The culmination of this blog has been reached: I completed Tough Mudder PA.
As I might have mentioned before, the scope of my training has been eclipsed by the Goruck Challenge. As such, Tough Mudder was simply a lighthearted romp through the muck and mire. I also had the distinct pleasure of running the event with Colin, who was the only member of the original team to join me.
It took some logistic string-pulling to get my Forerunner watch to the event, but I am fortunate to have parents who can perform such miracles. My more extended family was present as well, and they provided great support.
I chose to use Elevation instead of Pace for the second graphed variable since the pace was so erratic as a result of inconsistent runners on the trails or chokepoints at the obstacles. Here are the data with the red line representing Heart Rate and the green line Elevation:
As you might imagine, the event was not a straight run-through of 10.5 miles. The longest uninterrupted stretch of running would only amount to about 3 miles and most of the participants were walking up the hills.
If you're looking for training advice for this kind of event, here are a few main factors to consider:
Leg Strength: You want to be strong, but not bulky. Try bodyweight squats, single-leg squats (assisted, standard or weighted) and lunges. High repetition sets, fast.
Glutes: (to keep you stable) Glute Lift. If you're strong enough, do these with one leg held straight out, thighs parallel, toes of the straight leg pointing away from you. High repetition sets, slow.
Core: (more stability) Leg Lifts and Iron Bridge (Plank hold). High repetition sets for leg lifts. Work up to holding the plank for as long as possible (1 minute would be a good goal) and when you can't hold it any more, do crossovers with your legs - bring a knee up to your chest and back to pushup position about ten times, then do the other leg.
Upper Body: I didn't find this aspect to be too terribly important for this event. Grip strength will be important for the Funky Monkey, and you'll need a decent amount of strength to get over the nets and Berlin Walls, but you're going to be surrounded by people who are more than happy to toss your muddy behind over the obstacles. If you're strong enough to do 25 consecutive pushups I'd say you're prepared.
Cardiovascular Endurance: I'd recommend less street running in favor of trail running if possible. Using a jump rope is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular endurance in a short time. It has been estimated that the same amount of calories can be burned in 15 minutes of jumping rope versus 30 minutes of running on flat ground.
The event, as a whole, is tough - don't kid yourself. You will need to prepare mentally as well as physically. Running with a team or just a buddy is a great way to keep a reasonable pace and to maintain a good attitude.
Walk up the hills, jog down them. Unless you're competing for a qualifying time, your time doesn't matter. Getting hurt does matter. Not finishing does matter. If you signed up for this, you owe it to yourself to finish.
If you would like more specific advice about how to prepare, what to wear, or any other such questions, feel free to contact me.
The Tough Mudder site does a decent job of approximating the course outline, but the order and placement of the obstacles is not entirely accurate. Here is my Forerunner's impression of our path for the entire run:
The Maurauder's Wave
We were late for our wave, but it doesn't seem to matter. We donned our costumes, had our bib numbers scrawled on our skin with indelible marker, and eventually made our way to the starting line.
After purposefully butchering the Pledge we were off. I couldn't help but splash around in the mud at the bottom of the first hill near the spectators; I was euphoric.
And then into the smoke-bombed incline.
I let Colin set the pace and complacently followed him for most of the run. He was powering up the hills which wore him out early on, but he hit his stride once we reached some of the downhill portions.
We ran up and down the hills and had to deal briefly with a series of dirt mounds with nets on them. After navigating these and the slippery snow, we eventually came down a main stretch called Kodiak. There was an obstacle called Greased Lightning towards the bottom of the hill. We dove in headfirst and had the pleasure of the initial soaking to deal with for the remainder of the run.
We then made our way up Sasquatch, one of Bear Creek's steepest slopes. I had no trouble with it, and encouraged the other participants as I made my way up. By this point I had heard exclamations of "arrrr" from various people as a sort of speciously clever recognition of the fact that we looked like pirates. We conquered other various obstacles at the top of the hill, namely the Boa Constrictor which I particularly enjoyed. There were two large black tubes which slanted down into a pool of cold, muddy water. By the time you've crawled to the end of the first tube you're chin-deep in the water. It was glorious.
The trail led to the Berlin Walls, which were awesome. I resolved to not use the footholds on the wall, and to attempt the walls on my own. I was surprised to find that I had difficulty with the first wall, but I did eventually get over. The following walls were much easier, and I just enjoyed the obstacle as a whole. Helping people get over is very satisfying, as well.
We turned back around and made our way across the top of the hill and headed South to a long, winding trail. The descent was pleasant, and we maintained a great pace while snaking through the trees and other participants.
We made our way back into the parking lot of the resort, and met with a large tub of red liquid and some confused-looking girls handing out Habanero Peppers. It wasn't made clear whether we were supposed to eat them or just chew them up and spit them out. Considering how tough I am, guess what I did. I leapt into the red liquid which felt no different than water (I'm honestly not sure what the point of that was), and charged on along a slippery hill on the outer rim of the pond.
We worked our way back up the hill underneath The Devil's Beard which is just a large cargo net. We went back down the hill again and were met with some weird iron fences with thick black bars over which we were meant to climb. I met up again with my family as we waited in the considerably long line for the Walk The Plank obstacle. We finally were able to climb up to the top of the platforms and leap into the freezing water below:
All the cold showers I had taken could not have prepared me for that water. I had no trouble swimming, but it was horribly cold. What made matters worse was the panicky people surrounding me; I felt like I might be pulled under at any moment. Flashback to my lifeguard training. You'll notice the distinct dip in my heart rate around 1:20 into the run. I think this corresponds to the dive.
