I competed in the most physically challenging event of my life on Sunday – the Georgia Tough Mudder. This event lived up to it’s billing as Tough with a capital “T”. I got cold, wet, muddy, dirty, sprayed with a fire hose, rope burned from cargo nets, and electrocuted during the Tough Mudder.
I started off in the 10:00am group with about 300 other Mudders. After a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, and reciting the Tough Mudder Pledge we were sent on our adventure to the sound of loud air horns. Two minutes later I plunged into freezing cold water in the Slippery Slope obstacle that was made extra cold with the addition of multiple pallets of ice cubes. When I got out I was numb from the waist down.
We reached the first trail run and it beat me down big time. Hill after hill pummeled my legs into submission. These hills were so steep Todd and I were taking running starts just to get up the first quarter of the incline. I slipped on one steep decline, grabbed a slim tree branch and threw myself into a pile of leaves. Got up laughing and kept running forward. I stopped laughing went I saw the last hill of the trail section.
Oh, sorry. I said hill when I meant to say vertical face of dirt and roots. Imagine the front of Stone Mountain slightly tilted backwards and you have a good idea of what I crawled up. No one could run up this face. In fact, everyone, myself included, was on all fours grabbing rocks and trees to physically pull themselves up to the ridge line. Halfway up the face six deer crashed through the forest and the biggest one ran straight into a tree about thirty yards away before leading the rest of the family down to the bottom. All of us were holding on praying this giant buck wasn’t going to run us over.
Todd and I reached the top and ran fifty yards to the equally steep decline. I seriously wished I had mountain goat DNA in my system because that decline was treacherous and I nearly bit the ground hard on one misstep. Fortunately though, I made it through only to reach the swamp stomp! Two hundred yards of sloshing through chest high cold and muddy water and I was at the Mystery Obstacle.
The Mystery Obstacle, like many of the obstacles, requires teamwork. We had to scale a 12 foot wall using a rope and only our upper body, no legs at all, with zero running start since the ground was too muddy to get any traction. A former Army man on the top of the obstacle helped Todd and me up the wall – it helped that he had arms the size of watermelons. We thanked the man and stayed behind to help other Mudders up the wall.
After the wall it we ran into the Moonshine Hill Run. Halfway through even more brutal hills than the first series, I wondered why anyone would take such a slow route to traffic moonshine. But, by then I was slightly delirious and only focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. A the top of the Moonshine Run was the “Hold Your Wood” obstacle. Todd and I had to carry half a telephone pole about six hundred yards over more hilly terrain. Remarkably, that challenge was not as bad as it sounds. We finished quickly and made our way to the third water station at the bottom of the trail.
A quarter mile after the Monkey Bars Todd and I ran through the Fire Walker. We ran blind through fifty yards of smoke filled air and fire. One volunteer stood on the far side and called out to us every few seconds so we knew where to run to.
After the Fire Walker we ran back through the Motocross Loop where started the race. Todd and I were exhausted and we were walking the last two miles over the hills and declines. Eventually, we reached the final aid station before the last two obstacles.
Three hundred yards later and I vaulted up a ramp to the top of a platform about twenty feet above an ice-cold lake. After twelve miles vertigo hit me like a hammer and I paused for a moment while I considered why I paid money to do this. I yelled to the crowd for a count-down – “3, 2 1, JUMP!” I plunged into water so cold I lost my breath and my muscles seized up. I reached the surface and immediately started side swimming to shore one painful yard at a time. Halfway there I honestly thought I would not make it, but I kept swimming and I finally reached the shore. Exhausted, beat up, cold, and sore I had one final obstacle left: Electroshock Therapy.
Final finish time – 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Now, what is the moral of this story? Probably that I am a foolish individual who has a warped idea of what passes for a good time on a Sunday afternoon. But the second moral is never stop moving forward. Remember, I got electrocuted twice and kept going so I don’t want to hear any “I’m tired coach” at practice for the rest of the season.
