Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Tough Mudder Georgia Experience

The Tough Mudder staff advertises their events as probably the toughest on the planet...I would wholeheartedly have to agree with them. I have trained and competed in wide range of activities over the course of my life including college football, rugby, olympic weightlifting, and a half marathon. Without a doubt - this race put them all to shame in terms of the sheer mental and physical effort required to even participate in it.
Before the start line - Seriou
Not that I haven't experienced "tough" moments in my collective athletic experience but never before had I competed in something where the event organizers intentionally tried to break your body and mind simultaneously. It was brutally hard and very primal in nature - true flight or fight stuff. After we jumped through the first water obstacle that had been deliberately chilled with ice, I think it would be safe to say everyone involved knew we would be in for a total mind screw and physical beat down.

I just want to put this on record and be done with it. Coming out of the Death March/Roller Coaster Run section (which really, really, sucked btw) - I missed part of the course that included the Log Carry. From reading the accounts of others, I think this happened right near a water station in that area. I think I was supposed to take a right turn (I took a left) and loop back around back to the station but I honestly can't recall the details. They changed the course map (apparently late in the week) so that was no help in discovering my error. I can only say that I did not do this intentionally. In the spirit of the sportsmanship and the Tough Mudder ethos, I will never ever claim to be a true Tough Mudder (i.e. completing the whole course) out of respect to the others did.

While I would like to be able to say that I completed the whole thing, I have decided that I am not going to beat myself up over it. Upon much reflection, I have decided that I didn't run this race solely to be a "Tough Mudder". Rather, I ran this race to test myself and my willingness/ability to do things that I would normally never think to do. The race ending up being more self-discovery and I easily accomplished that goal throughout the race.

Pre-Race Jitters...
As we drove down to the race site (which was in the middle of the boonies btw), I really had no idea what to expect but this was intentional on my part. Obviously, I had the general idea that the race was going to push my limits and suck at times but that was the extent of my pre-race knowledge. I had decided weeks ago that I was going to race with no worrying and no chest thumping hubris either - I just wanted to experience it all for what it was. I didn't allow myself to go digging deep for info on what to do and not to do. I guess I thought that this would violate the true "tough" spirit of the race and my desire to test my limits.
Fully Clothed & Numbered Up!
That being said - when you walk up the race starting area and you see a bunch of banners that read "Did you sign your death waiver?" and people with their numbers written on their foreheads, you can't help but have some jitters. As the start clock counted down for my group to begin, I had a strange cocktail of excitement, nervousness, and "what the hell did get myself into?" pumping through my veins, which made for a pretty cool feeling.

Let the Butt Stomp Begin...
The first obstacle was about 200-300 yards down the course from the start and consisted of chest deep water to wade through. As I mentioned already, the staff had been dumping ice into the water! The resulting adrenaline rush was incredibly intense and I knew immediately that I was in for a long haul.

The next obstacle, a tube crawl named Boa Constrictor, featured more ice and our first taste of the mud bogs placed throughout the course. This was not your ordinary mud either - it had a ton of clay in it, making it really sticky and heavy. After two obstacles, this crap made my clothes weigh a ton and caused the thought of ditching my shorts to first cross my mind - after less than a 1/2 mile!

While these obstacles weren't particularly challenging, the icy water literally blasted you awake and amped you up in an almost primal way for the rest of the race.  The rush of "alive-ness" that I felt after this area is not something I can adequately describe here - it really was something you had to experience for yourself.

The Motocross Track...
The next series of obstacles were installed around a motocross track that was a main feature of the race area. A big highlight of this part of the race was the mud - there was a ton of it all along this section. Even though it was physically challenging, it was pretty fun nonetheless. In this section you had to navigate the muddy fun of the Cliffhanger (a giant and steep slope of sticky goo), the Kiss of Mud (belly crawling under barb wire), the Devil's Beard #1 (a cargo net going up a big ol hill), the Devil's Beard #2 (a cargo net strung low in a mud bog), and the Texas Smokehouse (a house with ice water, mud and circulating fog).

