Motivational Mudders: America’s Toughest Mudder Midwest

Competition Vs. Camaraderie?

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

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

Starting the Day at Toughest Midwest

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

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

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

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

Countdown to Midnight

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

Sean Corvelle at the Starting Line

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

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

Obstacles

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

Competitors

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

Men’s and Women’s Top Five.

Inspirational Athletes

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

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

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

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

For more information click here.

Inspired By The Midwest

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

 

Photos Courtesy of Melissa Dugan and Tough Mudder

A Salute to Service – Spartan West Point (2017 Honor Series)

An-honored-veteran-at-West-Point

West Point

Duty, Honor, Country. The motto of West Point Military Academy are words to remember and words that were ever-present at the West Point Spartan Sprint.

At the handful of Spartan Races I’ve been to, honoring the military was always part of the event in some way. Aside from having, in my opinion, one of the coolest medals in OCR, the Spartan Honor Series took that to the next step. Not only were several current members of the military present and/or racing, but many veterans were able to come out as well.

Spartan-West-Point-Sprint-2017-map

COURSE

The race was located at the Lake Frederick Recreation Area, which is a 25-minute drive from the West Point Academy, but still owned by the military. The course was just over four miles and included over 1,000 feet of ascent. The terrain featured plenty of uphill climbs and downhill runs through semi-technical wooded trails and a few gravel paths.

West-Point-racers-carry-an-honored-Veteran

 

Obstacles weren’t any different from normal Spartan races. There weren’t any military-themed obstacles. It would be awesome to see Spartan incorporate some sort of military tribute in an obstacle or two for 2018, but to keep races consistent, I can see why they may not.

One surprise was seeing Olympus within the first mile. Generally, it’s in the last half of a course. Because of this, I did notice some small lines later in the day. As a note, I ran the Elite Male wave and didn’t necessarily have to wait, but did have to start before another person finished. At the Sprint in Palmerton, the lane was fully clear when I began.

Olympus-and-A-Frame-in-the-first-mile-at-West-Point-Sprint

FINISH HIM!

As is becoming the norm, many of the obstacles were saved for the end of the race. The first half featured seven total obstacles, with the second half having fifteen. The last half-mile had eight of those fifteen!

I’ve noticed a lot of Spartan races lately have a sort of, “gauntlet” at the end of the race. I mainly notice them at races with a time trial, which makes sense. The time trial requires a lot of obstacles in a short distance. Logistically, it’s easier not to move those obstacles for the next day.

Atlas-carry-right-before-rings-at-West-Point

 

There was no time trial the night before West Point. Yet, the course designer saw fit to have the Bucket Carry followed immediately by Twister, with the Rope Climb just around the corner. After a quick Rolling Mud, racers then hit Atlas Lift, Multi-Rig (all rings), Spear Throw, and Herc Hoist, all within a few hundred yards of each other. And before the finish, a pretty long barbed wire crawl that included a slight turn, slip wall and, of course, fire jump.

COMPLAINTS

The main complaint I saw from other racers was the parking situation. Personally, I had no issues since I ran in the first heat. I arrived at the parking lot, which was 20 minutes from the race venue, at 6:00 am. Got right in, and walked right onto a bus. I hung out a bit after the race and went to catch a bus back around 11:00 am. Again, no wait. That was not the case for some later racers.

On my ride back to the parking lot in the late morning, I noticed quite the traffic jam going the opposite direction. In that traffic jam were shuttles going to the venue. As we pulled back into the lot, I could see a long line of people waiting to board shuttles to get to the race. Later, on social media, pictures showed long afternoon lines waiting to board buses back to the parking lot. Some racers said they waited over 2 hours just to get on a bus.

This was my first Spartan, and second OCR race ever, where parking was off-site. As much as an inconvenience as it may be, I’m not sure how much control Spartan has over traffic. It is definitely something they can look into, though, if they decide to go back in 2018.

