Europe’s Toughest Mudder 2017

There’s something so appealing to UK residents of travelling to Vegas for the infamous World’s Toughest Mudder– if anything, it’s a holiday rolled into an extended race weekend (with the small matter of navigating a 24-hour lapped obstacle course!). So why would anyone in their right mind want to travel to the UK in Spring to essentially run the hardest part of this race in typical UK conditions – rain, wind, and cold? Because every participant was there to push themselves to their physical and emotional limit

As the third race in the new ‘Toughest Mudder’ series, Europe’s Toughest Mudder promised to be the toughest course competitors had faced yet. Competitors are required to complete as many laps of a 5-mile course between the hours of 12 midnight to 8am: now, I don’t know about most people, but I am usually tucked up cozy in my bed by this point in the night! Even with the unconventional start time, Tough Mudder managed to attract 775 willing participants – the highest attendance at a Toughest Mudder yet – to take on the grueling course through the night.

On arrival at Belvoir Castle, there was free parking and a short walk to registration – two things that often don’t come hand in hand with UK races! Registration was pain-free and we were on our way to setup our kits for the night; the pit was situated in the marquee that had been used for the regular Tough Mudder event earlier that day; this was a nice bonus, as it meant our pit crew would be dry and warm waiting on our return (nobody wants a grumpy wet crew!). Once we were strobed up with our bibs inappropriately named and wetsuits at the ready, the race director called all competitors to the start line; this is arguably the best part of any Tough Mudder event – music blaring, everyone bouncing around with adrenaline, and the MC putting the fire in you to go out and get your goal!Start-line-EuropesToughestMudder

At 12 midnight the race began with the standard obstacle-free sprint lap to break up the crowds of runners and give you a feel for the course and its terrain. The event had been setup slightly differently compared to previous Toughest events as there was only one 5-mile loop, but the obstacles would be opening at different times… there was a certain excitement of reaching an obstacle on each lap to find out whether you would have to take it on or not! By 4:00 am, all of the obstacles were open for business, and it quickly became a blessing to have any stretch of running in between to regroup before the next obstacle came along.

Craig-Kong-EuropesToughestMudder

Now, as I mentioned before, the weather in the UK in Spring is not exactly tropical – combine the low temperatures, wind, and rain with the mandatory Arctic Enema, Augustus Gloop, and Blockness Monster and this was a recipe for hypothermia if you were not prepared. Inevitably, the conditions claimed a lot of runners, and by half way through the race, a lot of the lesser prepared competitors had called it a night. I had luckily decided to run in a full wetsuit from the word go; so I managed to keep relatively warm on the first few laps. Arctic Enema did, however, start to take its toll, and it was a swift pit after lap 3 (mile 15) to recruit my neoprene hood as extra backup – this guy saved my race!

Arctic-Enema-EuropesToughestMudder

For the first time during a race, I felt like I did not want to eat ANYTHING and for me, that’s unheard of – picture a hamster stuffing its cheeks with food then scuttling off – this is usually me at endurance races. Luckily, I had my pit crew there to force feed me on each lap, preventing me from bottoming out half way through the race even when I thought I could manage without. I cannot stress enough to anyone who is planning on taking on a Toughest Mudder event the importance of having someone to support you. Sometimes your head says ‘you’ve got this!’ but really, you definitely are high on adrenaline and should be eating or drinking or changing gear at this point.

Mud-mile-EuropesToughestMudder

During the first couple of laps, the obstacles were relatively easy but as the night wore on and the rain got heavier the obstacles also got more challenging- at points I felt as though I might as well have poured lube on my hands and I’d have the same penalty runs as I got during the middle laps! The mud in the UK is great for a regular Tough Mudder event where it’s all fun and games and you are having a laugh with friends, but smear that stuff onto Hang Time (modified King of the Swingers) at 4:00 am and I’m lucky I didn’t need heart surgery from falling off those bars – obstacles that didn’t cause me any trouble in Vegas suddenly were my nemesis. I didn’t let this get me down too much as a few of the world-class racers appeared to be having the same issues as us mere mortals and were on their way round penalty runs just as the majority of us were.  I even saw Jon Albon running the penalty lap for Hang Time…now tell me that isn’t a hard obstacle.

