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”.
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.
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.
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 [email protected]*. I never stopped.
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.
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”.
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.