I thought all of these obstacles were awesome - challenging enough that you couldn't breeze through them but not so hard as to be demoralizing. It was in this section that I decided to 1) ditch my shorts that must have weighed at least 10lbs and 2) ditch my shirt shortly thereafter that must have weighed another 5lbs. Not only did I feel like a new man after this, but it made for a much better picture at the end as well.
Got Mud?
 The Hell of the Death March/Roller Coaster Run...
This area of the course really was pure hell - at least 4 miles of switch backs and elevation changes over and around of several "hills" using old hiking/mountain bike trails (I think). Just when thought you might be done with non-stop vertical climbing, you would be taken down a switch back and right back up in a different way. There were also some super steep grades here that made your legs burn like crazy - it felt more like climbing steps than anything else. This area required some serious inner mountain goat and was the worst part of my race experience by far. It wasn't so much the physical aspect of it (I had done alot of hills and stepper in my training -thank goodness) but the mental aspect of it. To continually go up and down and around the same hills over and over again was a total and epic MIND SCREW! This section literally felt like it would never end.
He would have loved it!
Another subtle but important part of the creeping hopelessness that this section of the course dropped on you was that there were no spectators at all. Basically, you felt like you were abandoned in some sort of hilly wasteland from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was the only part of the course where I felt like stopping and calling it a day - it just sucked the mental and physical energy out of you. From the accounts of the race that I have read, many other participants felt a similar draining effect from this part of the race and described it in much the same way.

And Here Is Where It Gets Confusing...
After the 3-4 miles of twists, turns, and mental mind screwing from the hilly area, the details get a bit fuzzy for me. I think the next obstacle was the Turd's Nest, which would not have been passable without help from others. You had to scale a near vertical wall using only a rope after slogging through a mud bog that eliminated any traction. Even with the help of others, it was hard to get up that wall! It was probably the single toughest obstacle that I did that day in that I wouldn't have been able to do it solo.
Hardest Obstacle By Far!
After this area is where I got lost I think. I remember coming out of the Turd's Nest and running a 1/2 mile or so on trails to a water station with the Berlin Walls to the left. I got some water and headed that way but I think you were supposed to go right to head the Log Carry and loop back around to the water station and the walls. I am not really sure how I missed it but I wasn't really "thinking" at this point either - I was just "doing" if that makes sense. The stupid part of all this was that I did a ton of loaded carries to specifically prep for the Log Carry.  From what I have read, the Log Carry really sucked but the competitor in me wishes I hadn't taken a wrong turn because I really wanted to take that on. I guess sometimes life is just ironically stupid like that.

My mis-direction aside, I headed to the Berlin Walls #1 and was able to climb the two 12 foot walls solo without a problem. I was pretty pumped about that since I pride myself on being a big dude with good relative bodyweight strength. This was one of the "tests" I really wanted to pass and I smoked it! A big pre-race goal accomplished...
I climbed 4 of these that day!
I think the next obstacle was the Tippy Toes, which was basically a wobbly balance beam thing over a big water pit. It was here that I found out that I had missed the Log Carry somehow from some other Mudders. As I waited to take my turn (clearly in a shocked state of mind that I had somehow missed part of the course), I got a looks of disdain from a few people but one gracious guy made me feel better when he shrugged and said "well, it's too late to turn back now". To that guy - I commend you for picking me up a bit.

As for the obstacle itself, I got about 10 feet out and promptly fell in. Of all the obstacles in the race, this one didn't seem to "fit" the mentality of the race. It struck me as something that was just kind of thrown in there to keep us busy. I think the race organizers could have come up with something better here - I just don't think I would have felt any real sense of accomplishment even if I had gotten across cleanly.
Only "eh" obstacle here...
After Tippy Toes, I think you headed over to the Monkey Bars, which was like your playground monkey bars on steroids because they were angled up and then down over a giant water pit. This was another obstacle I really was looking forward to because I knew it would be hard for a big dude like me. I did a ton of pull ups, chin ups, and grip work in my training just for this event alone. I ended up getting across pretty easily and this was the only time I felt absolutely and unquestionably awesome all race long. I wouldn't have traded that feeling for anything after the race.
Playground on Steroids!
The Miserable Back Third (Quarter?)...
Although I missed part of the course, the back part of the race was pretty miserable for all those involved from what I could tell. You had to run through the Fire Walker obstacle (a big gauntlet of burning hay bales) before heading back through part of the motocross track. The Fire Walker thing wasn't a big deal and wasn't really that cool in retrospect. It was not nearly as triumphant as I imagined it would be.
Not nearly as cool as I thought...
As I headed onto the motocross track, it turned into more a mud walk than mud run for most people. Even though I missed some of the course, running wasn't particularly appealing to me at this point either. I did man up and go through both Devil's Beards, Kiss of Mud, and Cliffhanger again (they sucked way worse the second time around btw). There was no way I wasn't doing them though since I missed the log carry and probably 3 miles of course (I'm guessing). Looking back, if I had skipped these obstacles, I would have really felt like a punk and I'm glad I didn't for personal pride's sake.

