THE BIG SKY IS FALLING – Montana Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend

 

Linzee Knowles

I’m a sucker for this venue. Last year that mountain put me squarely over its knee and opened a 55 gallon drum of good old ‘rocky mountain whoop ass’ on me. Don’t be surprised if I can’t explain it fully, but for some reason I came back to look it in the eye again. Pride probably. Now, before we start waxing Jungian over my relationship with the Montana Spartan race weekend, I think it’s important to cover a few basic things about the race itself. Maybe then you too will understand why this is an essential part of my OCR story each year.

Fire Jump Glenn

As I said last year, I would put good money on this being one of the most idyllic locations for an OCR race. Accommodations are plentiful, reasonably priced and charming. Kalispell is used to visitors year round, and boasts just about everything an out of town visitor would need. It’s a green meadow community that welcomes visitors with open arms.

Accommodations

The race course itself crosses over miles of almost entirely forested back-country trails. It’s wild and unforgiving. It’s a venue that combines winding, thrilling single-track, punishing climbs and some incredibly steep downhill quad-busters. The view is spectacular in almost every direction. I gushed about it enough last year: it’s a gorgeous course from start to finish, no matter which way you slice it.

Yet this year, there were some who felt shortchanged by the race overall. Some even said it was an easier race than they had hoped. The stats line up with that assessment: It was almost a mile shorter and about 900 feet less elevation gain. It was a faster course for sure. Did we just witness one of the toughest events on the Spartan Race calendar get easier?

As all the snowflakes begin to melt into a boiling torrent of keyboard mashing anger directed at Spartan Inc. for making it all too easy for us… let’s just stop for a moment. Go to the fridge. Grab a Kombucha and let’s get real. Have a seat, chicken little.

Montana vista

Look at these miserable short changed Spartans

Facts from now on:

Spartan Races are as awesome and challenging as they ever were.

This was a fast and technical course. Faster than last year. Running in the reverse direction on both days opened up a different type of race. There was one less hill climb than last year, but there was also more in the way of root laden single-track in its place. The heavy carries, while shorter (as some people pointed out) were also less simple, requiring careful foot placement and guts to complete. We were treated to two sprawling barbed wire crawls. The slip wall was really tough (tiny ropes for the Trump hands era I guess).

Look, I get it. It was different. Some staple Spartan obstacles were missing; there was no tire flip and there was no heavy sled pull like last year. Instead, in their place were a few newer obstacles like the Twister, Olympus and the Bender. Some will always bemoan change. I thought it felt fresh.

Fresh Running

My take? The Big Sky isn’t falling at all.

It was as full and powerful a beast course as any out there, and as challenging a Sprint as you will find anywhere in the world. This venue still offers one of the most engaging experiences available on the OCR circuit in North America. The terrain alone is world class.

Stefan

Sure, there are differences from year to year. Obstacles change. The expectations of the participants change. We get fitter and more experienced. The rules change. It’s progress – so get over it. Here’s the deal. Spartan may just happen to be in the business of making obstacle course racing a thing. To make it a ‘thing’ you have to cater to everyone.

At one end of the OCR experience you have almost superhuman elite racers who have formed a lifestyle around these events and fully expect to be tested to the limits – both by each other and by the course design. There are a lot of people like me who do “ok” but keep coming back for more (again, the full treatment of middle aged psychologies is not the subject of this review) and then we have the noobs. The first timers.

We all have a place on the continuum.

New people have a special place. While us veterans might be thinking the sky is falling, for others, the sky is opening up wider and brighter than ever.

Don’t forget that right now someone is signing up for a race for the first time ever. They ensure that the sport continues to grow. We cannot alienate the very people who come to the sport for the first time by making races too difficult, demoralizing or dangerous for new registrants. That might mean tempering the pace of Spartan’s own internal arms race to produce the toughest races on the planet and thinking laterally rather than vertically  when it comes to developing races. I for one think that it was progressive to see Spartan thinking about all participants rather than stagnating on the same old formula, or just catering to the elites or just making it impossibly hard. Ultimately we all have to move forward if we are going to be a part of the future of this sport together – no matter which division you run in. Ringer

So… Montana may have been a little easier this year. So what?  I’m gonna say it… If you feel that it was too easy, you didn’t run hard enough. Kick it up a notch. Enter the elite or competitive heats next time and give it everything you have. Compete within your age group. Increase the stakes for yourself. Compete against your own pace goal. Try and finish burpee free. Challenge others to do the same. Oh, and by the way Ben O’Rourke is awesome. Just look at that man.