KOTS-EuropesToughestMudder

I’d forgotten what a surreal feeling it was to witness the sunrise whilst on course, it’s something that can instantly change your game even if you’ve hit rock bottom- everything seems just that little bit more achievable once daylight starts to surface and you get your second wind. By the morning it was noticeable that there were only a fraction of the runners who had started still out on the course. The tough terrain, cold weather and constant water submersions had claimed more people than I think even TMHQ expected! It was a lonely and what seemed like a never-ending final lap and one which I won’t forget in a hurry, I had completely reached my physical limit around 1 mile into lap 6 and quickly realised I needed sugar by the bucket load if I was to try and make it to the end. One runner was passing me as I wandered about in a daze and gave me a packet of caffeine shot blocks- the kindness of others during obstacle races and in particular, Tough Mudder races, never fails to amaze me. I plodded on with friends I had caught up with up ahead of me and attempted the final obstacle Kong, while others jumped straight down to the crashmat- I was partly over-confident that I had managed this on the lap before and it was a huge gamble to take knowing I had extremely limited time left on the clock to cross the finish line. In the end, the gamble cost me 6 official laps as I fell from the final ring on Kong, and was timed out 10 meters from the finish line… I have never been so devastated at the end of a race! All of the emotion and sheer exhaustion came to the surface at this point and my friend rescued me from the teary heap I was in and dragged me across that finish line- it was camaraderie at its finest (and I also felt like a Brownlee brother!).

Europes-Toughest-Mudder-Finish

The buzz of the race and the incredible achievements by all on the day in the first race of its kind in the UK will definitely not be forgotten in a hurry! It was a surreal experience from start to finish and one which I think any serious competitor in obstacle racing or endurance running should take on. I for one will certainly be back on that line in 2018 eagerly awaiting what TMHQ has planned for us.

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder

X-Warrior Challenge 2017

It’s 9:15 am.

Darcy Chalifoux (Race Creator) and Frankie John Fuchs (course designer) stood chatting together near the start line. They don’t look nervous, but it’s just fascinating to see how they might act on a day like today. In all of the activity going on around me, I’m suddenly more interested in what they are thinking and feeling than anything else. I’m hoping it’s positive for them: people are pouring into Calgary’s Stampede Park. 

Darcy and Coach

Xwarrior Challenge (5) Start line

As an alternative to some of the other players in the Canadian OCR business, X-Warrior feels critically important for the OCR community in Alberta and Western Canada. Other OCR companies have pulled out from entire provinces (states) this year, leaving the OCR communities in entire regions without races. Alberta itself has seen a contraction of sorts, so we are all very excited to have X-Warrior challenge in town. It’s taken an heroic effort to get this event up and running. It felt great to be standing here, ready to support them.

I’m certainly not alone either: some of the most familiar faces in the province have turned out en force to see what this format is all about. Amongst them are serious western Canadian competitors such as Josh Stryde, Jessica Lemon, Austin Azar, Kody O’Brien, Linzee Knowles, Stefan and Kristian Wieclawek, Graham MacDonald and Nancy Loranger to name a few. It seems the word has gotten around. It’s a stacked elite field with all the makings of a very competitive and visceral opening sortie.

Speaking viscerally, where are the facilities?

Real bathrooms.

I could get used to this

Don’t forget the Titans

Deanna and the kids are wondering when and where the free mcflurries are happening. It’s a legitimate thing to ask, and it’s part of the bribe. I stop to talk to Stefan Wieclawek for a moment. He’s wearing a white Titan bib. He’s telling me he is going to take a shot at snagging first place in the multi-lap 6 hour X-Warrior “Titan” event. I didn’t doubt it. True enough he would later finish in first place with a total of 8 laps or 56 kilometers.

