It all started in 2011 when I was provoked by a Facebook challenge: “Are you tough enough?” I clicked the link and found an advertisement for Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile race with military-style obstacles. Crawling under barbed wire, sloshing through mud pits, traversing monkey bars, this was the coolest thing I had seen in years! I immediately signed up and brought new life into my training regimen. I had a goal, to crush Tough Mudder. That Mudder taught me many lessons and I have made many changes and corrections to both my training and pre-race prep. Recently came a new challenge, Toughest Mudder. A 12 hour, overnight race complete with obstacles… I had to get in! This would be the next step on the way to World’s Toughest Mudder, which I have not been able to get into yet, but has been on my bucket list for several years.
I wasn’t completely prepared. I hadn’t trained the way I wanted to, my toddler and busy schedule made sure of that. I would like to have gotten a lot more miles in to prep my ligaments, but that didn’t happen. I was able to maintain basic muscle strength at the gym with my two workouts a week. Would that be enough? I have mental grit, it would have to be.
In the days leading up to the event, I tried to keep everything perfect. Getting good rest (toddler didn’t understand that and continued to wake us up in the middle of the night), taking it light in the gym and eating appropriately. Well, 2 out of 3 is good! I was very careful not to get any stupid injuries like slicing a finger cutting veggies or getting sick by touching anything in son’s daycare center. Success, I found myself at the airport ready to go with 2 days until the race. I would get 2 nights of good rest because my boy was staying home for this one! These 2 days were spent with my Dad who lives in Minnesota; relaxing, and getting the final items for the race. I found out at the last minute that you need to have a flashing strobe light or glow stick in addition to the headlamp to be allowed on the course after dark. I had electrolytes, Strawberry Fig Newtons (my go-to between each lap), Bob’s Red Mill Peanut Butter Coconut bars, oranges, bananas and some secret sauce (NOS energy drink) to give me a kicker for the final hours. I tried the NOS toward the end of the first Gauntlet event and discovered its power! On the way to the event, I realized I had left the electrolytes at my dad’s place so we stopped and picked up a couple of bottles of Pedialyte. They worked like a charm! I had two goals for this event: 1. Consume the nutrition properly to fuel me the entire 12 hours maintaining consistent energy levels 2. Reach 40 miles and earn contender status for World’s Toughest Mudder in November. Around 6 PM I had arrived at Wild Wings Oneka, the hunting preserve in Hugo Minnesota where the Central Division Toughest Mudder was about to commence.
The festival area was quiet with the final Mudders clearing out from the day’s normal events. The registration desk went smooth and I went to the pit area to set up. I brought a backpack, small cooler and plastic bin with food, dry goods, and extra clothes. There were rows of tents, canopies, and coolers spread throughout the pit area with contestants making their final preparation. I put on a cool dry-fit lycra shirt, Athletics 8 compression pants, non-cotton socks, and Saucony Excursion TR12 trail shoes. These shoes were a great option at for under $80!
Things were calm, too calm, like the calm before the storm and we all knew what laid ahead. With the 8 PM start time approaching, Sean Corvelle got on the mic to rev up the crowd. We all took a knee and listened to his words of inspiration. We recited the Tough Mudder oath and waited for the start gun. He offered the “Mental Grit Award” which was $20 to the last Mudder to enter the course prior to the 7:15 AM cutoff and not stopping all night long. Soon enough we were off on the “Sprint Lap”. On this first lap, all of the obstacles were closed and the first person to finish would be awarded a free entry to The World’s Toughest. I knew I wasn’t the fastest and I had a long night ahead so I took it easy observing each of the 20 obstacles as I passed. I was excited to get in there and try them out, my anticipation building but I knew that this lap would allow me to conserve energy and get ahead on time.
There was a planned rolling opening of the obstacles starting at 9:30 and I made it through the first lap quickly. I was pleased to be able to skip by electroshock therapy without penalty! The second lap allowed for time to be made up in advance as I passed closed obstacles wondering which would be the first. I got past the newly created Gauntlet, Funky Monkey, Augustus Gloop, and many others. The one that finally got me turned out to be Block Ness Monster, close to the end of the lap. The guys in front of us passed on by as three of us were flagged into the now open obstacle. We jumped in the water happy to finally cool off and struggled to make it over the first monstrous rotating block. They were waterlogged and it took everything we had to get it to flip with a guy hanging on. I was able to get over the blocks on my own and we all decided that was the best way forward. The next obstacle – the dreaded Electroshock Therapy. I was all too happy to avoid the dangling wires by taking the penalty lap, a short run out of the way and back. After that, we encountered the new obstacle Mudderhorn which was a huge (seemed like 50 feet tall) a frame cargo net with an outer cargo netting layer. It was easy to get caught up in all that netting and proved to be an obstacle to slow you down, pull your headlamp off and tangle up anything hanging or dangling from your body.