BEN THE LEGEND O'ROURKE

CONCLUSION

I’ll try and make my home run conclusion with a story from the race on Sunday that reminded me of what this 5-year obstacle obsession of mine is all about.

Meet Jason and Michelle Cherry.

Michelle and Jason

It was just by chance that I ran with Michelle and Jason for some of the sprint course. As we chatted, I found out that this was their first ever Spartan Race. After the event I reached out to them to describe the experience as first time Spartans:

“I signed up for the Spartan Race on a whim. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard of the Spartan before from my husband’s friend and thought – yeah that could be fun, but never went out of the way to pursue it.

I have done plenty of races, triathlons, marathons…which I absolutely love, but the Spartan was on a whole different level. When I started the race some sort of crazy adrenaline kicked in and I felt like I could handle anything that came my way. (even though I couldn’t and did a lot of burpees!) I felt like I was a kid again, running through the woods, getting dirty and loving it, experiencing challenges I had never experiences before, being encouraged by complete strangers and encouraging anyone I passed. I got to run with some pretty great people, (esp) my husband – who was my biggest cheerleader! As I approached the end of the race I really wasn’t ready to be done- Though jumping over that fire at the end was such a great feeling, and honestly I have been on a post race high since.

The people I met the race weekend were so great! It is a community I felt welcomed into and one that I am excited to be a part of! And yes, I am definitely running the beast next year when the Spartan comes back to Montana. (or maybe sooner, I’m not sure I can wait that long – we will see!)”

I can’t have said it better myself. I’ve done my fair share of races now, and yet there was something restorative about seeing the course unfold for them for the first time. I guess that I saw in them a little of myself on my first Spartan Sprint in Calgary in 2012. To them it was still crazy and new. The obstacles were difficult and exciting. They were having fun and enjoying the experience itself. No industry politics, no podium scandals, no complaints. Just pure OCR fun.

OCR is for everyone. I’m glad to see Spartan striking a smart balance across two fantastic races this weekend.

Until next year Montana.

AROO!

Glenn

all photos credit Gamefacemedia and spartan race.

Spartan Race New Jersey Ultra Beast 2017

The Reebok Spartan Race returns to New Jersey. Also known as the Tri-State Beast & Ultra weekend at Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon is one of the most anticipated races each year by ocr and endurance enthusiasts. The sister races, the Tri-State Sprints at Tuxedo Ridge in NY occuring back-to-back the first two weekends in June and the Tri-State Super returning to Mountain Creek the first weekend of November, are among the most popular in ocr. With three great weekends spread throughout the year, the Tri-State area provides an easy opportunity for racers to get their trifectas.

After committing to the Ultra Beast in November of last year, and convincing several other “crazy” people to join me, I began researching and finding literature on training and fueling for endurance races. I created a training plan and set it to start with the new year. On January 1st, Ultra Beast training officially began for my fiancé Fontaine, brother Josh, and myself. We pushed the training to a point well beyond anything we had done before, in order to prepare for something we had never done before. Finally, it was race weekend, and we drove to a house in NY where we stayed with a group of 11 people who were from all over the US and Canada but came together to run the Ultra Beast.

We spent Friday morning packing our bins, trading our favorite fuel sources as well as suggestions on what to pack and what might not be needed. An important thing was to have some “just in case” or “worst case scenario” items so that we were adequately prepared to tackle both laps on the course. In the afternoon we dropped off our bins at the transition zone, prepared a good meal for dinner, and got to bed early.

So that brings me to the course. The green line representing the Beast course, and showing the Ultra Beast transition zone coming after obstacle 31 and having racers head back into the woods landing back on the course just ahead of the starting line to begin their second lap. In total it came to 26.4 miles covered and 59 obstacles completed for the Ultra Beasters.
Course-Map

The race started about a half hour late due to a bus breaking down with some of the elite heat racers on it, but around 6:30 or so we were finally charging out the start gate and up the mountain. After a short ascent, we came to some round hay bale “walls” and up a little further was a 6-ft wall. Heading back down was the monkey bars, wet with morning dew, if you went into it overconfident and lacking focus, you were sure to fly off, right before racers returned to the festival area to go under the dunk wall and up the slip wall.

