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

Europe-Toughest-Mudder-start

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.

Europe-Toughest-Mudder-Kong

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

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

LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 1)

LeaderBoard-Logo

What if I told you there’s a top secret organization of podium finishers across the nation? And that the recent Spartan Super at Fort Carson, had its podium swept by this group? Well, part of that is true. There is a group of athletes training together and hitting podiums left and right. The fib was that it’s not a secret at all!

If you’ve read the Train Like a Pro series, you know Robert Killian is a coach over at a training website called LeaderBoard. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Anyway, the great people at LeaderBoard were generous enough to let me get the real-deal experience for myself. In addition to Robert, LeaderBoard has his fellow Spartan Pro Team member, Brakken Kraker, as their other coach. Over the last month, I’ve been working directly with Brakken.

LeaderBoard-Peak-Podium-Sweep

THE PEOPLE

Though Brakken and Robert may be the faces that bring in athletes, there are other members of the team you’ll work with. Taylor McClenny, LeaderBoard’s Founder, ensures that the program maintains course towards its long-term mission. Zac Allen takes on the role of Assistant Coach. He, along with your head coach (Brakken or Robert), are your main points of contact for the program. He’s there to answer any questions you have, keep your race schedule up-to-date, and ensure you’re getting the best training experience possible. Behind the scenes, Lindsey Watts is the Head of Software Development. She takes care of website development and ensures that the fitness programming is always improving.

Taylor and Zac were old MMA training partners, who reconnected after Zac finished filming NBC’s Spartan Race: The Ultimate Team Challenge. After discussing the sport of Obstacle Course Racing and the culture it brings, they knew it was the best entry point for LeaderBoard. The next step was finding a pro Head Coach. The list was short and, after meeting with Brakken, he was clearly the right fit. They officially launched the June 6, 2016 with 15 total athletes. Robert joined the team later that August. Today, LeaderBoard trains 65 athletes and growing.

Robert-Killian-Sandbag-Carry-Seattle-2017

HOW IT WORKS

LeaderBoard gives athletes a place to work directly with coaches, and other athletes, to better their own fitness. Taylor saw the need for their type of program. “I found it odd that programming, to date, is largely a one-way system,” he said. “It’s rare that these same systems are used as a two-way communication, where the coaches use feedback from their athletes to improve the programming and overall experience. That’s our goal.” I really think this is part of why LeaderBoard has been so successful. They’re able to adjust your program on the fly and provide the right feedback for each athlete.

The program is set up so that athletes can train up to 7 days per week, if needed. After the first few days of training, you’ll have a one-on-one session with your coach. Though it was scheduled for about 20 minutes, my chat with Brakken lasted closer to an hour. I was quickly able to see the amount of detail the coaches get to know about each person. They make it a priority to know the athlete, their PRs (Personal Records), training history and what programming works best for them.

Each day, you’ll log in at www.leaderboardfit.com, check that day’s workout(s), perform the workout, then log your results. The rest is done for you; the workouts, the distances, the paces, everything. As you log each result, your coaches will update future workouts to reflect the best possible training program for you. There have been times when my prescribed distance, or pace for a run has been altered just based on a workout I did that week. Your coaches can also change workouts based on upcoming races, depending on how important that race is to you. The schedule is set up so that you can race pretty much any weekend. But, if there’s a race that you really want to PR, the coaches will make a few tweaks so that you’re fresh come race day.

Brakken-Kraker-Monkey-Bars-at-Citi-Stadium-Sprint

COMMUNICATION

One of the areas LeaderBoard excels in is communication. In addition to the one-on-one every athlete has with their coach, they also get an invite into a group chat on a messaging program called Slack. This has been one of my favorite parts of LeaderBoard. There are several areas in Slack that I have at my disposal. The first is a group chat with all athletes and coaches on LeaderBoard. The second is a group chat just for Brakken’s athletes, with the third being a private chat set up between myself and my two coaches (Zac and Brakken). Slack allows athletes to discuss that day’s workout, ask questions about workouts, gear, races, etc., get together at common races, and even share lodging for races that are far from home.

Brakken’s athletes also have a Facebook Live event with him every two weeks. He broadcasts from whatever his location happens to be that week, discusses recent races, workouts and benchmarks. We’ll get into benchmarks later!

