World’s Toughest Mudder – December 2011
World’s Toughest Mudder (Tough Mudder Championship)
8+ Miles Loops over 24-28 Hours
December 17th – 18th 2011
The Event: World’s Toughest Mudder is the Tough Mudder organizations championship event. Where other Tough Mudder events are billed as not a race but a challenge, World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) is most definitely a race with $10,000 going to the male and female winners. The obstacles are beefed up and conditions are bad. This is to be a true challenge for Mudder veterans.
Getting There & Parking: Getting there was not a problem since it was held in an easily Google-able track, and there was a ton of parking. Past Mudders and other obstacle races have been held there as well, so vets already knew where to go. No signs that I saw, which surprised me.
Check-in & Logistics: Check-in was smooth given that you could check in the day before and there were so few competitors. The volunteers were helpful in getting you your race info and answering questions.
The pit area was a little questionable though. Maybe it was in my packet, and I didn’t see it, but there were no instructions on setting up your tent. Nobody clarified either, so I just looked around to see how most other people were set up. I ended up doing it wrong and stealing some of my neighbor’s space. Lucky my tent’s footprint was only 4×4, so it wasn’t that bad.
While that was a negative, Tough Mudder’s organization throughout the course was nothing short of excellent. It definitely got a little sketchy at night as you could go a long time before seeing another racer or volunteer/staff, but for the most part safety was obviously a big concern of TMHQ. There were ample medical and heating tents throughout the course and numerous stations fully stocked with piping hot chicken broth, Sharkie gummy treats, bananas, cookies, water, and crackers. I can’t complain about it at all and can only give TMHQ props for their execution here.
Staff was constantly going through the pit area checking on tents and people. There were hot showers there allowing you to warm up. Medical areas had not only EMT’s but doctors as well.
The Schwag: Racers got a pretty nice t-shirt whenever they dropped or when they finished (all 10 of them). This was different from most Tough Mudder events where folks only get a t-shirt for finishing. Competitors also got a good dry fit shirt when they registered, and a nice race bib for being on the track. My lobster dinners will never be the same again!
Finishers got the customary Tough Mudder orange headband at the finish line, and official finishers got a custom kettlebell too. I did not finish, so I didn’t get one. Personally, I think they should have switched up the headbands… Maybe black band and orange letters instead of the opposite. I can see this being a nightmare for TM seeing as only 10 people earned a headband, and they’d have to have at least 800 on hand. Still, they could save them for their next WTM event. It’d just be nice for finishers to get something a little different to signify their tremendous feat.
Competitors also got a plastic Under Armour bag at check-in that had a long sleeve Dos XX shirt and other sponsor stuff like Degree deodorant and what not.
The Race: For days now, I’ve been trying to think of a way to aptly describe this race. Words like “brutal”, “frigid”, and “arduous” come to mind. The thing is that none of them really can give you a feeling what it was like. I’m sure you’ve done other races like this before. You may have even done a Tough Mudder and know their tendency to get competitors cold, wet and miserable. Well other Mudders I’ve done don’t even approach this in the realm of how cold and miserable you get.
To put it in perspective, about 850 Tough Mudder veterans left the starting line at 10am Saturday. They were all veterans of previous Tough Mudders and many qualified by finishing near the top of their events. They were all intimately aware with the types of things TM will throw at you. They knew all these things, saw an advertisement for a 24-hour Tough Mudder with beefed up obstacles, and thought “Yeah. That seems like a good time.” All this considered, over 1/3rd of the people who started did not complete a single lap.
Now down to the race itself. The pit area was an ant’s nest of activity leading up to 9:30 when we were all called to the start line. Competitors finished up their final race prep and made their way to the start line with about 800+ other competitors. There we got a medical briefing about hypothermia. I don’t know about the other racers, but I was thinking “Psh. I’ve been cold before. Let’s get on with it and race.” The host was doing his normal pumping up the crowd thing as we waited. I didn’t hear much of it. I was with about 50 other GoRuck Toughs ready to take on World’s Toughest Mudder and laugh while we were doing it carrying our rucks. It wasn’t long before we were rudely awakened from that dream.
