Tough Mudder: SoCal #1 2012

Race Name: Tough Mudder SoCal #1

Date: February 29, 2012

Team Members: Rob, Ryan, Dalyn, Adam, Tom

Footwear: Vibram Spyridon LS (Rob), Vibram Bikila (Ryan), Vibram Bikila (Dalyn)

Tough Mudder event consists of roughly eleven miles of trail running, plus about twenty-five obstacles with names such as ‘Death March’, ‘Arctic Enema’, and ‘Electroshock Therapy’. They claim to be “Probably The Toughest Event on the Planet” and it has to be at least in the discussion for normal athletes like most of us. Knowing all that, you must get something amazing at the end, right? Prize money? Nope. The medal that makes all marathon medals jealous? Nope. A normal medal? Again, nope. What you do get is the sweetest orange headband you will ever own emblazoned with ‘TOUGH MUDDER’, and the satisfaction of completing one of the toughest obstacle courses most people will ever attempt (also one of the most fun, just take a look at their pledge).

As Tough Mudder is all about teamwork and camaraderie, as soon as we decided to do the event, we started asking everybody we thought would be interested if they wanted to join our team. We also came up with an official team name: Crazier Than Thou. After quite a bit of initial interest, we ended up with only five members of the team, but we still managed to have a blast! It was great having other people we know out on the course to help out and get through some of the challenges together. We all assisted one another by pushing or pulling each other over the Berlin Walls, helping each other up Mt. Everest, sharing our pains after Arctic Enema, or just motivating each other through the running portions, which may have been the most difficult parts of the course.

The Race

The team before the race

The course began by requiring all participants hop over an 8-foot wall to enter the starting corral. Definitely a cool touch for an obstacle  run. After listening to the MC go over the course rules, singing the Star-Spangled Banner, and reciting the aforementioned Tough Mudder pledge, we were off and running. Very shortly after the start, there was our first mud pit to run through. With most runners slowing down worried about losing their shoes in the mud, those of us in our group wearing Vibram FiveFingers were able to just slam through the thick mud and not worry about losing our shoes. Ryan and I were wearing our Vibram Bikilas, and Rob was wearing his brand new pair of Vibram Spyridon LS trail shoes. Tom, the only member of our team (the only one not wearing minimalist shoes, heh heh) lost his shoe and was treated to a muddy sock. Luckily the Tough Mudder crew had a rake on hand for digging out lost shoes.

After the initial mud pit we were treated to our first official obstacle: Death March, a nice jog up a long, steep incline. It was pretty crowded, so we were darting off the path and weaving in and out of people quite a bit trying to get by them. Eventually a couple of us got tired from the long climb and darting through traffic and walked the last bit of the hill.

At the top of the hill was the first actual obstacle, the first set of Berlin Walls. There were two walls that were about 10-feet high. It took teamwork to get all of us over, with two team members boosting somebody up, then the first two people up sitting on top of the wall would help pull the other people up. Teamwork would become a recurring theme of this event.

After another brief run down some hills on some very sandy terrain, we approached Kiss of Mud, which ended up being hard-packed dirt with no moisture in sight. The obstacle was supposed to be a crawl under barbed wire in wet, thick mud, but ended up being us dragging our legs against a hard surface as we slid through the obstacle.

Once our entire team was through, we once again began running up and down hills, eventually catching up to a guy wearing a thong (remember him, he’ll re-enter the story later). After climbing another brutal incline with a sign pointing the way to ‘Glory’, we reached Logjammin’, a log structure requiring us to climb over and crawl or roll under several different short walls of log. You knew which ones you had to go under as Tough Mudder had attached barbed wire to the top of those walls. Another recurring theme of Tough Mudder seems to be liberal use of barbed wire.

Once through LogJammin’ we were able to run through a really fun dry creek bed with some pretty technical terrain. A lot of other participants were walking, but we run quite a bit of trails and were comfortable with the shaky footing, enabling us to keep running as long as we didn’t encounter any traffic jams.