LeaderBoard-Dashboard

THE WORKOUTS

Each week consists of two full quality workouts, a semi-quality workout, a couple recovery days and a full rest day. Just a heads up, there’s a lot of running! I know this may seem obvious, being an OCR program, but not all of them account for it. One of the first things Brakken and I discussed was how much running I had been doing to that point. We then decided that I should try to run about four days a week, adding in a fifth if I felt good. The rest would be low or non-impact days.

Because I don’t have a lot of soft trails nearby, a few of my longer runs and interval runs were on pavement or a treadmill. About three weeks in, I could feel a slight onset of shin splints. I’ve had issues with them in the past and wanted to avoid them creeping in at all costs. I hopped on Slack, sent a message to Brakken and Zac, and we quickly figured out a plan of attack. They had me back off a day of running, and do what I could to run on soft terrain. The fourth day, when I would normally run, would be a non-impact cardio activity instead. I did this for the next two weeks, as I had a (small) race coming up. Sure enough, it worked. My legs felt fine and I had a great race.

The quality workouts are designed to push you to your limits, but not be too difficult for you to complete. If you can’t complete it, you won’t improve. Some of the quality runs have included Fartlek, 60/60 intervals, progressive tempo,  and 5/5 hard/easy intervals, among others. Not all quality workouts are just runs, either. Many include tasks that would simulate something you might see in a race, such as carries, bear walks, burpees or pull ups. On recovery and easy run days, you’ll also have a supplemental workout, which is usually based on your specialization during that time. After you log your workout, your coaches will review it and update your program as needed. Sometimes they’ll even send you an email will feedback about a given workout you logged.

LeaderBoard-Female-podium-finish

BENCHMARKS AND SPECIALIZATIONS

This is really LeaderBoard’s bread and butter and why I think their athletes see great results. The Benchmarks are specific physical tests that you’ll retake throughout your training. There’s a 5k BM, a Carry BM and a Rig BM. The Carry and Rig are tested each month and generally help you decide your specialization. The specialization pretty much determines what type of supplemental workouts you’ll be doing for the next four weeks. If you just can’t decide, there’s a “Coach’s Suggestion” to help you out!

For the first four weeks, I selected the Carry Specialization, as I didn’t have past BM tests to help me choose. This meant that many of my supplemental workouts involved either a bucket, sandbag or farmer’s carry, sometimes with an exercise circuit thrown in. After the four weeks were up, and it was time to do the Carry BM, I could tell how much I would’ve struggled if I didn’t have those four weeks under my belt. Those who picked the Carry Specialization achieved 15% more improvement on their latest Carry BM than the average. What’s even more impressive is that they also achieved 81% more improvement on their Rig BM than the average.

Next round, I’ll be training with the Rig Specialization. Athletes who had just done this specialization achieved a whopping 114% more improvement on the Rig BM than the average.  

LeaderBoard-Podium-Finishes-in-March

RESULTS

I am now the fastest racer alive! Okay, maybe not, but it’s only been a month. There’s only so much I can tell you about my improvement so far, and don’t worry, I’m getting to that. As for athletes who have been using the program for a while, there’s a great deal of standing on podiums going on. At this year’s Spartan Race it Atlanta, GA, LeaderBoard had an athlete win both the Saturday and Sunday race, two who took first and second in Masters both days, plus another that finished fourth. That’s not including the other athletes who finished top 20. Another athlete went from top 90% in his age group to top 10% basically just by having an off-season of LeaderBoard training. As I mentioned before, LB athletes also swept the men’s podium of this past weekend’s Spartan Super at Fort Carson.

As far as my results go, I can sit here and tell you how much faster and stronger I feel (which I do), but you’d have to take me at my word. I appreciate it that some of you probably do, but others may want proof. Luckily, I brought some. First off, I ran my 5k BM about 30-seconds slower than my PR, which I hit in a race at the end of last year. Why is that proof? Over the winter, I was lucky to run twice a week. Some weeks I didn’t run at all. I used it to take some time off from running and build strength. To be this close early in the season means I should have myself a new PR pretty soon.

Not enough proof? Well, when I first spoke with the team at LeaderBoard about taking this little journey, we added in another Benchmark test just for me. There’s a great trail surrounding a nearby ski resort that totals 5.1 miles and about 775 feet of total ascent. A couple weeks before beginning the program, I ran it. A few days ago, I ran it again. Below is the total time, plus splits for each mile. Total ascent during each mile is in parenthesis to account for the variation in splits. The numbers from 7 weeks ago are on the left, with the latest numbers on the right.