Team-Oscar-Mike-at-West-Point-Spartan

WHAT SPARTAN DOES BEST

I’ve now done a total of four Spartan races. Every single one has challenged me both in the course layout and obstacle order. There are always plenty of water stations and post-race snacks. The Honor Series medals are absolutely fantastic and a must, if you’re into that sort of thing. The finisher shirts, however, were your standard Sprint finisher shirts. It would be cool to see an Honor Series finisher shirt, but the venue shirt made up for it!

Spartan is really good at getting people race photos. The pictures were up Monday, less than 48 hours after the race finished. As I’ve mentioned before, a helpful hint to finding all of your pictures is to use Chronotrack. The Chronotrack checkpoints are each at photo spots. Find what time you crossed that checkpoint, then search the photos for that time frame. That’s an easy way to get each of your pictures from the various stations.

Honor-Series-Medals-at-West-Point

SHOULD SPARTAN GO BACK?

I absolutely hope Spartan goes back to West Point next year. I usually only go to races within an hour, or so, but it was easily worth the 2+ hour drive. Lake Frederick makes for both great terrain and even some scenic views during the race. If Spartan can improve the parking situation, they really have a keeper.

What did you think of the West Point Sprint? Leave a comment below!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

Spartan Race Sprint at West Point 2017 – Showing Grit Where Military Heroes Are Made

Being a 3-year OCR veteran, I find myself part of multiple teams.  The New England Spahtens is the team nearest and dearest to my heart and is like family to me.  But there are instances when some of us in NES run with another team, RWB, Red White and Blue, which serves to enrich veterans lives by making social and physical activities available to veterans to mingle with civilians to help the veterans integrate back into society.

My father-in-law is a Vietnam veteran, so the opportunity to run this Spartan race in his honor with others from RWB and at our nation’s premier Army Military Academy, West Point, was truly a privilege.

Pre-Race Impressions

We got an early start since our wave time was 9:15.  We knew the shuttle would be 20-30 min overall and planned on an extra hour to account for check in, bag drop, and taking in the sights as well as warming up and a team picture at 8:45.  I even had the opportunity to say hello to and shake the hand of the author of our pain and torture, “Woody,” who has taken over from Norm Koch as Spartan’s race director.

Arriving in the shuttle parking lot at approximately 7:15, the line was slow but not long.  There were available buses waiting and boarded right away.  This was not the case a short while later according to other team members who had later start times.  And when we left the venue, our wait in the shuttle line was 30-40 minutes.  To our surprise, arriving back at the parking lot later, we saw at least a half dozen empty buses sitting in the lot not doing anything.  Spartan knew they had over 8k people signed up to race and maybe that was too many.

Check in at that time of the morning was fairly smooth with 10-15 minutes of waiting, with a similar experience and less waiting at the bag check area where our bags were hung on fencing, perhaps not as efficient as the shelving they have at some venues. Signage directing us to the start line was obvious and Spartan did a good job piquing the interest of spectators by placing a couple of obstacles, Olympus and A-Frame Cargo, obstacles 4 and 5, right across from the start line.

An Honored Warrior

After the team picture, while waiting to get in the starting corral, we witnessed what had to be one of the most touching moments of the day when a WW2 veteran was hoisted in a chair mounted to a huge litter and carried by 6 younger Marine veterans.  They continued to carry him through the entire 4-mile course with the exception of the steeper climbs through the woods.  It was truly an honor to witness living history!

WW2-Vet-Waving

 

Off And Running

After a start line send-off from Dustin Doroughs, an OCR emcee veteran and one of the best in the business, who got our hearts pumping and spirits roaring, we took off.

After a short 1/4 mile run we met with the first and second obstacles which were the standard Overwalls and then Over, Under, and Through walls, followed 1/4 mile later with Hurdles or as we like to call them, short Irish tables.

The course so far had been dry as there had been no rain, and the rest of the course remained largely that way aside from a couple of small damp dirt areas.  We then came upon the Olympus and A-Frame Cargo obstacles in short order, and I found that the instructional videos Spartan has online for Olympus really helped as I completed that obstacle for the first time without help.  Those chains hurt though!

But the backup we were to experience at some obstacles throughout the race began with the A-Frame Cargo. It was just sheer numbers and the different abilities of everyone that contributed to the delay.

