Tough Mudder returned to the Mid-Atlantic on April 20th, 2013, setting up shop in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. This year chose a shooting range and training facility on 500 acres in Gerrardstown.
After the fiasco that was the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder in Frederick, Maryland, I was optimistic that the organizers could redeem themselves. My first Mudder experience was tarnished by horrible traffic, parking and planning. That said, I still had fun the first time and was looking to get back out to tackle another Mudder.
My buddy Steve, a fellow returning Mudder, and I hit the road for Tabler Station on Saturday morning. We left extra early in case there was another traffic/parking disaster waiting for us. But to our surprise, there was only about a ten minute traffic build up at the entrance to the parking field. I can deal with that.
I parked the truck and we gathered our stuff to find a bus ride to the course. It was cold in the morning – I think it was about 50 degrees at the most. I decided to go with a long sleeved Under Armour shirt under my team “Bust-n-Nuts” shirt. I figured that would keep some of the wind off my arms and maybe keep some heat in. The rest of my attire consisted of quick-dry shorts, fingerless gloves, and my trusted Columbia Drainmaker shoes. They survived the first Mudder and still looked brand new. Here is my review of the perfect shoes for Tough Mudder.
We found the line of busses that was continually running people over to the course. After a short wait, we were on a school bus and on the road. It took about 30 minutes of driving through back roads and “Deliverence” country to get to the course. Banjo music would have been appropriate for the ride.
After an organized check in, we immediately ran into the rest of our team – Pete, Sean, Doug and Matt. The only first-time Mudder of the group was Matt, since he had to back out last year for a family issue. Since we had the same team shirts from the previous year and wanted to mix it up a little, we decided to don some eye-black – to up our “badassedness”.
We were slotted to start at 11:20, but since we had everyone ready to go, we jumped into the 10:40 start group. And when I say jumped, we literally had to climb a wall to get to the start line. Here, start line emcee, Sean Corvelle, whipped the group into a frenzy of “oorah’s” and pep talk machismo. He also announced that the originator of the event was in the house – most likely to make sure it went smoother than last year. I know they refunded a large number of runners or gave a free entry to a future Mudder since many didn’t even make it into the event last year. It was so bad they cancelled the Sunday runs. I am sure he didn’t want a repeat. I also think the organizers wanted to up the ante on the difficulty to make it worth our return. We would soon find out what was in store for us as Sean sent us running out of the starting gate through the signature orange cloud of smoke.
I had run my first marathon in March, so the 12 miles of running was just a warm-up for me. Can I get an “oorah”? Just kidding. This was no walk in the park. The course wound through hills, streams, huge mounds of dirt and random mud pits. You name it, they threw it at us – and these weren’t even the fabled Tough Mudder obstacles. For the most part, the obstacles were similar to last year, except they decided to add a dose of steroids. Then after the steroids, they shot it with gamma rays, punched it in the face, made fun of its family, kicked its dog … making one mean mother of an obstacle course. OORAH!
We encountered the usual obstacles that give you a sense that the course is not going to be too bad. Such as crawling through rocks and mud under barbed wire, traversing over mounds of slick mud with trenches filled with 2-3 feet of sloppy mud, carrying a heavy log for a mile, climbing over a series of elevated logs, and crawling under ground in either carved out tunnels or drainage pipes. They threw in some twists, though. On the “Berlin Walls”, the first set they angled back toward you at a 60 degree tilt. Try getting up and over an 8 foot wall that is leaning toward you. Instead of one set of the mud mounds I mentioned earlier, they had two. The logs to climb over – they put them at least five feet off the ground and used logs that were 2 feet thick. This Mudder was way tougher than the one we participated in last year.
My favorite of the obstacles from both years is “Everest”. The goal is to run up a 15 foot half pipe – similar to what you see skateboarders riding on – and leap to the top grabbing either the top of the ramp or a fellow Mudder who has already made it up. When it came to my turn to go, I was the first in line for our group. Sean, the start line emcee, had made his way over to Everest and was giving people pointers on how to conquer the wall. He stopped in front of me and said “Show us how it is done, Mr. Bust-n-Nuts”, followed by a fist-bump. No pressure. He had just gotten done saying not to go unless there were two people at the top to catch you. I look up and there is one lone guy who had just been hauled up – the two haulers had left just him at the top in the area of the wall in front of me. I pointed to him, he shrugged and got in position with his arms hanging down to catch me. I took off sprinting as hard as I could, took a couple steps on the incline of the wall, and threw myself at the top. I had gone slightly to the right of the guy at the top, not putting my faith in him catching my arms. I managed to get both hands on the top lip of the wall and threw my foot up over the top. Now the guy at the top came to may aid to help pull my body over. “That’s how you do it!” announced Sean. From there, I laid on my stomach and hung my arms over the edge, hauling Pete, then Doug, then Steve to the top. Interspersed in there I helped to haul up at least a half a dozen other Mudders over the top of Everest. We just missed Sean, his fingers slipped through both mine and Pete’s grasp. We had Matt dangling by both arms, but all of us were pretty spent, and Matt had to slide back down.
The other obstacles that I really enjoyed in a sadistic kind of way were:
- The “Pirate’s Booty” – this included a swim through a pond to a cargo net that was hanging over a horizontal log at least twenty feet high. Getting over the top and back down the other side was difficult since there is very little to hold onto and you have to find the net on the opposite side to place your foot onto. Perched straddled atop that log is a pretty precarious position to find yourself in.
- The “Arctic Enima” – Sounds fun right? I was really anxious to do this one since it was closed last year due to lightning in the area. You climb a ramp, jump into a dumpster full of water and thousands of pounds of ice, swim under a barrier in the middle, then climb out the other side where the majority of the ice has accumulated. Needless to say, it was cold.
- There was a big water slide. Not even sure what the obstacle was called – but you go careening downhill head-first into a pool of water. I wish I had one in my backyard.
- “Cage Crawl” consisted of trenches dug out of the ground, filled almost to the top with water, then a chain link fence laid on top. You have about 6 inches of air above the water so you have to swim on your back and pull yourself through the water by the links in the fence.
The other twenty or so obstacles were similar to the ones we had encountered previously, but kicked up a notch. This location and it’s varied terrain really made it ideal for this type of competition. The cold weather is what really made the whole ordeal more of an endurance test. I think that if a participant was having a rough time with the obstacles and not in a good frame of mind, the cold would have probably been the key ingredient of a miserable day.
But we prevailed!
The best feeling is running through a gauntlet of electrified wires, shielding your face, and wondering when the “ZAP” will come. It sounds cruel and unusual, but you know after that jolt that you are just inches from the finish line and ready to put that orange headband on. We earned it.
If you are thinking of doing a Tough Mudder, I would encourage it, but get in shape first. There is a lot of running and jumping and swimming. And know there are risks. A participant died in the Mudder that I attended on the “Walk the Plank” obstacle. A 28 year old guy from Ellicott City, MD. From what I have read, he drowned, but I don’t know if it was from not knowing how to swim, or if he hit his head somewhere on the way down, or someone jumped in on top of him. Like most sports, there is risk involved. The obstacles are set up with safety as the main concern. They are all well constructed and there is staff at obstacles to help if you need it. But even some of the tamer obstacles, like the “Berlin Walls”, where you climb a ten foot wooden wall, if you fall off the top, you will get hurt. But that is the risk of climbing a ten foot wall.
All-in-all, Tough Mudder is great way to bond with friends, conquer your fears, and test your physical fortitude. And a great excuse to play in the dirt.