I have been getting a lot of messages from people asking me how I accomplished 75 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) this year. I weigh in at over 200 lbs (Clydesdale status) and do not look anything like a runner who can accomplish this kind of feat. Some are curious how I managed the distance, some want advice and tips on how they can up their mileage next year, and I’m sure some are just asking out of morbid curiosity. I wasn’t really expecting the questions or even the curiosity, but maybe my story can help people pick up some tricks to up their performances in their future events.
First, a little back story about me.
I turn 38 next week, a bit old to be trying to really perform in this sport, and I’m also a Clydesdale. Certainly, people in their late-30s can perform, but nearly all of them, I imagine, would tell you it would’ve been easier in their 20s. 5 years ago, I was pushed into this sport; it was not my choice. I was an ever-expanding man approaching my mid-thirties, and probably tipping the scale at around 250 lbs. I’m not even sure about the weight, because I refused to weigh myself after I saw the scale hit 240 once. Also, I have always and still dislike running. My wife signed me up for the Minnesota Warrior Dash in 2011. I was pretty much told I had no choice, pour myself into some gym clothes and get out there to run that ski hill event. I finished that event, and I felt like I was dying. I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t good, and I probably wasn’t standing after crossing the finish line. What I most certainly was, was inspired. A switch had been flipped, and I wanted more.
More is somewhat misleading. Sure, I wanted to find more 5K events, but there was no way I was going to sign up for that freakish 10-12 mile OCR event called Tough Mudder that only crazy people do. No. My friend Dan Kuvaas did, however, sign up for the next year’s Minnesota Tough Mudder, so I went to go spectate with a backpack full of beer. I walked around pounding beers and watched this event and all of its participants, as I got more and more upset I wasn’t actually out there with these people. Dan saw this and looked into future events. He found out the Wisconsin Tough Mudder was just a 5-hour drive, and happening in just a few months. We had to go, and this started the real madness.
To date, I have completed 26 Tough Mudders, including 2 WTMs. I have also completed plenty of other OCR events (Spartan, Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash, etc), 2 marathons, dozens of half marathons, and a handful of Ragnars. Each year, due to my increased OCR activity, I was dropping more and more weight. I was getting better at the events, and overall just feeling healthier. I also make it a point to use Orange Theory Fitness for HIIT training. These classes come in very helpful especially a week or two before an event to jumpstart my cardio if I didn’t have an event the weekend before. My madness started with one Tough Mudder on a Sunday, then both Saturday and Sunday. Next was the crazy idea that we could travel around more, run the course twice on Saturday and once Sunday. This leads up to this year where I participated in a bunch of destination events and started running Saturday 3 times and threw in a Sunday Funday run. If you’ve run more than a few Tough Mudders, you’ve seen me. I’m the guy who runs in the Fishnet shirt.
In 2015, I ran my first World’s Toughest Mudder. I was lucky enough to have met a few people on past courses who had run the event and had good advice. I studied up, learned their tips and tricks, and headed out to Vegas to see what I could do. I finished 50 miles that year in 24 hours 19 minutes and was in 210th place. I was pretty happy with myself. The one thing I did know was that next year would come up quick and that record wouldn’t mean anything anymore, and I wanted to see how much more I could do. Even though I was happy with my performance, I knew the last three laps I was pretty much phoning it in. I knew I had enough time to power walk the course and hit my goal of 50 miles. This would later bother me knowing I didn’t push myself to see how much farther I could go, this wasn’t my best.
If you’ve read this far, great. I promise you it was needed to paint a full picture of how I managed to do what I did this year at World’s Toughest Mudder.
This year, I had a pretty good idea of what I had to do, but I also knew there were a lot of things out of my control such as weather, course, rule changes, etc. The things I could control were nutrition, gear, pit times, course strategy, and overall giving myself the best chance I could going into this event healthy. I’ve struggled with nutrition for years when it comes to physical events of all sizes. I’ve hit the wall more times than I care to admit due to just not being prepared. This wasn’t going to happen this race. Last year I did very well by eating a whole turkey sandwich each lap and making sure I was properly hydrated. I didn’t want to carry around that much extra mass on course this year so I changed it up a bit with even better results.