A-Frame-Crowd

The First Obstacles

 It was nearly a flat mile later that we arrived at the first heavy carry of the day and the first serious elevation gain with the sandbag carry.  While the men’s weight felt lighter than I’m used to, making me take two, I began to regret that decision halfway through the carry loop because the one bag kept falling off my shoulders.  But I soldiered on and after the sandbags, we met with yet another 6 ft wall, something Spartan seems to rely heavily on making them seem predictable.

Monkey bars came next, and it was nice to see multiple elevation changes in the bars adding a great challenging element making you focus even more.   A stone’s throw after was the inverted wall followed by a 7 ft wall a half mile later.  Placement of that wall was questionable since it was parallel with the elevation of the hillside causing the wall to be at an angle and not level which posed a potentially undue safety issue.  Most people seemed to adapt nonetheless, even an RWB teammate for whom this was his first OCR and gladly accepted our help getting him over it.

The Bucket Brigade, or as it’s called in the Spartan vernacular Sucket Carry, was next and what was surprising was that it was completely flat with no elevation gain at all.  However, it was the LONGEST bucket carry I’ve ever experienced at an estimated 1/3 of a mile.

Bucket-Carry-Long-Shot

Bucket-Carry-Loading

Now that your arms, shoulders, and back were shot, what came next was Spartan’s new signature obstacle, the Twister, a horizontal cylinder with a helix of handles attached that turns every time you grab the next handle.  It has frustrated MANY people in its debut season this year, and this was to be the third time I faced it but the first time I completed it.

 

Monkey-Bars-2

Obstacles at West Point

Obstacles came more rapid fire now that the finish was near.  The Vertical Cargo Net was next, and this was another one where overcrowding became an issue with a wait to do the obstacle and the fact that so many people were on it at the same time that there was a noticeable but slight sway once on top.  It was not too concerning, but not being an engineer, I began to wonder how close we were to the limits of the sturdy and well-anchored construction of the obstacle.  Rope climb was next with dry ropes which I descended too quickly and got a small rope burn on my thumb.

Then came the Rolling Mud.  It was disappointing because much of the water in each of the three pits had drained into the ground below.  More had been carried by runners as runoff on the mounds after each pit making the descent into each successive pit very steep and slippery.  Even more disappointing was the traditional dunk wall at the end of this obstacle where the water level was 6 + inches about the water’s surface.  Most disappointing was the lack of the traditional photographer on the other side of the dunk wall.

Next up was the Atlas Carry.  Aside from the challenge of picking up and carrying the heavy concrete ball, you also had to make sure the ball didn’t roll away downhill as the obstacle was on a slope and not level ground.

The Multi Rig followed though it was only rings, an obstacle that I have mastered and completed easily.  While there was a crowd of people at the beginning of it, most were simply observing and devising a strategy or technique of doing it.  There were several lanes available to those of us who simply wanted to walk up to it and do it.

After this was the dreaded spear throw.  I’m 50/50 on this one, and while my throw was level and strong, it went well past the target about 6″ to the right.  Otherwise, I would’ve nailed it.  It was my only obstacle of the day where I honorably joined several fellow Spartans in the Burpee Zone.

The Herc Hoist was next and was one of the last 4 obstacles of the course and one of the ones where spectators had set up lawn chairs to watch the action.  Then came one of the longest and most deceiving barbed wire crawls I’ve ever done.  Aside from being easier because it was on grass, the path appeared to end up ahead, but then took a cruel turn to the left and ended up being twice as long as everyone thought.  A slip wall followed this and then the traditional and much-anticipated fire jump with the finish immediately after.

Off the Course

The medals were special to this series and the neck strap was the part that said West Point on it.  The finisher shirt was standard, but they had a sweet venue shirt which was a full on tech moisture-wicking shirt with graphics specific to West Point.  We bought those before we even started as they sold out quickly.

West-Point-Finisher-Medals

There was a fun looking kids course that smartly ran alongside the last section of the adult course, a couple of restored military vehicles, a couple of food vendors and hardly any other vendors aside from the Border Patrol tents and Military recruiting tents.  The showers were not cold and the changing tents were dark and sauna like.  Getting our bag at bag check too a little longer than dropping it off, but not too unreasonable.

