A year’s worth of dreaming, 5 months of training and that bucket list item has finally been checked off. It feels OH SO GOOD! Sore, bruised, and tired, but satisfied.
Looking back on my experience with this race is all the time I put into researching it. I didn’t have many details about it, at least none that I felt satisfied with, and whenever I asked someone who had done the race they would tell me all about the feelings you’d go through and how terribly difficult and exciting it was. Some blogs and youtube videos helped get an idea of what to expect but I still felt there as something missing. So I decided to add my own to cents to those would be Mudders and give them my impression of this event, what I experienced, what to expect and practical information that might come in handy. I was thinking about how I’d do this recap. I want to leave a record of this experience in enough detail that I can draw from for future reference. So my recap will be a first timer’s account of what a Tough Mudder experience is like and notes on what I learned to be better prepared for future Tough Mudders. Yes, I said it: future Tough Mudder. I have every intention of doing this again next year. For the sake of brevity Tough Mudder will now be referred to as TM.
Disclaimer before I continue: I am in no way an expert on exercise or nutrition. The following recap is a collection of observations and notes based on my personal experience doing this event. These observations and suggestions are by no means universal to all readers but I they could be useful to someone interested in doing this obstacle course.
Let’s start with my beginner’s stats: A little bit about me when I did this race. I am 5’6″ female weighing in at 230 lbs. By all measurements I am a big girl, overweight actually. I’ve also been exercising for consistently for about 2 years.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN– Tough Mudder has is aura about it that can both enticing and intimidating. Photos, videos, first hand accounts of electroshock therapy and arctic enemas give Tough Mudder the impression of a highly arduous and even dangerous race where all who attend are just asking for intense bruising, broken bones or worse. To some that is frightening, “no way” “that sounds scary” and “I can’t do that” “I’m not in hat kind of shape” are common things I’ve heard when I talk about Tough Mudder. Many of these concerns stem from a suspicion that they are neither physically ready or capable of performing the obstacles and as such are intimidated at the thought of taking them on. I had many of the same concerns, mainly of any obstacles that required me to lift my body weight. In the end there were some obstacles that were beyond my physical abilities but I will also state that is not the point of Tough Mudder, FINISHING the race is the goal of Tough Mudder. More importantly, finishing as a team is key to enjoying the full experience Tough Mudder hast to offer. There will be unexpected surprises throughout the event but what’s important is not feeling daunted by the distance or obstacles but experiencing a different challenge and knowing that you won’t go through it alone. There is always someone to lend you a hand and get you through. With that in mind it only helps to be prepared and have a plan to help your odds of finishing in good health and good spirits.
You need to have a plan
HOW I TRAINED: You cannot skip on training! Jumping into a TM without some physical conditioning and proper nutrition is setting yourself up for injury and/or a longer recovery period than necessary. With that said I signed up for TM 5 months beforehand and took it upon myself to exercise and train with this race in mind. It didn’t involve a huge adjustment in my workout routine. I exercise 5-6 days a week. Monday through Friday I did early morning cardio kickboxing or boot camps at my gym with two days of Zumba in the afternoon. Saturday was usually reserved for morning jogs or hikes or the whole weekend off. When it comes to training for the running of TM I don’t think that working you way to 10 mile runs is necessary, although it is certainly helpful and would make you a badass (why not add another 3 miles and make it an even half marathon). Working your way up to a 5 mile run at an even and decent pace would get you through TM. Also with me a 5 mile run gave me a good idea of how my body would react to running longer distances so I could watch out for things like cramping, nerve pinching, limbs going numb or issues that might come up as a result of improper running form (which I have).
TM is a very physically challenging event. I suppose with very few exceptions this is not an event you can show up to just to see what happens. TM is meant to challenge you physically and mentally. It tests your strength, stamina and mental grit. Have a plan and commit to it. It doesn’t have to be insanely arduous, what’s important is that it challenges you every time go into your training sessions so you body reacts, adapts and improves over time. I highly recommend the Tough Mudder Boot Camp Training page for training suggestions. There are loads of resources online and there is always the option of finding a fitness trainer who is familiar with these type of events. The goal of training is to build your body up to it’s optimal condition by the time you get to the event because for the average Joe, Tough Mudder really will be the most challenging event they will face so make sure you train.
