My brother did his first Tough Mudder race a few weeks ago in Philly and survived to tell about it! Having never done one, it sounded like quite the experience, so I thought it’d be fun to have him share his race experience on the blog. Ever wondered what it’s like to do a Tough Mudder? Here are Dan’s thoughts and what appears to be a bit of a challenge at the end…
Taking on a Tough Mudder
By Dan Lerro
Let me begin by thanking Colleen for the opportunity to write this post on her blog – so Coll, thank you.
For those of you not familiar with the Tough Mudder series, it’s a course that ranges from 10 – 12 miles (each location is constructed uniquely) with a wide array of challenging and sometimes dangerous obstacles. The race is not officially timed. I hesitate to call it a race since organizers place an emphasis on the team and communal aspect of ensuring that anyone who starts the course will complete it with the assistance or encouragement of event participants. Teams can be large or small. Our team consisted of seven members, but there was one team that seemed to have in excess of 40 members.
My friend, Greg, approached me about seven months before the Philadelphia Tough Mudder and asked me if I would like to join their team. A couple of the guys had run a Tough Mudder the prior year and one of them had even taken part in the World’s Toughest Mudder. Not being the type to back down from a challenge, I accepted Greg’s invitation to join the team. Greg said that he wanted to give me plenty of time to train, as I would be in some very physically fit company. Greg is a strong marathon runner and he offered his assistance in training me for the running portion of the event. I’ve always been comfortable running slow over long distances, but up till this race, I never ran ten plus miles at a quicker pace. Greg did a tremendous job at getting me ready for race day.
Race day began at a parking lot (farmer’s field) about 20 minutes away from the check-in/start/finish area. If you arrived at the field with three or more in your vehicle, parking was free. After observing the logistics of how the vehicles were parked and the seemingly endless line of yellow school buses to take participants and spectators to the race area, I knew this event was going to be well organized. Each of the bus drivers covered numerous registration and race related bullet points while driving, giving everyone a firm idea of what to expect at the drop-off location. The check-in tents for participants and spectators (spectators pay to attend) were alphabetically separated in a way that allowed for easy processing and entry into the race area. Once inside the race area, there is the standard arrangement of sponsor booths, vendors, etc. The landmark of note was the mountain of muddy shoes in the middle of this area that would eventually be collected by charity, thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and sent to a third world country to be used again as footwear.
The starting line was a completely penned in area, accessible only by launching oneself over a six-foot wall. The start times were staggered about every 20 minutes. The pen was about 80 percent full and contained several hundred participants. An energetic announcer briefed each heat of participants as to the race and safety protocols. The Wounded Warrior Project is a charity affiliated with the event, and the announcer took a minute to thank all of the troops, past and present, for their service. The last housekeeping item before the official start was taking the Tough Mudder pledge. The core tenants of the pledge are teamwork, challenging oneself and overcoming fears.
The race begins… Our course has been mowed into a wheat field. I trained on pavement as we have a shortage of freshly mowed wheat fields in the New York City area. To summarize the running portion of this event: You were either running up a hill, down a hill, up a steeper hill, or down a steeper hill… did I mention that there were a lot of hills? When the Tough Mudder sets a site for one of their events i.e. Philadelphia, it really means that the event will be within a two hour radius of Philadelphia. Jaindl Farms, about an hour and change north of Philly, offered a lovely series of rolling wheat fields.
Now the obstacles…
There were a total of twenty-two obstacles! I’ll list them with a brief description and my experience with each one (I’ll try to be brief):
- Kiss of Mud: A 40 – 50 foot stretch of mud you have to army crawl through or fall victim to the actual barbed wire above your head. I stayed low and embraced the mud… My shoes were heavy and my arms and legs were covered in mud.
- Glory Blades: An 8 foot wall angled back toward you. There is no place to establish a foothold, thus you must launch yourself up high enough and throw a leg over to propel yourself through this obstacle. My hands were a little muddy from the first obstacle, but I got myself over without issue.
