Whistler Toughest 2017 – Procrastination

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

Whistler Olympic Park, the venue weeks prior:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lumber Jacked with Warren Zamko and David Beaudry:

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

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

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

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

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

Hang Time with Amin Menhadji:

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

Snot Rocket with Amin Menhadji:

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

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

Stage 5 Clinger with Amin Menhadji:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blockness Monster with Kirsten Hijdra, Shanny Shan, John Tai

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

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

John Tai

Canada’s Toughest Mudder Eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Azar Crushing the Soul-Crusher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

XX Race – Indoor OCR near Philadelphia

A-look-at-XX-Race-obstacles

What’s great about OCR is that everyone is there for a different reason. Some want to improve, while others just want to finish their first race. Either way, you train so you can conquer the biggest and baddest races out there. You do hundreds of pull-ups, hours of dead hang, maybe even throw in some rock climbing. But, come race day, the obstacles catch you off guard and you find yourself doing burpees. Why?

Sometimes, the best way to practice for obstacles is to do obstacles. Novel thought, right? The problem: Not many people can afford to spend hundreds of dollars and drive hours away weekend after weekend in an attempt to get better. The solution: XX Race.

Runner-training-for-Tough-Mudder-at-XX-Race

THE RACE

The XX Race is (mostly) an indoor obstacle race located at iMETTLE in King of Prussia, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. While most races take place at a specific venue once or twice each year, iMETTLE is an OCR gym. So, they hold an XX Race as much as twice each month. Registration gets you in the race. No fancy shirt or free beer, but at just $30.00 per adult, it’s well worth it. Each racer runs a lap outside, which is just shy of a quarter mile. Once done, they come inside and complete an obstacle. Then, it’s back outside for another lap before hitting the next obstacle. There are a few outdoor obstacles as well (tire flip and sandbag carry, for example). A water station is located inside, allowing you to grab a drink after pretty much any obstacle.

Waves begin at 8:00 am and go off as quickly as every five minutes from then on. About 1-4 racers can begin during each wave. The race does not currently have a competitive heat, though there are plans to add one in the fall or winter. Racers can still write their name and time up on the whiteboard to see who posted the fastest race. There are also plans to add a competitive team competition with mixed indoor endurance.

Because it’s more of a friendly competition, iMETTLE allows you to do their penalty (Captain Americas), or the penalty of a race you’re training for (burpees, penalty lap, mandatory completion, etc.). If you’re unsure what a Captain America is, they’ll give you a visual explanation on race day, but essentially you walk your hands out, do a pushup, walk them back and stand up with your hands over your head. Ten of these is the penalty for a missed obstacle.

After all the adults are done, the course is altered and a kid’s race is held at noon.

Monkey-Bars-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

THE OBSTACLES

The obstacles were one of my favorite parts of the XX Race. It was a nice, even mix of what you normally see at many outdoor races. There were also a few cardio killers, such as the assault bike, row machine and SkiErg, to get your heart rate up. For those who enjoy spear throw practice, there wasn’t one set up at this race, though I heard it has been at past races. But, part of the difficulty of the spear throw is concentrating on form with an accelerated heart rate. Enter a basketball free throw shot.

For grip, they had monkey bars set up along with three (yes three) possible rigs. One of the rigs gave you the option of ascending a peg board instead, in case you thought that would be easier. There was even a rock wall traverse with the middle section extending out to make it that much harder. A few rope obstacles included iMETTLE’s version of the Hercules Hoist, Tyrolean Traverse, and, a gym class favorite, rope climb.

Sandbag-Carry-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

No buckets were involved at this particular race, but plenty of sandbags were, the sandbag carry being the easier of them. Others were a bit more diabolical, the first of which included a roll of the dice and some math. Racers roll two dice, multiply the numbers together, and have to do that many sandbag burpees. I lucked out and only had to do five (5×1). Others were not so lucky. One of the last few obstacles was essentially a sandbag sled push. I’m not sure on the exact yardage, but it was long enough that my legs felt like Jell-O when running the lap after.

The final obstacle was a warped wall. Though you may not see it at a lot of races (yet), it’s still a fun one to try. There were four different heights to choose from and no mandatory lane, so racers were able to try whichever one they felt comfortable with. Once finished, athletes were free to go back and practice on any obstacles they wanted, as long as they weren’t impeding current racers.

Most obstacles only allowed one person at a time, though there were a few that had several pieces of equipment set up to allow for multiple racers. Despite this, there were only a couple times I had to wait for someone to finish. One big benefit of having most of the obstacles in close proximity to each other is that, if you want, you can always skip an obstacle if you don’t feel like waiting. Then, on the next lap, go back to the obstacle you skipped.

