“Why is it raining in my apartment?” I thought to myself as I reached over to the bedside lamp and switched it on. The room lit up and revealed a steady stream of water cascading down from the outer edge of my bedroom ceiling just above the windows. So there I was, on the night before leaving for World’s Toughest Mudder in Las Vegas, and the pipes in the apartment above mine had burst, unleashing a waterfall of (ironically, hot) water into my bedroom. This was definitely what the doctor ordered, I thought to myself. I mean, who wants to have a clean bed and functional apartment to come back to after an extreme endurance event? Not me obviously! And I certainly don’t want or need any sleep on the night before I leave! (Are you folks picking up on the sarcasm here? Because I’m laying it on pretty thick.) The flow of water increased exponentially for the next hour before it was finally shut off by the emergency crew. At around 4am, I finished scrambling around in my pathetically unsuccessful attempt to preserve the apartment and salvage some of my belongings. I called my insurance company and building management and, with my apartment under 2 inches of water, I left and checked into a hotel a block away. I fell asleep at 5:30am and was up 45 minutes later at 6:15am.
Yes, this was an unnecessary and stressful fiasco but I was determined to get on that plane and race. I arrived In Vegas later that evening, regrouping psychologically along the way. Johnny Fukumoto picked me up at the airport and we headed to our flat in Henderson.
We registered first thing the following morning. The course looked intriguing from the registration area and based on previously released photos.
After registering, I set up my tent near the start line, loaded it with gear, and went back to the condo to sleep.
Home away from home away from home.
Tent city is just the pits.
The next morning we headed to the course and completed our final preparations.
The car ride to the course. Based on the resort-like landscaping in the surrounding area, I got the impression the race was going to be relaxing. I was totally wrong.
At the start line, I felt in good spirits, rested, and for the most part was cleansed of the stress from two nights prior and the long travel day that followed. It was time to race.
Where’s Waldo? Bottom right.
Now my goals for this WTM were quite different than they were for WTM 2012. For one, I was determined to avoid any serious and/or long-term injuries. More specifically, I wanted to come out the other side of the race in a condition to train (i.e., run) again within a week or two. To do this, I recognized that at some point I was probably going to have to sacrifice my place in the standings for my health. And that would be a significant first for me. Second, I wanted to work out some nutritional kinks for longer races in the future, and part of this meant completing the race without using any gels. Third, I wanted to actually enjoy the race experience (and my break from work…this was “vacation” time after all). Given the tricky desert climate, the rugged terrain, the elevation built into the race circuit, and novelty and difficulty of the obstacles TM had created, one really has to be a bit of a freak in order to consider a race like this to be “fun”. Fortunately, I’m a bit of a freak.
At 10am on Saturday, immediately after the pre-race safety speech, we were off. It was a warm and cloudless day, probably 20 degrees Celsius by late morning, with a slight breeze; an absolutely perfect day for racing.
The first lap was just a 5-mile run around the course (with no obstacles). This was intended to spread out the field in order to minimize bottlenecking at the 23 obstacles we would encounter on the second lap. After finishing our first lap we were then re-routed into the obstacles.
Visor rotation is critical to performance and for looking super cool.
The first obstacle, Soggy Bottom, was just a straight run through a stretch of mud. Sorry, I have no close-up pics of this, but if you have what it takes to imagine a person running through mud, then you probably have what it takes to complete this obstacle as well. Not that hard.
I think they should call this obstacle “Muddy Mud Mud”, but then again, I’ve never really been good at naming things. My friend of mine always tells me that. I don’t want to mention his name though, so let’s just call him “Fly Head” .
Feet muddied, we continued for almost mile back up the mountain to Tight Fit, which involved crawling under a heavy cargo net draped over large truck tires. Not easy to do, especially when you’re alone. And in a way, aren’t we all alone?
Tight Fit: If you have a secret fantasy about getting your head stuck in something at least five times in less than a minute, then this is for you.
