Monday, May 9, 2011
"Probably the toughest event on the planet"
They're not kidding. Before I get into the dirty details of Tough Mudder let me recap how I 'tapered' for the event. Wednesday, I went to the gym for one last upper body strength circuit and a little cross training on the elliptical. It actually felt good to lift since I hadn't been to the gym in over a week. I bumped up the weight on all the exercises I did which made me feel pretty good about my strength going into the weekend.
Thursday, I was not feeling so motivated and I was a little sore from sitting at my desk most of the day. It was a LONG day with not a whole lot to do and I was bored out of my mind. After work, I went for a run with my friend Kim. We were doing 5 miles and I ran to her house to make it a little over 8 for me. The run to her house felt great and loosened me up a little. It was sunny and cool out, but felt a lot warmer than the thermostat read. Kim and I did a nice out and back from her house and chatted along the way. Those shirts that say running is cheaper than therapy couldn't be more true. Both of us dealing with different stressful things, really needed the sneaker session. We finished the run and she thanked me because she kept up for the first time since having a baby 7 weeks ago and she "felt like a million bucks". I thanked her because the longish run was exactly what I needed to loosen up and get in the right frame of mind for the Tough Mudder race.
Friday, work actually went by pretty fast. I drove home, finished packing and waited for my friend Jodie to arrive. As soon as she did, we hoped in the car and headed for Vermont. Along the way we talked about the race and what to expect and our biggest fears on the course. For Jodie it was the "boa constrictor", a small drainage pipe half submerged in muddy water that you had to crawl through. For me it was the "walk the plank", a 15' high platform that you had to climb onto then jump off of into freezing cold pond water and swim back to shore.
We made it to Brattleboro, VT and checked into our hotel then headed into the downtown area to get some food. Who knew that Brattleboro would be such a hoppin' place on a Friday evening. The local theater only had 3 movies showing and there was really only about a quarter mile stretch of road that I would call the "downtown" area, but it was crowded and bustling with activity. People were playing music in the street and shops were selling merchandise on the sidewalks. As soon as we found a place to park and started walking around I fell in love with the place. Every coffee shop and cafe had signs up that said "organic", "local", "our milk and meat is hormone free", "all Natural", etc. We ate in a sandwich shop called "The Works". I'm pretty sure the entire place was decorated with recycled materials, from reclaimed wood and tile in the floors to old metal tractor seats at the tables AND the food was great too!
After we ate we stopped at a small grocery store/coop before heading back to the hotel to settle in for the night. The store was like my dream grocery store. No conventionally grown produce even available, all organics and all locally grown. Even the wine selection they had included wines made from organic grapes. I got a bottle of "Broke Ass" Malbec from Argentina - figured it would be a fitting drink for post race (even though I don't drink, it was too funny not to buy).
Anyway, we went back to the hotel, settled in and fell asleep watching the Bruins beat the Flyers to advance in the playoffs. I woke up several times throughout the night tossing and turning and anxious about the challenges ahead of us. I had a nightmare that we got there late and several nightmares about the race itself. Then my alarm went off and it was time to get ready to get TOUGH. We ate breakfast and got in the car for the 40 minute drive to the mountain.
As soon as we arrived we were overwhelmed with the excitement in the air and I was still struggling with the decision of what to wear. It was in the mid-50s and cloudy and the forecast called for rain. I knew we would be cold and wet almost instantly so layers wouldn't matter much. I had a tank top on and then a lightweight long sleeve that I could ditch at the start. In triathlons they write your number on your arm and your leg, at Tough Mudder they write it on your forehead. Seemed silly at first, but I guess when you're covered head to toe in mud, the course photographers (and EMTs if needed) need some way to identify you. Here's me and Jodie after face marking.
At 10:00am we lined up at the start and gave the Tough Mudder Pledge - "As a Tough Mudder I pledge that: I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine - kids whine. I help my fellow Mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears." And with a blast of smoke and screaming we were off.
The first obstacle was called "death march" and it was basically a 1 mile hike straight up the mountain. Followed by "killa gorilla", hill repeats on a steep slope covered in mud and snow. A short downhill to the next obstacle, "devil's beard", netting to crawl under and try not to get caught up in while descending the steep mountain side. More mud and trail running and we reached Jodie's fear, the "boa constrictor". The tubes were just small enough that you couldn't crawl unless you were super tiny and you had to get on your belly and use your elbows to get through and it was the first of many times throughout the day that we got submerged in cold water. I can't wait to see the photos of us coming out of the dark into the light of a lot more hills and mud to come.
Next up, "tired yet" and "tree hugger", tires and another steep hill to climb. Then Jodie's friend Carl's biggest fear - "the ball shrinker" - a tight rope walk across an ice cold pond that will most definitely take your breath away, but not in a scenic beautiful mountain top view sort of way. We made it across and entered "the mud mile" and I was glad I re-tied my shoes as tight as I possibly could because the mud was thick and I saw more than one person lose a sneaker in it. One of my favorite obstacles was next, "kiss of mud" - a barbed wire crawl with wire only 8" off the ground. Keep your face and butt down or go home with scars. I LOVED IT and the photo of me after should prove it because I was smiling ear to ear.