THE MISTAKE OF TRAINING THE WEEK OF THE EVENT: On that note of training I should also extend a warning on excessive training, especially in the day or days preceding Tough Mudder. Overloading the body with physical stress without allowing it to properly adapt and recuperate is the precursor to injury. I say this from the experience of my running partner who had taken a month-long break from working out just to pick up his intense leg workouts two days before TM; and he deeply regretted that. Right around mile 7 his legs were cramping so badly he could no longer run and we walked the last 3 miles an skip two of the last obstacles. You can always go to the handy internet to find information on the most effective training cycles and I encourage you to read up on the topics of training cycles and periodization for your own benefit.
HYDRATE: I can’t tell you how important it is to go into this obstacle course having been well hydrated. By that don’t mean make sure to drink lots of water before the event. I mean make sure you are drinking A LOT of water at least a week beforehand primarily to avoid the dreaded cramps. Like my running partner I also had to deal with bad leg craps but I attribute that to being dehydrated. Properly hydrating your muscles so they perform at their best takes time and chugging a gallon of water the day before is not going to do it. Now, when it comes to how much water you should be drinking there are many suggestions you can follow but my go-to rule of thumb is drink enough water so your pee is pretty clear for several days in a row. Gross? Maybe, but it’s a no-nonsense way to observe your body and know if you are getting enough to drink. In general I have a hard time drinking enough water and my calves hated me for it. So heed my warning: DRINK! Drink ’till your pee is clear! There, I said it.
CRAMPS WILL TAKE YOU DOWN: right around mile 6 you start to see the casualties of poor nutrition, over-training and/or dehydration. Young, agile people would be strewn on the ground, massaging their legs and leaning their toes against a rock to stretch their calves. The further we went the more the bodies stood on the side of the tracks trying to will their bodies into movement again. Most of us grit our teeth to finish the event, but I will tell you that we all felt the consequences over the next few days so a recovery plan is also helpful.
PLAN YOUR RECOVERY: Keep in mind that training for Tough Mudder doesn’t end when you get to the event. It’s important to have a plan for recovering for such a grueling challenge you put you body through. When you think about it, when was the last time you had a 3 to 4 hour workout of the most intense, vomit-inducing nature? Not often. And if an hour of boot camp has you sore for days 4 hours of intense physical exertion will hurt even more. YOU WILL BE SORE, your muscles will ache, your bones will crack, you will be tired, extra hungry and thirsty. You’re whole body will be asking for attention so take care of it. Recovery options include: continue drinking plenty of water, don’t slack on your meal plan (now more than ever is when your body needs the best nutrients you can offer it to recover properly), contrast baths (hot water, cold water, hot again, etc), epsom salt baths, foam rollers to work out the lactic acid an knots in the muscles and keep exercising int he days following TM to avoid muscle atrophy. Don’t neglect your post-event recovery or you will be looking at an extended rehabilitation period for your body to back to normal.
GETTING THERE: TM gets more popular every year and a lot of people attend Tough Mudder to run or spectate. Since this race took place in a lake resort away from the town that meant two lane roads and a lot of traffic. I paid $10 for shuttle parking which was parking about 5 miles away in a lot, waiting in line for an hour to load onto a school bus and another 45 minutes or so of riding in stop and go traffic on a two way road to the lake resort where the course was. Then a 20-30 minute walk from the shuttle drop off site to the registration. Next year I plan on upgrading to priority parking which is on site of the course. I’m forking over the extra $15 to cut back on the shuttle wait time and even if the drive out is just as long at least I’m in a car with heat.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME: It took one hour to get to the TM course and roughly and close to two hours to get back to our car. Overall it took us about 8 hours to leave an return to our car. We arrived 30 minutes before our start time and we had to run to get to the very last group leaving for the day. We made it just fine, we rushed through registration and by the time we were done it was too dark to visit any of the vendor tents, we just left. The lesson is, give yourself enough time.
