How I Barely Trained and Still Conquered The Tough Mudder

When it comes to giving into peer pressure, I’m an absolute wuss.

At six years old, I was dared to stick my tongue to a metal ice tray that was just taken out of the freezer.

At that point in my life, I had not seen the movie A Christmas Story, so I didn’t realize the ramifications that would come.

Fifteen minutes and one very raw tongue later I learned my lesson.

You would think, as you get older and wiser, that peer pressure would not have as much of an impact on your life.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Two years ago, my buddy, Tom, told me to sign up for the Urbanathlon in Chicago. Knowing that I hate running and that I really didn’t want to do it, I said “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Since he knew me well he wisely responded, “No, don’t say you’ll do it. You have to sign up.”

Once again, there’s that little thing called “peer pressure”.

Nine miles later and more cramping than I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, I completed the Urbanathlon and was super stoked that I did.

You thought that I would have learned my lesson with that race, but unfortunately no. Peer pressure reared its evil head once again.

The same culprit, my buddy, Tom, (Seriously? How did I become friends with this guy?) who seems to be the root of all things peer pressure related in my adult life, conned me into signing up for the Tough Mudder.

In case nine miles wasn’t long enough, the Tough Mudder is approximately 11 miles, and also consists of tons of obstacles and a whole lot of mud. My junior advisor, Tyler,  did his first Tough Mudder back in April.  Yes, he’s almost 10 years younger than me, but there was no way I was going to let my employee show me up!

I’m proud to say I, too, kicked Tough Mudder’s butt, peer pressure aside, and I’m thankful that I did.

If you’re thinking about doing the Tough Mudder, this post is for you. That is, if you think you’re tough enough. :)

Training for Tough Mudder

Let’s first talk about the training, or otherwise, lack thereof. First and foremost, I hate running.

I despise it.

Yes, I was in the military for nine years, but keep in mind that we only ran two miles for our physical training test. I think in basic training we ran five miles once, but that was in 1997 and I was 19 years of age. A long time ago!

Since then, I ran the Urbanathlon (which was nine miles), a 5K, and two or three other times that were five miles or greater. That’s it, so as far as training for the Tough Mudder, all I did was my usual Crossfit workouts, and I ran five miles the Sunday before the race.

Should I have run more? Being the fact that I started cramping about mile five, I would say yes. But the one good thing about Tough Mudder, that I didn’t realize, is that it is not constant running so don’t think that you’re running a half marathon.

More than half the time you’re trudging through muddy water nearly up to your waist. Also, whenever you approached the obstacles you were often bottlenecked, so you actually had some time to rest.  Since there were 22 obstacles during the race, that definitely gave you plenty of opportunities to catch your breath. Thank goodness!

I know if there’s anything I would have done differently, as far as my training regimen, it’s that I would have done longer hikes.  It’s been a few years since I’ve hiked in Yellowstone and so I don’t think my legs were prepared to travel that length of distance.  I think a good 12 to 15-mile hike with a pack would have been good training to get my legs prepared.

I found out after the race via Twitter that another blogger was also there taking on Tough Mudder for the first time.  Dustin from Engaged Marriage was gracious enough to share some of his experiences from the race.   Here’s how he trained for Tough Mudder: 

I trained pretty hard for this event.  At the time I started in March, I could barely run more than a mile.  By the time October arrived, I could run 8 miles at a time and finished a 5K in 25 minutes (my previous best was 32 minutes).  I focused on a mix of running twice per week with total body interval training using HIIT principles three days per week.  You can check this post for a good run-down on HIIT training.

I’m really happy with my training approach, and I lost 20 pounds in the process.  Next time (yes, next time!), I’ll focus more on upper body strength and pull-ups.  The only obstacle I struggled with was the monkey bars, and I want to make it all the way across next time.

What to Wear for Tough Mudder:

This is where you can have a lot of fun with it. I definitely wanted to make sure that I was comfortable.  I wore some Under Armour shorts, an Under Armour shirt, which is actually the shirt that I wore when I was in Iraq under my uniform, some Under Armour training socks that had a little extra cushion in them, and my Nike Free running shoes.

