Whistler Toughest 2017 – Procrastination

The lead up to Whistler Toughest Mudder had most everyone anxious about the cold, particularly with the crew in Greater Vancouver. There was still about 2 meters of snow at the venue 3 weeks prior to the event. Our wolf pack at Vancity OCR did several wetsuit test runs to ensure all our equipment was appropriate.

Whistler Olympic Park, the venue weeks prior:

Come race day, the snow was all gone but anticipations about cold weather lingered. There were also some new concerns: bear warnings and food restrictions on course.

The low for the day was projected to be about 5 degrees Celsius – with the ice in Arctic Enema and potential wind chill this can be pretty cold.  Many dropped out of Tough Mudder in Whistler over the past 2 years due to hypothermia or simply being too cold to function. Dressing for the start became the dilemma. Dressing too little may mean wasting time by having to stop and put on a wetsuit. But the first lap, being mostly obstacle free with little to no water entry, can be disastrous if you overdress and overheat.

Like many others, I decided to err on the warmer side.  I had on a thermal base layer top and bottom, frog skin hoodie, merino wool, and neoprene socks, a 1 mm neoprene short sleeve and a farmer John with the top pulled down. I was really comfortable in the corral while listening to Sean Corvelle and didn’t quite realize that meant I would be getting far too hot once I started to run. That is exactly what happened. One mile into the course, I was sweeting buckets; I couldn’t wait to get dunked in the water – but there was none.

I bruised my knee badly in January and was not able to use my right leg for 2 months. Getting back to exercise was tough and when I did, progressing slow was even tougher. I have an irregular training schedule, cardio mostly when I commuted, often 3 days midweek. The other four straight days is often of strength conditioning by means of heavy lifting in manual work. Needless to say, I was not very fit going into this event.  I wasn’t expected to run very far but the feeling of being slow and the restrictive layers of neoprene made the experience more torturous. I laboured every step feeling like I was trudging through molasses. The heat also weighed me down. I have chronic neck pain and this was exacerbated by the tight hoodie. The heat, the lack of fitness and the constriction was all making me nauseous.

Around 2.5 miles into the course the elites came stampeding past. They spiked my adrenaline a little. God damn it! I am really that slow? They’re on their second lap already? I kept telling myself they are just very gifted and fit… they do this training thing full time… there is no fun and all pain in what they do… I am… “having fun”?

But really, I wasn’t feeling too badly for myself as I was in good company. I was keeping up with Warren Zamko who latter placed first in his age group with 30 miles. I was maintaining a decent pace with him up until Lumberjack (3 gut checkers, approximately 12” diameter logs suspended at 4’-5’ high). I usually get a big kick out of this obstacle and wish it was at every event, but I got my ass kicked so badly here. I bounced, slipped and slid off these evil logs – totally getting left behind. But thanks to all the Mudders around me I was pushed, pulled and thrown over. For the remainder of the event I resorted to using the braces. Skid Marked (an inverted wall) also sucked. Aside from the braces there was nothing to officially climb on.  They were just over 8ft and 1” out of my reach.  Thanks again to the camaraderie of my fellow Mudders, I was pulled and thrown over.  This night, I would be humbled.

Lumber Jacked with Warren Zamko and David Beaudry:

When I finally got to the pit, I kinda spaced out. The combination of the heat and the neoprene compressing my jugular were making me woozy. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this. I was hot and I wondered if I should remove my layers. I knew I potentially needed them to keep warm once I hit the water obstacles.  I would definitely appreciate them once I got wet.  I don’t like water; I don’t swim well; in fact, I’m extraordinarily good at sinking. What to do… What to do… I have to take a pee.

With an empty bladder and a few bites to eat, I started to feel cold… and that put an end to my procrastination.  I had intended to do some videos of the Vancity OCR crew, so I figured I better get that done before I decided to stop. Moving will get me warm. My fellow Mudders will get me moving.

As I puttered along, my body was starting to feel better and more responsive. Balls to the Wall wasn’t a big deal: it was a nice obstacle to get your body in gear and wrap your head around being up and off the ground. I helped someone out who was stuck there and instantly felt more empowered. I loosened up and started to warm up. I was feeling comfortable.