Dunk-Wall

Classified obstacle #9 was the new Olympus obstacle and I saw very few people using the chains. The technique that seemed to work best was to push off the wall with your feet, or rest your hips on it with your knees tucked. Lead with your dominant hand reaching as far as you could and then bring your opposite hand to the hole or grip behind it and repeat until you could ring the bell. After some single lane trail hiking and climbing to the peak of the mountain, the morning air and light breeze felt great, and the water crossing was absolutely refreshing. After the Tyrolean Traverse on the other side, racers had their first break between obstacles and a chance to build some speed on a few downhill sections.

Water-Crossing

Mile 7, and obstacle 17…Spear Throw. I noticed a few spears that looked like they were bent, but for the most part, it looked like they were in good condition, and the hay bales were packed nice and tight in their stands. Shortly after was the Herc Hoist, attached to the cables of a chair lift, the extra bounce typically makes this obstacle more difficult, but the bags seemed lighter. Maybe Spartan was trying to counter the bounce of the cables, or there were less rainwater and mud soaked into the bags, I am not sure but I know most racers will not complain as those who weigh under 140 lbs usually struggle as the bag actually pulls them into the air!

After the Sandbag Carry, racers had their second chance to catch a break between obstacles. It was at this point that the male elite Beast leaders were beginning to pass us as they chased down that podium spot, and after the Atlas Carry and a quick ascent, we were back at the top of the mountain.

Mile 11, and obstacle 28, the new Bender obstacle, with the use of hands and legs it proved very similar to, and could just be considered, a metal version of the inverted wall. The third and final long running portion brought racers back to the bottom. While heading down you got to see others going back up, with what is being called a “soul crushing” bucket carry, and as you passed them you could simply feel their pain as they were hunched over or sitting on their buckets crying. The sheer angle of the ascent and distance of the carry was enough to leave your back screaming and your arms shaking. This was definitely not a carry you would ever want to do twice, or in the case of my friend Leo who had a rock shift at the last second and the volunteer could see a hole in his bucket, telling him to repeat the carry, and only on his first lap he would have to do this obstacle a total of three times.

If your arms were not destroyed enough, the Twister was next. The twisting bars really were not too hard, but the distance traversed and total time spent hanging proved too much for the grip strength of many. After the Rope Climb, it was time to replace the empty wrappers of my Camelbak with fresh bars, eat some protein pancakes, drink some fluids, and get back to it. I wanted to spend as little time in the transition zone as possible to prevent cramping in the muscles, and the desire to just cross the finish began to set in. Before getting out of the transition zone the first place female elite Beast came through to the finish.

As in any good Spartan Ra, e there were plenty of creek crossings and muddy ankle-to-knee deep trudges that only got better the second lap due to the number of people who had trampled their way through! Despite being unseasonably warm there was good cloud cover on the first lap, and a breeze throughout the whole race that keep you cool. I wore a long sleeve shirt, and compression pants that got soaked at the dunk wall and retained water until 10 miles into each lap. The long layers also helped to prevensunburnrn which can increase your chances of heat stroke. Due to the heat Spartan up’d the number of water stations from 5 to 8, with number 4 being a hydration pack refill station, and there was still plenty of water for me to refill mine on the second lap.

Soaked

A huge shoutout to open heat Beasters who were positive, motivating, and a great crowd of people. There were times when Fontaine and I would say “ultra on your left” and someone who was pacing with us would say “regular on you left” and everyone would get a good kick out of it. As we were more than 20 miles into the race and our backs, knees, ankles, and toes hurt, but we kept running, and there would be words of how impressed perople were, which motivated us not to slow down. If they saw a green wristband on our arms they insisted that we complete an obstacle before them because we were an Ultra Beaster.

All in all, we finished the 26.4 miles and 59 obstacles in 11 hours putting us back at the venue around 5:30. All 11 of us, beaten, bruised, and tired, but not broken, conquered the mountain and claimed our buckles. Feeling accomplished and proud of everything we achieved, we returned home to devour a meal and get some much-needed sleep. Some stories were shared over dinner, but most could wait till morning, and many more will continue to come, as the memories we made will be shared for the rest of our lives.

