LGN 44.π: Why You Should Do Tough Mudder

Inside: Mud/obstacle race competition; Reasons to do it

This is for the Underground Athlete people who are hearing a lot about Tough Mudder and are thinking of doing it, but also not wanting to do it.  Not that I want to encourage Jeanie  😛  but I have to reluctantly admit that it’s a good time.  I’m coming around.

My goal here is to convince you.  And quickly, because it’s (supposedly) almost sold out.

Who’s the Toughest?

I was looking at the Spartan Race website the other day. It’s funny how each of these mud/obstacle/challenge races position themselves. The promotional rhetoric is — you should check it out some time. It gets a bit ridiculous, though, as they try to out-do and out-crazy one another.

“Their obstacle race is nothing. They may have water obstacles but we’ve poured bloody pig urine into our water and kept it lukewarm for days.”

“They claim to be the ‘toughest race on Earth’, but we’ve designed our event so that no one could possibly finish.”

“We don’t give you no stinkin’ map. And there are no course markers. We don’t tell you when you’re starting or where the event will be held. If you can’t figure it out on your own then maybe you’re just not wo/man enough. That’s why we’re better.”

“We’re trying to kill you!  You’ll die doing our race or your money back.”

“Our penises are huge!”

“Our penises are huger and … uh … barbed! Huge, barbed penises!”

Okay, okay. Everybody calm down. Take a breath. You’re all horrible, obstacle course-designing bastards. You should be proud.  Now go drink a Red Bull or something, Marquis de Sade.

The Unknown

Anyone here ever do the Landmark Forum?  Someone suggests it or talks you into it, but when you ask them what exactly happens there they don’t even attempt to give you a real answer.  Not because they’re jerks — or not just because they’re jerks — but because it’s so hard to describe and it’s that unknown that contributes to the trepidation.

Even if I show you a pic of the map of the course it doesn’t help you much, does it.  (We didn’t see this before the event.  My sister gave it to me after I met up with her and the kids.)  From the outside, Tough Mudder is some ridiculous, elaborate, pricey torture chamber filled with desperately bored, privileged weekend warrior types.  You wonder, who are these people and what, exactly, is their mental malfunction?


I wrote in the last blog entry about the mistakes I made and existentialist-level calf muscle cramps I got.  I made it up to #10.  I won’t go over all that again, but take a look at the map.

Notice the distance between obstacles. That’s all trail running.  Later I was thinking, “12 miles is just shy of a half marathon”.  A half marathon plus muscularly explosive, plyometric movements and other very physical demands.

It’s a good mixture, though.  You have plenty of chances to catch your breath and the demands on your body vary.  There are plenty of people looking out for each other and even more so if you’re running with a team.

Justin can and will prepare you, believe me.  18 of us went last weekend and 17 of 18 finished.  There was one so-and-so who didn’t cut the mustard.  I’ll find out who it was and get back to you.

Most of you at UA are more fit than I am.  All the runners that have joined in the past few months have a leg up in a lot of ways.  They’re amazing.  I’ve never run (or even jog-walked) more than 3.1 miles at once before.  If you’re a runner you’re way ahead of the game.

Here’s what I said about it a few months ago

This was right after I first signed up and was not happy about it.  It also explains why I committed to it even though I was not happy about it.


Oh wow.  How prophetic.  Here’s a snippet from that blog entry:

And it’s not because I don’t think that I can. I’m sure I could get through it. Maybe. With extreme cramping. Okay, I would probably not make it all the way due to extreme cramping, to be honest with you. It’s easy to be strong and fast in short bursts. It’s hard to be strong and fast — even for bursts — over a long period of time.

I’m starting to get a Celestine Prophecy vibe about this cramping business.  Justin explained the bio-mechanics of my cramping history to me.  But, being slightly superstitious (or stuperstitious as Elaine Benes would say) I can’t help think that there’s some psychosomatic phenomenon contributing.

So Why Do It?

I signed up for the Mid-Atlantic one in September.  Why?

Honestly?  It’s a lot of fun.  Then it gets difficult.  Then it gets a little hard.  Then it starts to hurt a little bit.  Then you get tired and start feeling twinges here and there.  And it’s still fun.  I love playing in the dirt.  They had some of the most perfect mud I’ve ever seen.  Climbing, running, jumping, sloshing.  (Get rid of that electric shock stuff and I could really get into it.)

The ice cold water is uncomfortable, no doubt.  All the times I’ve been in a pool in my life, I always slowly dipped in like pool-temperature water was liquid pain.  Strange that in the right environment and with the right Lisa I jumped into an ice bath with no hesitation.  Awesome.

The shocks (that I did not get to) are the only thing that’s painful (aside from Justin manually rolling out a cramped muscle).

