Tough Mudder Virginia – The First of Many

Since my first OCR event last summer, I’ve added a lot more strength training to my routine, which was very influential when I recently participated in my first Tough Mudder in Virginia.

As soon as my 10:45am group was unleashed, I kept a steady pace with a determined group of fellow participants as we made our way to the first obstacle, Devil’s Beard, just beyond mile one. This was a nice obstacle to begin with and I kept as low as possible while moving under the heavy netting.

The next obstacle was the Mud Mile 2.0, and after I slid down the first muddy embankment into the water, I started trying to find small grooves in the next slippery mound. Another mudder reached out his hand for me to climb up, and I returned the favor to two more mudders. After reaching mile two, it was on to the Hero Carry, which involved carrying another person for about fifty yards; the fireman’s carry position worked well. I continued on through the Quagmire, which was a long stretch of muddy water where I carefully placed each next so I wouldn’t slip into the random two-foot drops in the deep mud.

With each stride, sweat began to mix with the dried dirt on my skin. Closing in on mile three, the Kiss of Mud 2.0 included getting as low as possible and staying under the barbed wire, while crawling and sliding throughout the terrain. There was almost a mile until Shawshanked, and taking a plunge into the water felt good as the temperatures continued to rise. Next up was the Berlin Walls, which involved getting a good sprint before strategically placing your feet to help you get up and over a series of high walls. I was glad I did a lot of pull ups and chin ups over the past year because they were essential for this obstacle. Hold Your Wood 2.0 involved carrying a large log for a few hundred yards, and I found it helpful to switch positions from shoulder to shoulder. Everest 2.0 was next on the agenda. I wasn’t able to practice for this obstacle or sure how to approach it, but I just ran as fast as I could up the angle of the halfpipe, jumped and reached for the hands of the other mudders. I then turned around and got in position to help a few more mudders that were making their run up the hill. Then it was through the Birth Canal, which was a tight squeeze under the heavy tarps full of water. The journey continued on, all the way to the Artic Enema where I slid down into an ice cold tank of water that you had to traverse throughout the fenced in area to get to the other side. A few people slid into the frigid water and then hopped out immediately because it was such a shock to the system.

After warming up with some steady hill running, it was on to the Bale Bonds, that involved sprinting up and over a large stack of hay bails. Timing and foot placement were very important. Upon arriving to Funky Monkey: The Revolution, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it across the series of inclined monkey bars followed by two rotating wheels and a straight bar. The key component to this challenge was momentum and swinging from one grip to the next.

Not long after this, the Stage 5 Clinger involved climbing up, across, and then above a wooden ledge to finish the obstacle.

Upon reaching mile nine, the obstacles were more frequent with minimal recovery. Skidmarked tapped into what upper body strength I had left, followed by going up and down a slope during Pitfall. It felt good to be back in the water facing The Blockness Monster, which was another team effort to get up and over the large blocks in the muddy water. The Pyramid Scheme was a similar approach to Everest 2.0. The ElectroShock Therapy soon followed, which was about keeping your composure while running through the dangling high voltage wires.

After a little over 10 miles, the finish line was finally in my line of sight. As soon as I crossed it, I was motivated to start preparing for the next Tough Mudder adventure – pursuing the Toughest Mudder and World’s Toughest Mudder.

Overall, an event that I strongly recommend to anyone looking for a great challenge!

My bulldog, Daisy, enjoyed it too.

Rugged Maniac VA – Spring 2016

Rugged Maniac has made a seasonal home at the Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg, VA in early May starting at least as early as 2012 and expanded to have a second race at the same location in October in 2014.   In 2016, at least in my humble opinion, Rugged Maniac continues to improve and provide a really fun experience to newbies and experienced runners alike.

This time around, waves started at a nice casual 10 a.m. start time, unless you decided to run as a super fancy elite, providing a little extra sleeping in time.  I opted for the 10 a.m. wave this time around to catch the early experience of a fresh course.  This was a good choice as, at least early in the day, Rugged Maniac had their parking game on point for 2016 (bring your $10 for parking).  Unlike previous years, there was no line down the street to access the parking area so I was quickly parked, grabbed my bag, and met up with my race partners to hop through a fairly speedy check-in.  After everybody was registered, stretched, and ready to go we hopped the starting line wall ready to go for the 10:15 a.m. wave.  Rugged gave a short starting line speech to pump up the group and the wave was off.
Rugged-Maniac-Watery-Course

Rugged followed a fairly similar trail to last year’s May event.  However, the constant rain of the week prior definitely changed the course experience.  In prior years the first obstacle out the gate has been a soupy mud pit known as Shoe Catcher that has the suction power a vacuum would be envious of that breaks the crowd up into smaller groups to continue on.  This year, that changed.  Shoe Catcher now consisted of an ankle deep mud puddle with a slightly slick below-water surface that lacked its typical suctioning power.  This would become somewhat of a theme of the race with several water-logged sections that could slow one down with a cautionary tale of uneven footing.

