One Woman Overcomes Anxiety Through OCR Thanks to Instagram Contest

My story doesn’t have any shocking before and after pictures, but my transformation is just as real.

In 2016, out of nowhere, my sister asked me to do the Sun Peaks Spartan Sprint with her, without even considering it I told her “I can’t.” I had a long list of seemingly reasonable excuses; it’s too expensive, it’s too far to travel, I can’t run, etc., but the truth was, I was too scared and lacked all confidence to even sign up.

A month later at Thanksgiving she tells me that 2017 is going to be her “big year” she wants to be the healthiest she’s ever been, this happened to also be the year she turned 40, and instead of a loud girls weekend in Vegas like I was hoping for she tells me she’s doing Tough Mudder and getting her Spartan Trifecta … Shit! She’s my closest friend and we do everything together, no one else is going to do this alongside her and I sure as hell won’t be letting her celebrate “40 and fit” on her own, so now I had to put my own insecurities aside and support her … maybe she’ll forget?

Fast forward to Christmas, we both get Tough Mudder tickets, no big deal, right? Tough Mudder is just a long muddy fun run, no timing chips no pressure, I can do this!

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Here’s where my entire life changes – my cousin sends me a link for her friend’s Facebook/Instagram challenge group the “OCRGUYCHALLENGE.” (Editor’s Note: OCRGuyChallenge is done by one of ORM’s favorite contributors, Glenn Hole). January 1 is the start of the “10-day Ultra” Challenge, each participant is required to run 5km per day for 10 days. I get all psyched up and tell myself I hate running, therefore, I must run… I miss the first day! Alright, day 2 here we go, I get to the gym, I hop on the treadmill which I haven’t done in years and get going before I knew it, I had run 5K! It was awful and I tried to talk myself out of it more than once, but I finished. Day 3 – I had to make up for missing Day 1 still so I ended up doing 5K in the morning then another 5K on my lunch break, the thrill from these runs and the sense of accomplishment I felt still motivate me over a year later, I went from “I can’t run/I’m not a runner” to running 5K every day for 10 days. I was hooked, I followed everything the OCRGUY posted and all the members of the group, they were so incredibly inspiring and motivating and FIT. I felt silly posting my times, I was too embarrassed because it seemed like they were all elite athletes, but then I mustered up the courage and posted, and all I got was an outpouring of support and congrats, I felt like I was truly part of a community that cared.

Next came the “OCRApocalypse” challenge and the lovely 4 horsemen, this challenge had prizes! Second place was compression socks and I knew I was going to need those for Tough Mudder so I thought I would give it a go.  I did the challenge, the workouts were intense and completely foreign to me but I had a bunch of personal bests and ventured far out of my comfort zone which got me a  lot of weird looks at the gym. On the day of the prize draw I woke up and checked my phone, I was really excited about those compression socks! Sure enough, OCRGUYCHALLENGE had tagged me in the post! Then before I even read it panic sets in, my heart starts racing, I had completely forgotten about the first place prize, a ticket to X Warrior Challenge, what had I done?! I told myself, “there’s no way I could have won that prize, that prize would surely go to someone in better shape, an actual athlete!” I clicked the link and there it was “First place prize, Candice Llewellyn-McKnight!”

I put my phone down and tried not to throw up, now I’m thrown into one of the biggest panic attacks I have ever had, “I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. I’m too out of shape. What the heck is X Warrior Challenge?!” I put on a brave face and leave my obligatory “thanks so much” message on the Facebook feed and spend the next few hours trying to calm down.

Here’s where I tell you a bit about my past: I have spent the last 15 years battling a crippling anxiety disorder, I’ve tried different medications, read all the books and seen my fair share of counselors/therapists/psychiatrists. Over the years of re-training my way of thinking I discovered that exercise truly is the #1 medication for anxiety. I developed a pretty good routine. I would wake up at 4:30 am, head to the gym for my standard “3 reps of 12” workout and the occasional spin class then off to work. I loved this routine, it kept me “sane,” until now…

The thing with chronic anxiety is you live in a constant state of self-doubt, everyone is better than you at everything so there’s no point even trying. Why would I ever enter a race, I’m just going to embarrass myself! Well, now I had a race, and my sister wasn’t going to be there holding my hand and saying “it’s ok if we take it slow.” I had a ticket with my name on it, what was I going to do? I spent that day drafting my “thanks, but no thanks” email to the OCRGUY.

After some time I calmed my brain and thought rationally. Overcoming anxiety is about testing your limits, getting out of your comfort zone, and persevering. What better way to do that then to do this race? I told myself there are specialized gyms in the area, I had been to cor.fit with my sister before to check it out, I will just have to start going there more. I went online and registered for Sunday Bootcamp. I was so nervous that morning, I sat in my car in the parking lot convincing myself to get out and go to the class. I walked in the door and everywhere I looked were people completely shredded and climbing walls with holes in them using only sticks (pegboard).

