PART 1 : The Roadtrip
Oh gosh where do I start. Probably the most important thing is to familiarize yourself with what Tough Mudder is if you haven’t already… check out a previous post I made doing such this: Click. This will probably be really long so if you want to skip right to Tough Mudder, go down to the obvious break (even though the whole story is epic), otherwise… From the time the wheels left my driveway until the Jeep was put in park over one day later, everything about this trip was ridiculously epic. Well, if you want to get technical it actually started about twenty minutes before we left. I had a fellow team member give me a mohawk (which I later found out was called a fohawk) because any self-respecting person would never do this sort of event without one. I came to learn that at the actual event they were offering mohawks and mullets for free which just proves my point more.
Anyway, we were leaving on Friday, July 22 at about 7:30 pm. We didn’t want to spend money on a hotel so I had everyone bring a sleeping bag and blanket and I brought my backpacking tent. Our race was the next day, Saturday, and the drive was about 5.5 hours. I also made sure everyone had their registration confirmation, death waivers and IDs.
Two of my team members left with me from my house at Iowa State headed towards Cedar Rapids to pick up the fourth member of the team. We had known in advance that there were going to be chance of storms along our way but in no way were we prepared to see what we saw on this road trip. Listening to the radio we had multiple National Weather Service interruptions along the way warning us of what was to come. Sixty mile per hour winds blew across the highway, brief spouts of rain and warnings of quarter size hail were what we were driving through… not to mention a sky that looked like death. There was definite circulation in the clouds, complete with funnels. Lighting flickered every couple of seconds off in the distance, the belly of the beast was not far away. We ended up passing storm chasers and fire department vehicles that were blocking off roads. Although it wasn’t a tornado (yet), with my soft top Jeep Wrangler it sure sounded like a freight train was coming. I could barely keep it on the road.
It was obvious all this hell was just barely to the north of us, so once we pulled off the highway going east, we had to head north to pick up my team member. Not five minutes into heading north were we hit with probably the hardest rain fall I have ever experienced. It was completely dark outside and I couldn’t drive more than ten miles per hour because of how heavy the rain was… I couldn’t even see the road lines immediately in front of my Jeep. Winds were gusting as high as seventy miles an hour and I was on a very poorly lit back road, thank goodness I had my Wrangler. We arrived at his house and went inside, just the run from the car to his door was enough to drench everyone. What’s funny is that only minutes later did the rain die out. Well, at least for now.
We hit the road again and it was about 9:30 pm by now and we were headed north-east towards Wisconsin. This is when we started getting the radio warnings again. Severe thunder storms that were the length of entire states… producing hail, more seventy mile per hour winds, extreme rain and extreme lightning. As we continued driving, we started moving more into the system. In fact, we were travelling pretty much in the same direction as the system. Lightning was flashing and the thunder was HARD, literally right above us for about two hours. We seriously thought we were going to get hit. A semi-truck across the street was struck by a massive bolt, not 50 yards away from us. Then we later saw something just off the road get struck. There was so much lightning you could read a book with the amount of light it was producing.
Slowly and steadily we pulled ahead of the storm and took in the small towns we passed through and the really creepy gas station loiterers. Wisconsin is special in the regard that it’s heavily forested with random intermittent towns that rarely carry over five thousand people. The signage for the roads through Wisconsin are actually quite horrible. We were following printed out directions and I was driving along a non-populated road when all of a sudden it came to a road closure without any form of detour signage. Now, I had my Jeep Wrangler, I put it in 4 wheel drive and drive right past the road closure sign. The path was nothing but softball sized rocks on this windy, dark road that was surrounded by trees. I continued for about a half mile until we figured it be best we turn around because we had no idea how long this would go for.
This is the 21st century and this is not the last time phones became of some use on the trip. One of my team members whipped out his smart phone and pulled up GPS. He was able to find a way back that would lead to a connecting road to keep us going in the right direction, and that’s what we did and it worked out perfectly.
