2018 America’s Toughest South – Central Texas

I loved the 2018 America’s Toughest Mudder South event in Central Texas.

Yes, it’s true. The America’s Toughest Mudder series may have lost some of its grandeur. But, it’s also true that I couldn’t keep a smile off my face throughout this 8-hour, overnight event. So, please stick with me through the negative of this review to read why I would still recommend this Toughest Mudder to endurance-style obstacle racing enthusiasts.


This event seemed to be scaled down and scaled back from what Tough Mudder offered at the end of 2016 and through 2017. Where have the huge, epic obstacles gone? The ones that took your breath away just looking at them? That made you feel like a conquering hero when completing them?

Remember photos from 2016 World’s Toughest Mudder? That gigantic a-frame cargo net with the huge, iconic Toughest nuclear man logo on the side. It stretched into a glowing, other-wordly desert sky. (I don’t have the copyright to the images, but feel free to search Google for them).

Wow, that was impressive. And, okay, maybe we can’t expect that at every event, but there hasn’t been anything comparable.

Kong was once king – crossing multiple stories towering over Hollywood stuntman-like crash pads.

Obstacles like Rainbow, King of Swingers and other t-bar style trapeze obstacles flung you into the sky like some gosh darn superhero or something.

Even Artic Enema was multi-tiered with a ramp sliding you at high speed into the icy water.

Now, Kong took you up only a standard height. The trapeze obstacles were missing. And Artic Enema was just a plop into a giant bin of ice water. So, even though I had fun, I couldn’t help to feel as if something was missing.

But I DID have fun.

The format, starting at midnight and running through the night — watching the moon rise, set, and give way to the rising sun — is amazing.

The venue of McMahan Ranch in Smithville, Texas has wooded paths, some technical single-track trails, ponds, and creeks. All of which were put to use to make a fun, challenging running course.

The running course may have been my favorite part.  Thanks to heavy rain the days before, it varied from slippery mud, grabbing mud, sloppy mud, and in some places, just a little bit of mud. There were twisting, turning single track trails with roots, rocks, and low hanging branches. There were also plenty of wider, dryer paths where you could really run.

The coolest aspect of the course was a quarter mile stretch (it seemed longer) that ran through a rain-swollen creek. I don’t mean it crossed through a creek. I mean you ran in the creek. I am 5’10 ¾“ (I usually round up to 6’4” online) and at times the water level was up to my muscle-rippled chest. And it was dark and lined with encroaching trees. Branches and vines hung down just over head. It made for a cool, surreal experience that reminded me of passages from Hearts of Darkness…. At least it was cool until my fourth loop, when I found myself going through the creek alone. It was very dark. I couldn’t see much of anything past my headlamp, which was dimming by the minute. It was kind of spooky (but still fun).

Between the running in the creek, other natural water crossings and water-based obstacles (including the ever popular The Blockness Monster), you were constantly in and out of water. Thankfully, none of the water was too cold (other than Arctic Enema), the air temperature didn’t drop far below 60 degrees, and wind was negligible.

Just because the obstacles may have been scaled back, doesn’t mean they were all easy.

There were plenty of mud mounds and walls to get over and a small percentage of competitors successfully completed the new Funky Tough variation of Funky Monkey and few could do the grip strength-based Just the Tip (we all have some things to work on).

The race was well run and organized with sufficient volunteers and support.

Most of all I love the opportunity to be out there to compete, challenge myself, and interact with all the great people that make up the OCR community.

Punched in the Mouth – What Happened to my Plan at World’s Toughest Mudder 2016

In 2015, I ran 40 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder. Everything went according to plan. I stayed on the course for the entire 24 hours and had no problems with cold, cramping, or any sort of unexpected maladies. I ran into the night in shorts and no shirt. I felt a little chilly but kept on moving past others who looked to be in trouble, shivering from the cold. By the time I pulled on my wetsuit after sundown, racers were already being pulled off the course for hypothermia. Although I didn’t know it before, I “run hot” — something I should have kept in mind this year.

My nutrition plan in 2015 was spot on as well. It was fairly simple and I suffered no gastrointestinal issues, minimal muscle cramping, and had plenty of energy to stay upbeat and keep warm, moving, smiling, dancing, and singing all day, all night, and into the day again.

I wasn’t fast, but while others were out of the race — by choice or by decree from medical personnel — changed into warm sweats, cuddling in their tents waiting for the sun to rise, I was still gradually chewing up the course, a little bit sleepy towards the end, but with minimal pain, and with a smile on my face.

