To say I had a blast this past weekend is an understatement. Trudging through 10 miles of mud and water while attempting 22 well designed obstacles was both miserable and awesome at the same time. I came away from the event feeling more accomplished than ever after finishing the course in about four hours without any injuries.
If you’re not familiar with Tough Mudder, check out the official website here. If you have any sense of adventure, it’s going to be hard to watch the videos and NOT think, “That looks insane, I kind of wanna do it.” That’s pretty much all it took for me to register.
My start time was pretty late in the day at 1:20 pm. I believe the first wave starts at 8 am and the last goes at 2 pm, so the course had already taken somewhat of a beating before I got going. Thankfully, the weather on Saturday was great, boasting a comfortable mid-60’s temperature and a lot of sun. Ohio’s Mudder this year was at the Mansfield Lahm International Airport, so I also got to see a few planes flying overhead during the event which was pretty cool.
In the holding area with my wave they warned us that the course was particularly muddy that day, and they were not lying. When I got the email that the course was just a hair over 10 miles in length and had 22 obstacles I thought, “Well that’s nice, this should make my first Tough Mudder a little bit easier.” This is because the events CAN be up to 12 miles long and sometimes have even more than 25 obstacles! However, I’m pretty sure that the shortness of the course was compensated for by the rough and sometimes dangerous terrain as well as the ridiculous amount of mud present.
This stuff was absolutely brutal.
There were quite a few portions of the course where the mud (sometimes mid-shin deep) continued for what I would guess was at least a quarter of mile, and these portions were not scarce at all! I was so sick of struggling through the sticky brown stuff that getting back to dry land was one of the best feelings ever. I wanted more of it!
Unfortunately, the sticky brown stuff kept coming back over, and over, and over again.
I actually was able to distinguish a difference between what I felt were three different types of mud:
- Extremely sticky, dry, dark brown mud. This is what really challenged me the most. Every time I took another step in this stuff I felt like I was suctioned to the ground. This mud was sticky enough to pull even the Vibram Fivefingers off my feet, which I didn’t expect to happen. I actually took my shoes off a couple times during the course because it was so annoying.
- Extremely wet, light brown, poopy mud. This stuff wasn’t nearly as bad. It was easier to trek through, but the only downside to it was a good number potholes and tree roots hidden within it. I was very cautious during these portions to avoid tweaking an ankle.
- Average, all-purpose mud that’d you’d expect to see after a big rainstorm. No surprises here, just typical mud.
They did a great job transforming the terrain in some areas of the course. There were lots of hills, lots of slopes, lots of wide-open flat land, and quite a few wooded areas too. I definitely felt like I got to experience it all to the fullest. So without further ado, let’s move on to the obstacles!
- Kidd of Mud #1 – This was a simple mud crawl under plenty of barbed wire. Not very difficult, especially being the first obstacle on the list.
- Arctic Enema – In my opinion and in the opinion of many others, the WORST obstacle (in terms of discomfort) that Tough Mudder has to offer. They fill a large dumpster with ice water, place a board in the middle with barbed wire on top of it, and all you have to do is get to the other side and out. Well as soon as I jumped in the water, I felt the effects in no time. I immediately started hyperventilating, and when I put my head under to get under the wood, I came back up with slightly blurry vision and feeling a bit disoriented. Pushing myself up out of the water was also quite difficult, but luckily these feelings didn’t last too long, and my muscles felt back to normal within five minutes or so. But WOW, 34-35 degree water is no joke!
- Firewalker – Delightfully placed after the awful ice bath, this obstacle felt pretty good! There’s really not much to it besides some big flames on each side of the course. It’s not the heat you need to look out for, but try not to take any big breaths because there is a lot of smoke in your path.
- Glory Blades – These were a just a few slanted walls, about 8ft high or so, that we had to climb over and slide down the other side. If you can pull your body weight up and over something, you should be able to do it with no help.
- Mud Mile #1 – This one was tough. There were about six pretty large mounds of mud, all separated by creeks of knee deep water. It was difficult because the mounds offered nothing to grab onto or put your feet in. My method was to jump out of the water and get as much of my body onto the mound as I could, and then I’d sort of roll over it down into the next creek.
- Electric Eel – Similar to the Kiss of Mud, here we crawled through water but with electric wires hanging down in our faces. I took it slow and controlled, weaving my head in and out of each wire to avoid getting shocked. The guy next to me got jolted on his butt a couple times but laughed it off.
- Trench Warfare – This simply involved crawling on hands and knees through a trench of muddy water. It was a little bit scary because it was pitch black in the middle, but not hard physically.
- Funky Monkey – Monkey bars! For the first half they rise up on an incline, and the second half descend down on a decline to the other side. Unfortunately, my T-Rex arms and lack of gloves didn’t help me here. The bars were covered in dry mud which made grip a limiting factor. I fell into the cold water right as I reached the halfway point.
- Hold Your Wood – This was nothing more than walking with a log. You could choose from an individual size log or carry a longer one with a partner for a distance that I would guess was about a quarter mile. My log felt like it was around 25-30 pounds.
- Just the Tip – Another obstacle involving a nice freezing bath if you failed, but I was able to complete this one. We had to scale the side of a wall using just a few boards for assistance. The middle of it offered nothing to put your feet on, so it came down to moving sideways with just your upper body and legs dangling there. The hardest part was actually stepping back down onto the other side because the angle was awkward and hard to judge.
- Dirty Ballerina – This obstacle required you to jump over 5-6 muddy creeks. A couple of them were pretty long too, I actually had to take a minute and get a good start for the longer jumps. It was especially difficult since my calves were already ready to quit by this point, with only half of the obstacles completed!
