HOW TO WING THE TOUGH MUDDER: Lessons From A Substantially Less-Motivated Participant
HOW TO WING THE TOUGH MUDDER: Lessons From A Substantially Less-Motivated Participant
Over the last couple of months, you’ve been receiving the training reports of an “Average Joe” as he prepared for, and ultimately conquered the Tough Mudder that took place this past weekend. He set a goal, trained diligently, overcame injury and saw his objective through to the end. An impressive feat to say the least. Kudos to you, SteveGoat.
However, there is another way to approach it. Just wing it. That’s what I did, and I sit before you a better man today because of it. My hope is that I can provide you with a detailed synopsis of how to conquer the Tough Mudder, while giving as little effort as possible in your preparation. Once I finish that, I will also leave you with some sincere thoughts about the event itself, just in case you’ve been on the fence about whether or not you want to give it a shot down the road.
Before I get started, there is something that I need to get out of the way. As the author of “The Chronicles of the Gronk,” (there are several more that have been written, currently sitting on the desk of one of our esteemed editors) some of you may think that I am an advocate of the “bro” culture. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Chronicles are all written tongue-in-cheek, and while I do have fun writing them, they are in no way an endorsement of that lifestyle. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I hate the “bro” culture. This will be important to know later on.
It is worth noting that I am a runner. Not one of those hardcore, “Wakes up at 5 A.M. to put in 14 miles before work” type guys, but just a tall, skinny guy with a freakish metabolism and a natural ability to run 3-5 miles without collapsing. In 2010, I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge Marathon (it rained, the dirt trails turned to mud, it sucked), and in 2011, I had registered, and was training for the Lakefront Marathon. Unfortunately, I suffered an impact fracture to my fibula in late August that put me in a boot for 6 weeks and put an end to my marathon aspirations that year. My doctor also warned me not to try to come back too quickly from the injury, as the bone wouldn’t be fully healed for a year. She advised that I avoid trying to run a full marathon in 2012, as the stress during training could lead to a setback in my recovery. However, I was still allowed to run half marathons in 2012, if I was so inclined.
In late April, I was getting tired of the treadmill routine, and decided to sign up for the Summerfest half marathon on June 23rd. Shortly thereafter, I was approached by a friend about joining his team for the Tough Mudder. I was familiar with the event, but didn’t know many of the specifics, other than the fact that you have to be stupid enough to willingly subject yourself to contact with live electrical wires in order to do it. Naturally, I signed up.
I was already into my training for the half marathon when I registered for the Mudder, and figured that as long as I continued to run 5 miles 2-3 times a week, which I was already doing in my half-marathon training, and incorporated some upper-body stuff into the regimen as well, I would be fine. My plan was to wait until after the half marathon to begin the upper body stuff, which was essential, because I am severely lacking when it comes to upper body strength. When I mentioned that I am a skinny guy earlier, that may have been an understatement, I have the build of a skeleton. I continued to build up my running distances, and eventually completed the half marathon while maintaining a pretty good pace.
Unfortunately, right around the time that I finished the race and started to look ahead to the Tough Mudder, the captain of our 4-man team informed me of some ankle problems that he was having. He waited it out for another 5 weeks before finally seeing a doctor, at which point he was informed of a stress fracture in his ankle. This presented a major problem because he was the only person that I really knew on the team, and if he didn’t run, I wasn’t sure that I would.
Through most of July, I ran 3 miles once or twice a week, and did the “Chest and Back” and “Arms and Shoulders” P90x workouts once a week as well. I need to emphasize how important those seemed at the time, because as I have previously mentioned, my upper-body strength is essentially non-existent. I found out that the other guys on the team were still moving forward with the Mudder – they were college friends of our Team Captain, and they were coming into town for the event – so I committed to seeing it through as well. However, near the end of July, something bad happened. I stopped caring.