Entering World’s Toughest Mudder 2016, I set a goal of at least 50 miles. My performance in 2015 should have left me confident — I needed to do everything the same, just move faster. But I had doubts. I faced no adversity in 2015. NOTHING went wrong. How would I respond if something did? I had no idea why I wasn’t cold when everyone else was. What if that was a fluke? What if I got cold this year? What if I got sick or suffered an injury? Would I stay upbeat? Would I continue? Or would I end up in my tent, changed into warm sweats, inside a sleeping bag, waiting for the sun to come up so I could venture back out?

To help deal with this doubt, I paired up with my friend Matt B. Davis, an experienced obstacle racer and a true student of the sport, who had recently completed a 100 mile race. We would form a team and run together to get our 50 miles. He would keep me on pace and keep my head straight (and, come on. He picked me to be his teammate after watching my relentless, 24-hour performance in 2015. I was as much a part of HIS plan as he was mine. I was there to help keep HIM going and keep HIS spirits up).  

My training leading up to World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 was okay. I did a couple of long runs of 17 and 20 miles from my home in Acworth, Georgia, to the top of Kennesaw Mountain and back. Several months earlier I had also run 30 miles with a group of friends on the trails surrounding Kennesaw Mountain.

Strength-wise, I focused on grip and core, greatly increasing both. Also, a few months out from the event, I began to abstain from caffeine. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I cut out Coke, Ice Tea, and all running supplements that contain caffeine. I even switched to decaf green tea. Except for the caffeine in chocolate from time to time, I was caffeine free. I did this to maximize the benefits of caffeine during World’s Toughest. My plan was to begin using race nutrition containing caffeine around 3 am – when I might need to enhance my focus, mood, and energy levels. I also packed a couple of cans of Coca Cola “just in case”.

Matt and I entered World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 excited.

WTM 2016 - J.D. and Matt Pre race

Video capture of the author (in the hat?) and his teammate Matt B. Davis moments before the start of World’s Toughest Mudder 2016.

We ran the first two 5 mile laps as expected – we talked, joked, and laughed with anyone on the course who would pay attention to us.

The night before, Matt and I discussed when we would put on our wetsuits. From past experience, we knew that once the sun begins to set, the temperature quickly drops. Although the forecast was for warmer temperatures, I wanted to err on the side of caution. The sun would set at 4:30 and each lap would take us at least 90 minutes, so we agreed that we’d put on wetsuits if we were starting a lap at 3 pm or later.

As we finished lap 2, we realized that we’d start lap three at about 2:50 pm. Close enough. I made the call to put on our wetsuits.

I pulled on my full wetsuit with air temperatures still in the mid- to high-60s. Right away on lap 3 I felt terrible. I thought it could be just adjusting to running in the wetsuit, but I was roasting. My energy, strength, and attitude quickly plummeted. Matt was now doing all the talking, joking, and high-fiving – all the things I do that make racing fun. I was running in silence, but I didn’t really recognize it as a sign that something was wrong. Matt has a big personality, he’s well known and a former stand-up comedian. Maybe it made sense that he was out talking me and out joking me.

What happened at the Everest 2.0 obstacle, though, should have tipped me off that something was wrong.  As I started my approach to run up the wall, another competitor stepped in front of me, cutting me off. He went up the wall with help and then just kept going. After cutting me off, he didn’t even stop to help the next person (me) up the wall. “Hey ASSHOLE! “ I yelled at him “You FUCKING CUT IN FRONT OF ME AND THEN DON’T EVEN WAIT TO HELP?!” On any other day, I laugh that sort of thing off. I forget about it and carry on.  But I swore at the guy. Loudly. I insulted him directly and even started to walk around the wall to confront him. I was agitated. There was something wrong with me.

Soon my whole body ached. My arms, shoulders, and legs felt exhausted. It was only lap three. I didn’t remember EVER feeling this bad at any point in 2015. We were only two-and-a-half hours into this thing and I felt like I was on hour 27. I started failing obstacles I had no business failing.

I even had to rest climbing up the short ladders that led to obstacle platforms. I felt sick to my stomach and a little bit dizzy. My appendages burned and felt heavy. I thought that I may be coming down with the flu or food poisoning or something.

Matt was going strong. He noticed my trouble and tried to understand — “do you need water?” no, I had drunk steadily from my Camelbak. “Do you need to eat” no, I ate plenty at both of our pit stops.

I didn’t want to hold him back. I told him, very emotionally, that he was going to get 50 miles, but I couldn’t run. He should go ahead. At first, he wouldn’t leave me, but as the sun was setting, we both ended up in the water after failing Double Rainbow. He said he had to run to stay warm and, with my blessing, he took off.

I trudged on. I knew I would finish lap 3, but I didn’t think I could go on all night feeling like this. I knew I couldn’t jump off The Cliff like this. I couldn’t believe that my race was going to be over so soon.