Laughing

Back Row: @highexistence_training @kaufmanncommander
Middle Row: @adambelieve @leo_vitelli @spartan_champagne17 @captainkaufmann
Front Row: @worlds_toughest_morgan @ocr_jen14 @ocr_fm @plant_powered_anna @spar_taine
Photo Credits: Spartan Race and @captdavy25

Spartan Race Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast 2017 – Too Easy?

As it got closer to the 2016 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast at Mountain Creek Resort, participants found out that the course had been rerouted from the previous year to include an additional 1,000 ft climb. Although this year, complaints filled the air that the course included less elevation gain and was too easy. In 2016, Francis DiSomma finished the Beast course in 2 hours 55 minutes with a whopping 21 minute lead on second place. However, this year the first 16 finishers of the Beast course beat his time. Could this have something to do with Norm Koch leaving Spartan Race? Possibly, but it does seem indicative of an easier course. It was a true Ultra Beast nevertheless: 2 laps of the Beast course covering over 26 miles with 60 obstacles on rugged New Jersey terrain. For those who had been attempting an Ultra Beast for the first time, it was plenty challenging; but for Ultra Beast veterans, there was no comparison… except for the brutal bucket carry right at the finish.

The first heat of the day was delayed 30 minutes and immediately I was having flashbacks to Killington. As soon as we were given the go, racers took off, running up the mountain for the first of many times that day. I jogged for about a minute and dialed it back to a power hike knowing it wasn’t worth wasting the energy. Throughout the entirety of the first lap, I was jockeying back and forth with a few people who insisted on running the climbs, but I wasn’t worried. I kept telling myself that the first lap was the warm-up and that the race didn’t begin until the second lap. I spent a lot of miles distracting myself by meeting other racers, talking about our past experiences and how the obstacles were going that day. Since it rained briefly before the start of the race, the monkey bars were pretty wet when we got to them, causing many racers to slip and start the race off with 30 burpees. For many, it was also the first time we encountered Olympus and Bender.

NJ-UB-2017-Olympus

All of this made for good conversation and I soon realized that I was actually enjoying my time spent on the mountain, rather than just grinding it out and psyching myself out. On the steep climbs, I took it slow and steady and began passing a lot of people, apparently more than I realized. I was having a fantastic race. The tyrolean traverse and herc hoist, amongst others, had never felt easier. I even made it over the 8 ft wall on my first try with no assistance – a new best for me!

By the time I came down the mountain to the final 3 obstacles – the bucket carry, twister and rope climb – I was one of the first 20 females. The bucket carry was the longest and steepest one I’ve ever done and in my opinion, it was the most challenging obstacle on the course. Completing it was quite the task in of itself, but I had also developed a splitting headache over the previous hour.

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Bucket-Carry-1 Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Bucket-Carry-2

By the time I finally got to the twister, my headache had grown to the point where it hurt to look up into the sun to see the handles. I quickly fell and that’s when it really hit me. I was in so much pain that it took me about 20 minutes to do my 30 burpees, occasionally laying on the ground for a few minutes. Needless to say, I was no longer in the top 20, but by some miracle, I completed the rope climb and still finished my first lap in under 4 hours.

Once I got to the drop bin area, I just wanted to lay down and close my eyes for a moment. This quickly attracted the attention of the medics and I thought it was all over… again. I was about to be med-dropped. They brought me to the medical tent and gave me water and medicine, but nothing helped. They determined I wasn’t dehydrated and that it was just a migraine. All I could do was wait it out, but they urged me to pull myself from the race. I was beyond frustrated that this had happened. I’ve never felt so fresh coming off of a Spartan course as I did that day. My body felt amazing but I could barely open my eyes. TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER, it finally started to ease up a little. In a rage that a mere headache was holding me back from completing this race, I decided to just go back out and see what happened. I ate some chips, filled my hydration pack, grabbed my headlamp, and went back out on course for lap two.

Within minutes, I felt amazing again. The fact that I was back out on the course re-energized me. I was quickly passing other Ultra Beast racers who said that their legs felt dead. I even began passing Beast racers who had just begun their first lap. Not long after, I had even caught up to some people I was running with in my first lap. I was cruising! The obstacles went exactly the same as they did in the first lap, although I probably did the bucket carry faster the second time. I failed the Multi-Rig, Olympus, & the Spear, which were all in a row, as well as the Twister, both laps for a grand total of 240 penalty burpees. All in all, I still finished the second lap in about 5 hours.

