Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tough Mudder: Dirty, Adventurous Fun!

Tammy and I just did the Tough Mudder (NorCal), and it was a blast! Tough Mudder bills themselves as
the TOUGHEST one day event on the planet. This is not your average mud run or boring, spirit-crushing road race. It's Ironman meets Burning Man: our 7-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around toughness, strength, stamina, fitness, camaraderie, and mental grit. Forget about your finish time. ... Simply completing the event is a badge of honor.
All the machismo and marketing hype aside, we love new adventures. Hearing that this one amounted to dashing all over a ski hill sprinkled with nineteen military-style obstacles that we would get to play on, we knew we had to go check it out! Factor in doing it at elevation, an air temperature of 60 degrees or so, with water and ice among those obstacles, and that's pretty much irresistible for a pair of CrossFitters. ;^)

Costumes are strongly encouraged, though strangely there weren't a lot in evidence when we got there. No matter -- we were on a mission to maximize the fun! Rather than go with choices we could see in photos from past events, like some sort of Braveheart warrior thing, or natives from Avatar (or the sometimes super-risque ones that left a lot of skin exposed) we decided to hit it with an old-school prison-break theme! This earned us a lot of attention throughout the course: As we passed people or approached obstacle managers, they would often chuckle, making comments about Alcatraz, or how they could hear the dogs and that we should run faster. At one point, a couple of guys behind me were singing about workin' on the chain gang. Lots of people called out Hey, Convict!, asking what we did ("nothing, we're innocent!") and why we were running ("we were framed!"). And whenever the helicopter was hovering overhead capturing images, people commented about the search closing in which only increased the feeling of our making an escape -- like something out of a movie.

The course really did have a lot of fun twists! Here's the blow-by-blow. (Sorry for the length of this post; feel free to just skim and look at pictures. :^)

1. The start was a mob-dash straight down a ski slope right, after we all recited a little Pledge acknowledging that this was a challenge and not a race; that mudders help each other out; and that mudders don't whine ("kids whine!"). I think this last is clever of them, given how likely it is for hiccups to happen in a complicated event like this. They called this part the Braveheart Charge ("Charge into battle with 5000 fellow Tough Mudders. Battle cries essential.")

2. After running back uphill for a while, we hit the Kiss of Mud ("Eat dirt as you crawl on your belly under wire set only 8 inches from the ground.")  Yeah! A low-crawl through cold mud, under barbed wire -- that'll take the shine off your uniform!

3. After that came the Death March ("Feel the burn early on as you charge straight up this red graded ski run right to the top of the mountain.") Burning legs and lungs, check. But their description forgot to mention the descent that precedes the ascent: steep, switchbacking, single-track, winding through a field of boulders. (You can see how the single-track aspect  bottled people up a bit in the picture on the right.)

4. Once we got to the top, we were greeted by Boa Constrictor ("Prove you can cope with cold dark confined spaces and a few nasty scratches with our specially designed Tough Mudder tire tunnels.") This was basically some lengths of corrugated culvert pipes connected with a bend so you couldn't see light until you were halfway through them. And they were tight enough that we had to basically drag ourselves through with our arms.

5. After some more running, we came up on Dragon Wheels ("Just when you thought it was all running and crawling, try your hand a climbing. Claw up and over these three giant spools lined end to end. Stop complaining.") I got a little clumsy on these -- couldn't swing my legs to the side since the vertical parts made it too narrow, and there were Mudders doing their best to be helpful to other Mudders, which was cool, but basically put them in my way. So I flailed going over and landed in an undignified heap on the far side.

6. Next came The Gauntlet ("Prepare to feel like you're at a South American political demonstration as you get high pressure hosed from both sides as you run though Bear Valley's half pipe.") This was awesome, just the kind of thing you'd expect out of Tough Mudder: running up a really muddy halfpipe, getting hit by snowmaking machines blasting water at you from both sides. Refreshing!

7. That was followed by Cliffhanger ("Grab onto anything you can as you scramble back to the top of the mountain up this nasty slippery and very steep black run.") This was an even steeper ascent that was just loooong -- I hit my threshold and was powerwalking a bunch of it, but Tammy just ran all the way up. Enduro-trail-running badass! (A Marine who had just limped to the top was giving her big props for making what's on the right look easy. :^)

(Something about climbing up a glacier wall was supposed to happen about now, but we didn't notice any 100-foot ice sheets that needed scaling... not that we were worried about this at the time, as the course was basically a blur of activity anyway.)

8. We came up on a crowd of people all bottled up, briefly wondering what we should do and why people weren't moving. Turns out it was the Swamp Stomp ("Get stuck in with our knee-high energy-sapping trademark Tough Mudder thick mud.") Seriously, you could lose a shoe running through this stuff! The wait wasn't too long, and they kept us entertained by letting a handful of folks try to demonstrate their best bellyflops into it.

9. Next was the Kentucky Derby ("These eight foot jumps are too much for even the biggest of thoroughbreds, so you'll need teamwork and camaraderie to get yourself and your fellow Mudders over these giant beams.") No kidding -- the top of that big, smooth beam was way up there!