We eventually hit a very narrow and curvy, pitch black road that was obviously surrounded by a thick forest. A small deer whizzed past us right off the side of the road. I didn’t see it but another guy in the car did. That’s when I slowed down. The last thing I wanted was to hit a deer out here. I hit the brights and for the next 5 minutes or so we saw probably 5 or 6 animals crossing the road. The first was a big fat beaver that I narrowly missed. After that there was a family of possums, again, I narrowly missed. Not 10 seconds later there were two ‘somethings’ crossing the road and I tried to avoid them but everyone in the car swears I smashed one of them, it sure seemed like it. Some even asked if I did it on purpose, ha!
By now it’s 1am and we were just arriving at the resort. We pulled into the parking lot and saw no parking spots available. I drove around a while, did a little off roading (not realizing some of it was on a golf course and on a part of the TM course) and eventually came back to the main parking lot. There was actually a lot of activity for it being 1 in the morning so by our luck somebody pulled out and drove off and I took their spot.
Conveniently this spot was very close to the Devil’s Head Resort main entrance AND it butted right up against the edge of the golf course. What did we do? We pitched my backpacking tent up on the golf course behind a couple of trees. As I was by my Jeep pulling out sleeping bags we had hotel security stop by on their golf carts and ask us how things were going. They didn’t notice the tent and offered to give our stuff a lift to the front desk and I told them we didn’t have a spot in the hotel and we were sleeping in the car. After that they were incredibly nice and offered to give us food and water if we needed it. I still don’t know what they would’ve done if they saw the tent on the golf course.
We ended up having 2 people sleep in the Jeep and 2 in the tent, I was one in the tent. It was now 2am and we were going to sleep. At about 3:30am the Jeep’s car alarm blasted me awake, I scuffled for the keys and hit the unlock button. It turns out that the guys in the Jeep were getting ridiculously hot and just popped open the door. I’m not sure how that didn’t startle security, but it definitely startled me. The next time we were to wake up, it would be to prepare for Tough Mudder!
PART 2: Tough Mudder
I had set the alarm to my phone for 8am even though we were only asleep since 2am. I figured it was okay because I’m used to not getting a lot of sleep. I set it this early because I wanted to get our tent off the golf course before golfers made it around and before many people were up and about. I ended up only being able to sleep until 6:30 so I got up with my teammate and we got out and disassembled the tent. Not long before we took it down we heard some people sarcastically say, “look at those guys being pussies and camping on a golf course”.
We found out the resort was serving a full breakfast buffet so we went up and had probably the best breakfast you could have for 10 bucks. By now people began filling the resort preparing for doom. We grabbed our paperwork and turned in the death waivers and prepared for the beginning of the end, so to speak, haha. It was only a matter of hours before our 12:40 start time so we were starting to get beyond what you might call, “anxious”. We used the analogy… “It feels like we’re about to go into battle, or jump out of a plane into Nazi Germany”.
15 minutes before our start we took a shot of GU energy gel, which has the consistency of snot by the way, but really helps. The mob of people began gathering at the starting gate that was halfway up the ski hill. The national anthem started playing and everyone stopped in silence… followed by a final roar. Then, we took the Tough Mudder Pledge. We rose our right hand and stated, “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.” After a little more psyching from the man over the bull horn he gave a 10 second countdown. It had begun.
We barreled down a steep ski slope, hundreds of us running, people falling, skipping around to avoid pot holes and yelling at the same time. The Bravehart Charge was in full force. Of course after running half way down the mountain they would make us charge right back up to the very top. That alone took quite a long time and only put us about a half mile into the 10+ mile course. Half way up we were high pressure hosed and we were already winded but we had to scale these 10 foot tall hay bales, it was the first “real” obstacle we encountered and was a joy… and yet I did pull my right calf on it, we had just started.
At the top found the Boa Constrictor… tubes that went down through mud into a big pool of water and then came out on another side. This one will test your claustrophobia to the limit. Fortunately I’m not claustrophobic and thought this one was fun. Though, one of my team members cut his hand real bad coming out of it… meh, it’s TM.
The hills were hands down the worst part of the course, horrible on the knees and calves and relentless. We went downhill to Funky Monkey bars where a recent dip in the mud made it nearly impossible for me to grip the grease soaked bars. I made it about half way and fell into the muddy water. We had one team member push all the way, he screamed on every bar to put him through the obstacle mentally, it was epic.