The early wave breakup occurred instead with the second obstacle, a big mud hill that had people slipping around trying to get over.  My small group got up and over and continued our jog through the 5k.

Rugged-Maniac-Mud-Hill

From here it would get a little boring to go over all the obstacles.  Many are standard OCR fare, e.g., a few different types of walls, barb wire crawls (3 in total), cargo nets, balance beam, and a fire jump.  But with a total of 28 obstacles on course, Rugged Maniac definitely has a few shining stars: 

  • The Blobstacle: A giant inflatable structure that had a cargo net draped over it.  The cargo net was basically a second skin on this day which made for a little tougher purchase to get the shoes to grip in.
  • The Gauntlet 2.0: Rugged’s decision to change the footing from a solid structure to a floating rubber-ish pad was a refreshing change.  A nice run across to keep footing without sinking into the water lets you run through the air-filled hanging bags to see if you can successfully cross without going down in the water.
  • Bang the Gong: I’m all for any and every obstacle I have seen so far that includes trampolines.  This was absolutely no different.  Talking to friends that ran later in the day, it did get a little more difficult as the trampolines got muddier from the wet course.  The one criticism on this obstacle was the landing pool was fairly shallow.  While it may involve more of a swim a little deeper pool would probably be better to prevent potential for injury.
  • Antigravity: More trampolines!  If you do not enjoy an obstacle where you get to jump from one trampoline to another and then perform your best Spiderman impersonation to catch the cargo net wall, I don’t understand you as a person.
  • Warped Wall/Mount Maniac/Accelerator: A quarter pipe is always fun to do and watch (for both the personal and teamwork successes and the amusing slide back down from missing).  Adding in a short cargo climb to a higher purchase afterward and a slide down to the finish line is just a cherry on top.  Remember though, always stop to encourage and help your fellow racers, everybody appreciates it.

Rugged-Maniac-Accelerator

Once you get past that, the course is complete and you get your medal, swag, and free Harpoon brewery beer.  This year the post-race collection included a bottle of water, bananas, orange slices, and some Dude Wipes to cleanse your muddy hands before you dug in.  The 2016 medal is a sharp addition and the t-shirt picked up at registration is super soft and comfy as usual.  After the race there is a decent size festival area that included regular contests throughout the day (stein hoisting, pie eating, and pull-ups), room to sit down and socialize with fellow racers over food and/or beer, inflatable bouncy house structures for the kids, and the generally necessary rinsing and changing areas.

Rugged-Maniac-2016-Shirt-&-Medal

Register early on in the process and it’s a fairly inexpensive race experience that will provide plenty of fun.  Hint:  Right now the Virginia fall race in October is $49 plus tax without the additional processing fees that plague the rest of the OCR world.  Shameless plug—ORM has a discount code posted for a better deal!  Sign up and have some fun.

Spartan Virgin No More

Spartan Super in Virginia

Standing at the entry to the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan, I could see across all of Wintergreen resort. Set against a bright blue sky, the lush green mountains were beckoning the runners to devour the course. With perfect weather and a turnout of more than 4,000 over the weekend, the energy of the racers was tangible. I joined at least thirty other Corn Fed Spartans at the start (CFS) as Coach Pain Dwayne was leading the traditional Spartan pre-race chant. “What is your profession?” “I AM SPARTAN?” “Who are you?” “AROOO!” CFS stirred up the adrenaline of everyone at the 11a.m. start time and before I had time to register what I’d just stepped into, we were off running.

The start was a gentle downhill that quickly sloped up into one of the numerous hills encountered in the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan course. We began with an over-under obstacle about halfway up the hill and then hit our first mud pits. Neither were particularly extreme with the over-under-through walls only hitting about 4 feet tall. Covered in red, Virginia clay we received the course’s first serving of dirt. The first mile spaced out the pack as we reached the bottom of the first hill, a descent down one of the resort’s ski slopes, and up the first technical incline. Typical of many northeast hiking trails, we went straight up through the woods over treacherous rocky terrain without the mercy of any switchbacks. For many racers, this was the end of running for almost a full mile as we ascended and descended through fairly dense woods.

Kaitlin carries in the Spartan Super

We found our first water stop at mile 2 back to the very top of the mountain. The ascent up to the water station was grueling. The first two miles had only contained a mere 3 obstacles and already 4 major hills. Directly after the station, we descended back through the woods over slippery, ankle-breaking rocks and back up to the sandbag carry. We trudged a quick, but difficult, loop with the bags and were rewarded by the next obstacle less than 1/4 mile away: the Slip n’ Slide! While some of the slides weren’t quite wet enough for speed, I flew down into the refreshing, albeit muddy, water. We climbed out and passed the mile 3 marker ending another section with just 2 obstacles. From miles 3-4 we hit only one obstacle. The entire mile was a winding and extremely technical trail of hills and rocks. A runner by me commented, “You know it’s steep terrain when rocks that were buried are now flying down the hill behind us.”