Total Time – 1:02:52 vs. 59:09

Mile 1 (256 ft) – 11:32 vs. 11:41

Mile 2 (244 ft) – 13:49 vs. 12:54

Mile 3 (84 ft) – 11:14 vs. 10:42

Mile 4 (89 ft) – 12:23 vs. 11:21

Mile 5 (77 ft) – 12:25 vs. 11:05

There’s still much work and testing to be done, but I’ve learned so much already this past month. I’m very excited to see what the upcoming weeks have in store. Next month, I’ll be posting another update. There will be another month of specialization and another round of Benchmarks. I’ll also be competing in a Savage Race, which I’ll compare to my experience running one last October, before training under LeaderBoard.

For more information and to book a free 7-day trial, visit www.leaderboardfit.com.

Photo Credit: LeaderBoard, Spartan Race

How your Toughest Mudder goes in the crapper!

You spend countless hours on the trails and in the gym crushing yourself so that you can go out and get your maximum mileage at Toughest Mudder only to end up losing priceless minutes staring at the back of an outhouse door. How in the world could this happen? Poor planning that’s how!!! Its ok, don’t beat yourself up too much; we are all new to this “starting the race at midnight” jazz. This issue has actually proved to be a real problem at Toughest Mudder races; heck even the great Ryan Atkins failed to properly map out his eating for the inaugural Toughest and it almost cost him the race. Ryan Woods had issues at that race as well. However, these two athletes learned from their mistakes and made changes in their race prep for the second Toughest and both crushed it finishing 1st and 2nd respectively.  Fortunately for you I set out to tackle probably the oddest subject-matter for an article that I have ever written. Hopefully after travelling on this journey with me we can keep you out on the course rather than wondering why TMHQ didn’t leave any reading material in the Port-a-Potty!


The Problem

This race starts at midnight! This means we have to go through an entire day immediately prior to racing. This isn’t normal for anyone. Our usual final race prep begins with a pre-race meal the evening before the event followed by a good night’s sleep. Then we wake up, eat our usual race breakfast, maybe do our pre-race business and we are off and running by 8am…Maybe it’s a little later but you get the idea. With Toughest you have to make it through the day before this 8 hour Ultra event and try not to screw anything up! Evan Perperis, author of Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite Obstacle Racing, believes, “not having that eight hour fast immediately prior to the race is huge!” You literally have to plan your meal content, timing, amount, throw in a nap and basically take it easy for an entire day which is not easy to do when you are amping yourself up for a race like this. In my article, The Complete Guide to Toughest Mudder, I review nearly everything you need to do to prepare for the event but I only touch on the nutrition portion. In the paragraphs below I will give you the skinny from some of the top athletes in our sport as well as my own two cents on the subject. Understand that you need to find what works for you but this information is a great place to start.
What not to do

You don’t want to load up on the food on the Saturday of the race. In fact, it’s best to eat light. It’s a good idea to plan on eating small meals/snacks especially after lunch. The last thing you want to do is to carb load for dinner the evening of the race. Prior to the Toughest Mudder in LA, Ryan Atkins said “a bunch of us went out for an Italian dinner and I ate too much. This forced me to have to relieve myself four times during the early part of the race and cost me a lot of time.” Ryan Woods had similar issues and had to stop twice. Nancy Clark, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook says “I’d say the runners want to eat a heartily on Friday (if the race is on Sunday at 12am) to allow time for the food to get evacuated, and then eat low-fiber (non-irritating) foods the day of the race, with the biggest meals being breakfast and lunch.”

In addition, it’s a good idea to limit your fat and protein intake in each meal on the day of the event because these will slow the absorption of your meal. The goal is basically to make digestion easy on Saturday because the more food in your intestines the more stops you will have to make during the race. You see your body is pretty smart, it knows that you need to fuel your muscles to keep moving so it starts shunting blood to the digestive tract. The fact you are moving, however, keeps the food moving though your system. This partially digested food can lead to GI distress and cause your stool to be loose. This is what runners colorfully term “the trots.” Just remember that it takes 4-6 hours for food to exit your stomach so any food you eat after 6pmon Saturday could still be in the stomach at race start. Your body will quickly move this through the intestines so it could become an issue. Anything eaten prior to 6pm on race day will likely send you to the restroom either immediately before the event or during the early hours of the race. Atkins actually told me he feels you should plan on having to stop once during the race and there is nothing wrong with that.