If you’re claustrophobic, crawling through the muddy tubes might freak you out (but they’re inside pipes so there’s no chance of them collapsing on you — it’s purely mental).

I can’t swim enough to survive, so the idea of jumping 25 ft. into ice cold water and swimming any distance had me stressed out for months.  I cramped out before that, though.  I’m still not sure if I would have done it or went around it.  The Hexpad stuff I was wearing was pretty floaty.

But seriously, though.  I loved playing in the mud.  My feet hurt running on rocks and stuff in nearly barefoot running shoes, but that was fun, too.

I saw all types out there.  Marathoners, triathletes, military, gym rats, Crossfitters, big people, small people, totally ripped, significantly un-athletic-looking, a few people that you worried about on-sight but were still making their way, old, young, men, women, costumed, nearly naked.  I think most of the people were middle of the roaders, though.

I mean, you get there and you see regular people.  Of a certain, stripe, yes.  But just good ol’ plain folks who want to do something with the fitness they’ve been accumulating for however long.

Justin told me it was a good goal to train for.  He was right.  The difference now, of course, is that this time I want to do it.  This time I’m looking forward to it.  I’m a musician (sometimes) and it’s like looking forward to a big gig.  You have a little performance anxiety but it’s mixed with eagerness at the possibilities.

Mechanical Failure

Obviously, the goal is to finish and finish strong.  Well, to finish strong and not hold the group back.  I don’t mind hanging back to help anyone that needs it.  Like, I don’t care about finishing quickly.  Y’know, I don’t even care if I cramp out again.   As long as I get farther.  Well, that’s not true.  I would be temporarily devastated but I refuse to accept that as a physical limitation.

If I’m ever stalked and hunted by a gang of armed, drug-addled super-intelligent bears, I can’t afford to cramp out.  They have amazing endurance.  They can sprint — and I do mean sprint (up to 35mph) — for a considerable distance.  The world record speed for a human is about 27mph.  Bears also swim well and climb trees.

But Justin is now aware of my cramp vulnerability and said we’ll work on it.  I’m also going to start jogging again — work my way into it and up — to get my lower legs used to the strain.  I have to get accustomed to at least a few hours of weight-bearing exercise.  I’m not sure how to un-tighten my calves, though.

Hm.  I really need to take those swim lessons, don’t I.

The Rundown

Here’s a quick run-down of how the day went.  For those that are intimidated by not knowing what to expect.  Obviously, I can only walk you through mile not-quite-8.

First we drove to the parking area.  Walked to the school buses that transported us to the event.  Don’t forget your signed waiver and photo ID.  If you have a bag you’ll have to check it.

We had to climb a wall to get to the start area.  I was wondering when we were all going to stretch and warm up when I heard a woman with a bullhorn saying, “If your start time is 9:40 you should be over the wall!”

Uh, what?

That was tricky at first.  Not warmed up at all.  I tried to help anyone who needed it and then went over myself.  (There’s a foothold about 2.5 ft. up the wall.)  Well, I had a false start.  And then it was easy once I adjusted to how much effort I needed to apply.  All this training sometimes fools me when I’m outside of the gym and doing something.  I have to reacquaint with my capabilities.

We got a pep talk, boost, hyping by a TM guy.  He went over the rules.  We shouted hoorah a bunch of times.  Not many places it’s socially acceptable to do that.  He gave us some warnings and told us to look out for our fellow mudders.  They played the National Anthem.  Then we started.  Off and literally running through the woods.

I tried to keep track of fellow UAers.  Tracking the red shirts.  Kind of taking in all the people around me.  Stumbled as soon as I stopped focusing on what I was doing.  You have to watch every step or you will roll an ankle or experience the planting of face and eating of dirt and mud.  It was a beautiful day.  I thought, “Oh.  We’re running already.”  Little did I know.

1. Kiss of Mud

This obstacle was a belly crawl underneath low wires.  It got a lower as you went along.  A little unfamiliar but not hard.  Then you notice the rocks in the mud.  Not bad, though.  Up and out.  Where’s the team?  And more running.  To…

2. Arctic Enema

Ice cold — literally with ice cubes floating in it — dunking.  I think it’s a big (clean) trash dumpster full of water.  That was intense.  After I got out I said, “Holy Jesus, what was that!!”  It was cold, is what it is.

Someone asked, how do you warm up?

Answer:  “Start running.”

A lot more running for me.  Reminders from Sara and Lisa to breathe, use my arms, keep up the momentum.

3. Cliffhanger

I don’t remember this one.  Oh!  It was very steep and slippery.  Getting down/up.  Not bad at all but requiring a lot of concentration.  And tree grabbing.