Here comes the panic again, I note the nearest garbage can and check out the exit “I can’t do this, they’re all machines, this was a mistake” then it was time for class to begin, it was hard, one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever had, but in the end I couldn’t believe I had done it. I showed up to a class by myself, where we had to work as a team and I had to interact with these “people,” and as the class went on I realized that they were actually normal people and incredibly supportive at that! I kept apologizing for slowing my team down. I remember thinking “I thought I was in shape!” but I learned that day that yes, I was healthy but I was not in OCR shape! I went to a couple more classes and I remember getting to the top of the 12 foot inverted wall for the first time and having a full-blown panic attack. I was shaking and on the verge of crying; I took a deep breath and the coach talked me through how to swing my body around and lower myself to the ground. It was the most incredible feeling to overcome not only the attack but also the wall! This may sound cliché but it was this moment that I knew that by simply trying, I could do anything! That’s when I dropped “I can’t.”

In one of my first couple of boot camps, I remember standing, waiting for class to start and this girl walked in, it was obviously her first day, she looked like I did on my first day! I walked up and introduced myself to her and we’ve been workout buddies since. That day she signed up to run X Warrior with me! I had never met someone so spontaneous, she’s completely inspired me to take on new challenges with confidence. She’s encouraged, pushed, and supported me through every race this year. If I hadn’t shown up to those boot camps I would have missed out on this amazing friendship.

"X-Warrior-Challenge-Stadium-Sprint""X-Warrior-Challenge-Stadium-Sprint-start-line-with-Coach-Pain"

 

Since getting involved with obstacle course racing I have learned so many things about myself and my capabilities that I would never have experienced had I have not won that challenge. At the starting line for X Warrior Challenge, squatting and listening to Coach Pain basically wash my anxiety away and replace it with sheer adrenaline and excitement literally brought me to tears. Not only was this happening but I was going to crush it! I ran the race, nailed the rope climb (which was another panic-inducing obstacle for me in training), then was faced with the X Dragon. That’s when I had my first face to face with my grit, I ran up and fell, I kept running up that first incline and sliding down on my forearms over and over, the volunteers tried to direct me to the burpee zone, but I was relentless. I ran at it again and made it up, once up there the panic set in, I was going to have to literally take a leap of faith and trust my body to grab the bar on the other side, and guess what? I did it!

The 2017 race season has completely transformed my way of thinking, to anyone who suffers from anxiety I can’t recommend Obstacle Course Racing enough, the sense of accomplishment once you overcome physical obstacles makes the mental obstacles that much more manageable. My anxiety is all but gone, I slew Tough Mudder and finished my Trifecta, and cannot wait to see how much stronger I am in the 2018 race season.

This is my thank you to the sport of obstacle course racing and the Alberta OCR community. OCRGUYCHALLENGE was the first to push me out of my comfort zone, X Warrior Challenge forced me to face my fears, and the amazing coaches at cor.fit have taught me my true strength by throwing me at obstacles with no time to over think about what I’m actually doing.

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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.

 

The Battlegrounds Sells Venue Rights to Tough Mudder

The Battlegrounds – Missouri’s premiere permanent obstacle course race venue will host one last race on May 19th  2018 before handing over the keys to their course to Tough Mudder.  The St. Louis area OCR venue has contracted with Tough Mudder to give the OCR giant exclusive rights to the venue for the next 5 years.   I recently caught up with race director Bob Holm to get more info.

 

It is my understanding that “The Battlegrounds” will host one final race in May before being turned over to Tough Mudder. Is that correct? 

Our May 19 race will, in fact, be our last one.  We are proud of all that we have accomplished since our inaugural race in 2012 (we started with just 361 runners and have most recently topped 3,000 participants.)  It’s been an amazing ride!

What will happen to the permanent obstacles that are built on the site such as The Battlegrounds classic, The Gauntlet?

Tough Mudder will have full access to all obstacles (including The Gauntlet), as well as the ability to incorporate all existing trails created by The Battlegrounds.

Will other OCR companies be able to use the venue or will it be exclusively Tough Mudder?  If so, what will happen to the previously scheduled Green Beret Challenge race which was to occur on June 16th 2018?

Our five-year commitment enables Tough Mudder to exclusively utilize the venue.  When this multi-year deal was recently signed, The Battlegrounds did not have a formal contract with the Green Beret Challenge.

Will the Battle Corp still exist and will OCR training events still be held at the venue?

The Battle Corp team is an amazingly tight family of runners that grew to 15 members strong.  We are currently working with Tough Mudder to explore any and all opportunities for our Battle Corp to represent their organization.  There will no longer be training events at the venue.

What were the key factors in the decision to sign a 5 year contract with Tough Mudder?

Throughout the years, The Battlegrounds grew on so many levels in terms of size and reputation.  We believe Tough Mudder was a logical choice because it allows a solid international company to take us to the next level.  The five-year commitment to Cedar Lake Cellars solidifies our location as a must-see destination in terms of newness and excitement.

What do you foresee happening after 5 years?

We anticipate growth…and more growth.  Missouri is positioned to become one of the largest Tough Mudder races in the United States.  We look forward to seeing where Tough Mudder takes us.

Are there any other details you can give me or that you think the OCR community should know?

This industry loves suspense and mystery.  All we can add is that there’s plenty of surprises ahead so stay tuned for an exciting adventure.

