2014 Tough Mudder Race Report
June 14, 2014 – Its time for the Virginia Tough Mudder at the Meadow Event Park in Doswell. I had completed a Tough Mudder in West Virginia in October 2013, but this time I was not running solo. In fact, Team 50/50 had four members this go round – myself, Leigh Anne, Mike Sprouse and Alan Posey. Still no Richard Engel, but I think he was saving himself up for the Spartan Race in August.
In truth, this should not really be called a “Race Report,” whereas the Tough Mudder is not timed, and thus, is not truly a race. It is, however, 10-12 miles with obstacles of varying difficulty. Some are quite simple – crawl through mud. Others can be a bit challenging, especially if you are lacking upper body strength – walls. Some are designed to prey on your fears – heights and confined spaces. Some are just evil – electrical shocks. I was excited to be able to experience the full gamut of obstacles with others this time, and as they say, misery loves company.
Since the Tough Mudder was in Doswell, Leigh Anne and I stayed at my parents’ house in King William the night before. They had volunteered for Sherpa duty while we tackled the course, which consisted mostly of wrangling Jackson and Jillian. I use the term volunteer loosely, in that, it was more of a passive acquiescence to my request. Mike and Alan were simply going to meet us at the Tough Mudder, apparently not wanted to bunk with us.
The day of the Tough Mudder was warm, but not too hot. I think the high was around 85, and it could have been much worse in mid-June. Once we met up with Mike and Alan in the parking lot, we headed inside the Event Park and hit up the bag drop. As always, there was the obligatory bathroom break, and then the four of us headed for the starting corral.
Like the Spartan Race, the Tough Mudder has a wave start, and each “Mudder” is given a starting time. Unlike the Spartan Race, however, you can start with any wave, and the starting times are more like guidelines. We hit the starting corral around 10:15 a.m., and they trick you into thinking that you are about to start once you climb a wall into the corral. In actuality, there is a lecture on course rules, about helping fellow Mudders and then the National Anthem. At approximately 10:30 a.m. our gun went off, and we were off.
The beginning of the race consisted of a couple of miles of trail running, with a few minor obstacles mixed in. The Tough Mudder folks like to get you wet and muddy early, and there were several ditches of muddy water. Those typically don’t present much of a challenge, but it can be a bit difficult to find your footing, and you can’t really tell how deep some on the ditches are. In fact, Leigh Anne took a wrong step and temporarily disappeared beneath the water. She popped up quickly, with nothing wounded but her pride.
We soon came to the Boa Constrictor obstacle, which is a series of black piping that you have to crawl through, finishing up in more muddy water. The Boa Constrictor is more of a mental challenge for people who are claustrophobic, but the portion where you are climbing uphill is tough. The insides of the plastic tubes were wet and muddy, and it was hard to get good leverage to move forwards, especially since you are constricted in the tube.
One of the most common types of obstacles the Tough Mudder folks use are walls of varying heights to scale. Some are 6-8 feet tall, and can be tackled on your own. Others are higher, and require the assistance of other Mudders to get over. This particular course seemed to have its fair share of climbing walls, much to Leigh Anne’s chagrin. By the end of the day she was thoroughly sick of climbing walls. To make matters worse, Mike somehow managed to break a toe climbing over a wall near the mid-point of the course. He continued on through the pain, however, and was still able to finish with a little help from his friends.
One of Tough Mudder’s signature obstacles is the Mud Mile, which consists of several mud filled ditches that are difficult to traverse. The trenches are deep, and have muddy water that is about waist high. If you aren’t careful, the mud at the bottom of the trench will suck off your shoe, and it can be challenging to get a grip on the top of the berm to pull yourself over.
Even though it was not a super hot day, it was warm enough, and we were ready for the Arctic Enema once we arrived at it near the halfway point. This is essentially a dumpster filled with icy water, and you have to completely submerge beneath the water in order to get to the far side since there is a wooden wall in the middle. They only let 2-3 people go in at once, whereas the icy water can paralyze you, and they don’t want anyone drowning in a dumpster of ice for obvious reasons. Leigh Anne, Mike and I all jumped in at the same time, and Mike and I came out on the other side of the wall together. We struggled to catch our breaths and wade to the far side, but once we got there, we realized that Leigh Anne had not come up out of the water. I turned around and started to go back to see if she was at the bottom of the dumpster, but then she finally popped up out of the ice. She had apparently tried to come up too soon on her first attempt, and was still on the other side of the wooden wall. She then had to resubmerge and go under the wall.