We were roughly a mile in and each and every one of the team felt like we had just finished a 5k. I was having a real hard time, this was the first big “test” I had done since being allowed by my doctor to do physical activity. In January I had 3 seizures, pneumonia and a torn shoulder all at the same time… made training for this incredibly hard, especially when you add summer school and 2 jobs. I thank the rest of my team for pushing it beyond breaking point. I am always one to finish something, but they helped me finish stronger.
Now we were headed back up the mountain and this time it was steep and highly muddy, it was worse than walking up a big sand dune. Then to top it all off, the top of this hill had 2 sets of 12 foot walls we had to scale. The only real way to get over it was to boost each other. Teamwork was essential and the best part about TM was every single person doing it was all one big team. One of my team members rather remarkably launched himself up on his own… he’s 6 foot 5 inches! I’m pretty sure all of us got hurt on this one… I definitely rolled a nut and had a pin on my race number pop out and stab me. Once up you had to stay there and help somebody else get up, it was the code after all. It was then followed by a 12 foot jump or an attempt to slide down the wall. The Berlin Walls were absolutely brutal.
Of course after this there were more hills, and with every downhill was the dreaded uphill. Although, downhills still sucked real bad because they were basically out of control descents. We were now about 2 miles in and really feeling it with a heat index of 105 degrees. Talk about sweating bullets. Each of us lost about 7 to 10 pounds in water weight alone.
Devil’s Beard was a massive cargo net that was placed on one of the hills, it required you to get really low and avoid getting tangled while still going uphill. It was pretty damn difficult (seems like a trend).
After Devil’s Beard was The cliffhanger, which was a very steep yet short hill that was completely and totally smooth and slick mud. Nothing to grab, no holes, no rocks… nothing. The most common strategy was just to form a massive human chain with everyone around you, took some serious work but was definitely a fun obstacle.
The Kiss of Mud was next which was at the top of another incredibly arduous hill. This obstacle is a massive mud pit that has really low barbed wire hanging over it. Our job was to army crawl under it without getting tetanus. This one was also really fun but seriously scraped up every bit your body… elbows, knees, shins, forearms, back, face. It also got you completely and totally muddy, from the top of your head down to your toes, it was awesome!
On our way to Turds Nest was the longest and steepest descent on the mountain. It is normally the path for a double black diamond when skiing. You had no choice but to run and there was no way of stopping yourself unless you decided to fall on your but and slide down a bunch of rocks. This sucked, and, it was in a place everyone on the mountain could see you. But it did lead us to Turds Nest which was an awesome obstacle that was basically a cargo net suspended in the air that you had to strategically cross, a lot of fun.
Now about 3.5 miles in there were definitely a lot of people beginning to quit. We were nearing the end of any MAJOR hills but weren’t out of the woods yet. We had to climb another rather massive hill to get to Log Bog Jog which was a series of logs placed at various heights in a pool of mud that you had weasel through. It was fun but there were a lot of injuries on this one. It’s known for that.
I was still really lagging as my ankle was now starting to act up, which is a previous injury I have had. My calf was definitely manageable and of no real concern at the moment when we encountered Shake n’ Bake. It was an obstacle where you jump into a pit of muddy water and then army crawl through a sand pit that had cargo nets over it. When we went through there were a lot of people around us so we were able to just duck through the long cargo net and not have to turn into a piece of breaded chicken. We got lucky.
Now approaching mile 4 we were getting closer to the halfway mark and yet we still took an hour and 45 minutes to get to this point. I can’t even begin to explain how exhausted we were at this point, I cringe just thinking about it. Quite literally everything was hurting. Most of it was a good hurt, though. A trail appeared as we started to get away from the mountain and we had to run through a narrow, hilly path for about a mile. This trail opened up to a lake where we saw Walk the Plank.
Walk the Plank was very close to the halfway point. It was this massive 20 foot tower we had to scale and then jump off of into water. I had planned to do a flip off of it but my mind was very far from that place by now and the thought never even crossed my mind. After the big drop you had to swim across the lake at the same time swimming under some rather large barrels that were roped in the water. This was the most joyous obstacle on the entire course. It was the ultimate cool off after 5 miles of pure utter torture on the mountain.
