The lead up to Whistler Toughest Mudder had most everyone anxious about the cold, particularly with the crew in Greater Vancouver. There was still about 2 meters of snow at the venue 3 weeks prior to the event. Our wolf pack at Vancity OCR did several wetsuit test runs to ensure all our equipment was appropriate.
Whistler Olympic Park, the venue weeks prior:
The low for the day was projected to be about 5 degrees Celsius – with the ice in Arctic Enema and potential wind chill this can be pretty cold. Many dropped out of Tough Mudder in Whistler over the past 2 years due to hypothermia or simply being too cold to function. Dressing for the start became the dilemma. Dressing too little may mean wasting time by having to stop and put on a wetsuit. But the first lap, being mostly obstacle free with little to no water entry, can be disastrous if you overdress and overheat.
Like many others, I decided to err on the warmer side. I had on a thermal base layer top and bottom, frog skin hoodie, merino wool, and neoprene socks, a 1 mm neoprene short sleeve and a farmer John with the top pulled down. I was really comfortable in the corral while listening to Sean Corvelle and didn’t quite realize that meant I would be getting far too hot once I started to run. That is exactly what happened. One mile into the course, I was sweeting buckets; I couldn’t wait to get dunked in the water – but there was none.
I bruised my knee badly in January and was not able to use my right leg for 2 months. Getting back to exercise was tough and when I did, progressing slow was even tougher. I have an irregular training schedule, cardio mostly when I commuted, often 3 days midweek. The other four straight days is often of strength conditioning by means of heavy lifting in manual work. Needless to say, I was not very fit going into this event. I wasn’t expected to run very far but the feeling of being slow and the restrictive layers of neoprene made the experience more torturous. I laboured every step feeling like I was trudging through molasses. The heat also weighed me down. I have chronic neck pain and this was exacerbated by the tight hoodie. The heat, the lack of fitness and the constriction was all making me nauseous.
Around 2.5 miles into the course the elites came stampeding past. They spiked my adrenaline a little. God damn it! I am really that slow? They’re on their second lap already? I kept telling myself they are just very gifted and fit… they do this training thing full time… there is no fun and all pain in what they do… I am… “having fun”?
But really, I wasn’t feeling too badly for myself as I was in good company. I was keeping up with Warren Zamko who latter placed first in his age group with 30 miles. I was maintaining a decent pace with him up until Lumberjack (3 gut checkers, approximately 12” diameter logs suspended at 4’-5’ high). I usually get a big kick out of this obstacle and wish it was at every event, but I got my ass kicked so badly here. I bounced, slipped and slid off these evil logs – totally getting left behind. But thanks to all the Mudders around me I was pushed, pulled and thrown over. For the remainder of the event I resorted to using the braces. Skid Marked (an inverted wall) also sucked. Aside from the braces there was nothing to officially climb on. They were just over 8ft and 1” out of my reach. Thanks again to the camaraderie of my fellow Mudders, I was pulled and thrown over. This night, I would be humbled.
Lumber Jacked with Warren Zamko and David Beaudry:
When I finally got to the pit, I kinda spaced out. The combination of the heat and the neoprene compressing my jugular were making me woozy. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this. I was hot and I wondered if I should remove my layers. I knew I potentially needed them to keep warm once I hit the water obstacles. I would definitely appreciate them once I got wet. I don’t like water; I don’t swim well; in fact, I’m extraordinarily good at sinking. What to do… What to do… I have to take a pee.
With an empty bladder and a few bites to eat, I started to feel cold… and that put an end to my procrastination. I had intended to do some videos of the Vancity OCR crew, so I figured I better get that done before I decided to stop. Moving will get me warm. My fellow Mudders will get me moving.
As I puttered along, my body was starting to feel better and more responsive. Balls to the Wall wasn’t a big deal: it was a nice obstacle to get your body in gear and wrap your head around being up and off the ground. I helped someone out who was stuck there and instantly felt more empowered. I loosened up and started to warm up. I was feeling comfortable.