Miscellaneous notes about Tough Mudder
THE DIVERSITY OF MUD- It’s said that eskimos have 50 words to describe snow. The same can be said for mud and Tough Mudder organizers, they have somehow found dozens of different ways to create mud. There’s mud that sloshes, mud that sticks, mud that feels like clay, muddy gravel, dark pasty mud, brown mud, red mud, black mud, mud that’s sandy, mud that feels like pancake batter; each adding it’s own challenge to the course. You don’t realize just how versatile that water/dirt mix is until you have to tread through it for 10 miles in a few hours. In a way it makes you appreciate nature, in another it’s an unexpected element of the course most people don’t think about. There’s nothing you can really do to prepare for it, just an interesting note about the event.
PHOTOS- If you wish to immortalize your Tough Mudder experience with photos there are a few tips I have found helpful for next year. I didn’t have a camera with me nor did I have friends of family there to take photos so the next option is to rely on the guys at MarathonFoto, the trusty photographers that work the Tough Mudder event. These guys and gals are located in 5 designated Photo Zones: the start line, 3 obstacles and the finish line. The obstacles they are at vary but the will try their best to get as many photos of Mudders so you’ll get at least one photo of you. The Wednesday following the TM race photos will be uploaded to the Tough Mudder Photos page where you can search for photos of you based on your name and/or bib number. That being said: to increase your chances of getting some good photos of you at the event make sure that your bib number is clearly visible in the front of your body. That is the only way they can identify the photos. You can’t browse a truckload of photos in hopes of finding yourself, they categorize all photos based on visible bib numbers so make sure yours is visible. Before the race there are stations among the registration an vendor tents where you can write your number on your body with a permanent maker. Take advantage of that sharpie and get that bib number anywhere from your forehead, arms, legs and/or neck (I actually saw that) so it can be easier for your photos to get uploaded with the rest. You should also note that taking this route of depending on TM to provide you with photos means you will have to PAY FOR THE RIGHT TO DOWNLOAD the photos to your computer and/or have them printed. I paid $22 to download a single photo to my computer an I had 6 days from the time I paid to the day the link to download was deactivated. It sounds like a bit of $ for a digital photo but the law of supply and demand prevailed: I wanted that photo bad enough that I was willing to pay for it. TM uploads a few photos on their facebook page of the day of the event but there is no guarantee out of the thousands of participants yours will be one of the two hundred or so photos that get uploaded. If you’d like to increase your chances of getting your photo from facebook then I suggest you go in one of the early heats of the day since most of the photos look like they were taken early in the morning and on a pristine obstacle course. Let me tell you that after having thousands of muddy feet tramp through that resort the obstacle course looked as muddy and worn as the people who finished it. Also, keep an eye out for photographers and make sure you can see them or they will not see you. Other than that, if you want to have photos of yourself at TM I suggest you ask friends or family to be there, cheer you on and have a camera handy. Spectators have to pay to watch as well, $40 at the door or $20 preregistered. They will get a handy map with spectator routes to help them find you at the most exciting obstacles.
IT GETS COLD: Know that you will be cold at Tough Mudder. Especially if you’re doing TM during the fall or winter months. One of the few bad experiences I can say I had with TM was dealing with the cold after the event. I did the last heat of the day which mean I finished just as the sun was setting. After running through cold, muddy water and once the exhilaration of finishing wears off the col sets in. We decided to catch the shuttle back to our parking lot right after we crossed without changing. Little did we know that it would take us another hour to get back to our car after waiting in line for the shuttle and dealing with stop and go traffic on a two way street. Waiting for the shuttle as it got dark and cold was awful. The line was long and the shuttles were slow as heck. Eventually TM employees started handing out space blankets out of worry some people would become susceptible to hypothermia. By the time we got to the car we were shivering uncontrollably and we weren’t able to get warm again until we took a hot shower another hour after we left the event (we had to eat right?). BE PREPARED you can take a bag and check it in at the event. Make sure to pack a warm set of clothes and change right after you finish, there will be plenty of porta potties and if you’re up for it an open-air station where you can rinse off.
