So You Wanna Be a Mudder, Eh?

Since completing the Virginia Tough Mudder on Sunday, I’ve been called hard core, impressive, a tough chick, a rock star, a hero, and — much to my delight — invited onto a zombie apocalypse survival team. All of this is appreciated, but despite the hype on the Tough Mudder website, I really think that most people can – and will – finish.
I’m not by any means an expert on mud runs, but a handful of friends came out of the woodwork asking me about my experience and wondering whether they should register for (or, enlist, in Mudder jargon) and complete a future one.

Answer:     Yes.
Seriously, if you’re interested enough to ask others about it, it means that you’re intrigued and probably means you’ll take the time to get up to speed physically if you’re not already there. Or, at least, you have the intention to do so, right?

The following are the types of questions I was asked, and my responses…

How do you feel about it?
Tough Mudder marketing does a phenomenal job of hyping the intensity and difficulty of the experience. I spent much of the week beforehand freaking out about it. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that if I thought about it too much, I felt like puking. My Facebook feed wasn’t helping any, either.

And, based on his knowledge of Tough Mudder, my super enthusiastic photographer/human SAG wagon wrote, after the fact: 

To be honest I thought you were gonna get creamed, so nice work.  🙂

Thanks, guys.

It turns out that I had a good day. Plus, I was wearing a Team Sparkle Traveling Skirt that had extra mojo. One day of Tough Mudder in sunny, 50 degree weather in the mid-Atlantic (ie, not high altitude) was not the most physically or mentally difficult thing that I’ve ever done. I don’t mean that to sound obnoxious. But because race organizers kept repeating “it’s not a race,” I didn’t feel the need to kill myself. Although, I may have yelled at the Artist at one point that we had 6 minutes to cross the finish line in under 4 hours. Maybe.

I think how one finds the experience depends on (1) having the physical fitness to propel oneself roughly 10 miles, and still have enough left in the tank to complete (or giving a good shot at) the obstacles and assist those around you, and (2) one’s ability not to get psyched out by the obstacles or discouraged by having lakes in your shoes after a few miles.  

I feel that my experience in the backcountry is one of the things that made Tough Mudder very manageable once I saw what I was in for. Weather and personal experience aside, the camaraderie and the Tough Mudder pledge also played a huge role. Before the start of every wave, this guy (he was awesome, by the way) standing in the center psyched up the crowd and then led us through the pledge:

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…

* I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
* I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
* I do not whine – kids whine.
* I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
* I overcome all fears

As a result, I got major assists on a lot of the obstacles, like the walls, ice bath, and hay bales. In retrospect, what I regret the most is that because of my size, I wasn’t able to pay forward the physical assists. I did, however, come up on a guy that looked like he was struggling on the last uphill and encouraged him.

As far as event administration goes, there was confusion leading up to the event. During online registration, I (and everyone else) chose a date and time of start. About two weeks before the event, Tough Mudder posted start times. Mine was different than what I had wanted, and I didn’t know about the change until I went onto the Tough Mudder website one week before the event. I thought it was weird that Tough Mudder didn’t alert me that start times were posted, never mind that mine was not what I had chosen. In comparison, it’s customary for road races to send out an email with your bib number and race info about a week before the event. I’m sure the Tough Mudder reasoning for this is that they’re tougher than a road race.

Did you injure yourself (other than bruised knees)?

What bruised knees?
No. I accomplished my goals to have the same number of bones that I started with and all my ligaments attached. And no concussion. I mildly hyperextended a thumb while working my way uphill under a set of cargo nets because I slipped on mud and caught myself on my thumb. Other than that, it’s bruises on my knees, the inside and outside of one thigh, elbows, and, oddly, my midsection, either from going headfirst on the water slide or from repeatedly folding myself over the Berlin Walls. By the way, if I wasn’t wearing tights and a long-sleeve shirt, those bruises would have been scraped up bruises. Sexy.

I did see people limping on the course every now and then. There were a lot of loose rocks on the hills, so it’s possible that people rolled their ankles. In looking at pictures on the Tough Mudder Facebook page afterward, I saw handfuls of people who had real (not mylar space blanket) arm slings and posts from people saying they dislocated shoulders on the slip n’ slide. Given that there were approximately 14,000 people registered to participate in two days of Tough Mudder in Virginia, those are pretty good odds.