We were released in the “Insane Bolt”. It was a quarter mile sprint. If you weren’t fast enough, the gate closed, and you get a 1/4 mile penalty. The GRT crew didn’t even bother with this one. We figured what’s an extra 1/4 mile in a 24 hour race? This lead into the Jesus Walk and the Mud Mile. Honestly I don’t know what differentiated these obstacles. It was just a continuous run of waist to overhead high mud split up with mound of dirt you had to crawl up and over. On 4 or 5 of these mounds were 6’ (or so) high walls. This was our first introduction to how cold and miserable we’d be. The water was pretty cold, and we were all instantly muddy. I realized right away that I didn’t have the right hand protection as my hands were already numb and soaking.
After getting cold, wet, and muddy, it was off to some long stretches of motocross track. Thankfully TM didn’t have the sprinklers on this time around like they did at the Tristate Mudder I did at the same track. The first obstacle hit in this section of track was called “Getting Railed”, and that’s exactly what was about to happen to us. It was maybe 15’ of parallel bars over a water pit. You had to navigate across however you could manage. It wasn’t too bad except my bare hands were already numb and wet, which made it a little harder. After a bit more running, we hit the “Devils Beard” obstacle. This was slightly different than other Mudder inceptions as it went straight up the same steep hill that Cliff Hanger was on during the regular Tough Mudder. I lost my flag patch on my ruck pretty quickly here.
The wind was very palpable at the top of that hill. I had the misfortune of deciding not to start with a wetsuit and was only in compression gear. The wet, the wind, and the cold really starting taking effect here… and we were barely into the course at all. After some more motocross track, we made it to “Razor’s Edge”, which was a tall cargo net climb – the tallest I’ve done at any event to date, but for WTM’s, I doubt many were daunted by it. This led into a long, windy, cold run to “Electroshock Therapy”.
There were muddy hay bales and muddy puddles breaking up Electroshock Therapy. Still together as a team, we went for the approach of diving over the bales instead of trying to hurdle them on the way through. I don’t know if here was a “right” approach because you were getting hit no matter what. I got hit at least 4 or 5 times on my way through. It wasn’t bad, but those socks on the head really can throw you for a loop. After getting through muddier and wetter than when we had gotten there, our run brought us behind the bleachers where the shade instantaneously chilled you to the bone. As if almost on queue, this is where the first aid station with hot chicken broth and snacks was. Everybody, even the vegetarians (something TMHQ may want to think about next year is vegetable broth), grabbed a cup of broth. It was already getting that cold.
Shortly after the aid station was the “Turd’s Nest” and a small stack of “Berlin Walls”. Typical Tough Mudder fare. Following this was “Island Hopping”. It’s been done before, but the water and air was so cold there was ice forming on the islands. This got you nice and wet prior to the first medical tent. Popping into it, you were seeing people already drop from the cold with some going into a severe hypothermic state. I gulped down some hot Jello water and moved on to Funky Monkey.
So my hands were frozen and useless at this point making Funky Monkey extremely difficult. I tried using the leg method and failed miserably. The punishment for failing? Take a swim, son, and dunk that head under a board! Not fun. Frigid and freezing I waited for some lagging GRT’s and started making our way through the Creek Crusade and Log Bog Jog. This was basically getting even more wet climbing in and out of trenches and jumping through some logs. This was actually a peaceful part of the course as we ran a nice little trail run to meet the short but unstable “Spider’s Web” cargo net climb. Then emerging from the woods, we were greeted with “Peg Legs”, which was a bunch of stumps sticking up from a pool of muddy water that we had to cross. This wasn’t very difficult at all, but the fear of getting wet yet again added some serious nerves while crossing.