Bring on the Pain.

After a brief introduction to the course by Frankie, the start line routine kicks in. None other than Coach Pain himself appears on the grandstand stage to applause and massive cheers. We kneel as he begins his monologue with a stirring, percussive reflection on the nature of our sport.

Coach Pain X

Darcy seems a little bothered by the sound quality. He needn’t be. The message hits unexpectedly and lands perfectly. It’s a call to focus, a rousing war cry that echoes through the stadium and brings with it a collective rush of adrenaline. It’s a wake-up call for everyone involved to take this race seriously. It’s a command to become competitors. An order to conduct your goddamn business!

Having Coach Pain at the start line was the right choice. It elevated the whole experience, allowing X to hit its stride.

Coach called the first 10 runners to the line. People are bouncing on their toes. Pacing foot to foot. 

This was serious stuff.

I did not expect this.

I am not ready for this.

It was about to go down.

The first group is away and I’m up in the second wave, about 45 seconds after the first. Coach Pain bellows one last time and we’re bolting out of the corral at full tilt.

2017-05-13 | 2017 X Warrior Challenge Calgary

Immediately it’s clear that this is a runner’s race. We take in the south loop of the track, jumping a few walls before running into the stadium seating of the Grandstand.

This is brand new stuff for me, but I’m finding plenty of pace and energy tackling the stairs. We cross into the interior of the grandstand, tackling rope covered stairs and multiple vertical walls set up inside the grandstand building.

Note: OCR shoes are very squeaky on polished concrete.

We emerge into the upper levels of the grandstand, snatching a few high fives from volunteers as we pass, only to run back inside to descend (read: jump down) a long stairwell before bursting back out into the sunlight and along the northern edge of the Stampede racecourse itself.

Pace increases as concrete gives way to loose sand and hard pack. The field thins out. My shoes are biting in well and I start to close in on a few racers that stayed ahead of me in the tighter confines of the stadium, which is fast disappearing behind us.

In the distance, I can hear Coach Pain releasing the last of the elite runners with another bellowing shout “GO!”

Pace.

Obstacles come rushing at us in quick succession. We face a horizontal wall walk and a tip of the spear style obstacle before we turn back on ourselves to tackle an inverted wall. My back is starting to ache again (I hurt it a few days earlier – I’ll explain in a bit). Must push on. Gotta catch Ben O’Rourke. My nemesis.

The obstacles seem well designed, with plenty of lanes. We were never held up by bottlenecks on our heat. A decently long barbed wire crawl really lost me some ground, which I regained (at great effort – might I add) by the time we reached the bridge across the elbow river.  

That bridge was covered with a low ceiling of rope and we had to bear crawl the distance at speed. The adrenaline is still flowing; pacing a run like this stresses me out a little. The hard efforts coupled with uncertainty of what was to come added to that internal struggle. Yet, it was at this stage I realized that I this was my first race in years where I wasn’t caked in mud or had wet feet at this point. I could get used to this.

People are getting tired. Heavy lungs all around me. Ben has already taken a face-full of asphalt but he’s not stopping. Xwarrior Challenge (6) Ben and Glenn

With the first sandbag carry out of the way, we moved to a Z wall, and then back towards the main arena, meeting the first of the elite female wave who were battling for the podium as we ran through an underpass. After a heavy tire flip and the jarring visual contrast of running through some very dark stables, we headed back out into the blinding sunlight for a flat bucket carry.

A really fast over/under style hurdle section was in there too. Somewhere. It’s just memorable because as I jumped over the final hurdle I heard coach Pain’s voice booming across the field again. “Remember to compete! Remember to compete!”

Keep that pace up.

