Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic Fall
2013 Race Report
October 20, 2013 – I finally get to have a go at the Tough Mudder! Unfortunately, the Virginia Tough Mudder in June 2013 was cancelled due to Tropical Storm Andrea, which created (ironically) too much mud. Thus, my registration was rolled over to the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder, which was held in Gerrardstown, West Virginia. The event was held at the Peacemaker National Training Center, which was a great venue. The sole exception was crawling through spent shell casings during certain obstacles, whereas there was a lot of bits and pieces of military ordinance on the ground.
While I would be the sole member of “Team” 50/50 once again, Leigh Anne and Jackson did make the trip to West Virginia with me. We got a hotel room in Winchester on Friday night, and the drive up was nice. Jackson was most excited about getting to sleep on the sofa bed in the hotel room, thinking that such things are super fancy. The hotel was only about 20-30 minutes from the Tough Mudder parking site, and there were a lot of other “Mudders” staying there as well.
On the morning of the race we were up and out of the hotel by about 5:30 a.m., and after a brief stop at the nearby McDonald’s, we made our way to the parking area. From the parking area (a giant field) we would be shuttled to the event site via school buses. This was probably the most frustrating part of the event, whereas the bus ride was another 30 minutes. We then had a mile walk or so from the bus parking to the actual event site. The site itself (once we finally got there) was fantastic, and consisted of rolling hills that featured nice views – especially early in the morning when the fog was lifting.
My start wave was actually at 8:30 a.m., but I ended up starting with the 8:45 a.m. wave since I got caught in the porta-potty line. The temperature at the start was around 45 degrees, which was a bit chilly, but it was actually very pleasant once I got started. Still, I was cold in the starting corral.
At 8:45 a.m. my adopted wave took off, and it was time to take on 10-12 miles of obstacles. I was confident that I could handle the Tough Mudder after the sufferfest that was the Wintergreen Spartan Super, even if the Tough Mudder was a longer event. I really cannot call it a race, because unlike the Spartan Race, the Tough Mudder is not timed. Still, my goal was to complete the event as quickly as possible, and I had “50/50” Sharpied on my hand for extra motivation…just in case.
The first half mile or so was a run through a wooded trail, and the first obstacle was a muddy barbed wire crawl where volunteers sprayed the Mudders with water hoses. I presume that they wanted us to get wet and muddy quickly, and the water was quite chilly since I had not gotten warmed up yet. The next few obstacles were rather uneventful, and consisted of some walls and logs to climb over.
The first “major” obstacle came around the 2 mile mark in the form of the Arctic Enema. Essentially, the Arctic Enema is a giant dumpster that is filled with ice water. There is a board halfway through the dumpster, which makes you submerge yourself about 12 inches under the water in order to get past it. The temperature outside was about 50 degrees at that point, and while I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t really warm either. Thus, I was not super excited about dumpster diving into icy water.
Since 32 degree water will literally take your breath away and can paralyze you, they only let two people go at once, with a volunteer dedicated to watch each participant. Since people were waiting behind me, I really did not want to hold up the line, so I simply jumped in with the plan of going under the water and past the board prior to emerging from the water on the far side. My plan was successful, but when I came up out of the water I could not catch my breath. I was able to move slowly to the far side, but my body was in shock and it was about all I could manage to keep moving forward. “My” volunteer helped me get to the top step on the far side of the dumpster, and I had to pause for a few seconds to catch my breath and get my body working again. Then I was off and jogging again.
About two minutes after getting out of the Arctic Enema a funny thing happened – my body felt like it had been turbocharged. I know that sounds silly, but it was like I had downed several cups of coffee in a short span of time, and it was awesome. The feeling lasted for fifteen minutes or so, and I’m sure that I was running at a good pace during that time.
The next few miles went by fairly uneventfully, and were largely spent running trails through the wooded hills, with an obstacle mixed in here and there. During that time, I heard someone complaining about the hills, and my thoughts immediately returned to the “death march” up the black diamond slope at the Spartan Race. The rolling hills of Gerrardstown weren’t even in the same ballpark as the mountain climbing at Wintergreen, and the complaints I heard seemed a bit petty.
