Failing At Worlds Toughest Mudder Made Me Tougher!
In June of 2014, I made the commitment to compete at World’s Toughest Mudder! Over the past few years I had gotten hooked on obstacle races. After completing 3 regular tough mudder’s I decided it was time to step it up a notch! The worlds toughest mudder course was set up a little differently than all regular tough mudders. All the tough mudders I had completed in the past, were approximately 11 miles long with around 18 obstacles. At World’s Toughest Mudder the course is only 5 miles long with 23 obstacles. What makes it tougher is that participants complete the course as many times as they can in 24 hours. This year was the 4th annual World’s Toughest Mudder, and it was moved to a brand new location. For the previous 3 years, New Jersey was the home for this grueling 24 hour military obstacle course. This year the event would be moved to Lake Las Vegas. No one, not even veteran world toughest mudder competitors, could be prepared for this course. The terrain would be different. Running in the desert would mean dealing with lots of sand, rocks, and rugged terrain. 24 hours in the desert would also mean major temperature swings. This had historically been a cold weather event. Now that it would be in the desert would cold even be a factor? Would participants even need cold weather gear? This year’s event was also at a lake, so you would assume there would be a lot of swimming involved. Along with all the changes in the terrain and climate, there would also be a lot of brand new never before seen tough mudder obstacles on this course. There would also be new obstacles that were created specifically for worlds toughest mudder, one of which was a very intimidating 35’ cliff jump! Tough Mudder Head Quarters had given us a few sneak peaks of this obstacle, and it definitely made me nervous! All tough mudders contain atleast one obstacle that is ment to challenge your fear of heights. It is usually only 12-15’ though. I wish I could say that I was one of the crazy competitors who was excited about the cliff jump, but honestly thought of raising the bar from 15’ to 35’ scared the hell out of me! Going into this event, I thought the smartest strategy was to try to be over prepared. To try to be prepared for everything that I thought could possibly happen. I had watched all of the documentaries of the cold New Jersey WTM’s. I had gotten tips from group pages on facebook, and from tough mudder emails. When the time finally came to travel to this event, I felt I was prepared to do great! The 2014 World’s Toughest Mudder would prove to be an epic event, and by far the toughest challenge I have ever accepted.
The morning of the race, I got to the event site really early. I wanted plenty of time to get stretched out and focused, but I was also just so anxious to get it started. Sean Corvelle, is known by everyone as the motivational voice at the starting line of tough mudders. If you have ever competed in a tough mudder before, than you have probably been pumped up by him! Trust me at Worlds Toughest Mudder, this guy takes his job to a whole new level! (Here is a video of the best moments I have of Sean Corvelle at WTM) After months of training for this event, 10am finally arrived, that countdown was over, and we were off on our first lap. During the first lap there are no obstacles open yet. Tough Mudder does this to spread out the crowd so there will be minimal lines at the obstacles during the 24 hours. There is a reward for the competitor who runs the fastest first lap, but my strategy was to just use this lap as a warmup lap. I finished the first lap in just about 50 minutes, which put me right at the pace I had planned. I took a quick stop at my pit area to refuel, and I was back on the course in about 5 minutes.
The second lap started the obstacles. There was a little bit of a wait at a few obstacles, but I knew that after a few laps we would all get spread out better. I was able to get through all of the obstacles without much trouble, and now that the first cliff jump was out of the way, all the nerves were gone. After refueling in the pit area I decided to wear my gopro video camera for my third lap. Here are a couple videos of the course: WTM Obstacles 1-10, WTM Obstacles 11-20. I completed my 3rd lap a little faster than I did the second, so I was making good time so far! However, before I could start lap 4, I had a few unexpected issues I had to deal with first. The first issue was blisters. While finishing my 3rd lap I could tell that I was getting blisters on both feet. I took my shoes off, and was surprised to see that I had blown out both socks, and had open wounds on my toes of both feet. I had worn these shoes for a few runs before WTM, and had never had any issues before. The other problem I was having was with cramps. I was getting bad cramps in my hip flexors in both legs, and mild ones in my calves. I had never had to deal with cramps in any race before either. I thought I was even taking the right precautions to prevent getting cramps. I had been doing a lot of foam rolling, and I even got two massages in the week before I traveled to this event. I also thought my nutrition was spot on to prevent getting cramps. Along with the peanut butter and banana sandwiches I was enjoying between each lap, I was also taking perpetuem and salt tablets. I was a little confused as to how with all those precautions I was taking I was still having issues, but I wasn’t going to let it break my spirit! You have to be able to adapt when the unexpected happens! I took just a little time to stretch my hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves, hoping that would help a little. I taped up my toes, put some thicker socks on, and then I was back on the course for round 4.