Closing in on the final set piece of the event there was a double tire carry, and yet another sandbag carry among the bleachers of a smaller (posher?) grandstand within the arena circle. My lower back was really slowing me down now, but Coach’s voice took over. “I KNOW SOME OF YOU HAVE GOT PROBLEMS! I KNOW SOME OF YOU HAVE GOT PROBLEMS!” He repeated over and over again. I was having problems. In my L4 and L5 specifically. You see – just two days earlier while trail running I had glanced (like a stone) over a rogue tump of grass on my way down a hill, bouncing on an unprepared, completely straight leg. My spine took the shock and punished me for it.   

Just three obstacles were left.

The axe throw… which I couldn’t complete, even with three attempts. Practice required for next year. 20 slow and painful burpees followed, but I’m right next to the start area now and the end is in sight.

Axe Throw

After a good rope climb (dry and mud-less), I felt somewhat redeemed, just in time for the final obstacle, ‘The Dragon’s Back’. You may have seen a very similar obstacle at OCRWC. It takes courage and technique to complete, leaping from a horizontal platform to an angled platform, grabbing onto a bar to pin the landing. It is a fast and thrilling way to end to the race, and probably the most technical obstacle on the course.

Crossing the line felt great. Well, everywhere except my back. I was reminded that the Titan event would circle this course for a further 5 and a half hours. Ouch.

Xwarrior Challenge (1)

I reached out to the course designer Frankie-John Fuchs for his rationale on the course design for X-Warrior Challenge:

For me, stadium course race design is very challenging and exciting. The main challenge is that the foot-print for the course is very restrictive, but the excitement comes from being able to integrate some of the amazing opportunities offered by this great facility. It doesn’t get much more iconic then Stampede Park, and in some instances, X-warrior is introducing people to this world famous location!

My general principles in designing courses are pretty simple:
1) Nobody finishes my course in under 30 mins. We say it’s going to be a 5K distance race, but it is definitely going to be a little longer than that. I love the training and preparation that people put into the races at all levels and I feel people’s desire to be tested! I also believe people are stronger than they know so they deserve the glory of not only completing a 5km race but being introduced to the deeper waters of longer, unpredictable races. As for the Titans, well… they are pretty much unstoppable, but I selfishly don’t want them to get away with too many laps and not feel it for a week. 


2) Everyone is going to hurt – I’m going to strategically stack or create obstacles that target specific areas of your body at different parts of the race to test you! I also want to minimize bottlenecks while ensuring obstacles are not too far apart.

3) You will inspire others – my favorite part of OCR is the community. I want to have the course enable this by integrating areas where racers pass by each other to allow for cheering and interaction.

My Thoughts

X was a great experience. I enjoyed every moment of that course and I felt that desire to engage with the event and bring others along with me. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from other participants too and the format works well for anyone who enjoys OCR or running without the threat of a cold outdoor shower afterward. The Titan experience adds another strata of performance to the event, allowing endurance athletes to showcase their skill set also.

Logistically, you’ll find the venue really easy to get to. Registration was a breeze. It was entertaining for spectators and the vendor tents within the race grounds were great. There were free McFlurries. Finishers received a quality medal, a wristband, snacks, and a choice of T-shirts or tank tops. Winners were awarded a pair of Icebug trail running shoes. It’s a really rewarding event which will keep people coming back for more. Registration for 2018 is already underway and the hordes of race hungry Canadians are signing up as we speak.

Xwarrior Challenge (8) podium

Further Thoughts and Balance

There is a fine line between setting a course that will both challenge and entertain competitors and casual racers. X seemed to cater to both the strong and the speedy, but it did favor the runner a little more. I would have liked to have seen a couple of more challenging heavy objects on course – something a little grisly to get stuck into and to struggle with. Maybe a heavy plate or tire drag and push. Maybe an atlas ball maneuver or a double sandbag carry. Either way, I felt that there possibly could have been something to really allow those who are more strength focused to shine as brightly as those with speed and stamina. I think there is room for that in X. Even if it’s just a competitive wave thing.