This wasn’t a typical “I’ll half-ass the training and see what happens” type non-caring either. This was a full-blown “I don’t give a shit about the Tough Mudder. All I know is that I’m tired of running, I’m tired of P90x’s, and I’m not going to do either of them for quite some time.” non-caring. Also, the extreme heat wasn’t doing me any favors.
For the next few weeks, I played a lot of video games, caught up on some light reading, found various other distractions for myself, and generally blew off my training. My thought process was this: I know that this will be hard, and it will be even harder if I don’t train anymore. However, it will only last 2-3 hours, and I would gladly sacrifice 2-3 hours of misery in exchange for a substantially more enjoyable 5 weeks leading up to it. I probably did two or three 3-mile runs in that 5 week span, but that hardly counts as any type of legitimate training. I also had a wedding to attend and was out of town for multiple weekends, all of which took priority and eliminated any chance of training due to boredom.
You can imagine my surprise when at 11:30 PM on the night before the event, our captain sent me a text informing me that he would be running the Mudder with us, despite the fact that he was still recovering from a stress fracture, and hadn’t exercised in two months. As you can imagine, this was great news for me. Any concerns I had about being the guy who held up the team – who, as it turns out, were as equally unmotivated in their training as I was – were instantly alleviated.
Our start time was 8:40 A.M. on Saturday, and despite the organizers’ instruction to arrive two hours early, we pulled in shortly after 8 AM with plenty of time to spare after checking in. Around 8:30, we hopped over the completely unnecessary starting-grid wall, and were then yelled at by the angry guy with a microphone as he read about what being a “Tough Mudder” is all about for the next ten minutes. After making sure my shoes were comfortable, singing the national anthem as a group, and being unnecessarily shoved by amped-up people in the starting corral, the event finally started.
I’ve been very deliberate with my references to the event itself. I have deleted the word “race” several times throughout this article so far, because I don’t believe that the Tough Mudder can be considered a race. As I see it, a “race” constitutes at least one of two things: competition and time. Neither of those are present in the Tough Mudder, as the goal of finishing with your team is all that matters. I’m not saying this in a bad way – although it probably would have motivated me to train a bit more if we were being timed – as those are certainly two worthwhile goals, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Anyway, once we got going, I found the course to be quite enjoyable. I won’t bore you with the obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown, but I’ll provide you with some of the high and lowlights. The trail itself was in very good shape. Granted, I was in one of the earlier groups to run it, and I’m sure it deteriorated a bit with prolonged use, but I found it to be in good condition while I was completing it. The first few obstacles were relatively simple, but did a good job of setting the tone for the remainder of the event. The first obstacle that I really disliked was a simple trench crawl in which you crawled through a wet and muddy lane underneath a two-foot high (roughly) plywood ceiling. The problem is, they didn’t remove any of the big fucking rocks from the lanes, which were almost impossible to see in the dark trenches until your chest was scraping across them. I’ll have more on that in a bit.
Another obstacle that stood out for the wrong reasons was the ice bath. This was an approximately ten-foot long pool loaded up with ice and water that had a divider halfway across it on the surface that forced you to submerge your head. This was fucking excruciating. I was wearing Nike Combat spandex underneath normal athletic shorts, and after getting out of the ice bath, I shamelessly reached up my shorts from the bottom and pulled down on my spandex as hard as I could to get them as far away as possible from my junk, and let some warm air get back in there.
After successfully removing my balls from my chest, I continued along the course with my team. With the pre-existing injury to our captain, our team settled into a groove in which two of us would run ahead at a comfortable pace, reach the next obstacle, and wait for the other two guys to catch up before completing the obstacle. While this may sound like we were being assholes by running ahead, it was necessary because we actually found it to be more painful to run at a deliberately slow pace than to run at a comfortable pace for the two of us. The waiting periods proved to be quite beneficial as well, because they provided me with an opportunity to catch my breath, which helped compensate for my lack of training.