My chest got tense the moment I approached Funky Monkey. I don’t usually have a problem with this obstacle, why was I feeling so anxious? The bars were damp and I feared I might slip. I approached the ascent facing forward and felt my swing get a little out of control – so I quickly turned to my side and led with my right arm. That was much better. I got to the horizontal wheel and noticed the person in the next lane getting stuck. The wheel wasn’t rotating like it’s supposed to. I grabbed it, and swung back and forth to accelerate myself around to the vertical wheels and until I made it to the platform. I made it and I was still dry.

My nerves got more heightened as I neared Hang Time; this was my first time at this obstacle. I don’t like heights – and I dislike falling and having to swim even more. I jumped and caught the bar and cargo comfortably enough, but sliding down the cable felt much more difficult than what I have seen from others. I wasn’t sliding very well and had to push myself down the cable. Other people made the descent look so effortless and fun; Amin Menhadji seemed to just glide down. Perhaps my wetsuit was too sticky

Hang Time with Amin Menhadji:

My sinking sense of anxiety continued towards Snot Rocket.  I was mentally preparing myself for the cold water but it turned out to be relatively warm. The down spray of water was also weaker than I imagined and did not make ascending the sewer pipe difficult.

Snot Rocket with Amin Menhadji:

Next came Black Hole, which is Birth Canal in the race. I was not up for fully challenging myself and crawled along the edges of the tarps. Many people did this and I figure TMHQ should really block the easy way through with barriers of some sort; force everyone into the same challenge

Stage 5 Clinger was pretty straight forward but I have a few hiccups trying to get on top of the platform.  There was a 4×6 block on the vertical support beams that many used for the final ascent. It was very helpful.

Stage 5 Clinger with Amin Menhadji:

Mud Mile 2.0 had a similarly easy option. The flagging tape was so wide around the first 3 trenches most people simply walked that high path around. As I contemplated what to do, Trevor Cichosz came barrelling past running straight through the middle; good on you! The trenches were deep, but the walls were solid and allowed many footprint steps to develop; stepping out was a breeze; it just took longer than skirting.

My first round at Artic Enema was nasty. There was no ice but the water bit into your skin, luckily that took only a minute or so to settle. Later in the night ice was added but it did not feel as cold. Perhaps the air had warmed it.

Clearly, the conditions were much better than expected. By moving at my slower pace, I stayed very comfortable in my layers of neoprene. Running faster would have made things unpleasantly hot. I just didn’t feel the urge of energy to push. My knee was doing well… I guess I was lucky for not having the fitness to hurt myself. As I ran up to various other Vancity folks it was nice to hang out and chat along the route.

Pyramid Scheme was aided by ropes, as was the descent of Shawshanked.

Like at all Toughest events, Everest was combined with the Grappler. Fortunately, they allowed the rope to stay up as long as it was occupied. I have yet to master that Grappler technique.

Kiss of Mud was just a deep trench that you had to run down and out of. This had been the trench for walk the plank in the past.

With the surprisingly warm conditions, Blockness Monster was a joy to be in. Kong followed shortly as you approached the finish. Having your hands still wet from Blockness made Kong challenging for many. And some who fell off Kong later in the night slid into the opposing scaffolding, forcing this obstacle to close mid-way through the race.


Blockness Monster with Kirsten Hijdra, Shanny Shan, John Tai

It’s hard to say whether this was the most challenging of the Toughest courses thus far. But suffice it to say, when the hill up the ski jump opened, it added another element of difficulty. I only had time to do this once when I reached it at 5:30am. Running up the ski jump on all fours was a great way to give your legs a break.

Canada's Toughest Mudder - The Soul CrusherDespite socializing and taking many pictures and videos along the way, I did 20 miles in a pretty good time. There was nearly 90 minutes left when I finished my last lap. Not enough for a fifth, but if I hadn’t procrastinated so much, I probably would have managed. I felt disappointed I didn’t give it my all but I had fun taking it easy and was feeling great post race. When speaking with some of the elites, many said they would appreciate a nice and easy race. I am not so keen to always have the pressure to push but it would be nice to be as fast as they are. If there was anything to be learned this night it’s not to waste time procrastinating and to put your heart into every minute of every race. Don’t set your limits because you never know what it might be; setting it too low would only make yourself your most difficult obstacle.

John Tai

Canada’s Toughest Mudder Eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Azar Crushing the Soul-Crusher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tactical Titan

Tactical Titan


“Not your beginners 5k OCR”

Tactical-Titan-Logo

 With only its second race to date, Tactical Titan is leaving athletes sore, challenged, and damn proud of themselves. This race is apart of the TitanRuns series hosted by Mike Nelson from Plant City, Florida. Tactical is a mudless 5k OCR that was held on June 10th 2017 at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds. Due to a rainy week in Central Florida the race left runners dirty and racing for the showers post run although it was advertised as being mudless. To offset the flat terrain at the fairgrounds Tactical made sure NOT to slack on the intensity and creativity of their new obstacles.