That’s really all I’ve got, and while there’s always room to develop, X-Warrior challenge did so many things right, it’s hardly a mark down. 

X-Warrior was fast, the stadium was creatively used and featured some really fresh ideas underlying the use of obstacles and the terrain. It’s a smart and very savvy presentation, with a great intention, superb execution and a clear love of the sport underlying the whole thing. 

Conclusion and the BIG question.

I asked myself, if I was coming to this race for the first time, would it have the kind of quality, atmosphere, community, competition, excitement and difficulty curve that I experienced on my first ever OCR event? Would I come back for more? Would I train for X-Warrior challenge? 

Xwarrior Challenge (2) elites

Absolutely. I cannot wait to see what X has in store for us next in Western Canada!

Xwarrior Challenge (7) Medal

Shadey’s Rugged Run 2017 Review – Lancaster, PA

Shadey's-Rugged-Run-2017

For the past several years, a class of senior sport management students at Lancaster Bible College has put on an obstacle race. This race not only ensures you need a clean change of clothes, but gives back to the community. This year’s class was no different. The proceeds from this weekend’s event were split between the school’s athletic department and the Penn State Hershey Children’s Miracle Network. As a part of the latter, each wave was introduced to a brave little girl named Madeline. Hearing her story and the obstacles she’s overcome in the just over two years of her life, helped put into perspective the real reason everyone was there to race.

As for the name, it’s not called Shadey because there are lots of trees providing shade, or because they’re dishonest (quite the opposite). It would have to be spelled shady, anyway, for those keeping score at home. Shadey is short for Ebenshade. J. Martin Ebenshade and his wife were local farmers who eventually donated their land, which is where the school is currently located. So, sticking to the school’s roots, the course navigates through the old and current farm land, and is named Shadey’s Rugged Run.

Shadey's-Rugged-Run-Festival-Area-2017

Parking for the event was $10 per car, which is pretty standard across obstacle races. What isn’t always standard, however, was that spectators were totally FREE. Registration included the race, a tech shirt (100% polyester), a drawstring bag, and a handful of coupons for local retailers. Additionally, several vendors offering free samples were set up in the small festival area. This included organic tea, milk, nearby OCR training, a bounce house for children and even ice cream. A local Greek food truck was also there for anyone who wanted to grab a meal. Registration was simple and quick, with little to no line throughout the day.

The event had an optional dry bag check. Luckily, the parking area was close. So, as long as you could protect your car keys from the mud and water, this may not have been needed. During online registration, racers had an option to rent a shower for $5.00. If declined, but you changed your mind on race day, you could still purchase it the day of the race for a slightly higher $7.00. Everyone had access to a fire hose that allowed for quick clean off, and both a men’s and women’s changing tent.

Shadey's-Rugged-Run-Post-Race-Shot

The day began with a timed competitive wave at 8:00 a.m., with non-timed waves running every 20 minutes from there. This helped prevent bottle-necking at obstacles. Speaking of obstacles, there were 17 total obstacles and just over 3 miles of terrain. Like many other well-designed courses, the first few obstacles were well spread out, which also helps with obstacle congestion. Of the 17 obstacles, over a third of them were in the last mile or so.

Shadey's-Rugged-Run-Mystery-Obstacle-2017

The course map had been available on the event’s website (www.shadeysruggedrun.com) weeks in advance of the race and was almost completely accurate. The only two minor differences were the tire carry (listed as a log carry) and the location of the mystery obstacle. The mystery obstacle turned out to be a rope traverse over water. Competitors had to grab a rope above them, stand on another below them, and make their way across. Though some of the low ropes lost a little tension at times, this obstacle proved to be a terrific addition to the course.