2016 World’s Toughest Mudder Champion, Trevor Cichiosz, admitted “I think I over ate because I felt stuffed at the starting line of Toughest Mudder South. Next time I’ll hit the starting line a little hungry.” He actually ate the bulk of his food after 6pm on Saturday and it cost him. He said he had to hit the head four times during the race and three times during lap 2 alone!!! FYI, Trevor we thank you for making those stops this time!

Developing a plan

When you are developing your nutritional strategy for a Toughest Mudder event you actually need to begin about 30 hours prior to the event at what is still your true pre-race dinner. In fact, I recommend that you eat pretty similar to what you might have for a normal supper. This is going to be your last larger sized meal until after your race just don’t get too crazy. You also want to make sure that you properly hydrate to ensure that you are ready to go in this area as well. I think it’s probably a good idea to stay up a little later and sleep in a bit on Saturday. This will allow you to have less waking hours on Saturday and therefore ease some of the transition into race night.

When you arise from your slumber on Saturday the real “science” of your plan goes into effect and will actually take you all the way through to post race on Sunday morning. A lot of racers don’t put this much thought into how they are going to prepare even for an event such as World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). I actually feel that due to the hours racers start and finish the Toughest Mudder events the nutrition planning might actually be MORE difficult for these races than for WTM. I have included below an example plan of eating from 6pm on the Friday before through to the initial post race meal on Sunday. This is not only a collection something that I might do but also a compilation of strategies that I obtained from the individuals mentioned previously in this article so you get a true menu from the “elites” rather just my take on this prep.

Menu

-Dinner Friday (6pm-8pm): This is your “carb load meal. Don’t go crazy with the fats here but do include pasta, rice, potatoes, maybe a little dessert. Eat hearty here! You will need those calories and all that stored glycogen. This is also time to get a little roughage because there won’t be much of that on Saturday nor during the event. Whatever you prefer to dinner make sure you have plenty of it.

-Breakfast Saturday (8am-10am): Think like the French on this. Have a bagel or baguette. Maybe an egg sandwich or a few small pancakes or waffles. Fruit and yogurt is also good. Remember to hydrate. Coffee and warm liquids are good to because they get the GI moving and will start to clear your gut.

Lunch (12-2pm): I chose to have this meal be the same as my normal pre-race meal when my Battle Corps teammates and I traditionally have sushi. Ryan Woods chose pizza, and Atkins started eating “light” from here on. Whatever you chose make sure it’s easy to digest because this will be passing through your GI early in the race. Just play it safe. Choose foods that are familiar to you.

Dinner Time Saturday (5-8pm): This is where you should make sure to limit your intake to snacking. I had a banana and little oatmeal (my usual prerace breakfast), had some Hot Tamales candy and some Gatorade. I also have coffee on my way to the event to help “clean me out.” Trevor Cichiosz opted for some Ramen noodles which is good because they have carbs, sodium, and are warm but make sure you limit your portion size.

Pre-Race (10pm-11pm): Have a snack to keep you from getting too hungry early in the race. I had a Cliff Bar. Evan Perperis had a Gel pack and some Hammer Nutrition Heed.

During the event: Nancy Clark recommends shooting for 200-350 Calories per hour depending on your individual tolerance. Lindsay Webster said she tries for about 150-200 calories/ hour while Ryan Atkins’ goal is closer to 300 calories/ hour. Whatever works for you just try to keep it constant and try to prevent dehydration because this can lead to among other things GI distress and diarrhea. Things that are common among those I interviewed are Cliff Shot Blocks rather than Gel which seems to cause some people issues, rice balls, a little pizza here and there to slow absorption when you stomach may be getting a little upset. Electrolyte drinks like Tailwind or diluted Gatorade even Pedialyte.

Remember these few points as well from the text Sports and Exercise Nutrition (McArdle, Katch & Katch). Increased stomach volume increases emptying rate while increased caloric amounts decrease emptying so keep taking in small amounts of food and decent amount water through the race. Also exercising at an intensity above 75% of your aerobic maximum will decrease you body’s ability to absorb the calories you intake and increases Gastric distress. Considering this equates to an exercising heart rate greater than 135 beats per minute for the majority of racers this is definitely something to consider.

The Wrap Up

If you gather nothing else from this article, remember these few things as you prepare your nutrition plan for Toughest Mudder:

*Eat light on the day of the event.

