Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tough Mudder

This morning I ran the Tough Mudder event out at Wintergreen (site of the recent UROC). It really was quite fun, and I'd honestly be tempted to run another (probably not tomorrow, even if they did offer us 50% off).

Originally, I decided to do the run because some folks from work were putting a team together (there's been a fair amount of joking about the electrocution obstacle for the past few months at work). However, it didn't quite work out as a team event for me... by yesterday, one of the guys had bailed, and I had created a scheduling conflict for myself, so couldn't make our designated wave start. The remaining team members had afternoon commitments, so couldn't really wait for me. I figured I'd just go down anyway and see what happened.

What happened was that nobody cared at all about assigned start times, which was nice. You show up, check in, drop your bags, and start whenever you want, basically (I think they really wouldn't stop you from running it multiple times on the day, if you were so inclined). So that was good. I started with the noon group, which I quickly moved toward the front of, on account of starting off basically going up a ski slope. I was surprised (perhaps because I'm not too bright) by all the people walking so much throughout the day. Ok, sure, I can understand not trying to run up a ski slope (though I've recently decided I sort of like testing my going up-ability), but... 10 minutes in I had already caught up to some folks from the wave ahead of me, and I think waves were separated by about 20 minutes. Anyway, I rarely mind passing people, especially on hills, so I'm not complaining.

I was fairly nervous about some of the obstacles (beyond electrocution). I don't have much in the way of upper body strength, so things like 'Get over a 12 foot wall', 'Carry a log up a ski slope', 'Cross monkey bars over a water pool' (the temperature was in the 50s today) had me a bit anxious. I surprised myself with the monkey bars (namely, I made it), and the logs weren't just cut to size assuming people would be in groups (probably I could have picked up a solo from another group, if I'd needed to, but they had individual-sized logs too).

The 12 foot wall I only made it over because there was a great amount of camaraderie among the runner participants, especially at the obstacles. At one of the first obstacles, it looked like some volunteers were there holding up some cargo net to help us sort of get started/finished. What confused me was they had bib numbers on. It took until a later obstacle for me to realize that it was just other participants, helping out (not just helping out their teammates). So at the next cargo net I tried to do my part as an anchor (like I had any idea how to do that, but I tried to do what other folks seemed to be doing), and at various walls I tried to offer what I could to get a few people up-and-over before moving on.

There was always the possibility of simply skipping an obstacle, but there were always lots of folks around the harder ones, which helps the motivation. It does lead to a fair amount of down time, waiting for your turn to try to run up a half-pipe, or get over that 12 foot wall, or crawl under the cargo wire. My overall time was 2:45 (which was probably reasonably ahead of the average - I heard several folks talking about 4+ hour times, and I don't think many people passed me), but I wouldn't be surprised if 20-30 minutes were just waiting around at obstacles. I definitely didn't mind the break, though. Even without the obstacles, that was a tough 10 mile run, with so much vertical gain and loss.

I got a little banged up, but nothing too bad. Mostly just my knees and shins picked up some scratches and light bruising from the crawling around at various obstacles (elbows were probably only spared because I wore long sleeves). I think I picked up a bruise on my hip at the slip and slide (did I mention it was in the 50s?), from the rocks underneath, but honestly that part was smoother than I expected. I'm guessing this is a reasonably typical Mudder experience (plus some additional knee pains on this course - ski slopes, people). My teammates who ran earlier than me, and I ran in to at the finish area, said they heard a guy behind them required medical attention for a broken leg (like, bone coming out of the skin broken). I heard some folks behind me requesting attention on one of the downhills, but I don't really know what the issues was.

The obstacles we actually had didn't exactly agree with the obstacles on the course map, though certainly the most memorable ones are on there, and it doesn't much matter. Mostly they weren't particularly scary, though there was certainly some scattered moments of concern on my part ('that looks like a big drop'). Interspersed between obstacles were a few aid stations. Mostly they seemed pretty simple (coming out of ultras which have had lots of tasty options) - bananas and water (I think there were occasionally some clif products). The water was mostly distributed in bottles (12 oz?), which sort of struck me. It was too much water to drink passing through the aid station, but more than I wanted to carry. I downed what I could, but generally ended up with at least a little left in the bottle before tossing it (ah, waste).

I didn't actually get electrocuted (and my teammate who said he did get hit said it wasn't really too bad), so, for me, the worst obstacle was the 'Chernobyl Jacuzzi' (I think I'm not alone in this assessment). Per the course description:
Jump in and out of an icy mixture of assorted carcinogens. The additional limbs you'll grow will surely help you on later obstacles.
The key word here is 'icy' (carcinogens maybe meant food coloring... I think my pool was purple). I mentioned it was in the 50s, right? So, this was one of the obstacles with a slight backup. We're standing there in line and see an earth mover sort of vehicle off to the side, coming up to the side of the shipping containers we're about to hop in. We notice the bucket it's about to dump is full of ice, and start yelling at the people ahead of us to hurry up. Alas. Ice was dumped, and then I got my chance to jump in. Damn that's cold. Oh, and there's barbed wire over a wooden divider in the shipping container, which you have to go under. Head fully under in icy water. Brrrr. I got out and took off in a run, trying to keep moving, and not thinking about the cold. One of the nice things at the event was that the cold (in general, not just from this obstacle) was anticipated, so they had lots of those metallic space blankets around (I don't envy the clean-up crew). I was able to mostly keep up a jog, so on the next up-hill in the sun, I didn't feel too bad. For folks taking things at more of a walking pace, the space blankets were (presumably) basically a necessity.

Tough Mudder bills itself as 'Probably the toughest event on the planet'. I'm honored to consider among my friends people who cover 100 miles on their own two feet in one go (up and down mountains, through deserts, ...) so I can't really say I agree with the Mudder's self-assessment. All the same, it's a fun, festive, generally well-organized event. There was some issue with drop bags today... though drop bags had numbers on them, and tables listed ranges of numbers for drop bags to expect there, the obvious system of putting bags where they should be didn't seem to be in affect today. I don't know how long I spent looking for my bag, and the bag of my teammate, but it was probably on the order of 20-30 minutes. That said, the organizers seem to be on their game, and sent out an apology in the afternoon (before I'd made it back to the parking lot), with a 20% discount if we register for another Tough Mudder in the next few weeks. Parking was well handled, the volunteers were all approachable and helpful.

So, there's that. And now I'm going to bed. Fear not the obstacles.