The Downside

The worst part of the day was waiting in line for the shuttle for 45+ minutes.  We felt lucky later after hearing other teammates reporting waiting an hour and a half.  That’s just inexcusable.  It was also disappointing at the almost complete lack of military personnel presence anywhere at the venue aside from a couple of MP’s.  It would’ve been nice to see some cadets manning the obstacles or handing out medals at the finish line.

Overall, we had a great time and enjoyed the challenge of the race for what it was.  If Spartan has a race at West Point next year, we will be back!

Muscle Up OCR

This year’s Muscle Up OCR took place on August 26th in Spragueville, Iowa. Held on the grounds of a working family farm this 3.75-mile race boasted some outstanding scenery with about 1,100 feet of elevation change. Now, that elevation change doesn’t sound so bad until you show up and see the grade of the hills.

The farm is also used as an ATV course, the trails are torn up with steep banks and water runoff grooves down the center making the terrain difficult and physically draining.

Muscle Up provided chip timing for both the open and competitive heats with cash prizes being awarded to the top 2 male and female competitive finishers in 3 different age groups 14-24 25-40 and 41 and over. Obstacle completion is mandatory in the competitive waves while open class runners are offered a “muscle out” option at many of the stations. This provides an easier version of the same obstacle for those new to the sport that maybe can’t complete all the tougher obstacles.

I consider this the best family run OCR in the Midwest for a number of reasons.

  1. The farm friendly atmosphere. Chances are if you have raced here before they probably remember you and know your name.
  2. Some of the handmade unique obstacles you will not find anywhere else.
  3. For a short course, it’s very demanding. Most racers will be gassed at the end.
  4. Plenty of great views to see while racing.
  5. Competition level. While not huge in numbers there are always a few awesome athletes who show up to race here.

The Course

The course starts off in a fitting location considering it’s held at a working farm.  Racers are released every half an hour behind a barn where a herd of goats are penned up and continues along a dirt track for about half a mile before turning racers into the woods.

This is the point where racers face their first obstacle. The path leads through a series of ravines where downed logs were thrown across the path making for a challenging climb. After racers picked their way through the logs and rocks the trail led back out onto the initial dirt track where we first started.

Racers encountered a few sloppy mud pits as the dirt track turned into marsh before being led up a hill and along a game trail. Along this trail, racers were required to pick up a log to make the climb just that tougher.

At the top of the trail was a series of wooden walls which needed to be traversed with your log then further down the path was a mowed out section of prairie grass cut into a circle. Once completed a racer could now drop off their log and proceed along the prairie trail.

Muscle Up used every ditch, ravine, and section of woods to their advantage and just as racers thought the trail was getting easier Muscle Up set up an Atlas Stone throw over a wall with a cargo net climb a short distance away. This led to what I like to call “the endless hay maze.” Now, this wasn’t the actual name of the obstacle but after getting stuck in this pitch-black zig zag maze I thought it was very fitting.

The Obstacles

After brushing off the hay and finally getting some oxygen into your lungs racers were now led down a hill towards the festival area, but not before having to cross a rope bridge made up of swinging 4×4 posts and climbing down a ladder.

A sled pull and a tire ladder were waiting for athletes at the bottom before being sent back out on the trail.  Steep terrain came into play again as the trail led racers up and down the ATV path in a route design to tire the legs out before being presented a long list of obstacles situated in the flat open field.

First up in this obstacle armageddon was rope swing across a small creek followed up by a rope traverse over that same section of the creek. A monkey bar setup provided your way back across the creek.

A short jog away Muscle Up placed a rope ladder followed up by a long Atlas Stone carry. The last three obstacles set up in this series included a dual bucket carry over a well-constructed set of A frame type ramps with a rope climb immediately after.

The last and perhaps most tricky obstacle was a tire ladder climb. Muscle Up was able to link together a series of tires vertically that swayed and bucked like crazy when you tried to climb up them!

The Final Obstacles

Thoroughly gassed from the energy expenditure on all those obstacles racers were led up a climb that cut through some awesome scenery. Tunnels through weather cut stone was where the trail now went and I really couldn’t help but to look around and take some of it in as I made my way up the path.