I say that you can have fun with this because while my outfit was rather tame, there were some quite interesting outfits that people wore. I saw people wearing various costumes, guys wearing wrestling singlets, a couple who recently got married were wearing their tuxedo and wedding gown, or just your underwear. Yes, I saw it all, and actually, in some cases, probably saw more than I wanted to see, but that’s the general spirit of Tough Mudder. It’s just to have fun, be crazy, and have a good time.

Best Shoes for Tough Mudder:

This is something that I debated for quite some time because my feet are rather sensitive when it comes to running. I have low arches and thus far, the best running shoe I’ve found are my Nike Free’s, so I knew that if I was going to be on my feet for 11 plus miles, I had to wear these.

Other people wore anything from New Balance, Mizuno’s, Nike’s, and even the Vibram Five Fingers. I say for the most part my Nike Free’s held up rather well and I would definitely wear them again. I think the people that were wearing the Vibram Five Fingers struggled anytime that we had to climb the Berlin walls or even some of the steep mountainsides. It was just harder for them to get traction with those shoes.

Best Shoes for Tough Mudder

Whatever shoes or socks you do wear, be prepared to have mud and rocks in them at all times. This picture above is showing me getting some rocks out of my shoe after about two and a half miles in. It wasn’t a half a mile after this picture was taken that I had twice as many rocks in my shoe again.

Best Gloves for Tough Mudder:

I initially decided I wasn’t going to wear gloves for the race, but then my buddy, Tom, had brought an extra set. Since he gave me permission to ditch them if I felt that I didn’t need them anymore, I thought what the heck. On some of the obstacles, they work out really well.

For example, the Berlin walls, the funky monkey; they turned out to be really handy.  But after a while, after they got wet and filled with mud, they became more of a nuisance. I tried to keep them until the end of the race, but I ended up losing one in the process and ended up ditching the other. If I did Tough Mudder again, I’m still not sold that I would actually wear gloves.

Dustin also wore gloves and had a different opinion.

I wore fingerless rubber gloves and will do so again in the future – they were helpful for crawling and sliding down rocky hills without tearing up my palms.

Pre-race toast

 Tough Mudder Obstacles

1. Berlin Walls.

If you like scaling walls, this obstacle is for you. I think the first set were 8 feet tall and I was able to scale them on my own. Not so much on the second set (see #19)

Tough Mudder Berling Walls

2. Cliffhanger.

Big steep mountain climb with a lot of mud made things rather slippery.

3. Jesus walk.

Think you can walk on water? What about walking through muddy water with unexpected holes at every step? That’s what the Jesus Walk is all about. Here’s a video I found on YouTube from the race:

4. Arctic enema.

I once jumped in our pool in early spring and thought I was a stud for doing so. That was child’s play compared to the Arctic Enema. This was the the most frigid water I’ve ever felt. I really felt I blacked out when I was completely submerged. I still get chills thinking about it.  Brrrrrr…

Tough Mudder Artic Enema

Dustin shared my sentiments:

Mentally hardest was Artic Enema – that ice dunk was a legitimate shock to the body and brain!  It was also very draining to spend 4 hours in a lot of water and knee-deep mud with little in the way of breaks.  The best part was the sense of teamwork among everyone – it’s what made it so addicting.

5. Mud mile.

This is self-explanatory. Walking through a muddy creek for a mile. Even better is that it smelt like sewer. Yummy.

6. Hydrophobia.

More crawling through muddy water.  That seems to be the recurring theme, huh?

7. Walk the plank.

I’m not a big fan of heights. Combine that with jumping into a muddy sink hole and you have Walk the Plank.  See the dude doing a back flip in the picture?  Yeah, that’s not me!  Some Mudders are crazy!

8. Underwater tunnels.

At this point I was over the water.  I’m assuming the Tough Mudder powers to be were full aware of that so they put another obstacle in that required you to get in the water and also submerge yourself again and again and again.   There were 6 sets of the blue barrels you see below that you had to go under to get through the obstacle.  And yes, the water was cold….and muddy.