I thought to myself “pshhhhht, I got this” when I saw Tactical was only a 5k…BOY was I WRONG! Tactical Titan boasted 30+ obstacles in the 5k distance including THREE challenging rigs, tire flips, monkey bars, inverted walls and a SPINNING TUBE OF DEFEAT! As I helplessly attempted to crawl through the tube I felt like I was a pair of tennis shoes getting rolled around in a quick speed dryer! After witnessing these kickass obstacles, I quickly learned that they were NOT to be taken lightly. This race had me feeling a type of exhaustion that I have never felt before during a 5k like Rugged Maniac or Warrior Dash. By the time the last obstacle (bleachers….. oh JOY) had come around I had reached my breaking point due to the amount of physically intensive obstacles.

Tactical-Titan-June-Course-Map

I mean come on now; LOOK at THIS TUBE !!!!!!! 

After the fun of really EARNING our medals, Tactical hosted its one of a kind Rig Tournament Challenge. First, athletes had to successfully complete the rig by going down and back across the various hanging objects (balls, ropes, and rings). Second, they had to be faster then their opponent in order to move onto the next round. Pictured below is Rich King from Orlando who made such a BADASS come back in the rig tournament. Rich started in eighth place because of a shoulder injury, but came back to dominate the competition and win first place. He states that the hardest part of the rig was “the balls. It was hard to grab the balls”……… we’ll just leave it at that… BUT; he kicked ass and took home the overall win for the men.

Tactical-Titan-Rig 

This race showed me that teamwork really does, as cliche as it sounds, make the dream work.

     Tactical was able to deliver the three main aspects of OCR; team work, comradery, and getting stupid dirty! This race required a lot of teamwork due to the physically demanding obstacles. “MUDRUNFUN” was titled as the BEST TEAM at the course. Team captain, Eduardo Gonzalez came back out on the course after his run to coach athletes through each step of the challenging rigs. I wouldn’t have been able to get through as many as I did without his help!

Best-Team-Tactical-Titan

Whats Next Titans?!

The Titan Runs series will be bringing Tactical Titan 3 to Dover, Florida again for its revenge. Can’t wait that long?! Mud Titan8 will be October 7th, 2017 in Plant City, Florida. MudTitan8 will feature 1 extra mile, with an additional 10 obstacles!!! Racing information and all things #TITAN can be found here at their website-  Titan Runs !!!

Photo Credit: Course Map and Logo Photo owned by Tactical Titan, while Jack Goras provided additional on course photography !

Stay dirty, Stay fit, and Stay motivated !! 🙂 

Bonefrog New England Spring 2017 – If hell is easier, I’d rather go there.

Bonefrog-NE-Welcome“Harder than hell.” states Bonefrog’s ads.

On a cold Winter’s day, sometime back in December of 2016, yours truly was making her 2017 OCR list and Bonefrog New England Spring was a definite must. The only obstacle course owned and operated by the NAVY Seals? Count me in again! I ran the Bonefrog Challenge last year at the beautifully scenic Berkshire East venue, and rolled my ankle right after Stairway to Valhalla so I had to finish the next 7 miles injured, but it was still an amazing time, with their well-designed obstacles, enthusiastic racers, and volunteers pushing me through the pain. This injury lasted all throughout 2016, however, so I definitely had a bone to pick with this frog.

As I sat there looking at the Tier options, I must have had a brain fart, because all of a sudden, I was signed up for the Open Tier-1 wave.

Bonefrog has 4 Tier choices: Sprint (3+ miles), Challenge (8+miles), Tier-1 (12+ miles), and Endurance (New this year,) which is Tier-1 and then you run the Sprint course as many times as you can until you drop dead presumably. You get a green frog pin for every lap of the sprint that you finish, a special Endurance medal, and the coveted Golden Frog, if you can do 5 extra sprint laps! Norm was proud to tell us that he didn’t think anyone got the gold frog at this event.

Bonefrog-NE-Endurance-Bling

Tier-1 is Sprint + Challenge, so you get to do all of the obstacles, some of them twice. No going back at this point; so I pulled up my big girl pants and said, “Bring it on Bonefrog, gimme everything you got!”