Next up was Electric Eels, and the first shock for several of the members of our team. Electric Eels is almost an exact clone of Kiss of Mud, except they add live electric wires that drop down to give you just enough room to maneuver under them if you put your chest flat against the ground. Unfortunately for Rob and Adam, they didn’t do that and they were treated to their first taste of electric glory.

After quite a bit more running, we arrived at Devil’s Gap, a series of trenches dug in the ground to jump across. Again, they weren’t near as muddy as they were supposed to be, but they were still challenging. There isn’t a whole lot of room in between each trench, so you either have to run and just stay in a continuous motion all the way across, or stop and do a broad jump at each trench. Running all the way across is the easiest.

A short run later (for once), we got to the monkey bars, better known in Tough Mudder lore as Funky Monkey. The idea here was simple: work your way across about 30 feet of monkey bars suspended over water. You fall, you get wet. There’s a few catches however; the bars can tend to spin on you if you hang on to them for too long, and the actual travel across the bars consists of an upward motion at the beginning, followed by a downward slope on the second half. The downward part is the hardest as you start to get momentum and have to just keep up with it. We all made it across except for Rob who fell off about halfway.

Next was one of Tough Mudder’s premier obstacles: Arctic Enema, and yes, it can be just as bad as it sounds. Imagine a construction dumpster with a board across the top of it in the middle (with barbed wire over it of course), and then filled up with water to the height of the board. Next, drop several hundred pounds of ice in until the water is a brisk 34 to 35 degrees. Remember that board in the middle? It’s there to swim under. Yes, under. You get to go total immersion through ice cold water. It only took us about five seconds to cross the water, but just in that short amount of time your muscles start locking up and it gets hard to move. After climbing out it felt as if we had been kicked in the yarbles and punched in the face at the same time. Everybody kind of stood around for a few minutes afterwards in shock.

Once we warmed up enough to actually move again, we walked for a few minutes until our legs could actually run, then we ran to Walk the Plank, a platform around 20 feet high that you jump off into the water below. Unless your scared of heights, this one is 100% fun with the hardest part being the climb up the ramp they’ve built onto the back of the obstacle.

After running up another hill and along a ridgeline offering a spectacular view, we reached Boa Constrictor. A series of tubes that are about 2 1/2′ to 3′ feet in diameter, we lined up and raced through them. In the middle there’s a pool of water that you crawl through before entering the second pipe a crawling for about another 15 feet. Our knees and elbows got pretty scraped up from this one, but we had fun. We even rolled down the little hill at the end.

Cliffhanger was next. It’s a steep sandy hill with a pool of water at the bottom and a cargo net about halfway up. Rob had the definite advantage on this one as his Spyridons let him easily walk up without much assistance. The rest of us slipped a little bit but were still able to get up pretty easily.

Shortly after Cliffhanger we reach Twinkle Toes, a series of 2x4s crossing a pool of water with electric wires on the sides to make sure you don’t sit and scoot across the beams. We all made it across other than Rob, who must have really enjoyed the water at Tough Mudder.

Another set of Berlin Walls awaited us next, although they were only about 9-feet in height this time. We quickly got through them, noticing that we were a lot more tired than the first set of walls we crossed, and moved on to Satan’s Beard, a large cargo net to duck and walk under, which ended up being a lot easier than it should’ve been since you could just put your head down and your arms back and walk through it. If the spacing in the net was larger it would be much more difficult.

Spider’s Web was our next obstacle, and this is another obstacle with a lot of camaraderie. An approximately 15-foot high net that you crawl up and over, everybody would take turns hanging on the bottom to stretch the net and make it easier for others to climb over. We each took our turns for a couple minutes after making it across.

With the last few obstacles all being pretty close together, we had a longer run this time to our next obstacle: Hold Your Wood. Approaching the “obstacle” you see a huge pile of wood and a Marine barking out orders to intimidate you to pick up the biggest piece you can find, then proceed to carry it for the next 1/4 mile around a trail that went out along the shore of the lake and back. At this point we were treated to a very nice view across the lake towards the finishing area where Everest and Electroshock Therapy awaited.

