World’s Toughest Mudder 2018

Prologue

As a World’s Toughest Mudder novice, I was not sure what to expect, going into the race. I read the rules, I listened to pre-race podcasts, asked advice from past participants, followed the social media frenzy leading up to the event, and I scoured through articles and information provided from prior years. Planning for World’s Toughest Mudder was quite an ordeal in itself! While I had previously competed in other Ultra distance obstacle and trail races, preparing for a 24 hour event was a marathon of research, prepping, packing, and list-checking. At the advice of others, I purchased a full body wetsuit, neoprene gloves, neoprene hats, and a waterproof headlamp. I organized my nutrition, made a plan with my pit crew, and teed up at the start line with my heart on my sleeve. I knew it would be difficult and cold; I knew that I was embarking on the longest, most challenging athletic event of my amateur career to date. I was a little nervous and scared, but I was more excited than anything: excited to test my gear, test my legs, and test my strength against 24 hours of OCR. I knew that this competition would (obviously) be about the mileage and the ability to complete obstacles, but I had no idea this race would end up as more of a contest of grit than any other physical skill or athletic proficiency.

Course Design

The 5 mile loop was relatively flat with only about 600 feet of gain per lap. There was not a lot of single track or technical trail running, and most of the course was gravel roads and dirt paths. Leading up to the race, there had been heavy rain in the area. Most of the course was extremely slick and muddy, with Georgia clay turning into slimy, shoe-sucking smush. The slickness of the running paths resulted in poor shoe traction, excess mud on obstacles like Everest and Mudderhorn, and the slowing of cadence. There were a few steep downhills in the woods that required the use of branches and tree trunks as stabilizers, but the course was still relatively “runnable,” despite conditions. The rain caused traditionally “muddy” obstacles like Mud Mile, Happy Ending, and Kiss of Mud to become swamps of thick mud that engulfed competitors like quicksand. TMHQ maintained the standard rules of allowing (and encouraging) competitors to assist each other through the obstacles and penalty laps were offered in lieu of obstacle completion; across several obstacle failures, participants would max out at an additional 1.6 miles in penalties per loop.

Stoking the fire a bit, TMHQ had some special rules and variations in place that allowed runners to make strategic choices about their race and to earn a “Golden Carabiner,” which worked as a “get out of jail free” pass to either skip obstacles or take alternate routes on course. Runners could earn a Golden Carabiner once hitting the 25 mile (5 lap threshold), as well as by completing more difficult lanes of specified obstacles on course. In the late hours of the night, both Funky Monkey and Leap of Faith included Golden Carabiner lanes that made the regular obstacle even more complex; completion of one of these lanes earned the competitor a Golden Carabiner. Runners could redeem their Golden Carabiner at any other point during the race, either skipping a specific obstacle or being allowed to take an alternate route on course that bypassed a stretch of obstacles. Another spark of ambiguity was a fork in the road halfway through the loop that opened at 8:00 PM; TMHQ had devised two unique routes that competitors could choose between, one having standard obstacles (Quagmire, The Bloc Ness Monster, Leap of Faith, and The Guantlet) and the other having electrocution obstacles (Eletroshock Therapy, Entrapment, and Operation). This “pick your poison” and Golden Carabiner approach to course design maintained the integrity of the 5 mile loop distance, regardless of the route taken.

The Race

The race started at noon on Saturday, and the sun was shining! With a little bit of a wind chill, the temperatures were still warm enough for the short sleeves and smiles. Our first lap was a 5 mile tour and preview of the course-no obstacles; competitors took a Golden Carabiner route through the first lap, bypassing a view of some of the obstacles. For the first hour of the race, none of the obstacles were opened; beginning at 1:00 PM, obstacles were methodically opened via a rolling start through the course. By 3:00 PM, all of the 26 obstacles were opened (except for The Stacks, which opened at midnight). Most competitors started their first lap with a strong pace, full of excitement and energy about the day that lay ahead of us. I saw and felt that speed and enthusiasm on course, as runners continued into laps two and three.

Hitting obstacles as they started to open, I finished my second lap wet. The heat of my running pace and the sunshine kept me comfortable, and the blue skies created a beautiful backdrop to the event. Coming back around Mudderhorn and into the pit area at the completion of my third lap, the sun was moving towards the horizon. The Georgia autumn wind started to pick up and I began to realize just how cold this race was going to be. I was able to complete three laps fairly quickly and hit my pit crew before sunset. My wetsuit and headlamp went on for lap four, and the wetsuit never came off until I crossed the finish line. Watching the sunset from Ladder to Hell around 1.5 miles into my fourth lap was a special memory from that day; this tall obstacle was placed at the top of a hill, giving a panoramic view of the streaked paintbrush of dusk settling over the race. By the time I came into my pit for my fifth lap, the sun had settled over the edge of the woods.