I must have spoken too soon because shortly after that, Bonefrog announced that the OCR torture master himself, Norm “EffNorm” Koch was now their new head course designer. The word that came out of my mouth when that was announced? It wasn’t fuck… it was, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I’m sure anyone that has run a Norm Koch mountain course knows why.

As Bonefrog New England approached, the pictures and videos of intimidation started lighting up the internet. Norm with his machete and that sardonic grin of his, Bonefrog showing off their new obstacles, pictures of Stairway to Valhalla (which btw no picture that I’ve ever seen has done it justice of showing the actual steepness and distance of this death march), along with the NAVY Seals promising you an ass beating that you’ll enjoy.
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My fellow OCR people let me tell you that I was NOT mentally prepared for what they had in store for us this year. Once the map was released and I saw that long stretch of nothing between obstacles 12 and 13, I pretty much started shaking in my boots. Berkshire East is already known as Bonefrog’s toughest course because it is all mountain. Who loves extreme death marches up mountains? The head course designer of course!

Bonefrog-NE-Course-Map-2017

So on Friday, May 19th I and a car full of other mud running hooligans headed up to Charlemont, Massachusetts to, “GET THAT DAMN MEDAL!” and to “Make that course our bitch! RAWR!” A lot of shit talking from nervous racers, because had we known what we were in for, that car would have been quieter than a funeral. We set out on Friday because Bonefrog offers packet pickup the night before. I personally think that other race brands should also offer this option.

Early packet pickup is picking up your bib and timing chip the night before the race. They also have a cocktail and pasta night social where racers and Bonefrog staff can mingle; you also get to see and try some of the festival area obstacles. Early packet pickup is free, pasta and beverages are not. The pasta dinner last year was around $13 per person and you were offered a plate of pasta with or without meatballs, a mixed green salad, garlic breadsticks and chocolate chip cookie brownies. Unfortunately, we did not make it in time for the food, but we did make it just in the nick of time to get our race packets early, which saved us a lot of time in the AM and allowed us more sleep. You might even get a glimpse of EffNorm!

Bonefrog-NE-EffNorm

The parking situation this year at Berkshire East was such a vast improvement over last year. Not only was it shuttle parking in 2016, but they did not have enough shuttle buses for the racers and spectators so many racers missed their early wave times. This year parking was onsite and they rented some farmland next to the venue so it was all within a short walking distance. Free parking for volunteers and $10 for everyone else.

The morning festivities at Berkshire East started beautifully with the singing of the national anthem as a member of the Navy Seal skydiving team soared his way across the mountains and over the festival area with a huge flag and colored smoke. It was a truly amazing and awe inspiring sight.

Bonefrog-NE-Parachute

Then it was off to the races as the Tier-1 elites thundered their way through the starting line and veered off left into the mountains. This is where it kind of gets funny at the starting line, btw where was Coach Pain? I don’t know if Norm wanted to see the fear on our faces for himself or what but he was the starting line, “Pump up” man. I am laughing as I write this because while Norm Koch is a brilliant Course Designer, he doesn’t make a great starting line emcee. Sorry Norm but I think you know it too. He is unintentionally funny however. The vollie wave was the next to go out and Norm was like, “Ok, have fun. All 5 of you.”

Bonefrog New England could really use some volunteers everyone. If you’re looking for a solid race with great people please consider volunteering for this brand. You do have the option of running and volunteering on the same day. Click on this link for more info on volunteering for Bonefrog at www.bonefrogchallenge.com/volunteer.

Then it was my turn as Tier-1 Open wave. After Norm showed us a grenade for a new grenade toss obstacle and told us he’d see us sometime in the afternoon, it was off into the mountains we went. The course has been changed, for the harder and better in my humble opinion. Everyone’s favorite obstacles are still there. Like their fun-tastic spider traverse wall, drunken monkey, river rope traverse, tree rope traverse, walls, cargo nets, Black Ops etc…

Bonefrog-NE-Starting-Line

Let’s start with the short list of things that I was not impressed with this year.

Where’d the rope climb go? How can you have a military obstacle course without a proper rope climb? Bonefrog also had the good climbing rope too, that nice sturdy climbing rope with knotted and unknotted options, bring it back, please!

The barbed wire crawl didn’t have real barbed wire. It wasn’t even metal. Come on now.

The grenade toss. Toss a grenade into a hula hoop. Really? A hula hoop? Maybe it would be more interesting if the target was better like a doorway structure, or better yet get rid of it all together. It was a dud in my humble opinion.

