World’s Toughest Mistakes By TMHQ?

The-Stacks-1028x514

Over my seven previous World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) races I’ve seen a lot of changes. Some of these changes are made during the race and others happen year after year. However, a number of these alterations could actually be considered poor decisions or ones made as a knee-jerk reaction to things happening as the race progresses.

The one thing that has remained pretty constant over the years is those people actually running the race for Tough Mudder headquarters (TMHQ) have had a good amount of experience with this event. The racers put a lot of trust in these individuals to make quality decisions that will keep the race both “enjoyable” as well as competitive. This year TMHQ has decided that WTM will no longer be a competitive event. This in and of itself is a pretty big change but, in addition, they have a new race director as well as a new medical team. This event is Different in what way?different than any other on the planet so it leads me to wonder how things are going to go. It’s one thing to watch from the outside as an observer or to read and watch videos about WTM, but the veteran racers who have been there and experienced this event as it transitioned from New Jersey to Las Vegas and then last year to Atlanta will tell you that to extremely”really understand WTM you need experience. How the 2019 WTM will go with the new “replacements” is a real question so I figured I’d put together a few nuggets for these young pups to chew on leading up to their first real go at this.

One of the great genius ideas that TMHQ has come up with over the years as we progressed through a race is that should the weather get extremely cold they will remove water submersion in an attempt to keep us warmer. Back in 2013, racers were told that as long as we didn’t fail obstacles then we would remain “relatively dry.” This of course was ridiculous for almost every racer except for some rookie from Canada named Ryan Atkins who came out of nowhere and destroyed the field.

In theory, keeping us dry would keep us warmer. However, once you’re a little wet the danger of hypothermia increases significantly, so even if we were only getting wet a couple times a lap the danger was there and very real. The difference with WTM versus nearly every other obstacle course race on the planet is that participants are prepared to run overnight in the cold by wearing wet suits. that are showing their ignorance. It should be assumed that WTMers have arrived at the race with the proper gear. A racer who as the proper equipment will be able the handle water no problem. By removing the water submersions TMHQ wasn’t allowing our neoprene gear to do its job.

The reality is that in order for our wet suits to be effective we need to be in the water regularly. The warmest time in the 2012 New Jersey event as well as in Atlanta last year was when we were in the water. When the air temperature is 30° and the water temperature is 50° one could make the argument it’s obvious where are the racers would be safer. I’m sure it was the medical staff that said “cold water is dangerous.” The difference is we were wearing wet suits so after approximately 20 seconds in the water the wet suit has done its job and the water inside the suit is much warmer than 50°. This would allow us to regain feeling in our hands and feet again. Once the swim was removed last year in Atlanta I always looked forward to the Cage Crawl but if I remember right that was eventually removed as well. This meant that we were left relatively wet running/walking around Wakanda in the dark with basically no way to warm up.

World's Toughest Mudder Atlanta

The secondary effect of the water submersion removal last year in Atlanta was that we were running dirty most of the race. Heck we didn’t even have a way to clean off before the pit which means we came into there filthy. Some of us even developed a post-race bacterial rash the was a bitch to eliminate. I contend that an obstacle that allowed us to rinse off you have helped immensely. I spoke to Eli Hutchinson at the brunch after the race last year mentioning that we needed a way to clean off before entering the pit so hopefully that will be addressed this year but who knows. The bottom line is if the water submersions are left in the race and the participants are wearing their wet suits it will not result in them “colder” on course.

Another point of contention I have always had with World’s Toughest Mudder is the use of the medical tent as a rewarming area. While I’m not going to get into a long explanation of how human thermoregulation works in this event for that you can check out the WTM Cliff Notes podcast where I discuss thermoregulation, gear and just about everything else you need to know; I do want to address the use of warming stations. The body has a natural defense to the cold. Most people when exposed to the elements have the immediate thought, “I need to get warm!”

When you know you’re going to be out in the cold for an extended period of time you need to get “comfortably cold” and stay that way. When your body rewarms it decreases this defense system against the cold. As you grow increasingly fatigued this defense system is compromised. By rewarming you essentially shut off the defense system. To quote Admiral Ackbar…

It’s at this time that you may experience “after drop” which is more dangerous and one of the reasons why when you enter the med tent they want to monitor you as you’re in there. If it is your intention to go back out and race again, you’re then asking a now compromised cold defense system to kick back fully.