 

I also reached out to Battle Corp team captain Christopher Balven who had this to say about the change.

“Everyone on the Battle Corps Team are extremely thankful for the opportunity to represent one of the best permanent OCR venues in the US.  We enjoyed every race, we enjoyed meeting all the people who came out and experienced OCR for the first time there, and most of all we enjoyed becoming a family together.  Saying I am grateful for that is an understatement to the extreme.  It was incredible seeing the race grow from 350 or so racers in the beginning to what it is now.  I for one will be out on that course until the sun goes down on May 19.  I’ll leave a little piece of my heart out there before I move on to what lies ahead.”

 

This action has had some mixed reviews on social media and has filled me with many existential OCR feelings which I hope to address later but these are just the facts.

Why My Wetsuit Played A Huge Role At World’s Toughest Mudder

There is something about a 24-hour race that you can never fully be prepared for. I could train harder, run faster, complete more pull-ups, and carry heavier things, but that doesn’t guarantee anything at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Training is imperative to success, but there is a limit to what your physical prowess can provide. There are moments when you have to rely on our emotional and psychological strength to push you through, but even that gets tapped out at a certain point. Just like any race, there is utmost importance to prepare physically and psychologically, but unlike other races, gear plays an essential role in this 24-hour grind.

 

Coming into WTM for the fourth time, I knew what to expect, but there is only so much that prepares you for 24 hours of the unknown. Unlike previous years, I was competing in the Team Relay competition instead of the individual category. This would throw in a whole new dynamic to the once familiar race. Instead of slowly grinding my way throughout the race, I was tasked with racing hard for a short time and then stopping.

Here was the plan, start the race as a four-man team and then alternate two people every lap, minimizing pit time, until the wheels fell off. I was hoping that faster laps would allow me to wear a thinner wetsuit than previous years, knowing full well that things can go downhill quickly. I prepared my usual gauntlet of wetsuits and layers just in case. The plan was to start off in shorts and a t-shirt.
Once the sun went down, I switched into long compression gear. Then the Blegg Mitts and a windbreaker came on for a little more warmth. I knew that temperatures would quickly drop and more water obstacles at night meant that we would be cold and wet for the duration of the race. During previous years I wore full wetsuits ranging from 3/2mm to 5/3mm, often making it difficult to move. The relay calls for quicker laps, so I needed something that was warm enough, but less constricting than a full wetsuit. The plan was to use the Hyperflex VYRL 2.5mm Shorty Springsuit with a front chest zip and the 2.5mm Neosport Wetsuit Cap with an adjustable chinstrap from Wetsuit Wearhouse.

I wish I had more to tell you, but the truth is, this combination worked like a charm. Every lap, my teammate and I would start our lap in cold, wet gear. Putting those cold clothes on every lap added a whole new dimension of suck to WTM. Less than a mile into the lap, my body would warm up and it was off to the races. While the water temperature threw a wrench into many people’s plans, my layered outfit was perfect for staying warm on-course. When we finished a lap, we would quickly strip out of our wet clothes, throw on something warm, and try to recover for the next lap. While it would have been nice to have two wetsuits that I could alternate, this was a small wrinkle in the scheme of things. Plus, this is WORLD”S TOUGHEST MUDDER. It isn’t easy. While it was hard putting on wet clothes as we prepared for another lap, it didn’t rival the psychological ups and downs of the relay format.

All in all, it was a tough race. Starting and stopping throughout the night was a whole new challenge that I have never experienced. I was forced to stay loose while trying to recover in time for my next effort. My laps felt like an all-out sprint at times and it gave me a whole new experience at WTM. Our team managed to finish 2nd overall in the Team Relay category and I am so proud of my teammates and pit crew for helping us along the way. While Atlanta will bring a whole new challenge to WTM, I can only speculate that people will underestimate the conditions and forgo bringing a wetsuit. Don’t be one of those people. World’s Toughest Mudder is a race of unknowns, so always be prepared. I can’t wait to see all you crazies out there!

Nerd Alert! World’s Toughest Mudder Stats

I’ve always been a lover of statistics when it comes to sports. As a child, I collected baseball cards and was way more interested in the back of the card than the front. I would put the cards of my favorite players in protective binder sleeves with the backs facing forward, just so I would see the stats first. With a push towards analytics and sabermetrics, one now needs a degree from MIT to be able to understand stats in baseball. I mean, can anyone explain to me what FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) measures? I mean seriously, what the hell is this? FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant. It’s enough to make your head spin.

When they don’t go overboard like baseball, statistics can give us a fantastic way to visualize performance in sport. In regards to obstacle racing, there are many ways these numbers can give us a better look at our sport. For mandatory obstacle completion races such as OCRWC, band retention stats can help quantify how difficult the race was, or how tough specific obstacles were. For races like WTM, we can see how hard it is to reach that coveted 50 mile mark, or just how much better Ryan Atkins is than pretty much everyone else.