Tailwind was my nutrition of choice this year; one premixed bottle each lap. I would also have a couple of bites of a turkey sandwich in the pit with a small candy bar. Throughout the race, I also managed to eat a whole jar of pickles, with all of its juice, and half a thermos of hot chicken broth. I had no stomach issues, and my energy levels were up the entire time. I made sure all necessary items were pre-measured and easily accessible to both me and my pit crew member so I could keep pit times down to a minimum. Leading up to the event, I carb loaded for 4 days. I also drank enough water that I was peeing at least 12 times a day. I switched to Pedialyte 2 days before the event. I also didn’t consume any alcohol for 2 weeks before the race.
My gear selection this year was interesting. Last year I brought a full wet suit and 4 pair of Speedcross 3 shoes with Align insoles. I only used one pair of shoes in that 50 miles, so I over packed, lesson learned. My temperature was on point, and I was comfortable the entire race. This year I brought the same suit, but I also brought a pair of Lava pants with me just in case, and I’m very happy I did so. I put my wetsuit on for lap 4, and regretted it the whole time. I came back into the pit and tore that off, switched back to a T-shirt and the lava pants. 4 AM I switched to a long-sleeve shirt, but that was it. I ran the rest of the event as minimally dressed as I could. This was a bit unsettling to Sean Corvelle and the medic crew, as the medics grilled me each time I went out after nightfall with just a T-shirt on. I finally convinced them my Minnesota blood thrives on this weather, and I was good to go. One pair of shoes with insoles served me well the whole race, but of course, I had a back-up pair just in case.
Pit Times are a time suck. Every minute you are not on the course moving forward adds to opportunities lost. I kept all pit times around 5-7 minutes. This was done by having an on-point pit crew member and also having all my needs pre-made and pre-portioned out ready to go. The Cliff opened at midnight, and I was one of the first few off of it. I returned to my pit and made a bold decision to put more pressure on my pit crew member Angie Tieri. I had 40 miles done in 12 hours, but I knew my lap times could potentially get slower on the second half. I told Angie there was a change of plans: I wanted her to anticipate my lap times and carry a backpack with my pre-mixed tailwind, a sandwich, candy bars, and the hot chicken broth to entrance into the pit. My lap times were pretty consistent, just over an hour and a half, so I would run in, eat as fast as I could, and bring my tailwind with me on to the next lap. I was in and out under 3 minutes.
Planning a course strategy is crucial to this event. I love flashy obstacles as much as the next person, but I will forgo the obstacle if I think it’s an energy suck, or if in the long run, it has any potential to seriously hurt my abilities to perform later in the race. If the penalty lap is going in the same direction as the course direction, like Everest, I will take that short welcomed cooling down swim and carry on.
I am the hills’ Bitch. I hate them, and they know it. I deal with this by a very fast power walk. A 14-minute mile walking pace is wonderful if I can keep that up. Watch next time you are on a hill, I bet if you power walk it fast enough, you will almost keep up with people who are running it. The difference is you won’t be tired when you get to the top and the other person will possibly be panting at a dead stop when you breeze by them. I always make up as much time as I can down the hill. If the course is flat, I am running.
Never stop moving forward. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends you have to leave them and reach for your goals. My race was very lonely, and I will say I didn’t get a lot of time to actually enjoy the subtle nuances of the course and event. I was either running too fast for most, or I wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the Cichosz, Atkins, or Mendozas of the race. The people I knew who were my speed I would never see because we were all speeding up and slowing down at the same rates but spread out through the course.
When I made my goal announcement “Facebook official” that I was shooting for 75 miles I could feel the collective eyebrow raise and smirks. I look nothing like a person who can put up that kind of mileage. I look like a guy who loves beer and pizza, mainly because I truly love beer and pizza. I race to eat, and in an odd twist of focus, I eat to race. A week before the event I weighed in as low as 206, and as high as 212, depending on my hydration levels. This kept me solidly in a Clydesdale status.
I put this lofty goal out there so I would have something more substantial to reach for. I expected to land around 60-65 miles, so did many others who knew me well. With some good weather, good planning, and a little bit of cockiness, I was able to not just settle for that goal of 60-65; I reached further and completed my goal of 75 miles. You could say that my best truly did make me better (and that makes us all better).
I went into this race knowing two things: I have never been so prepared, and I wanted 75 miles more than I could even explain. In the end, I was the last person to cross the finish line, I was the last person to officially lock in 75 miles, I needed every last minute. I felt like I was dying, but I placed #62 and I was finished with the event, the greatest event I’ve ever run. I cried like a baby when they handed me my Silver bib and they told me it was official.
I am a Clydesdale who just ran 75 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder 2016.
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