Toughest Mudder South – A first-time Pit Crewing Experience

PREFACE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Photo Credit: Tough Mudder, the author, and ORM

What I love about (S)Crewing

First of all – the disclaimer: the title of this article is intentionally misleading; the article itself has nothing to do with screwing.

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Teasing my friends on the WTM group page. I’m not afraid of reveling in the suffering of my closest friends; especially when I have front row seats.

I had this moment the week leading up to WTM, while I was instigating my friends and acquaintances that would be running Worlds Toughest Mudder; teasing them with a group post about the misery and suffering they would endure while I played the chipper support crew on the sidelines, push them into another pain filled lap.

The personal relief I felt knowing that I would not be a party to that level of misery was quickly replaced by a tinge of shame. No, not shame. More of a sissy factor. Like I’m a chickenshit for not being as bad ass as my friends by undertaking the enormous feat of participating in an endurance event of this kind and rather to opt out and sit on the sidelines. (I think there are others who understand that feeling, right?).

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Crewing? Screwing? It’s all the same, right?

So as I wandered the aisles of the local Winco that morning I thought about why I had chosen to opt out of WTM and crew instead. That time of reflection afforded me a greater understanding of being an athlete in this particular sport of racing. It was then that I had the idea that I would write up an article about crewing. I sent Phoebe a message about my brilliant plan which, (as you can see included here), thanks to auto dictate the play on words for the title of this article was created. (It was definitely a good laugh.)

So If you were looking for a deviant behaviors article, this may not be what you are looking for. (You are still welcome to read it though, I won’t judge you…who am I kidding, I would totally judge you.) But if you want some insight regarding the growth opportunity you’ll be afforded as a racer by being a support crew member, then you should enjoy this article. Or some of you will likely think everything I am saying is something you can’t relate to, in which case, please post nice things anyways; I’m delicate.

Regardless, here is a short bit about crewing for someone during an extreme endurance challenge, why myself and others like to do it, and why you should do it as well.

Favorite thing about crewing #1: THE SHIT SHOW
One of my favorite parts is what I like to call the Shit Show. Roll back to my first crewing experience, the 2014 Death Race. During  DR2014 I remember the shock I received every time I would catch up, wake up, or show up to whatever part of the action was going on. Like time trials, cement bag carries, 20-mile hikes with logs strapped to participants backs. Every time I turned around I saw people breaking over seemingly mundane issues, their snapping points. The complete breakdown of the human mind long before the body gave out. Multiple days of sleeplessness will do crazy things; people become focused or they lost their shit over next to nothing. They just wanted it to end. I couldn’t believe what I saw; I thought there couldn’t be anything worse.

Fast forward to World’s Toughest Mudder 2014 six months later and well, game on. That shining sun and those happy spirits faded at night fall when a very typical desert wind storm appeared out of nowhere, and took the whole race, including staff, to its knees.

Obstacles were knocked over with what looked like 90% of the tents and pop-ups ending up in Lake Las Vegas, hypothermic nonsense spewing from racers (you know who you are, part of getting you to behave has become the highlight of your crews post race stories; heart.), and just the complete breakdown of civilized codes of conduct (I spent an hour in a portapotty with one guy because he was too afraid he’d be pulled from the race if he went to the first aid tent so we just huddled under an emergency blanket to get him warmed up).

Again the carnage seen at these events are better than any Griswold family nightmare you could come up with. I specifically upgraded my phone just before the race so that I would have plenty of video capacity to capture this year’s favorite moments (of which there were many.)

Favorite thing about crewing #2: Figuring out the type of athlete YOU are. (This should actually be # 1.)
Another element of crewing that I think should be noted and, more importantly respected, is a person’s desire to not race but still want to be a part of the event, to watch their friends, and help the sport(s) in a volunteer capacity.

Example: I don’t race well in the cold. It hurts, brutally hurts. I can work in certain short-term exposure, and if it’s a cheap race and travel is easy, I will show up and suffer with my friends because, hey, I like my people. But you would have never seen me run a New Jersey WTM in November or a Winter Death Race because surviving the cold is not what I consider, FOR ME, a physical challenge that I can test the limits of my strength. I can’t beast out on the things I’ve trained for when the hypothermic fog hits.

Also WTM Las Vegas? I live in Vegas. Being a runner here is rough. I run on that shitty, fossilized ground every. single. weekend. My hips, ankles, feet, back, knees,..all of it suffers from the effects of running on some of the toughest ground in the northern hemisphere. I don’t need to find out if I can race on that for 24 hours at a cost of $600.00. But after crewing for Death Race, when the chance for a Death Race entry came up it barely took a nudge before I committed. And races that have the participants on their toes, figuring things out, with minimal help? Apparently that my bag because I have a DR skull and I just bought my ticket to Nicaragua for Fuego y Agua. So see, watching these races helps a racer pick their races wisely.

Favorite thing about crewing #3: THE L-O-V-E.
Being part of the OCR community makes us a family, we’re a team. A community team. I know there is a misconception of racers being tough, badasses, and competitive among our preferred race brand, but really it’s the most closely knitted, heart touching, groups of ‘shirt off their backs’ types of people I’ve ever met. Every race I’ve done this past year I can remember at least one instance where some small gesture touched me. We support each other in whatever capacity to help the other avoid a DNF. Hot hands, duct tape, trash bag jackets, a leg up; whatever it takes to help you finish; if you need a hand, you’d be hard pressed to find another racer in a matter of minutes who wouldn’t pause their race to make sure you’re gonna be ok. Even our competitiveness is good natured; we train, travel, hang out with our fellow athletes. We love our racing family.