Would you recommend it? It looks like so much fun!!!

I haven’t done any other mud runs, so I have no idea how the Virginia Tough Mudder compares to anything else. If you’re looking into a mud run, be aware of the distance and terrain. Venue makes a difference in terms of course difficulty. Doing a 1000′ vertical climb at Squaw or Whistler (where TM is headed in 2012) is a lot different than doing a 1000′ vertical climb at Wintergreen, for instance. Think of it as a 10 mile run/hike (only the fittest among us are actually running up the fall line) with obstacles in between. Channel your inner child/GI Joe character.

Was it fun? 

I’m stuck between two rows of huge hay bales and smiling. Yes, I had fun.

Would you do it again? 

I don’t have a burning need to do another one, but if a friend asked, I would. I had a really good experience. In fact, my experience was so good, I’m not sure it can be re-created. It was sunny, and I had a personal photographer/human SAG wagon carrying half of my energy chews and gels and a down sweater for when I was freezing my butt off, and giving me beta on things like the Electroshock Therapy obstacle (not the Smoke Chute, though – I was caught as off guard as everyone else). Given all that, I don’t have a need to re-up solo, but if a friend were doing it and asked me, I’d be in.

How did you train for it?
I ran the Army 10-Miler two weeks earlier, so I was already trained to run 10+ road miles. I supplemented the running with a regular yoga practice and core strengthening at Fuse Pilates (full disclosure: I’m a Fuse Ambassador). 

Did you bonk ?

Organizing Honey Stinger energy chews, on top of the Team Sparkle Traveling Skirt.
I am notorious for bonking, so thankfully, I did not bonk at Tough Mudder. I hydrated like a mad woman the evening before and day of Tough Mudder. I usually drink water until roughly one hour before a race, but on Sunday, I chose Nuun as my hydration beverage. I didn’t carry a water bottle or hydration pack on the course, although some people did.

There were a few aid stations on the course, but unlike road races, it was less clear how far into the course – distance-wise – the aid stations were located. All of them had water and one had bananas, but it was unclear whether they would have energy gels. I could have sworn that I read someplace that they would have ClifShots, but I didn’t see any, and now I don’t see that written anywhere on the website, either. My favorite energy chews and gels are made by Honey Stinger, and I stuffed one snack-sized Ziploc of chews into a pocket. I was very lucky to have a human SAG wagon —a friend spectated and took photos on the course — and I gave him the rest of my chews and gels (although he pilfered one) to hang onto. Other than the major climbs and descents, he was almost always within shouting distance of me and the Artist, so I could more or less grab chews or gels whenever I needed. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome this was.

What was the toughest part for you?
Staying warm after the first couple of obstacles.

Anything else?

Expect to get muddy!
For all the hype on how difficult the event is, the Tough Mudder organizers also emphasize that it’s “not a race but a challenge” and focus on camaraderie and fun. I haven’t quite sorted it out in my head yet, but to me, these emphases seem a little at odds with each other. Calling something über difficult and touting that only 78% of the people finish (not sure how they figure that one, since no one’s keeping track and I saw maybe 2 people with D-tags) has the tendency to bring out competitiveness. And yet there’s the bit about helping your fellow Mudder/leave no one behind…See what I mean?

That said, I would recommend doing this with at least one friend and checking the competitive streak at the door. Unless you have an early start and get out with a pack of like-minded people who want to and can go fast, you’re just going to get stuck waiting to get onto an obstacle. And, if you’re a guy — especially a guy who looks like he can lift people — you’ll likely find yourself assisting at least one person over an obstacle. 

If it’s on your radar, go for it!

5 thoughts on “So You Wanna Be a Mudder, Eh?

  1. This sounds a lot like my synopsis of doing Ragnar—fun, crazy, no strong need to do it again. Worth trying if it sounds like fun beforehand. As for the mud runs, I'm the one weirdo in the world who isn't on the bandwagon … I'd rather run the trails after a hard rain to create my own crazy obstacle course!

  2. I think I prefer the self-made mud runs, too. I enjoyed my Ragnar experience when I did the first one hosted in the DC area, but it was pretty clear the race was being run for the first time here!

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