Tough Mudder – Ninja Style
I was asked to join a team representing the “Wounded Warriors” Project earlier this year. Shame on me for accepting an invite without actually knowing what it was. I knew vaguely of the Tough Mudder and by vaguely, that means, there’s mud and it’s not easy. Did I know it was 12 miles? No. Did I do my research? Not really. I looked at some pictures online and decided that I’d prepare myself adequately by dressing appropriately. I had a master plan of the attire and thought of a strategy of how I would deal with my OCD issues. I don’t like to be dirty. I don’t like dirt, mud, or even mustard on my hands. I have issues. That being said, I knew that I was going to be filthy and I decided on Under Armour leggings and an Under Armour muscle shirt. Additionally, I used a ton of talc powder for my unmentionables as well as Under Armour underwear to solidify that I was going to remain as “chaffe-free” as possible. Next I prepared my “Cut Suit” which is essentially a half wet suit to put over the undergarments. I cut off the half sleeves and put them over my shins in case of cuts to my legs or knees because of terrain. You’ll see the picture for a complete look to this. Additionally, to keep mud out of my face and also keep me focused, I decided to wear a fleece ski mask. Lastly, I selected some spandex gloves to wear that were light and did provided some traction for the event. For the first 150 yards of the race I also had some cheap sunglasses on as well. I thought I looked like a cross between Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe and a Ninja. Of course, for you nerds in the group, Snake Eyes IS a Ninja. I decided that I wouldn’t speak to anyone either. It was harder to breathe through a wet fleece ski mask and therefore, I would focus on my breathing and the course. I really still didn’t have any idea what I was getting
The bus was leaving for the team from Acworth at 9:30 am and I was there early and ready to go. I also got a kick out of being able to wear my camel back (this apparatus goes on your back with a long straw like deal that you can drink water from). I had to bury the end of this tube deep in my wet suit as I didn’t want to take it out and have to drink from a “muddy straw”.
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So, the bus is off. I had a beer along with each of the team mates to get relaxed for the ride which was approximately an hour and a half from Acworth to Cedartown. I also had two natural energy drinks by this point, so I am really ready to get things underway.
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Once we arrive, we connect up with the rest of the team members that were traveling separately and because of our press credentials were told we can really start as soon as we like for the course. Now, the website says that the course times average 2.5-3 hours. I completed the course is just over 5 hours and in my estimation, you can only run maybe 1/10 of the time, depending on conditioning, because the course is either not suited for running or is too dangerous to run, because of uneven ground and or footing. But, I do submit that I don’t believe anyone other than Michael Phelps himself, would be able to complete this particular 12 mile obstacle laden course in under 3 hours.
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We’re off! I run at a brisk pace for the 1st 150 yards or so before I realize that the 1st obstacle is upon me before I knew it AND it’s a doozy! Swim across a lake, approximately 75 yards or so, run up a muddy embankment and then slide back down into the lake to retrace the chasm to the other side where you’re back on foot. The weather was in the mid 70’s but the water was probably in the mid 40’s-50’s. I’m obviously cold, wet and muddy all within 5 minutes of the start of the course. I realized two things from the first heat of that swim. One; I skinned my knee and ripped my legging and was bleeding from the knee and Two; when swimming with a ski mask on, pull it down so that your face is exposed. Sucking air through a watery mask is ill-advised (freaked for a second there when I couldn’t breath). Once I got to the shore I pulled one of those sleeves that I’d cut off my cut suit arms up over my knee for a make-shift pad to cover my wound. That cold water really wakes you up and makes you realize, you’re in a “Challenge”. It is posed as a “Challenge” and not a “Race” because simply completing it is admirable and “big deal”. Incidentally, I found one quote that 30% of Tough Mudder participants the day after our run did not complete the course. So, if I made it, I’m in the 70 percentile and feel pretty good about that. Actually, it’s more about you and your own limitations. Sure, I ran some of it, but more so I found myself more of a Michael Myers from the Halloween movies, bump, bump, bump…..just continuously moving and making sure not to stop was my focus. I felt tired at times and wanted to join my fellow Tough Mudder contestants and sit and take a breather or stop and get water at one of the watering stations. However, since I had water (on my back), and I saw the intrinsic law that: The sooner I get through each mile and or obstacle, the sooner I’m done with this sh@*. I never stopped.
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The second obstacle was to traverse 3 metal pipes, each with a nice little surprise at the end of it…..as you crawl on your belly through mud and rocks inside the tube, there is a huge puddle of mud that you fall into at the end of each pipe. Insult to injury is that it’s not only a mud puddle, but filled to the brim with ice as to make my already shrunken groin area (from all the energy supplements I was on) even more compact and hating me for ever undertaking such a horrible filthy ordeal.
I found one the hardest course sections to be the woods. Not because there was a lot of mud, but because there were up and down angles of the hills that were very treacherous. Going up them was obviously difficult but going down them was about not injuring your ankles or spraining your foot… so you really had to be cautious about your speed going down as gravity was not your friend and neither was the uneven terrain.