Once again, I felt energized by the shock to my system after climbing out of the dumpster, and eagerly took on the Killa Gorilla – which is simply running up and down a hillside multiple times. Next up was the Monkey Bars, which were in the shape of a V. Thus, you climbed up at an angle and then back down. The bars were wet and slippery, but there was a pool of water beneath them. There was a slight backup since someone ahead of us had slipped at the very end of the bars and knocked his head on a metal support rail. We waited while he was taken off on a gurney.
Leigh Anne went first, and has never been a fan of monkey bars. She fell into the water on the third or fourth bar, and swam to the other side. Before she could do so, however, she was almost crushed by the guy behind her, who didn’t wait for her to get out of his way before starting his short-lived climb. Alan, Mike and I made it across without incident, and on we went.
The most interesting obstacle of the day by far was the Pyramid Scheme, which was an inclined wall about 15 feet tall or so. In order to get up the wall, you were forced to make a human chain, starting with someone standing on another person’s shoulders. A Mudder already of the top would then have to lean down and pull you up. After arriving at the top, it was expected for you to assist other people up, as others had assisted you.
Getting to the top took some doing, and then I turned around, hooked my feet to the top and laid face down with my arms out to pull people up. All modesty was put aside while traversing the pyramid scheme due to its high level of difficulty, and I think I got to second base a few times as I was climbed over by girls in tank tops. Leigh Anne got even farther, and “accidentally” grabbed another Mudder in the crotch as she pulled him over the wall. There was a lot of blushing and apologizing, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, I think he wanted to climb up again.
Near the 10 mile point, Alan began having bad calf cramps, which forced him to a slow jog. He and Leigh Anne bypassed the last set of 10-12 foot climbing walls and then we got ready to finish up with the Electroshock Therapy obstacle. Having completed that obstacle in 2013, I was really not looking forward to getting shocked again, but I was happy that my misery would have some company.
As we rounded the corner to the electrical wires, there was a backup of Mudders watching other people get shocked and waiting for their courage to build up before proceeding themselves. Sometimes thinking about what is coming next is counterproductive, so we left the line behind and ran full speed into the jungle of hanging electrical wires. I made it 3/4 of the way through and then got hit by multiple wires at once. Just like in 2013, the jolt knocked me off my feet and into the mud I went. Since I was so close to the end, I simply crawled out to avoid getting shocked in the face when trying to stand back up.
After pulling myself out of the mud, it was just a short jog to the finish line, where my parents and the kids were waiting. I could tell that it had been a long day for them, especially my dad, who apparently had Jillian on his shoulders most of the time. We all grabbed our finisher’s beers and orange headbands, and then hit the communal showers to try to clean off before the ride home. Mike limped back to his car, and confirmed a few days later that his toe was definitely broken. All in all, he managed to complete roughly half of the 10-12 miles with a broken toe, and Alan fought off debilitating muscle cramps at the end. Leigh Anne and I made it through relatively unscathed, save for her trauma of pulling a stranger over the Pyramid Scheme via his crotch.
Overall, I felt as though the 2013 Tough Mudder in West Virginia was a much better venue, and it definitely had more varied obstacles. The 2014 Virginia version had too many climbing walls, which really got repetitive, and the scenery was not nearly as nice. Still, the process itself was much more enjoyable in 2014 since Team 50/50 had four members instead of just one.
Upon completion, however, I really was not motivated to sign up for another Tough Mudder. They really are not races since they untimed, and the triathlon bug had already bitten. The Tough Mudder was enjoyable in its own right, but I still preferred the challenge of racing against myself and others to see how far and hard I could push myself. Thankfully, I would have several such challenges in the upcoming months, starting with my first real (non-reverse) triathlon in a few weeks.