My Biggest Fears Ahead
As you came out of the second lap of the motocross track, you had to climb another two walls (which I did easily enough again) before you came to the final two obstacles, Walk the Plank and Electro-Shock Therapy. To be honest, I had been psyched out by Electro-Shock Therapy for the whole time leading up to it. Of all the obstacles I dreaded, this one was freaking me out the most. However, nothing prepared me for the total fear that gripped when I saw the Walk The Plank obstacle up close! That sucker was 30 feet up overlooking a giant mud puddle. You had to jump off  this thing and swim about 50 yards or so in icy water before you could get out and finish with Electro-Shock. Did I mention that I hate heights?

Scared out of my mind
As I walked up the ramp, I really thought I was going to chicken out. I didn't get vertigo but I definitely got light headed as I looked down with the other 2 guys that were jumping with me. The guy next to me, an athletic looking black guy with dreads, was just as freaked out as I was I think. We shared some words of encouragement and waited for our "3-2-1 Jump" call from the staffer up there with us. All I remember was hearing "Jump" and pushing with all my might off the edge. Even though it was only 2-3 second fall, it was scary as hell and I fully submerged into the lake once I hit. This was the ONLY time that I remember getting a mouthful of muddy nastiness during the whole experience - I swear. Did I mention that the water had been iced all day? Yeah - it sucked.
Look at how excited I am!
After you emerged from the ice cold lake, you had to pass through Electro-Shock Therapy, a gauntlet of charged wires before the finish. As I mentioned previously, this one had been in the back of my head for 2 months as the obstacle I dreaded the most. When I let it creep up to the forefront of my mind, I could just imagine getting zapped with 10,000 volts in the leg and then getting hit again in the face as I went down in a heap. Yep - totally psyched out.
As I came up to the start of the wires, I ended up being joined by my Walk the Plank buddy. We shared a fist bump, took a deep breath, and took off sprinting through it. As I went through, I remember getting hit on the leg and on my upper body but it wasn't really that bad. My buddy apparently got zapped on the leg and fell into the mud before getting all the way through. We shared another fist bump as he came out and that concluded my Tough Mudder experience. In retrospect, all of the worrying I did about this obstacle was wasted mental energy because it really wasn't that bad. However, I was proud of myself for facing up my fears and barreling through it at full speed.

I think the following pictures sums up pretty well how I felt towards the end and what you go through in a mud run like this...
Sexy right? Haha

Safe to say I threw these out...

In Summary
A ton of people have been asking me the race...What it was like? Were you glad you did it? Would I do it again?

My first response is always that it was just as tough/crazy as advertised. The race organizers said they were going to hand your butt to you and they definitely succeeded. I can only imagine how I might have looked above with an extra 3 miles on my face!

 My second response is that I am glad that I did it. I was able to find out so much more about myself through running this race - mainly what I was capable of doing in adverse situations. Overcoming all of those crazy obstacles alone was worth the price of admission in the end. After having done it once,  I really recommend that you put yourself in those types of situations from time to time - they can teach you some amazing lessons in the process.

My third responses  is that, while I was glad I ran the tough mudder, I don't plan to do it again. In the end, I didn't really enjoy the prep training enough (i.e. all the distance I ran) to make me want to do it again. You really need to get into good shape for something like this or you will definitely suffer - ALOT! You will suffer anyway but I can't imagine how I would have felt if I hadn't trained like I did. That being said, I might re-think doing something like this again if I had a team of people that were trying to raise some money for the Wounded Warrior Project. However, solo tough mudders are not going to be in my future anytime soon. 

Overall, I would recommend the tough mudder to anyone who wants to push themselves and their limits but be ready for some pain and suffering along the way!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I enjoyed reading all about it. I am doing the So Cal Tough Mudder on May28th so am at the 6 week left mark of my training. This has been inspirational to read to say the least. Sounds like I need alot more distance running though!