The dirt track flattened out once a racer made their way to the top and continued until the trail opened to a section of hurdles made up of 55-gallon drums that were lined up in a row to test one’s leaping ability.

One final climb down a hill was now all that stood in a racers way to the final section of obstacles and the finish line.

A 7-foot wall climb was first up on this last section followed by a series of wooden hurdles. A metal tube provided a low crawl opportunity but not before an American Ninja Warrior style wall lift. I’ve not seen this obstacle anywhere else. A wooden wall was set into a narrow door frame with wheels on the side requiring an athlete to pull the section of wall up in order to scamper to the other side before letting go and having the wall crash back down! Three of these were included in the final section of the course all leading up to a fun water slide which dumped racers into a freezing creek before climbing out and crossing the finish line.

The Festival Area

Since this event is out in the middle of the country Muscle Up did provide a beer/drink tent and had a mobile food truck on site. A shower area was provided, as long as you didn’t mind showering in a barn. A tractor trailer was converted into a sectioned off changing area for athletes needing a change of clothes.

Conclusion

Muscle Up could have used a few more volunteers in key locations such as the log carry and the barrel hurdles during the competitive waves just to keep people honest. The photography for the event was pretty much just people taking shots with their phone which was kind of a shame because of all the neat obstacles. I personally come to this event every year and it’s never failed to meet my expectations.

 

Tough Mudder UK Southwest 2017

 Tough Mudder South West UK 2017 – Badminton Estate

Last year, I joined a number of my work colleagues in my first ever Tough Mudder. I have always been skeptical about this event. I had previously taken part in two Spartan races, Invncbl, and some other minor obstacle course races in my area. For some reason, Tough Mudder had never appealed to me. I think I felt like I didn’t want to be tortured for a distance of 10 miles for a headband. But in the end, I mostly decided to take part because it was an excuse to do something ridiculous with a bunch of my friends.

 

All it took was the Kiss of Mud and I was hooked.

 

On the day, it actually took our team an unexpectedly long time to get through that first Tough Mudder, but I really felt that we took ‘team effort’ to a whole new level. At every obstacle, we waited for all of our crew to join us before moving on. From the Arctic Enema to Everest, we helped each other tackle the next nightmare whilst covered in mud and freezing cold (cheers Britain).

 

For weeks after, pictures circulated the office and we laughed at how epically we failed at some of the obstacles. We reminisced about how I got dropped on my back, how my legs cramped endlessly and how my manager almost chickened out of ‘Electroshock Therapy.’ It wasn’t long until I found myself wanting to do the whole damn thing again.

I thought everyone had shared my insane love of this form of torture. I was wrong. When the time came, I sent the obligatory chirpy email around the office attempting to recruit members for my team. Much to my dismay, big fat “no way!” responses were all I got.

Crap. I had spent the year training for Spartans and my ultras, thinking that I would be ready for Tough Mudder when it came to it… well at least I would be ready for a team challenge.  I slowly realised that I was going to have to go it alone.

Tough Mudder relies heavily on teamwork. This was something I had made great use of in 2016. And now, I would be going it alone. I hated the idea but was determined that despite my obvious lack of a team, I would do the race.

So the day came, I woke up bright and early ready for some mud.

Getting signed up for parking was easy (dare I say expensive, £10) Editor’s note: roughly $13 USD. Registration on the day was pretty simple, just filled in a few forms and was on my way. I was given a standby wristband as I wasn’t on a specific wave. So I took my time as there were waves leaving every 15-30 mins. I got in line for standby but wasn’t too impressed with the wait. We were in line for a good hour and a half before being let in. People in the ‘pig pen’ consisted of latecomers, those who were running the race again (absolute nutters), and those who were running for magazines or websites. Still, it took too long.

Finally, we got into a wave and took part in the obligatory workout and pep talk and pledge recital.

Then we were off!

If there is one thing that I have learnt from this year’s Tough Mudder, it was that I absolutely LOVE this stuff.

