13 miles (even though they said it was 11), 6 hours (even though they said it would take 3), 2,600 feet elevation (I wonder if they lied about that, too), 25 obstacle courses (everything felt like an obstacle course) and a collective pint of mud water (approximately) swallowed later, I am spent.
I run daily, have quality gym time at least every other day, and eat fairly healthy, but dude, Tough Mudder completely kicked my ass yesterday in ways that I didn't even know were possible. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I dropped so many f-bombs on the course and continue to do so even now a day after the fact, but I'll try my best to keep this post PG-13.
First off, I never thought I would ever do anything like Tough Mudder. I'm a germaphobic girly girl who's a gym and yoga studio rat and whose idea of an outdoor run is on pavement around a man-made lake of an urban city park. The most hardcore athletic event that I had ever participated in was a 10k run in a park three weeks ago. But after a couple of cocktails with my girlfriends back in May, I got talked into it. When I came to the next morning and actually took the time to really read up on it, my first thought was, "what the heck did I get myself into?!" I could've backed out, but I decided to commit to it with simultaneous feelings of fear and excitement. I love doing things outside of my comfort zone.
My Tough Mudder day started with a 6:30 AM wake up text message from them. 6:30 AM and they were already talking smack.
I took their advice and made breakfast for the gang: ~*carbilicious*~ Swedish pancakes
And we were off to the Squaw Valley Resort!
We picked up our badges
Got marked on our foreheads and either arm or leg for easy identification in photos (or if ya know, they find us in a ditch because we did sign what they call a "death waiver")
And we were off to the starting line! The first sign that sh*t was about to go down when we started: they set off a bunch of smoke bombs right at the starting line that made it hard to see and breath.
Second sign: HUGE muscle-y Marines hurling GIGANTIC stability balls at us as we were going up a steep hill. Not the wimpy stability balls that you see at the gym; I'm talking at least six foot circumference balls at full speed. Not only that, but they were taunting us, "Stop walking, START RUNNING!". I got near knocked out by one. Fortunately, another Mudder propped me back up. Oh, and this was literally the very first minute of Tough Mudder and I don't think that those two things were even considered obstacle courses.
I stopped counting signs of my imminent death after that.
Throughout the entire run, there were hilariously awesome signs along the way to keep us amused. Some of my favorites were:
What hill? (These signs were at the bottom of several inclines and each time I saw one, I wanted to give it the bird)
The Donner Party feasted here. (They did resort to cannibalism not too far away from the site)
Chuck Norris never completed a Tough Mudder. (I think he should fix this)
When was the last time you really earned a beer? (Sad part is that I was so shot at the end that I could barely swallow my beer)
If you were doing the Warrior Dash, you'd be done by now, but at Tough Mudder, you're just getting started. (This was at 3.1 miles, and they were not lying)
Not finishing Tough Mudder isn't embarrassing; signing up for a 3 mile mud run is. (Oh snap!)
Here are some of the hardcore courses that I encountered during Tough Mudder NorCal 2011:
Kiss of Mud
This was the first obstacle and with barbed wire hanging just eight inches above the ground and mud water and gravel below us, we literally ate dirt. This obstacle was about five minutes into the event, and though it totally sucked and was disgusting, it was a blessing in disguise as it put a "Screw it, let's just do this, I'm ready for anything" mentality in me.
This was one of the first obstacle courses and one of the two obstacles that I didn't even try. The reason I didn't try was because I had gotten LASIK last month and though my surgeon said that it would be fine, I wanted to veer on the side of safe and skip over any courses that involved my eyes going underwater (as you'll see later though, that rule went right out the door, several times over). So what is this obstacle? Basically a big container of ice with a wood panel in the center that you have to swim under to get through. There were huge Marines using bulldozers to continually shovel ice cubes in as people tried to swim through, and some of them weren't just little ice cubes; one of my teammates swam into a chunk of ice the size of a shoe box. I heard a lot of people say later that this was the worst of all the obstacle courses. All that I saw on the other side were people gasping, shivering, jumping up and down and using a lot of profanity plus words like "needles" and "knives" to describe it.
By far the best overheard reaction from this, though, was, "OH MY GOD, someone kick me in the d*ck, QUICK, it'll feel better!" (cue to 0:54)
There was an insanely long line for this one. This was the one that I enjoyed witnessing the most. It's a slippery quarter pipe -- think skateboarding ramp -- and to get your way to the top takes some serious team efforts. It wasn't just teams helping out their teammates; all Mudders were helping each other. You could try running up the ramp, but for folks who can't, the best strategy takes a three person operation down below and at least two people at the top. All must be strong. At the bottom, one person lies on their back and another holds their feet in place, then the third person climbs up on top of the first person and lies down on his back while stepping on the first guy's shoulders. The person who is actually going up crawls up both people and is pulled up by several people at the top. I had trouble crawling up the guys and one of the guys who I crawled up said, "It's okay, you can step on my chest. It's fine. Seriously". Wow.