As soon as darkness hit, the temperatures began to drop. Many competitors decided to opt out of active participation and camp out in their tents, avoiding the course in the cold. Throughout the night (my laps six to nine, approximately 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM) the course was relatively empty. I experienced long stretches of running alone, occasionally being passed my elite men and spotting other headlamps through the woods in the distance. With the temperatures in the low thirties, many obstacles began to ice over – even the grass and trees surrounding the course began to freeze. Around midnight, the TMHQ team began to methodically shut down certain obstacles, specifically those that resulted in total head submersion, as well as some of the obstacles that had dangerously slick frost. As a precautionary measure to ensure runners’ safety, obstacles such as Under Water Tunnels, Lumber Jacked, Skidmarked, Berlin Walls, Cage Crawl, and The Gauntlet were closed until sunrise. Many of the other water obstacles did remain open throughout the night, including Augustus Loop, Mud Mile, Twin Peaks, Funky Monkey, Happy Ending, and The Stacks (once opened at midnight).

Even with the improvised TMHQ safety modifications to the course, competitors that continued to fight overnight for mileage remained wet, muddy, and cold. The vibe on the course had shifted from energy and excitement to quiet perseverance and steady focus. Runners fought the conditions and their own demons to sustain a pace quick enough to stay warm, but slow enough to maintain shoe traction amidst slick running paths and icy obstacles. Once the sun began to rise on Sunday morning, the dawn brought warmer temperatures, many obstacles re-opened for completion, and the hibernating competitors came back out on course to continue their quest for mileage goals and the desired “24 Hour” finisher headband. The course began to refill with participants, pit crew began to awaken with a renewed sense of vigor, and the festival area began buzzing with excitement again.  By late morning, I was embarking on my final two laps, eleven and twelve; my pace had slowed to intermittent periods of jogging and walking, but I was determined to finish what I had started and reach my 60-mile goal. My last two loops were surreal and dreamlike, with the warmth of the sun back on my shoulders and the realization of the mortality of the event: my 24 hours was almost over. Despite the pain in my legs and the fatigue in my body, I felt so alive running across the finish line. This was my first World’s Toughest Mudder, and certainly not my last.

Epilogue

As I mentioned before, World’s Toughest Mudder became less of a competition of obstacle proficiency and running speed, and more of a test of mental fortitude and determination. Less than 25% of competitors reached 50 miles and less than 2% completed 75 or more miles, which were lower than most of the previous years’ result statistics. There was a clear division amongst competitors (and ultimately, finishers): those that succumbed and submit to the cold, and those that found comfort and resolve in the rawness of the adversity of their circumstances. Only a small group of competitors remained actively on course through the cold, ice, and solitude of the night; less than one-third of the twelve hundred participants maintained a continuous progression of laps through the dark. These are the racers that were able to put their heads down, remain determined, and march onward towards coveted mileage bibs (50 and 75 Mile threshold bibs). World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was just as I expected it to be; it was an obstacle course race designed to challenge your speed, obstacle technique, physical endurance, and athletic performance.  But World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was also something that many (including myself) did not expect it to be; it was a trial of overall tenacity, perseverance of will, and the mental grit that it takes to move forward in spite of cold, doubt, fear, and difficulty.

How not to poop your wetsuit

I often joke that endurance races are as much of a running competition as they are an eating contest; I love both so no wonder these types of races are my favorite. But the truth is: several hours into the race, eating, just as running, becomes hard. But you can’t quit – because if you stop eating, eventually you’ll run out of fuel, and your legs will no longer let you move. You can never fall behind on nutrition, and if you rely on your hunger to know when to eat another snack you’re already behind.

Knowing this I came into my first ever endurance OCR event, WTM 2017, with a plan: eat often, eat foods high in calories and easy to process, and I would never have to stop running. That plan worked well until the reality of the wetsuit hit me – when you’re covered in layers of neoprene that are covered by more layers of bibs and windbreakers, eating too much (or eating the wrong foods) is just as much of a disaster as eating too little. Wetsuits are expensive and spouses only have so much patience to deal with our crap (pun intended), so I was determined to figure out my nutrition, study my body’s response to different foods, and test new strategies in endurance events throughout the year to come into WTM 2018 better prepared.