Bring back the memory test because that was one of the signature things Bonefrog was known for, their hard memory test. If you failed, you had to go back and re-read a sign until you got it right.

The line was too damn long for the new green monkey bars called, “Seat bars.” Many racers, including myself, opted out of this one due to the bottleneck with a 25 pushup penalty for some and 25 squat penalties for others. Yes, Bonefrog has penalties ranging from 25 pushups, squats, burpees and jumping jacks.

The new rotor obstacle, “Twirly Bird” was too damn high and it had a huge failure rate, I personally did not see 1 person complete it. I think that it was high enough where it should have been placed over a water pit or something. Norm, however, did explain after the race that it was due to the wrong length of beams being sent and that it was meant to be lower. I saw one guy land flat on his back from that height and it was not pretty.

Bonefrog-NE-Twirlybird

Porto-potties for the racers on the course would be nice, it’s not easy going long stretches especially as a female, or if you have to take a dump mid-race to just drop trow in the middle of the course since there are not any good places on the course to do so. In the festival area, you have indoor and outdoor potties so no complaints there.

Now on to the good stuff!

Speaking of not pretty, that long stretch of nothing I mentioned earlier between obstacles 12 and 13? It was definitely a long stretch, but it wasn’t nothing. It’s called the Punisher. This is where Norm’s talents and skills really shine through and why every OCR racer has a love/hate relationship with his courses. He bushwhacked a death march with his machete that is more than twice the distance of Stairway to Valhalla up one of the most tree and rock dense areas of the mountain that he could find. Stairway to Valhalla makes you question life, The Punisher makes you question your sanity. I think the name of it should be changed to Tree Hugger (Sorry Savage race) because that is how you will be getting up and down this crazy death march, by hugging onto trees for dear life.

I don’t know how many reading this have seen the Barkley Marathon documentary (I highly recommend it if you haven’t, it’s on Netflix) but there’s a scene where you see people throwing their whole bodies up and onto a plateau while clinging onto trees. That’s Bonefrog’s Punisher in a nutshell and you get 3 long soul crushing peaks of it. What are we being punished for anyways? Someone take away Norm’s Netflix account so that he can’t watch the Barkley anymore.

On my second loop, yes Tier-1 not only got to do Stairway twice but the Punisher twice as well. So that’s 4 death marches total if you are going Tier-1, and 6 death marches minimum if you go Endurance. The Sprint people were shocked that they had to do this mother of all death marches along with Challenge and Tier-1 because in the past Sprint was much easier than the other tiers simply put.

Bonefrog is known for a lot of mindfuckery with fake maps, intentionally leaked false course information and the Punisher was NOT marked on the map for the Sprint course. Surprise!

Bonefrog-NE-Punisher

As for the Tier-1 experience, it was VICIOUS; when I heard at the starting line that Tier-1 would be doing Stairway to Valhalla twice, which I was afraid would happen, but I trekked on starting with the Challenge portion where most of everyone’s favorite and fun obstacles are like the Swinger’s club. It’s a Tarzan rope over water. Lots of fun if you make it, and into the drink if you don’t. It was much improved this year with a longer distance to swing over and a deeper water pit.

Bonefrog-NE-Swingers-Club2

The balance beams aka Walk the Plank this year was really tough, not only were they set over a rocky stream, it was on a fairly steep incline. Elites were only allowed to use their feet, open wave was allowed to use hands and feet to make it across. I personally saw 2 people lose their elite bands on this obstacle. I am usually really good with balance obstacles but I used my hands and feet for this one. The idea of dropping into a stream full of rocks was not appealing to me. Otherwise, it’s a solid obstacle that showed me that my balance can always be improved upon.

Hell’s Gate, which was introduced last year, has had a bit of a makeover, instead of over and then under the walls, it’s now all over the walls. It’s still a lot of fun however and it does prevent potential trampling in such an enclosed space.

The Challenge side of Bonefrog had a good mix of terrain and obstacles. You had a little bit of everything from flat RUN FREE trails, to the arduous death marches, wonderful woodland scenery, and through an area with dead trees that was hauntingly beautiful. Last year it was just up Stairway and across long stretches of flat trails with one long downhill. So much about this course has changed and for the better IMO. Much more challenging and the scenery alone just feels enchanting.

