year, I did substantial parts of both night hikes alone. I was with Kayla and Amber for a little while during the Waterfall hike but ended up doing the bulk of it by myself. Then, I was one of the last people to head out for the Commitment/Burden hike to the top, and I was shivering, wrapped up in a space blanket. We had to get to the top by 4:30 or we’d be cut. I was alone. Countless times I stopped and stood, staring at the ground, fantasizing about wrapping myself up like a burrito and just falling asleep right there. “They’ll find me,” I’d think to myself. And then somehow, I’d get my feet moving again. If I’d been with a buddy, I probably wouldn’t have been doing that. Having someone else to encourage and receive encouragement from is CRUCIAL. During the particularly savage inclines, I was literally yelling at myself, “GIRD YOUR LOINS!” I’d holler and then tighten everything and will my poor glutes to shove my feet up that hill. I ran into Daniel Brown and together we made the top by 4:25 a.m. I’ve never been prouder of myself because it took everything I had to make it on time.

Heading back down, I shared some of these insights with my new friend Le Roux, who saved me from sleepwalking off a cliff many times. We agreed to be battle buddies for 2017 SISU Iron. Unlike last year, I’m not ashamed of this DNF. My vest is already up on my wall of accomplishments, and I’ve decided to use last year’s vest for next year’s race.

Redemption will be mine!SISU Iron - Leah's Vest
SISU Iron - Challenges