Tough Mudder New England
What do 10 miles of endless ski slope inclines (14,000 ft elevation), waist-deep mud, 12 foot wall climbs, 15 foot jumps into freezing cold water, and ear to ear grins have in common? All were part of my experience with Tough Mudder VT last weekend. I can firmly say that the hours spent on that mountain were the absolute best of my life.
I trained pretty extensively prior to this, but I’m fairly certain that nothing can truly prepare anyone for these events. My teammates and I set out for Vermont on Friday, and it was clear from the moment we arrived that the weekend was a pretty big deal for the beautiful little town of Wilmington. There were signs everywhere welcoming all of the Mudders, and no matter where we went, people asked us if we were participating. I must note that people were always particularly surprised to learn that I was doing it– I suppose my quiet demeanor and 5’5 frame aren’t exactly representative of the norm for this event. Nevertheless, I was beyond excited and ready to prove myself to the Mudder gods.
Around 7:45 am on Saturday morning, we arrived at Mt. Snow. The venue was already filled with thousands of others dressed in every type of garb imaginable. Particular shout outs go to the Super Mario crew, the two guys dressed in full body Tigger and Pooh outfits, and Batman. Some participants were men with biceps larger than my face, while others were middle-aged women in pink tie-dye. It was amazing to see all of the different types of people drawn to what calls itself “probably the toughest event on the planet”. There were areas designated for pre-race keg tossing, mohawk haircuts, and other types of debauchery. Best of all, the starting line was not at the base of the mountain–No, you had to walk uphill just to get there. Nice. (you can’t see the start in this photo, but it at least shows the bottom of the mountain)
The very first task of this amazing day was to (of course) run back to the bottom of the mountain and begin the 1.5 – 2 or so mile run uphill to the top. I’m not sure I can express to you how steep this terrain was. I’ve got to hand it to Dave (one of my teammates and a true champ), he booked it up the mountain during that first climb without any need for a break. My brother and I stayed in stride with each other for the whole course, and we decided from the very beginning to keep a steady pace throughout.
This was a sample conversation of ours:
Nick: Let’s make it our goal to not die. We might get injured, but we’re not going to die.
Me: No, there’s no room for injuries today. We either live or we die trying.
Countless obstacles awaited us along the mountain. We crawled through narrow tubes filled 3/4 of the way with muddy water, we submerged ourselves repeatedly in freezing temperatures, clambered over jagged rocks, and ran down steep snow/ ice covered slopes. There was constant joking and camaraderie among everyone we ran near. If someone fell down (which happened a lot) someone would always be asking if that person were okay. If someone threw up (also not uncommon) people would cheer heartily. One obstacle was a 20 foot glacier that you had to climb over. It was so steep and slippery at that point that it’d be impossible to get over it without teamwork. That’s what I truly loved about this event: the idea that it wasn’t a race, it was about working together. When we’d get to the end of an obstacle, we’d turn around and help others to complete it. Then new folks would take our places and help the next round. That’s what really makes the Tough Mudder special– while some people care about their finish times and getting through as fast as possible, most people were focused on making the most of the experience and having fun.
I’ve heard a lot of internet chatter about the obstacle called the “ball shrinker”. People have been saying it was really difficult, and that the water was freezing. Maybe it’s from growing up in Maine, or maybe I was just really focused, but I honestly didn’t even notice that it was cold. My main concern was trying to keep my footing on the bottom rope because I wanted to make sure I completed every obstacle to the fullest. A lot of people were pulling themselves across the lake with the top rope once they were submerged in the water, but for some reason I felt it super necessary to keep contact with both ropes in order to maintain the integrity of the obstacle. Looking back at it now, I think I’m probably just nuts. Either way, here’s a video of us doing it:
The most difficult part of this event came around mile 6 or 7. My team was all smiles and happy until we were faced with Walk the Plank– a 15 foot jump into an icy lake.