I thought about what it would feel like when I told my wife and my dad that I dropped out after three laps. My wife would, of course, tell me that she and the kids love me. My dad would say “it just wasn’t your day.” But I didn’t want condolences. I thought about all those friends on Facebook, including those outside of the OCR community, who knew I was targeting 50 miles and were tracking me live online. They’d all see that I stopped after 15 miles. I thought about all the money I spent on gear and travel, and the time I was spending away from my family. What a waste. I was embarrassed. I was sad. I was hurting. I was dizzy. I was sick. I felt as if I may puke at any moment, and I was tired.

I rested often. I was sitting halfway up a steep embankment of loose gravel, sand, rocks, and cacti when Sae Sivanesan, a New Zealander I met a couple of years ago, came upon me. He took a look at me and asked if I was okay.

I told him that I felt way worse than I should at this point of the race. “Just keep moving,” Sae said. “It’s a long race, you never know what’s going to happen.” And with that, I crawled to the top of that hill, stood up and walked down the other side. 

A short time later, I stripped my wetsuit down to my waist.

Right away I started to feel better. Not great, but my arms and shoulders felt less fatigued almost instantly. Oh my god!… was this all about my wetsuit?! I was over-heating, maybe even approaching heat exhaustion. I still felt like I was going to vomit. I rooted around in the pocket of my Camelbak hoping to find a Pepto-Bismol tablet or … something… I found a 5-hour Energy that I had stashed there months before. I downed it – I’m not sure if that helped, but I started to think that maybe I’d be okay. I just needed to finish the lap and get out of that wetsuit.

“Get this fucking wetsuit the fuck off of me,” I hollered as I entered my pit. I sat down and called over a couple of pit crew members from nearby sites to help me pull the suit off.

Wow, it felt good to get out of that thing.

My pit crew, Andy Katersky, poured me some Coke over ice. I was breaking into the caffeine about 10 hours earlier than planned. I needed a boost. I hoped it would help with my stomach too, and damn it tasted good.

I was out of that fucking wetsuit, but what was I going to wear now? I still had to go in and out of the water, some of it pretty cold. I needed some protection. Then I remembered that last year I had borrowed a lightweight shorty wetsuit from another Georgia racer, Paul Mitas, for World’s Toughest. I hadn’t used it, but when I tried to return it, he told me to just hold on to it. I had packed it with my miscellaneous gear. I asked Andy to dig it out. I had never even tried on the suit, but I pulled it on and it was perfect. I headed out for lap four.  

WTM 2016 - J.D. at Lap 3

How am I feeling after lap three? Read between the lines.

I still felt sick to my stomach and I still felt drained. But I knew I was going to be able to continue. I didn’t know how many miles I would get, but I wasn’t done at 15.

Lap four was still difficult. I actually threw up a little bit while bent over at the waist stretching my hamstrings. My mid-lower back began to tighten up, I assume from using terrible running form while trudging through lap three. I felt so much better overall, but my back felt increasingly worse. Eventually, the pain made it difficult to take a full breath.

When I entered the pit after lap 4, my back and nausea were my major concerns. I sought out Channing Chernoff, pit crewing for the site next door to ask her about back stretches. We tried a few stretches and a couple yoga poses. When those proved to be too intense, she offered to rub my back. Andy laid a towel out in the dirt and Channing pressed and prodded on me for a few minutes. When we were done, I told Andy to forget most of my nutrition plan. I didn’t want to put it all in my queasy stomach. Besides, I just didn’t need all that food. It wasn’t cold and my body wasn’t burning calories to stay warm. I was only going to drink Tailwind (with caffeine) in my Camelbak and eat chicken soup during my pit stops. I drank some more Coca Cola, downed some Pepto-Bismol, and headed out for lap 5.

My back started to loosen up, my nausea subsided (but never went away), and I felt refreshed. I flew through the next couple of laps. I was running fast (for me) and succeeding at most every obstacle, so I wasn’t running extra penalty distances. My lap times into the evening were considerably faster than earlier in the day. I often surprised Andy when I pulled into the pits way earlier than he expected. We realized that I had a chance to make 50 miles after all.

WTM 2016 - J.D. Laps 5 and 6

Feeling much better after laps five and six.

On lap 6, as I climbed up the ladder at Double Rainbow (a ladder I had to rest half way up on lap 3), who should I hear on the platform above me but Matt B. Davis. Matt was happy and surprised to see me. I caught up to him at the same obstacle that we separated on. Matt noticed right away that I had recovered. I was laughing and joking. I was more than back. I was better than I was on lap 1. Matt fell into the water. I followed by swinging across the obstacle successfully.

