Friday, November 11, 2011

Tough Mudder VA 2011

I have put off writing my experience with Tough Mudder because I knew it would be a long post and I just haven't had the time to sit down and write it.  Tough Mudder was 3 weeks ago in Wintergreen, VA.  **Pictures taken from Tough Mudder VA Facebook page**

The views at Wintergreen
Alex and I are no strangers to what are often called "adventure races"; we had completed two Warrior Dash races before deciding to sign up for Tough Mudder.  I have never been a runner.  I barely trained for Warrior Dash but I knew Tough Mudder would be different.  Immediately following Warrior Dash in May 2011, Alex created a running plan for us that would span 5 months and get us running up to 12 miles at one time.  It was a slow training process and it took a long time for me to get beyond truly hating running; but once I did, I actually started to enjoy the running.  We found a trail near our house that wound through the trees and was certainly more interesting than running through our neighborhood.  Once we started getting into the serious mileage (8 miles+) my knee started giving me trouble.  I stopped running two weeks before Tough Mudder in hopes it would improve.

A nice little jab at Warrior Dash ;-)

Alex and I booked a room at a small B&B in Afton, VA for two nights.  We showed up on Saturday, with our race on Sunday we had a night to recover before driving home.  We spoke to some Tough Mudders on Saturday evening and eased our nerves a bit.  Sunday morning we got up early, got fed a gigantic breakfast and headed out for Wintergreen.  We hopped on the bus up the mountain; getting more and more nervous.  We quickly checked in, got our badge and got marked (they write your number on your forehead in Sharpie).  We were still about an hour off from our start time so we decided to hop in to the 10 o'clock start.  With everyone lined up at the starting line, the deejay hyped everyone up and explained the goal of finishing and helping others finish; you don't leave a Tough Mudder behind.  The National Anthem was played and then we were off!

Right off the bat was a freezing cold shower from a snow-maker, immediately followed by a humiliating climb up a ski slope.  We knew we were in for it then!  I couldn't believe how steep the slope was.  Overall, there was a 1,250 foot gain in elevation over the 10 mile course.  There were eight ski slopes that we had to trudge up and back down.  25 obstacles still lie ahead of us...

Shortly after the first hill were the Berlin Walls; 8 foot walls that had to be scaled.  They were tricky to do without help but some people made it.  The following obstacle was "Devil's Beard"; it involved crawling under a cargo net while bear-crawling up the ski slope.

Berlin Walls

Up next was "Hold your wood";  grab a log and get up the hill.  Once you reach the top, turn around again and head back down.  This one wasn't too bad

The next several obstacles involved water, very cold water.  First were large hay bales being soaked by snow makers, followed by another humiliating climb up the ski slope.  Beyond that were the "Funky Monkey" bars.  I was pretty nervous about these.  I had worn gloves and was so focused on not falling that I actually made it all the way across!  My shoulders felt pretty shot after that, though.  Despite avoiding falling in the water, immediately after this obstacle was a pool of cold, muddy water that you had to trudge through.  A quick jog through the woods brought us to the next obstacle; "Twinkle Toes", a balance beam over (you guessed it) cold water.  Luckily I made it across this, too. 

Monkey Bars (sans water)

Balance Beam

Up next was the obstacle I was dreading most; the "Chernobyl Bath".  Let me explain this to you, it's a dumpster full of ice water.  Not just a little bit of ice; a TON of ice.  The water was about 37 degrees.  Not only do you have to jump in the water, but there is a piece of wood across the dumpster to prevent you from climbing over.  This meant fully submerging your head in the icy water.  I was fortunate there was another "mudder" at the other end of the dumpster who spotted me and pulled me out.  My brain completely stopped communicating with the rest of my body; I couldn't pull myself out.  So I stayed behind to help a few others out as well.  After the water obstacles, space blankets were provided but Alex and I shouldered on without.

Chernobyl (sans water and ice)
I wasn't lying about the ice...

The next few obstacles involved climbing cargo nets, running through the woods, sliding down slicked up plastic, swimming in more cold water under barrels, crawling through pipes and tunnels, crawling through mud under barbed wire, etc.  Each Tough Mudder has a "mystery obstacle".  Ours was some type of slide that started with a straight free fall.  I don't think they had really tested it out because people shot out of that thing with such speed that they were sliding out beyond the tarps and getting rather torn up on rocks.  As soon as I shot out of the slide, I noticed several people on the sides with lots of deep gashes.  I heard the EMT shout to shut the obstacle down immediately.  It was right after Alex and I got through it.  Luckily, neither of us got hurt on that one. 
The slides

There was more crawling through the mud, traversing cargo nets, getting hosed down by fire hoses, hiking up more ski slopes, and another set of Berlin Walls; 12 feet, this time.  They were particularly tough at this point because we were pretty far into the course. 

Coming up on some of the final obstacles were the toughest.  We got tied up at "Everest" for about an hour due to the backup of people.  It was a particularly difficult obstacle where a quarter pipe was greased up and you had to make it to the top.  People experimented with all kinds of methods; human ladder, tying shirts together and making a rope, and straight up just running for it!  I decided to just go for it and run.  There were three guys I'd made eye contact with at the top and grabbed their hands.  They pulled me up and over.  It definitely pays to be a small female at an event like this
"Everest"; this is how most people got over

Immediately following was the "Fire Walker"; a "tunnel" you have to run through that is lined with burning hay bales.  The smoke it created was absolutely stifling.  I had my shirt over my mouth and just barely made it through.  My eyes and lungs burned but I knew we were close.  All that remained was one more climb uphill and "Electroshock therapy", but not without another hosing down of cold water.  Alex and I looked at each other and heard someone recommend running on the sides as the shocks aren't too bad.  We went at the same time; both got popped twice but it wasn't too bad. 
"Electro-shock Therapy"

All-in-all, it took Alex and I 4.5 hours to finish.  Here's what I've taken away from Tough Mudder: 

  • Alex and I both wore tight-fitting, quick drying clothing.  This was crucial!
  • We also both wore gloves with good grip; helped protect our hands and help over obstacles
  • I brought Shot-Blocks for quick energy, which was a life-saver! 
  • Next time we will do less running for training and more hiking/rock scrambling
  • Next time we will also do it with a team; we think it would be much more fun!
Immediately following Tough Mudder, we didn't think we'd ever want to do it again.  But only the next morning we were already thinking maybe we'd do it again, despite our soreness.  I can definitely say there were sore muscles that I didn't even know I had; and lots of bruises.  What was so amazing about Tough Mudder was the camaraderie.  Everyone is willing to help everyone else!  The course is un-timed so the focus is on finishing, not beating people's times.  You get a lot of encouragement from other mudders; total strangers.  But doing the obstacles together, you definitely feel tied to them.  Much of the proceeds of Tough Mudder go to the Wounded Warrior Project as well, which is a fantastic project.  I think when we do it again we will also do it earlier in the morning.  The obstacles should be in better shape and we might not run into the backups that we did. 

This event was very well organized.  There were multiple aid stations along the course that had First Aid, water and bananas.  At the end you get a free beer, t-shirt, headband and get to hang out listening to bands play.  They also had lots of bonfires around to help you warm up.  We are definitely do this next year and hope to be better prepared! 


Who's in?!

**All photos from Tough Mudder VA Facebook page**

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