Everyone is different

The most important thing to figure out is what kinds of foods work well for you. Now is a great time to start – throughout the year, notice which foods give you energy, what puts you to sleep, what you can eat 5 minutes before a workout or a run and not barf. Most importantly, figure out which foods make you poop – I started making notes of things to avoid based on how soon after the meal or a snack I was running for the toilet. For me, two of those are nuts and watermelon, which would otherwise be perfect in a race (nuts are high in calories and watermelon is full of electrolytes). When you’re running around in a wetsuit, however, electrolytes aren’t going to help you much if you turn hypothermic stripping out of your wetsuit every 10 minutes (if you’re lucky enough to be able to do it in time).

sad-food

Your choice of food should probably make you a bit happier than this. Photo credit: Jake Ramsby. 

Know your diet

Another important thing is to know your diet, and not deviate from it significantly during the event. I generally eat healthy, with almost no processed food (other than cereal) and I haven’t had a dessert other than fruit in years. While it’s true that any calories are better than no calories, I have no idea how my body would respond to things such as cookies, Snickers bars, or other heavily processed foods so I tend to avoid those. You can certainly eat foods you don’t normally eat on a run, but I would avoid things you never eat. Similar goes for energy gels – a lot of those are basically a mix of fructose and maltodextrin, the main reason for my GI issues before I switched to real food based gels. You might be fine if your stomach is used to processed foods, but if your diet generally consists of meals made from scratch you probably want to find something your stomach will know what to do within a race as well.

pizza-and-coca

Pizza and hot chocolate are a popular nighttime snack. Photo credit: Joe Tabor.

When to eat

Once you have your list of deliciousness to look forward to, just how often should you consume them? I went into WTM 2018 with a plan to have one Spring energy gel every 20 minutes and real food at every pit stop. What I didn’t account for was that my watch was both caked in mud and hidden beneath layers of clothing. You could set an alarm, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear it under all of the layers keeping your head warm. Instead of going by time, I decided to go by the feel – not hunger, but rather energy level. As soon as I started to feel a bit more sluggish, I tried to eat. If I started feeling cold, I tried to eat. I had mental checkpoints along the course, places where if I hadn’t had anything yet by then on that lap, I would eat something there whether or not I felt like I needed it.

eat-on-the-go

Eating on course saves you a lot of time. Photo credit: Brad Kerr Photography

Immodium is your friend

Even with all of the above, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to run for 24 hours without needing to visit a porta potty at least once. Don’t try to hold it longer – you won’t make it through the race anyway, and it will only make it worse and probably give you a stomachache. If you notice that your stool is loose, I highly recommend Immodium – in fact, I recommend this as a precaution as well, and I always take one before a race. I took two of those after my poop lap in Atlanta, after which my stomach calmed down and I was able to keep on racing without any more trouble coming my way. And make sure to note how you feel afterwards – one thing I’ve noticed is that pooping always makes me so hungry soon after, so I make sure to increase my food intake during the pit stop that follows.

hand-warmers

Lines between gear and food get blurred as the temperatures drop below freezing: and warmer or a cookie? Photo credit: Benjamin Keith Riley 

Bottom line

At the end of the day, we are all different and figuring these things out takes a few races to troubleshoot and learn on mistakes. Hopefully, yours will be less smelly than mine.

poop-patrol

Anne Clifford helped both me and Kris Mendoza strip in and out of our wetsuit on the course. The real hero of WTM 2018. Photo credit: Mathieu Lo

 

There is no DNF in a timed, looped, race.


There is no DNF in a time, looped race.

Here is how it goes.

1. The timed, looped race starts at a specific time.
2. Your job is to run for as long, and as far as you can, until the time runs out.

  • Want to take breaks? Do it!
  • Want to sleep? Do it!
  • Stop 12 hours in and go home, Cool.
  • Want to go balls out, no matter what, all through the night!?

3. The race ends at a certain time.

When the final horn goes off, whoever has the most laps in the fastest time, wins! Next highest laps in fastest time is 2nd place, next highest is 3rd, and so on. (In World’s Toughest Mudder’s case, 1209 racers)

The only way to get a Do Not Finish is to get disqualified by cheating.

Many cry  “But I stayed out all night, and that person didn’t.”

That was your choice and you got as many/more/less miles than that person, and can be happy/sad/thrilled with that result.

Follow along with me in this example:

It appears as though all of these athletes stopped well before 8:00am.

Yet, here they are listed as the 53rd-57th place. If the argument that “I stayed out all night mattered”,  their placement would show up beneath anyone that doesn’t show a finish time of at least 20 hours, or would be DNF altogether.