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Twister

I could have actually put up a decent time if it weren’t for the amount of time in between laps, and that bothers me, but in comparison to what happened in Killington, I was just glad to finish. Although I am now the proud owner of a Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckle, and many have congratulated me on earning my redemption, I’m still planning on getting back out to Vermont to give it another shot. In all honesty, the courses do not compare; and in my mind, the medals do not bear the same value. The 2017 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast had 1,046 finishers whereas the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast only had 204. Which medal would you rather own?

Toughest Mudder South – A first-time Pit Crewing Experience

PREFACE:

When I decided to visit Atlanta, the idea spawned from the fact that I had a Season pass, and enough frequent flyer miles for a free flight.  Once realizing my Friends Chris and Dan were going to be running Toughest Mudder, and wanted a pit crew; I immediately volunteered since I wasn’t running.  They were some of the easiest racers to take care of.  With their directions, it was easy to understand what was needed from me to keep them going each lap; within a few laps I felt like a pro.

With my new realization that I must be an amazing pit crew, it was time to expand upon my new skill.  I walked over to the Goat Tough area where Gina Estrada was kicking ass pitting for some of the biggest competitive racing profiles in the OCR circuit including Adkins, Webster, Cichosz, Fischer and others.  She was busy and seemed stressed, so I figured I would offer my services as a form of an assist.  After impressing her with my ability to open a bottle of caffeine pills (skillz), I knew I could pit for anyone!

A few laps later, Matt B. Davis from ORM realized that the Second Place Male Ryan Woods’ pit breaks included running the 50 yards back to bag drop, whereas most people in the chase of Adkins had their pit within yards of the course entrance.  We moved Woods’ pit items and nutrition near the rest of the lead competitors, giving him a better chance to quickly get back out on the course.

2 Hours Remaining: How NOT to Pit for a Toughest Mudder Contender

With 2 Hours left, it was announced by TMHQ for the top 5 males and female pit staff to move to the ‘quick pit’ corrals adjacent to the course.  Adkins thought it was a good idea, as it would make him pit even more quickly.  I assisted in moving Adkins and Webster’s items down to their respective corrals.  Next is where things got awkward.

NOOB Mistake #1
I took the announcement that moving pit nutrition was required by TMHQ, so I started moving Ryan Woods items down to his corral.  After moving about 5 large containers of water and nutrition, I hear he is entering the pit and headed for the old location!  As a scramble as fast as my Clydesdale booty could muster, I grapple up all 5 containers and proceeded to sprint, leap, and bound back to the table where his items were stored.  Bashfully, apologetic and out of breath, I passed off all of his nutrition.  It probably only cost him a handful of seconds, but those seconds lost were caused by my ignorance.  In high spirits, he got right back out on the course.  Other than an evil glare and a few wise words from Mr. ORM himself, the crisis was averted.

NOOB Redemption #1
Next, comes Lindsay Webster; knowing she wasn’t aware that her nutrition was relocated, we start yelling her name (and I mean yelling at the top of our lungs).  As much as we yelled, we could not out voice the finish line announcer.    I’m pretty sure this person was hired by TMHQ to butcher racer names and torture pit crew ears.  Anyways, again I was off!  Sprinting through the edge of the pit like a cheetah after Lindsay.  Success!  I caught her; she turned around back to her quick pit station.  2nd crisis averted.

NOOB Mistake #2
As Ryan Woods enters the pit in 2nd place with 1 more lap to go, he asks the simple question, “How far back is 3rd?”  After a glance at the screen and sleepy math, it was determined he had around a 15-minute lead.  He was ecstatic and relieved.   I pass off the energy gummies I hunted down by bugging people in the pit earlier and wish him luck on his last lap. Next, to my surprise less than three minutes later, the 3rd place racer, Luck “Skyrunner” Bosek, enters the pit, takes a very short fuel break, and takes off!  Me in a panic, staring at the timing TV cannot figure out how this 12-minute mistake was made !?!? (TMHQ…. A simple formula for +/- times based on average lap pace on the timing screen would go a long way to help; it’s possible as I’ve played Mario Cart.)  I take off, running the yellow spectator route looking for Woods to warn him of the timing indiscretions….. But he was nowhere to be found; I had lost him.  As I slowly walked back to the pit feeling dejected, I couldn’t even fathom watching the finish line.  This would be up to Woods to pull out a victory ahead of an unexpectedly close racer.