The next several miles went by with relative ease, including one obstacle in which we jumped from a (roughly) 15-foot high platform into a pond. That was fun.
Eventually, we found our way to the first electric-shock obstacle, wherein we crawled through several inches of water, while periodically getting zapped by unnavigable live wires that were dangling above us. More on that later, but suffice it to say, I did not enjoy it.
We made it through a few more obstacles, and eventually reached “Everest” – the massive quarter pipe that participants run up at full speed in the hopes of making it to the top before gravity takes over. After watching a handful of people go before us – some taking longer than others – it was our turn. By some miracle, all four of us made it to the top on our first attempts, and we pressed on.
Not long after that, we were one obstacle away from finishing the Tough Mudder. That obstacle was a section of live, dangling wires that were completely unavoidable. I was about to get the shit shocked out of me. Again. Once again, it fucking sucked. After that, we were done. I was given a headband and a beer, a photo of our team was taken and we had the opportunity to take a shower and hang out for the after party, if we were so inclined. The shower consisted of a few hoses fastened to a wooden structure with cold water flowing through them. I opted not to shower, wiped off as much mud as I could, threw on some clean clothes and headed home with the rest of the team.
First, the good. At it’s core, the Tough Mudder is a big obstacle course. Nothing more. It values teamwork, perseverance and camaraderie above everything else. The experience that you have is determined largely on your relationship with your team, and if you get along with each other, you will have a good time. I got along well with the guys on my team, and my Tough Mudder experience was better because of it. Also, there were a lot of good-looking female participants. Substantially more than I anticipated, and most of them could hold their own on the course too. I don’t know where they all came from, but it made for a better experience.
Now for the bad. This is an event for meatheads, by meatheads, and I am not a meathead. From the guy yelling at us in the starting corral to the signs along the course reminding us of the death waivers that we signed, there isn’t a second that goes by that the organizers don’t remind you of what a badass you are for paying money to complete their obstacle course. I am not a “shout in my face and shove me around to get me fired up” type of person. In the starting corral, I stood quietly with my hands in my pockets waiting for the event to start. The allusion that people need to be screamed at to get “amped up” doesn’t always hold true, but I understand that I’m in the minority with this stance among the race participants, so I’ll move on. This is all a marketing ploy, of course, and an effective one at that. Their marking hook is that they’re more intense than “boring” marathons, and that they are more representative of “real” toughness.
That leads me to my single biggest gripe with the Tough Mudder. I hated dragging my body over rocks in the trenches, and I hated getting shocked. It fucking sucked, and the pain wasn’t the only thing that bothered me about it. Subjecting yourself to electrical shock is not a badge of toughness, it is a badge of fucking stupidity. The fact that Tough Mudder organizers and participants look down on marathons as some type of “soft” or “boring” event is absurd. I would gladly argue that pushing one’s body to it’s breaking point after twenty miles of non-stop running, and then forcing yourself to persevere for another six miles beyond that shows a hell of a lot more toughness than running eleven segmented miles (some of the obstacles had lines that we had to wait in before completing ourselves) and then willingly running into live electrical wires for twenty-or-so feet once you’re finished.
My final criticism is the ease with which the event can be completed. Don’t get me wrong, it was not “easy,” but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had expected either. For an event that is portrayed as an extreme physical test that pushes people to their limits, there were a lot of people who were visibly obese that I would not have thought would have been able to complete the event, and yet, there they were, crossing the finishing line just like everybody else. Like I said, I understand that this is all a part of their marketing strategy and that it makes sense for the organization to get as many people as possible to participate, but it was somewhat of a letdown in terms of what it meant for me personally to be able to say I finished.
I enjoyed my Tough Mudder experience, but there were enough things that I didn’t like about it that make me think that I probably won’t be doing another one. I showed up and did exactly what I had set out to do: I successfully winged a Tough Mudder. If you are thinking about doing one yourself, go for it. It’s a good experience. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, getting shocked fucking sucks.