So here is what I’ve been doing with my apparently infinite free time (should have been training). I’ve made spreadsheets for every year of World’s Toughest Mudder and input the data using the results. I then turned those into column charts to further illustrate the numbers. For the earlier years, there is only placement for the top 10 or just the winners. For those I had to count each finisher at each mileage, so there may be a couple discrepancies here and there, but this should be very accurate give or take a few competitors. I only did this for individuals because the team event has not taken place every year, and the format has changed a few times.

 

2017 World’s Toughest Mudder

50 miles is a big goal number for anyone that competes at World’s Toughest Mudder, and 2017 exemplifies that with the highest total number of 50 mile finishers of any WTM. 2017 WTM saw over 400 people claim their 50 mile bib! It seems people really push themselves to get beyond the 45 mile mark and finish with 50. There is a very low number of finishers with exactly 45 miles. You can also see that people may be pretty happy getting that 50 miles bib and not continuing further, as there are a relatively low amount of 55 mile finishers compared to 50 mile finishers.

 

2016 World’s Toughest Mudder

2016 WTM was very similar to 2017, although it did see almost 11% more competitors make it to at least the 55 mile mark. It also saw over 50% of competitors reach at least 50 miles. The half century mark was by far the highest finisher spot with over 26% of the field finishing with exactly 50 miles. This year also saw the highest average mileage for male competitors at 45 miles.

 

2015 World’s Toughest Mudder

I am no WTM historian, and was not there, but I believe 2015 was the coldest year in Vegas with temps reaching the low 40’s. If that was the case, the stats show that with very high numbers finishing in the 25-35 range. Over 36% of competitors finished in that range. 2015 still saw more finishers at 50 miles than any other mileage, but trailed closely by 25 mile finishers.

 

2014 World’s Toughest Mudder

The first year in the desert brought the infamous sandstorm. This took a toll on mileage as you can see the chart is very similar to 2015 with the colder temps, but actually has a 25 mile finisher rate than 50 miles. 2014 was the only time in Vegas where that occurred.

 

2013 World’s Toughest Mudder

2013’s chart looks extremely similar to 2016 and 2017. Almost 52% finished at least 50 miles. Very impressive for the last run in NJ. The temps were quite a bit higher this year than the other years in NJ though, so the weather was more favorable. This year had the highest average mileage for women, and just edged out 2016 for highest average mileage total.

 

2012 World’s Toughest Mudder

Tough race, but it looks as though more people knew what to expect this year vs 2011. The temps were warmer, but still, only 3o% of competitors made it beyond 3 laps/30 miles.

 

2011 World’s Toughest Mudder

Just brutal! Over 55% of competitors bailed after their first lap, and another 25% were gone after finishing the second. So 80% of people that started only made it 16 miles. This was the only WTM that took place in December, and temperatures were frigid. The low temp was in the mid 20’s and people just weren’t having it. It also needs to be noted that they did not start mileage awards till a couple years later. I actually only think they counted the winners as official finishers, so there wasn’t that incentive to keep pushing or to even have a mileage goal. One other thing of note about 2011 is the women actually had a higher average mileage than the men. This was the only year that has happened.

 

World’s Toughest Mudder 2011-2017

These are the composite charts for all seven years of World’s Toughest Mudder. You can really see just how rare it is to finish with more than 75 miles, as just over 1% of the almost 7400 total competitors have done so. Hell, less than 14% have made it beyond the 50 mile mark. I’m also a little surprised at just how few women have competed in this event. There have been over 7 times more men run WTM over the years than women.  This sport has always been dominated by men when it comes to numbers, but it is slowly trending up for the women at WTM. I think the addition of the Toughest Mudder 8 HR series will only help bring more participants to World’s Toughest Mudder, as it really provides people the opportunity to get acclimated to doing these longer OCR events.

ATL

I for one am extremely excited for WTM 2018, as it will take place about 25 minutes from my house, and be my first go at the grueling event. I’m hesitant to name a goal mileage at this point, because a lot can happen in the next 340 plus days. The 30 miles I finished at Toughest South were the most I’ve ever run in one event. I’d like to at least double that next November, but regardless, I can’t wait to be a part of this amazing event. Here’s to hoping I end up on the right side of the statistics!

Obstacle Racing Media’s Massive World’s Toughest Mudder Archive

Rea Kolbl – My World’s Toughest Mudder 2017

WTM_Starting_chute_BradKerr

A word of warning – this race review is LONG! But so was the race and no matter how hard I’ve tried to cut things, everything seemed important. So I tried to divide it in sections, in case you want to read 400 words rather than 4500. And I added some pictures in case you don’t want to read at all. And that’s okay too, because I think I partially wrote this for myself too, to remember.

Getting Ready for Something I’ve Never Done Before

I signed up for the World’s Toughest Mudder just over a month before the race, which didn’t leave me with much time to plan, train, and acquire all the necessary gear. I quickly started asking everyone for guidance and advice. One of these people, Mike King, offered a great piece of advice – just buy anything you might possibly need, keep the tags on the equipment, and then return things you never touched. It ended up being the best I’m-in-a-rush strategy I could’ve learned. This came most handy with wetsuits. When I took my measurements it essentially came down to being S in hips, XS in waist, and M in chest… also add being short to the list and the result was I had no idea what size to order. Ok, so let’s order them all! This worked out great because my initial size inclination was totally wrong, and I would not have enough time to re-order a replacement. I did the same thing with shoes – in the past month, I think I ordered about 10 new pairs of trail shoes, which ended up being necessary to find the pair to run in for 24 hours. Now, of course it would’ve been smarter to start planning ahead of time, and have enough time to test the gear a bit more than a week before the race… but you got to work with what you’ve got, I suppose.