10. After some more dashing, we all clambered over a schoolbus at the School of Tough Knocks ("Be the kelly Slater of bus surfing as you climb cargo nets to the top of this yellow beauty just to make the 12 foot jump back down again.") Looks like they skipped the jump down in favor of cargo nets on both sides.

11. Then there was more mud, and we hit the Berlin Walls ("Show team spirit and camaraderie as you work with other Tough Mudders to scale our series of 12 foot high walls, tough enough when dry, but really fun when wet.") Now it was Tammy's turn to be a little clumsy -- she hit that slick white board on the front side and went down hard, rocking and holding her leg like Peter in that recurring joke in Family Guy. Walk it off, Mudder!

We fled the scene and soon arrived at a manmade reservoir way up on top of the mountain. Approaching it from the far side in this photo, there were four ropes that people were using to climb down to the water for...

12. The Underwater Tunnels ("Bob underneath the obstacles on the surface of the water as your head shrinks to the size of a walnut.") Yeeeeahh!! Swim across, going under the floating barrels. Okay, I'll just say that swimming in a cotton jumpsuit isn't the best idea, but the challenge was really the temperature: apparently it snowed the day before and the water was 40 degrees! We could seriously feel the clock ticking the entire time we were in it. When I first waded in up to my chest, my diaphragm stopped cooperating on that whole breathing thing, so I backed up to knee-depth to let the shock settle in a bit and hit it again. Unfortunately, Tammy (who was already working on enjoying the cold) thought something was going really wrong because I was suddenly coming back at her, and I wasn't able to speak very well to explain what I was up to.

13. After swimming across and climbing up the other side, we were sent right back in with Greased Lightening ("Have some fun sliding down the hill, real Tough Mudders go head first back into the pond.") Woo!!  That really was fun! Well, at least until we hit the freezing water a second time and had to swim around a boat out there before climbing out again. Oh, and getting in the water wasn't only unpleasant because of the cold: it absolutely REEKED. We're pretty sure it was the smell of a thousand years of fermented goose poop.

14. Dashing away, I noticed that I couldn't feel a few of my toes and fingers, and Tammy was saying that she couldn't feel her feet, so at this point we were looking forward to anything that might warm us back up. That turned out to be Hold Your Wood ("Make like a lumberjack and drag a log up a ski slope and then try to keep your footing on the way back down."). Grabbing a couple of good-sized ones (the longer, shared ones were all gone), we headed straight downhill. Eventually there was a turnaround, and we all headed right back up! Sure, sounds less than stimulating, but I'm pretty sure everyone was enjoying warming up at this point.

15. Next up was Devil's Beard ("Try as you might you will get caught like a fly in a spider's web time and time again in our annoyingly low cargo nets."). This was just another quick low-crawl, but under a big cargo net. Meh.

16. Running along the ridge at this point, we arrived at a long snow/wind break co-opted for the next event: Fenced Off ("Show your mental toughness as you cross back and forth four times over this 8 foot fence."). This actually felt a lot like part of a CrossFit workout: You go over on this segment, come back on the next, and continued doing that until you run out of fence. We crossed the fence sixteen times in total.

17. Continuing along the ridge as we headed down, it was starting to feel like it might be ending. Sure enough, that's when the Mystery Obstacle showed up, which was supposed to be the last thing before the finish. It turned out to be a table filled with shots of the world's nastiest, most badass hot sauce. Or so they said. As best we could tell it was only watered-down sriracha sauce, so maybe this was supposed to be more of a test of mental grit or whatever (willingness to just throw back the "fearsome" stuff and move on).

18. More winding downhill, then finally -- a little more than two hours after starting -- we hit the finish line of Fire Walker ("Plain and simple, run through our blazing kerosene soaked straw. Expect flames at least 4 foot high.") Looks like the Forest Service nixed the flaming bales of straw, because it was a gauntlet of propane flames that marked the end. Woo! High fives!!

The event was of course followed by the all-important party, where everyone was drinking beer and listening to a decent band. The organizers noticed our costumes and pulled us up on stage to be interviewed for a while (and we're pretty sure we would have won the Best Costume contest if we hadn't missed it by being off at the porta-potties to relieve SOMEONE's tiny chick-bladder ;^).

Unfortunately, we were driving home the next day and couldn't take the organizers up on their challenge for everyone who did it on Saturday to return and do it again on Sunday. That would have been a hoot! Next time.

We are seriously impressed with a relatively new and inexperienced organization putting on so large and complicated (and well-designed) an event, and seeing it all go so smoothly! That's not easy. The bottom line is that if you're reasonably fit, you'll have a great time doing Tough Mudder. (And if you're a CrossFitter, you can probably show up with no event-specific preparation and turn in a strong performance. :^) Just be sure to wear a costume -- the people in costumes have way more fun!


  1. I bow to you BOTH. I love how you both LOVE LIFE!!!!

  2. I did it too congrats I am now signed up for the Spartan Race