Warped-wall-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

BEYOND THE RACE

Because iMETTLE is an OCR gym, the XX Race is just a small sample of what they have to offer. As you know, the sport of Obstacle Racing requires training unlike any other. Competitors are very much considered hybrid athletes, which can be difficult to train for. That’s why they offer both OCR Training and Hybrid Training classes, which focus on both strength and conditioning, as well as obstacle-specific training. iMETTLE has also hosted a Spartan SGX workout, with more planned for the future.

Outside of the current offering of classes, a Bootcamp will soon be introduced. It will be a four-week challenge that will not only train an athlete’s function fitness, but also their mental toughness. Additionally, there are OCR workshops on the horizon, which will discuss race preparation, nutrition, hydration, and hands-on obstacle training. iMETTLE is even in the early stages of OCR Performance Testing, which will serve as a measuring point for athletes in order to track their progress.

For more information on upcoming classes and to register for the next XX Race, visit www.imettle.co.

Row-Machine-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

 

Photo Credit: iMETTLE/Vincent Naftal and the author

Toughest Mudder Northeast – Pain Is In The Mind/Pee Is In The Wetsuit

This is a story about a guy, who doesn’t like to run, had neglected his training for months but loves obstacles of all kinds, especially obstacles involving lots of mud, water, and adrenaline filled challenges…not heavy shit…nor spear…

One day this guy. we’ll call him LB, saw a post on fFacebookfor the new Toughest Mudder 8-hour event presented by Tough Mudder. They advertised 6 events in the Toughest series, with locations to be announced at a later date. When this later date came around and Philly was announced as a venue for this event, LB became very excited. This venue was a mere 45 min. from LB’s house. LB had to run this event.

LB had never done an endurance event before. He had always wanted to do the World’s Toughest Mudder, but used the venue change from New Jersey(1hr30min away) to Vegas as his out as to why he couldn’t do that event. Even though he knew he couldn’t last 24hours. LB’s longest event was a BFX(Battlefrog Extreme) where he completed 3 laps, and a FIT Challenge where he also completed 3 laps. So, he convinced himself that, with enough time before race day, he could increase his endurance level and be ready. Then, life and reality hit LB.

LB had a plan to increase his running distance every day for 2 months leading up to the event, but then LB had some medical issues that landed him in the hospital. By the time LB had clearance to resume training, the event was only a few weeks away. LB was f’ked.

LB set a realistic goal of 3 laps(15 miles) with the hopes of hitting 4 laps. The previous Toughest event was in Atlanta where the cold temps were in the mid 60’s. Two weeks prior to race day the forecast showed a low of 62. By the time the event rolled around the low was showing 51… Awesome. Thankfully LB consulted #TrollTough Pro Team member, Keith(The Kilt) B. Allen, several months prior for gear advice.

Knowing LB wouldn’t need a wetsuit in the future after this event, he found a used one on eBay for $37.. A headlamp for $20.. The rest of the gear he would need he had already owned from running previous OCRs. The days leading up to race day LB.. Or little bitch… Began asking his confidants what they referred to as the newbie questions … Repeatedly. For anyone seeking advice on events, training, gear, or the meaning of life .. Matt B. Davis and Garfield Griffiths are always happy and willing to help so don’t be shy, send them a PM and ask away.. They happily answered all of LB’s questions, eased his concerns, and put his mind at ease (they’re good like that).
The day of the event LB had a plan all laid out…

The day of the event LB had a plan all laid out…
-wake up at 5am
-consume no caffeine
-nap at 1pm to 5pm
-leave home at 8pm
-arrive at venue 9:30pm
-set up in the pit and be ready for 11:30pm start corral ………….

Well that went to shit real quick!
Wake up 5am …..✔️
Consume no caffeine ..✔️
Nap at 1pm ✖️
That’s where it all went wrong. If you have kids you know there’s zero chance of a nap during the day… As I closed my eyes the kids are fighting .. The dogs are fighting ….. A thousand thoughts going through my head … I never fell asleep but still able to leave for the venue at 8pm. Before he left home he took two Imodium(debated both ways on social media) in an attempt to avoid portashitters that were no doubt destroyed during the event held at the venue in the earlier hours and would be frequented by the 700+ participants that night.

 

Upon arriving at the venue LB headed up a large hill(that many referred to as the first obstacle) to a clusterf’k of athletes trying to decipher which line to be in for packet pick up. Pretty sure it was around 10pm that they started checking people in. At that point the line moved quickly. A short walk followed into a large tent area with many connected tables to serve as the athlete PIT area to store your supplies and accessible after each lap for gear change or to fuel up. At 11:30pm everyone was directed to the start corral for one of Sean Corvelles epic start line speeches. After the National Anthem and rule review the runners were off.