After a merciful stop at a porta potty before taking on the Sprint side of Tier-1, and I 100% admit that it took a lot for me to get back out on that course while smelling BBQ cooking, hearing the cheerful laughter of people who had just received their medals, the music pumping away. The temptation of Black Ops which is the finisher obstacle staring me in the face, seductively whispering for me to settle for a Challenge medal or a DNF. I ignored all of that and got back on that course to get that Tier-1 medal and to show the course and myself who is the boss of me.

Bonefrog-NE-Festival

Now the Sprint side of the course had some of the fun obstacles like the river rope traverse that everybody loves getting their pictures on, where you have the option of doing a full rope traverse, dropping into the frigid water and then swimming a few yards to shore, or you had the express lane option of a lower rope which you used to just drag yourself through the water.

Bonefrog-NE-RiverRopeTraverse

The Sprint side had to do the hardest obstacles like the death marches that the Challenge side did but they had no flat portions. NONE, ZIP, ZILCH, NADA unless you consider slight grassy inclines that are few and far between flat. You were either going up at all times or down muddy, rocky, leafy declines. After my 2nd trip or should I say crawl up Stairway my hip flexors really started feeling it. Every step was torturous and when a kind vollie (that’s short for volunteer) gently let me know that the Sprint had to do the Punisher as well, I took a moment to lay down on a sparse patch of grass somewhere between that water station and the Punisher, and a lone tear just rolled gently out of my right eye like that old Native American Chief in the no littering ads of the past.

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Bonefrog made me cry, there I said it.

At this point in the race, the only ones that were on the mountain were a few other Tier-1 and Endurance racers. I saw maybe 2 racers wearing Challenge bracelets but it was mostly Tier-1 and Endurance out there. This is at the point of the race where you start seeing some shit while racing against the clock so that you don’t DNF. The point in the race where you have gone so far, yet that finish line seems as far away as it was at the starting line. You go past the racers that have had enough and quit halfway up the Stairway or the Punisher and they tend to say, “I tried guys.” and all you can do is smile back and say, “Good job.”

This is where you also start making promises to yourself that you won’t give up. You limp helplessly by the poor guy that a volunteer is taking care of because his ankle is broken. You share your energy snacks and chocolates with those out there suffering with you, yet not tasting a thing except the anticipation of the finish line. You ignore the pain, the voices of self-doubt, your screaming joints, you ignore everything except those that are still sticking the course out with you motivating each other with chants of, “Big gold medal, big gold medal, big gold medal.”

Finally, after another round of obstacles in the festival area, you are brought back around to Black Ops and it was such a beautiful sight to see, but it’s one more obstacle to finish and a big one at that. With my hips pretty much dead at this point, I needed help from the wonderful vollies to get up the rope wall, but once I was on the bars, I flew past it’s spinning rungs and got that Big Gold Medal! That’s what makes Black Ops challenging, it might look like an innocent slightly inclining set of monkey bars, but the rungs in the middle spin so if you don’t move fast you will fall off right into the net.

Bonefrog-NE-BlackOps-View

Bonefrog ran out of Finisher shirts at The New England race and rumor has it, it’s because there were a lot of same day registrations that they weren’t prepared for, so I hope you wrote your bib # down on the T-shirt list if you didn’t get one. Bonefrog says they will be in the mail.

Speaking of shirts, Bonefrog offered a nice selection of shirts ranging between $15 – $20 at their merchandise booth. I wasn’t leaving without some kind of Bonefrog t-shirt.

Bonefrog-NE-Merchandise

As we were leaving Norm Koch was there looking very pleased with himself and relaxed knowing that he took an already tough as nails event and made it even more challenging.  He did ask my husband if he thought that the Punisher should be longer to which my husband said, “Yes.” So EffNorm and Eff you my dear hubby for that. You don’t tell that man a death march should be longer.

As for who won the race between me and Bonefrog New England, let’s just call it a draw since we both got what we wanted from each other. I got my medal and the mountain got my tears.

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Thank you Bonefrog for putting on another great event. Here’s a standing ovation to the racers, spectators, staff and volunteers (All 5 of you guys lol). I’ll be seeing you again at Bonefrog New Jersey!

Photo credits: Bonefrog Challenge, Phil Poli, Poly Poli

America’s Toughest Mudder Northeast: I love you Endurance OCR, but Gosh Darn it, I’m Tired!