Shadey's-Rugged-Run-Leap-of-Faith-2017

Some obstacles were designed to create a bit of a challenge. This includes the previously mentioned tire carry, plus a steep hill climb, cargo net and a tire wall. Others were designed to get you plain old dirty or wet, like a dumpster dive into water, mud pit crawl, and giant mud holes. There was even a giant downhill tarp slide slicked with water and soap (added slip for extra speed) to give the course an extra element of fun. “Leap of Faith,” a fan favorite, consists of climbing up onto one of two platforms and plunging into a pool of water.

Shadey's-Rugged-Run-Fire-Jump-and-Finish-2017

Overall, the course had been extremely well marked, with a string of ropes on each side running almost the entirety of the race. This should not be understated, as most of the time, events benefit from well-marked trails. As this race took you through fields and farms, marking can be difficult There was a little confusion in the competitive wave with course direction, which is not uncommon at races. Unfortunately, one racer made a slight wrong turn and most of those behind followed. In this case, that wrong turn would have been somewhat difficult to prevent. The only negative would be on some of the volunteers, who did not seem to know the correct direction racers should have been going.

Luckily, this issue was quickly fixed by the crew and the following waves seemed to run smoothly. Additionally, the staff and volunteers were extremely apologetic and offered all those affected to jump in any upcoming wave to run the course again. This is an excellent quality to see in an event. Issues are going to happen, that’s racing. But it’s how an event, and its crew, responds to those issues that determine how well-run it is.

Shadey’s Rugged Run is a great race for the OCR newcomer, or a veteran looking for a weekend race. The competitive wave provides an option for anyone that wants to test their skills against other racers, while the open heats are a great introduction into the world of obstacle racing and mud runs.

Photo Credit: Shadey’s Rugged Run and the author

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

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

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

NJ-UB-2017-Olympus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Twister

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

Tough Mudder Arizona 2017

Tough Mudder Arizona

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Arizona, so naturally I decided to take part in the 2017 Tough Mudder with friends I’d never met before in person. This is how most of my races go now. What did I learn? I learned that Tough Mudder is changing to rapidly become an even bigger hitter in the OCR world. Read more to learn why.

STATS AND STUFF

Event Location: Mesa, Arizona.

Actual course distance: 10.2 miles for the Full/Tougher Mudder Course

Weather: 26°C/86F, some gusty winds. Hot.

Terrain: Arid desert plateau. Minimal elevation gain/loss. Ground underfoot ranged from hard pack, powdery dust, sand, broken asphalt, desert brush, and some gravel. Oh, and mud… duh.

Events offered: Tougher Mudder (Competitive Full Course), Tough Mudder (Full Course), Tough Mudder Half, MiniMudder.

Getting there: The race takes place on the crumbling ruins of an old Nascar circuit, just on the south side of Mesa. It’s practically walking distance from Mesa Gateway airport, so it’s easily accessible. Cost of parking: $20 US.

Facilities: Porta potties in Mudder village and on course. First aid. Merchandise and food tents. Beer tent. Bag check. Rinsing area. Changing tents. ETC

Equipment needed: I ran in my Merrell All Out Crush OCR shoes, which were idea for the conditions because they drained exceptionally well. I took a hydration pack, and a couple of gels. The course chewed up my running socks and shirt a bit, so don’t go wearing your expensive duds.

Swag: A great quality tech running shirt from Merrell/Tough Mudder, a Tough Mudder headband. Brags.

IN DEPTH

Difficulty

The course for the Arizona Tough Mudder is very flat, which means it’s a suitable race for participants of almost any athletic ability. Obstacles are always optional in Tough Mudder, but some obstacle training and a background in running would make the experience a lot more fun. By entering the original Tough Mudder, you should find that slower pacing and the non-competitive atmosphere means that exhaustion doesn’t play as large a role as it might in other OCR events (shorter and competitive versions of the event are also available if the full isn’t to your liking). The biggest challenge by far in Arizona is the heat, which even in early April, can be considerably more than out of state visitors to Tough Mudder Arizona might be prepared for. 