4. Berlin Walls #1

Two walls to climb.  I don’t know how high they were.  Same as the pre-start one.  Help people over.  Get myself over.  No problem.

Back to running until…

5. Death March

It was a steep incline out in the open.  Tough on the legs but very doable. I was walking a bit by this point and I certainly wasn’t going to burn myself jogging or running up  it.  Steady onward.

More running!  And a water station, thank the fitness gods.  I was thirsty and probably a little dehydrated by this point.  My feet were a little sore from the terrain.  I love the almost barefoot (4mm drop) running shoes.  Just not used to actually running in them.

6. Trench Warfare

Crawling through the underground tunnels.  The one I was in was pretty dry.  Well, relatively dry.  It was muddy but the consistency of clay.  Some tubes had a lot more water in them.  I did not like it at the part where there was near blackness but that was very brief.  Sunlight up ahead.  Good times.

And we’re running!  And our left calf is starting to glitch.  It was mostly on a paved part of a golf course.  Started feeling it in my knees a little on the declines, pounding on the concrete.

Run time.  Some of the trail was layered in great, creamy mud.  Slippery, yes.  You really have to pay attention to where you put your feet.  You don’t know what’s under some of that mud or how deep it is.  And it smelled like manure, which didn’t bother me.  It was most awesome.  Best splooshing ever.

7. Firewalker

Running through the fire.  Between the fires, really.  Firemen were on hand and said to take a deep breath and stay in the middle.  Note:  Take a deep breath and stay in the middle.  Do it in one breath if you can.  Don’t breathe a lot like I did.  I was tasting wood charcoal for the next 20 minutes.

Mooooooore running.  Or more walking for me.  More glitches.  Growing glitches.  A water station, though.  And then mooore running.

8. Devil’s Beard

There were a bunch of guys holding up the Devil’s Beard.  Watch out for safety pins on the ground (that were used to attach bibs to shirts).  There were a lot.  I got to use the bear crawl and a little gorilla crawl in the field!  Sweet.

The cramp was imminent.  Destiny awaited.  More running.

9.  Log Bog Jog

The map isn’t accurate at this point.  You go over and under log things.  There is no easy way, by the way.  Even if you start out on a low wall you’re going to encounter a higher stack.  I didn’t do them, though.  I started.  This is where the first cramp hit.  We were there for a bit.  The roll out, the stretching, the sharing of energy/electrolyte gels.  The feeling of dread.  I knew it was going to be over soon.

The rollout got me functional again.

Walked a short walk to the next spot and I found a tree to stretch out because it was time to…

9. Hold Your Wood

There’s a large pile of logs.  Lots of different sizes.  Get a longer one if you can so you can heft it across your shoulders.  It wasn’t too long, but you never know.  Every Tough Mudder is different so don’t assume anything about duration from what I say here.

I got through cramp free.  Nice.

More running?? Oh boy.  I could only walk and the other calf started getting glitchy.  The original one cramped again and then it was downhill from there.  I ambled, accompanied by all the UA coaches plus a few, to the water station where they had bananas.

That’s where my walkthrough ends.

10. Spider’s Web

I could see the Spider’s Web.  A vertically hung cargo net to be climbed over.  That looked like fun but my lower legs were out of commission, still twitching.  Toes threatening to cramp up.  Crap.

11 thru 21…

Argh.  I really wanted to try some of those.  Some.

21. Electroshock Therapy

I did not make it to this, but I was there taking pictures.  I saw a few TM participants non-chalantly slink off the course before the obstacle.  One said, “I’ve been shocked enough already today.”

One dude got messed up in the Electric Eel, an earlier obstacle.  I saw him in the med tent on his way to the hospital.   One dude got messed up on #21.  They shut off the power and had to go get him.  He got a bad one in the shoulder and couldn’t or wouldn’t move.  He managed to limp off with an assist, though.  Then they turned the power back on.

So, as you can see.  Nothing here is impossible.  Everyone got through it or did what they could do.  Some with a little help, but even strangers would stop to check on you and assist you if necessary.

If you’re training at UA, Justin can prepare you.  You will be worked, though.  Of course, you’re already being worked but the intensity will ratchet up a little as the event nears.

Give it a shot.  It’s a great group and people definitely noticed the UA team out on the course.

Let me put it this way.  I’m not afraid of the upcoming course anymore.  Some obstacles are more intimidating than others, obviously.   My reservations are all about my own physical limitations and those can be dealt with.  Having said that, it’s time I got away from this computer and went outside.

Join us in September, UAers.  Last I heard, we’re 16 strong now.

Peace, love and soul.

Click here to see all of my LGN (I want to Look Good Naked) and functional strength training posts.

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