“THIS IS MY RIFLE, THERE ARE MANY LIKE IT BUT THIS ONE IS MINE. MY RIFLE IS MY BEST FRIEND. IT IS MY LIFE. I MUST MASTER IT AS I MASTER MY LIFE. WITHOUT ME IT IS USELESS, WITHOUT MY RIFLE I AM USELESS.” -Full Metal Jacket

I was thinking about this quote the other day as I reflected on my journey through obstacle racing. I remember my first Tough Mudder like a distant fading memory. The rush was exhilarating and I wanted more…right away. I wanted to mainline adrenaline. A funny thing happened, though….the second wasn’t the same…nor the third. So thing’s escalated to bigger, badder, and longer (Michael Scott) events. I fell into the Endurance OCR trap. Specifically, World’s Toughest Mudder.

World’s Toughest Mudder consumed me. The training, planning, budgeting, talking, and social media-ing consumed me. So much so that it began to define me. I wore it like a badge of honor leading up to my first WTM, and I was most likely an asshole about it. Oh, you ran a Spartan Sprint up a mountain and got 5th in your age group? That sounds really fun and all but I’m here to train for a 24 HOUR event (pats self on back). You should try it too; it’s super mega ultra elite badass! I even distance shamed my fake internet HVAC nemesis Hobie Call about it, as if in some magical place me competing in a 24 Hour Tough Mudder elevated me anywhere near his athletic ability. The good news is that I eventually got over it. After actually doing the event, it “literally” took me to the brink of the most cliche thing that I could type here. I didn’t find “myself,” but I definitely found something within myself and will always remember walking alone in the dark up a hill talking to myself and repeating my wife’s and childrens’ names so I could continue to push on.  I did that for two more years, and much like my first Tough Mudder, my second and third World’s Toughest Mudders didn’t quite feel the same. After 2016, I figured I might actually take the advice that Sean Corvelle gives at the start of every Tough Mudder and “try something for the first time” and maybe even escape the ordinary. This year, instead of chasing something, I’d like to experience something new and help a first time World’s Toughest Mudder by being his pit crew (what’s up Garfield). I’ve heard great things from previous competitors like Yancy Culp, Miguel Medina, and Joshua Gustin Grant about pitting and would like to experience the event from a different perspective. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Oh, by the way, Tough Mudder then decided to announce an 8-hour Toughest series with multiple locations. I guess we will see if I’m full of shit or not…

Truth be told, I almost didn’t make it to the highway to drive up to Toughest last week. I took a new job in New York roughly 2 months ago and have been working there and traveling back to see my wife and children in Virginia every weekend. When I committed to the event, I hadn’t even interviewed for the New York job yet; so, needless to say, we were making it work. I am averaging around 16 hours of driving from Friday to Sunday and last weekend was only slightly different. I made it down earlier than usual Friday and left 4 hours before the kids’ bedtimes on Saturday so I could arrive with some time to rest in Philadelphia before the midnight start of Toughest. Enter my son, Chase. A few hours before my departure, I took him for a ride with me to The Home Depot to buy some wood. I told him how much I missed him and he responded, “Daddy if you miss me so much just stay.” Shocked, I responded, “you will all be moving to New York as soon as your school ends in a few weeks, buddy. I promise.” Now, Chase was referring to our current living situation, but it struck a chord with me and made it much harder to leave this weekend than weekends before. Did I make the wrong call leaving earlier to do an event? I don’t know, but it sure felt that way. Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee in hand, I was on to Philadelphia.

America’s Toughest Mudder Northeast ran like a well-oiled machine. I think it was actually more organized than WTM with like 400 less participants. Here are some examples:

  1. I got to parking earlier than I was supposed to, and instead of being turned away, they let me in. That never happens. Score!
  2. Registration was set up alphabetically, and they let us line up early for that as well. It was a good opportunity to get some socializing out of the way and see everyone before it was go time. Once they opened up, it went quickly and smoothly. Smoother than a regular Tough Mudder.
  3. I found the pit set up to be simplistic and effective. While there were a few stragglers trying to sneak into my spot, for the most part, everyone was cool. I haven’t heard of anyone having anything stolen, so I’d say it was a success!
  4. There was grass to take a knee on instead of sand and rocks. This made taking a knee during Sean’s speech much more enjoyable
  5. Kris Mendoza.
  6. Matt B. Davis was in China (seriously).
  7. Hang time was a blast
  8. The design of these bibs is super dope.
  9. While one 5-mile Loop and one sprint lap instead of two reduced some mileage, it was nice not having to think about running a different course.
  10. Tough Mudder has really good big obstacles.
  11. Friends

Operationally, my only real critique is that there was no coffee vendor at the end of this thing. I had to drive 16 minutes to a Starbucks-like an hour after I finished. Please add a coffee vendor. It may be early, but they will clean up selling coffee to 700 people that have been up since midnight, I promise.