In the past, Tough Mudder and their medical staff has forced you out of the warming tent after 30 minutes. The reality is if it takes you longer than 30 minutes to get warm you probably shouldn’t be racing anymore anyway. However, if you’re not going to head back out you’re going to face an uphill battle to stave off hypothermia.

When your body sees you as constantly attacked it holds up his defense. If you let your mind get the best of you and you head into the rewarming tent for longer than a cup of Joe then you are becoming our own worst enemy. You are now of weak mind and weak body trying to head back out into a hostile environment. The last thing I would want in a firefight is to go out there half-cocked. This year TMHQ and their Med staff has decided not to remove you from the medical tent and they’ve even doubled down by possibly putting a rewarming tent out with Coach Kyle on course?

It’s my guess this will be placed by The Stacks to get a crowd out there. I recommend that athletes stay out of this area other than to grab food because as stated above you are only going to compound your problems if we have cold temperatures like last year. I remember these on course warming stations back in New Jersey. Walking into one of those was like walking into a tent in Europe during World War I. The racers looked like zombies! I would drink my hot chicken broth, pour a couple cups on my shoes and in my gloves, grab a couple bags of Sharkies and get the hell out of there. You see, as you sit your body temperature drops and in a warmer environment as stated you’re cooling defense decreases resulting in a whole world of shit, but I digress.

World's Toughest Mudder Atlanta

The final area of concern that I’m going to discuss here is regarding reporting injuries to Medical. It has always been a concern of athletes at World’s Toughest Mudder to report injuries fearing getting a “Med Pull” (where the medical will no longer allow you to continue). In more recent years participants have been encouraged by Molly Kenneth to report injuries to Medical citing they will not pull you unless you are in danger. I know of one athlete who actually broke his/her foot during the race last year and didn’t realize the severity of the injury because the foot was numb from the cold. When the racer was done, he/she entered the Med tent to warm up and saw bruising on the foot and approached the Doctor who told the participant that he/she MUST go to the hospital to have it looked at. This racer was not allow to be driven to the hospital. He/she had to go by ambulance. Once at the hospital they confirmed a fractured metatarsal. The racer would have to have it treated when he/she got home. What followed was what I had always thought and feared would happen… An eight month fight with the hospital and the Tough Mudder’s insurance company to get the REQUIRED ambulance ride and hospital visit covered for an injury that wasn’t treated. The persistence of the athlete prevailed ultimately as everything eventually was taken care of, but only after this person just plain refused to pay for it. This athlete told me, “I will never go into the med tent again unless I require immediate medical assistance!”

I am writing this article out of concern about how our “weak in the knees” society may be invading our beloved WTM and changing it and not for the better. Hopefully my fears detailed above are all unwarranted and turn out to be non-issues. Matt B. Davis eloquently stated in a recent ORM podcast (I’m paraphrasing), “Races always say “The safety of the participants is our #1 concern” but we know this not to be true. It may rank highly on the list, but it’s not their #1 concern. They are there to make money and provide a great experience.

I would add they are also looking to cover their own asses. Some of these changes are there to keep the underwriters happy. All the above notwithstanding, Kyle McLaughlin and his staff at TMHQ gave Tough Mudder a fantastic rebirth in 2019 and I hope that continues into WTM but only time will tell. The event is nearly upon us and the racers will be ready.

I only pray Tough Mudder has something amazing and memorable for us! I want this event to be a new beginning for World’s Toughest Mudder. Not the race where we had the WTM funeral at the same place where Tony Stark had his. We shall see!

The Resurrection

 In the country woods and farmland outside of St. Louis lies the remnants of what was an obstacle racing battlefield from days gone by. The old Battlegrounds course on property of Cedar Lake Cellars Winery still stands as a reminder of many great experiences to those who’ve raced its fast flat terrain. A venue where one minor tactical error could cost you two to three spots of placement. The final Battlegrounds race took place in May of 2018 and those events will never be forgotten, but in its ashes, another has risen!

 August of 2018 marked the first time Tough Mudder brought their version of an event to the Battlegrounds site. To say what took place was piss-poor would be an understatement. In fact, Missouri wasn’t the only event in which Tough Mudder showed a lack-luster performance in 2018. The issues became so bad that the company replaced CEO Will Dean and has promised that 2019 will mark the return of the “Classic Tough Mudder” that we all grew to love over the years. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that song and dance before… right before Battle Frog closed its doors for good. I actually wasn’t able to attend the MO Tough Mudder last year because the brilliant minds at the 2018 TMHQ scheduled it during the North American OCR Championships (NORAM), a race in which many of us had already committed to racing; so I’m going to be honest, I signed up for the 2019 Missouri Tough Mudder to test the waters of this “new/ revamped” Tough Mudder (TM). Sure I needed an event to attain the Tougher Mudder portion of my 2019 Holy Grail, but I wanted to see if TM had changed its ways and if they would be able to improve upon the experience I’d come to expect at The Battlegrounds course.

 Tough Mudder didn’t start off on the right foot with me for this event to say the least. I’d hoped on interviewing their Race Director and having him give ORM viewers a social media preview a day or two prior to the event to help hype things up but TMHQ declined??? Yes, that’s right; they declined free publicity from ORM for an upcoming event. I mean who does that? My immediate thought was, “you bastards better not screw this up again or I am going to crucify you in my post-event review!!!”

 If you started reading this looking for a blow-by-blow, obstacle-by-obstacle race review you can stop right now and go back to perusing your Facebook News Feed because this is not that type of review. This is the story of a resurrection! The rebirth of both Tough Mudder and of the awesome Battlegrounds/Cedar Lake Cellars venue.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the fantastic Tough Mudder experience has returned and with it yet another day of fun at The Battlegrounds! I mean how can you not be entertained at an event that has Coach Mudder himself, Kyle Railton, as its MC and takes place next door to a beautiful winery?

When TMHQ has it going they can put on a party like it’s nobody’s business and they had that place kicking from the time we arrived for check-in at 6:45 am until my girlfriend and I left the winery at around 4 pm. Mudder Village had the music rocking, zorb racing, a Salmon ladder as well as other fun challenges like giant Jenga and Corn Hole and a lot more. Oh, and what’s an amazing Tough Mudder event without a major obstacle opening at around 12:00? Ok well, this one was at like 12:30 pm instead of midnight and obstacle was open to both participants AND Mudder Village visitors! The Torpedo Launchers, as it’s known at the Battlegrounds, is a 100 foot long, 25-foot high water slide that sends you careening into a 12-foot pool at up to 30 mph. This was an absolutely perfect attraction on an 85 degree Missouri day!

 

 Overall the staff at TM had the event running smoothly. The check-in process was quick and painless. The participant “load in” made the starting of each wave easy without much confusion, and for the Tougher wave the lack of a professional timing system really didn’t have any effect on the racers. TM simply had a person at the finish line recording bib numbers and writing down times much the way Rugged Maniac and Warrior Dash do it. Basically, everything surrounding the placement of the racers was seamless on site. However, the person entering the information into Tough Mudder’s website made a gaffe as they listed the Female Tougher winner, Kelly Williams, as coming in 2nd… Which was clearly not the case at the race as everyone there knew the order when it came to podium time. Even this aspect was much more organized than in previous years. I finished 3rd at the 2017 TM Chicago and they didn’t even have a podium nor did they take any top three finisher pics which was frustrating.

 One of the big issues people had with the event at this venue last year was TM’s lack of thought put into the actual course. They basically just used the Battlegrounds five-mile course and implemented their infamous “double loop” design which led to ridiculous backups at obstacles and, from what I understand, left participants with overall “meh” feeling about their experience after it was complete. This was not the case at all this year as far as course design goes. In fact, I’ve been racing and implementing boot camps at this site for years and I saw parts of the property I didn’t even know existed. The race director also did a good job of obstacle placement with the intention of limiting some of the obstacle delays. For example, knowing Everest often has long backups he placed two of the new obstacles, Black/Pink Widow and Texas Hold’em along with Block Ness one right after another following Everest to try to keep the people moving after they finished the wall.

 All of this being said, the event was not all sunshine and rainbows! For instance, somehow, even with that thoughtful design order there ended up being three log jams in a row with Everest as well as those two new obstacles and leaving very few people to help each other at Block Ness… How the heck that happened I have no idea! I can only guess that people were skipping the long lines at one only to get stuck at the next one. There were also a few issues that arose during the Tougher wave due to TMHQ’s lack of defined rules on some of the obstacles like, for example, what a racer needs to do if he/she arrives at the Hero Carry without a partner to carry? Also, what do you do if an obstacle that needs a penalty loop but there isn’t one provided like at say Entrapment? These are questions that should be answered in the pre-race briefing if they aren’t on the rules sent to the athletes prior to the race but adequate directions were not provided.  

 

 In the end, the issues listed above didn’t overly detract from what was, in my opinion, a fantastic event. Tough Mudder seems to have their act back together and to be focused on what made them so popular which is providing an awesome overall experience with people helping people conquer the course with mud, sweat, and tears. Those participants can then follow that up with a beer or even a few in a carnival style atmosphere in Mudder Village where the participants, as well as the spectators, can continue building memories. Those of us who’ve raced at this venue so many times before can now chalk another one up in our badassery log and look forward to yet another magnificent mudder experience in 2020.

Welcome back!!!

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

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

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

Me @ Toughest South

Training for the Cold

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

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

Prevent Hypothermia

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

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

Kelly Dzierzynski in Lake Michigan

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

Training

– Start taking cold showers or ice baths ASAP!

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

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

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

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

 

Race Prep

– Bring your wetsuit/shorty.

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

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

– Bring your Dry Robe (just in case).

Evan Perperis @ Toughest NE

Wetsuit Optional (Or Is It?)

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

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

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

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

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!

The Complete Guide to Toughest Mudder

I can picture it now… The Tough Mudder team is held up in a room trying to figure out what kind of event they can come up with to both bring together their most devout followers from the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) Community as well as possibly entice the average Joe racer to consider THE most epic of obstacle race down the road. If you were to create a “Baby” WTM experience what would it look like? What can we do that is more badass than a Tough Mudder and kind of resembles that 24 hour sufferfest but is something doable for most people and how do we include the most unique pieces of WTM so that we have a totally different event that people want to both participate in as well as interesting to watch on TV? Well you need to have this event go for a long distance or time in order to elicit a similar effect as WTM. You also have to have that unique component of darkness so it’s going to have to be at night. Lastly, we need to make sure we up the ante on the obstacles because those are our staple! Throw all of those things together and you come up with…Toughest Mudder?!?! While the name may not be all that original, the events are and I think they will bring a whole new experience to the sport of OCR!

Ok so now we have this awesome new event that’s going to attract a lot of new people to our sport but if these virgins step into these races without proper education then what you could end up with is a train wreck of athletes who show up ill-equipped and unprepared for what lies ahead of them. Such was the case after WTM moved to Vegas where this race was basically a new environment to everyone. In order to avoid issues that could occur from confusion for what will be necessary in the seemingly warmer environment of the Nevada dessert like the often asked question “do I need a wetsuit?” World’s Toughest Mudder Facebook Community Admin, Keith Allen, came up with the idea that maybe I should write both a Nutrition and Thermoregulation Hack to help people prep for WTM. I feel that these have a been a great help to many a competitor so when I heard about some of the difficulties after the premier of the Toughest Mudder series I figured this series needed its own “manual” so-to-speak. The following is more of a guide than it is an article and it is based on my five years of experience at WTM as well as my varied knowledge from within the sport of OCR since I began my involvement back in 2010. When necessary, I have also sought out input from others in the field whom I respect and I feel can add some valuable information. There are many ways to approach a race such as Toughest Mudder but it’s my hope that this piece will be a reference and at least help guide you as to how you might take on Toughest Mudder.

Toughest Mudder is NOT WTM!
For those who have participated in WTM and are now doing a Toughest Mudder, let’s get something straight right off the bat. You pretty much cannot approach these two events the same at all. Your pre-race prep, gear selection, nutrition, and most of all your racing pace/ tactics will pretty much be entirely different. Sure, you will most likely have everything that you need but how you utilize the gear and your race experiences will only slightly resemble WTM. I will try to break things down as best I can so you can be ready for what you will face at Toughest. Remember, for many participants WTM is more of the ultimate sufferfest. Toughest Mudder, on the other hand, is a full-fledged OCR!

Another key thing to realize about Toughest Mudder versus WTM is the difference in the environmental stresses between the two races. One of the most difficult aspects of WTM is the thermoregulation issues that can go on with each participant. The human body can adjust to being too warm; the body can also adjust to the cold. However, when you ask your body to quickly switch from being warm to being cold all while you are fighting overall fatigue it can sometimes mean flirting with a medical DQ due to hypothermia. God help you if you make the mistake of going from overheating in a wetsuit to actually removing that wetsuit rather than just venting it or taking it down. This will, most certainly, not end well as the body is now in “heat loss mode” and before it can readjust you will be hypothermic which at WTM often means your race is over. The Toughest Mudder races are different because you will start the race at night when the temps have already dropped. Therefore you will start cold and since the race ends not long after sunrise there will not be much change in temperatures overall. This means you will most likely never need a wholesale gear change, but only slight changes which will help out immensely. This is why having flexibility in your gear is much more important at these events but I will go more into this in the “Gear” section below.

APPROACH TO RACING
Race Day Prep: Toughest Mudder starts at 12am. Pretty much no participant is used to this. Most of us race early in the morning and even WTM started at noon in 2016. With this night start you have to be careful how you approach your daily nutrition as the wrong choice of a food that is difficult to digest during the latter half of the day could land you in the Port-a-Potty early in the race. To avoid this scenario you might want to consider flipping your daily diet upside down so that you are eating your typical pre-race foods closer to the event.

I would also plan on getting to the event location as early as TMHQ will allow you (9pm?). Remember that this event is new to Tough Mudder as well so expect things to go a little rocky for the time-being. Getting there early will also allow you a better staging area for your food and gear.

Remember this is an eight hour event so you should be able to run a lot of this race. Three time WTM champ and winner of the inaugural Toughest Mudder race, Ryan Atkins, actually recommends your pace for Toughest be “comfortably uncomfortable.” This is basically what exercise scientists call a high Zone 3/ low Zone 4 on the Heart Rate Zone scale. For a simple general calculation for using your heart rate (HR) to pace you can use this formula:

 (180-your age) + 5 to 10 = Heart Rate Goal in beats/min for the race

This type of pacing should allow you to run a lot and keep you moving as long as you are taking in the proper nutrition. Ryan told me that he thinks your best bet is to “shoot for even splits for your lap times.” Combining your monitoring of your HR and checking your lap times should keep you going at a decent clip and allow you to properly gauge whether you will reach you distance goal for this event.

One of the other major differences between WTM and Toughest Mudder is the “pit” area… or lack thereof at Toughest. The pit station we have become accustomed to at WTM has been reduced to a small area inside a tent within the festival area. This tent also serves as the participant gear tent for the regular Tough Mudder so this all sounds like a major pain in the you know what. Given the fact that this is actually off of the course tells me you need to plan on making limited trips to this stage area. If you have a pit crew then have a list prepared for him/her ahead of time so that person knows what to bring you and have him/her meet you at the proper spot to hand off your gear and nutrition. This will greatly speed the process and decrease the congestion in the staging test. I plan on using my Hydration pack to carry enough nutrition so that I will only need to pit after every other lap.

GEAR SELECTION
Depending on the location of the Toughest race, you could springtime rainy weather, summer time warm weather, or a feeling of nip in the mountain air of Whistler. My recommendation is to maybe not bring ALL of your gear…but bring more than you think you will need. It’s better to have it and not use it than to wish you would have brought something. If you are purchasing gear for these events I am a big fan of versatility. The more ways you can use an item then more value it will bring to you. As an example, there is pretty much no point in having a 5mm full wetsuit for a Toughest Mudder unless you plan on walking the entire thing on a cool night. A good plan is to have clothing that you can vent or partially remove should you get hot or if there is a portion of the course where you remain dry and don’t need the extra insulation. Items such as a quick drying windbreaker, possibly a front zip short wetsuit, and a Neptune Thermoregulation System all allow you to use them in a variety of temperatures and in a variety of ways to provide you a lot of flexibility during a lap to make sure that you stay comfortable. The Neptune allows you add chemical body warmers (you can choose how many you need based on the environmental exposure of the event) and easily wear a jacket over it to help keep you covered. Should you get hot you simply open your jacket to vent the heat. Worst case scenario you can dump the body warmers mid lap. Another item that is recommended by WTM vet Keith Allen is the Hyperflex 50/50 Polyolefin Top. “This shirt/vest can be layered over the top of a base layer to help keep you warm during the coldest portions of the race and then quickly removed between laps should you get too warm or it can be worn by itself depending on your needs.” The one downside is that this top cannot be vented so you still risk overheating mid-lap but at least it can be quickly removed in between laps if necessary.

Certain items can present issues based on their design. The problem with using something like Frogskins is it cannot be vented nor easily removed. In fact, Battlegrounds Battle Corps racer and WTM vet, Leah Hensley, told me “I wore my Frogskins during one of the races at the 2016 OCRWC and one of the biggest issues was the lack of venting and how freaking hard it is to get on and off. It’s so damn tight you can’t even lift the shirt to get air in to vent it!”

The point of reviewing this information is to understand how your plan to use your gear to keep you moving at the fastest pace possible. I have listed some of the items that I recommend you have for this event as well as some that I don’t recommend below. This is not a complete gear list by any means but it’s a start!

Recommended

NOT Recommended

  • Full wetsuit over 3mm
  • Frogskins Top
  • Insulated clothing of any kind that will hold excess water
  • Gloves (they usually don’t improve your grip)… and they make dry obstacles wet! L
  • Neoprene socks (these won’t insulate your feet as well as Medium weight Smartwool socks will)
  • Sunscreen… The race is at night!!!

NUTRITION
The old saying goes “you are what you eat.” In regards to racing, what you eat before and during an event can definitely determine whether you have a good race or a bad one. The key thing to understand when it comes to race nutrition is that you must find what works for you. This means it’s a good idea to trial and error, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider what “Science” says as well when considering what and when you should be consuming your nutrition! J

Research shows that the average endurance athlete can absorb about 200-350 calories/ hour while exercising (assuming they practice eating while training). If you are following the guidelines of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this will equate to 40-50 gr of carbs, 10 gr of protein and 5 or so gr of fat (about the content of a Cliff Bar) per hour. The fact that these events are only 8 hours versus the 24 hours at WTM means you can get away with eating less but I would still use this as a goal for each lap. I also recommend at least some of this food be taken in during the lap and then loading up in the staging area.

Some key points to remember prior to the event:

  • Start carb loading about 5 days before the event. Take in a 30-50% more carbs that you have been eating. I even utilize a carb depletion phases during training to allow my body to adjust to fueling in this state. I do this again starting about 13 days out and then at 5 days I start loading.
  • On the day prior to the event make sure that you eat a lot of carbs while limiting your excess fat at every meal. Please be careful on the portions on both Friday and Saturday during the day prior to the event. The last thing you want is to miss-time your bowel movements and have to hit the head during the event. You also want to up your electrolyte content on the day prior to the race since the Sodium/Potassium pump system has a correction period of about 18 hours. The morning of the event should include a high carb and low fat meal. Fat not only slows the absorption of the meal, but it also can cause gastric distress during exercise leading to “the trots.” Fat, however, is not the only culprit of digestive issues during exercise. Keep in mind that single source sugar can also cause problems so try not to eat too much fructose or sucrose at one time before nor during the race. This is the reason that products like Gatorade and Tailwind utilize two forms of sugar in their products. Another thing to consider is the fact this event starts in what is basically the middle of the night will throw most people off so I think you might almost be better off flipping your meals on the Saturday of the race. For example, my dinner (with my usual race day breakfast foods) will be around 8pm. Then I will have a Clif Bar around 10pm and my 32 oz of Gatorade from 11pm-12am when the race begins. This is the same routine as my normal race morning.