*Snacks are better than larger meals because that volume in your GI is going to work its way through your system early in the race. Nancy Clark mentioned how your normal eating rhythms decrease your hunger at night so you probably won’t be starving during the race anyway.

*It’s also a good idea to choose foods that are limited in fat and no roughage to ensure that they are easy to digest both Saturday during the day as well as during the race.

*In the end, shit happens!

If you take all of the “poop talk” seriously then maybe it won’t be a problem for you. The alternative is to hope that TMHQ had staffers check to see that the “Shitters aren’t full” and they the toilet paper is stocked after the events earlier in the day… but I definitely don’t want to leave those to chance! Happy trails!

Toughest Mudder South Race Review

In today’s OCR landscape, there is a plethora of events featuring numerous different course lengths and difficulties to suit every taste.  However, the more hardcore crowd who enjoys pushing themselves for multiple hours through endless obstacles was dealt a tough blow last year when BattleFrog shuttered operations.  Their BattleFrog Extreme (BFX) option allowed racers to complete as many laps of the standard 5 mile circuit from 8 am to 3 pm and were a favorite among the ultra OCR enthusiast crowd.  Tough Mudder clearly saw this opportunity to seize that market segment and announced the first ever Toughest Mudder Series.  These events would be 8 hours taking place from 12-8 am, competitive with prize money, broadcast on CBS, and feature a 2 course layout with unique obstacles.  The inaugural event in Los Angeles last month was hailed a smashing success by competitors and media alike.  Therefore, I was keen to check out if Tough Mudder Head Quarters (TMHQ) could duplicate the same triumph at the second stop in Atlanta – let’s hope for Godfather Part 2 and not 2 Fast 2 Furious.

As with any great sequel, the setting is critical and Bouckaert Farms seemed to fit the bill.  This 8,000 acre equestrian park is teeming with gentle pastures, lakes, and woodlands along a 12 mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River.  The road leading up to the event site was well marked and an electronic road construction sign was placed at the site entrance.  Two options were offered for parking – premium for $30 (could only be purchased in advance) right beside Mudder village and standard for $20 ($10 in advance).  Standard parking required a decent 15 minute walk which was quite a task when toting all the gear and nutrition needed for an 8 hour event.  Mudder Village was set up inside the equestrian competition venue with registration setup at the main gate.  Drop zones for pit stops left a lot to be desired though as they were located inside the equestrian horse stalls.   While TMHQ did make good on their promise to provide a 2 by 4 foot covered area, these stalls were narrow and had a very tight entrance.  Undeterred, participants eventually crowded into the starting corral to receive their final briefing.

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TMHQ officials covered primary rules and course specifics before handing over the mic to their hype man, Sean Corvelle.  The Tough Mudder pledge was recited, a few chants were uttered, and the official start was issued promptly at 12:00 am.  Channeling the spirits of the thoroughbreds which normally graced the grounds, participants charged out of the corral onto the first loop.  The first lap is described as a “Sprint Lap” with only some of the 12 obstacles being open.  This allows the field to thin and prevent back logging on obstacles.  There is also a standalone award for the first male and female to complete the first lap.  However, it seemed a large portion of the field went out at a pace more suited for a 2 hour race and would come to regret that decision later in the night.

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The first mile of loop number one led away from Mudder Village and directly into the surrounding forest for a nice technical section of trail running.  Nestled amidst the Georgia pines was the first obstacle, Berlin Walls, which would showcase a devious twist from the race directors – a double obstacle.  There are normally two flat 8 foot walls participants must scale, but the course was doubled back after successful completion to conquer two more (total of 4 walls).  Even better still, the second set had an added horizontal shelf at the top which made that set much more difficult and strength intensive.  Little did we know, TMHQ would utilize this sneaky technique on other upcoming obstacles throughout the event.

After some more trail running, the forest opened up to Pyramid Scheme which was tweaked for this individual event into a slippery (water pit at the base), slanted wall with a rope assist.  Shortly after, mudders encountered the first decent hill at 1.5 miles into the course that gained approximately 100 feet at a 20% incline.  The path turned at the summit and would meander along the river front for the next 2.5 miles.  Along the way, some of the more mundane obstacles would be met including Devil’s Beard (cargo net crawl), Hold Your Wood (log carry), Lumberjacked (horizontal logs to jump over), and Bale Bonds (hay bale climb).  The relaxing jaunt through the foggy meadow abruptly came to an end with the emergence of a beast, the Block Ness Monster!  Teamwork was a necessity because these slick, rotating barriers were heavy and situated in deep water.