The course eased you into a grueling 10 miles of blood sweat and tears. It started with a short jog to ‘Skidmarked’ which really got us into the spirit of ‘leave no man (or woman) behind’.

On to Bail Bonds, Kiss of Mud, and Pyramid Scheme. The lack of helping hands at Pyramid Scheme made it difficult to do it properly. Was a bit disappointed. On the Hero Walls is where I really showed some grit. I was devastated last year to be dropped by a team mate. I made it up one wall this time. Small victories.

Arctic Enema came just after mile 3. For which I was eternally grateful. Plenty of time to recover, rather than be freezing cold.

Agustus Gloop or Snot Rocket (Legionnaires) were new to 2017 and were a heck of a lot of fun. Next came Devil’s Beard. I didn’t really get this one last time and still don’t (not my favourite).

Blockness Monster was just as fantastic as before, despite the water being just a little too deep for most people to even get a grip on the floor to help push it over. We relied heavily on the tall mudders to get it to the tipping point.

The Liberator, Birth Canal, and Lumberjacked. All solid obstacles. I didn’t stick around, I just got it done and moved on.

The course was very well planned out. 2016’s layout left a lot of next-to-impossible obstacles. In comparison, last year’s course was poorly planned out leaving many obstacles too slippery to have a good go at.

Last year,  Funky Monkey saw even the fittest racers fall at the first rung. This year was far more fun and more manageable that even I, EVEN I, got halfway across before face planting the water and almost winding myself. All part of the fun, hey?

‘Mud Mile’ was one of the highlights of my previous Tough Mudder experience. I loved every second this year but wished it was longer. Definitely was not a mile long – last year was longer. The racers really lived up to the Tough Mudder pledge in this one though. It was hard not to stop and help out your fellow mudders. Everyone really just wanted everyone else to make it to the end. My faith in humanity was restored.   

‘Hold Your Wood’ saw me joining forces with a team I was waiting in line with. What I really liked about this race was that despite me completing the obstacle with another team, there was no obligation on either party to then stick together. A quick chat, get the job done, a round of “well-done mate and good luck” and off they ran.

So, that was 9 miles down. 1 mile to go. I was getting TIRED.

With just Hero Carry, Everest, and Electric Shock left, I was getting worried. Everest was my nemesis from last year. It was one of the few obstacles that I just could not do no matter how hard I tried.  The Hero carry came and went without too much trouble, and although I wasn’t looking forward to it, I knew I could do Electro Shock Therapy.

But Everest…. I didn’t want to stand in line for 20 minutes, freezing and covered in flies, to try countless times to then have to walk around, ashamed of myself. As I rounded the corner from the Hero Carry I could see it. Thank goodness there were no queues and I had well and truly dried off from the epic face plant at Funky Monkey. I was ready for this.

Took a decent run at it, reached two hands (yes), held on (YES), swung my leg up and some other tough mudder (an absolute legend) grabbed it and pulled me up. YES!!!! I was beyond ecstatic (cue the awkward fist pump to myself – but I didn’t care). I ran up the final straight toward the finish line grinning like a goon. Just one more obstacle to go.

I had a choice, as a legionnaire I could choose Kong or Electroshock Therapy, I knew at this point my arms were shot and if I failed the last obstacle I would be devastated so I took on Electroshock Therapy instead. As I ran through I thought, “Dammit, should have done Kong!” I regretted calling all my teammates wimps last year for avoiding Electroshock Therapy last year. This round nearly floored me. I started running and got a shock that propelled me into a hay bale (in the course I might add). Face full of mud I straightened up only to get a shock in the face. These pictures are going to be incredible. Only a couple more strides to go. Inches from the finish, I sucked it up and rubbed some dirt in it. Crossed the line and was presented with some well-deserved rewards.

This Tough Mudder was definitely 10 miles of blood (bloody elbow), sweat (so much sweat) and tears (promise, there was just some mud in my eye). Epic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Tough Mudder and Author

Toughest Mudder Midwest… It’s Colder Than You Think!

Rockford, IL is the location for the Toughest Midwest. Being that it’s summer in the Midwest… It’s going to be hot, right? Not so fast there, Speed Racer! Actually, Northern Illinois can get a bit chilly this time of year.