ABSORB THE PRIDE: Crossing that finish line feels exhilarating. Wet, muddy, bruised, exhausted, sore an
TOUGH MUDDER COURSE RECAP- what follows is an account of the obstacles at Tough Mudder So Cal 2013. The course varies by location and this may just prove to be a taste what any one Mudder will experience at their location. The point is to provide an idea of what to expect. One thing you should note is that this course never lets up. It’s always different, challenging, fun and of course, muddy.
STARTING LINE– TM doesn’t miss a chance to test you and nothing says ‘This course is about to kick your ass.’ like having to scale a wall just to get to the starting line. Now I have to state here that wall climbing was one of my biggest worries since I have little experience and upper body strength compared to my legs. But they offer three wall heights and climbing options: a wall with nothing, a wall with ropes and a wall with small climbing pegs (which I used). This is also where you get to hear the deep dulcet tones of The Voice of Tough Mudder Sean Corvelle. This guy is a staple of TM and adds to the feel of the event. He also does a great job of psyching the crowd up. High five the man as you run past the starting get, he’s amazing.
Once you get started the going is slow, everything is bottle necked but once the crowd dissipates after the first hundred yards or so it’s all on you to keep moving. The courses are roughly a quarter to a half mile apart so be prepared to run/jog/walk a lot.
KISS OF MUD: ‘Welcome! Now get down on your belly, crawl and get dirty’ Get low, crawl and keep your butt down or you’ll get caught in the barbed wire, like I did. Poor pants…
HA HA DITCH: There’s a dirt ditch about 8 feet wide, get across it. Pretty simple.
ELECTRIC EEL: This is one of their more well known obstacles. ‘Tis but a taste, a precursor to the infamous Electroshock Therapy. You crawl like Kiss of Mud but with wires hanging down. Some are charged to give you a quick sock which sucks but what this obstacle does it jar your senses since there’s no knowing when you’ll get shocked while a guy with a huge hose sprays the obstacle with cold lake water. You don’t know if you’re feeling the shock of a wire or cold droplets of water. It seems they feel crappy in similar measure.
FUNKY MONKEY: Remember when you used to climb monkey bars during recess? At some point in our lives most of us realized it wasn’t a useful skill for us to develop and we left it behind. Oh how I wish I had stuck to it. If you tried and failed at Funky Monkey the alternative was falling into a pool of cold muddy water which can shock you into forgetting how to swim. Such a thing happened to me. I made it three bars before diving in. I split second of panic when I hit the cold water and trying to find the bottom to push myself up, rising out of the water, forgetting everything except the need to GET OUT. Gasping and dog paddling across the pool I managed to get across having swallowed one or two gulps of muddy water and spitting out a discarded glove. YUM!
HURDLES: A precursor to Berlin Walls hurdles can be anything from elevated logs, hay stacks or in this case a series of three 5 foot walls you had to get over. I quick jump, leg over and rolling to the other side took care of the obstacle with little problems. That’s the thing about TM, the throw stuff at you that makes you THINK you can take on this course before throwing the daunting obstacles your way. These are just warmups.
HAZARDS: This is where you get to enjoy the scenery of the locale and go for a good jog. Hazards is climbing up a and running along the ridge of a mountain and along the way you’ll get physical challenges to keep you working. Challenges include: 30 lunges downhill, 30 lunges uphill, 40 yard dash, wheelbarrow with a partner and switch after 15 yards.
GLORY BLADES: Once you come off the other side of this mountain at the bottom Glory Blades await. Three 6 foot walls angled at a 45 degree angle. This is one of those obstacles where teamwork really comes in handy because there’s nothing to push off of it’s all upper body, a buddy giving you a leg up helps get over the wall to easily slide down the other side.
