Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Three Races and a Wedding, Part MUD: Tough Mudder Race Report

This part is my Tough Mudder race review.

In October 2013, my company fielded a team to run Tough Mudder together with the company's logo on their shirts. It's a 10- to 12-mile obstacle race with a focus on teamwork and fun, no chip timing, and no penalties for skipping obstacles. The guys raved about how awesome the experience was and how many people recognized the brand and cheered them on. They returned to work and were showered with praise for their efforts.

I was out of town that weekend and far from ready for such a long race and was not interested in the Tough Mudder series at all, but I let the team leader talk me into registering with the group again for the May event in Central Texas. I knew in advance that I'd be attending the wedding Saturday, so I told the group I'd run Sunday since it was cheaper as well and they could register with me. None did.

A few registered for Saturday and then they all dropped out due to life, injury, and scheduling conflicts. I'd already dropped $200 ($85 registration + $12 parking + $50 hotel + gas/food) on the stupid race I didn't want to run, so I was determined to run it and get my stupid t-shirt to parade around the office.

I left the wedding late Saturday and reached my hotel after 1 a.m. Sunday. My toes were so sore on the drive that I thought they might have stress fractures and I might not run the next day. I was scheduled to run the 10 a.m. wave, though I'd requested a noon run, and I decided to sleep an extra hour because I really needed it after 8 miles of racing and no small bit of dancing at the wedding reception.

I felt much better the next morning, squeezed my swollen calves into compression sleeves and my swollen feet into my Vibram FiveFingers, and drove an hour and a half to the Tough Mudder event site. I arrived there to find the registration tables collapsed and the Start line vacant. I asked the volunteers at the info tent if there was any way they could get me on the course, even if it meant an abbreviated run, which I silently thought would be a helluva lot better than having to run the whole thing. They handed me my bib and told me to hang out for a few minutes while they radio-ed to other volunteers. I was amazed at their efforts for me and honestly expected to get my t-shirt and drive 3 hours home since I'd so thoroughly fucked up the timing and arrived an hour late. I give the Tough Mudder race two thumbs up for this alone.

The volunteer turned to me and told me severely, "RUN to bag check and RUN to the start line." I thanked her and did. Another volunteer loaded me into his pickup truck and dropped me somewhere in the second mile just after the first aid station. He confirmed that there was still lots of aid and support on the course; after all, we were only an hour into it. But aside from the aid station volunteers, this section the course was empty. I took off at a strong pace fully expecting the official sag wagon to pick me up at any moment.

It was a beautiful sunny day and a beautiful shady course at Apache Pass. We had camped right near here for Flipside in 2012. The trail was nice, flat, and well-marked. The first obstacle I came to was the Berlin Walls, 9 foot wooden walls that you had to scale without ropes, steps, or slats. There was no one in sight, and I jogged right past without even trying, knowing I had no chance of making it up and over alone.

My energy flagged after about a mile of strong running, so I began to take short walk breaks. But I could see the truck nearby that had dropped me off and felt obligated to prove myself worth the hassle. At about 5k, I caught up to the stragglers in the Mud Mile and we helped one another through.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

I skipped the very last largest mud hill because I was tired and didn't want to bother and wasn't entirely comfortable relying on other runners to haul me up when I had no way to offer help in return. I trudged on and quickly got over that feeling when I approached The Pyramid obstacle. Teamwork is the whole point of the Tough Mudder race series.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

Some lovely gentlemen and women helped me up and I professed my love for them, which was returned in kind. I hung around a few minutes to ask if there was any way I could help, but everyone there had it covered and did not soon need a replacement, so I moved on.

I was eager to Walk the Plank, got up there and remarked, "Whoah. That's kinda scary, huh?" I assured the volunteer I was good; I just wanted to wait a moment for anyone else to climb up and jump with me. I'm not really afraid of heights, but that's a serious drop. And a kid my age died on that exact obstacle a year ago.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

I jumped. I screamed. I held my nose. It was good. And just after that I had the chance to avail myself of the porta-potties. I'd had to go since I arrived on site but hadn't time at the start and didn't want to go at the cans right by the first water station because I was so far behind already. They were a hilariously muddy mess, and I was very glad to be an adept squatter from all my years of camping.

