Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Forth Worth

Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Fort Worth

On the hottest day of the summer thus far at the time of this writing, Conquer the Gauntlet kicked off their series with a big bang.  While the Texas heat beamed down, competitors filed in to take on one of the most brutal Obstacle Courses known in America.  Don’t allow the down-home, local feel of the race series to fool you.  Conquer the Gauntlet is as serious (if not more so) than any other OCR series out there.  I’ve run several areas of Texas.  I’ve faced tons of treacherous terrain.  However, I’ve never experienced the type of challenge that Conquer the Gauntlet presented me with.  This review will focus primarily on those obstacles as I feel they deserve the most limelight.  I left physically broken so to speak, but spiritually energized.  I loved every minute of it.

Masters victors

 

The Venue

As far as terrain goes, the Village Creek Motocross Park track didn’t offer any daunting ascents or downhills.  However, Conquer the Gauntlet utilized it to its utmost potential.  Within the first mile or two competitors made many up and down runs on the tracks biggest jumps.  The sandbag carry finished with one of the steeper ascents making it extra draining with the Texas heat already sapping racers’ strength away.  Racers later cooled down in a few water crossings including a beautiful creek offering some great scenery.

The last stretch of obstacles brought competitors back around to the festival area allowing spectators a superb view of Pegatron, Tarzan, Stairway to Heaven and other favorites.  CTG knows what obstacles are fun to watch and they made sure they were front and center.

The Obstacles

CTG’s major strength in its own right as well as against all other series is its obstacles.  Three words that should consistently be used when describing this course are challenge, innovation, and fun.  Strategic placement of these challenging beasts made sure that they took everything they could out of competitors.  This made those well-earned podium spots that much more special.  All of the favorites went off without a hitch and were well manned by volunteers.

As someone who has run many obstacle course races, walls are rarely more than an annoyance in most courses.  This was not so at Conquer the Gauntlet Fort Worth.  Not one.. not two… not three… but FIVE 8 foot walls in a ROW drained more out of me than I expected.  I do not mean in the same vicinity.  I mean immediately after one another.  Stamina killers may have been lacking in hills, but Conquer the Gauntlet knows how to utilize their tools to break you even more efficiently than most terrain can.

Challenge

Cliffhanger brought the next somewhat daunting challenge as they were probably the most challenging set of monkey bars I’ve faced.  Though the bars aren’t fat or necessarily slick,  some aren’t welded in and they WILL spin on you.  On top of that, they ascend and descend adding a bit of extra kick of difficulty.  Technique and grip are key in monkeying your way across these bad boys and they should not be taken lightly.

The Z beam brought forth an unusual challenge as well.  Four very long, very narrow boards are lined up edgewise in a Z pattern. Competitors had to make their way across without falling off.  A simple concept proved to be very difficult and requires a lot of focus especially when placed after a long running portion.  This required racers to lower their heart rate and focus on foot placement and center of gravity at a time when their mind is just screaming “GO!”

Later on came the daunting challenge that has taken the belt and pride of many, and it claimed mine as well.  Pegatron was a large approximately 20-foot long horizontal pegboard that loomed over competitors much like the large evil robots from its namesake.  With a few footholds in the first and last five feet, the most difficult portion was the ten-foot portion in the middle with no footholds.

Never having practiced on a pegboard, I tried my best to develop a nice technique again… again.. and again.. to no avail.  Pegatron offered many different choices of peg sizes.  Offset holes added difficulty.  Some holes were fake.  This allows pegs to go all the way through forcing competitors to use strategy.  If that wasn’t enough, the occasional fake hole could turn a great attempt into failure.

The Mystery

I stayed at Pegatron for an hour.  I made it halfway across and even further, but never fully reached the other footholds. A handful of racers made it through, but even more threw down their belts to continue on.   I tried until my hands, torn and bleeding, gave out. I walked away knowing I had given it my all.

What immediately followed was a super fun new “mystery obstacle.”  Much like other CTG staples, this new obstacle brought in some of the best elements of Ninja Warrior like obstacles to the OCR series.  The obstacle began with a quick set of widely spaced quintuple steps.  A series of walls with bars lining the top followed.  Competitors had to jump from wall to wall grasping to the bar to keep them up.  However, the next to the last wall brought a surprise.

Instead of a bar, this wall had a nun-chuck, a ball grip, and a rope hanging from the top.  This made shimmying and leaping to the last bar wall extra difficult.  Not only was this a great challenge, it was a lot of fun and I hope to see it in future races.

More Grip and Upper Body Destruction

As if Pegatron and the “mystery” obstacle didn’t kill our grip enough, later competitors faced Tarzan.  It was not a particularly long rig, but that did not matter.  With bloody and battered hands I attempted it, but of course to no avail.  The rig began with a nunchuck.  There is no grip on this nunchuck.  These nunchucks were metal and SLICK.  Competitors must get a big swing going.  That sweet little ring on the next hold appears to be 15 feet away.  IF you even make it to that ring you are forced to grab hold of some little bungee cords. Hold on for dear life and attempting to keep your swing going until you can reach the final hold.  Needless to say, even for those who made it through Pegatron, their elite journey ended here.

IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH for your grip and upper body to be screaming, next came stairway to heaven.  Don’t let the heavenly counterpart of a name to Ninja Warrior’s devil steps fool you.  These wooden bad boys are steeper and higher than almost any set of devil steps I’ve encountered.  Bloody and battered I clawed my way to the top and even made the transition only to have my screaming, throbbing hands give out on me as I plummeted into the water below.  A nice little tube slide ended my journey to one of the most difficultly obtained medals and shirts I’ve ever earned.

A Fun Learning Experience with Truly Elite Athletes

Many have often described OCR as a mixture of Ninja Warrior and trail running.  In fact, I often use it to describe OCR to those who have never heard of it as it makes the concept easier to grasp.  Conquer the Gauntlet is the truest example of that definition.  To every Ninja who reads this: sign up.  To every OCR racer ready to test themselves in a new way and ready to push limits they may not have known they had: sign up.  Even to those who love to run with friends and just take it easy: sign up!  This challenge will bring you either closer to those you run with, closer to yourself, or closer to the OCR community as a whole.

As someone who became addicted to OCR because I kept learning that I could achieve feats I never thought possible, Conquer the Gauntlet awakened that feeling in me once again.  I was beaten, badly by a greater obstacle challenge than I’ve ever experienced, but I walked out with my head held high.  I hadn’t only had a lot of fun, I was inspired. In my heart… that’s what the number one goal of all OCR companies and racers is… to inspire.  Thank you Conquer the Gauntlet for a wonderful experience.  I will be back.

I give it 5 torn callouses out of 5.

https://conquerthegauntlet.com/

Fort Benning Spartan Sprint

Fort Benning: Home of True Heroes

On April 14th, 2018 a Spartan Sprint was held at Fort Benning Military Base in Georgia.  The unique venue allowed competitors and spectators to honor American war heroes. It was filled with a unique flair not seen at many Spartan Races.  Not only was the race unique, but the Best Ranger competition was happening at the same time. This offered a unique chance to run by the real suffer fest superstars and heroes of America.  The turnout for Fort Benning was relatively large and varied.  From the elite waves to age group to open, all waves seemed to be relatively filled and full of people eager to test themselves on the battlefield.

Venue: Less Elevation, more Briers, and Tall Grass

While the terrain of Fort Benning certainly was not flat, it did not offer as much of an elevation challenge as most Georgia venues, nor did it offer the unique mountainous views.  Spartan did a good job at finding the hilly portions as well as some decent high degree incline short scrambles, but the large portion of challenging terrain for competitors seemed to be comprised of running through briers and tall grass.  Personally, I found this to be more annoying than challenging.  However, this could just be a matter of personal preference.  In my mind, there is a fine line between challenging and annoying.

Luckily the entire race wasn’t a slog and was quite varied bringing some variety.  A long-running portion was somewhat broken up by large mud holes that competitors were supposed to go through (some opted not to).  The occasional rocky terrain and scramble through single track trail in trees also helped break up the monotony.  The only complaint I have is that for the price point of Spartan, a bit more variety should be offered.  Part of what you pay for is the experience.

Spartan Vertical Cargo Fort Benning

Vertical Cargo

 

The Course

The mix of obstacles in the Spartan Sprint of Fort Benning was certainly varied enough and offered a great challenge for Competitors.  The race featured monkey bars, a ring rig, and twister.  The only problem with these obstacles was that they were ALL in one place. Be it for the purpose of spectator-friendliness or to attempt to wear out the grip of competitors race directors decided to bookend the race with obstacles which seems to be a recurring technique for Spartan.

The beginning of the race featured the A-Frame cargo, rope climb, vertical cargo, and plenty of walls.  There was then a large running portion for the next three miles or so. A sandbag and plate drag sparsely broke up the long run.  I can appreciate the distance this added to the race, but Spartan could have spiced it up more  The final mile of the race was: bucket carry, twister, spear throw, monkey bars, ring rig, rolling mud, and a slip wall followed by the fire jump.  I do think this was a great way for spectators to see and cheer on finishers.

However, it honestly just felt a bit like a trail race with some obstacles at the end at times.  The course as a whole was not bad. Volunteers did a superb job at telling competitors the rules.

Festival

Spartan seems to have stepped up their game a bit this year in the festival area.  There were plenty of vendors and team tents.  There were also a few fun contests for spectators and competitors to try.  Among those offered were: rope climbing, pull-ups, wall hopping, dead hangs, and tire flips.  This offered many more learning opportunities for new coming Spartans which I believe is a good move on Spartan’s part.

It’s a great idea to try and keep your dedicated fan base of hardcore Spartans happy. However, becoming too complacent and not continuing to try and bring in new blood would be a big mistake even or such a large, successful company.

 

Gabby Taylor Fort Benning

Competitor Gabby Taylor proud of her Medal

Pre-Race

The announcer gave the normal Spartan pre-race speech of “I am Spartan!”  The director announced the rules. Speakers played the National Anthem.  The droning serious speech did not rile many spirits.  It’s a matter of personal preference, but I just wish that Spartan would add a bit more fun and excitement to their pre-race warm up.

Obstacles

The team both designed and built the obstacles well.  Variety of obstacles was not a problem.  Placement of the obstacles was.  As I previously mentioned, obstacles seemed to mainly just bookend the course.  A recurring theme with Spartan seems to be: (run up this, carry this, climb over this) on repeat until the very end and (now swing on some things.  Thanks for the money.  Bye.)  I just feel that for such a hefty price tag Spartan should provide competitors with more than obstacles that they can create at their own homes.

Part of their draw and mood is the grit, the burpees, and the suffering.  I also realize this is a managerial decision by Joe De Sena to forgo innovation for toughness.  However, it is my opinion that this is just not fair to the competitors who shell out the big bucks and travel so far to run these races.

Variety and innovation are what can keep the lifeblood of a race company thriving. Foregoing innovation in course design in favor of throwing more heavy things, climbs, and carries at your competitors just MIGHT be a bad choice.  I can be completely wrong and you may disagree.  That’s perfectly OK.  Everyone has their opinion.  Obviously, Spartan is still making money and doing great.  They also have a lock on some great venues.  I just feel that was a good race that could have been a great race.  Thank you Spartan for all that you do and helping me get onto the serious road to being an elite racer.  AROO!

Team Blue line Teamwork Fort Benning

Team Blue Line helps one another at Olympus

 

Tough Mudder Unveils New 2018 Obstacles

TOUGH MUDDER UNVEILS 2018 NEW OBSTACLES

 

3+ Million Participants to Receive a ‘Happy Ending’ on Biggest Challenge in Obstacle Course Racing History

 

BROOKLYN, NY (January 11, 2018) – Famous for the company’s epic Innovation Lab, Tough Mudder Inc., the leading sports, active lifestyle and media brand, announced today its revolutionary twist on obstacles for the 2018 event season by unveiling the biggest structure to ever hit the obstacle course racing industry, Happy Ending, presented by Merrell, and Kong Infinity, the first obstacle in company history to be designed by members of the global tribe of more than 3 million Mudders. The company also revealed the iconic “Vault” obstacles (previously retired) coming back to course in 2018.

 

A physical embodiment of the organization’s 2018 yearlong “Tougher Together” campaign, Happy Ending is the new Tough Mudder Finisher Obstacle requiring teamwork by participants of all levels. Sitting at nearly 25 feet tall and over 80 feet wide and 100 feet long, it marks the biggest structure ever featured on course. To complete Happy Ending, participants must climb and push their way up an angled structure (40 degrees) creating human pyramids as they ladder over one another up multiple slippery inclines. At the summit, participants then dive feet-first down a 30 foot slide into a water pit.

Dedicated to the development of new products and entry points that enable millions of people to be part of Mudder Nation, Happy Ending brings participants together no matter the person’s athletic ability, the number of events run or event (Tough Mudder Full 10 miles; or Tough Mudder Half 5 miles). Teamwork and camaraderie – the Tough Mudder spirit – will be felt as participants cross the Finish line together.

 

Tough Mudder is an inclusive brand committed to connecting people. As a global tribe, we break down social barriers such as race, religion and politics. By using our sport as a vehicle for change, our events highlight the everyday heroes and elite athletes who together bring positive transformation worldwide,” said Will Dean, Tough Mudder, Inc. CEO and Co-Founder. “We look forward to welcoming thousands of new and returning participants to Mudder Nation in 2018 to face these challenges together – from completing the best-in-class obstacles on course to overcoming issues off. We remain dedicated to engineering ways to challenge our participants, both physically and mentally, all while giving millions of people a ‘Happy Ending’ and creating an exciting environment that showcases how we are stronger when we are united.

 

Happy Ending replaces the infamous Electroshock Therapy (EST) obstacle in which participants ran through dangling electrified wires. Although EST is “retiring” as a finisher challenge, it will transition to the Tough Mudder Full (10-mile) course and will be optional for all participants via bypass lanes – as not all are ready to get shocked with 10,000 volts.

 

Participants who are looking for a new shocking challenge may choose to exit Happy Ending by sliding down Third Rail – the bonus electricity challenge featuring more than 10,000 volts hanging from wires on a 30-foot slide into a pit of water. This optional challenge is for the bravest of all participants. Those not wishing to give it a shock – shot – may slide down the regular Happy Ending exit.

 

Tough Mudder is making a concerted effort to invest in Tough Mudder Half to provide accessible, yet rewarding experiences, to so many runners and outdoor enthusiasts who are not being challenged or excited by ordinary runs or half marathons,” said Dean. “From people who have never tried a mud run to seasoned Legionnaires who would like to bring friends, the Tough Mudder Half events serve as unique entry points to the world of obstacle course races and exclude the more extreme elements like fire and ice, in addition to making electricity completely optional. Tough Mudder’s commitment to innovation and dedication to enhance short distance challenges further positions the company as a global leader in the active lifestyle and sports categories.

Kong-Infinity – Obstacle Design Challenge Winning Obstacle

2018 marks the first year a Tough Mudder Obstacle Design Challenge winning innovation will be featured on course globally. A literal “spin” off of the iconic Kong obstacle, Kong Infinity is engineered to test even the most experienced Tough Mudders by being one of the most technically challenging obstacles on course. Requiring upper body strength and agility, participants start by climbing a 15-foot structure to reach a barrel which has handles fixed around its circumference on a set of tracks suspended more than 20 feet off the ground. By using momentum, participants rotate the barrel along the tracks to the other side. Kong-Infinity was designed by Ross Munro and Jonny McDonald of Glasgow, U.K.

For the first time since its inception in 2016, Kong, the giant, 30-foot obstacle in which participants swing like Tarzan, traversing from one floating ring to another, will be featured on the Tough Mudder Full course where everyone will have the opportunity to conquer this massive challenge.

 

Tough Mudder Vault

To celebrate Tough Mudder’s long and epic history of obstacle innovation, the company wants Mudder Nation to select which obstacles will return to course in 2018. The company unveiled the 25 historic obstacles Mudder Nation may vote on today through Friday, Jan. 26 at ToughMudder.com/obstacles. The winning “Vault” obstacles will be unveiled Feb. 5 with two-to-three historic challenges featured on every course in 2018 giving participants the chance to relive their favorite classics or for new Mudders, the chance to experience the best obstacles Tough Mudder has had to offer. A full list of the 25 obstacles is available online at ToughMudder.com/obstacles.

As an upgrade to the Vault obstacles for Legionnaires, participants who have completed multiple events, every course will have mystery vault features designed specifically for the Mudder Legion that include unique, never-before-seen modifications and design elements. Another Legionnaire-only obstacle coming to course is T-Boned – an added challenge to the classic Skidmarked, a slanted 10-foot wall. Participant’s upper body strength will be put to the test with an added twist of a 90-degree horizontal ledge to overcome 9 feet off the ground.

 

3 Million Mudders

With more than 3 million participants to date across five continents, Tough Mudder has offerings ranging from accessible yet rewarding challenges, such as Tough Mudder Half (five-mile event excluding fire, ice, and electricity), to competitive events, such as Tough Mudder X (the toughest mile on the planet), and World’s Toughest Mudder (24-hour endurance event).

This year, Tough Mudder, Inc. and its licensees will host an unprecedented 150+ events across nearly a dozen countries, such as the United States, The United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Canada and two new countries, South Africa, Philippines, welcoming participants worldwide into a global community that lives courage, personal accomplishment, teamwork and fun.

For more information on the 2018 Tough Mudder obstacles, or to purchase tickets to 2018 Tough Mudder events, visit ToughMudder.com.

 

 

About Tough Mudder, Inc.:

Founded in 2010 with the launch of the Tough Mudder obstacle course event series, Tough Mudder Inc. has become a leading global sports, active lifestyle and media brand. With more than 3 million participants, the company hosts more than 130 non-competitive (Mini Mudder; Tough Mudder 5K, Tough Mudder Half, and Tough Mudder Full) and competitive (Tougher, Toughest, Tough Mudder X and World’s Toughest Mudder) events annually in 11 countries including China, Dubai, Indonesia, and Australia through its partnerships with IMG, Seroja and Sports Media and Entertainment 360 (SME360). The company’s content arm provides the more than millions of engaged online brand enthusiasts with fitness, nutrition, and wellness content delivered daily across social and digital platforms. Tough Mudder broadcast, OTT and Live Stream programming can be seen worldwide through partnerships with CBS Sports, Facebook, Sky Sports, The CW Network and ESPN Media Distribution. Other sponsorship and distribution partners include Merrell, Amazon, KILL CLIFF, Jeep, Aflac, Guinness, Vega, Samsung, Olympus, Lucozade Sport, Nexcare, For Goodness Shakes, Bosch, TREK, Head & Shoulders, L’Oreal Men Expert, Käserei Loose, Snapchat and Live Stream.

 

Highlander Assault Challenge

Inaugural Event

The first ever Highlander Assault Challenge was held October 7th in Holiday Hills, Illinois. The inaugural Scottish themed OCR offered four different distance options for you to choose from. Four, eight, and 12-mile distances were available along with a 24-mile option if you were really a glutton for punishment!

This course offered some unique terrain that included something for everyone from technical trails, to forest, to prairie grass, to mud so thick that I’m sure there that there are still shoes stuck at the bottom of the muck now.

The course was designed by veteran obstacle course racers and police officers Mike Boyce and Chad Riffe and their great team of professional builders. Coach Pain was on hand to meet the crowd and get athletes pumped up before their designated heats.

Vendors including Stark Energy and RX Bar were set up for some pre- and post-race refreshment. Parking was only 5 dollars and was located right next to the festival area. J3Timing was on hand to provide instant chip timed results and a finisher photo of each athlete.

Assault Course

Onto the course, Highlander had an 8-mile course set up with a 4-mile cut through. This was where the 4-mile option went on to their finish and where the 12-mile course cut through on their second lap. I thought the signage at this split was fairly clear, but a few racers got mixed up at this point causing them to run 16 miles instead of 12.

Starting off from the festival area Highlander led athletes out through a recently cut soybean field and over a series of three four-foot-high walls. This served to start thinning out the crowd before coming up to an inverted wall located in the same bean field.

A low crawl net was set up on the trail sending athletes down on all fours towards one of the lakes on the property which led to a custom-made rig. This well-constructed rig started off with 5 rings in a row and finished with a traverse across a suspended 2X6 section of wood. There wasn’t a bell or anything to signify completion, in the future I’d suggest a bell tap or a painted mark at the end of the 2×6 to mark completion.

Signature Obstacle

After rig completion, Highlander set up one of their signature obstacles that you will not find anywhere else. The Highlander was set up with a cargo net climb onto a shipping container leading to another large cargo net was suspended between the first shipping container and another one set up on the other side. This led to a climb up to a wooden staging area where a waterslide was set up to send racers back down, rather quickly into a water pit.

Climbing out of the lake area racers followed the course markers out into the harvested bean field once again in a giant loop designed to add some distance to the course. At this point, a dug-out moat filled with water and covered by chain link fence was waiting to soak racers on their way towards the back side of the lake where a balance test was waiting in the form of a telephone pole crossing over a water pit.

Highlander now took advantage of some of the many hills by sending racers over and between the trees in slalom style back and forth and up and down. The next bit of nastiness came in the form of a march and wire crawl through some extremely thick mud.

Stuck in the Muck

This muck stuck to racers like glue and was still stuck to us as we came up to a dirt-filled bucket carry. The trail now continued along an actual section of road where an over, under, and through series of walls set up leading to a Z shaped traverse wall. No bell tap was set up here and no volunteer was stationed to make sure racers completed the crossing, in the future one or both should be in place to ensure obstacle completion.

At this point racers entered a gravel pit area where the split from the 4-mile and the 8-mile course was located, I’ll continue on with the 8-mile course for the rest of this article. Making way through the gravel pit Highlander now directed athletes into the connected forest following a technical trail through the hills leading us to a sandbag carry. The sandbags were piled up in a way where they looked like they might have been placed there to hold down the wood structure they were sitting on. Some of the athletes were running past the sandbags so in the future having either a sign or a volunteer would be helpful in clearing things up here.

Now the trail led athletes back into the forest where the path followed a game trail along the back side of the property. This eventually opened up when racers made it to the second lake along the course where the cut grass around the lake became the trail. Highlander situated a teeter totter balance beam and a unique ladder climb up to a bell tap along the long loop around the lake.

Game of King’s Thrones

As the obstacles became fewer now the trail became tougher as racers were presented with a mixture of forest, marsh, and creek crossings which made for rather nasty and tiring running.

This eventually led to the King’s Throne which was designed like a huge Irish table with a ladder climb on the back side making this obstacle look very much like a huge chair! The 8-mile trail now joined back up with the 4-mile trail which set racers on a course back towards the festival area. A 12-foot high ladder was the first obstacle racers encountered along the merged trail.

Another harvested bean field jog led to a caber carry before sending athletes into some thick cattails for another murky creek crossing. Climbing out of the creek racers were now presented with an Atlas Stone carry, 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women. Once your stone was dropped off a short jog away Highlander presented a maze run that required racers to pick up a yoke with car tires dangling from a metal chain off each side for a zig-zag sprint through a field of parked boats testing one’s coordination to the max.

The Final Obstacles

One last forested section of the course was all that remained left to be conquered! Scattered throughout this acreage was the remains of an old paint ball course, including some small houses and castles, which Highlander integrated into the trail. Some of structures were rebuilt and added onto in the form of a two-story rock climbing wall and a two-story wall climb with a rope assist.

After breaking free of the forest racers faced one of the most unique climbs in the OCR industry. Suspended in the air vertically was a set of plastic tubes. Perhaps a foot in diameter these pipes rose approximately 15 feet in the air. The only means to climb this pipe were small ropes which hung out of two sides of each pipe and spaced around 16 inches apart leading up to the top making this the most challenging “rope ladder” ever! One last set of parallel bars provided a good triceps/shoulder burn before the 8 and 4-mile course finished and the 12 and 24-mile racers continued on for further punishment.

Final Thoughts

Other than a few issues that you would normally expect for a first-year event, Highlander really did prove to be very challenging and well-managed. The event benefited from having actual obstacle course racers design the course and its obstacles.  People could complete most of the obstacles and the four distance levels offered provided a test for every fitness level.

The finishers’ bling was cool looking and Highlander also had a merchandise tent with everything from flex fit hats to hoodies to complete the look. I’m really looking forward to the next Highlander Assault on October 6, 2018, to see what those crazy cops come up with next!

Bonefrog Buffalo – the Endurance Unicorn

When I landed in Buffalo, the tallest things I could see were the overpasses and the racing temps were forecast in the low 80s.   Saturday’s Bonefrog Endurance was going to be an easy day. I’d never raced a Bonefrog before, but logging 5 laps around the course to secure the coveted gold frog pin felt inevitable. After all, I’d completed an Ultra Beast, ran a sub-4 marathon, done a SealFit 20X, and all kinds of crazy stuff… how hard could it really be?

I was an overconfident moron about to get exactly what he deserved.

Hard Lesson #1: The course doesn’t care how badass you think your race resume is; neither does the blazing sun, or its evil sidekick “humidity.”

The race was held at Kissing Bridge Snow Sports, about an hour drive from Niagara Falls #racecation. As I drove by all of the upstate NY homes on the way there, I felt really poor. But when I arrived at the festival area, the sea of OCR shirts and GoRuck packs powered a really welcoming feel. Logistically, everything at the race was on point. Parking, bag check, knowing where to go, etc.. Bonefrog is owned and operated by Navy SEALs, and their race execution shows it.

While Buffalo itself may be flat, the hills at this ski spot were legit and the Bonefrog crew used them like tools of evil to make us feel special throughout the day. The race crew set the tone at the 8:30 starting line: No lollygagging or hype, just “get after it” and off we went. There were zero downhill teases at the start, just a shot straight up the hill at inclines ranging from 15%-30%.

Somewhere around the first climb, I started to appreciate how hot a day in the mid-80s can feel when your heart rate’s already jacked. The 90% humidity helped make it feel extra awesome. As a guy from Alaska, it was slightly uncomfortable but I figured courses usually just have a few of those climbs so I’d be okay.

Spoiler Alert: there were still 7 more climbs to go.

At the top of the first climb, we came to an obstacle unique to Bonefrog. It’s like a chest-high hurdle you have to jump over, only its covered in car tires. No problem, I’d seen pictures and had a plan. I’d run towards it and jump to hit it at a 45-degree angle going up… The tire would rotate with the force of my body and carry me over. #Easy day. Wrong! I ran, jumped, then stuck to the tires like I was on flypaper and came to a dead stop. Although I eventually made it over, it wasn’t dignified.

Hard Lesson #2: Being good at other OCRs doesn’t impress the obstacles you’ve never seen.

No worries, there are always hiccups. After a nice downhill running section, I saw a rope climb at the base of the hill. I started to smile as I visualized this obstacle to be owned.  As I was running and picturing my triumph to come, I tripped on the wet grass and did a sliding faceplant down the hill.  I made the rope climb, but with wet hands and a bruised ego.

After the rope, it was back up and down another hill with a few assorted obstacles in between. There were mainstays like walls to climb, tire drags and a carry; but the real fun came when we hit the bottom of the hill again.

Something I came to appreciate throughout the day was how much different this race series was from the other OCRs I’ve done. The Bonefrog obstacles mercilessly beat your grip strength down like your forearms owe the race director money.

I’d seen pictures of the obstacle below. None of them warned me that the bars roll.  The extra movement adds something.

 

I’d done a traverse under bouncy nets using only my hands before, so I thought this would be easy too… Only these grips bounce and roll.  I fell, and it hurt.

Seriously, one of the easier obstacles wound up being an unknotted rope you jumped to like Tarzan so you can swing across a pool of water. At most races, that’s considered a hard one.

No worries, it was bound to get easier right? Wrong. The unshaded climbs continued, and then I ran out of water! I thought my 18 oz bottle was overkill; I should have brought my camelback (and salt for that matter).

Eventually, the festival area reappeared with a gauntlet of clustered obstacles that guarded the finish line like grip strength sucking sentinels.

 

These were tricky, but the one I’d read about the most was “Get to the Choppa.” A few reviews said it was hard, and since it’s so high the fear of falling is quite real. No worries, I had a foolproof plan to get through this one safely: Don’t fall.

Seriously, just suck it up. If falling scares you, do a Color Run. Bonefrog’s run by SEALs, not Disney characters.

Is the Choppa hard? Yes. The plan I had to rotate from blade to blade like a trapeze artist fell apart the second I grabbed hold. That thing turned me around and twisted my arms like pretzels. Thankfully, the fear of falling powered my intense death grip to those blades until I was finally able to kick the bell.

After 2 hours and 57 minutes, I hit the final obstacle at the finish line. Bonefrog’s finish is unique, and it either moves you or it doesn’t. You climb up a rope and then swing across monkey bars with a ginormous American Flag at your side. Personally, this finish was worth the trip by itself and the pic they get of you at the end is better than any medal I have in my case.

 

And that’s why I suppose you love this crew or don’t. They bring you old school OCR, and they do it with heart. On the course, you’ll do 31 burpees, one for each KIA service member listed on a board. Later, you’ll climb a steep hill in the blazing sun and then get to write the name of a loved one on a wall. And after gutting out the obstacles and terrain, your final memory of the course is swinging triumphantly by a huge American flag.

So, did I get the gold frog pin? Not a chance. The challenge course was 8 miles, had 30 obstacles and over 3k feet of gain and loss. There were only 2.5 hours before I wouldn’t be allowed to start another lap. I was so far away from my five lap goal that I called it a day and went out for Gelato with my wife. The remaining sprint laps were 3 miles, 20 obstacles and about 1,700 feet of gain and loss each. I don’t think anyone completed four of those to bag a gold frog pin that day.

Hard Lesson #3: Bonefrog Endurance is not the Battlefrog Xtreme reincarnated. It’s better but harder. If you fail to give this series the respect it deserves like I did, they’ll eat your lunch.

Unless your name’s Ryan Atkins or one of those elite racers, be happy with 3 laps as a respectable goal on a course like that.

About five minutes of edited video from the course, set to Tuba music, is available on Youtube at Click Here

Elevation Profile for the 8 Mile Challenge Course

WTM 2016: My Density Has Brought Me To You

It’s after three in the morning, and I am scooting face up underneath a canopy of barbed wire in some very questionable mud which may or may not be saturated with human urine. My knees are swollen from the previous six crawls under this particular obstacle and so I have resorted to pushing myself headfirst with my heels and waddling with my elbows which are in the same condition as my knees. My headlamp keeps getting edged off my forehead onto my neck which is sort of choking me. The desert rocks feel like my son’s Legos on my back as I push inch by inch below certain stitches above me. My wetsuit is filled with about 5 pounds of mud and gravel and I am pretty sure I have shit myself an obstacle back which now seems preferential to going back into the port-o-potties where there is now no division between the mud and the feces. I am having one of the best days of my life. The thing is, I get this feeling I have been here before.

I am at World’s Toughest Mudder. Again. I failed twice at this event in 2013 in New Jersey and 2015 here in Nevada but came back with a throbbing vengeance this year. 1370 miles of roads, trails and rucking with somewhere in the vicinity of 40,000 reps of body weight exercises since January and I am on target to make 50 miles this year by one in the afternoon, all for a black headband and a brown bib. It is early November and the one thing no one is talking about is the election. That in itself is worth the $500 I dropped to be here.

TSA will be a bitch on Monday morning and I likely will not be able to raise my arms for the body scanner. It will be Wednesday before I get the last dab of dirt out of my ears, nose and eyes. My hands will peel in about a week, I will have night sweats and my ass crack will be raw from the dirt built up in it, but I don’t care, I am at peace. I am one with the universe now. And that universe only exists within a tiny 5 mile loop north of Lake Las Vegas, a man made resort for people richer and tamer than me.

About 4 ½ years ago, a co-worker showed me the Tough Mudder promo. Within 24 hours, I had digested the entire site and signed up for a Seattle event. I thought I was fit and rugged. I found out otherwise. Since then I have been hooked like all the other middle aged weekend warriors, slugging it out to do something that our grandparents worked really hard so that we could avoid. Existence in 2016 is so comfortable that I have to pay to get beat up.

The physical aspect of this event is certainly challenging if not impossible after a whole day of competing. But if it’s 100% physical, it’s 200% mental. Now I know what you’re thinking: He said that this thing is 300% of something; that doesn’t add up! And you’re partially right. None of it adds up. To endure, it requires you to not only be the best version of yourself, but also the worst version as well. And then you need to bring another you to criticize the other two. See? That makes 300%.

Hitting the finish line every 5 miles is not only difficult to comprehend but magnificent to become addicted to. You have an opportunity to comfortably and silently quit after every lap. This makes the temptation that much harder to beat. Add to this the repetition of a lap and after a half dozen runs through the gauntlet, you get a little confused where and when you are. But the appeal has nothing to do with obstacles or distance anymore. It’s all about the comradery.

Last year I remember asking a lady if she was OK just after dawn. She was nursing an arm and it was clear that something had been torn. As soon as I started down this line about questioning her ability to continue, she immediately ignored me and began boosting me up a shit show obstacle called the Liberator. This involved climbing up an A-frame with two pegs you stick in holes to elevate yourself. After 18 hours of muddy competitors, the entire obstacle is a slip and slide and by extension, an injury factory.

You might see someone who just had their arm ripped off and they’d probably ask you if you needed a boost. The air is electrified with ignorant positivity, except when you come to the Cliff, a 35 foot drop off a platform into the water below. You feel like you’re moving 88 mph by the time you make the splash. The trick is to close your eyes and pinch your nose.

WTM 2016 - The Cliff Jump

Watching a guy spend five minutes psyching himself up for this tiny step, other participants and spectators are egging him on, some screaming profanities and insults, others cheering and building him up. I don’t know if he ever jumped, I had to keep pressing on. Stagnation is death at World’s. For that matter, stagnation is death in Life.

I have seen guys who were ideal specimens get 3 laps and DQ out on hypothermia and I have seen chunky middle-aged Moms get their 50-mile bibs. It can be anyone’s race. It’s the Tortoise and the Hare on mescaline. I quit caring who was leading and how fast their laps were years ago. I learned to concentrate on what was directly in front of me so I could avoid another mishap resulting in the dreaded orange participant headband and not the black finisher one.  I got hurt on my first World’s and spent half the race in my tent last year due to the cold. But this year, like so many others, the only real goal is not measured in laps or miles but in the ability to just keep moving for 24 hours and wash out the taste of past defeats.

Rewind 48 hours. My plane is late flying into McCarran and I have spent too much time waiting in the bar drinking brown things just trying to dull the anticipation with intoxication. I want to keep this up on the plane but the guy next to me has crowded me into the window. Mixing a drink makes me look like a T-Rex with the tiny flailing arms.

Flying over Nevada south towards Las Vegas reveals a harsh reality of how we have adorned our surroundings. Perpetually reddish-brown, the landscape greens up as you head to the anus of the state where it purges itself into SoCal. Little pops of green become big swaths of green, all fake, all forced, submitting the earth into plastic surgery so that Vegas can only smile back. It’s like Melania Trump trying to have a fit. The Botox just won’t let her frown. That’s what we did to Vegas. We didn’t just make the wig, we made the man to wear it. There is no Las Vegas without embellishments.

While landing I notice the Trump brand on what I presume to be a hotel and casino. I forgot that our new commander is also a real estate tycoon. Like a lot of people, I focused on my training in the past months only more dogmatically if only to avoid some of the garbage being slung through the air waves. Most everyone couldn’t wait for the election to be over. I was just waiting for World’s.

The hotel logo matched with the baroque glitz of Vegas makes me think of the movie Back to the Future II. The dystopian alternate future Marty visits where Biff has created a “Pleasure Paradise” stands in stark irony to what I am willingly about to subject myself to.

Grabbing something sinister at Starbucks, I pick up my gear from the carousel, ride the shuttle to pick up the rental and make way off into the neon. I have to pick up food for this adventure and that means at this hour I am hitting Wal-Mart. My cart makes me look like a meth addict. It is filled with peanut butter, crackers, chips, candy bars, pickle juice and a tub of Vaseline.  I don’t eat this way normally but when you are burning 500 calories an hour for 25 hours straight, you make strange bedfellows.

Most of the rest of my nutrition will be provided by the Orphan Tent, a place you can sign up for when you don’t have friends or family to pit for you. Solitary by nature, I have made some unexpected friends to achieve my goals. Drawing on my past failures, I knew I needed someone to get excited to see, if only for a few minutes. It takes the edge off the last miles of a lap.

Driving into the resort, I nearly hit a coyote. Checking in, I confront the institutional dullness that only a hotel room can offer and yet, there is a vibration inside that I know is being duplicated thousands of times across this landscape, the buzz of anticipation, joy and fear. Stepping outside I listen to the wind and feel the air hours before dawn. I want to have an idea of how cold it will be. The wind is moving faster than they say on my phone and I can tell this by the palms blowing on this resort. It’s so manicured that the grass is imprisoned. It’s just a carpet on top of a wasteland that can never grow anything. You step off the grounds and you are back in the desert. The magic is that you never really left. You just believed in that lie, the one that southern Nevada tells so well. But this weekend, the trolling stops. There is no faking World’s.

The soil here is young. It is basically rocks that haven’t quite eroded into dirt. Driving a stake in the ground by hand is nearly impossible. Cacti and brush are the only foliage around save for the imported palms at the resorts. The landscape is barren, beautiful and brutal. I manage to think about this while I get a couple of hours of drug induced sleep. I will need all the rest I can get. However, I know from experience, sleeping before World’s is about as practical as sleeping during it. I keep seeing this place as it was before the developers and as it may have been a half a billion years ago when it was a part of the sea.

Registration is at 10 but I am up hours before it standing in line with old and new friends half buzzed and unable to control ourselves. Some people are actually bouncing with excitement. We’re supposed to take all of our gear and stake a spot in the pit. Been there, done that. This year there is no tent for me and no sleeping bag. Just me stashing myself next to a rock pile hoping that the Orphans will keep an eye on my gear. But really, who wants to steal pee-soaked wetsuits?

I have made a promise to get out of line, grab some food and hide in my hotel room until it’s time to leave the next day for the race. I don’t want any of the stress to transfer on to myself. I sit in bed watching television with my feet up and drinking so much water that I  urinate every 45 minutes.

Finding a marathon of the Back to the Future trilogy on cable, I put down the remote that I had been scanning the channels with. I swear I didn’t plan this. We don’t have cable at home or even internet so I use any opportunity to catch up on my programming. Funny, it never seems to change. I am struck at the similarities between the antagonist of the series Biff Tannen and the Donald, particularly in the second installment. Apparently, this was an intentional comparison. Dreaming about time travel, I begin to see myself in the past, present and future. The only difference is the number on my bib.

I drink and pee and eat and drink and pee and eat and have the most unproductive day of the year. I would feel guilty but I know what is about to happen. Smothering the trepidation with distraction, trying not to let the hysteria totally snowball out of proportion until you, like the other 1,000 that were sleepless the night before check and recheck your gear, blind with titillation.

The morning of is a blitz of throbbing, confused and electric frenzy generating somewhere in the vicinity of 1.21 gigawatts of pure energy. It’s so easy to get swept away and wander around like an ant before a storm. There is the smell of ass from the nerve trots that keep the portable toilets totally occupied. By the following day, the excrement mountain will be taller than the seat. Wet wipes have a value second only to coffee by Sunday.

The two MC’s, Sean Corvelle and Clinton Jackson jack up the furor and Sean spends a half hour pumping up the participants with his expected and exquisite brand of flag-waving, bandwagon and Oo-rah. This is a first where he actually body surfs the crowd. CBS is here filming and I have spotted a half dozen drones and the event has not even officially started. But we all know this started for all of us last winter when registration opened. For the record, Sean and Clinton never let up once for the entire show. You can’t pay people enough for this type of dedication; that’s straight out love.

I work with marginal people in shitty situations on a daily basis and my job has made me something of a misanthrope. For a moment, the cynic in me ruins this perfect place and I wonder if we created this fantasy as a retreat, an exodus from the grind of parenting, paying the mortgage, listening to the bullshit politicians telling us how they’re not like the other bullshit politicians, escape from Disease, Divorce, Death, or worse, Life.

This is as much Church as it is Sport and in many ways, the comparison to the Spiritual is more appropriate. There is sacrifice and suffering, baptism by water, mud, sometimes fire and even electricity. There is Faith (one obstacle in 2013 was actually called Leap of Faith – it involved jumping off a platform almost 20 feet in the air across a divide into a padded mat above water.) In fact, one would be hard-pressed not to make constant references to the stories of suffering in the Bible (Job, David, Joseph (the one with the coat) Jeremiah or Peter) and it is not lost on me that we are all wandering in the desert.

The spiritual awakening and transcendence in all of this has been a constant companion and I wonder if going to church offered the same release, would I go every Sunday and if I did would the pews be filled or would I be alone?

It’s hard not to cry here. You think of the sacrifices you have made, for yourself and your family. You think about this moment constantly while you train. And now it’s here. And it is incredibly surreal. And it will continue to be until well after this time tomorrow.

WTM 2016 - Start

With a bone-dry and high sun, this monster begins and we are off at a crawl as the start line is actually at the base of a long climb that travels under a giant 40 foot A-Frame cargo net called the Atomic Wedgie. It gets this name as when you summit it, you are suspended over the apex with your crack. Tough Mudder gets creative with their obstacle names and by creative I mean irreverent.

The first five-mile lap is sans obstacles. This is by necessity as the thousand plus field would bottleneck the obstacles and shut down the course. To say that it is without any obstacles is erroneous. It is not a road (Where we’re going, we don’t need roads) and not even a trail. There is over 700 feet of elevation gain per lap, mostly in the last 2 miles and because of the desert dust being kicked up by thousands of feet, there is definitely an air quality factor. I wear a green bandana around my face to keep from getting a dry throat.

Spoiler: Most of the time if you attempt something, you will probably finish it. But you can’t do it unless you are invested and in order to buy in, you simply have to jump. You’re way more motivated when you see the ground coming towards you at terminal velocity.

This field is filled with little islands in the ocean of improvements. I hear their stories all day and all night long. Addicts, victims, survivors are more common than the stereotypical athlete here. This is not your NFL contingent. These are the people who are dissatisfied.

With each quarter mile, we get a glimpse of the 20 (or so) obstacles we will be with for the next 24 hours. After our first lap, we can stop with the foreplay and start the intercourse. You probably have this idea that after the event we will all brag that we tamed the course. The only thing that gets tamed here is your ego. The first lap takes me an hour and I will not move this fast again for a couple of weeks. Crossing the finish line, I grab some chow and hit the start again.

Obstacle #1 (day course) is called Augustus Gloop, so named after the ill-fated character in the Willie Wonka movie. This involves jumping into dyed water and then going under a chain link fence so low so that you can see but not breathe. You then find yourself at the wrong end of a drainage tube just large enough to climb in. Small rectangular holes are cut into the tube so that you can just get a foot inside and also a hand. You climb up the tube while being subject to a light waterboarding as there is a fire hose spraying down on you from above. There is a transparent cutout that shows the spectators what you are doing a la Augustus Gloop. It’s not a difficult obstacle but the water is cold and it messes with your head. Like many of the Tough Mudder trademark obstacles, it has a psychological component, in this case, claustrophobia and suffocation.

We make our way through the more brute and climbing oriented obstacles such as the Stage 5 Clinger and on to a swim where you have to boost yourself over a slippery plastic ramp called Humpchuck while soaking wet. You would be surprised how much help you get, especially if you’re a female. But I have to tell you, in 12 hours, it will be difficult to tell which gender is which. Neoprene is the great gender equalizer.  You get your damn hands off her.

WTM 2016 - Giant Wedgie

We loop around back to the Giant (or Atomic) Wedgie we passed through in the beginning of the loop. It is not a difficult obstacle but it is time consuming and eats up about 5 minutes each lap. If you get 13 laps, you will spend almost an hour just on this cargo netting. It gives people a chance to catch their breath and enjoy the view. It’s also a safe bet that when you’re passing underneath this behemoth to pass quickly. After a certain hour, anybody could be peeing and at any time.

There is a volunteer underneath us who keeps whooping like Terry Tate and it’s awesome. I hear him whoop at least 30 times while I am climbing and descending. Each time he does it, I do it to because laughter, like cholera, is contagious.

On we go through the course with the obstacles which are standbys in the Tough Mudder galaxy. Everest is a half-pipe made of plastic that you have to get a solid sprint going up it and jump at the last moment before you run out of real estate, catch the edge and climb up. This is a favorite place to help others and you really see some struggle and triumph here. You also can easily break a nose or rib. Then it’s on to Operation which is an obstacle I also refer to as “Fuck that Noise.” I have been shocked legitimately and accidentally far too many times by TM to get involved with this. Plus, the penalty takes about the same time as the obstacle.

WTM 2016 - Abseil (Repelling)

There is a climb with a rope throw called the Grappler, a climb down on the other side called Abseil, a deceptively difficult slope called Pyramid Scheme which sucks the core strength out of you. As the day wears on, the ropes on this have become frayed and some are missing altogether making the obstacle impossible to overcome without help. It’s sometime after midnight that two runners wearing demonic clown masks start helping others up. I get that one of the clowns goes by the moniker “Bubbles.” The wearing of the mask is sadistic at this hour as some of us are slowing slipping away.

WTM 2016 - Clowns

On to the third installment of TM staple Funky Monkey known now as the Revolution. This is a climb up an inverted, sloped monkey bar with a transition into spinning wheels that are both horizontal and vertical. This is not too bad the first three times but by the fourth it looks like a good place to end my dreams. I take the penalty which is a dip in the water and a walk with a sandbag. I got to be pretty good friends with the sandbag by the time this thing was over.

The grind continues. Obstacles named Double Rainbow, The Blockness Monster, Kiss of Mud, Ladder to Hell, Twinkle Toes and Turducken break up the monotony of the climbs. Double Rainbow is a super fun obstacle much like a trapeze act. You jump off a platform onto a metal handlebar, swing over the water and then grab another handlebar to swing to the safety of an airpad. Fail it and you have a crawl through a drainage tube and another short climb. Less than 12 hours in and all the grip tape has come loose from the handles and the metal is wet. I take the penalty which still involves a 15-foot jump into water before the penalty even begins.

Blockness Monster is the epitome of Tough Mudder. Two giant rectangular cubes are suspended in water. They cannot move without at least four participants pushing, lifting, climbing, pulling and rolling them over and over without losing the momentum.  They are bigger and heavier than last year. A handful of jackasses grab onto the top of the block and ride it over but don’t do their part to keep them rolling once they’ve passed. It’s a dick move and I would see it repeated a handful more times before I start calling people out. Even in this place, there will always be people in it for themselves.

Over the entire meandering track, you can hear the pit ebb and flow, hear a variety of songs coming out of the speakers, hear Sean and Clinton egging racers on as they cross the finish line again and again and again. Most of that is just white noise. What sticks out more than any other sound is this: Jon Copper on the Bagpipes

WTM 2016 - Jon CopperThis started years ago when Jon’s daughter, Hanna, did World’s. Since it is a crucial detail in the overall gestalt of the event, Jon climbs the hills and plays around the course and it’s as welcome as an aid station. It motivates you to climb and spurns you to go on. He is in full kilt wear and both the image and sound he shares is one that all of us can agree is an image we will take to the grave.

Not half way into this thing and racers are dropping left and right from injuries off the obstacles. I am almost up to my second tackle of a new obstacle called Backstabber. This is another wooden A-frame with a single line of holes up the center. The participant inserts pegs inside the holes to gain elevation over the obstacle. By the next morning, every one of us can agree that the Backstabber is the worst obstacle there. Matt B. Davis of Obstacle Racing Media posted the simplest of rebukes on November 13th, “Fuck you Backstabber.”

Countless bruises on the bottoms of triceps are directly attributed to this obstacle. Over the night, tiny cut-outs used by feet for leverage become fatigued and filled with mud and the obstacle is probably sucking life out of you at the rate of 100 times faster the longer you stay suspended trying to climb over. This is a must complete obstacle and for many, can only be overcome with assistance. That assistance is not free and it often requires the assister to risk injury in the offering of it.

WTM 2016 - Sunset

During the climb, a gift is given to us that could not be anticipated: sunset. We had a mild ceiling of clouds and that revealed some of the most picturesque scenery I have ever seen.   It’s a Picasso stress-smashed into a Modigliani poured into a Monet with a drizzle of Van Gogh scribbled by O’Keefe. A couple of pit crew took pictures of this so I know I wasn’t imagining it. Nursing my arms after the Backstabber I struggled to keep my eyes on the ground during a downhill through a dry wash. I would later run this section and somersault onto my left butt cheek. I quit running altogether after that.

A death march through a canyon and up a ridge brings your burning quads to Ladder to Hell which is pretty much what it sounds like, a ladder for giants where a one eyed pirate wearing a duster greets us. Down a slope you meet Twinkle Toes, a narrow board over water with a set of steps in the middle to navigate. The volunteer on this one tells us the secret is to keep moving and look forward, not down. This is probably good advice anywhere in Life.

Two cruel obstacles then pave your way to the eventual opening of the Cliff, Turducken and the Gamble. Turducken is another drainage pipe at an angle that drops off into water in a most uncomfortable way that tweaks the dogshit out of your back and often scrapes your spine on the way down. It is followed by a swim, a climb up a cargo net and then a dive underneath a large log that if you don’t time right you will whack your head on. There also is a large rock that people discover underneath the ramp into the second pool. By morning the drainage pipe becomes a sewage pipe and it is to one’s benefit to smell the right tube down. In case you are not catching the subtlety, someone shit themselves inside it, intentionally or otherwise.

The Gamble involves rolling a die and then taking one of six obstacle choices. There are really only three and the even numbers are the easier versions. All involve climbing which gets harder with each passing lap. If you opt to take the penalty you find yourself in the Artic Enema which is a face first slide into water congested with ice. You then have to take another full submersion under a board. If you were cold before it, you’re in real trouble after.

And finally, a new obstacle called Kong. These are four rings suspended high above another air pad. When doing this obstacle, you look like the gorilla, Donkey Kong. After three successes on this one, I start taking the penalty as my rotators are on fire. You still have to climb it and jump into the pad before you grab another sandbag. I heard that a guy fell between the two sandbags and another guy got tangled in the rings. This is about as funny as a battleship with screen doors. Until midnight, this is the last obstacle.

Back at the pit, my orphan volunteer is now dressed up like a rainbow unicorn. The thing is, she’s not the only one. There are two more unicorns, a Chewbacca and another guy in a ghillie suit. They just got a delivery of pizza and I have never been so happy to see it. I scarf two slices of sausage down barely chewing it and it fills me with life, at least for another half lap. My unicorn helps me put on another layer of neoprene since I am so water logged everything keeps sucking itself onto me like a vacuum. Without these volunteers, many of us would just quit. They ask for nothing other than for you to continue. I suppose part of it involves living through you vicariously. There is so much pure joy here, it’s hard to feel like you’re missing out on something.

My pit crew volunteer wears a blue bib that has my number on it. Seeing it duplicated makes me think that there are more than one of me out here and I feel obliged to sacrifice one of us for the sake of the future.

Slightly revived, I head out again for another lap. I really have no choice. Pit Mama Traci Watson would scream at me until I did. At midnight, they sound a fog horn to signify that the course has now changed. Humpchuck, the swim with a slick climb on plastic has now closed and in it’s place, a beautiful obstacle called Statue of Liberty. This is pretty simple. Take a lit tiki torch and swim about 25 yards across to the other side. If the torch goes out, you do it again until you get it right. It’s silent and swift and, for some reason, this little cove of the Lake has a good juju about it. It’s not difficult, it’s just another piece of the puzzle, just another movement to wrap your brains around.

WTM 2016 - Cliff Jump

The horn also means one other thing. We all know this is coming. The Cliff has opened. The simplest obstacle ever invented, the Cliff is also probably the most terrifying. It requires you to do nothing other than take the ride. The penalty is another half mile plus through the desert so unless you have fresh legs, you’re taking the 35 foot jump. It’s just high enough to be relatively safe but still mess with your mind.

It’s easy to dismiss this until you are on the platform looking down. Then your mantras flee and you are all alone without your usual bullshit. This is not a test. The alarm is real. I have done the Cliff before and love/fear it. This time there was no line and I waited until I was cleared and I walked up to and over and into the abyss with 0.0 hesitation like I was going into the kitchen for a snack. I’m not looking for congratulations on this. This is between me and the Cliff. I do this two more times before they close it for everyone except the front running contenders. Nobody calls me chicken.

I swim across the bay to another cargo net which seems to be the bread and butter of this World’s. They are everywhere. I pee again while watching others fall into the water. The sound of wetsuits splashing down is indelibly etched in my psyche as much as Copper’s pipes. It sounds like nothing else and it feels both safe and dangerous simultaneously. It’s more of a crack crash splash. Out of the water I cross the finish line for the fifth time. I collect my 25 mile patch. Strangely, it has no meaning now. I grab some food from the pit and slam whatever calories my body will take in the form of Waffle Stingers, Snickers, Ramen, Hot Cocoa mixed with Coffee and some whoppers. I top it off with a half of a peanut butter sandwich and I am off again.

On my sixth lap, I cry a little when I cross the start line. I have not made it this far before. Everything now is new. I keep focusing on every little step and breath, trying to stay safe and keep going and I run the gauntlet again. The familiarity now is an enemy because it encourages carelessness.

I am taking another penalty on Everest, a half pipe made of super slick plastic. My hamstrings are done and the speed I need to succeed won’t be back for a week. The penalty is another loop eating up my time and a short swim. I have grown to love the swim because I am incredibly buoyant in the layers of neoprene. I can float on my back and analyze the air traffic patterns of McCarran and warm myself up a bit. I have been drinking super-salinated liquids including pickle juice, mustard packets, and Cup O’ Noodles all night. The salt keeps me from cramping but also makes me pee and this is where I like to do this. There are a lot of schools of thought on wetsuit urination but I still have not sacrificed my pride to pee in the open.

Noticing a little party boat that you can rent from the Westin, I wave to the spectators and sing to them. Either they couldn’t hear me or didn’t want to. They may as well be on the other side of the ocean. They are tourists to this event, like we are mostly tourists in our lives. They’re on the water, but they’re not in it. And in my case, they’re not making the water that I just made, heating up the lake a drop at a time, enchantment under the sea.

WTM 2016 - Back in Time

Overnight, cold and alone, even if for just a couple of minutes, the dark thoughts and memories will pour in if you let them. There’s no telling what thoughts will walk in if you leave the window open. As I stumble around vigilantly in the dark, I recognize that the darkness is not unlike the concept of the wetsuit. The neoprene lets in a small amount of water that it holds close to your body. Your body warms this water and you remain in the game. The dark thoughts are like that. You let a couple in to get you going and warm your passion. If you let too many in, you freeze to death.  The demons of doubt will never fade into non-existence. The question is: Can you put them to work for you instead of against you?

I have let too many in. Seconds feel like minutes. A quarter mile to the next obstacle feels like a 5k. I start singing to myself. I start talking to shadows. I think twigs and roots are snakes. I later hear that Jim Campbell (aka DaGoat) kills a Rattler with his hands by the Grappler. I have no way of knowing if this is true but I certainly want it to be.

The stars are a bit skewed from where I expect to see them at this hour in my home in Montana. There’s also a lot less of them given the bleed of photopollution from Vegas and the nearly full moon that gives us a bit more light in the canyons and washes. I have trained under these same stars for months and given my lack of training partners other than my Shepard, Daisy, they are welcome allies. You look for any little morsel of home to keep you safe mentally. I think of my wife and my son and my daughter and Daisy and our cat. They are all asleep. What the fuck am I doing out here?

After midnight, nearly everyone you see will ask how you are doing unless you ask them first. Initially, I thought maybe they saw something broken in me that I didn’t recognize. Later I realized that they weren’t really asking how I was doing; they were asking how they were doing by extension.

I could waste pages trying to explain why I am here. I could lie and digest it into some simple hymn. The truth is that while I am a complicated person, my desire to be here is not. I have found that most encounters in the world are as phony as the landscape at the resort hotel that I can see from the edge of the course.

You have to really dig deep to have a genuine interaction with a person. You don’t usually succeed except in times of struggle. World’s is all about struggle. This is one of the few times that I become Sally Social and actually talk to people. It’s one of the few times I actually listen. No one here is trying to sell you anything. No one expects you to give them something for free. If anything, the environment is ripe with people looking for a reason to help you.

In many ways, this is a fantasy world constructed out of people dissatisfied with regular life. For some this is an escape, for others this is training for whatever else life has decided to shit on them.  You don’t have to search long for someone who has it worse than you. You also don’t have long to wallow in self-pity before you decide that scaling backward down a rock face in low light is pretty easy when you can use your eyes.

Scaling down the abseil obstacle next to a guy who was totally blind, you just don’t have any room to bitch and moan here. The Tough Mudder pledge generally stated en masse by participants at regular season events even has the statement “I do not whine. Kids whine.” It’s safe to say everyone is here because they want to be. That’s not so in the Real World.

If World’s is a retreat, and you have to be honest about it, it exists only in the time and place that we agree that it does. On Monday morning, I see a guy at the airport with the same finisher shirt I have and try to strike up a conversation. He’s having none of it. He has the same blinders on that I have in the Real World, probably trying to hold on to our little dream in the desert and not have me steal something from him. It pissed me off at first but I can’t blame him. I don’t want to be woken up yet either.

The pain and sacrifice in World’s drowns out all that noise. Aside from the obstacles and the thousands of runners, spectators, pit crew, volunteers and staff, you are alone with your thoughts, the cacti, the ground, the stars and the moon. It’s a full day not just on your feet but outside. Can you recall a single time in your entire life you were on your feet all day and all night? Unless you’re military, probably not.

You see all the headlamps and strobe lamps litter the course. They are required gear. Each one of them has a story. Each one of them is going through the exact same journey as you. And this goes on and on and on. Donuts sound so good right now. I see a shooting star and wonder if I actually saw it. The only reason I know what lap I am on is because I make a point to say it to myself over and over again. Everyone looks the same and it becomes a blur where and when and why I am. In all this, I find the present and become a Zen Master. I lose myself and am watching myself from the outside. Because we look alike in our bibs, I think I see myself. I am moving forward and backward in time.

It’s just before dawn and all of us keep looking eastward for the first glimpse of it. That marks the last quarter of the event and if you can make until dawn, you can make it until the finish. Our bodies quit warming us hours ago. And then it comes and as suddenly as it left us, it has blistered the other side of the earth and returned to us. And that’s when everything turns weird. Or weirder depending on your perspective. I am not even sure I am on the same course as the previous 16 hours.

I realize on my 8th lap that a) I am slowing down considerably and b) I will likely get stranded on my 10th lap. This is a cue for the motivational speakers to stand up and tell a boy to overcome. There’s just one problem. My motivation is already through the roof. It’s my body that needs the message and the further I push it, the more it pushes back. I could get the 10 laps if I had another half hour past the generous hour and a half already given by Tough Mudder but I am forced to concede a small defeat. I wanted the 50 but to be honest, with all the penalty laps I am taking, I am probably at 50 before the 9th lap is even up.

The victory is that I get to know people a little better and I can enjoy the course like a tourist on this final lap. I learn the names of the pit crew in the orphan tent, hug them all and thank them an uncomfortable amount of times for giving me someone to look forward to seeing. And then there’s this:

It also gives me the opportunity to take a dump.

You might not want to hear about this but if you have kids you need to grow up, I mean, everybody poops, right? The act of defecation on Sunday morning during World’s Toughest is an obstacle to itself. Strike that; I would suffer three Backstabbers to avoid this inevitability.