The wooded section seemed to last forever and by mile 4 I was realizing that my approach to this “Challenge” needed to be conservation of my energy levels because I still had 8 miles to go and I have no idea what that distance is going to entail. I used to run cross-country when I was in Junior High and we had one of the toughest home courses around. It was about 3 miles. The most I’ve ever run at one time was 5 miles, which took about 50 minutes. So, in my estimation 12 miles was….well I was never really good at math to begin with…let’s say between 2 hours and forever!
Routinely, people would look at me with a shocked look because of my outfit and yell “Ninja!” or one guy actually got it right and said “Snake Eyes”, even though I’d lost my sunglasses on mile 2. Some people would point and say “Look he’s got a wet suit on, why didn’t I think of that” and still others would say “Aren’t you hot”? My reply was always the same; no words and just shake my head or give them the “thumbs up”. If you’re going to be Snake Eyes (he can’t speak) or a Ninja (they usually don’t speak), you’ve got to stay in character. I broke character once, and I’ll tell you about that later on in the story.
There is a portion of the course where you’ll go through a smoke house where you can’t see, under barbed wire (like you’re at Pariss Island), traverse yourself through a netting that is weighted and feels like it’s pressing down on you (called the devil’s beard) feeling more like the thumb of God, and many other muddy endeavors. Balance and upper body strength are important as well as lower body. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on the legs because that is carrying you the 12 miles which makes some obstacles excruciating. The climbing wooden walls were the most challenging of all to me. There is a little step at the bottom for you to stand on and then you’ve either got to jump to get your arms to the top or try to use the middle of the board to get a footing….but with mud laden shoes, that is a slippery situation. I lacked the leg fortitude to jump any longer so I’m sorry to say that I only climbed 2 of the 1st 5 walls and totally bypassed the last 3 walls later in the course because I just didn’t have any juice left and at that point I still had 3 miles to go. Again, long ago on this course, it was ABOUT FINISHING at all costs, not looking pretty. I cared very little if one particular obstacle couldn’t be overcome, if I was going over all 8 walls total, I’d probably still be there.
As the 11th mile came, I had a surge of excitement that this nightmare was finally almost over. Much to my chagrin, that last mile seemed to have lasted forever…almost like twice as much……and as of last night 4.2.11 and talking with a fellow Tough Mudder, he confirmed that the course was, in fact…. wait for it… 14.2 miles, not 12. This is probably part of the grand scheme that if we tell people, that it will probably take you 5/6 hours to complete and it’s 14 miles, you’re less apt to plunk down $160 registration and come kill yourself on your off day off! Digressing now….
Finally, the last obstacle was up. Run up this wooden ramp, and there was a bottle neck, so we all had to wait our turn to come up and jump off this thing into the lake, once again. I looked down and saw all the life guard type attendants in the water in various places ready to help those who’s legs finally would give out on that last swim to salvation. For the first time all day, I said something to one of the attendants at the top of the tower; “How deep is the water?” He says: “Why, are you going to do some crazy Ninja move”? I replied: “No, I’m going to do a cannon ball” (because I was so damn happy to be almost done). At this point, I would have been willing to dive into this water head first and swim through Copperhead snakes to get to the other side and just be finished.
Cannon Ball complete~ Splash!!!!
I swam to the other side, climbed the muddy embankment and saw the last obstacle~ about a 30 yard dash through, mud of course, and what looked like curtains of Christmas lights hanging down, which were in fact Tasers! Not, give you a little shock, like the ol’ gum trick of the past annoyance…but KNOCK YOU ON YOUR ASS IF IT HITS YOU THE RIGHT WAY TASERS. [singlepic id=6288 w=320 h=240 float=] Fortunately not all of them are live, but I did get a couple of jolts and it was par for the course…..I was FINALLY through!!!!!
I got an orange head band that this dude tried to crown me with and I just snatched it from him and said thanks…..took off my mask for the first time in over 5 hours, grabbed my free power bar and exclusive t-shirt for those that finished and threw my muddy sneakers in the huge pile that they clean and send to Africa.
I must say that in hindsight, in my all my preparedness, I’d forgotten to bring a change of shoes, therefore….I had to walk barefoot about half a mile back to our bus over rocks, which was kind of an extra kick in the nuts, to finally be done. This was like the encore to the Tough Mudder….the “Tough Footer”.