I waited for Matt to complete his penalty distance so that we could reunite and start running together again…. But I knew I was running faster and I wasn’t sure if our paces would match up.

When we met up after Matt completed the penalty, he said that he couldn’t run and I should go ahead. I was feeling good. Like REALLY good, so I took off. Matt and I separated again where we separated the first time, going downhill right after Double Rainbow.

I kept moving, running as fast as the terrain allowed. I jumped from The Cliff for the first time on what I thought was lap 7, but when I came into the pits, and exchanged my Camelbak with Andy, he mentioned that I had completed 8 laps. I was sure I completed only 7 and he was equally as sure that it was 8. I went to the official timer and asked what lap I was on. The timer replied “8” and printed me a ticket with my timing information on it. I was happily surprised. I took the ticket to Andy and said “you were right, I have 8,” and handed him the ticket. He took the ticket, folded it, and put it in his pocket.

WTM 2016 - J.D. not sure how many laps

Feeling good after… I’m not sure how many laps.

I had completed 40 miles and it was early. Not only was I going to get 50 miles, I would get 55 and possibly 60. Even though I felt great, I took my foot off the throttle a little bit, but continued to chew up the course.

Two laps later, I’m telling people on the course that this was lap 10 for me. I jumped from The Cliff for the third time and finished the lap celebrating my 50 miles. I went to collect my brown 50-mile bib at the timer’s tent and was told, “You have 9.”

“I have 10 laps.” I told them. “I checked after lap 8 and you printed me a ticket that said 8. I have run two laps since then.” The timer stood up and went “in back” … maybe to check on something? I don’t know, it wasn’t explained to me. After waiting for a few minutes, Andy walked up and I asked him for the ticket. By then, the timer had come back. I opened up the ticket to show him that it said “8 laps” and looked at it for the first time.

It said 7.WTM 2016 - J.D. lap Printout

I now only had 9 laps – one more to get 50 miles. There was more than enough time, but I had run the last 2 laps with the mindset that I achieved my goal and was going to surpass it. Now I had to head back out.

I started running lap 10 fast. I was cramping slightly and a little tired, but I felt strong overall. Most everyone on the course was walking and taking it easy, trying to time their finish close to, but after, the noon end time. I wanted to see if I could get not just one, but two laps in. If I finished lap 10 before noon, I could get out for a final lap. I’d have 90 additional minutes to finish that lap. I had about 3-and-a-half hours to do 2 laps. I thought it was possible.

But at some point I realized that, although I felt that I had the strength and desire, I was slowing down and running out of time. I was doing the math in my head when I got to Everest 2.0. Several racers I know from the WTM community were trying to get Phoebe Brimer, an editor for Obstacle Racing Media, up the wall. I admitted to myself that I was slowing down. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get 2 more laps and stopped to help with their efforts.

I relaxed, but didn’t take it completely easy. I completed all obstacles, other than Funky Monkey – The Revolution. (other than on lap three, I didn’t fail any obstacles except for this Funky Monkey – The revolution, which I failed a few times.)

I wanted to get to The Cliff before noon, when they were going to stop anyone but legitimate contenders from jumping. Everyone else would have to take a bypass. My goal was to reach The Cliff close to noon so I could decide for myself whether to hurry and jump or wait a few minutes and take the bypass (I really think I would have jumped). After I successfully completed Kong for the 9th time, I heard a rumor that The Cliff was closed down early. They were no longer allowing everyone to jump. There was no choice but to take the bypass.

I ran up to The Cliff to see if this was true and it was.

The bypass was through water. I took my time re-securing my shorty wetsuit and completed the bypass. By the time I climbed the cargo net out of the water, it was after 12. Once I completed the quarter mile to the finish line, my race would be over.

I thought about waiting for Matt so that we could finish together, but it had been hours since I had seen or heard anything about him. I didn’t even know if he was still on the course. I could imagine me sitting there waiting for him for an hour while he waited on the other side of the finish line.

I decided to go ahead and finish.  

I made myself presentable —  putting away my hat, fluffing my hair, and straightening out my bib — and finished the race strong, high-fiving spectators lining the finishing chute and playing to the “fans” in the bleachers. I smiled uncontrollably as I crossed the finish line, accepted my 24-hour headband and collected my 50-mile bib, telling the timer “NOW I have 50 miles”. 

I told the timer he was right. I later realized that when I asked what lap I was on, he was telling me that I would be starting lap 8. I thought he was telling me that I had completed lap 8.

Finishing strong is important because that’s where all the cameras are.