The trail led to the spear throw where I saw the highest number of people doing burpees after a failed attempt, than I would at any other obstacle. We came out of the woods, back into the sunshine, and at the 4 mile water station. Delighted to find packets of electrolyte replacement in numerous flavors, runners grabbed handfuls of them in anticipation of the second half of the race. There were two sets of rope ladders directly after the water station. The spirit of the race thrived as runners steadied the ladders and assisted those around them over the top. A girl in a lime green t-shirt shook as she reached the top. A teammate gently talked her through getting over the top.

We shot out onto a clearing and hit the ground to crawl 300ft of barbwire. In some places, the wire was high enough just to crawl- a welcomed break. This was the first obstacle since the start that spectators had direct access to the course and the cheers of many supporters pushed tired runners on. Little Spartans sloshed through mud pits of their own adjacent to us on the kids’ course. Completing the barbwire, we hopped over hay bales and back into the woods. We encountered close to a mile of brutal descent through a running creek. The wet rocks made for many teetering moments and breathless steps over waterfalls, into trees and through several inches of water.

We passed mile 5 at the bottom of the hill and came to another clearing. One glance up ahead eliminated any hope of a respite from hills: in every direction runners were running up, down, up and down the mountain above us. This hill would be revered as the most ruthless in the course. Devoid of obstacles, the climb to mile 6 up a black diamond ski slope was made more difficult for our mental endurance by the line of racers proceeding back down the hill beside us.

The parade of Spartans trudging up the hill was surrounded by exhausted participants dropping to hands and knees on both sides of the trail. Deceitful corners only turned to reveal more hills. Incredibly fit and seasoned racers stared ahead, motionless where they’d finally stopped moving. This would be a tipping point for many who didn’t finish the race. I finally heard the shouts of volunteers at the top that water was just ahead.

We reached the 6 mile water station. At this point on the mountain, we were at the highest elevation in the race and on the opposite side of the course from the finish line. The spirit that reverberated through the first half of the race had died off. Most people were fighting to continue and the shouts of encouragement had quieted. The Hercules pull was directly opposite the water station and gained us entry to the next decent. On the way down, we hit the 7 foot wall. Here, the life of the race revived a little as racers hoisted their friends up over the wall. The vitality the 7-foot wall started in us, the log carry continued. Finally, runners were shouting out team names again and laughing as they crumpled under the weight of giant logs. “This tree makes me feel like a little girl!”, said a sizable racer near me. Expectedly, a Spartan female replied, “What does that make me?!” “A WOMAN!”

Throwing logs down, we headed up again on the trail. We struggled over the 8-foot wall and up and over the hill to mile 7. Considering the relatively few obstacles we’d encountered so far, we expected the several between mile 7 and 8. This part of the course took place just under the chairlift spectators used to climb the mountain. We saw supporters for the first time since mile 4 as we dragged cement blocks in the tractor pull and climbed the inverted wall. The most difficult obstacles were saved for the end: the 10-12 foot rope climb and the now very muddy, slippery traverse wall. Because of the level of exhaustion in most racers after the rigorous hills, burpees were seen in plenty. The music from the finish and smell of the fire jump wafted over the final mud pits and gave us all a second wind. Over a not-so-slippery slip wall, one leap over the fire, and a dash through some not-so-tough gladiators and the race was over.

Kaitlin jumps the fire

While the course itself was incredibly rugged and demanding, many of the obstacles themselves were not at the usual level of difficulty. Many racers commented that they were surprised, and somewhat disappointed at the shift in challenge placement. Frequently, racers described to me their most trying experiences as hills and the obstacles instead as a break. The race took a grueling average of 6.5 hours to complete with the winner, Matt Novakovich, clocking in at 1:50:14- a first timer out of Alaska. The race was touted by many as more difficult than the Spartan Beast courses they had done, with times significantly longer despite a 2-3 mile difference in distance.

Kaitlin fights

As a first-time Spartan racer, I thought the course was expectedly hard and incredibly enjoyable. With unbeatable weather and gorgeous views from the many hills we scaled, I couldn’t have started my Spartan saga off at a better place. I am an avid runner and felt challenged, but not to the point that the race was no longer fun. The spirit of the racers was contagious and their perseverance made every moment of sweat worth it. The entire race was very organized with all the volunteers being well trained and efficient. Staff were readily available to answer questions and solve problems and the course was prepared to provide medical attention if needed. Family activities were abundant in the Festival as well as affordable food and drinks. While many have voiced mixed opinions, the event was a success.

Super Spartan racers