- Hangin’ Tough – Similar to Funky Monkey, this was a series gymnastics rings we had to swing on and grab the next one. Once again, short arms plus mud-covered rings equals huge fail. I got another taste of the unfriendly water after slipping off the second ring.
- Berlin Walls – Two massive twelve foot walls. If you can complete this one alone, I salute you. I was stationed here for quite some time helping boost others up to the top, and it was cool to see all the different strategies folks were using to conquer the obstacle. With a lift for each leg, I was able to get over both pretty smoothly. Once I could grab the top I pulled myself up forcefully and then tried to balance as I rolled over the top. Once on the other side, I simply let my body hang as much as it could before letting go.
- Island Hopping – I believe there was a line of six wooden blocks, all connected by a rope, with the obvious goal of reaching the other side. They aren’t spaced super far apart, so it’s easy to overshoot the next board. After you land on the first one, they’re gonna start bobbing around quite a bit, so speed is definitely helpful here.
- Wounded Warrior Carry – Since I did the event alone, I got a nice little break here. All you do is carry someone for a short distance and then switch and they carry you.
- Ladder to Hell – This a very tall wooden ladder that had about five steps on it, each one separated by approximately four feet. Simply climb up one at a time, brace yourself as you come over the top, and then descend down. Not super hard, but be careful!
- Kiss of Mud #2 – A repeat of the first obstacle, only the barbed wire was a little bit closer to the ground here. Also, the mud was pretty dry and sticky, which made crawling that low to the ground much much harder than before, especially considering how tired you are by this point.
- Walk the Plank – You will be warned multiple times by the volunteers that this obstacle is for strong swimmers only, and I don’t blame them. Climb up a fifteen foot tall plank, and plunge into some freezing muddy water below you. I’ve probably never jumped off a diving board higher than six feet before, so this was terrifying! I shot super deep down into the water and it actually took me a few good seconds to swim back up to the top, followed by about a ten foot swim to exit the water. Definitely the biggest thrill of the day.
- Boa Constrictor – A series of two narrow black tubes, the first one on a downward slant into some water, and then the second one actually moving uphill for the same distance. Going down was no problem, but the uphill tube was quite challenging. There isn’t really enough room to use your legs, which are pretty much useless by this time anyway. I dug my elbows in and pulled as hard as I could to get myself out of there.
- Mud Mile #2 – Exactly like the first mud mile, only a hundred times harder because of the infinite leg cramps that seemed to haunt just about everybody near the end of the course. Luckily these mud mounds had some big grooves in them that were helpful to put a foot in and boost yourself up over the top.
- Everest – A fifteen foot tall quarter pipe, filled at the top with the arms of other Mudders ready to help you out. I failed on my first attempt despite a pretty good jump because my hand slipped out of the hands trying to grab me. Second attempt was a success, and I followed that by helping another five or six people up onto the top. I thought it was really fun to try and catch someone and pull them over.
- Electroshock Therapy – This is the last obstacle at every Tough Mudder event, and a great way to end a course from hell. 40 feet of live wires, ready to shock you with 10,000 volts of electricity at any time. I had on long sleeves and leggings, so I made it through the whole obstacle standing despite being jolted five or six times. I definitely felt the shocks, but only mildly. Others weren’t as lucky and I saw a good amount of face plants, which was pretty hilarious.
Man was I glad to be finished. The course completely drained me physically and mentally. I had to stop and stretch multiple times because of the excessive muscle cramps that successively built on one another. First went my calves, followed by hamstrings, followed by quads, and even my inner thighs and groin started to feel the effects near the end. There were moments when my ability to walk was severely impaired because my lower body was so shot. I talked to many other participants who were experiencing the same struggles.
There were also five water and aid stations throughout the course. They had port-o-potties, first aid, water, and a quick snack (half a banana, mini Cliff Bar, etc) at each one. A lot of people were taking breaks and stretching out to try and get some muscle power back.
At the end of it all, I thought that Tough Mudder was an incredibly rewarding experience. The course was creative and challenging, but also very doable and reasonable. The amount of camaraderie I witnessed throughout the day was outstanding. I helped a lot of people, a lot of people helped me, and all of us were in high spirits even during the most miserable times.
Here are my recommendations to make your Tough Mudder experience a success:
- Be smart. This is more important than anything else. Know your limits, don’t try to look too awesome, and proceed with caution through the dangerous terrain. Act like an adult and don’t go sprinting through a creek of muddy water that could be full of potholes and tree roots.
- Don’t get too caught up in training for the course. This doesn’t mean don’t train at all, because you definitely want to keep yourself in decent shape so you can at least progress through the course without hating your life. But more than anything, this is a course designed to test your mental toughness and mental grit.
- Have someone participate with you. It’s very helpful to have people by your side the whole way through. Even though I enjoyed my solitude, I still would have liked to have had a friend out there with me.
- Help others! I tried to help as many people as I could and it felt great. Nobody cares how fast you finish the course, and you shouldn’t either. Take the time to help others who might not be as physically fit as you.
- Enjoy the experience. You’re spending a good amount of money to participate, so have fun! Push yourself without overexerting your body. Attempt every obstacle unless you absolutely know it won’t be safe for you to do so. This is a great opportunity to overcome some fears and relieve stress.
So that’s it. I would encourage anyone with an adventurous personality to register for an event. It’s for a great cause and it’s going to make you a tougher person. Of course there are risks involved, but that’s why you have to sign a death waiver! The obstacles are safe, you just have to take some personal responsibility and not attempt something you’re not capable of doing.
“Probably the toughest event on the planet” seems a lot more realistic to me now, and I’m proud to be a 2013 finisher! Looking forward to next year already.