One of the toughest hills of the course were up next, followed by this event’s mystery obstacle: Spread Eagle. At each event Tough Mudder throws in a mystery obstacle where they don’t announce what it is until the night before when the course maps are released, leaving you to wonder what kind of surprise they’re going to throw at you. Unfortunately for them, Spread Eagle was a lot easier than it should’ve been. Picture two pieces of plywood on opposite sides of a 2 1/2′ foot gap (with water underneath, of course), with both pieces being at an angle and making a kind of ‘V’ shape. I’m sure the intent of the obstacle’s designer was to force people to walk along them, trying to keep grip on the boards as they went. In practice though, all you had to do was put your back on one side and your feet on the other and scoot across. Making the boards steeper would’ve made this one a lot harder.

Getting towards the end now, a few of us stopped and dumped the rocks out of our shoes, with Rob finding that he actually had a huge blister on his toe that he thought was a rock. Once we were all cleaned out and ready to go, we ran down along the shore again and through some of the wetlands. With growth on both sides of the trail making it feel as if you were in a forest, they put clever signs up warning you stay on the trail for fear of Velociraptor attacks. Since were now running along the shore, we might as well dip in for a swim, right? We swam across a couple of inlets to the lake, which weren’t as cold as Arctic Enema but still took your breath away when entering the water, and then hit the trails running again, passing mile marker 11 and coming into the finisher’s area where the last four obstacles were waiting for us.

Posing for the camera after Greased Lightning

Finally, the obstacle I’ve been waiting for! Officially called Greased Lightning, the obstacle was a HUGE slip ‘n slide going down the side of the hill, with a guy halfway down keeping the plastic (and those of us sliding down it) wet with a fire hose. We all took our turns getting started, and I dove down it head first, running into Rob who was going a lot slower than everybody else for some reason.

After seeing our families for the first time, we were treated to a trip back into the lake for Underwater Tunnels, a series of 50-gallon drums tied to a wood framework. In a configuration of three rows, you had to swim out to the barrels, then swim under each row, coming up in between to breathe and get ready for the next one. With the lake being too deep to touch at this point, the trick was to grab the wood framework and shove your way under it, using the momentum to get you underneath each barrel.

Rob getting pulled up Everest

Coming out of the water we approached what is probably the most intimidating obstacle, at least physically, that Tough Mudder has to offer. After running 11-miles of tough trails, and getting through over 20 obstacles, the next challenge is to be able to run at full speed up a 15-foot quarter pipe (which is slippery at this point) and climb up and over the top. Ryan, Tom, and myself were both able to get up easily, running fast enough to carry our momentum up and over the ledge with minimal climbing involved. Rob got to the ledge on his first attempt, only to discover that he had pretty much no upper body strength left and had to be lifted up and over the top by Ryan and another participant. Adam fell his first two times, hitting his head pretty hard on the second attempt, before being lifted up similar to Rob.

All that awaited us at this point was Electroshock Therapy, the grand-daddy of all Tough Mudder obstacles. A corridor filled with hundreds of yellow wires hanging down from the lattice work, you have to run through as fast as you can, hoping to miss as many of the wires that are carrying a charge as possible. I went first, getting shocked several times (as you can hear in the video below), followed by Rob and Adam who also were both shocked several times and who also fell into the mud at the end. Next up was Tom and Ryan a group of other people, with Tom getting through shock-free, and Ryan getting shocked and falling like Rob and Adam did.

Once through Electroshock Therapy, it was through the finish tunnel where volunteers were waiting with our Tough Mudder headbands, bottles of water, and food. Ryan, Tom, and I felt pretty good after we were finished, but Rob and Adam both looked like they had just ran a marathon (which is ironic, since they’re the only two of the group that have), and were obviously hurting from the adventure we just had.

The Conclusion

We’re all smiles after finishing the course

After completing the race, and looking back a few days later after our sore muscles got better, and our cuts and scrapes started healing, we all agreed that while it was incredibly hard at times, Tough Mudder was one of the most fun experiences we’ve ever had, especially together as brothers and as a team. The rest of the team is planning on conquering Tough Mudder Las Vegas in October, but I’ll be gone on a mission by then. This won’t be the last Tough Mudder for myself or for the team though.


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