People cheered for the most random things, like when a more portly person got over, when someone who fell (and when you fall, you take out like, 10 people on the way down), tried again, and achieved, when an inflatable dinosaur got over, when a team of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got over, and my favorite -- when a guy in just an American flag Speedo got to the top and the whole crowd chanted, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"
Ugh, I hated this one. I thought I had pretty good core and upper body strength, but I fell into the water after I made it to the second bar. Not were the handles slippery, but they also spun, AND it wasn't like they went straight across; they actually went UP. The trick is to gain momentum and go fast, which I couldn't. This was my first dunk in a body of water and it SUCKED. Fortunately, it was shallow enough that I could walk to the other end. This is one of the obstacle courses where I thought, "You jerks", as in the sadistic dudes who created this.
That thing that I mentioned earlier about not having my eyes go underwater because I had just gotten LASIK? Out the door. I went through every underwater obstacle after this.
Log Jammin' This was a fun, but wimpy one. So wimpy in fact, that no one bothered taking pictures of it because I can't find any. Basically, it's just an apparatus of logs. Climb up one set of logs, then crawl through another and keep alternating till you're all the way through. There's barbed wire to cut through between every set of logs and the bottom of mud. During the last set of logs that you go under, there was a big enough opening for me to roll through, so I did. Like a pig.
I never thought I'd roll through mud just for kicks.
By far the easiest obstacle course. So easy, I'm smiling as I do it. My teammate behind me? Not so much. Why? Because his 6'5 frame wouldn't allow him to crawl the way 5'3 me was able to. Thanks to him and the other tall guy in front of me, I don't think I ever even came in contact with the net. This was also the only obstacle course with snow in it, which is another time when my weightlifting gloves came in real handy.
Twelve foot high walls to scale and they come in pairs. This was one of the first courses and they're described as "tough enough when dry, but really fun when wet". Tall guys can run up it, but short girls like me need a boost. What's cute is that one girl got to the top, looked over and exclaimed, "there's nowhere for me to land!". Girl, you're suppose to just jump those twelve feet.
Later on, when I got to the approximately 10.75 mile mark, there was a second set of Berlin Walls. My first thought was, "Seriously?!".
Hold Your Wood
You can either grab a long log or a short one here. One of my teammates, a much bigger guy, and I decided to team up and grab a longer log together. We were suppose to walk down and then back up in a circle. Big mistake. I made it down, but on the way up, I needed to take several breaks. During one break, a guy who had a mini log asked if we needed help. I gasped, "YES! Can we switch?", so I exchanged my place with the long log for his baby log, which I took to the end of the cliff, propped down and sat on as I took a look at the gorgeous view and caught my breath for a minute.
As a fellow Mudder put it during this obstacle, "I feel like an Egyptian building a pyramid".
This was like ankle twisting central. At least if not done with the right technique. At one point, there was even a sign that said, "There's a good chance you will break your ankle on this obstacle... Sorry." It felt like I was skiing, except without skis and a lot more bumps and dust. My whole foot was just covered in rocks as I slid down an approximately 60 degree angle for what seemed like forever. Aside from this actual Rockslide course, there were actually many other rock slides along the way, just not as long.
A lot of people developed techniques to get through these. When I slid, I always did it at an angle, and when I decided to run, I moreso hopped quickly on my toes and was really light on my feet because if I was any slower and applied any more pressure, there was more of a potential for slipping. I actually almost slipped several times when I slowed down to take a breather, but every time that happened, I caught myself and went straight back to hopping and running.
I hated this one the most. It looked easy, just crawling through tubes, except when you get up close, it turns out that they cut out the bottom of the tube so that don't have an entire round tube to crawl through; you're crawling on jagged pavement, and on top of that, the tubes are filled with rocks and mud water. Once you get through the first tube, you have to duck under barbed wire, then to get under a second tube, which is at an angle, you have to bob down and put your face in the water. And it was really hot and stuffy inside the tube, too. Out of all the courses, this was the most disgusting and had me thinking "You jerks!" the most. I got cuts on my forearm and knees and tore holes in my shirt. It also got me caked from head to toe in mud and gravel.
Walk the Plank
This is the one where I thought I was going to die. At the beginning/bottom, there's a disclaimer that said, "We reserve the right to push you", as in, the Marines at the top of the plank can push you 15 feet into an ice cold lake. When I got to the top of the plank, I just went, because I wanted to go down of my own volition. Holy wow. Jumping 15 feet makes you go underwater about what felt like 5 feet and I had to fight my way back to the top. And having wet, heavy tennis shoes does not help. Even when I got to the top. I totally struggled but fortunately made it to a wooden station in the middle of the lake and got pulled up.
During the 10-15 minute breather that I took to think about how I'd get to shore from that little 5x5 station in the middle of the lake, I pulled out six people who had entered into the same predicament. I could recognize the pain on their faces. When I asked, "You wanna get outta there?", they either nodded vigorously or gasped, "Yes, PLEASE" as they grabbed my hand. We had just gotten all heated up from running miles uphill only to go into the shock of dunking into ice cold water, so a bunch of us had cramped up legs.
This was the second to last obstacle, and unlike all the other ones, this one you couldn't cut through; you HAD to go through this in order to officially complete the event. There was a long line to get up to the plank. Since I used to do gymnastic, ballet and yoga, I had built pretty good core strength and thought, "I got this". The couple in front of me said that they thought our beam wasn't flat and was slightly off center, but it looked okay to me and I went anyways. I went slow and steady and did really well until I got to the midpoint and the beam started wobbling. Then a strong gust of wind blew and I was done . I dunked about three feet into the water and again, I thought I was going to die as I gasped for air and made it to the surface and other side. Some people didn't feel like waiting in line for the beams, so they went straight into the water and swam across. By the way, there's a huge difference between stepping into the water and straight falling into it.
This was the last obstacle course and it wasn't bad at all. I had assumed it would be like the electric wires that some people put around their ponds to keep cats away from their fish. Each wire was said to carry a 10,000 volt shock. Some guys in front of me were saying that the easiest way to get through was to run right through them. I saw all sorts of smoke and sparks and heard screams as they went through. However, I decided on a different strategy -- walking through them slowly. I waited until the wires stopped swinging from when the guys ran through them and then I slowly maneuvered my way through them and it worked -- I didn't get shocked.
So what does one receive for finishing? An orange headband (which I'm proudly wear as I type this despite its muddiness), a t-shirt, a beer, and as many Granny Smith apples, bananas, energy bars, protein shakes and organic Swedish fish as you need.
There was an after party and there was suppose to be a concert and a BBQ and all, but I just could not wait to get back to my cabin. My teammates and I had all gotten separated at that point, but fortunately, our cabin was less than a mile away from the resort, so we could just walk back whenever we wanted. I really could not wait to get my wet, muddy clothes off. There were hoses with ice cold water in them to shower, a place for changing, and for shoe donations. I really didn't stick around long to explore much else though.
Even after finishing the obstacle courses, my mind was filled with profanity laden thoughts as I sped walk back to my cabin to take the most rewarding shower of my life. My hair was reminiscent of a bird's nest, especially with the hay and rocks in it, and my washcloth was disgusting.
My teammates and I thought that we were going to have this awesome Tahoe weekend and hang out in the hot tub, check out restaurants and bars in town, drink a bit, etc, etc. But we were so far gone after Tough Mudder that we couldn't fathom doing anything. Getting off the couch and being standing or sitting upright? Completely out of the question. As for the hard alcohol, it went completely untouched. Fortunately for the team, a group of our friends came on the trip, but didn't participate (wimps! ;), so they had energy to make us a delicious protein-filled and carbilicious dinner (thanks, boys!).
What's hilarious is that as each of my typically polite and mild-mannered teammates walked through the front door, every single one looked completely spent and were swearing more than pirates.
Yeah, I'm never doing this again. Actually, never say never; I would never initiate it, but if a friend really wanted to go in the future, I might go, too. Might.
With that said, here are some reflection highlights about Tough Mudder Norcal 2011, Day 1...
Things That Sucked
There were ridiculous waits for some of the obstacles.
So many times when I thought I reached the top, I turned the corner, only to see people the size of ants way up even higher.
The obstacle courses got increasingly difficult as my physical and mental strength gradually weakened.
Not only is there a 2,600 feet ascent, but you start at around 6,000 feet, meaning that you go up close to 9,000 feet. I'm 0 altitude city girl. I could feel my skin drying out and had a slightly more difficult time breathing. I'm so glad that I spent the previous night down the street to acclimate to the altitude.
At one point, I was soaked and completely caked in mud with gravel all over me. ...And then I had to run through bales of hay, which also got stuck all over me. To top it off, my lips were dry due to the high altitude. I didn't even bother with licking my lips because they had mud and sand on them, and I couldn't wipe off that mud and sand because my shirt and arms were covered in mud and sand as well.
Towards the end, there was a point when traffic was completely backed up for 45 minutes during a 1 mile stretch. The culprit? A very slight slope on a narrow path. Imagine -- you're soaking wet, dirty and exhausted and 4-5 hours in, you're pretty much just running on purely adrenaline, and then you hit... this.
They said that the course was 11 miles long, but it was actually more like 13.
That average three hours to complete that they mention? Mmmmmmhmmmm -- it was more like five to six.
I drank about a pint of mud water collectively.
Also, the girly girl in me has to add -- something in all those bodies of water that I fell into totally killed my Brazilian Blowout.
Things That Were Awesome
The spirit of my fellow Tough Mudders. Even if you didn't go with a team, everyone was your teammate. There was a lot of love, positivity and camaraderie.
THE GIANT INFLATABLE DINOSAUR (see photo towards top of review). One team brought a giant inflatable dinosaur with a mohawk along with them and the dinosaur pretty much went through every single course. I'm willing to bet that that dinosaur completed more courses than I did and I hope he got an orange headband. To carry a giant inflatable dinosaur through all this? Now that's commitment.
Though the registration fees are hefty and it seems masochistic to pay so much money to put yourself through all this, it actually went towards The Wounded Warrior Project and Tough Mudder has raised several million dollars for WWP so far.
For as much complaining that I've done, I'm really glad that I did this and I feel like a total BAMF for having earned my orange headband.
Tips for Aspiring Mudders
Wear gloves. There's snow and gravel to crawl through.
Have a substantial meal the night before. You're going to want that carb-load.
Unless your headband and sunglasses are securely-fastened, don't bother wearing them because you'll just lose them when you fall into the mud water pits.
Wear fast drying, athletic clothes. Right down to your underwear and socks. Do not under any circumstances wear anything cotton. It'll just cling to you and weigh you down when you get wet. Performance underwear and clothing all the way.
Take advantage of every water and snack station.
Do not overexert yourself in the first few miles. Trust me, you've got sveral more miles to run uphill if you really want to.
Always go to the port-a-potty when you see one. Do not count on the water courses to be your urinal. When I told my non-participating friends that I really needed to pee for the last five miles, they asked, "why didn't you just go in one of the water?", "because that's the last thing on your mind when you're trying not to die".
TRAIN. As I said earlier, nothing will ever fully prepare you for this, but working out and being active in general will only be an advantage to you.
What's crazy is that for us civilians, this was just a one day event. However, in boot camp of the armed forces, I imagine what we experienced by the time we reached the finish line is probably what they experience daily by the time breakfast rolls around. Daily.
As I mentioned, completion of this Tough Mudder took 6 hours as opposed to 3. Tough Mudder HQ sent out an email that night to all the Day 1 folks apologizing in particular for the 45 minute 1 mile backup and offered to let us do Day 2 for free. When I read the email to my team during dinner, everyone immediately cracked up. Two consecutive days of hell? Um... we'll pass.
The day after, I wore my orange headband the entire day. When I stopped off at a gas station in Vacaville on my way back from Tahoe, a group of guys yelled out "TOUGH MUDDER!". When I entered the gas station, another guy wearing a Tough Mudder shirt said, "Nice headband", to which I replied, "Thanks, nice shirt". Later on, when I was walking along Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a group of guys who were wearing their orange headbands yelled out, "WOO! TOUGH MUDDER!" and flashed devil horn gestures as they drove past me while hanging out of their Jeep.
I feel like I got initiated into some sort of elite bro-hood by completing Tough Mudder.
That was definitely one of the most horrible/dumbest/coolest/amazing/awesome things that I have, and will ever do.
9/21 Update: I know I said I might never do this again, but just a few days later and I'm already feeling Tough Mudder withdrawal and am seriously considering flying out to the Tampa one in December or the SoCal one in February! By the way, I'm recovering nicely and have actually been going to the gym every day since. Strictly cardio, though I have a feeling my body will be ready for weights tomorrow.
2/10/12 Update: I got talked into doing it again. Just signed up for the So-Cal one in Temecula that's happening in, gulp, just two weeks. Wish me luck!
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When I'm not Lunching, I'm a jeweler, and an all around, self-proclaimed web geek. My passions include social media, the interweb, technology, writing, yoga, fitness, photography, jewelry, fashion, … more
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Tough Mudder is a series of obstacle course competitions that bill themselves as “probably the toughest one day event on the planet.” According to the New York Times, the event is designed to be “more convivial than marathons and triathlons, but more grueling than shorter runs or novelty events.” For example, Warrior Dash courses are between three and four miles, while Tough Mudder courses are between seven and twelve miles. It is estimated that about 20% of participants do not finish the course.