By now, the port-o-potties have been utterly destroyed. Sitting down is not an option for three reasons: a) the mountain of matter in the reservoir is higher than the seat b) I will seize up if I sit down and take weight off my legs c) it’s probably a health hazard.

I take off my 1.5 millimeter neoprene shirt and pull down my Farmer John 3 mm below my waste, er, my waist. I now pull the torso through my legs from back to front and I pull it hella-tight so my bruised and chafed ass is totally exposed. I shit standing up like the desperate morning I had in Paris 10 years ago after drinking night train espresso. If you haven’t had the experience, don’t, it won’t make you any happier. I’ll also spare the details of how this exactly went down. I knew this moment would come so I had prepared a kit of baby wipes, sanitized hand wipes and extra TP in case it was necessary. And it was all very necessary, every bit. I really needed to get back into one of those penalty swims if you know what I mean. The upside to this is the fact I could finally pull my underwear back up where they belonged since they sagged like a hammock over my ass for over half the race.

The 24 hours of World’s feels like a season when you take out the hourly distractions that life offers and concentrate all that energy on one ridiculous goal; just keep moving. By contrast, the 24 hours after World’s feels like an hour, it slips by into blurred reality that the focus of is just to renew and heal, all those toxins coming out of your body. It is not unusual to see a finisher break into a full throttle cry in the middle of a parking lot. The emotions that come with exhaustion are inexplicable. I save my tears for the tub. Time has it’s own gravity here and as expected, there are tiny anomalies everywhere if you just take the time to look for them.  The bagpipes, the clowns, the blind man, amputees, people who should have been dead from disease years ago; they are all gifts. They are proof that while all our lights will undoubtedly go out, they burn bright while we are still here.

I have done so much damage to myself, either intentionally or just through bad choices that it has become the norm. I expect to suffer. It is as much a part of my identity as my face. Without this element of my existence, I worry I would have nothing of value to offer. And thus the cycle repeats. I am afraid of being valueless so I work to suffer more. It may not be true, but this is how it feels.

Stumble limping my last lap slower than any of the others, I meet some guys I have only known through facebook and it’s nice to see that they are in the same shape as me regardless of our mileage. I make it through that dirty bastard Backstabber again and am happy to be back in the wastelands. I shuffle through every spoke in this grind until finally I am at the Cliff where I am cut off from going further. They open a bypass that involves a steep climb down a rock face on a (wait for it) cargo net, into some stinky ass swamp sludge and then out into the bay below the Cliff. You then have another climb up a –cargo net- but this one is new and hasn’t been used yet.

As each racer climbs, the eroded ledge of the bank begins to crumble dirt and rocks on top of the remaining water treaders. I have to dive under to keep from getting smacked. We have to wait one by one for each of us to exit the water or it’s concussion city.

There is no time for another lap but the finish is closed for another five minutes. I hug a couple of people I got to know, try not to break down in tears and slowly we march to the end. With a stony poker face, I hobble across the line, get a black headband and shield myself from any further human contact. We deal with it in our own ways but now I just want to be away from here. I need to shut down. I need to evaporate and disappear. I need to make like a tree and get out of here.

I have made my way back to the hotel just off site and beat the rush hoping they will let me check in early. No such luck. Falling asleep in the lobby I suddenly wake up shivering. It’s too cold in here and I have to go back outside in the sun. This is the only way I can regulate. I start to wonder why everything smells like onions. I fall asleep again until security wakes me up. An hour disappeared. I am a reptile now and can’t make heat. At some point my room is ready and I die there for a few hours until hunger motivates me to move.

The first roll over in my bed was about as easy as when I learned it as a baby. Everything aches in a general, numbing way. I have no chief complaint other than I am sweating lactic acid and that onion smell is in my room now. My feet don’t seem to be blistered but are still raw from being water logged. The swelling in my hands is just starting to back down.

After this is all over, a handful of Facebook friends will complain about their “failure” on the course. They will overanalyze the race from the safety of their living room never recognizing that the race only exists in the few short hours that we are there. The experience is totally subjective and has it’s own gravity and own laws. It’s easy to scrutinize it all when it’s in the past. You can never fully understand the sacrifice and minute by minute compromises that go into putting one foot in front of the other for 24 solid hours (and change.) And you can’t replicate it after the fact. It is what it is.

Then there will be the toxic back biting of comparing how hard this year’s event was compared to last years. In 2015 it was cold. In 2016 there was a windstorm. In 2011 it was bullshit witch’s nipple cold and no one had a clue how to run the race. Many did not even bring a wetsuit.

On the way back through McCarran early on a Monday morning, which is like a Manhattan rush hour on a holiday weekend, I am quickly confused with the Rock ‘N’ Roll marathoners as one of them. They all wear their new swag and as they see me limping say things like, “I feel ya,’” and “it only gets better,” meaningless acknowledgements that I reciprocate since explaining what I just did might get me locked up.

It’s no offense to their accomplishment. I remember how I felt at my first marathon almost a quarter of a century ago. But I don’t correct them despite the three World’s patches conspicuously placed on my ruck. They are fighting chafing and soreness. I am pretty sure I am still purging an ounce or two (dry weight) of Nevada rocks out of my eyes and ears. My feet are swollen like I’ve been dead in the water for a week.  Every so often I notice a splinter in my palms. I have another in my heel so deep that I can’t put any weight on it. Nor can I bend to reach it. Thank God for my wife.

Assaulted by the gross tons of negativity over trivial matters, I find my way into my seat and pass out for my first flight. I don’t even remember taking off. Somehow I find my way to the next flight and by noon I am in Bozeman. Only 24 hours have gone by since World’s and it may as well have been on Mars. I have applied chapstick (to my lips, you nasty boy) about 100 times since Sunday. I can’t seem to get any moisture to stick.

There are two leaks in the bathroom to fix, my son has to get his tooth pulled and the dog has fleas. No one cares what happened while I was gone. I am speaking a different language now. On Wednesday I am back at work and despite the fact that I am sleeping more than I have in years, nothing has changed. I just have two black headbands instead of one.

By Friday, TMHQ starts selling tickets to next year’s Worlds but we don’t even know what date or what state it’s going to be in. About 100 of us register anyway. This is all a part of the ritualistic S & M game of World’s. We’re so gullible.

My wife wonders why I am still exhausted. She can’t understand that I left it all out there, purging myself physically, intellectually and spiritually. And through it all, I feel like I have lost something that oddly, I want to lose again. Is there anything wrong with getting baptized repeatedly? Did they invent confession to take it’s place? Am I going through withdrawals and post-race depression? Do we all have some version of PTSD now? And is it OK to want to get it again?

The second guessing is in full swing now. Participants analyze each pit stop and torture themselves thinking that a minute here and there would have gotten them another lap. They have not seen the time machine that I built. Each wrinkle changes the future. You may have spent less time in the pit but you also may have been a casualty of someone’s fall. You may have twisted your ankle on a rock you would have avoided. You may have met the man of your dreams only to have the same one murder you in five years.

Ten days after the race and I still feel like I am in it and pursuing another obstacle, trying to get another lap. And I’m actually right on this. That’s all any of this is, a stupid obstacle course. There is a certain percentage of victims who have a need to recreate their victimization. You can ask the psychologists about this; I’m just telling you what I have seen. I am thinking that at World’s, that’s what we are doing.

We all want to be renewed and forgiven and fixed. We all think that we can just jump and rip the cord and land and we will be different people and everything will be dandy. But shit ain’t like that. It’s a con that after-school specials sold us.

The truth is that World’s has always been here and is still going on. The obstacles never, never, never stop until the day you quit breathing. World’s won’t fix you, baptism won’t fix you, your job won’t fix you and neither will your kids, your wife or your dog. You’re stuck with whatever brand of broken that bears your name. And this is beautiful. Because everyone else is broken, too. Remember: they’re not asking how you’re doing, they’re asking how they’re doing. And as long as you’re still asking, the race is still on. Heavy.

We all end up at the same finish line and it’s not in Nevada. It’s the same place that our assholes and opinions end up; the cemetery, the richest place on Earth. Almost everyone in this hemisphere is the product of our rebellious and unapologetic ancestors. We have a genetic need to push the envelope. On a daily basis, we see our friends rage on about whatever injustice is happening in the World. Whether this is Standing Rock, the recent election, Aleppo or which Back to the Future installment is superior, it is all noise. It is all pit noise distracting you from the only actual war that we wage; the War on Death. The War to take another step, the War to get to the Start Line, the War to Finish are all extensions on our very real and very urgent need to give our lives some type of meaning.

WTM 2016 - Author