In terms of gear, I listened to the advice of many and out came a scramble of what many people suggested. I basically flew to Vegas with a suitcase full of neoprene gear, I think 10 pairs of shoes, all of the MudGear socks I owned, too many pairs of shorts, lots of lube and anti-chafing products and all of the energy gels I could find laying around the house. But more on that later.

When in Vegas

My excessive gear left no room for food, so the first thing we did after landing on Thursday in Vegas was to visit a supermarket. The last time I ran a race longer than 4 hours was in 2013, which at 8 hours was still runnable on energy gels and bananas. But for 24 hours I had no idea what to eat. My strategy was buying things I really crave in real life; maybe those would still be edible at 2 am after 16 hours of running. We left the store with enough food to feed an extended family for a birthday get together: a loaf of bread, PB&J, a bag of avocados, a bunch of bananas, two bags of oranges, beef jerky, noodle soup, nuts, chips, crackers, oatmeal, cereal, almond milk, rice, soy sauce, potatoes, yams, salt chews, and baby food. I figured I’d rather have too much than not enough.

Next day was the check in. Doing this for the first time, I had no idea exactly how early I should show up. I knew that the registration opened at 9am for contenders, and I also knew there would be hundreds of us trying to register at the same time. I asked around and got a good poll of opinions, then naturally picked the advice that told me to be there the latest. Sleep seemed more important than a few spots in line, especially since I can never rely on getting a good night of rest before a race. Oh boy was I wrong! After arriving to the Westin, my pit crew joined the line, and I went to check just how long it was to the check in. I turned a corner, and another corner, and another corner… it never stopped! Obviously, showing up at 8am was too late. Like, 2 hours too late. For anyone doing the race for the first time next year: be early. Ask around, and do exactly the opposite of what I did – be there at the earliest time suggested. We pretty much sprinted from the registration area to the car, from the car to the pit, and ended up with a not-so-bad-pit spot. Not that I really ended up spending much time there during the race, but I guess my crew was spared a long walk coming to meet me each lap in the quick pit area.

We spent the rest of the day preparing the food; baked yams and potatoes, cooked oatmeal and rice, boiled eggs, and got everything organized in ziplock bags. To make things easier for my crew, we labeled all of the ziplock bags with their contents, and tried to put things together that I would need in a particular lap. So the “Last lap before sunset” bag had my shorty wetsuit, strobe lights and headlamps, bandana, and gloves. That way we would avoid having to sprint back to our far away tent since forgetting things was less likely.

I spent the last night before the race sleeping in the closet. I have a very hard time falling asleep before a race, and all of the noises and lights bothered my already distracted mind. The giant walk-in closet in our AirBnb turned out to be a perfect isolation capsule for an acceptable night’s rest before the big day.

Race Day

Learning my lesson from Friday, we made sure to come to the venue early. This paid off – arriving at 9am, there was already a long line of cars waiting to park. Being a contender, I decided to enter the starting chute as soon as it opened to make sure I was as close to the start line as possible. I found a spot and sat down. It was 10:30 am. That hour and a half was probably the longest hour and a half in my life. Kind of like a microwave minute, where 60 seconds feels like an hour. It felt like a microwave too because it was getting hot! Thankfully other contenders around me provided some shade (yay for being small!), but the midday desert sun was strong. The heat wasn’t my only problem. Trying to stay hydrated, my bladder filled in no time; I had to go pee. Badly. I tried to stay as hydrated as possible before the race, which inevitably lead to a full bladder in less than an hour. I couldn’t really leave my spot, and the only solution was peeing my pants. This was before the race even started. Things were definitely going well.

Finally, at 11:30, stuff started happening. I have a thing for start line speeches, and one part in particular stood out that I will probably remember forever: “No one is better than your best. But your best can make others better.” Thank you, Sean Corvelle. The anthem was beautiful too – I’m not sure if there were issues with the recording or if they intentionally let the crowd sing, but the Star Spangled Banner started with a recording and was taken over by the everyone in the starting corral. It was so inspiring; the race hadn’t even begun yet, and I already felt a part of something bigger than myself.

Then, 11:59 arrived. The music picked up. The countdown began. And at noon, the crowd started moving. There was quite a bit of elbowing going on to make it through the narrow starting line, and everyone seemed to be quite in a hurry to start. I thought the race would begin slower, given we had 24 hours to run, but I guess everyone got restless waiting. It wasn’t until I saw the aerial footage that I really appreciated just how many people there were in the starting corral because sitting down, I could only see my immediate neighbors. It looked so magnificent from the air; and it also made me realize that planting my butt by the start line at 10:30am was a really good idea.