We continued running through some woods and open area that was next to a golf course. It was a massive juxtaposition… the hell of Tough Mudder against the absolute beauty of this golf course, I think it made it more painful. Even though the miles were marked, I lost track of the mileage because I was so in the zone that my mind didn’t even process the signs. Spider’s Web came up where we had to climb a big cargo net vertically, this one was actually one of the easiest obstacles. I say that with a bit of a hesitation because it still wasn’t easy after all we had been through.
Now is when the course really opened up. We began a rather long run, probably 1.5 to 2 miles through a rather beautifully flowered trail. I’m not sure precisely when but right around this time one of our team members had a real bad hamstring pull. He just stopped moving and had a real hard time even bending his leg. Out of fortune, a fellow Tough Mudder came by who happened to be a physical therapist. She asked to help and my friend said alright. It was kinda funny because she is kneeling down with her hands up his shorts giving him a deep tissue massage while other Tough Mudders are running by wondering what in the world is going on. I was jokingly saying, “Nothing to see here, nothing to see here, just keep on moving”. It was a rather humorous time during the race but she apparently worked wonders because he was a lot better afterwards.
After this long trail run we came up to another set of Berlin Walls. This time we knew what we were doing and got over them rather quickly. Still didn’t prevent me from popping a nut, it seemed almost unavoidable. We were probably at about 6 miles now. We kept on moving about another half mile through trails to Greased Lightning, which is the worlds biggest and longest slip n’ slide. Lets just say it fit the epic theme. This was beyond fun. Me and the whole team went down together and had an absolute blast. The greased tarp turned into just a big muddy hill where we continued sliding, this was a great moral booster.
The long awaited Fire Walker was next. Now, I haven’t brought it up yet but there were mini obstacles in-between the main ones. They would have random water pits, muddy hills, rock piles, etc to toss in our path and there just so happened to be a mud water pit right before Fire Walker. This obstacle was a maze of burning foliage with flames as high as I was. The firemen were there to control it but we had to run through it. I held my breath as best I could and began running through it but it was super hot, burned my eyes and my exhaustion made me take a breath and boy was it bad. I immediately started coughing terribly. I also tightened both my calves doing this because they went from cold to hot really fast. I had to stretch them out for the next obstacle that was immediately after Fire Walker, which was Everest.
Everest was a giant 15 foot tall muddy quarter pipe that we had to run up. After I stretched out my calves I ran up it and barely made it with the help of a stranger. I biffed it on the other side though where it was about a 60 degree slope into a thin layer of hay.
What happened next is where I lost the rest of my team. They had run up ahead to the next obstacle, while I was still stretching out my calves and due to somebody getting injured on an obstacle in-between my team members and myself I got held back behind them by about 20 minutes.
The next two obstacles were Ball Shrinker and Twinkle Toes. They were very similar. One was a rope balance through a body of water and the other was a beam balance 12 ft above water. There were also intermittent lakes we had to swim through that were filled with green moss and seaweed. It was wonderful. Twinkle Toes was also the obstacle that had the injured person in-between me and my team mates.
Now I was probably close to mile 8 of the course, but didn’t know it at the time. This is when I heard and saw a helicopter come screaming overhead. It was a medivac helicopter. It flew straight to the mountain that I saw a few miles in the distance (where I had come from and where all the hills were at) and hovered above some place on the mountain. It lowered down and pulled somebody up and flew away just as fast as it came. Apparently, a guy slipped up and had a compound fracture of his FEMUR!!! That’s probably the hardest bone in your body to break. A Tough Mudder employee said the bone was jutting out of his skin and blood was everywhere. I haven’t heard how he was doing but hopefully he’ll make a full recovery. Meanwhile, during all of this, about every 15 minutes you would hear the sounds of ambulances coming and going from the course, it was very ominous.
After a decent run I came up to a rather large and scummy lake where we had to pick up these large logs and carry them over our heads but make a loop through the lake. This sucked because the lake was disgusting and holding anything above our heads right now was just about the last thing we wanted to do. It was slow going and took maybe 10 minutes to get through. Just think about holding an 8 pound weight over your head for 10 minutes, now think about it after going through Tough Mudder. Now add all that with having to do it in a lake. Yeah.