When I came in from my 4th lap it was only 4:15pm. With 20 miles already completed I was on pace to reach 70-75 miles before the end of the race! I was doing great! The night time rules were set to start at 5pm, so I had to put on my headlamp and strobe lights before getting back on the course. It was starting to get colder as it was getting dark, so I decided to go ahead and change into some cold weather gear. I came to this event with 2 different wet suits. A 3mm shortie, and a 3/2mm full (long sleeves). There were 2 brothers that had their tent set up right next to mine, and they both changed into 4/3mm full wetsuits the lap before. Both of them were now complaining about being hot, and hearing that made me decide on the shortie wetsuit. Even though I was feeling good energy wise, I was still cramping up pretty bad. Because of the muscle cramps it took me awhile to get the shortie wetsuit on. I ended up taking much longer in the pit area than I planned, but was now back on the course. It was definitely a lot colder during lap 5, and I was already thinking I made a big mistake not putting the full wetsuit on. As I came in from my 5th lap I was contemplating changing wetsuits, but with the cramps I was fighting, I knew that it would take a long time because of how much I struggled putting the short one on. I didn’t want my pace to slow down, so I decided to just put a dry shirt on to wear under my wetsuit. I figured with a dry shirt on I would get warm fast once I was moving again.
About halfway through lap 6, the wind all of a sudden started to pick up. This would be the start of an epic sandstorm that no one could have anticipated. The wind made it much colder coming in and out of the water, and the sand made it really hard to see. I knew I had some safety googles in my tent that would definitely help, but I would have to get through this lap without them. I was so cold after I finished lap 6 that I decided I had no choice but to change into my full wetsuit. As I expected it took a really long time to change. My hip flexors cramping up was making it tough to put my legs in it, and my forearms cramping up was making it tough to pull it up! Everytime I tried to pull on the wetsuit my forearms would cramp and my hands would lock up. I remember thinking of the old Friends episode when Chandlers hand locked up after playing Mrs. Pacman all day. It was a battle, but finally I won and my wetsuit was on. As I started lap 7 the wind was now definitely reaching its peak, and it was getting much colder. It was now a little after 10pm, and there were far less people on the course than there was during the day. The sandstorm was making it tough to see, but now that I had googles I could at least keep my eyes open. My hip flexors and calves were so tight that I was basically just walking at this point. I was wearing a neoprene beanie and neoprene gloves, but my hands and ears were still pretty cold. Due to the severity of the sandstorm, a few of the obstacles had been shut down at this point for safety. When the night time rules started competitors had to get medically cleared at the end of each lap before they could go back to the pit area.
My medical checks after laps 5, 6, and 7 basically went like this:
Nurse: What is your bib #?
Nurse: Do you want to keep going?
Nurse: OK get back out there!
I finished lap 7 at around 12:30am, and was now headed to my tent to refuel. I was much colder now than I had been at any other point in the race. I was shivering pretty good, so I decided that I should take a little bit longer pit stop this time to try and get warmed up. I dried myself off with towels, and then wrapped a big blanket around my shoulders. My pit crew had coffee for me, and that definitely seemed to be helping me. Talking to some other competitors around in the pit area it sounded like muscle cramps and hypothermia was hitting everyone pretty hard. I ended up taking a much longer break than I planned, but was finally ready to get back out there. Even with the longer pit stop, I was still on pace to get a lot of miles finished before the end of the race. My dad told me that I had been steadily moving up in place since the 2nd lap, and if I were able to keep up my pace I could finish in the top 150 in the event. The thought of that really got me excited! That would far exceed the expectations I had coming into this race.