- Dirty Ballerina: A series of trenches dug about 5-6 feet wide, which one must leap over successively to get to the other side. I felt like I was in Super Mario Brothers when I used my running start and momentum to jump over each of the trenches – though the Princess was not waiting in a castle at the end of this obstacle.
- Trench Warfare: An underground tunnel that bends to the left and the right leaving you to crawl blindly in the pitch dark. There was enough head room to crawl quickly, but there were a lot of rocks on the ground, which reminded me why I was trying to crawl quickly.
- Log Jammin’ (One of the organizers is obviously a fan of The Big Lebowski): An over and under movement through stacked telephone poles of varying heights. Arrows pointing up and down remind you which direction to go… if you miss the arrows, the barbed wire will act as a harsh reminder of which way you SHOULD have gone. I moved through this quickly, but used a lot of energy to push my way through.
- Mud Mile: A series of dirt hills with 6 foot stretches of waist high muddy water in between. Jump into the first mud pool and climb up the dirt hill in front of you… Jump into second mud pool and climb up dirt hill in front of you… repeat many more times! I worked through the stinky, muddy water and flung myself over the hills. At the end of this, I needed a min to catch my breath and drain the water from my shoes.
- Hold Your Wood: Just what it says, pick up a heavy section of tree and hold it while you walk around in a big circle, only to bring it back right where you started. Greg and I carried a team log. It was heavy and tore a nice opening in my shoulder. It was at this obstacle where the Tough Mudder organizers get a dig in at one of their competitors. As you round the turn with your log, there is a sign that lets you know that if you were running the Warrior Dash, you’d be crossing the finish line (we are about 3 miles into the event at this point).
- Cage Crawl: Trenches of water covered by fencing. You have enough room to slide in on your back, headfirst and pull yourself through the water using the chain-link fence above you. This obstacle was almost relaxing, though the distance between the fence and the water is narrow and can freak some people out, as there are points where there’s barely enough space to keep your nose above the waterline.
- Fire Walker: A 5-foot stretch of burning logs with a pool of water just on the other side. This obstacle was well monitored by a fire department representative and lifeguards. I descended a hill right before this obstacle and took it in stride. I used the momentum from the hill to propel me over the fiery logs and into the refreshing pool of water.
- Arctic Enema: A 20-foot container filled with ice and water. I almost forgot to mention the board in the middle of the container with barbed wire across the top, which forces you to go under the board. I jumped in, ice water up to my shoulders. I’m about to go under the board, but all I want to do is burp before I do it… I try and I try, but I can’t, so finally I take half of a breath and go under the water, and believe it or not, the water gets colder. I swim to the other end and climb the ladder to get out – Greg and his brother expedite my exit. My body is numb. This is actually awesome since we are running again and all of my aches have been mitigated (at least until I return to 98.7 degrees).
- Balls to the Wall: A 30 – 40 foot wall that you climb and descend with the aid of a knotted rope. This was not too bad, up and over – good to go!
- King of the Mountain: A 40-foot mountain of wheat bales stacked like a pyramid. Up and over – no cuts on my legs from the straw… on to the next one.
- Berlin Walls: Three tall walls, one right after the other – make sure you have your teammates close by because this one requires assistance. I was fortunate to have enough energy to propel myself up with enough energy to throw a leg over the wall. I stuck around this one to assist a few fellow participants.
- Warrior Carry: Throw your teammate on your back and carry them 100 or so feet. I carried Greg and he carried me.
- Hangin’ Tough (Evidently a shout-out to fans of NKOTB): A series of rings hanging across a pool of water. Swing from one ring to the other or end up going for a swim. I make it two and a half rings and go swimming! This obstacle reminded me of an event from American Gladiators, though Lazer didn’t make an appearance.
- Electric Eel: An army crawl across a plastic lined shallow pool of water… with live electrical lines hanging sporadically above you for the duration of the obstacle. The shock delivered is no joke – many a spectator is gathered to watch, laugh and gasp as participants propel themselves through this electric minefield of wires. Many an obscenity is uttered! I was shocked about seven times. The last one caught me right on my calf, resulting in a contraction of my muscle into a ball, which I worked out as we ran to the next obstacle. Participants with heart conditions, metal plates and a history of seizures are not permitted to pass through this obstacle.