Many wore the required headlamps with a strobe attached to the back of your headlamp strap. With the open rolling hills of this venue and 700+ participants once the field opened up a bit the view of all the colored strobes from behind was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. This venue is very open with little to no true trails or trees. Lots of hills and lots of grass…. I’m LB btw .. There’s your M. Night Shyamalan cliffhanger ….

The first lap was a “Sprint Lap” meaning no obstacles were open, but each had set times to open and the volunteers were nice enough to yell as you were going by “we open at 1:30am!!” The volunteers were awesome by the way. Knowing the open times of the obstacles you could easily get through two laps without doing some of the more physically or mentally challenging obstacles. I actually got through two laps without doing “Hang Man” a variation known as King Of Swingers, during the day time event. But more on that later …

After my first lap(Sprint Lap) I started to notice the cold set in …I started the race in compression pants and a long sleeve thermal compression top. I originally thought my biggest challenge with cold would be my hands locking up but I began to feel my entire body succumb to the cold.. I made sure to keep moving as much as possible. When I heard the announcer in the distance state “all obstacles are now open” I knew the fun was just beginning. The obstacle placemat was brutal, for example Arctic Enema(ice bath) followed by Funky Monkey(modified monkey bars) making what are usually difficult obstacles near impossible. To my and others delight, the water under the monkey bars felt very warm, making it enjoyable to wade through after failing the obstacle.

Many obstacles had fail penalties that were required after failing an obstacle but all obstacles had to be attempted. The penalties were a separate path from the path you’d take if you had successfully navigated the obstacle. It was usually uphill and some involved a sandbag carry. After completing my second lap, I checked the temp on my phone and it showed 47 degrees. It was time to get the wetsuit out. To be honest, I wouldn’t have made it through my 3rd lap and would’ve gone the way of a medical DQ that many did after succumbing to the cold, had it not been for the wetsuit advised by Keith and the neoprene gloves he loaned me just before the event started.

Being a wetsuit noob, I managed to get my wetsuit on, after much struggle and the assistance of a fellow runner. After doing so I was prepared to go back out for my third, and ultimately final lap, as I realized I had to stop at the shitters to relieve myself (#1…… Not #2 …The Imodium was holding strong) … I got into the shitter before realizing, I had JUST put my wetsuit on.. There was no way I was getting that off to pee and getting it back on. So I stood there and relieved myself in my suit(which was a nice fix for the cold) before heading out for lap 3.


The wetsuit made a world of difference. I had minimal mobility(what do you expect from a wetsuit under $40) but was able to deal with the low temps in the mid to low 40’s and the water of “Augustus Gloop”, Funky Monkey, Arctic Enema and Hang Time. I failed many obstacles on that last lap between the mobility issue, gloves and obstacle conditions at that point. Which certainly extended my total lap time but I said from the start I didn’t care how fast I ran, as long as I lasted the entire 8 hours. At some point on lap 2 I jacked my foot up and could barely apply pressure but once I got into the icebath it numbed enough to get me through the final lap.(the next day I couldn’t get a shoe on it, but so worth it).

After completing my 3rd lap, seeing the sun rising halfway through the lap, I knew I had completed what I set out to do, and learned a lot for the future along the way. The obstacles were world class, high quality and innovative. The setup and execution couldn’t have been more organized or laid out. You can tell TM is learning and adapting as they go with the format of this event. First, several events had two separate 5-mile loops, one opened at 12am with limited obstacles. That loop would close at 4am leading to the opening of the 2nd loop and remaining obstacles. This event was one 5 mile loop with 17 obstacles with staggered openings but by 2am all 17 obstacles were fully operational. Between the weather conditions, rolling hills and high obstacle density this was pegged as the hardest toughest event to date. And many if not nearly all in attendance would agree.

If you’ve never ran one of these events. Do it.
If you’re of the mindset that you can’t, you can.
Learn from my mistakes
Take what you will from my successes
And above all else, don’t be too proud or ego-driven to ask advice of others. Some may get tired of answering the same questions repeatedly… F them. Ask somebody else.
You’ll find somebody happy to lend a hand or some words of wisdom, and it may ultimately make a world of difference in the end. I know it did for me. #FMBDIHA

P.S… For my short visit in the PortaPotties, they were impressively clean for that amount of traffic. Do what Phoebe Brimer suggested and use the one furthest from the shitter entrance.
💩💩💩/💩💩💩💩💩

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder and the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: the author and Tough Mudder

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

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