At this point I am not really able to run anymore, but I’m doing the best I can to walk fast to warm up. There were a lot of steep hills at the beginning of the night time route, but because of the windchill it still seemed to take a mile before I warmed enough to stop shaking. The wind storm was still crazy, and with a lot less people on the course it was getting much harder to see. On previous laps the lights from all the other racers head lamps and strobe lights made it easy to see where the course was. With my head lamp being the only light between obstacles, I was worried I could accidentally get off course. Whenever I ran into other racers I did my best to stay with them so there would be extra light. At the swingers obstacle (which was shut down due to the wind), I ran into a competitor from Canada who I walked with for a while. He told me that the volunteer at the swingers obstacle said that there was only 400 competitors left on the course. Who knows if this was really true or not, but as much as I was struggling at the time it wasn’t hard for me to believe it. I think hearing this started a downward spiral for me mentally. I had enormous amounts of admiration for all of the competitors on this course. This was my first time competing at Worlds Toughest Mudder, and it took a lot of guts for me to just sign up for it! Hearing that these conditions had taken out so many tough competitors really affected me. I started this race with a never say die attitude, and for the first time my spirit was starting to break! All of a sudden it seemed like I was more aware of the pain and the cold I was feeling. It was as if I was either in denial about it before, or I had just been doing a great job of ignoring it. The guy I was walking with was able to start running again and so he took off ahead of me. The last mile of this lap seemed to take forever, and I was so ready to get back to the pit area. As I neared the end of the lap I realized that I would have to pass the medical check before I could go back to the dry blankets and coffee waiting for me in the pit area. I had a feeling that it might not be as easy to get through the check this time. So far every med check had started with “whats your bib #?” As I started to get closer to the med tent I started to practice #1051…#1051…#1051. I was ready! When I got to the med tent the nurse asked, “What year is it?” I was in temporary shock! That wasn’t the question I had prepared for. I started to say #1051, but luckily I realized that was wrong. I had to think for a second. For some reason 2006 popped into my head first, but before I said it aloud I was able to realize 2014 was the correct answer. It took a little too long to answer such an easy question, so I earned a few follow up questions this time. After she knew I was OK, she asked if I wanted to keep going. I said yes, but not with near the confidence as before. I headed back to my pit area to warm up a bit before I started lap 9.
The Downward Spiral
It was 3:30am, and there was still about 6 ½ hours left of the race. I remember thinking that I could spend a little time in the pit warming up and getting refocused, and then I would still have time to get 2-3 more laps in. When I got back to my tent, I had to have my dad help me get my arms out of my wetsuit. I pulled it down to my waist and wrapped 2 big blankets around my shoulders. It was still pretty windy, but the tent was working as a good wind block. I was cold and shivering. There wasn’t any coffee left, but they had a cup of hot tea for me to drink. My hands were shaking so much that no matter how determined I was, I could not hold onto the foam cup without spilling the hot tea all over me. That was getting me really frustrated. I decided that I would probably warm up quicker if I got in the tent out of the wind. The sand storm had filled the tent with sand, but that didn’t phase me any. I zipped up the tent, and covered up with blankets. As I was in the tent trying to get warm I could hear my pit crew talking. I heard them talk about another male competitor who just pulled himself from the race. The competitor had never withdrawn from any other race before. I also heard them talking about a female competitor who was very emotional and crying in the outpost tent. She wanted to keep going but was having a tough time dealing with the fact that her body wasn’t going to let her. About 20 minutes had past, so I decided I better stand up and move around. It was really hard to get back up after laying down for that long. As soon as I started to stand, both of my hip flexors cramped up again. I didn’t really feel like being in the tent had helped me warm up any. When I looked up to the top of the hill behind tent city, I couldn’t see hardly anyone on the course anymore. This was the point where I began to get a bit overdramatic:
In my head I was thinking:
I’m so tight right now I can’t even stand without help! It is going to take me forever to get my wetsuit pulled back on, because my forearms and hands will probably lock up. Whenever I raise my leg my hip flexors and calves cramp up. Getting over a wall would be impossible right now! I can’t stop shivering! I can’t even hold a coffee cup without spilling it all over me, and I don’t even know what year it is anymore! How could I possible handle another 5 mile hike with 23 obstacles?
I was making everything out to be so much worse than it really was. I had some great coaches growing up, who taught me how important a positive attitude is when things get tough. I am usually able to look adversity right in the eyes, and not even blink. I desperately needed some of that tough grit at this moment, but no matter how deep I dug, I just couldn’t find it! I talked like I was still going to get one more lap in after I finally warmed up, but truthfully I knew that I was done. My 8th lap ended up being my last, and I ended with 40 miles total. I finished in 334th place overall.
I titled this article, “Failing at Worlds Toughest Mudder Made me Tougher.” I don’t feel like a failure at all though. I am disappointed in the final outcome, but I am still really proud of how I did. I tried not to make a mileage goal for myself going into this event. This was the first event like this I had ever done, so I really didn’t know what to expect. My only goal was to keep going the entire 24 hours, and that is where I did come up short. The good news is that every time we have the courage to fail at something, we become stronger! Especially if we have the guts to get up and try again. Even though I failed to stay on the course the whole 24 hours, I have greatly raised the bar of what I believe I am capable of! I used to think that a Tough Mudder was my limit. Now it’s just another event. Now I am a World’s Toughest Mudder! Worlds Toughest Mudder is already schedule to be back in Las Vegas in 2015, and I will be there. I learned a lot this year, and I know next year I will raise the bar even higher!
Hitting the bell at the Swingers Obstacle (left). My pit crew and I post race (below)