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All in all, I’m glad I did it. I would never do this again. Climbing my own personal Mount Kilimanjaro had been overcome. However, that is it for me. I’ll look for other ways to challenge myself in the future.
I’m a Tough Mudder. Go and do like wise.
10 Musts to Survive Tough Mudder
Here’s a list of few things that might make the Tough Mudder experience more tolerable. ;)
1) As much of a hassle as it is, I highly recommend wearing a hydration pack. One of the water stations was out of water when we got there. I saw people drinking creek water in desperation (parasites anyone?) and several poor souls getting IV’s from medics. A kind spectator gave me and my teammate a Muscle Milk and an energy gel pack – that saved us! Guess getting stuck in a mud pit with our calf muscles seizing up made him feel sorry for us.
Do not let yourself get dehydrated, and consider bringing some energy gel. Leg cramps due to dehydration toward the end can take you out. After all of that effort, quitting was not an option!
A Few Tough Mudders
When I first found out about a race called “Tough Mudder”, I honestly thought,”How hard could it be”?
I watched the video they had on their site, it looked more fun than hard and decided that is exactly what I would do. I would put together a team, raise some money for The Wounded Warrior Project and just do it. Again, How hard could that be?
It was all set. The six of us would run this course and raise money.
As time went by, we added a few more people to our team. Michael Galardi and Joe Schaber were great assets to our team and raised over $1000 to give to our cause, with the help of Smiths Olde Bar. They were great to run with and had such great spirit about them. They certainly made me laugh.
My good pal Roger Barnett asked me if he could join my team. I thought sure, why not… He brought on three other people from his work, Justa Bar. Roger busted his butt to bring in some donations and all in all gave us close to $500.
As time flew by I have to admit, I never went to our gym sponsor one time. Never worked out with the personal trainer, never did the boot camp that I was going to be so diligent doing. I just figured I would cross that proverbial muddy bridge when I got to Tough Mudder.
March 12, 2011 – 8:45 a.m. Rob and I pull up to Justa Bar to catch our bus. Yep, we decided that it would be a great idea to take the Justa Bar party bus to Cedartown, GA. We also got a little kick out of imagining that Polk country, where Cedartown is, watching us pull up in the bus. Did I mention that Polk County is a dry county? Meaning they don’t serve liquor. Still makes me chuckle remembering some of the faces as we drove by. I got side tracked, back to the story…. Marianne, Rob, Damian, Amanda, Anne Marie, Roger and myself (plus Roger and Anne Marie’s son) all boarded the bus and headed for what was sure to be a great time.
We arrived by 11:00 a.m. and made our way to the media sign in. Tough Mudder was so gracious to let me bring this entire team as media and run in this event. Checking in we got our numbers and wrist bands and found our favorite photographer, Tom Dausner to shoot some before pictures. Tom shot the beginning and the ending but could not navigate the course. I do not blame him at all. We had a video crew set to follow us and they canceled on us last minute. To their credit, they said they did try to find a replacement but everyone wanted to get paid for this charity event. Really? It’s for charity!
We approached the starting line, posed for a few more pictures and we were off! All of us running through the trail. It was great. I remember thinking that it really wasn’t that bad. I could jog for a while then slow it down through the obstacles and be done in 3 or so hours. All that wonderful thinking came to a screeching halt when I made it to obstacle numero uno. A 30 feet swim across the water to the other side only to turn around and swim back. I ran right in thinking that it couldn’t be that bad. After all, it was 72 degrees out and gorgeous. HOLY *$@! that was by far the coldest water I have ever, ever felt, up until them. To make maters worse, I thought midway through I could put my feet down and walk. Nope… too deep. Have you ever swam through ice-cold water with big running shoes on? Not too easy. This was the first time I almost gave up. I thought for a second, ” I put this whole thing together. I got the team, I got the registration. I don’t really have to do this, my job is done.” Yet, every time I thought that, I knew in my heart I would never forgive myself for not pushing through.
That is what I did. I continued on. Next stop: Boa Constrictor. Basically crawling through two 20 foot drainage pipes with mud pits in between. Doesn’t sound all that crazy. I could do that. Once I got in I realized the horrible joke. It was filled with ICE CUBES! Ice cubes, mud and gravel. Just enough to make some lovely cuts on your knees and elbows as you crawled through. Yes, there was ice all in the muddy pits you had to walk/swim through too.
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