By the next lap, most of the obstacles had opened and we were all in full swing of the Toughest Mudder. We climbed the inverted wall at Skidmarked, carried logs, traversed slacklines in Black Widow and Spread Eagle, Crawled through the Devil’s beard, dipped in and out of mud pits in the mud mile, climbed up the ladders in the water-spewing tubes of Augustus Gloop, and confronted one of the new 2019 obstacles; The Gauntlet. This started as a 2X4 balance beam to a plank position crossing about 10 feet long to swinging rings to the final segment which was a horizontal piece of wood big enough to get your fingertips on which you worked your way across to a doorknob, followed by a piece of wood handle, another doorknob, another wood handle, another doorknob and another fingertip crossing to the end. This obstacle could be attempted 4 times, each failure incurring a penalty lap on a short loop nearby.
Another exciting new obstacle was the leap of faith. You had to jump out 5 feet over water to grab vertical cargo net. You climbed the net to a pole which you shimmied down to dry land on the other side. This was fairly simple and lots of fun! ‘
Another new obstacle was Hydrophobia which was crawling through a small tube submerged in water. I was happy to see Funky Monkey which was an inverted monkey bar to a horizontal wheel which rotated you around to a large vertical wheel which spun you to a smaller vertical wheel which whipped you to a pole you would work down to the other side. Certainly a grip zapper! I found the cage crawl to be relaxing. There were long trenches filled with water and topped with cage sections which you pulled yourself through on your back keeping only your mouth and nose above water. This was very peaceful as your ears were underwater and you could only hear the sounds your breath as you worked your way through. Of course, we endured Berlin Walls – 8 ft walls to overcome, Everest 2.0 with some guys who selflessly spent much time at the top helping everyone through. Pyramid Scheme, which had a rope to help out when you were solo. You still had to get up a slippery surface to get to the rope as it only reaches a short distance down from the top. Nobody’s favorite Arctic Enema was included (construction container full of ice water) and some used the 4th lap wristband to be excluded from the torture.
At the end of the 4th and every subsequent lap, we were given a blue wristband which could be used to surpass any obstacle without penalty. They were often given up at The Gauntlet and Funky Monkey and Electroshock Therapy.
My third lap went without fail, all obstacles completed but I started feeling tightness in the ligaments behind my left knee. I knew this was going to be a problem the rest of the night and would have to dig deep to beat it or drop out of the race early to avoid injury. I wasn’t born to be a quitter so I pressed on. I earned my 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th lap bracelets which I used for the Gauntlet and Funky Monkey in laps 6 and 7. I had not failed any obstacle at that point (I did take the penalty lap at electroshock each time) and using those wristbands saved me time. One thing I noticed around 2 AM was that there was a lack of volunteers at most of the obstacles. There was one at Gauntlet, Funky Monkey, Electroshock Therapy, Blockness Monster, and Mudderhorn but most of the rest had nobody. It was concerning at the least to think that it would be easy for some to pass the obstacles and the penalty lap without retribution. Also concerning was the fact that if there was a serious injury, who would know? Volunteers often bring energy to the races and encourage you to keep going, but this lack of their presence really made this event quiet. You would feel the energy every time you got back to the finish line/pit area as there were plenty of people around.
When I was in my sixth lap I knew I had to dig deep if I were to complete two more laps to achieve my 40-mile goal. Each lap was 5 miles with 20 obstacles. I completed the seventh lap, swung by the pit to quickly refuel and get back on the course by 7 AM beating the cutoff. I knew I didn’t have enough time to finish the eighth, but I wasn’t going to quit without trying. I got 4 miles before I heard the finishing bell which rang promptly at 8 AM. It was a bittersweet sound as the race was over and I had my results – 39 miles. Just one short of my goal. I managed my disappointment by reminding myself that I didn’t really deserve the contender’s bib because I hadn’t put in the necessary time training, I was winging it. Something that my ligaments were reminding me with every step I took. When I got back to the festival area I was greeted by fellow Mudders who had endured the night and waited excitedly for the awards ceremony. First, Second and Third place awards were given to top males and females in age groups as well as winners of 2 person teams and 4 person teams.
I hobbled around the festival area which was starting to wake up in anticipation of Sunday’s events. I Tried out some products like Tin Cup whiskey, Every Man Jack Beard Butter and Endoca CBD oil. I was impressed with all of these products and found relief for my aching muscles immediately upon applying the lotion! New Mudders and the energy of a new day filled the area as I reviewed my accomplishments and failures in my mind. I had made it through the night with excellent nutrition, was full of energy and even won the mental grit award (yes, I made Sean give me the $20).
I reminisced the sun going down as we started the race and the mosquitos coming out. You put on Deet at each pit stop which was washed off at the first water obstacle. We were serenaded by a chorus of bullfrogs and I even heard a few coyotes around midnight. There were crickets and owls and some rumbling things in the bushes that couldn’t be identified. I remembered when the morning sun brought new energy (and deerflies) and the chance to remove the headlamp and run in the light. I reveled in how myself and over 350 other Mudders did what many think is crazy and impossible. I reminded myself this was just the warm-up. The next big thing happens over 24 hours in November.