 

 

In Conclusion
Woods did it; he came in 2nd and battled it out with Bosek on the course.  They did meet up that last lap, and it was up to the racer who dug the deepest.  This time, it was Woods.  I walked over after he scraped himself off the ground from exhaustion, and apologized.  He wasn’t even remotely mad; he was actually just thankful for the extra gummies.  I probably shouldn’t have been trying to help, since I had very little idea on what to do as a pit person for a contending Athlete. My first time pitting was definitely a jump into the deep end of the pool.  One thing is for certain, I will never forget how valuable a pit crew can be because they can make or break your race without even realizing it.  I will also value my pit crew even more now, knowing how difficult it can be.  As for Toughest……next time I’ll be on the course, it’s probably safer for all that way. Congratulations to all of the top finishers, your performances were amazing.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder, the author, and ORM

America’s Toughest Mudder West

On a cool Spring evening late last month, approximately 450 men and women assembled in the Southern California desert to compete in the inaugural America’s Toughest Mudder West. The event was part of Tough Mudder’s new race series, in which participants race a 5 mile looped course from midnight until 8am, completing as many laps as possible. Unlike a typical Tough Mudder event, this is a competitive race with prize money at stake for the top 5 men and women’s finishers.

America’s Toughest Mudder West was the first of six of these events that will be taking place around the US, Canada, and the UK in 2017.

The event took place at Glen Helen Raceway, in the desert of San Bernardino County. This location is notorious for its gusty winds, and its seemingly unlimited supply of calf burning hills. The course designers were sure to take full advantage of the latter.

The course was made up of two separate 5 mile loops, each with around 11 obstacles scattered through them. Competitors ran on one loop from midnight until 4am, and then switched to the second loop for the reminder of the race.

Toughest West Loop1

Although Tough Mudder always seems to supply a solid arsenal of challenging obstacles (and this event was no exception), the real punishment at this event was doled out by Mother Nature in the form of hills. Loop #1 (aka the “easy” loop as it was dubbed) had roughly 940 feet of elevation gain per lap, while Loop #2 (aka “F#*K that loop!”) had over 1400 feet of elevation gain.

Toughest West Loop2

The race began with a sprint lap of sorts, where no obstacles were immediately open. However, unlike World’s Toughest Mudder, in which the obstacles were all opened after the first hour, for this event, a variable opening was employed. This meant that certain obstacles opened at random times during the first lap, while others did not open at all.

A fun wrinkle that was employed at Toughest was to take traditional Tough Mudder obstacles and modify them to make them more challenging. This was done quite successfully with obstacles like Funky Monkey, the Berlin Walls (added protrusion at the top to navigate over), and King of the Swingers (swing to a cargo net and tyrolean traverse down a line – bonus, success kept you dry).

Toughest West Berlin Wall

The event was truly a tale of the two loops. While Loop #1 definitely had its challenges, namely a one-mile stretch where you were basically trekking uphill the entire time, Loop #2 was where most of the agony truly set in. Not only was it beset with a gaggle of upper body taxing obstacles, but it also seemed that somehow you were running uphill for the entire 5 miles. The worst of which was the aptly named “Death march”, which was a relentless boulder infused climb that seemed to last forever.

Toughest West Swingers

As for the race itself, the lure of a $5000 first prize brought out many of biggest stars of the ORC community. The highly competitive field did not disappoint. While Lindsay Webster ran away with the women’s title, the men’s side was not decided until the final lap. 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder Champ Chad Trammell had built what appeared to be a fairly comfortable lead (9+ minutes) going into the final lap.  However, Ryan Atkins proved once again why he is the greatest OCR athlete currently living on planet earth. Atkins ran each of his last four laps at a faster pace than the one before, and ultimately reeled in Trammell to take the victory. Along with the $5,000 first prize, Atkins earned an additional $5,000 for hitting the 50-mile mark….something that the folks at TMHQ had said would be virtually impossible at this venue.  It should be noted that Chad Trammell too hit 50 miles at this venue, and but for a single failed obstacle, would have been victorious.  The lesson here, as always, is never underestimate Ryan Atkins.

Toughest West Atkins

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder

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 200-350 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 40-50 gr of carbs, 10 gr of protein and 5 or so gr of fat (about the content of a Cliff Bar) per hour. 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!