- Ladder to Hell: A series of boards fashioned into a ladder about 30 – 40 feet tall. I’m up and over… just a few obstacles left!
- Boa Constrictor: A ribbed plastic drainage tube which descends down a hill into a pool of water and the resumes going up hill on the other side of the pool. This obstacle was challenging. The descent into the pool is nerve-racking. As you crawl through the tube, it’s as though it fills with water, you need to keep your head up in order to keep breathing. I pushed my way out of the tube into the pool of water. I made my way across the pool and entered the tube going up hill. I decided to turn on my back to keep my head above water in the tube and pushed my way up toward the light with my feet.
- Walk the Plank: A climb up a wall of about 20 feet and then a leap of faith into a deep pool of water. Fun!
- Funky Monkey: A twist on playground monkey bars. This obstacle was challenging. The monkey bars ascend and descend at the halfway point – oh, did I mention this is also over a pool of water?? I kept my arms bent at the elbow and managed to make my way completely across the monkey bars. This was made more interesting by the fact that the bars rotate when you grip them!
- Everest: A quarter-pipe coated in the mud and wetness from previous participants who didn’t make it all the way to the top. I must have picked a perfect path since I was able to get a running start and sprint straight to the top of this practically vertical ascent. This was another obstacle I stuck around to assist other participants with a hand to make it to the platform.
- Electroshock Therapy: This is a 30 – 40 foot stretch of hanging, live electrical wires. This is compounded by a series of 2-foot dirt moguls with ankle deep mud in between each of these bumps. As a team, we lined up 7 across and charged our way through in unison. I made it about 95 percent of the way through this obstacle with minimal shocks, until I noticed several cords in front of me, which had become intertwined. I barreled into the bundle and all I recall was a loud pop. My next discernable moment entailed me sliding on the left side of my body through a pool of mud and gravel. I gathered my senses in a few split seconds and rose up to my feet. Blood and mud poured down the left side of my knee. I wiped the mud from the left side of my face and looked up to realize that I had crossed the finish line!!! Dazed and confused, I turned to the closest Tough Mudder volunteer, reached out my hand and received my prize: an orange Tough Mudder headband. I immediately placed it on my head and proceeded to a table where I received a medium t-shirt. Now came the real prize: a plastic cup filled to the brim with amber Dos Equis Beer. I don’t know that beer has ever tasted better in my entire life…
As I reflect on this experience, I am proud to say that I completed this adventure race. I feel that I honored and surpassed every aspect of the Tough Mudder pledge throughout the event. For anyone that is looking to challenge themselves and test their limits to the extreme, join the United States Special Forces. For anyone looking to push themselves physically and mentally, take some risks and still be able to show up for work a day or two after the event, try the Tough Mudder.
I wish I would have trained more on hills and lifted more prior to this event. I highly recommend wearing compression shorts in order to minimize the amount of mud and filth one tends to take on throughout the event. I appreciate the fact that the Tough Mudder Series makes spectators pay to attend the event. I did not, however, feel that spectators were given enough of an opportunity to view an array of obstacles and view participants to get their money’s worth.
From start to finish, this event was logistically sound. Water stops were perfectly placed between obstacles. The obstacles were solidly constructed. The event was well staffed and assistance was never too far away. The emphasis on the team aspect was critical in making this a truly unique experience. I believe that adventure racing is the next frontier in sports. Event organizers will never have a shortage of people looking to challenge themselves. They will only be limited by their imaginations and creativity in designing the next wooden structural challenge or electric torture device!
Thanks again, Coll, for allowing me to occupy a post on your blog. I hope your followers were able to make it all the way to the end of this post! Perhaps, I can convince you to step aside from this whole ‘marathon-thing’ for a race or two and join me for a Tough Mudder event!