Near the mid-point of the race I came upon two obstacles that altered my positive mental state a bit. The first was the Cage Crawl, which is designed to spook people who have a fear of water and confined spaces. In short, ditches are filled with water and are then covered with metal fencing. There are about 2-3 inches of open space in between the water and the fence, so you are forced to lay on your back and pull yourself along on the fence – with just your face protruding from the water.
I am a fairly small guy, but it was a struggle for me to even get into the ditch. I would say that I am mildly claustrophobic, and once inside I tried to just look at the sky and forget where I was. Thankfully, after a minute or two of crawling I emerged from the other side. Unfortunately, what was waiting for me at the far end was much worse than the Cage Crawl.
While the Spartan Race course designers are more adept at inflicting pain over the long term, the designers of the Tough Mudder do have a leg up on them in the short term pain department. This is exemplified by the Electric Eel, which is a slow crawl in water through dangling electrical wires. Tough Mudder’s signature obstacle is “Shock Therapy,” which is where you run through dangling wires near the end of the course. That is bad, but the biggest difference between Shock Therapy and the Electric Eel is that you are stuck in the Electric Eel for what feels like an eternity. I’d estimate the Electric Eel crawl at 30-40 yards, and the electrical wires pack a punch – especially since you are dripping wet and crawling through standing water! I must have been shocked dozens of times, and I was certainly happy to finish that obstacle.
The rest of the course seemed to fly by, and unfortunately, I never saw Leigh Anne and Jackson at any of the spectator sites. I later found out that Jackson had to hit up a porta-potty while they were waiting for me at the Boa Constrictor, and I must have gotten to that obstacle at the exact time that Jackson was porta-pottying.
After crawling over a few more walls, jumping off of a platform into muddy water and scaling Everest, I neared the end of the course. As mentioned above, Electroshock Therapy was waiting for me, and I was not looking forward to getting shocked again. A guy in front of me was trying to walk slowly and to maneuver around the wires, so I thought that I would try that tactic. I made it about three feet into the wire jungle and then I got a nice electric jolt on my backside. That was enough to set me off into a full sprint, hoping to just get through it and minimize the damage.
Unfortunately, when I was nearly 3/4 of the way through the wires I took multiple shocks at once, which pretty much “reset” my muscles and sent me tumbling to the ground in a heap. As I tried to get up, I was precariously close to getting shocked in my face, and my mind immediately went to the “in the face” scene of The Hangover. I did manage to escape the dangling wires without taking a shock to the face, and then it was a short run to the finish, my orange finisher’s headband and a beer. Unofficially, it took me about 2 hours and 20 minutes to finish the course, but who was counting anyways?
After I finished, it was a good 45 minutes until Leigh Anne and Jackson got to the finish line since they were still looking for me on the course. By that point, Leigh Anne was worried that I had been carted off by the paramedics since she had not seen me, so she was very relieved to find me by one of the fire pits trying to stay warm in my wet and muddy state. Jackson had taken advantage of the free tattoos that Tough Mudder was giving out, having had his forehead tattooed. He also wanted to know if he could run with me the next time. Unfortunately, Tough Mudder does not have a kid’s race, but Jackson would have his chance at the 2014 Wintergreen Super Spartan.
We didn’t stick around the event long after we found each other, and it was a relatively short bus ride back to the parking area. From there, we made our way to Carter’s Mountain Orchard outside of Charlottesville and had a good time picking apples and drinking wine before heading home.
Overall, I liked the Tough Mudder, but I felt as though it was more of an event for groups of friends to tackle together than it was an event for solo runners. Getting shocked seemed like it would be a bit more tolerable if I knew the people getting shocked next to me. As an individual “proving ground” so-to-speak, it did not compare to the Spartan Race. I actually felt pretty good when I finished the Tough Mudder, whereas I was beaten and broken after the Spartan Race. I would ultimately get an opportunity to take on the Virginia Tough Mudder with a team in 2014, and that group experience would be much more enjoyable than my solo experience in West Virginia. After the 2013 Tough Mudder, however, I was already trying to find my next challenge, and a random encounter a few months later would take me in an entirely new direction…