My chest got tense the moment I approached Funky Monkey. I don’t usually have a problem with this obstacle, why was I feeling so anxious? The bars were damp and I feared I might slip. I approached the ascent facing forward and felt my swing get a little out of control – so I quickly turned to my side and led with my right arm. That was much better. I got to the horizontal wheel and noticed the person in the next lane getting stuck. The wheel wasn’t rotating like it’s supposed to. I grabbed it, and swung back and forth to accelerate myself around to the vertical wheels and until I made it to the platform. I made it and I was still dry.
My nerves got more heightened as I neared Hang Time; this was my first time at this obstacle. I don’t like heights – and I dislike falling and having to swim even more. I jumped and caught the bar and cargo comfortably enough, but sliding down the cable felt much more difficult than what I have seen from others. I wasn’t sliding very well and had to push myself down the cable. Other people made the descent look so effortless and fun; Amin Menhadji seemed to just glide down. Perhaps my wetsuit was too sticky
Hang Time with Amin Menhadji:
My sinking sense of anxiety continued towards Snot Rocket. I was mentally preparing myself for the cold water but it turned out to be relatively warm. The down spray of water was also weaker than I imagined and did not make ascending the sewer pipe difficult.
Snot Rocket with Amin Menhadji:
Next came Black Hole, which is Birth Canal in the race. I was not up for fully challenging myself and crawled along the edges of the tarps. Many people did this and I figure TMHQ should really block the easy way through with barriers of some sort; force everyone into the same challenge
Stage 5 Clinger was pretty straight forward but I have a few hiccups trying to get on top of the platform. There was a 4×6 block on the vertical support beams that many used for the final ascent. It was very helpful.
Stage 5 Clinger with Amin Menhadji:
Mud Mile 2.0 had a similarly easy option. The flagging tape was so wide around the first 3 trenches most people simply walked that high path around. As I contemplated what to do, Trevor Cichosz came barrelling past running straight through the middle; good on you! The trenches were deep, but the walls were solid and allowed many footprint steps to develop; stepping out was a breeze; it just took longer than skirting.
My first round at Artic Enema was nasty. There was no ice but the water bit into your skin, luckily that took only a minute or so to settle. Later in the night ice was added but it did not feel as cold. Perhaps the air had warmed it.
Clearly, the conditions were much better than expected. By moving at my slower pace, I stayed very comfortable in my layers of neoprene. Running faster would have made things unpleasantly hot. I just didn’t feel the urge of energy to push. My knee was doing well… I guess I was lucky for not having the fitness to hurt myself. As I ran up to various other Vancity folks it was nice to hang out and chat along the route.
Pyramid Scheme was aided by ropes, as was the descent of Shawshanked.
Kiss of Mud was just a deep trench that you had to run down and out of. This had been the trench for walk the plank in the past.
With the surprisingly warm conditions, Blockness Monster was a joy to be in. Kong followed shortly as you approached the finish. Having your hands still wet from Blockness made Kong challenging for many. And some who fell off Kong later in the night slid into the opposing scaffolding, forcing this obstacle to close mid-way through the race.
It’s hard to say whether this was the most challenging of the Toughest courses thus far. But suffice it to say, when the hill up the ski jump opened, it added another element of difficulty. I only had time to do this once when I reached it at 5:30am. Running up the ski jump on all fours was a great way to give your legs a break.
Despite socializing and taking many pictures and videos along the way, I did 20 miles in a pretty good time. There was nearly 90 minutes left when I finished my last lap. Not enough for a fifth, but if I hadn’t procrastinated so much, I probably would have managed. I felt disappointed I didn’t give it my all but I had fun taking it easy and was feeling great post race. When speaking with some of the elites, many said they would appreciate a nice and easy race. I am not so keen to always have the pressure to push but it would be nice to be as fast as they are. If there was anything to be learned this night it’s not to waste time procrastinating and to put your heart into every minute of every race. Don’t set your limits because you never know what it might be; setting it too low would only make yourself your most difficult obstacle.