It means they would score lower than someone who ran one lap, slept for nearly 24 hours, then ran a morning lap. That makes no sense logically or competitively.

Age group awards are being handed out this year. Did TMHQ keep track of all the AG leaders as they come in each lap? Are they on radios, and handing out leader bibs tracking down top 3 in each age group?  I would not expect them to, and I assert, it’s time and resources better served doing other things at this event.

Seems like the official rules need some adjustment, or have a lot of angry people come awards time, or in OCR’s case, probably both.

2018 World’s Toughest Mudder Preview – Eli Hutchison


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New World’s Toughest Mudder obstacles, earning World’s Toughest golden carabiners, and more with Eli Hutchison.

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Atlanta, Georgia – Tough Mudder 2018


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Tough Mudder – Bouckaert Farms – Georgia October 2018

Nolan Kombol – Tough Mudder

Sean Corvelle

Andi Hardy

Matt Waller

Rhiannon Gerald

Karen DeLeon – Jack Links

Britt Canady, Andrea Logan, Lorraine Kieffer –Tough Mudder BootCamp Charlotte

Francis Lackner

Additional Links:

Weigh Too Tough – WTM 2014 Exclusive Obstacles

Hyd-Ra-Phobia Obstacle Video

PATREON

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Europe’s Toughest Mudder Berlin

This year saw the first Toughest Mudder series in Berlin, Germany and there was a lot of anticipation around the race, bringing competitors from across the globe. One would assume with the location and elevation profile that the weather would be sweet and the running would be easy- TMHQ made sure this was certainly not the case…

On arrival to the race site, it was a lengthy walk from the car park to registration and with a heavy kit bag, it felt like we had landed mid Spartan race in the bucket brigade (silver linings- warmup?). To make up for this, registration was fairly quick and painless and soon the pit tent was full of mudders eager to get started, some first-timers, oblivious to the eight-hour beasting that was ploughing their way. Improvements on last year’s ETM pit tent included easy in-and-out doors for runners and big screens with live male and female standings for support crew to monitor without braving the elements.

In a warm 17 degrees, competitors strolled into the start chute for the race briefing. Now, although my German is limited to ‘Ya!’ and ‘Nein!’, it was clear from the start there were a significant number of German runners and so the briefing was done mostly in German which was a nice touch from TMHQ as you could see it was getting racers fired up for the course ahead. For the minority of us we were blissfully unaware of 90% of what had been told to us but this seemed to calm my nerves rather than wait in anticipation knowing what was coming!
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Start-Line

The sprint lap flew by and before we knew it 95% of the obstacles were open for business. This differed to the previous ETM where they had staggered openings and closed/opened new ones as the 8 hours went by- this time everything was open and stayed open until the finish which made for a pretty intense 5 miles (with some modifications being made to harder versions in the later hours). I think most people had anticipated pretty warm racing conditions which, as the obstacles opened, was soon to be the opposite- 3 back to back water obstacles (including Blockness Monster, Cage Crawl, and the very very Arctic Enema) were within a mile of one another. I managed to run one lap of this before stuffing my neo hood into my wetsuit for extra protection- brain freeze and exhaustion left me wondering what else I could be doing on a fine Saturday night which wouldn’t result in me picking out ice cubes from my kit! For me personally, I find the water affects my mental state more than any other obstacle and it’s always a constant battle to fight off the ‘I just want to curl up in my Dryrobe’ thoughts and push through.
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Everest

The more laps that went by, the more aching I could feel in my legs as a direct result of the hard packed trail and concrete running we were doing- I would take hills for days over this type of terrain, as I’m sure many others would agree. With no elevation, there was no opportunity for that tactical ‘walk-break’ on the uphill which inevitably fatigued everyone faster than they probably anticipated. By 5/6am there were a good chunk of runners down and out which made the later laps pretty lonely- running with only one or two people in sight for miles. No Toughest Mudder is complete without a curveball and so the heavens opened from around halfway through the race which naturally pushed those runners not possessing Hulk-like grip to the penalty runs.
Toughest Mudder-Berlin-Kong-Infinity

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and whole feel to the race (if you can describe beating yourself up for 8 hours during the night as enjoyment) and would definitely have this on my list again for next year. It’s always refreshing to see a stream of first-timers at Toughest events which means this sport is still growing and TM aren’t losing their edge. Often when I describe the event to friends or family they will say ‘why would you want to do that?!’ but the 8-hour event, in the dark, cold and (often) wet night is where you really find your limit and pushing through those limits is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Finish