I hung out at the finish line, still smiling like a demon and congratulating fellow finishers while looking around for Matt. After several minutes I went back to the pit area to find Joshua Justin Grant who was pit crewing for Matt. I asked him what was going on and he said Matt was still on the course and was going to get 50 miles. That was great news. I hurried back to the finish line. 

Soon I saw Matt and his fabulous, short cropped, newly flaxen hair rounding the corner. I grabbed a headband away from an official finish line greeter and tried to get to the front of the crowd so I could meet Matt as he crossed the finish line and put the headband on his head. I was a moment too slow and someone else put the headband on his head before I could. No big deal. When Matt saw me, he grabbed me and… and… were those tears in his eyes? He threw his arms around me in a very emotional hug and I wished I had waited to finish together as we had planned.


PHOTO CREDITS: Andrew Katersky, Ryan Meade, Tough Mudder

HESCO Bonefrog Carolinas 2016 – Southern Exposure

Over the past few years, the HESCO Bonefrog Challenge has put on events to rave reviews in the Northeast. On July 23, 2016, they brought their brand of obstacle course racing below the Mason-Dixon line for the first time.

Early morning race day and it's already hot Early morning race day and it’s already hot and humid

But, much like what Federal armies experienced in the early days of the civil war, this initial incursion south was not with out its hitches.

The Format
Bonefrog events offer three distances:

  • The Challenge – nine miles, 36 obstacles
  • The Sprint – four miles with a bunch of obstacles, and
  • Tier-1 – both courses back-to-back

There is an option for elite racers to compete for awards at each of the distances. Elite racers get a wristband and must complete all obstacles. If unable to complete an obstacle, the wristband is cutoff. Racers must keep their wristband to be eligible for prize consideration.

Thirty-six obstacles over nine miles is a lot of obstacles. It suggests that you’ll encounter an obstacle every quarter mile. However (at least in South Carolina) several obstacles are grouped close together so you end up running some longer distances before reaching an obstacle.

Now, go read the ORM reviews of Bonefrog Challenge from events in New England and New Jersey, then come back here. No seriously, go read them. But don’t forget to come back because I’ll be waiting …..

Okay. Cool. See what I mean? The reviews are stellar. People love Bonefrog Challenge. You probably saw Josh Chace’s review of the New England race. He wrote, “If you haven’t run a Bonefrog Challenge before, you’re doing OCR wrong.”

I don’t want to do OCR wrong, so I was very excited to experience Bonefrog for myself. But, I came away from the event in Winnsboro, SC (just north of Columbia), with mixed feelings.

The Race
I want to stress that I enjoyed the race, but at the same time Bonefrog definitely had issues in South Carolina. It also had a slew of fun obstacles on a grinding, dirty, rocky, extremely challenging, and at times treacherous (I say this as a good thing) running course that wound in and out of wooded areas which provided some merciful shade on a hot, steamy, southern day.

The Dirty Name obstacle - A gut check or a sternum breaker The Dirty Name obstacle – A gut check or a sternum breaker

The obstacles were interesting, sturdy, well-built variations on your usual monkey bars, rope swings, climbs, cargo nets, carries, walls, rig-like contraptions, and water crossings. A great mix, and lots of fun.

The most difficult obstacle for me was the most significant – it’s called 31 Heroes.

It was difficult because it involved burpees and it came at me for the second time on my last loop of the Tier-1 challenge. As I said, it was HOT. This obstacle was totally exposed to the sun, which was beating down on the course with a vengeful molten lava 2×4.

It was significant because “31 Heroes” refers to 31 fallen Navy SEAL officers. Their names are listed on a banner and you must say a name and complete a burpee — one burpee for every name on the list. Thank you to our service men and women.

31 Heroes - The names live on 31 Heroes – The names live on

The Problems
Races have growing pains and they sometimes make mistakes. When Spartan Race first came to Georgia in 2011, they had bibs for everyone on race morning, but when they started handing them out, they realized there were no safety pins to attach them. I think someone eventually made a Walmart run to buy some. Even recently, Spartan Race has had horrific parking issues at events in Texas. Tough Mudder obstacles have fallen down. Just because a series has some issues, does not necessarily mean that you have to completely write it off. The good series learn from mistakes and comeback with stronger, better events.

Race Directors often say that volunteers make or break a race, and that may have been the key issue with the 2016 Carolina Bonefrog Challenge. There were not enough volunteers. I suspect that they went into race day with fewer volunteers than they wanted, so when 15 registered volunteers didn’t report for duty, Bonefrog staff was left scrambling.

To their credit, they did make sure that all of the well-stocked water stations remained open with 100% volunteer coverage throughout the day. This was incredibly important on a day where temperatures soared to 110 degrees. They weren’t skimping on life support systems – something we’ve previously seen, even at big name races.