One "obstacle" required runners to pair up and take turns giving one another piggy back rides for a certain distance. I eyed the guy nearest me and decided to wait for the next group to catch up. I paired up with one of the women and she carried me first. But when we tried to switch, I simply could not lift her. I don't think I've ever given an adult a piggy back ride before, and I was surprised to find that I was completely incapable. A couple of her teammates had blown past us and then came back to pick us each up after depositing their partners.

It was a neat experience, but I don't like relying on others so much. I jogged and walked the rest of the course, thankful for the lovely weather, cool breezes, and flat terrain.

I skipped the Balls to the Wall rope climb because I was really tired and really intent on finishing without injury. I'd done so well at the previous day's 5-miler and didn't want to be on this course in the first place, so I felt I had nothing to prove. I completed the Spartan Beast in December, obstacles, penalties, injury, and all, so I definitely had nothing to prove here.

I hooked up with another team on the last four miles who were moving at a pace I liked, though slightly slower than I probably could have managed. They were friendly and sympathetic to my being abandoned by my work team. We pushed each other on each interval to jog a little farther than any individual wanted to. One of our party attempted the Funky Monkey angled monkey bars, but she didn't make it. I knew I wouldn't have though I can get through horizontal monkey bars usually.

Near the end, we approached the Arctic Enema, an obstacle consisting of a rectangular Dumpster full of ice water that you have to swim across long-ways. I'd been excited about it because I did a smaller version at a hot summer race a few years back. This was much worse. It's five feet deep, so I had to swim it and could not push off from the bottom. There's a plank at the midway point that you have to dunk your head under.

I was doing okay until I was about two or three strokes from the end and my body seemed to move in slow motion no matter how hard I paddled. It's a lot harder to move through ice than regular pool water, especially when you're literally seconds from going into shock. I reached the edge, flung my arm over, and hauled myself out. I paused at the top. "Wow, that was really unpleasant." The pain wasn't over and I realized I needed to quickly dash down and "keep moving, keep moving, keep moving," I told myself. My fingertips burned and there was a lot of ice trapped in my hydration pack. I tried to shake it all out but couldn't really feel anything. We were lucky it was a warm day.

(Pic from TM Facebook page)

The final obstacle was the infamous pass through dangling live wires. I knew from the start that there was no way I'd be walking through that. The rest of my pickup team did, though. One woman blacked out and another emerged crying hard. I'm sure I would have cried. too.

And that was it. We finished, got our headbands, got our delicious Dos Equis beer, got our picture taken together, got our t-shirts, and got hosed off. Tough Mudder had a great shower setup with crates to keep you off the muddy ground and excellent water pressure. We'd run so slow that there wasn't a line and we took our time cleaning up.

And then I got to drive 3.3 hours home. I stopped off for food and got home around 7 p.m., groaning as a I pulled my stiff limbs out of the car. I took a long, hot bath, washed my hair twice and it was still filthy, and went to bed.

The next day I went into the office and brainstormed how to announce my run without calling the rest of my coworkers a bunch of losers for bailing out. I sent out this mass email and received lots of kudos in reply:

Hello everyone!
[We] fielded a team this weekend for the Central Texas Tough Mudder, a 10-mile mud run and obstacle race. Because of scheduling conflicts and plain old life, it ended up being a team of one: me. Even so, I drove down to Rockdale and ran my first Tough Mudder solo yesterday, May 4. It was a beautiful sunny day and a fun and challenging course. Not only that, but I ran the 5-mile Cinco de Miler at Fair Park and 5k mud run Cinco de Muddo in Pilot Point the day before on Saturday, May 3!
Finish line selfie

Post-hose selfie in a clean Warrior Dash t-shirt

Monday selfie for work

The owner asked me to send over a muddy picture of myself like the one of the guys from the October race hanging in the hallway, and I explained to him that I don't have one because I ran ALONE.

And, no, I will NOT be running this thing again in October with the company team. I will be running a local trail race I love, the Rugged and Raw 10k/20k, that exact weekend.

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