Honestly, I was super excited to jump at the time. It requires a climb to the top of the plank via a dangling rope, which was excellent because I love climbing anything and everything. With a excited cheer and an overly enthusiastic leap, I was ready to plunge into the water. However, about halfway through the fall I realized, “Oh… this is probably going to suck in a second”. Yup. My muddy body was sucked to the bottom, and the cold put me into instant shock. I became pretty concerned about actually being able to get myself back above the surface– a thought that was echoed by my brother whose camelback made it even more challenging. When I reached air again, my main focus was to not get hit by other jumpers, and trying to avoid the 10 other people who were attempting to swim out at the same time. One burly guy actually kept pushing me out of the way in the water because he had entered panic mode. I can’t really blame him, it’s tough to keep your wits about you at that point.
The plunge would not have been so terrible had we not had to stand idly in the cold mountain air for the next 30 minutes while waiting to climb the next obstacle. Also, there were giant sprinkler-like machines everywhere spraying water on us just for fun-zies. The next couple of miles were filled with challenging feats and a lot more water obstacles, so we just continued to be freezing and wet. By the time we reached the 12 foot “Berlin Walls” I was shivering so hard I couldn’t breathe, and our team hit a bit of a low point. The first wall was fine, but when we realized there were 3 others to scale after that, we had to dig pretty deep to keep our sanity. Dave became hypothermic and went to first-aid to get checked out (He jumped back in 15 minutes later and finished on his own), so Nick and I finished the rest of the walls and trudged on.
I really can’t say what happened mentally after that except that things got a lot better once we pushed forward. Although we were still cold, making it through the rough patch was really motivating. We leaped over ski-lift hurdles, dunked ourselves in an ice bath dyed green , and climbed up and over nets suspended in the air. Prior to the race I had been pretty concerned about the Electroshock obstacle– running through live wires offering 10,000 volts of electricity is a bit of a nightmare for someone who spent 5 years working as a theatrical electrician. (I’ve been shocked far too many times in my life already). However, it ended up being completely fine. I covered my face and neck with my arms and just jogged through them. Perhaps I was just so numb by that point that nothing would have mattered, but I barely felt more than a few pricks in my arm. Nick and Dave said they got shocked pretty hard though, so who knows. Either way, a bright orange headband, an ice-cold beer, and endless high-fives awaited on the other side of the finish line. Purely. Epic.
So what advice do I have for future Mudders? Although I believe that the endless cardio, lifting, and other training I did in preparation for this event helped a great deal, I’m not sure what of it was most beneficial. I was never winded, and my muscles never cramped up, but my calves certainly burned like an inferno on all the hills. Plus, the cold nearly destroyed my psyche. This event truly is more than just physical strength and endurance– mental grit plays a huge role in getting through it. It’s almost as though a haze comes over you, and all you can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other. Having Gu and a camelback definitely helped. Wearing soccer socks and spandex under my shorts were also super awesome decisions. More than anything, having a team of amazing people with me made the event what it was for me. Facing those Berlin Walls would have been about 100 times worse had I endured it alone.
And now I’m completely hooked. Whenever I look at these pictures I want SO badly to back on that mountain giving it my all once again. Next time I think I’m going to try for a faster pace, and I’m damn determined to conquer those inclining monkey bars. (When we got to them this time, I got about 3 rungs in before slipping from all the water. I’m pretty bitter about it consider how many pullups I did to train for that specific obstacle. I think the key is to train on WET monkey bars, and improve grip strength). I’m signing up for the Tri-State Mudder in Jersey and am currently trying to put together a team for it. Honestly, having to wait 6 months before getting to do it again seems like forever, but I’m going to be doing tons of hill sprints in the meantime to prepare. This week is finals week (I have one more semester left before being able to run around with a legitimate Master’s Degree in Public Relations– woo hoo!) and I just keep thinking that if I ever get the chance to put my PR skills to work for an event like this one, it’d be a total dream come true. Fitness, Teamwork, Bad-assery? Yes, please!
Anyway, if you’re reading this and are interested in joining me for Tri-State, or just want to be my training buddy (It’s always nice to have company) please comment and let me know! Tough Mudder New England was honestly the most amazing experience of my life, and I’m so beyond psyched to do it again.
And as always, Remember to breathe.