WALK THE PLANK: I will regretfully admit that I chickened out of this obstacle. I had every intention of tackling this challenge. My running partner is training to be a para-rescue jumper with the Airforce an he made a point of telling me that the key to stepping up the the challenge of jumping of a high plank into water is not to think about it to prevent any doubt from sneaking in. Once doubt enters the picture fear is inevitably going to follow. I climbed up the side of the plank to the top ready to roll. Filed in line to jump and right before the lady in front of me was told to jump she shook her head “Holy shit, I can’t do this!” and shuffled back. That’s all it took. I walked up, looked over the edge that now looked 100 feet tall and had to double back. I made the shameful climb back the way I came and went around the obstacle with my head down to meet my friend climbing out of the pond with a smile on his face. That did no feel all that great. NOTE TO NEWBIES: It’s important to know that you don’t have to do every obstacle. TM spokespeople state clearly and frequently to only do obstacles you can complete without injuring yourself. Looking back I don’t regret skipping this obstacle, if jumping off the plank obstacle resulted in a freakout when I hit the water or vertigo it would not have been worth it.
WARRIOR CARRY: I did get to make up for missing that obstacle with the next one. Warrior carry is when you get to partner up to carry your partner on piggyback across a 50 yards field then switching and having them carry you the remaining 50 yards. I will proudly say that I carried my 170 lb running partner all 100 yards. And I looked like a badass doing it.
TWINKLE TOES: This one was fun. There’s a 30 foot wide pond, a log stretching across it and a few steps in between to add a challenge. If you lose your balance you fall, in cold water of course. Move with confidence, use your arms for balance and keep your steps steady or end up in the water like this Mudder.
ARCTIC ENEMA: This is by far one of two signature obstacles at Tough Mudder. When you get there you can hear a lot of whooping an hollering which at first I confused with cheering. There’s a big waste container full of water an ice. It’s difficult to describe the immediate and painful reaction the body goes through when first entering that icy water. Stabbing, cold water that shocks the body. As soon as I hit the water he only thing I could think of was getting out of that container as soon as humanly possible; and that was not soon enough. Once I got out I realized the hollering was not cheering but people yelling out their pain and shock- me included. If you’re not careful the shock of the cold can take you down. There were people on the ground shaking uncontrollably with paramedics by their side. I saw this, my buddy saw this an he gave me the best advice: Run Josa! Just get moving! That’s the key, as soon as you get out start moving again as soon as possible. Don’t let the cold take you down.
JESUS WALKS: So you just crawled out of an a shockingly iced bath and you’re just about ready to cut glass with your nips, but hey at least you’re clean. Well Mudder get right back in that beautifying mud. But be careful in that mud are hidden pot-holes that will have you hip deep in the brown stuff. Once you’re good and dirty but still freezing, it’s time to run.
BUSHWACKED: And run you do! Right into some brush. So watch your step of you’ll get a branch smacking your face. After you get through the brush it’s just about a mile’s worth of running through soft powdery sand.
BOA CONSTRICTOR: TM is full of obstacles meant to test your possible fear of enclosed spaces. The obstacle is straightforward enough, crawl down a long pipe, crawl through mud to the next pipe, crawl back out. The real trick is the perspective you have when you come to that pipe looking down it seems like an endless abyss where you crawl through a void following a tiny beam of light at the end. Fear not, anyone can make it through.
MYSTERY 1 (AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR): I couldn’t find a TM photo of this event but it was one of the more fun ones. It’s done on a smaller, muddier scale but damn if it’s not as challenging. JUMP JOSA JUMP FOR YOUR LIFE!! Watch your heels…
HOLD YOUR WOOD: Tough Mudder has a thing for double entendres. In this challenge you get the choice of log size and weight to carry on your own or with your buddies. It’s not a long trek but it does to job of making you work.
TRENCH WARFARE: If you are claustrophobic this will be an interesting obstacle for you. There is a hole in a ground that shows little to no light, you crawl in this tight space and wind through 90 degree turns. The turns make you wonder just how long this trench really is and that adds to the claustrophobic feeling of this thing.
MYSTERY 2 (‘L’ WALL CRAWL): This was a fun new challenge TM added to this course. You crawl through yet another trench structure to find yourself wedged between two calls. You have you crawl your way up the wall using a select number of pegs to hoist yourself up then crawl down the other side. Since you are a few miles into this race this is right around the time cramps could start kicking in so again I must stress the importance of stretching and hydration before the event. This obstacle is killer on your calves.