 

Daytime running

The longest I had run continuously in 2017 was 17 miles. I had no idea how far I could actually go. Combined with the fact that none of the obstacles were open before 1pm led to my decision to start fairly fast. I certainly wasn’t pushing the pace, but I also wasn’t trying to slow down on purpose. I figured I might as well get as many miles in as possible before I break, and before my laps get significantly longer due to penalties. With starting behind all of the elite contenders and national teams, and then losing some places in the elbow wrestle, I had no idea where I was in relation to everyone else. Still, I started to come across familiar faces fairly quickly, and it was so amazing to be able to chat with people on the first lap. At all of the other races I’ve done this year I could barely breathe coming out of the gate, so actually enjoying the first few miles was a refreshing change. I also had no idea I was the female leader because there were people in front of me for the whole duration of the first lap. It wasn’t until I got handed the green bib at the end of the first lap that I realized I won the sprint lap. I was excited, but also extremely worried; there must have been a reason why all of the experienced athletes were more than 5 minutes behind me. The green bib worried me throughout the entire race. Whenever people congratulated me on the sprint lap, I always responded with “we’ll see in 10 hours”.

I didn’t know that the obstacles were going to open in a staggered way; I was sure that come 1pm, everything would open. So I made it my goal on lap two to make it past rope-a-dope just before 2.5 miles – the one obstacle I failed during the Tougher Mudder two weeks prior at the same venue. It was 12:59 when I made it on top of the hill, with about 200 yards to the rope-a-dope. I sprinted so hard!!! I made it to the obstacle, volunteers looking at me funny, and as I passed the entrance I almost yelled in happiness: “I’m so happy I get to pass this for another lap!!” To which they responded, with straight faces, “Oh, but we don’t open until 4pm”. Oh. Okay. From that point forward, I made it a point to ask the volunteers at each and every obstacle when exactly they will open. It turned out only a few obstacles opened at 1pm, Kiss of Mud being one of them. Yep. Rolling on those sharp rocks in just enough water to fully soak you got mildly annoying pretty fast. Someone called this obstacle Kiss of Rocks, which I think was much more accurate. Luckily, once in the wetsuit, the whole experience became a lot more pleasant.

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A competitor at the Kiss of Mud, a.k.a. Kiss of Rocks obstacle

Tracking woes

While I won the sprint lap I somehow fell off the official leader board. I was lucky to have a friend watching the live stream at home. When she heard Matt B. Davis announcing that I fell out of the leader board altogether after winning the sprint lap, she checked the on-line leader board and found that my tracking data was missing and relayed this information to my husband. When he saw me at the mid-point he asked if I had my tracker – it was still there. At the next pit spot we quickly exchanged the broken tracker for a new one. This fixed the issue but the leader board took much more time to update and was not completely accurate until the evening.

Nutrition

For the first few laps I managed to run on granola bars, energy gels, and honey pouches. All that sweetness was quickly too much and I started craving salty things. As a response to this new craving my crew gave me some baby chicken noodle soup. Just no. I quickly learned to stick to the fruity flavors of baby food, and decided to switch to PB&J sandwiches (with added salt) instead of energy bars. For most of the race, eating was a conscious effort; I never really felt hungry, and for the most part I didn’t feel like eating. I was lucky that my crew knew better. Whenever I came to the pit stop they would ask me what I want, and I’d say “nothing, not really hungry and don’t feel like eating.” This response was not accepted because almost immediately I had spoonfuls of different foods come flying into my mouth. It didn’t take long to realize that the food actually did feel good, and for each pit stop I was quickly able to figure out which of the food options felt right. For the most part, I stuck to rice with soy sauce, oatmeal with honey and almond milk (and salt), and PB&J sandwiches (with salt). I tried beef jerky and that gave me a stomachache pretty quickly, and other salty options such as crackers and chips were too dry to swallow. I also made sure to eat during the lap; the water station at 2.5 miles was a good marker for that, and I’d usually have an energy gel around that point.

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Rice with soy sauce, fed by the spoon

Nighttime running: losing everything, sweating buckets, pooping my pants, and freezing my ass off

Nighttime running was easier than expected: mainly because I had so many issues I forgot I was doing the same lap, over and over again. My crew and I made a gear plan and a gear back-up plan before the race. This was helpful in the beginning but ultimately fell apart during the night. I listened to the advice of pretty much everyone and changed into my short wetsuit before starting the sunset lap. I was actually looking forward to putting on a wetsuit – already at 3pm, the air was getting chilly and constant in-and-out of the water was making me cold. So I ran into the sunset, in my shorty, ready to tackle the darkness fully equipped with two strobe lights and my brand new (and expensive) Diamond Storm headlamp. Unfortunately, I lost all of my lights before the sun even fully set. I attached my strobe lights to the back of the running belt, and I swear they were gone less than a minute later. Then my headlamp fell off at the Snot Rocket, the first water dunk obstacle. So for whoever is doing this for the first time next year – do not attach strobe lights to your running belt, and make sure to put the headlamp around your neck at every single water obstacle. I was lucky that my crew was resourceful, and they managed to borrow Ryan Woods’ spare strobe armband, which attached around my arm and stayed there securely for the rest of the race. I would highly recommend those over the clip-on lights, unless you’re really good at not losing stuff, which I am not. As for the headlamp, I was glad we brought spares; I lost another one later during the night at Devil’s Beard obstacle.