Water

Multiple water stations were located across the course. Some of the water stations also provided 🍌 halves for participants. I counted at least five water stations. I brought a hydration pack, but didn’t really need it – call me paranoid – but this is the desert. I never felt thirsty.

Obstacles

If you’ve never done a Tough Mudder before, let me give you an introduction. The format of the original Tough Mudder is that of an event rather than a race (the new Tougher Mudder competitive wave with prize money is brand new in 2017), with the most popular iteration being the 10-12 mile distance, or the FULL Tough Mudder.  The obstacles found in a Tough Mudder are among the best in the industry, and while they may not always be the most challenging or punishing, they are always very well designed, very well built and amusingly named (See “stage 5 clinger” and “Snot Rocket”). While some of the obstacles are one person at a time kinda deals, many of them are team based, forcing you to work together. This is a critical part of the Tough Mudder. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

But don’t be fooled, these are not really easy obstacles;  it’s just that some of the obstacles are designed to mess with your amygdala more than your muscles. There’s a fear factor here, and the race designers play with almost all the phobias through a series of elaborate stunts and tasks. We get to experience the fear of heights, water, tight spaces, tight spaces with water, getting dirty, getting cold, being unable to overcome an obstacle, or even getting electrocuted in front of a crowd (not even joking). Welcome to the twisted sense of humor of Tough Mudder.

Yet it’s the simple things that put the ‘Tough” in Tough Mudder. Some of the most difficult sections of the Arizona course involved simple mud traps and pits. Best to be prepared for that. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

“Everest 2.0” requires speed and power to launch high enough to be grabbed by helping hands, but a relatively dry ramp at this event meant that failure was rare on this obstacle. For me, Pyramid scheme is the beating heart of the Tough Mudder experience and remains a stroke of pure genius. Why? The obstacle is designed to deliver muddy mayhem at every turn, and it requires massive amounts of teamwork to complete. Conquering it as a team results in a huge sense of accomplishment and multiple fist bumps. Just make sure you tighten the waistband of your shorts before making yourself part of the pyramid. Someone will pants you. It happens. Block Ness Monster is another highlight. This obstacle is just sheer bliss and entertainment value – note to course designers for next time – It’s much better when you can’t touch the bottom of the pool. But like I said earlier, it’s the simplicity of the setup that becomes the canvas for the adventure.

Tough Mudder Arizona

New or notable obstacles:

SNOT ROCKET/AUGUSTUS GLOOP
A vertical climb inside a tube, while you are being sprayed with water from above. This one looked pretty awful, but like nearly all of the water obstacles, it came as a welcome way of cooling off. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

BIRTH CANAL
A crawl beneath heavy, water filled tarps. This didn’t seem to require any kind of team effort and was not visible enough for any real spectator value. This obstacle should have been twice as long.  

Tough Mudder Arizona

KONG (Legionnaires only-so run another Tough Mudder and come play on this bad boy)
An impressively​ tall ring set. Although it looks cool, this is the far less interesting alternative to Electroshock Therapy. It’s presence is likely there to challenge the Tough Mudder timed event participants since electroshock therapy isn’t a suitable finish for a race I guess.

Tough Mudder Arizona

SHAWSHANKED
Think Andy Dufresne crawling his way to freedom and dropping into the muck of the sewer (this is a very literal interpretation).  A narrow horizontal tube and rope crawl, terminating in a headfirst drop into a pool of muddy water. The intimidation factor of this made it a great addition to the Tough Mudder experience. Make sure you hold your nose next time. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

Notes on the Tougher Mudder Competitive wave:

Those running the competitive wave will have found themselves much more challenged by obstacles that are meant to be completed with a more willing set of team-mates. It’s a pretty exciting addition, but I couldn’t make it to the race in time to run competitively. Plus, I had my awesome team THE ANGRY RACCOONS to run with. 