9. Funky monkey.

Perfect obstacle for anyone that loves monkey bars at your local playground.   What’s the twist?  Well, there’s a few.

First, the bars ascend upwards as you go along.  Second, if you drop, you’re getting wet – again.   And last, your hands are cold and wet which make the obstacle that much more fun.

10. Trench warfare.

Finally no muddy water! Just crawling through some mildly muddy tunnels.

11. King of the mountain.

If you remember the the arcade classic Q*bert, this obstacle was the hay bale version of that.

12. Boa constrictor.

This consisted of crawling through a very long narrow tunnel down into you know what: cold muddy water.  You then had to crawl back up through a similar tunnel.

13. Hold your wood.

This obstacle made me feel like old school wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan.  The only difference is that I had to carry my big piece of wood through a muddy swamp.

Tough Mudder

14. Fire walker.

This was short and sweet and probably the most lame of all the obstacles.   You walk between burning stacks of hay bales.

15. Kiss of mud.

Army crawling through the mud.  The ironic thing in my 9 years of being in the Army National Guard is that I never got this muddy.  Ever.

16. Wounded warrior project carry.

One of the cool things about the Tough Mudder is that they are huge supporters of the Wounded Warrior Project.  For a combat vet, that means A LOT to me.  This obstacle required you to carry your battle buddy for a distance of 100 yards any way you could.  Our preferred choice?  Piggy back, of course!

Tough Mudder Wounded Warrior

The funny thing is my buddy Tom weighs about 160 pounds.  I, on the other hand, weigh a slim 200.   I definitely got the better end of the deal here.

17. Log jamming.

Up and over big logs pretty much sums up this obstacle.  Short and sweet.  The best part was that there was no water!

18. Just the tip.

I hated this obstacle!  By this time my feet and calves were screaming which was not a good combo trying to scale this one.

You have to horizontally shimmy yourself across 1″ wood by your toes and fingertips across 6 sheets of plywood. An ice cold bath waits for you below.

19. Berlin Walls #2.

More walls just  a lot taller.  I thought I could scale this one without any help.  My first attempt on scaling the wall resembled that of a white guy trying to dunk it for the first time – not even close.  Luckily, my bros were there to help me over.

20. Electric eel.

Whose doesn’t like crawling through mud and getting shocked by 10,000 volts of electricity in the process?

Tough Mudder Electric Eel

21. Everest.

With no mud, this would be a skateboarder’s dream.  With mud and legs that are fatigued to the max, this slippery half-pipe is a Tough Mudder’s worse nightmare.   It was almost comical seeing people run up the slide only to face plant half way up and slide back down.  Or watching as 4 or 5 Mudders on the top of the ramp hoisting another Mudder up that couldn’t make it up far enough.

With a little help of my fellow Mudders, I made it up the first time.   Whew!

22. Electroshock therapy.

The last obstacle is the prime reason you sign a death waiver before you start the race.   Just in case you avoided getting shocked during the Electric Eel, don’t worry.  You have another chance.

Tough Mudder Getting Shocked

My other buddy said that he got zapped on the neck, collapsed to the ground, and woke up in a blur.  I have to admit that I was jealous!

I was one of the unfortunate ones that only got mildly shocked.  :(

In hindsight, I wish I would have run through again.  Maybe next time…..

The Ultimate Trophy – The Orange Headband

Olympians get medals.   Runners get trophies.   Mudders get the coveted orange headband, a t-shirt and a beer.   For me, it was all about the  orange headband.   That’s the greatest trophy I’ve ever received!

Finishing Tough Mudder

Studs

I asked Dustin to share what finishing the Tough Mudder meant to him:

It means I can persevere through anything.  And it means I really can train for a big goal and crush it.  I have always struggled with running, but after my TM training and event, I’m looking forward to pushing myself to a half marathon – and earning my next orange headband in St. Louis next year.

Next year indeed! I can’t wait until the next one. So what do you think…..

Are you tough enough?

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Comments | 4 Responses

  1. "Tom" says

    I enjoyed the recap bud! What an experience it was. I hope it keeps you up at night knowing that I am planning our next adventure….

    Tom

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