The plan was to run the rest of the night in my shorty, with a neoprene jacket and a windbreaker over that to keep warm. Then two laps into the night I found myself unable to warm up after the swims – especially after the Snot Rocket which, in my opinion, was Arctic Enema AND Snot Rocket combined. Shorty was great for running since I barely noticed wearing the neoprene, but the constant influx of water was too much for my body to warm up. It wasn’t so much that my limbs weren’t fully covered or the thickness of the neoprene; the issue was that every half a mile, more cold water entered the suit. I was dreading each and every water obstacle and realized that I wouldn’t make it through the night this way.

I realized I had to put on my back-up full-suit, which I brought just in case I got really hypothermic. Since my full suit was a hypothetical back up, I never tried wearing it beforehand. Or putting it on. With the help of my crew we managed to get the suit past the ankles in a respectably short amount of time. Just as I was ready to pull it up, I realized I never took the shorty off! Alright, take it all off and try again. On the second try, we made it all the way up and then equipped the neoprene hood, running belt, gaiters, windbreaker, and the bib. I was ready to roll. After taking a few steps; however, something seemed off. We somehow managed to put the wetsuit on BACKWARDS! I already spent so much time in the pit I was ready to just deal with it – at least now my back zip was front zip, which seemed like an upgrade anyway. But my crew was wiser and made me come back, take it all off, and do it again. We finally got it right and it took only three tries!

I think I spent about 30 minutes in the pit. When I asked for an update I was beyond surprised I still had the lead coming out of that mess. My guess is that it was the lap when everyone was putting on wetsuits, and although they probably did it just once, it still took longer than a regular refueling pit stop.

WTM_peopleLights

One of my favorite nighttime sights: the people lights. Photo credit: OCRTube

There was one observation I quickly learned. My long suit was HOT! Not only was the neoprene thicker, it also had a fleece inner lining for insulation. So by mile 1, I was sweating buckets. Whereas I was dreading the Snot Rocket before, now I couldn’t wait to submerge myself fully in some freezing cold water. This excitement was short-lived because I found out my full-suit let absolutely no water inside. That was the first lap where I started to walk on the uphill – not because my legs couldn’t run, but because I was overheating so badly that I was worried I was going to get dehydrated and exhausted from all the lost fluids. This was also the lap when I started to fail obstacles; obstacles got progressively slipperier, my upper body was getting tired, and from about 6pm until the end of the race on Sunday I had to run the penalties on Funky Monkey, Kong Infinity, and Hanging Tough. Obstacle failures were almost opposite from what I expected – I was afraid of failing Rope-a-Dope, and that ended up being the one obstacle I was able to do for the entire 24 hours. Around the time I started taking penalties on pretty much everything, I also learned the lesson of accepting help. While there were some obstacles I needed help with from the get-go (thank you to the millions of hands on Everest!), there were others that I could manage on my own. People offered me help on every lap, but I always said I’m okay. This was until I found my upper body strength failing at an alarming pace, and the race was not even half done yet. So from then on, I accepted help – perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this year: it’s okay to not be able to do obstacles by yourself.

It was encouraging that even with all the penalties and walking, I was still maintaining the lead. And I felt good – nothing really hurt. By around mile 60 my feet started to ache, so I decided to switch shoes to one of those ultra cushioned Hoka pairs. That move did the trick – my knees and ankles felt fresh again. I expected to hurt, but it was actually surprisingly pleasant. The one persistent annoyance, though, was that I was still sweating like crazy and nighttime temperatures weren’t dropping. At the next pit stop we decided to cut my wetsuit at the calves, and I remember asking frantically around the pit if someone had a knife. Yancy Culp came to the rescue, and I think we’re both glad that his pocketknife cut wetsuit only and left my calves intact. This helped a little; at least now some of that Snot Rocket water made it to my skin.

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Maybe Team USA had the best strategy to avoid wetsuit problems: don’t wear a wetsuit at all. Photo credit: Brad Kerr

Eventually, midnight arrived – OH, THE CLIFF! Unlike for many others, that was the moment I had been looking forward to the most. When I got worried about the 24 hour aspect, I’d always tell myself that it’s just a very long hike to a cliff, and then I get to dive over and over again. Yes, it was amazing and it lived up to all expectations! Those few seconds of free falling alone were worth running for 24 hours. At midnight the course changed as well, and there were, I think, at least two added swims within the first mile. Almost at the same time the breeze picked up and temperatures dropped, and suddenly I went from comfortable to feeling really cold; and my cut-at-the-calves wetsuit got duct taped back together. In retrospect, I really wish I had a thinner full suit. Next year I’m bringing at least two of those; one really warm as a back-up, and a 3/2mm one for the running that will, nonetheless, keep the cold water out.