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With heart rates raised and muscles pumped, the path would only get harder from here.  Skidmarked, an 8 foot slanted wall (towards athlete), was hiding only a few hundred yards around the corner.  This lead directly into Kiss the Mud 2.0 (barb wire crawl) and Mud Mile 2.0.  Muddy mounds are not normally an obstacle people fear with most barely remembering them post race, but this is Toughest Mudder!  Mud Mile 2.0 was by far the hardest and most energy consuming obstacle on loop one.  These mounds were tall with no hand / foot holds and the water pits were deep with no ability to launch upwards.  Competitors united to push and pull each other over the 10 slick mounds at a brutally sluggish rate.  The hard work was rewarded with two additional obstacles before the finish – Pitfall (variable depth water crossing) and Everest 2.0 (half pipe with rope assist).

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Challengers would complete this same course as many times as they could until between 3:45 – 4:00 am when TMHQ would begin routing people to the second loop for the remaining 4 hours.  Obstacles on the first loop all closed around 3:30 am to usher all runners to the second loop as quickly as possible.  Loop one could definitely be summarized as teamwork based with no single obstacle causing a high rate of failure and was aimed at sapping leg strength.  Loop two, on the other hand, would be much more individual focused and require upper body / grip strength plus obstacle proficiency.

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Waiting conveniently atop the first hill was Balls to the Wall, the 16 foot vertical wall with a rope attached at its peak.  No time to rest though because down the other side of the hill ran you into Augustus Gloop.  This was comprised of wading thru a water pit and directly up a vertical tube as more water rushed in from above.  After being thoroughly soaked, TMHQ decided to be funny and place the shockingly (pun intended) tricky Operation.  Similar to the children’s game of old, a metal pole had to be placed thru an electrified opening to grab a small ring hanging flush against a backstop.  Successful completion moved you directly into another double obstacle section, Stage 5 Clinger and Reach Around.  If you were not feeling the burn by now, a modified King of Swingers (no bell, replaced with cargo net to Tyrolean traverse over the water pit) was a short distance away to push your muscles to the limit.  All of this came before the 2 mile mark of loop two!

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Fortunately, the obstacle density was scaled back after this point with longer running sections.  Arctic Enema the Rebirth would be next up after a half mile jog to cool any burning forearms and really shock the system.  Another half mile stretch was waiting to warm participants’ core temperature just in time for another log carry, Hold Your Wood Dos, and Funky Monkey the Revolution.  The first half was the same upward sloping monkey bars as previous years, but the remainder had been revamped to include a series of revolving wheels.  Thick fog from the humid Southern air provided a nice coating of dew for added enjoyment.  The remaining two miles of the course was fairly subdued with a 200 foot hill climb, Ladder to Hell (simple up and over), Quagmire (thick mud pit), double obstacle – Birth Canal and Black Hole (low crawls under fluid filled canvas), and lastly Kong (5 gym rings suspended 30 feet in the air).

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No new laps could be started after 7:45 am and a 30 minute grace period was provided to finish any current lap.  Any athletes still not finished at 8:30 am were pulled from the course and transported back to Mudder Village.  This would not count as a DNF, just no partial credit would be given for that last lap.  When it was all said and done, your top men were Ryan Atkins (1st – 50 miles), Ryan Woods (2nd – 45 miles), and Luke Bosek (3rd – 45 miles).  On the women’s side, the top performers were Lindsay Webster (1st – 45 miles), Allison Tai (2nd – 40 miles), and Alex Roudayna (3rd – 35 miles).  Currently in the lead for annual mileage are Ryan Atkins (100 miles) and Lindsay Webster (85 miles).  The next stop for Toughest will be across the pond in the United Kingdom.

So did Tough Mudder successfully pull off their Godfather sequel?  Based off the 500 maniacs (this author included) who paid hard earned money to torture themselves for 8 hours, it would seem TMHQ made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  The courses were comprised of technical running with enough hills to keep it interesting, but not daunting.  Obstacles were well placed, challenging, and contained surprising alterations like doubled versions.  It was a very polished event as one would expect from one of the most well established OCR companies.  Perhaps the only unanswered question will be how these events translate into the CBS broadcast later this summer.  To paraphrase Michael Corleone, “We know it’s you, Tough Mudder.  So don’t break our hearts!”

Toughest Mudder South – A first-time Pit Crewing Experience

PREFACE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder, the author, and ORM