On Oct 25th, 2014, I completed the SoCal Tough Mudder obstacle run in Temecula, CA. It was a 10.6 mile run on steep dusty hills with 25 obstacles. The parking lot was a mile away, so I’ll gladly add 2 miles to say it was about 12 total.
This race has been a long time coming. The last obstacle race I did was the Spartan Sprint in Feb 2013. I registered for the Phoenix Tough Mudder a long time ago, but I ended up working in France during that time, and the NoCal Tough Mudder was on the same day that our moving truck was being unloaded.
I was a little nervous going into this Tough Mudder, because I’m not in as good of shape as I was at the last Spartan Sprint, and Tough Mudder advertises itself as the toughest obstacle course in the world. But I think I am still in better shape than the average Joe, and much of these races really just come down to mental toughness. Kind of like the Toby Keith song, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” Yes, I just quoted a country song… Becca smiles! Of course that’s a recipe for injury, weekend warrior style, but every now and then you have to be okay with that risk, just to know you’re still living.
It was fun, Tough Mudder is cool. I recommend it to anyone who wants to face a hard challenge. There were definitely plenty of people on the course that weren’t in good physical shape, but I presume they finished and had a great feeling of satisfaction afterwards.
Tough Mudder has developed a great culture around itself, “Mudder Nation”. Tough Mudder is not a competition. You’re only a loser if you give up. There’s no pressure to do anything you’re not comfortable doing, and there’s no penalty for not doing it. “Live to see the next obstacle” is an expression you’ll sometimes hear. Team work, comradery, and respect for your fellow mudders are at the top of their values.
But I know you’re most interested in seeing me in action, so let’s get started. I put this map first primarily to show the elevation profile. The trail was loose rock and dirt, making footing and breathing a real challenge.
Kiss of Mud was a piece of cake. The wire was high until the end.
Funky Monkey was one I was pretty concerned about. I had heard that they slick the bars with grease and some of the bars roll, but I had no problem keeping a grip on these monkey bars.
The Arctic Enema was one that I had no concerns about. No matter how cold, I figured I could get through it. The water wasn’t as cold as I expected but it was dirtier than I expected. The wood behind me is a barrier, you must swim under it. I just jumped in and went under the board in a single motion. Getting out was a little bit harder than I expected, both because your body is in shock, and because there wasn’t much to climb on.
Warrior Carry is typically done over your shoulders, but my shoes were slipping a lot and the first part of the carry was down a pretty steep hill. I figured if I was going to fall, it would be better for us to fall on our butts than me plant his head into the ground. I’m guessing it was about 50 yards.
Ladder to Hell was like climbing on an adult sized jungle gym. You can’t tell from this picture, but I’m probably about 15 feet high.
Ah, the Swamp Stomp. This was one of my favorite obstacles. About a ¼ mile of the thickest mud you can imagine. It didn’t smell too good either. This stuff was so soft you would sink up to knees if you stood up, but so viscous that my leg hairs felt like they were being pulled out. I nearly lost my shoes a couple of times. When I pulled my arm out of the mud it wasn’t recognizable, looked more like a log. This event came towards the end and really seemed to zap a lot of people’s energy. It did take a lot of core muscles to extract and then relocate each limb.
Electroshock Therapy, a hallmark for Tough Mudder. Yes, random wires really do shock you at random times. And when they do, your body really does have an involuntary response. I saw people black out. I saw people totally face plant because they temporarily lost control of their body. I got hit 3 times, caused my body to jerk and jump for sure, but I never saw spots or blacked out. Somehow I was able to push through on my feet.
Here’s our SpaceX team at the end with Tough Mudder “Coach”.
I think I did pretty good on Tough Mudder. I definitely won, it didn’t beat me. I was able to do all of the obstacles on my own except for the Pyramid Scheme, which you aren’t supposed to be able to do on your own. Pyramid Scheme was probably my favorite obstacle, too bad they didn’t get some pictures of me on it. It is the epitome of strangers getting really close and personal to help each other out.
Mount Everest is very similar to Pyramid Scheme, and I fully expected I would need help to complete that one too. Turned out that Everest was much easier for me than I expected. I was expecting the surface of Everest to be slicked, but it didn’t seem slippery to me besides some incidental mud.
I came home with a couple of minor injuries. On the first obstacle, I jumped down off the top of a wall and must have landed too hard. It hurt, but it hurt a lot more about mile 3. I was surprised to see that it was black and blue when I took my shoes off at the end of the day. Becca thought I might have broken it, but I don’t think it hurt bad enough for that. The swelling and discoloring has mostly gone away now a week later, but it does aggravate easily and I haven’t braved a run on it yet.
My other injury is my right middle toe. It’s hard to see here, but my toe nail is completely black. I tried to get a running start to scale one of the Berlin Walls and apparently kicked the wall too hard. I got over the wall okay, but when I came down the other side and started to walk on it I thought there was a pretty good chance I had already lost my toe nail. It’s still there and I don’t think I’ll be losing it.
Several people have asked me to compare Spartan races and Tough Mudder and which one I liked better. It’s kind of hard to compare because I had different teams that had different goals. Tough Mudder was all-in-all more enjoyable. They also have a wider range of obstacles I believe.
Spartan, I thought, was more hardcore. The obstacles at the Spartan races definitely required more upper body strength than the Tough Mudder obstacles. And the burpee penalty for skipping or failing obstacles means there is no easy way out. But Tough Mudder has a larger selection of obstacles and I’m looking forward to getting new obstacles the next time I run Tough Mudder. I don’t know how much variety Spartan has in its obstacles.
The fact that Spartan times and ranks you is kind of nice. I really felt good about the fact that I finished in the top 13% of the people who ran last year’s Phoenix Spartan Sprint. If you think you’re in good shape but would like to have a better idea of how good you are, Spartan seems like a good judge. Tough Mudder doesn’t track time or rank.
Tough Mudder intentionally tries to tap into your fears. Are you afraid of heights, water, claustrophobic, electrical shocks, anti-social? Tough Mudder has something that is likely to rattle your mental cage, in addition to challenging you physically. That’s kind of cool.
It’s amazing how much easier it is to train when you have a date on your calendar. I was able to say yes a lot easier to waking up in the morning to exercise and no a lot easier to things like sodas and deserts just because I knew Tough Mudder was coming. Doesn’t really matter what the event is, just something that you know is going to kick your butt unless you do your part to prepare for it. I thought Tough Mudder was easier than Spartan, but I’m thankful for every minute I spent preparing for it so I could enjoy it and master the obstacles.
I imagine my choice of Spartan or Mudder will largely be made by social factors. SpaceX has a good group that has run several Tough Mudders now. I’d rather run with a team and get to know some co-workers than run the Spartan by myself. But if the situation were reversed, I’d probably be just as happy to run the Spartan.
I thank God that I am physically able to play and work hard. About 4 years ago I thought I would never be able to “compete” again due to painful knees and being overweight. God healed my knees and has helped me reclaim my health. I feel like life has been extended for me, and events like this help me measure and appreciate it.