This led into a rather long barbed wire crawl that led up a hill. This was maybe one of the more comfortable parts of the course. I don’t know if it was being so low that we avoided the wind or if it was the fact the ground had been warmed by the sun, but it was gloriously warm. It wasn’t piss in your wetsuit gloriously warm, but it was gloriously warm. That warmth was short-lived however. Next up was the “Boa Constrictor”. The was a small plastic tube angling down into water, so at the end your breathing space was limited. Then you had to crawl back up another tube at the other side. The insides were pretty slick and weren’t that easy to get up.
After getting wet, it was another gloriously warm barbed wire crawl in the “Shake and Bake” obstacle. It’s down into a trench of water followed by a peat moss barbed wire crawl. The peat moss was like insulation. I almost wanted to stop and take a nap. Next up was “Log Jammin”: a bunch of log over-unders. The unders were pretty low and in mud pits. My GoRuck GR1 basically had 15 lbs of mud caked on it after all these muddy obstacles, and I was yet again wet with the wind biting me to the bone. This brought me to the beefed up “Twinkle Toes” balance beam obstacle. It was like it normally is except there were small inch-wide pieces of wood to balance on. I didn’t see anybody make it across on foot. I certainly didn’t and was in the water again. It was pretty cold at this point and the second aid station was right here with a heating tent. I got some more broth, a mylar sheet, and I popped into the warming tent with some other GRT’s. This place was PACKED with shivering racers. I felt like I was on a Vegas club dance floor because I was packed in so tight with people in shiny, silver dresses.
After getting a little warmer and praying to General Zod that I had been smart enough to bring my wind breaker, we left the tent and were brought to yet more water in the “Trench Warfare” obstacle. You had to climb down into a trench with waist high water and then belly crawl through a muddy, water-filled underground tunnel. Immediately after getting out of the trench, it was onto an old American Gladiators staple: Hanging Tough. And I don’t mean the New Kids on the Block song even though they really convinced me they were wicked tough with that song. This obstacle was just a little tougher. It was a grid of olympic rings over a water pit. You had to make your way from ring to ring to get to the other side. I figured I had this no problem. I have rings in my garage! Well I don’t train on them soaking wet, freezing cold, with numb hands apparently. Into the drink I went.
This was the first penalty I incurred. Some obstacles were penalty obstacles. If you couldn’t do it, you had to sit in a penalty box for five minutes. Doing jumping jacks to stay warm, I waited out my punishment. These punishments were eventually abandoned after a lot of racers started going hypothermic while waiting… yes, it was that bad. This was a double penalty for me though because next was “The Factory”, which is a vegetable oil coated rope climb followed by a blind slide into a pool of water. I can climb ropes all day, but not this day I guess… penalty! No problem. I did jumping jacks and squats to keep warm. A couple people I was with managed it, but I was done with my penalty while they were still on the obstacle AND they had to get wet again.
This led to “Rubbernecking” where you had to carry 2 tires around a track. No big deal. Keeping with the tire theme, next up was “Tired Yet”, which is just a long stretch of tires to walk on. This led to another rather cold section of jogging to the Berlin Walls. These were the higher walls, but I worked out a system to these things in Vermont. I was up and over to the delight the watching crowd, wrapped myself in a mylar sheet, and ran off towards “Bale Bonds”… a few hay bales to crawl up and over. After that, it was directly into the medics tent, which was crazy packed. I was severely shaking at this point. I tried to make myself a cup of instant coffee, but my hands were shaking so uncontrollably that I couldn’t drink it, and I was just spilling it all over my hands and the people around me. It was here that I saw a ton of people drop like flies. I was looking around at all these other badass people shaking with defeat in their eyes. This place was so packed, that the medics started going around to the people that had been there the longest giving them the choice to leave or drop out of the competition. I probably stayed in this tent for 30 minutes before reaching the decision I wasn’t getting any warmer.