After Tight Fit, we ventured back down the mountain, over the Mile 1 timing mat, and into the Mud Mile. Mud Mile is just a series of mud mounds and trenches. In previous TM’s and WTM’s I’ve done, this obstacle was longer, more difficult, and just pure hell to get through, but within a few hours this one was destroyed and wasn’t any more difficult than Soggy Bottom.
Mud Mile: A solid metaphor for grad stool…err, school.
After Mud Mile, the obstacles increased in frequency, density, and difficulty. Hit the Wall was next. This was a series of progressively higher walls that you had to climb over. The first was a 7-foot Glory-Blade-style wall, tilted back towards you with nothing to push off of. The second wall was a straight-up, 10-foot wall with a small and narrow plank near the ground to push off of. The third wall was closer to 14 feet high and required the use of a rope and planks to get over. Fortunately, I had encountered these types of walls many times (especially in WTM 2012) and so completing this obstacle was simple matter of technique and upper body strength. I moved on.
Hit the Wall: Well don’t hit it, per se. Maybe just climb over it.
The next obstacle, Weigh Too Tough, was tricky. To be successful at this obstacle, you had to have a good feel for weight. To complete this task, you were told to fill a bucket with either 15, 25, or 35 pounds of sand, gravel, or water (the precise weight-material combination was determined for you for each lap). You would then make your best guess as to the weight as you filled up the bucket. After making your guess, you would carry the bucket around a 100 meter loop to a weighing station where it would be weighed by course officials. If the weight of your bucket was off by more than a few pounds, then you had to complete the task all over again. Because both the weight and material changed after every couple of hours, you were constantly kept on your toes regarding the guesswork. I was penalized several times on this obstacle throughout the race as I frequently underestimated the weight I was carrying.
“Don’t look at me like that!”…this guy knows I’m going to have to do this obstacle again.
After scratching that off my bucket list (nyuk nyuk nyuk), I raced on to Birth Canal. And you know what? I’m not even going to try to explain this one. You look at the pictures and figure it out. I will say this though…when I did this one my way (i.e., doing cool-guy push-ups in the middle to slosh the fluid out the “canal”), the official got mad at me: “Don’t! You’re breaking it!” LOL, relax partner, we’ll get you some more fluid.
“I can see the head!…PUSHHHHH!”
Congratulations, it’s a girl.
After Birth Canal, was Water Moccasin, which was kind of like the old Island Hopping. The gaps look small but the platforms shift back when you jump forward so you really have to give it a good jump otherwise your going to lose your teeth on the next platform and end up in the drink.
Then, after Water Moccasin and the Mile 2 timing mat, we dealt with Underwater Tunnels. This was incredibly refreshing during the peak of the afternoon.
After Underwater Tunnels was a Tough Mudder staple, Everest. And to be honest, Everest was way easier in this race than it was in previous TM’s. With a good leap you could practically land on the upper platform on your feet.
For some reason, Everest never posed much of a challenge this year. Maybe I’m just getting taller.
Everest was followed by the Grappler. This obstacle required you to throw a rope (with a ball attached to the end) up and over a wall at the top of a cliff face. With the ball secured in the notch, you then pulled yourself up the cliff face. You had three throws to hit the target otherwise you were penalized with extra distance and some over-under walls. This one was pretty entertaining actually.
After the Grappler was Abseil where you used rope to rappel back down the cliff face you just climbed up. After venturing past the first Crossover (which was next to the pit area) and over a hill, we arrived at the Liberator. This, in my opinion, was one of the best obstacles. It was essentially a large, slightly inclined pegboard that you had to pull yourself up using only your arms. Plenty of people were cheating on this one by using their legs.
You’re only cheating yourselves misters.
After the Liberator, we crossed the Mile 3 timing mat and arrived at Island Hopping. As I noted above, Water Moccasin was like the old Island Hopping and this new Island Hopping was like, I don’t even know what. Yeah, I’m confused. Anyway, these platforms were deceptively unstable and with trail running shoes on it was easy to get your grips caught in the netting. People were serious biting the dust on this one. Essentially, the more people that were on this thing at once, the harder it was, and the clumsier everyone became. At times, I wished I could have been a spectator on the shore watching large groups of racers simultaneously scrambling over it. It would have been pretty hilarious to witness. After a couple of laps I figured out what strategy worked best. But yeah, I bailed off the end on my first try. Good times.