One of my favorites stories is from WTM14 when I dragged my friend Daniel out to help crew for the Women’s SWARM team. The team disbanded once the bad weather hit and we ended up assisting various racers as they came through.

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Amelia Boone, all crazy haired and fat check’d out. Champ, you make endurance racing look easy!! Photo courtesy of Tough Mudder

One of those racers happened to be Amelia Boone, who is the David Bowie of OCR racing; a living legend. (She’s still a total icon, but over the year I have had the pleasure of seeing her personal side, a genuinely authentic, wonderful woman.) Anyways, during the shit show sand storm Daniel hears a rustling sound outside our descended pop up and looks outside to find Amelia digging around for M&M’s or Poptarts or something and then heading to her tent. This is well after midnight and what was evident was that the stoic, rock solid unbreakable reputation had a very human side to it because outside our pop up was a cold and miserable racer; struggling with a windbreaker’s zipper. Daniel leaps from the tent as she cries out in fear that the zipper is broken, runs over and tells her it will be fine, re-situates the zipper, and zips it up. She thanks him as he sends her back out with some generic words of encouragement.

Hours later she’s in her black down jacket, holding a fat check and wearing her infamous grin. She won, and in some small way, that momentary interaction between them was a part of that. He cherishes it, and I cherish that I was the one that dragged him out there.

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My road dog, my partner in crime; Daniel Villarruel, just finishing 50 miles with minutes to spare. A pit crew’s ultimate job is to make sure their racer finishes, no matter what! no matter what! no matter what!

And now this year I pitted for him and I can’t help but believe part of it is because he saw and felt so much camaraderie during last year’s event. So those moments of service, I know what it means when I give them but I also know what it means in that moment to receive them from others.

Even during my own race, DR2015, I remember the rain coming down that last night in a complete mess of a storm. The directors were so concerned for the safety of the racers that they messaged all of the friends and family of the racers’ who had come with them to the event and offered them the option to finally come crew, but only if those that came agreed to help every racer, not just their own.

I didn’t know this until afterwards but all of the people that would check on me, whenever I came down from a time trial lap; I can’t remember faces or words, I just know that when they asked me what they could do for me I felt like they genuinely knew that I was suffering out there. I was able to pull it all back into focus when someone was there; I was able to remember what my purpose was. Their words would bring me back to focus on what I’m doing, which is finishing.

It’s an authentic human connection; when somebody recognizes that you hurt but believes you can push through to meet your goals. So when you crew, whether it’s for a complete stranger, a racing icon, or that friend you’d suffer through a rain or sand storm for, you love somebody and somebody loves you back.

Favorite thing about crewing #4: IT’S A PARTY!
Everyone knows this. Just because you can’t race, or don’t want to, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show up. I spent the better part of this years race season out with various injuries from over training, but I had plane tickets and sleeping arrangements already paid for. I’m a good time kind of girl; I like to have fun. So there’s no way that I was going to eat all that money just to sit home, eating my feelings and being lonely while I watched my friends have fun on Facebook. Did it suck watching my friends at that starting line without me? You betcha. But the feeling last momentarily; then you see them out there looking miserable and think ‘thank god I’m not in that much suffering!’, and you’re there at the finish line, handing them all medals and making plans for food and festivities afterward. So if a race is close by, stop by and say hi.

Better yet, be out there on the course as a volunteer, encourage your friends as go through, cheer on random strangers, help make somebody’s race more amazing; that goes back to the L-O-V-E thing. And since you’re there helping out in the festival area, volunteering helps you make friends with the race staff, who always appreciate happy people who understand the in’s and out’s of the race. And you’ll make new friends because there is always some other racer on the sidelines helping out, saving it for the Sunday race or injured too. Bonus: when you’re hanging around the race site during the race you get some chat time with the other personalities in our little world. (You know you’ve been on the sidelines more than a couple times when Tim Sinnett and Matty Gregg greet you with a hug. Love those guys). Being on the sidelines is full of jokes, fun, good vibes, and minimal physical misery.


So that’s my perspective on being a support/pit crew for racers. If you want to race, race. But if you can’t, crew. Show up, help out. Be of service. Encourage, support. It doesn’t matter if it’s your spouse or random stranger, they appreciate that you were a rock to steady them when the world was spinning. You’ll feel good about yourself, better understand how and why these races are run, and hopefully understand more about yourself as a racer too.

By the way, I have to dedicate this article: it was written with my first crewing experience in mind. Death Race 2014, four of us, three crew and one racer, showed up. We made amazing friends, helped out, learned a lot, and took the next steps in our athletic roles as a direct result of our experience at that hot mess. So this is for my girls: Vox, Eagle, and Rickshaw. One crazy leap can change everything.

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Me and the girls: Death Race 2014. The planning adventures alone were some of my most treasured memories and I realize now that, because of this experience, I started to embrace the adventure side of life. Photo courtesy of Doug Kline