Safety

Safety on course was great. Tough Mudder has developed a solid protocol for safety and ensuring the obstacles on offer are sturdy and well tested so at the minimum, I would advise you to bring sunscreen, listen to the safety briefings, and read the signage. More than once I saw people entering deep water and needing to be rescued by very experienced looking lifeguards, but everyone was warned multiple times about the risks at Tough Mudder. The heat was probably the thing to be most concerned about at this particular event.

Turnout

HUGE. It wasn’t too hot. It wasn’t too difficult so I saw a lot of people on course clearly enjoying themselves. The staff seemed happy to be there. There were plenty of laughs. If you’re in Arizona, definitely check it out. 

CONCLUSION

Tough Mudder still manages to keep the incandescent appeal of the obstacle course alive and well in Arizona, and it is refreshing to see a company being progressive and thoughtful towards its participants. There’s buzz and movement there. Why? They have lowered the bar of entry to the Tough Mudder by expanding the shorter entry level events, and yet maintained the spirit of the original Tough Mudder. But that’s not all (this is sounding like an infomercial), TM has moved into a new arena of highly engaging competitive races that seems to hold up well against the other major players in the sport.  In short, Tough Mudder is becoming one of the most broadly appealing and interesting series of OCR events worldwide. 

I’m VERY excited to see Tough Mudder continue to make inroads into the race calendars of more pro and competitive obstacle course racers.

Your move Spartan…

The Angry Raccoons

Photo Credit: Gameface Media and Tough Mudder

Spartan Race Las Vegazona 2017

Picture by Taylor Mullin (@taylor_mullin_)

Spartan Race came back to the Mesquite, Arizona Motocross Track for their “Las Vegas” race this year. The Las Vegas event has been a fast and furious race course over the last three years. The long stretches of running on sand, as well as a pretty decent amount of river running took many by surprise in 2016.

Course designer supreme, Steve Hammond, had shared some hints in the week leading up to the race that we would get treated to a repeat of last year’s course style:

Course Map

The course map supported the flat and fast statements as well.

Spartan Race - Las Vegas Course Map

Race Venue

Parking at this venue is fortunately close to the festival area. As usual, there was a lack of shade (pavilions, vendor booths, etc.) so people started to huddle in every little bit of protection from the desert sun they could find, and many did receive their first sunburn of the year.

The SGX area received some improvements and now features climbing holds added to a pull up bar, Gormax flips, as well as the usual rope climb and over wall.

Everyone who paid attention did not encounter any surprises as Steve delivered on his promise. The terrain was flat, however, the start gave a great indication of what racers are going to see a lot of: death by a dozen little bumps on the trail.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Startline

After this rough start, one mile of fine, loose sand was waiting. Fortunately, there was an opportunity to cool down during a bit of river running (~0.1 mi), which was followed by another mile of loose sand, and finally the last half of the course finished out on the motocross track. The treacherous part of those motocross venues is that the little hills and bumps don’t look intimidating at all.

However, the steep grade of these dirt mounds, along with the hard packed ground and slippery dirt on top, suck the energy out of everyone’s legs, especially since there are usually three or more of them in a row. The biggest single climb on the course can be seen behind the dunk wall, leading up to the top of the mesa.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Dunkwall

In summary, the Mesquite MX venue may be flat, but it does make up for it with its loose sand and frequent, short, steep hills.

The Twister

In recent races, as well as in Vegas, it appears as if the Twister obstacle becomes more of a menace than the rig, which was completely absent from the Sprint, but part of the previous day’s Super. For those with strong grip, it poses no problem and requires just a bit of practice to figure out which technique suits them best… and then there is Veejay, the youngest Spartan Pro Team member, doing this.

Here is another perspective on the Twister. In the front is the side-by-side grip technique while the racer in the back is going hand-over-hand, which requires more grip strength and technique, but is also much faster.

GPS Data

Everyone interested in the data can find the GPS track below, more details can be found on Strava directly.

All pictures and videos owned by the author unless otherwise noted.

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