Colin and I managed to crawl out of the pond and took a short rest at a water station before charging ahead. We were met with two more water-based obstacles: one which looked like it was meant to be Twinkle Toes, but ended up being channels with a series of three wooden walls that went below the surface of the water to varying depths. Colin and I each chose a channel and I was not pleasantly surprised to find that the middle wall was about three feet from the bottom of the pond.
Immediately after this weird water wall challenge we were lining up for the Ball Shrinker. Usually a Mudder will try to shimmy along the rope with their feet while holding the suspended rope above. A boisterous military-man was caustically advising us to simply pull ourselves through the water with the lower rope and "save [our] shoulders for the other obstacles". We complied, but I felt slightly cheated. I went first and was almost coming to enjoy the stinging chill of the water on my genitals when a frantic semi-Asian man began to overtake Colin, shouting something about needing to go faster. Delightful.
We survived the anxious Asian's onslaught and trudged along into a system of trails on the opposite end of the resort. With the notable exception of my teeth chattering at a rate ferocious enough to irregularize my breathing rhythm, I found the run to be quite enjoyable. We serpentined through the trees and up some minor hills. There were some narrower portions and we would occasionally be stuck behind a slower runner, but for the most part we maintained a good pace and overtook a good number of other participants. We made our way along the 3.5-4 mile path around the backside of the mountain, eventually coming back up onto the ski slopes.
The Mud Mile affronted us. It was essentially a stretch of muddy-water-filled trenches. This, normally, would be a manageable thing. The catch was that since the water is so murky one can't get a sense of their footing. This becomes especially problematic when large rocks adorn the bottom of the pools of indeterminate depth. We were forced to make our way carefully through the pools and jog between them. Towards the end of the Mud Mile we were made to go through a long trench of knee-deep water with horizontal logs lying above the water's surface. We were supposed to go under them. I went into a frenzy, splashed Colin and then took off on my own. I sloshed through the water, sending it everywhere and roaring like a maniac. I held my foam hat on my head as I ducked into the water and under the poles, and then charged forth to the next one. It was bestial.
After the Mud Mile we glided downhill to the Monkey Bars to find that they were not being used. The participants were walking around the outside of the obstacle, and there were a number of officials looking concerned. It seems someone had broken his leg the day before, and they were shutting down the obstacle. We were indignant, but didn't want to wait around to see if it would reopen, so we continued on.
The next downhill portion contained the Kiss Of Mud obstacle which is a section of rocks and water where a participant is meant to crawl under barbed wire. I was forced to go slow because of the person I was following, and dragging my chest on the rocky ground was decidedly uncomfortable, but I got through with no significant difficulty.
We reached the bottom of the hill and were made to run through a gauntlet of burning hay bales which caused great white billows of smoke to obscure the path ahead.
We made our way back up another hill and eventually passed the parallel path that led to the Funky Monkey. Since we were walking anyway I decided to go see if the obstacle was opened again, and it was. We talked ourselves into waiting to do it, and the wait wasn't too bad. As we waited I removed my gloves, thinking my bare skin would afford me better grip. This might have been a mistake, but there's no way for me to know. Colin had just as much difficulty as I, although he wore his gloves. We both made it to about halfway across before slipping off into the black tarp below.
With the Funky Monkey at least attempted we rejoined the proper course path. We went up another small hill, and then back down to the bottom to find the Hold Your Wood portion of the run. Another participant handed me the one he had been carrying, a large but not terribly heavy piece. I shouldered it and started walking up the hill. I paused, looked back at the pile with a devious smile, and grabbed another log with my left hand. Colin said something like "Oh, ok. Guess we're doing two, then." He grabbed a second log and we made our way slowly up the hill. By the time I reached the top I was feeling the weight mostly in my shoulders and triceps. The downhill portion was much easier but it took me a decent amount of reorganization to keep from dropping the logs.
The next three hills contained the cargo nets, the Mystery Obstacle and then finally Electroshock Therapy and the finish.
The cargo nets were manageable. What made them difficult was the instability from other participants clumsily flailing around on the ropes. Colin and I stayed behind a while after making it to the other side to hold it steady for some others.
The Mystery Obstacle is a large wooden structure with slopes on either end of a high platform. The front side is covered in a thick plastic which makes it quite difficult to complete this obstacle without help. Everyone was helping everyone else, though, so it was simply a fun way to bond with the people around you. You then slide down the other side, and head back downhill. At the bottom of this hill they have some high hay bales set up to be vaulted. After we made it through those it was back uphill again for the final obstacle, Electroshock.
I was really excited about this particular obstacle because of the pictures and videos I had seen. The collective unconscious of the participants entertained some unnamable dread about it, which made me want it even more. Colin and I lined up at the top of a small hill in front of the obstacle and waited for the others to go through. We looked at each other, nodded, and ran screaming through the wires. I was shocked but Colin wasn't. The surge went from my elbow to my tailbone and felt like a deep static shock. I can see how it might cause a participant to drop to the ground, though.
We crossed the finish line roaring like wild animals and claimed our shirts and headbands. I choked down a beer and corralled with my family and friends.
The aftermath was mild. I had some tightness in my right Sartorius muscle which caused discomfort in my groin, but nothing serious. My shoulders were sore, likely from the Hold Your Wood obstacle, but it went away with some stretching and rest.
The event, overall, was extremely enjoyable. It is something meant to be shared, and to complete something like this with a team or even a partner is supremely rewarding.
Next up: Goruck Challenge, then another Mudder in early May.