I left the tent with a friend in tow after the other member of our threesome dropped and was greeted with the ridiculously easy “High Steppin”. It was just a series of maybe waist high hurdles to get over. No big deal. Keeping with the ridiculously easy theme, the next “obstacle” was the “Meat Locker”, which was just a cargo container with tires hanging down from the ceiling and strobe lights. Maybe it’d give you problems if you had a seizure disorder set off by the strobes, but for most people, it was easy. From there it was step from ridiculously easy to ridiculously sadistic. The new “Electric Eel” obstacle stood in our way. It’s a low crawl through a pool of water with live wires hanging down above you. You raise up too high and you’d be zapped.
Another aid station complete with hot goodies and treats broke up the short run to the well-known “Everest” quarter pipe obstacle. I made it up on try #2 and then stayed to help some other folks get over it. Right next to it was the new “Massive Turd”. It’s basically a turd’s nest’s big brother. You had to climb to a regular Turd’s Nest. Then you had to climb a pain in the ass nylon rope ladder to another longer cargo net traverse except this one was 30 feet above the deck. If you had height issues, then this could give you pause. I don’t have height issues, and I thought it was a little sketchy. This led to a decent trail run through really thick muck. You get out of the woods and are greeted with the ominous wetsuit tent.
I say it’s ominous because you know the deep water obstacles are right beyond it. I trotted to the wetsuit tent and shakily got into my wetsuit… DING! I felt like a million bucks with that neoprene over me. I actually felt warm. The first water obstacle was the “Dong Dangler”, which was just a commando crawl over water. I decided to do the hanging approach and quickly paid for it. My weakened arms couldn’t deal, and I had to drop half way through. This didn’t really matter because it was instantly into the water in the “Underwater Tunnel” obstacle, a series of barrels you had to duck under in the water. Full immersion in the water was horrible at this point. After pulling myself out of the water with a rope, it was to a rope aided water crossing that led to a cluster of nylon rope ladders leading out of the water. By the time I got here the ladders were basically shut down. A got to witness the last attempt of the day that led to a fall from 12’ up right onto the ledge and another racer. Ouch.
Next up was the well known “Walk the Plank” obstacle where you jump off a high platform into the water. This was followed by another rope aided water crossing to “Hold Your Wood”, where you had to carry a log through the water around set markers. This was actually very short and easy. A lot of the “carry” was through head high water, and well… wood floats. You basically just pushed your log in front of you. After climbing out of the water it was a 1/4 mile – 1/2 run back to the wetsuit tent where you could take your wetsuit off again…
SCREW THAT! Wearing a wetsuit from the start would have been smart. I saw plenty of people doing it, but I had decided to wear compression gear instead. Big mistake. Everybody with me agreed, and we kept out wetsuits on. From there it was a quick run to the “finish”. Lap one complete! Wow! That was so much harder than anticipated. I had way underestimated the role the cold would play, and I was promptly slapped across my face with reality. It was tough. It was no joke.
The final medical tent before the pit area was a horror show of hypo people. Many were cocoon wrapped and shaking uncontrollably. You looked from shell shocked face to shell shocked face and realized that even making one lap in this race was an accomplishment. After destroying a dozen cookies, some broth, and some jello water, it was off to the pit area to prep for round 2.
The pit area was an interesting scene. Lots of racers that had already dropped out were milling about with family and friends. I passed by some folks I know, and they asked if I was going out again. I responded that I was, and they said under 300 people were doing a second lap. I couldn’t believe it. Nearly 2/3rds of the field wiped out after a lap. Now I definitely took my time in the pit area. I changed into dry clothes, which instantly stopped my shaking. I nuked up some hot food. I updated Facebook, I drank some Gatorade, I debated clothing options… I was in no rush. I think it was 6:00 or 7:00 before I finally headed out for lap #2 with my friend Mark. Our headlamps were lit, our glowsticks were tied to our rucks, and we were ready to go.
Our plan was to go slow, take advantage of all aid stations, and dress or undress in fleece as we got to water. It went pretty well all things considered. The wetsuit made all the difference in the world. I mean we were miserably cold, but we weren’t MISERABLY cold. I’d be curious to see the ratios of people that dropped with only a lap with a wetsuit and without a wetsuit. We quickly made our way through the opening stretch of track, past Electroshock Therapy, and to the first Berlin Wall section. We ran into a girl on her 3rd lap and helped her over the walls. We ran into somebody I know from Facebook and answered some GoRuck questions here too. It was at the second wall here that I felt a sharp, shooting pain in my foot. I instantly thought “stress fracture”.