As the morning neared, my stomach got more and more upset with my eating habits. I’m normally very active on very little food, so a PB&J sandwich every 5 miles mixed with rice and oatmeal and then some energy gels in between became more than what I could handle. I was about half way through the loop when my stomach gave me about a 30 second warning that I needed to poop. I was wearing a full suit, running belt, windbreaker, and two bibs. The wetsuit was a back zip one – I couldn’t even find where my zipper string was located, let alone take all those layers off in time. With little I could do… it happened. I pooped my pants. I spent the rest of the lap trying to contain it in one place and figure out a way to tell my crew I’m full of shit. I was doing pretty well until I had to jump off that cliff… I will love my husband forever and always just for the fact that he helped me clean the mess, and his sisters to not judge me for it (at least vocally). I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to share this bit of information, but ultimately decided to tell the whole story, even the gross and embarrassing parts. I think it’s important to know that it’s okay to break, and then glue back together the pieces, and go back out there and keep on going. And it’s important to know that it’s never as pretty as seen from the outside. I was surprised that even after another 30 minutes lost in the pit, again, I still had a more than a lap lead.

My full suit was now cut, ducktaped back together, and covered in poop. I didn’t have much choice but to go back in the shorty. I figured it can’t be as bad since it was around 5 am at that point, and the sun was about to rise on the following loop. Up until that point I was walking the uphills, conserving my energy since I had enough lead that I knew if I just kept moving for the rest of the race, I could probably win it. But with the shorty, I got so cold again, and now running was the only way to stay warm, at least for part of the lap. I was concerned that I would run out of energy, but at the time it seemed that running again was the only way to make it through the next 6 hours.

The sunrise and the struggle hours

As the sun rose I realized it was not going to get much warmer; thick cloud cover was working against me and my shorty. My hands were completely destroyed from the water; wearing gloves to keep them warm also meant they had now been wet for close to 20 hours, and the skin turned into a mush – my BleggMitts now served as both hand warmers and cushioning on ropes and walls. I heard from people that nighttime running is the hardest. To me, it was the morning hours that were the struggle.

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The volunteers never stopped cheering for us, and it was their high fives in early morning that kept me going. Photo credit: Brad Kerr

This is how I remembered my morning race: jump off the cliff, eat something, shiver for a few miles, climb a rope, then run back to the cliff. Obstacles were pretty impossible and the name of the game was one foot in front of the other. I think the hardest lap was the second to last. I somehow managed to lose all of my energy gels on the course, and by the time I hobbled to the cliff I seriously doubted my ability to swim out after the jump. Even more troubling was being unsure if I could walk another half a mile of penalty. I was so hungry my stomach was growling! It’s crazy how hungry a person can get in just around 5 miles. I was so lucky that Eric Botsford aka E-Rock at the cliff with a spare blueberry energy gel. I really think that his highly processed blueberries saved my race there.

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The last dive

After reaching the pit, I ate EVERYTHING! I was so starving, and I didn’t care that I only had to go out for one more loop. Rice, oatmeal, energy bars, and PB&J sandwiches blended together surprisingly well. My last lap was more of a victory lap. I was pretty sure I had the win locked down so I took the time to appreciate each and every obstacle, knowing that I’m doing it for the last time. I made sure to walk with people and share as many chats and high fives as possible. When I returned to the Cliff to jump one last time I made sure to take it all in before my plunge. It wasn’t until I crawled out of the lake that it really hit me: I won! It was incredible and so beyond what I thought was capable from my body. I’m bad with hiding my emotions, and being exhausted I just let them all out. I had known I would probably win for a few hours by then, but that was the first time I also felt it. It felt incredible.

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Crossing the finish line for the last time after 23 hours, 47 minutes, 90 official and 101.5 unofficial miles.

Beautiful Moments

There was pain and struggle during the 24 hours on the course; but honestly, the beautiful moments outnumbered the struggles by millions. There was the sunset, when the colors over the hills turned purple red, and the sky was on fire. There was the moonrise when the crescent was so large and beautifully golden. I’ve seen all of that before, but somehow it was more beautiful that night; I think it was sharing those moments with everyone else on the course. Then there were things I’ve never experienced before; the bag pipes, people with their strobe lights hiking up the hills, people with missing limbs braving the course, wheelchair teams getting down a cliff or over a wall. For those 24 hours, it was all about helping each other succeed. And being a part of that, I don’t think that can be described in words. I cried a lot during the race, not from pain but from happiness. Someone told me that WTM will change me, and I thought they were talking about pushing my own physical limits to new extents. But I think they were talking about everything else instead.

After the Race

Nothing has ever been as painful as the hours after the race. My crew walked ahead with all of our stuff to the car. I would slowly wobble and catch up. I was taking so long that I think my husband texted me twice, “where are you?” When we got back to our AirBnB I sat in the chair for about an hour, dead tired, and unable to make it to bed on the second floor. Eventually I decided to catch a piggyback ride from my husband. I wanted to skip the shower because that meant that I had to take my clothes off, which inevitable also meant I had to move my limbs around. Then everyone kindly reminded me I’m probably still covered in poop, winning that argument. Throughout the night I woke myself every time when I tried to move. Thankfully, the next day was better; I made it to the Champion’s brunch under my own steam, and as the event progressed, and the awards were handed out, and the stories were shared… I knew then and there that I would be going back, year after year, until my body says the ultimate no.

WTM_bibsMuch more than just a collection of bib numbers.