But the lack of volunteers was felt elsewhere. A group of elite athletes running the Tier-1 distance veered off in the wrong direction and started on the Sprint course instead of the Challenge course. This spilt in the course would be an obvious post for a volunteer, had been available, pointing out the right way to go.

As the day progressed, some obstacles were left unattended with nobody to direct or watch over them. Even with obstacles being mandatory completion for elites there were no volunteers on hand to monitor and penalize for non-compliance, greatly depreciating the value of keeping your wristband.

Another issue a lack of volunteers may or may not have influenced, was that some obstacles didn’t seem to be completely set up and/or were abandoned with many racers still on the course. None of the really cool ones, but still obstacles that counted towards the “36 obstacles over 9 miles.”

For example, any obstacle that called for crawling was indicated by metal wiring strung across the route. You were supposed to crawl under the wire (you know what I mean, almost all races have you crawling under wire). The wire, however, was not pulled tight. It loosely lay on the ground, spooling up on itself in some places. To crawl under, you had to get down, lift the wire off the ground, and go under it. The wire seemed to be just thrown out there, rather than fully laid out. If this was the intended concept, nobody on the course got it – and there were no volunteers around to give direction. Later, many of these wire crawls were trampled over or just pulled off to the side, no longer an obstacle.

There may have been reasons for this, but based on the information I had (as just a guy out running the course) it just looked like they scrapped the obstacle on the fly.

The Promise
But Bonefrog Challenge shows heart and a lot of promise. It has a history of putting on quality events. They have a great logo, great medals, great race shirts, and great merchandise.

Bonefrog's merch tent - stocked with quality offerings Bonefrog’s merch tent – stocked with quality offerings

I want them to succeed for the selfish reason of “I want to race”. I want them to stick around because I want more dates with QUALITY races on my calendar. I am willing to give them another try and I look forward to them impressing me.

They are coming to Georgia next week and I’ll be there.

Photo credit: HESCO Bonefrog Challenge

Race Terminology – Bonk

In this article, we continue our attempt to take on some terms we believe are being misused in the community. Our first entry was about “Hypothermia” . In this entry to the “Terminology Series,” we take on “bonk”.

The Bonk
“Dude, I was having a great race at the Spartan Beast, but then I bonked at mile 10 after carrying those buckets up the hill. I had to walk the last couple of miles.”

That does suck. I’m sorry you had difficulty with your race, but I really doubt that you actually “bonked”.

To the Brits the term “bonk” may describe a pleasurable act, but to those of us in the Obstacle Racing community (or any endurance sport), bonking describes something most unpleasurable.

Although the exact definition and description of “bonk” varies, depending on your source, most doctors and sports physiologists agree that bonking is not just fatigue. It is not just cramping. It is a specific physiological experience and it is much more severe. For example, one of the symptoms of bonking is “Feeling like you are going to die” That’s not a joke. That is not an exaggeration. Athletes bonking for the first time often start to at least consider the possibility that they are dying. That sounds most unpleasurable.

Bonking is more than just being "really fatigued."
Bonking is more than just being “really fatigued.” Photo Credit: Mark Wiltshire

Here are some other symptoms:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Severe fatigue/weakness
  • Severe muscle cramping
  • Extreme tiredness/sleepiness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Temporary partial loss of vision or hearing
  • Fainting


Generally, bonking is caused by the depletion of the body’s glucose and glycogen. You rely on these blood sugars to produce energy (the body uses glucose first and then begins breaking down stored glycogen to produce glucose). When your glycogen stores get low during a race or training, your brain makes your body slow down. This is fatigue. If you keep pushing and your body continues to deplete its energy source, your brain starts to run low on glycogen. This is the beginning of the bonk.

Your brain doesn’t have the energy it needs to function properly. It goes into self-preservation mode. It doesn’t care about continuing your race. It doesn’t care about completing 75 miles or whatever goals you had going into an event. It only cares about survival.

The body will shut itself down.

It is no longer a case of mind over matter. It is no longer an issue of being tough enough to continue. Your body will NOT continue to perform. You can’t move more than a slow shuffle. Your thinking becomes confused. You can become disoriented. You are in trouble.

It is no longer an issue of being tough enough to continue.
It is no longer an issue of being tough enough to continue. Photo Credit: Mayra Rodriguez

Bonking is not when your calves or quads or hamstrings cramp up so bad on the trail that you cannot run. Bonking is when your legs are cramped up so bad on the trail that you cannot move, but then when race support locates you in the woods you say you don’t need a ride because your wife just called you a cab and it will be there to pick you up any minute. (yes that is an amusing story, but it really did happen to a top competitor in an OCR endurance race).