We get through Island Hopping and pop into the warming tent to find Ray Upshaw there. He’s the dude with the Tough Mudder credo on his tattooed on his back. I started out the race with him for a bit, so it was a surprise to bump into him again. After we had all warmed up, we headed off to Funky Monkey. We wanted to crawl across the top this time around to avoid the water but were told we’d be DQ’ed if we did. Crap. My buddy and Ray did not want to get wet again, so it was off to the warming tent to regroup. After another 10 minutes, Mark and I took off. I tried futily to cross and ended up dunking yet again. Mark through sheer determination not to get wet made it across.
We started to jog to get warm, but my foot was refusing to cooperate. We had to either very slowly trot or walk. It was really a blur from here on out of trotting, getting wet, getting muddy, and getting wet again. The wetsuit really was making a huge difference. Not only did it keep you remarkably warm, but you could pee in it to add to that warmth. That may not be PC to say or talk about, but I was a wetsuit pissing, warm leg having racer during this lap. You know what? It was great. By the time we got to that tent where everybody was dropping out on lap 1, we were in infinitely better shape then we had been then. We weren’t shivering and we weren’t miserable. Well we were miserable, but it was at least tolerable. By this point in the night, everything was icing over too which added a twist to all the obstacles.
We bumped into future 2nd place finisher, Amelia Boone, shortly after getting out of the tent. She was on her third lap with another GRT, Joel. We hung with them for a while, but my foot just didn’t allow me to match pace, so we ended up falling back in the trail run leading to the water. At the water, I made it across Dong Dangler. It took a bit because my arms were so toast. The volunteer was saying “You’re going to get wet in 10 seconds anyway, you may as well drop and get it over with”. haha! The rope to get out of the water after Underwater Barrels was literally entirely iced over as was the platform. The water was pleasant though. It was warmer than the air at that point, so the only crappy part was getting out of the water. My foot was number enough for a decent trot at this point, so we ran the rest of the way to the medical tent at the end of the lap.
Unfortunately as we started to warm up, so did my foot. It was sending sharp, shooting pains up my leg with every step. I told Mark that we could hit the pit area, get changed, and I’d reassess my foot then. After I was nice and toasty, my foot was worse than ever. I didn’t want to risk making it worse, so I regrettably dropped out at those point. It was about 1:30-2:00am. I’m still real bummed about it. I definitely had more left in my tank. Heck I was back at the gym for an upperbody workout on Monday. As much as I’m disappointed with it, I’m still confident it was the right choice. I’m still proud of making it 2 laps on that course too.
The Verdict: I have my complaints about this race. A big portion was a gear contest. If you had the wrong gear, there was no chance at all of you competing. Also rules were changed last second causing a lot of confusion among racers. Tough Mudder needed to do a much better job with communication. I’m also not a big fan of the max lap format. I hear they’ve already decided to change that for next year, which makes me happy.
All those complaints aside, this was a great event. As I stated earlier, support staff was extraordinary. I had brought a ton of food and fluids to replenish myself while on the course and in the pit area. I never needed any of my course food because there were plenty of aid stations, and they were all well stocked with food and hot fluids. So hot that my mouth is just healed from ingesting scolding hot broth and water all night. The course design was challenging and the beefed up obstacles and new obstacles provided some nice new stimulus for obstacle running vets.
I’m looking forward to doing this event next year, and I’d recommend it to anybody that is looking for a serious challenge. I learned from my mistakes and am ready to come out of my corner a little beat up but swinging. Well done, Tough Mudder.
Congrats to event winners Junyong Pak and Juliana Sproles. Special congrats to the other finishers as well. You should all be proud.
To learn more about Tough Mudder, check their website: http://www.ToughMudder.com