The current forecast notwithstanding, you are looking at a much colder feel for Toughest Midwest than we felt in Atlanta for Toughest South even though the current AccuWeather forecast shows pretty much identical weather for this upcoming race. Now before everyone gets their panties in a bunch let me explain why this will be the case.

Me @ Toughest South

Training for the Cold

Many of the participants at this event have been training in the dead of Summer. In the US, the average temperature for most places is likely in the low to mid-80s during the day with low temperatures in the low 70s at night. As I prepared for toughest South I was doing most of my running and training in the cold of winter in the Midwest. This means colder running temperatures as well as colder water during my submersion training.

Basically, my body was getting used to an event in the cold even though I was racing and Atlanta where it would prove to be much warmer. It’s going to be the opposite case at Toughest Midwest. For this event, participants have acclimated to warm-weather training and racing during the summer months. Now racers will most likely face a much colder environment than they’ve acclimated too and there will be no opportunity for the sun to help keep stave off hypothermia.

Prevent Hypothermia

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will have issues with the temperatures. People who live in the northern US will be much more used to the weather. Hopefully, those who have been in a much warmer climate throughout the summer will have planned a way to train in cold water.

My Battle Corps teammate, Kelly Dzierzynski, scheduled a trip to Southern Wisconsin this week that is actually part of her training for what will be her initial go at a Toughest event. “I’ve had issues with hypothermia at OCRs in the past so I’m not taking anything for granted. I’ve been subjecting myself to progressively longer early morning submersions in Lake Michigan when the air temps are in the 60’s like they are supposed to be on the night of the race. Then, in between submersions while I’m still soaking wet, I have been throwing in some bear crawls, and running in the sand while dealing with that wind coming off the lake. Since this is all new to me I want to be ready for anything!”

Kelly Dzierzynski in Lake Michigan

A lot of you Mudders out there aren’t as fortunate as Kelly, so you will have to be more creative with you preparation. Now my World’s Toughest Mudder brethren out there can see what’s coming… The following are some tried and true recommendations that many of us use in preparation for the granddaddy of all obstacle course races so I suggest putting these into play for this “baby brother” version of that event.

Training

– Start taking cold showers or ice baths ASAP!

– Run cold/wet. If the weather isn’t that cold then get wet and run in the early morning to ensure you are facing the lowest temperature possible.

– When you do your “wet runs” do so in clothing that will not dry quickly (cotton, etc).

– Turn the air down in your house or at the office and wear minimal clothing. Get comfortable being uncomfortable!

– Find a largest/deepest body of water near you in which to swim (deeper water will be cooler).

 

Race Prep

– Bring your wetsuit/shorty.

– Pack your Neptune Thermoregulation System or Frog Skins, or Hyperflex Vest, shorty wetsuit or whatever you have to use as transition gear.

– Don’t forget your windbreaker. This should almost be a required item!

– Bring your Dry Robe (just in case).

Evan Perperis @ Toughest NE

Wetsuit Optional (Or Is It?)

As a veteran of five World’s Toughest Mudders and one Toughest Mudder, I have learned through my experience that you need to come to a race like this prepared for anything. You need to bring most, if not all, of your gear and have a plan in place to deal with pretty much whatever mother nature throws your way whether that be a sand storm in Vegas or a rain storm in Rockford.

WTMer, Evan Perperis finished 7th at the Toughest Northeast race has a similar philosophy, “I always bring a lot of options to the Pit and then make a game-time decision. My choices range from just shorts with no shirt and then adding various accessories like a hat or hood or maybe my Neptune shirt all the way to a full wetsuit.”

Funny thing…There is an ongoing joke in the World’s Toughest Community, “no wetsuit necessary.” This refers to the poor souls who show up to WTM without a wetsuit. While a wetsuit isn’t necessarily required for this event I definitely wouldn’t underestimate the variability of MidWestern weather patterns. However, if you do come unprepared and need some help come find me in the Pit. I’ll be crewing for a few people but I’m happy to lend a hand!

Photo Credits: Tough Mudder, Battle Corps, Subjects’ Own