|Geoff Rook: One Tough Mudder|
Tough Mudder is appropriately named. It is tough and you will get muddy. Very muddy, and very wet, and a little scraped up if you challenge yourself and push hard. I completed the Tough Mudder in Brooklyn, MI in June 2013 in about 2 hours 30 minutes. It consists of 12 miles of running with 20 obstacles spaced out along the course.
The obstacles have foreboding names such as Arctic Enema [Ewwwww!!], Funky Monkey, and ElectricEel. A group of ten of us from the office decided it was too tempting of a challenge and we put a team together. The event drew a crowd of about 20,000 participants over two days.
My training for this event was minimal. I felt I was in pretty good shape as a distance runner and I could do a couple chin ups and plenty of sit ups and push-ups. In hind sight, I wish I had done a lot more strength work needed to climb over high walls and pull myself up out of a dumpster (see Arctic Enema description below). Tough Mudder is all about team work so you can make it through all the obstacles, but strength training would have minimized the pain and soreness I had for a couple of days after the event.
We arrived at the site, Michigan International Speedway, all dressed in similar uniforms of white tech shirt, black shorts, and pink knee socks. We named our team White Collar Mudders and planned to wear white dress shirts with the sleeves ripped off but compromised on white tech shirts to avoid chafing. Lisa and Renae chose the pink knee socks and we got plenty of comments from the crowd. After the second obstacle it was hard to tell we wore white and pink.
The start is divided up in waves that are assigned by request rather than by projected finish times. To start, you must first climb over a 7 foot wall and drop into the starting pen that holds about 200. The MC mingles in the crowd and pumps everyone up with a bunch of “Hoo-rah’s” and reminds us that it’s all about team work. On most obstacles, someone will help you up and over or pull you out, you then turn around and do the same for the person behind you. The MC had us take a knee and thanked us for supporting the Wounded Warrior Project by participating. He then asked any military personnel to stand up and the applause was awesome. An orange smoke grenade obscured the first few feet of the course as we stood and sing the National Anthem. One more quick, mosh-pit pump up from the MC, then 5-4-3-2-1 and the gun went off.
The running was mostly flat on open grass and lots of trampled mud and standing water from the rain. The crowd ran rather slowly to the first obstacle, a 10 foot wall that leans toward you, making it more difficult to climb over. On our way to obstacle #2, a 50 foot belly crawl through wet, sloppy mud, we could see the Arctic Enema ahead. But first we had to leap over a line of open flame into a pit of waist-deep water.
The Arctic Enema does not disappoint. It’s a 30 cubic yard dumpster typically used for construction debris. Today it is half full of water and half full of ice cubes with a divider midway across that extends about 6 inches into the frigid water. The object is to jump in, go under the divider and climb out the other side. We climbed up the approach ramp and jumped in. I was ready for the cold, so it was not surprising but it has an exponential cumulative effect. You do not want to linger. I had to go under twice because I thought the divider was much lower and it was difficult to propel myself amongst ice cubes. When you surfaced it's a bit disorienting and you usually need someone to help pull you out since the dumpster is about 6 feet deep. Once out of the ice you turn around and help the person behind you.
I won’t describe all 20 obstacles. You can easily find descriptions on-line [http://toughmudder.com/obstacles/ ], but I will tell you about some of the more memorable ones. We had to wade out into chest deep water that was unusually warm, looked like Yoohoo and smelled a little funky. While crossing the pond we had to submerge under three sets of barrels along the way. On Walk the Plank we climbed up a tall platform and jumped 15 feet down into deep water. Trench Warfare made me feel like a mole. We climbed down into a hole in the ground and belly crawled through a very dark, curvy tunnel until coming back up out of a hole about 50 feet away. At this point in the race it was pouring rain so hard that it was difficult to see other areas of the course.
As we made our way to Electric Eel we were secretly hoping for thunder so they might close the water obstacles on the course. The heavy rain persisted but no lightning or thunder so we got to experience the Electric Eel. It’s another belly crawl through muddy water under a large array of electrical wires that randomly zap you. I thought if I stayed low enough I could avoid the wires, but I was wrong. I saw one wire light up right in front of my eyes as I was crawling through as quickly and lowly as I could. I got zapped once and it snapped my jaw shut and felt like someone hit my shoulder with a bat. I was really dreading this obstacle, but I made it through mostly unscathed and happy I accomplished it.
One of the most difficult obstacles for me was Berlin Walls. It consists of two 12 foot walls that we had to climb over. Nearly everyone requires the help of the person behind them to boost them up to grab the top of the wall. Then you have to pull yourself up and over the wall and drop several feet to the ground. Then you have to do it all again 30 feet later. The walls are made of 2x12 planks and were wet and gritty from the coarse sand that pervaded nearly every obstacle.
Everest was the second to last obstacle, and it was the most fun to watch. We had to get a running start in the wet sloppy mud and propel ourselves up a slippery quarter pipe ramp onto the deck above. Team work was necessary for the vast majority of runners. Before you start your approach you need to make eye contact with someone who is waiting on the deck. They are lying down on the deck extending their arms down from the edge for you to grab onto. If you’re fast enough and strong enough you can make it just far enough up the ramp to lunge forward and catch their awaiting hands; then you struggle up the slippery ramp onto the deck and return the favor to the person behind you.
The last obstacle is a sprint through a dense gauntlet of electrical wires. This obstacle is delightfully called Electroshock Therapy. To make it just a little more interesting the ground is made uneven with muddy hills and ruts filled with water. I managed to make it through without getting zapped, but many others were not so lucky. In most cases when a runner gets zapped it contracts their muscles so violently that they fall uncontrollably to the ground. I panicked for a second when I got tangled up in the dangling wires, but I had enough momentum to force my way through and was somewhat thankful that I never felt a zap.
After crossing the Finish line, we received our orange Tough Mudder finisher head band and a complimentary beer. We then headed back to entertain ourselves by watching runners attempting Everest and Electroshock Therapy. By this time the rain had completely dissipated leaving ankle deep water all over. I’m sure the spectators enjoyed that.
Everyone on our team made it through and can now officially call themselves Tough Mudders. I scraped up my knees and elbows quite a bit, and my triceps and deltoids were really sore for a couple days. Next year, if the temperature allows, I plan to wear running tights and a long sleeve tech shirt to protect my knees and elbows a little more. The entire team had a great time and we all plan to return next year and maybe we will even recruit a few more team mates.
Geoff's report definitely makes this sound like a bunch of fun -- except for the ice water and electric shocks. I don't know. I am still not quite convinced. Or maybe I am just way wimpier than this group of very Tough Mudders.