So what did I think of the event? I thought it was great. I really enjoyed myself for the first 3-4 hours, but as the temperatures started to drop and I stubbornly refused to add any wetsuit layers, I began to question why the hell I came. I didn’t question it because the event wasn’t good, but because mentally, I have so much other shit going on right now that suffering and pushing through at obstacle races has taken a backseat. I miss my kids. I miss my wife. I miss my dogs. I kind of miss my cat. I’m also going to really miss my house, which holds a lifetime of memories in 7 short years. This is what I was thinking about at 4:00am. At 8:00am I wasn’t thinking about how I now suddenly wanted to do WTM, but I confirmed that I need to take some time off from endurance OCR. I am tired. I want to have fun. One day I will feel the need to push my limits again, and I will certainly hop back on the pain train, but for now I just want to run a 2 hour race with my wife and get home to my kids after lunch as if we snuck out to brunch and a movie. For long enough, I’ve let OCR define too much of who I am, and all I want to prove right now are that There Are No Strings On Me.

Photo Credit: the author and Tough Mudder

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful – Europe’s Toughest Mudder 2017

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Tough Mudder has done it again.  Europe’s Toughest Mudder was a phenomenal event and brought everything we’d come to expect – camaraderie, superb organization, teamwork, an amazing course, massive obstacles, endurance and an insane amount of mud. As with every TM, I doubt anyone went away disappointed (except maybe with themselves if they felt they didn’t push hard enough or came ill prepared).

THE GOOD
The course layout was superb, making really good use of the terrain to make it challenging whilst at the same time allowing a relatively fast pace and for people to push themselves.  Despite being briefed that obstacles would be opened and closed at various times to allow only 15 or 16 to be open at any one time, the only time I found any obstacles closed over my 5 laps was during the sprint lap.  The fact that we therefore had 19 obstacles open pretty much the whole time (unlike 11 or 12 at the first two America’s Toughest Mudder events), combined with pouring rain, freezing water and Tough Mudder’s love for placing any obstacle where you needed grip after another where you got covered in mud, provided for an extremely tough course and 8 hours of suffering.  As someone who has done Wold’s Toughest Mudder, you could almost call this an endurance sprint. It was an impressively well-rounded event and a good introduction for everyone who is considering doing World’s Toughest Mudder – a glimpse into what it’s like during WTM night ops but without the hassle of the gear change and the fatigue from already having been on course for 8 to 12 hours.

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THE BAD
There wasn’t really any – apart from way too many people who showed up unprepared or not realizing how cold they would get and, as result, having to quit or getting disqualified due to hypothermia.  I would have preferred a little bit less mud right before Funky Monkey and Kong as they were covered in mud and us mere mortals had minimal chance to make it across successfully.

However, it’s all training and reflects the frustration at WTM when your hands get tired, cold, swollen and with every hour passing it gets harder and harder to get a good grip on your favorite obstacle. The biggest thing, if I had to moan, would be ‘why the hell do we only get one?’ My wallet says a massive thank you, but it does seem a bit unfair having only 1 chance with the other 5 over the pond being just too bloody far. We definitely need a few more next year, especially with a number of people it has made consider to join the madness of WTM.

THE BEAUTIFUL
Throughout the race, the Tough Mudder core values where upheld – teamwork and camaraderie. That is the major difference between TM and most other race’s, the leaders of the race will turn around and help people.

Having Jonathan Albon lapping you and giving a cheer while passing you or boost you over the bloody walls at 0400 makes a world of difference. The best and most memorable example though was when I arrived at Blockness Monster just as the only other person in sight was getting out on the other side and the guy came all the way back to help me (if you’re reading this, thanks so much!!! You are a legend!).

It was an amazing experience meeting all the incredible people from around the world who came to do ETM; and sharing the course with all the legends like Da Goat, Chris James, Sharkbait and of course Jonathan Albon, was an honour.

Europe-Toughest-Mudder Da-Goat-Albon

It didn’t matter if you’ve done WTM before or not.  ETM was a good test for kit, nutrition and to see where your training’s at for everyone considering WTM, newbie or veteran. Hopefully, we’ll see a few more events like it next year.  See you in the mud!

Photo Credit: the author