The body will shut itself down.
The body will shut itself down.

You can help stave off bonking (and many cramping and fatiguing issues) by staying on top of your nutrition. Make sure you are properly fueled heading into an event and make sure you continue to take in calories during the event. (This is not intended as medical advice, consult your doctor, results may vary, some assembly required).

The sources I used for this article are listed below, check them out for more on the science, prevention, and treatment of bonking.

“Difference between Glucose and Glycogen”, http://www.differencebetween.net/science/difference-between-glucose-and-glycogen/

“The Science Behind Bonking”, by Paul Scott, http://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-for-runners/the-science-behind-bonking

“What You Need to Know About the Dreaded Bonk”, by Gale Bernhardt, http://www.active.com/triathlon/articles/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-dreaded-bonk

“Bonking vs. Fatigue vs. Cramping, What You Need to Know” by Jeff Gaudette, http://runnersconnect.net/running-nutrition-articles/bonk-fatigue-cramp/

Savage Race Georgia- A “Colossus” Impact

I started my review of the Spring 2014 Savage Race in Georgia with “Savage Race will return to Georgia in the fall of 2014 and I can’t wait.” Well, on September 27, Savage did return to the Moonlight Stables Equestrienne Center in Dallas, GA, and I was not disappointed.

The six mile, 25 obstacle challenge continues to improve and the overall race day experience is top notch. This edition included a better parking plan, a better course, a couple of new obstacles, and (for better or worse) the elimination of Tazed, the electric shock obstacle.


The traffic flow into the parking lot was simplified from previous events, eliminating traffic backups, long waits to park, and the need for pedestrians to walk through lines of traffic to get to and from the parking area. As in the past, the “parking lot” was an open field (pasture?) with uneven surfaces that resulted in a bumpy, jarring car ride in smaller vehicles, but it is on site, close to the festival area with no need for shuttles.

The race was once again run on the rolling hills of Moonlight Stables. As usual the terrain was among the most challenging obstacles. The course wound up and down the hills, in and out of the woods, but this year the trail followed steeper trails and was more technical and challenging. The tougher running course increased fatigue and drained the energy of racers, making obstacles seem that much more difficult.

Savage Slide

The obstacles of Savage Race feel sturdy, safe, and professionally designed and constructed.

There were the good mud crawls, ice baths, wall climbs, platform jumps, and log carries that we’ve come to love and expect in OCR, as well as some unique favorites that we’ve seen at Savage in Georgia before, including:

  • Saw-Tooth — A savage take on monkey bars over a cold water pit.
  • Missionary Impossible — An uphill, reverse crawl, with your back to the ground on a wet tarpaulin.
  • Pipe Dreams – Set up similar to monkey bars, but with a single pole extended parallel over the water pit.
  • Colossus – One of the tallest, if not THE tallest, quarter-pipe type obstacle wall in obstacle racing. Climb up one side and waterslide down the other to the finish line.

Half Pipe

This was the first race in the Savage series that did not include Tazed, a belly crawl beneath barbwire that also included dangling electrical wires. Some of the wires carried a charge and some didn’t. Touch a charged one and you got tazed, bro.

Tazed was replaced by the rather pedestrian Block Party. Here cinder blocks were tied to ropes and you first pulled the blocks up a small hill, then picked it up and carried it back down to where it started. This obstacle should have been more challenging — the single blocks (or parts of blocks) were too light.

An obstacle that seemed flawed was Kiss My Walls. This obstacle is a traverse wall where a series of small blocks are attached to a wall at random intervals. You move your hands and feet from block to block, climbing laterally across the wall. If you touch the top of the wall or the ground, you fail.

Kiss My Walls

The blocks of Kiss My Walls were placed too far apart, making the obstacle impossible for many shorter participants (especially women) to even attempt.

The atmosphere of the pre- and post-race festival area was positive. Spectators were free to roam the course or stay in the festival area where they could watch participants attempt Colossus and finish on the water slide.

Savage Race features a Junior Savage kids race and invites kids 12 and under to run a mud filled course with smaller versions of some of the climbs and jumps used in the adult race. Kids love it, it is fun to watch, and it gives kids something to look forward to and be proud of on race day.

Pipe Dreams

The kid’s race attracts and is appropriate for kids as young as 4 or 5 years old. However, the smallest t-shirt available is a Youth Large (Size 14 – 16), which is useless for many of the kids who have paid to enter. (This should not persuade you to not let your kids enter the Junior Savage Race. It is a great experience. Kids love it and are excited to get a race bib and a real Savage Race medal at the finish line, if not a shirt that fits.)