We climbed up the mountain AGAIN and got to "hold your wood", basically a pile of logs and another climb up a steep slope made a little more challenging because you had to carry one of the logs with you and then bring it back down. Followed by hay bail pyramids and an obstacle called "evil Knievil". At first glance I thought there was no way in hell I would be able to accomplish this one. It was a vert ramp or curve ramp about 12 foot high covered by plexi-glass plastic and mud making it nearly impossible to get up. I stood and watch other people run full speed at it and slip right back down and then there were a few guys that had made it to the top and they were helping other people get over it. So, I figured I might as well try. Worst thing that would happen is I would run full speed at it, face plant on the ramp and slide back down. I ran at it and got almost to the top, grabbed the arms of the guys helping and got my leg up over the edge and I made it! Only problem now was getting down the other side. It was a straight plywood wall with a rope and some hay at the bottom to break your fall. I hesitated, but then grabbed the rope and swung myself over the edge and slid down and we were off and running again. Oh and this is when we saw the 5 mile marker. Only half way done!!!
Over the hills and through the woods, not to grandmother's house but to a spider web of cargo nets and then a house filled with maple syrup that you had to crawl though and then over piles of wood chips and on to my biggest fear - "walk the plank". There were 4 or 5 different platforms and lines of people waiting to climb up onto them and jump off into the freezing cold water. We all picked different lines, I chose the one farthest away from the shore because it was the shortest line, not thinking that I would have to swim the most to get back to shore. At first I didn't think I would even be able to get up onto the platform. There was a wall and a rope and I couldn't pull myself up, but then two men came from behind me and grabbed my heels and hurled me up onto the "plank". Then I thought, "shit, shit, shit, now I'm up here and I have to jump". I tried not to stand there and think about it too long because I knew I would chicken out. I JUMPED!!!!! Holy crap! It was high and there was no way to gauge how long it would take to hit the water and how deep and cold the water was. I got water up my nose and in my mouth and I'm a very strong swimmer, but the shock to your body of the cold water (45 degrees according to the course officials) made it extremely difficult to swim. But, I DID IT! I conquered my fear! And I felt like I was on top of the world. I've never been so cold in my entire life and I do ice baths after my long runs. This was way worse.
More trail running and hills to climb and we reached the under water tunnels, basically very low beams in the grossest muddiest water ever that you had to dunk under. I was on my belly and the gap between the bottom and the beam was probably no more that 18". It smelled like poop and tasted pretty nasty too. I was spitting dirt for the next few miles. We got to the "glacier", a 20 foot tall pile of snow with a huge back up of people trying to climb over it and decided we had seen enough of snow and didn't need to wait 30 or 40 minutes to climb over more. So, we skipped it. None of us felt shame or bad about doing it. It was more about having to stand there waiting than a fear of not being able to complete the obstacle.
The next few obstacles were one right after another. The "gauntlet" - a guy with a fire hose making it difficult for you to climb the already steep, slippery, mud covered hill. "Cliff Hanger" - a steep decent that warned "you may break your ankle on this obstacle, sorry." "Blood Bath" - a dumpster filled with colored ice water and a wall you had to go under to get through to the other side. "Funky Monkey" - monkey bars over a pool of, yup you guessed it, ice water. I watched a guy much bigger and stronger than me slip off the first bar (they were greased) and plunge into the water not very gracefully and I decided to just swim across. This water was by far the coldest. Probably because they built the pool in a hollowed out section of SNOW to keep it nice and chilly for us.
Right after that was the "Berlin walls" - 12 foot barrier walls to climb over. Considering I couldn't feel my hands or feet, I decided not to attempt it. I knew with help from other mudders I COULD do it, but I was worried that I shouldn't do it. I wasn't so concerned about getting over the top of the wall, but more so the drop to the ground from the other side. I didn't want to break my legs or feet. So, we unanimously decided to skip the walls.
After the walls, there were a series of chair lift towers laid down across the course that we had to hurdle and then a maze of fire and smoke we had to run through. Next was "turd's nest" - a cargo net suspended between two platforms about 4' down from the edge of the platform. So, not only was it tricky to get to the net and cross it without getting stuck but getting out and back up onto the platform was really hard too. We made it though and there were only 2 obstacles left between us and dry clothes.
"Greased Lightning" - probably the world's largest slip 'n' slide, down the side of the mountain that landed in a pool of more freezing cold water. Then the obstacle that everyone feared most, "electroshock therapy". At that point though, it was the least scary thing ever because the finish line was only 10 feet beyond it and although I was dripping wet and would conduct electricity very well, I wanted my dry warm clothes more than I feared the electrocution. I ran straight through and managed to avoid shocks until one wire barely grazed my leg upon exiting the obstacle. AND I WAS DONE!!!!!!!!!!! Here we all are shivering and covered in mud, but done with the hellish course that took a little over 4 hours to complete:
I can't wait to see the pro photos from the course and I REALLY hope they got one of me jumping off the plank. I will post them as soon as I get them. Until then I am barely walking and a little battered and bruised, but onto the next event - half marathon in the end of May, Boston's Run to Remember.