Another really long run proceeded, maybe 1.5 miles long where I came to the Mystery Obstacle. I absolutely hated this obstacle, it wasn’t hard, wasn’t physically demanding, wasn’t long, it just pissed me off FAR too much. It was a short pool of muddy water that was maybe 30 yards long and about shin deep but they had taken a backhoe and dug out random holes that were 3 to 5 ft. deep. You couldn’t see them, you couldn’t prepare for them, you just randomly fell into them without warning. It pissed me off. Anyway…
The last legs of the entire course were here, mile 9. A brief jog to Chernobyl Jacuzzi where they had these 2 large dumpsters that were filled with heavily iced water and dyed to either a color of blue, green or red. You had to climb and jump in and then swim under a wooden board submerged underwater. This had to be 38 degree water, it was COLD!! Now I was cold, exhausted, blue, caked with mud and physically finished… I had maybe a half a mile left before the most intense obstacle of all, Electro Shock Therapy.
Electro Shock Therapy is a 20 yard long tunnel of dangling electric wires (a few hundred of them) that are changed with voltages ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 volts. It has very heavy mud and multiple hay bales in between. There is not a single way to avoid these wires unless you cop out of the entire obstacle and fail the whole Tough Mudder course after 10 miles of hell. I was debating doing it because they specifically state that people with epilepsy will not be able to do this obstacle. I (being myself) defied them and did it anyway. This was easily the biggest attraction. It was close to the resort and it was the most awesome obstacle. You could hear the buzz of the wires just waiting for their next victim. Hundreds of people crowded this obstacle just to watch people run through. I came up to it alone, my team members had already finished the course and were out in the crowd somewhere. I hit the wires at a decent running pace made it in a couple feet and hopped some hay bails only to get zapped real hard about halfway through, a gave out a fairly audible, “AHH”, but continued running. At this point the wires were accumulating on me and one was across my face, I knew this was bad. The next thing I know was getting hit with a body dropping impact of electricity. I hit the mud hard after giving another yell of pain. I could the entire crowd let out one big, “ooooooohh!” The zaps on this obstacle can be heard real clearly. Especially the big ones like the last one I was hit with. It gives off a really loud CRACK and just locks up all the muscles in your body. It was totally worth it despite how horrifying it was. I had made it through the final obstacle.
PART 3: Post Race
Once I got up I made my way across the finish line only to find a cute girl place a much rewarded orange headband over my head, a couple protein bars, a shirt and the most delicious and most highly earned beer I’ve ever had. It was a perfectly chilled Dos Equis, which isn’t the highest quality beer in the world, but after this race, it was. My team was waiting for me at the finish line and we all exchanged cheers and high fives in joyous accomplishment. We started busting out the camera to take team photos… it was a rather glorious and momentous moment for all of us. One we will all remember. Tough Mudder has nearly 1/3 of all entries quit out or get injured and can’t finish and only the highly physical and mentally willed people tend to apply. It is a race not to be underestimated and remains up there with one of the hardest things I have ever done. It actually probably sits right there on top as the most difficult thing I have ever done.
Afterwards we hosed ourselves off and got changed. We hung around for a while listening to the music and taking in the moment… mostly just not wanting to move. I planned on staying for the after party but we were all so unbelievably dog tired that we decided to head into town for an extremely well deserved dinner and then head home. We went to the nicest place we could find, which was some sit down steak house filled with middle aged people wearing khakis and dresses. We had mud stained shirts on, probably smelled horribly, I had a mohawk and all of us had skin dyed some sort of color from the Chernobyl Jacuzzi. We met some very nice locals while waiting for our seats and talked to them about Tough Mudder and they were all incredibly impressed and enthused. Some woman even gave us 40 dollars to split between the 4 of us, we told her she didn’t have to but she said she wanted to. All of us had massive steaks. 3 of us had 20 oz. ribeyes. We ate like kings.
I got home and crashed hard. I can safely say for all of the team that nobody wanted to move. The next day was a day of just sitting/napping because the very act of getting out of bed was painful. Being the day after I’ve found myself to be burned from head to toe, have cuts from head to toe, bruises from head to toe, several pulled muscles, soreness everywhere, complete and total tiredness, lack of mental awareness, and creaking joints… will I do it again? You bet your ass I will do it again, where’s the sign up sheet?!
- Tough Mudder: The Most Demanding Mass Race On Earth (iantimberlake.wordpress.com)