Saw Tooth

The biggest complaint heard regarding Savage Race is about official photos. Official photographers were on the course taking photos of participants. You have to pay money to get a full-size digital download of any photo you would like to have from the race. A single photo will cost about $20. Many OCR series have moved to offering race photos for free, including Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, BattleFrog, Rugged Maniac, and Warrior Dash. Savage Race should find a way to move in this direction as well.

Savage Race is consistently a great event and the positives of Savage Race Georgia Fall 2014 strongly overshadow any negatives.

Savage Race will return to Georgia in the spring of 2015 and I can’t wait.

*Photos By: Jennifer Barry with Obstacle Racing Media 

Tough Mudder Michigan- No Virus, No Problem!

No Norovirus? No problem! The wildly contagious virus that plagued several hundred Tough Mudder Michigan participants in 2013 did not repeat its performance in 2014.

The Michigan Department of Public Health determined that in 2013 an already sick participant in an early Saturday wave contaminated a mud or water obstacle. This led to the virus outbreak that infected hundreds who participated at the event held at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS).


Noro did not return to MIS in 2014, but on September 20, Tough Mudder did and sent a reported 26,000 through its familiar challenge of climbs, crawls, slides, and jumps. The 12 mile course wrapped through the 1,400 acre grounds surrounding the “fastest track in NASCAR” located in the scenic Irish Hills area of southeastern Michigan.

The MIS parking lot is equipped to handle tailgating crowds of well over 100,000, so parking at this venue was no problem. The lot was well paved, well-marked, relatively close to the festival area (no shuttles were required), and was easy to exit.

As with most Tough Mudder events, the registration process was smooth, with plenty of well-organized volunteers quickly moving participants through the process.

The race was run mostly on grass over small, but persistent, rolling hills. At times the course wound onto paths through wooded areas, but was primarily out in the open, within view of the gigantic grandstands of MIS.

The 2014 edition of TM Michigan was tougher than 2013, according to second time participant Geoff Roether, a 44 year old from Minneapolis, MN, who traveled to Michigan to race with a group of buddies organized by Michigan resident Mark Simmer.

“We ran for a mile or more before we got to the first obstacle this year,” Roether said. “The Hold Your Wood log carry was longer, the mud hills of the Mud Mile were more slippery with fewer footholds.”

P1260901 - Version 2

Roether also mentioned that several new obstacles were more challenging than previous versions, including Pyramid Scheme — a favorite obstacle among his group of friends.

Pyramid Scheme is a quarter-pipe wall type obstacle. Other quarter-pipe obstacles (including Tough Mudder’s own Everest) leave plenty of room in front so participants can get a running start to scale the wall. Others (including Savage Race’s Colossus and Battlefrog’s Tsunami) have ropes hanging down to help participants scale the wall. Pyramid Scheme has neither. A deep, water filled trench lines the approach to the obstacle, preventing a running start and there are no ropes to help.


To scale this obstacle, racers are forced to work together, stacking themselves in a human pyramid to help each other climb to the top.

“That was my favorite part of the race – the camaraderie. Helping and being helped by teammates and total strangers,” said Dave Navetta, who traveled from Denver, CO, to join Simmer’s group.

“The team aspect of it made it fun,” adds Mark Seward, from New York City. “Tough Mudder should have more team-oriented obstacles.”


“The Michigan event was better than Tough Mudder Chicago,” said Dave Stannard, who lives in suburban Chicago, “It was tougher, longer and I loved the legionnaire obstacle – Fire in the Hole.”

Fire in the Hole is a water slide through honest to goodness flames, one of several obstacles on the Legionnaire’s Loop, a small section of the course open only to repeat Mudder participants. The slide is legitimately fast and the flames legitimately hot. Very exciting and very fun.


“The Monkey Bars (Funky Monkey) seemed easier this year and Artic Enema wasn’t as cold,” said Roether. “And the drinking water on the course was nasty brown.” The nasty brown drinking water is something Tough Mudder HQ should look into.


Another change from last year was the safety improvements of Walk the Plank, the platform jump into a deep pool of water. The platform was noticeable lower, but the real change was the organization and the number of emergency rescue personnel.

Volunteers and staff closely monitored who was jumping and when they jumped. Five jumped at a time and a volunteer was responsible for each jumper. Every jumper was accounted for and cleared the water before the next round was released to jump. In addition, there was at least one water rescue diver in the water at all times and another rescuer on shore.


Tough Mudder Michigan 2014 was another example of a solid entry in the Tough Mudder series. Although some may find that a few obstacles are easier than in the past, the series appears to be maturing with improved obstacle construction, safety measures, and other features to improve the experience for both participants and spectators.

*Photos By: Tough Mudder, J.D. Allen, and Debbie Dawson