And then there was Hump Chuck, my least favorite obstacle. Oh Hump Chuck, why were you such a jerk? We could have been friends. (Yes, I hated it even more than the Cliff, which I’ll discuss later). I found this obstacle utterly impossible to complete on my own. I just didn’t have the technique and strength to get it done. I want to say a big “thank you” and express my heartfelt gratitude for all those unknown Mudders out there who helping me through this one.
“Shred your tips” as they say in the rock climbing biz.
After cursing my way out of Hump Chuck, we skirted back up to the ridge and over to Ladder to Hell. This was an easy up and over obstacle.
Lady texting in the foreground: “wtf iz wrong with these TM peeps, lulz”
After Ladder to Hell, I dropped back down to the first crossover, through the tubes, and out to The Gamble. This obstacle involved rolling a die in order to decide whether you would be penalized or not. The odds changed throughout the race but basically your roll would determine which path you would take through the obstacle (see pics below). If you rolled the wrong number(s) you’d be forced to choose your penalty: one being electric shock (but also the quickest route), the other being a slow and agonizing climb up a rocky hill under knee-high barbed wire.
Now, regardless of the current rolling scheme being used, you never want to roll a 6. Sixes are bad…BAD, okay? So I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it was when I rolled five 6’s in a row on laps 3 through 7. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the odds of rolling five 6’s in a row are 1 in 7776. Yup, proud of that. Anyway, because I was concerned about the electric shocks causing my muscles to cramp (either immediately or later in the race) I elected to do the uphill crawl instead of the Electroshock Therapy. My legs and butt cheeks were black and blue after the race as a result of having repeatedly made that choice. I mean, check out the rocks on the ground there (pic above). Awful stuff.
After a quick uphill jaunt, I made my way over to Swingers, which was a new and seriously fun obstacle (in fact, many of these obstacles no one had ever seen before). To complete Swingers successfully, you were required to leap off an elevated platform, grab onto the handles of a large pendulum, and hold on long enough to swing up to a hanging bell at the other end. Your goal was to ring the bell, let go, and plunge into the water below. You miss the bell, you run a penalty loop. For the first few laps, we were allowed to use our feet to right the bell but that was changed to a “hands only” rule later on. This made it significantly more challenging.
After Swingers, we crossed over the Mile 4 timing mat, the second crossover, and down to Grabbin’ Shaft, which was basically monkey bars on crack. It involved incline monkey bars up to a swing that moved both forward and laterally over to a pipe. The penalty for not completing this obstacle was a 1/4 mile cinderblock carry.
I think they penalized this guy just for his banana hammock.
Immediately after Grabbin’ Shaft was Sewage Outlet, which involved three sections: a (1) barbed wire crawl to (2) an inclined tube which you had to crawl up and then (3) jump out of into a pool of muddy water. Getting out of the end of the tube was tricky because there was very little room to maneuver. Plus you were elevated several feet over a mud water pool and were required to jump (or more likely fall) out. The water wasn’t nearly deep enough and people were constantly bottoming out.
Perfect form if you don’t need your cerebellum.
After a brief uphill run, we finished off each lap with Tough Mudder’s newest concoction…THE CLIFF. This obstacle was a 38-foot plunge off an elevated platform they had built over water. This jump was terrifying for most racers and, thanks to poor jumping form, it injured plenty of them too. My understanding is there were multiple broken tailbones and noses, dislocated shoulders and ankles, a collapsed lung, and countless unscheduled enemas. On my third jump, I either hit something on the surface of the water or got bashed by my sunglasses and earned a nice gash on my forehead. I didn’t exactly mind the jump, but I didn’t enjoy it either, that’s for sure.