Keep in mind, you must eat and drink constantly throughout the event in order to keep fueled. If you wait until you are hungry or thirty to replenish then you have already failed!!! It takes a minimum of about 18-24 hours to replenish your muscle glycogen stores after strenuous exercise much less while you are still moving when your digestion isn’t all that efficient during exercise.

Some key nutrition/hydration points during the race:

  • I suggest having an electrolyte drink either in your hydration pack or at least as your main source of fluids in the pit. Liquids absorb quickly so this will help you immensely. Tailwind seems to be the most highly recommended for this purpose. During the pit stops, have a plan with about what you need to eat so you get enough calories. You will get less hungry as you become more tired. This is a natural effect as your body is trying to conserve digestion energy to keep you moving figuring that you will eventually stop to fuel but as endurance athletes we can’t stop moving. You simply have to keep eating! Again, this is where calorically dense foods and engineered foods help you get in those calories.
  • Due to the higher level of intensity during this event versus WTM it will be much more difficult for your digestive system to do its job. This is the reason most ultra distance runners resort to liquid only nutrition such as Tailwind. I recommend that Toughest Mudder participants limit their “real food” intake to avoid the increased possibility of having issues. Instead, I believe it is more prudent to rely on “engineered” foods because these supplements will not only be easier to digest and provide less bulk but they are also easier to carry and faster to ingest. I will include a list of recommend types of nutrition at the end of this section.
  • As far as hydration goes, your body needs about 8 oz of water every 15 minutes (1 liter per hour) during exercise. The easiest way to ensure you get this is to have a hydration pack but as long as you drink when you can then you will be fine. I drank about 35 oz per lap (14 laps in 25 hours) last year at WTM and my level was spot on for me. A great gauge on this is how often you urinate. If you are doing so once a lap then cut back on the fluids. If it’s like once in the first three hours then you want to pick up the pace!

Nutrition List

  • Liquid Options
    • Gatorade
    • Tailwind
    • Hammer Nutrition
    • Cytomax
    • Endurox R4
    • Acclerade
    • CarboPro
  • Gels/Gummies
    • AccelGels/ GU/ Boom
    • Clif Blocks/ Gatorade Chews/ Sport Beans
    • Apple Sauce/ Fruit Sauces
  • Energy Bars
    • Clif Bars/ Powerbars/ Complete Protein Cookies
    • Granola Bars/ Nutrigrain Bars/ Snickers Bar
  • Other options
    • Beef jerky
    • Pickles/ Pickle Juice/ Pickle Juice pops
    • Mustard Packets
    • Hammer Salt Tabs
    • Hammer Perpetuem Solids
    • Stimulants- Cellucor/ caffeine pills/ Monster/ Red Bull

Remember that every person is different in how they like to approach a race. This guide represents a coherent approach toward tackling Toughest Mudder. Take this collection of information and use it as a base to develop a plan of attack as you prepare for the Toughest Mudder events. It is my goal to help prepare you so that you can give your best effort out there when the rubber hits the road… or trail in this instance.

Good luck and Godspeed!

“Big Dog” Regional Pricing… Is it worth a look?

The growth in the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR) is undeniable. Articles about Amelia Boone (one of the most recognizable and successful athletes in the sport of OCR) can be seen in magazines such as Runner’s World and Sport’s Illustrated. Tough Mudder and Spartan Race(the “Big Dogs”) have been featured on Good Morning America and the Today Show. Heck – BattleFrog even stepped up to sponsor the Fiesta Bowl this year. The sport is becoming known and races are being added, but does that mean that it’s growing at the expected rate? Is regional pricing something to consider?

The fact is, the central part of the United States isn’t seeing growth in terms of the number of races, when it comes to Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, to the same degree as the coastal areas of the U.S. Luckily, the lack of growth in the Central U.S. is being filled, somewhat, by BattleFrog and Conquer The Gauntlet, as well as local races such as The Battlegrounds and Mud, Guts and Glory. However, the racers between the mountain ranges are beginning to wonder “what’s up?”
20150904200231Many contend there is a coastal bias when it comes to the “Big Dogs” and their racing locations. It is obvious that the coasts and their high population densities turn out in droves to obstacle races with some having nearly 5,000 registrants whereas locations in the Midwest will draw sometimes only half of that. With this level of discrepancy, it is understandable that race companies look toward the areas that best support their events when selecting locations. However, is this strategy the best option when it comes to growing the sport? Mike McAllister, co-founder of BattleFrog, sees things a little differently.

Mike McAllister, co-founder of BattleFrog, sees things a little differently.

“We see the Midwest as very important to building our brand. People are willing to travel to multiple races within driving distance, so we want to give them the ability to follow our circuit.”

David Mainprize, the owner of Conquer the Gauntlet (CTG), feels similarly regarding the opportunities in the central US. In fact, all of CTG’s 9 races in 2016 are being held between Oklahoma City, OK, and Louisville, KY.

“CTG is a family run business, not a corporate entity. It’s no secret that our region is an area of the country with far less population centers and thus far less obstacle course racers, not to even mention the relative unhealthiness of this part of the country in general. So, to pull this off, we had to find a way to reduce costs. Simple math says, registration fees need to exceed the costs. We wanted to provide an affordable race that is epic but is still one that the common man could afford with ease.”

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It’s obvious there’s a market for OCR in the central U.S., so the question is, why is the overall turnout for Spartan and Tough Mudder lower? I contend that a lot of it comes down to the dollar for dollar value of the experience for those in the Midwest rather than a lack of interest. Now, before you go accusing us Midwesterners of being cheap asses, let me explain what I mean. Plain and simple, the incomes are lower in most of the central U.S., so this means a dollar means a little more to us than it might in areas where incomes are higher. We also have a couple of other regional options from which to choose in addition to CTG. The Mud Guts and Glory course in Cincinnati was the site of the first two OCR World Championships. There is also The Battlegrounds in St. Louis. These are both permanent courses that are fantastic alternatives to the national series and, for the most part, have much cheaper entry fees. I feel that the “big guys” shy away from these areas because why compete with a regional race that has a permanent spot and therefore more fixed costs that would allow them to accept a lesser turnout and still be successful? Carl Bolm, the owner of The Battlegrounds, feels,

Carl Bolm, the owner of The Battlegrounds:

“Competition is good for business and, even if the bigger races come to St. Louis, it would create more awareness of the growing industry. It also would give our current runners a chance to try another race. Of course, participants could come to realize just what an all-encompassing experience they get at The Battlegrounds. As long as we continue to produce the best run possible, I feel our runners will support our efforts.”

Battlegrounds - Race StartThe lack of competition seems to be helping boost race numbers at The Battlegrounds where they are expecting well over 2,000 racers for their May 2016 event, which will mark their largest race ever.

As if the permanent course options aren’t enough to dissuade potential racers from the $130 price tag, let’s look at a comparison of the cost of other activities where individuals could easily spend their disposable income. This is not to say that these aren’t similar things in other parts of the country but their cost and accessibility make them viable options in the Midwest.

Information gathered from a Google search:

Average Game/Event Cost
NFL game: MLB game: Marathon:
New England = $122 Boston = $52 New York = $255
San Francisco = $117 San Francisco = $34 San Francisco = $130
St. Louis = $74 (at least historicaly) St. Louis = $34 St. Louis = $100
Cincinnati = $71 Cincinnati = $22

A possible solution to this conundrum might be a regional price structure that would allow for the national race companies to better compete for the Midwest racer. It happens in other industries, so why not consider it? A concert promoter sets venue prices based on demand. The median price for a Selena Gomez concert in Nashville is $56 while it will cost you $80 for a similar ticket in LA. The Rock n’ Roll Marathon series even raises the cost of their San Diego event over their Nashville event by $10.

The purpose of my proposal here is this: just because regional pricing hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. I am all for whatever will best grow the sport so I guess the market will decide. It should be noted that none of the people I contacted regarding this article thought that regional pricing would ever happen in our sport, but it sure is fun to talk about! As long as race companies keep putting on great events across the country, I think people will buck up and then show up. However, if the money train stops coming in then we may see change. Until then…
Take my money