CAGE CRAWL: This is one of those obstacles that fires up your imagination about being in a treacherous situation. It seems like a harmless enough obstacle: You float face up and use a fence to pull yourself to the other side. This set up though, creates a similar claustrophobic feeling similar to the trench. But at the end you are happy to get out of the chilly water and start moving again.
DEATH MARCH- This obstacle proved to live up to it’s name and just about describes what you go through. This an understimated an unerappreciated part of the Tough Mudder obstacle course. At the start of this trek everyone has to climb up the side mountain, roughly 100 yards up a very steep incline in soft sand and gravel. If you’ve ever done mountain climber exercises this is exactly where you put them to use for the next 100 yards. This isn’t so much a climb as it is a crawl up. Your feet and hands sink into the soft dirt as your crawl, gravel and sand are constantly running down over you making the terrain change in a matter of seconds. I distinctly remember being surrounded by people, all of us huffing, straining, moaning and even crying out in frustration and exhaustion as we worked our way up. There is a real sense of community as all of you struggle together, super fit or average, this crawl will challenge your mental grit and stamina. There is nobody to help you back down if you decide you’re done with the race. You have no choice but to keep moving and even though it’s awful you have to muster the strength and willingness to finish. It’s an exhausting start to the rest of the mile that follows down a narrow path you have to run. At the end of the mile there is yet another steep path down the other side of the mountain.
MUD MILE- After you’ve worked your legs to their breaking point through this mountain path you are met at the bottom with more mud and crawling. Mud Mile is a series of trenches and pits you have to crawl over covered in soft, clay like mud. The tough part isn’t the trenches, they are about 5 feet high, it’s the mud that makes everything slippery. The best trail running shoes lose all traction in this kind of mud, it sludges and cakes over you, you can’t get a grip on anything except other Mudders that are more than willing to help you. It’s awesome and terrible all at once.
BERLIN WALL- This is a staple of the TM course, it’s a 10-12 foot wall, about 3 feet up there is a thing ledge from which you have to hoist yourself up while, what I assume to be a drill sergeant, yells at you to get up that wall.
LUMBERJACKED- The obstacle itself wouldn’t be terribly difficult- it’s a log propped up about chest high that you have to jump and roll over- the real challenge comes from the thick cakey mud you have to jump in. This mud sucks you in and give you no leverage to jump. My recommendation for this is to find the line at either end of the obstacle where the ground is more stable and gives you leverage to jump. From my observation that section of the obstacle had the most success getting over it while I had to crawl under said log rubbing my head because someone landed on my noggin after they feel trying to make the jump.
SOGGY BOTTOM- At this point in the race you are exhausted and cold, this is when TM find it appropriate to tell you to jump in the lake and treat some cold lake water. I think it’s an effort to shock everyone awake towards the end of the race.
EVEREST- You’re just about done, but you can’t leave this race without the mother of all obstacles. Everest is one of the most recognizable obstacles of Tough Mudder. It’s an staple of the race and requires all elements of a person’s strength, agility, stamina and determination. It’s truly an intimidating obstacle, attempting and conquering this seals the deal of your Tough Mudder-dom.
ELECTROSHOCK THERAPY- The very last, crowning achievement every Tough Mudder must overcome is the dreaded electroshock therapy. It takes all of 10 seconds to get through if you run, but the anticipation kills you and it takes a while to get yourself riled up to get through it. You do have the option of walking through it like you would a land mine, trying to avoid the wires that will give you the most shock, but what’s the fun in that?
Run your way through the shock and be greeted with a cheering crowd and an orange headband to crown your muddy head having rightfully earned your Tough Mudder title and join the throngs of finishers happy to finish and eager to put themselves through this hell again.
It’s the best feeling in the world!!
I hope this helps shed some light on the spectacular event. Any Tough Mudder alumni feel free to leave any comments and additional notes below. Any inquiries are welcome as well.
Now go out there, sign you and a team up and enjoy your Tough Mudder!