“Don’t look down” they told me. “Thanks,” I said, “and you be sure to you eat your vegetables”.
So the lap count continued to grow throughout the day and at 5pm Tough Mudder switched over to “Black Ops”, which meant that the Cliff and Underwater Tunnels closed down, the Statue of Liberty opened up, and the course route changed somewhat to keep the 5-mile lap distance constant. Statue of Liberty involved swimming a torch across the water without letting it go out (see below).
As darkness began to blanket the desert, the toughest suited up and continued to grind out their laps in the darkness.
Headlamps on a desert mountain…white petals on a long black bough. See? I’m artsy too.
As the cold set in and the event really started to show its teeth, things got really nasty. A vicious sandstorm hit and didn’t let up until morning. Winds kicked up to 80-90 km/hr and temperatures plunged down to -1 degree C (30 degrees F) from around midnight until 4 am. The wind gusts were also kicking up sand and dust into whiteout conditions and the course was getting totally destroyed.I elected to use a 3mm shorty wetsuit over my base layers and this was barely enough. I struggled with core temperature all night and it really chipped away at my spirit. The following video is the only footage I could find that came close to capturing the strength of this beast.
Here’s another TM vid from the pits:
So after 18 hours and 54 minutes, I had completed 10 laps, which worked out to be about 100 kms (60 miles) with penalties and 8000 feet in elevation gain, and I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made in a race: I stopped. Ironically though, I didn’t make this choice because I was injured. No, quite the opposite, I actually made the choice to stop because I wasn’t injured. I had committed to the goal of running a solid race without injury and to preserve my body for future races. As I debated to return to the course, I distinctly remembered what happened in 2012. Sure, I finished 12th overall, but I also drove my body into the ground doing it, and had to rehab for almost 6 months. Not this time. Not again.
So around 5am I headed to the shower trailer, warmed up, changed out of my wetsuit, and relaxed as the other racers duked it out. Instead of grinding out a few more laps to get to the top dozen racers, I dropped to 119th. My final results are here.
And of course, who could leave out the superstars that continued on. Absolutely amazing and inspiring:
Top male finishers: (1) Ryan Atkins; (2) Jarrod Pace; (3) Trevor Cichosz
Top female finishers: (1) Amelia Boone; (2) Allison Tai; (3) Frayah Bartuska
Top teams: (1) Team Wolfpack; (2) Under Armour – Team Australia; (3) Valhalla Rising
And a huge props to all the hundred of heroes out there who never got to stand on the podium – the others who bravely battled that course, that sandstorm, who helped each other through obstacles, who quietly communicated to others words of encouragement, who crushed their performance goals, extinguished their fears, and who toughed it out through the darkness to see the sun rise on an incredible new day. Savour your incredible accomplishment, regardless of your place in the standing. You earned it.
Of course, since the end of the race, I’ve been second guessing my decision to not return to the course for several more laps, but the second guessing may have ended tonight, after I completed a quick 6km tempo run with no pain and zero injuries less than a week after WTM. It feels good and I can build on this.
So for now, I’m going to enjoy this injury free period and I’ll continue with my strength and endurance conditioning for the Canadian Death Race this summer. My goal is to complete a sub-17 CDR and crush my previous time of 22 hours and 50 minutes by more than 6 hours.
Speaking to the WTM 2014 event itself, it was amazing and well organized. The obstacles and course were well thought out and the epic sandstorm was a nice touch. I also got to see some great friends again and met some pretty amazing new ones. I have to admit, if it wasn’t for the great OCR community, I’d have a hard time justifying the financial hit to train and compete in these events, but you crazies are just too cool to live without. Thanks for making racing so much fun.
And for anyone who’s reading this and thinking of pushing themselves to try something new, I’m not necessarily suggesting you do a WTM (I know OCR isn’t for everybody), but instead, let me repeat the words we passed along by “Start-Line Sean” Corvelle at the start line of WTM:
“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
Here are some other videos of the event. Enjoy!
Video of all daytime obstacles: