Sunday, 21 June 2015

Braving the Elements, Whistler Tough Mudder 2015

A while back, a member of my running group for the 2014 Nike Women's Marathon suggested we form a Tough Mudder team. This race has been on my bucket list for a while, and being the glutton for pinishm..... err uhm.... I mean, challenge oriented person I am, how could I say no?

The week before the race, I did some research on the course and all the obstacles.  I found videos online to get some tips from Mudder Alum.  I even went as far as making a spreadsheet that broke down each obstacle into description, individual strategy, team strategy, and reference video.  Half the team wanted to go in knowing nothing and preferred to be surprised.  Some of the team, like me, wanted to be prepared mentally as well as physically. 

Our team was a strong team made up of strong runners.  Of everyone on the team, I am by far the slowest, but I am also the strongest.  I knew no matter how far the team got ahead of me, if there was a climbing event, they would wait for me. We had a team strategy to wait for the whole team before and after each obstacle.  The stronger of the team would help those not so strong over/through/with anything they needed help with.  We also knew that other teams, ahead and behind us, would be there to lend a helping hand/push as well.  And that was the theme throughout the entire day.  Teamwork (whether it was your team or a strangers).

Race day was here, and I was pumped.  I was psyched.  I went in with no expectations, but with one goal; I was going to do (or at least attempt) every single obstacle on the course.  We got to the start line and found the rest of our team.  After a brief organized warm up, (and a climb over a 6 foot wall) one of the race officials asked us to take a knee.  He then went on to give an amazing inspirational speech.  I will not attempt to recap the whole thing, but the one thing that stuck with me was his challenge, "When was the last time you did something for the first time?"  A message not lost on me, or my team. We all strive to push ourselves in all of our races, marathons, triathlons, and that carries over in our daily lives.

Today, I was going to take up the challenge of doing something for the first time.  It was time for my first Tough Mudder.

We started off well, but the terrain was more rocky and much more hilly than anticipated. Several creeks, puddles, trees, brambles, roots, and of course.... Mud.  I was not prepared for how difficult the run legs between the obstacles would be.

The first obstacle, was The Warrior Carry.  Basically, this obstacle consisted of carrying one of your teammates down a hill and then switching off half way down.  The only guy on our team that would have been able to carry me was Branko.  He did an awesome job.  And aside from being taller than me, he was pretty easy to carry as well.

One down and on we went.

We got the second obstacle, The Liberator. I was excited about this one and it turned out to be one of my favorite obstacles.  It consisted of climbing up a wall using pegs.

(not my picture, pulled from google search)

I held back in order to help out those on the team who needed a push (there were no foot holds).  Once it was my turn, I grabbed to pegs and stormed up the wall.  I kept my knees on the wall to help get a better toe grip on the wall, used my lats to pull, and keep good momentum.  Those dead hang pull ups definitely came in handy here.

Although not on the map, next up was Ladder to Hell.  This one freaked me out a bit due to the height and how rickety it was.  But as long as I did not think about it and just powered through, I was fine.

(not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

We ran on to the next bit of fun.  Berlin Wall(s).

This was pretty straight forward, make it over a 12 foot wall....... then make it over another 12 foot wall.

The team spirit was rampant on this obstacle.  While waiting in line for our turn, my team, and every other team, was cheering for those having difficulty with the wall.  When they finally made it over, the crowd in its entirety let out a thunderous cheer for them.

(not my picture, pulled from google search)

There were several strategies here, but opted for "Step into my hands and we will lift/push you over."  Branko, Phil, and I helped lift/push the team over.  I thought for sure I would strong enough to pull myself up.  I was wrong.  Your arm and body position when doing a pull up on a bar is totally different than when against a wall.  Luckily, Branko helped me over and he was athletic enough to get over on his own. 

Then we did it again!  Same strategy.  Branko and I even helped out the team ahead of us.  On this wall, I almost had a major mishap.  When I was going over the top, my glove got pinched between the wall and my body.  When I went to pull my arm out and grab the wall to jump, I almost rolled off the wall.  If I didn't catch myself, I would have fallen right on my back from 12 feet.  Luckily, I did not. 

Next was the worst obstacle on the day for me.  Cry Baby.  This sucked.  You started out by swimming under a glass wall, then you climbed up and into an enclosed area where you had to crawl to the other side.  Oh! And did I mention the whole thing was filled with tear gas!?  

(not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

I could barely even breathe.  I kept my eyes closed and pulled my shirt over my mouth.  Every few second I opened my eyes to try and see where I was going.  The gas was too thick and I could not see anything.  Suddenly, my head hit a wall.  I opened my eyes.  Yup, it was a wall.  Where the hell do I go?  How do I get out of this?!  Then I saw a person beside me stand up.  The door to get out was a hatch above me.  I climbed out, walked to a clearing, and gagged/choked for about 5 minutes.  I regrouped with the team and we trudged on. 
  (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

Next up, the Mud Mile.  Although not actually a mile, it consisted of several mud walls to climb over followed by several muddy pools to wade through.  We all helped each other climb and slide down the mud into the mud.
  (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

Although on the map, Pitfall was not on the course.
We slogged on to the next obstacle, The Birth Canal.  This was another crawling obstacle, but this time you had a liner full of water on top of you as you crawled through.  I held up the water with my back and was able to make it through with relative ease.
   (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

At this point in the race, it started to rain a bit.  Nothing crazy, but the temperature did drop quite a bit as we came to Balls to the Wall.  Another wall even, but with a rope.  We treated this just like Berlin Wall, but the rope and our hands were slippery from the rain and previous obstacles.  My gardening glove definitely helped here.  And just like Berlin Wall, everyone cheered everyone else on.

 (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

At this point it was full on raining.  We all got soaked.  We approached an area where there were several obstacles in a row.  We thought that Shawshanked (don't worry we will get to that one) was up next, so most of the team opted to wait until those of us crazy enough to do it were done. It turned out the course went past Shawshanked to Kiss of Mud. 
Kiss of Mud was crawling on you stomach under barb wire in the mud.  The mud also had a ton of large, sharp rocks scattered throughout..  My strategy was to use all leg.  If I were to army crawl using my forearms, they would get cut up by the rocks.  So I lifted my knee up the side of my body to my elbow, dug my toes in, and just pushed.

  (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

Once on the other side, Phil and I realized that the course went on before coming back to Shawshanked.  Kristina went on.  She needed to keep moving due to the cold.  Phil offered to run back and get the rest of the team.  I ran on and eventually doubled back to Shawshanked. 

This one was fun.  You crawled under barb wire again, but at the end, you had to crawl through a pipe and then drop in to water.  It was just like the movie Shawshank Redemption.
  (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

While waiting in line, it began to pour rain.  I am talking major down pout.  Everyone on line just started screaming and laughing.  It was all we could do to keep moral up.  It also made it more like the movie.
When I got to the end of the pipe, I could not figure out how to get out.  I was on my back, butt hanging over the edge, and gripping he top.  I head someone yell, "Just let go and drop!!"  Do I did.  It was so unnatural to drop and land on my back, but knowing I was going to land in water helped.
  (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

When I got out of the water, I reenacted the scene from Shawshank Redemption.  And for the record, it was raining this hard.
SPOILER ALERT Andy escapes.

I was looking around for my team who said they were going to wait here, but could not find them.  It was at this point that I looked at my elbow and realized it was bleeding.  A fellow Mudder saw it, gave me a high five and said "Now you're getting into it!"  I replied with a smile and shouted "I've never been so excited to see my own blood!"
I went on, thinking my team was right behind me,  The pouring rain was slowly washing the mud off of me.  As I approached the next obstacle, I realized that someone had built a fire and several Mudders were huddled around it.  I stood by the fire for a few minutes before proceeding on to Walk the Plank.
This was basically a high dive.  I was surprised by the amount of people who climbed to the top, only to succumb to nerves and climb back down.  I didn't think, I just jumped.  I hit the water and was pleasantly surprised at how warm it was.  I was not going to ask nor think about why it was that warm.  
   (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

Then I panicked   I had gone off plenty of high dives in my youth, but when I did, I would hit the bottom and push off to help get me back to the surface for air.  I did not hit the bottom.  I clawed at that water desperately to get to the top for air. Once I was out of the water, my adrenaline spiked.  I made my way back to the fire for a few minutes before carrying on. 
It was a long walk to the next obstacle, there were a few more pipes to crawl through and a very steep climb.  And more and more cold, pouring rain.  I saw 2 girls go off course and head back to the parking lot saying to each other, "No. We're done."  I shook my head and told myself, "Nope.  I am not done.  I came here with a goal.  This is training my mental toughness. I'm going to do this."  And kept trudging forward in the rain.

The next obstacle was Hold Your Wood.

 (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

This is supposed to be a team event where you carry a log through, under, and over some obstacles.  Luckily, there were some "smaller" logs for individual Mudders. So I grabbed one of those and went through the mini course. 

Up next was Everest.  Best way to explain this is to show you:

The one at Whistler was rounded all they way across the top and did not have waterfalls.  This one I did on my own, but was lucky enough that the top was lined with people helping others.  And just like Berlin Wall, everyone cheered everyone else on.

I made eye contact with 2 guys at the top and they wave me up.  I got a good hard sprint and ran up that wall at speed.  A good hard jump/reach at the apex and I caught the arms of the 2 guys.  With their help, I made it up on my first try.  And in Mudder fashion, I stuck around and helped catch/pull a few people up and over as well.  This is most likely why I am suffering from a shoulder injury as I am typing this. 

  (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

After that was Devils Beard, which was a short stretch under netting. 

 (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

After this was Artic Enima. I was going to skip this one.  It was way to cold to even think about doing this one.  I stopped to use the porta-john and met up with Angela, fellow TNT coach.  She asked me if I was going to do it.  I told her no, it was way to cold.

I ran past the obstacle, stopped, and watched a few people go through. Then, before I knew it, I was climbing u the ladder to take the plunge.

In this obstacle you slide down into a container of ice water (fully submerged), then climb over a wall, land in more ice water, and then climb out.  Yes. It was cold. Artic Enima indeed.

 (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook)

I never climbed over or out of something that fast in my life.  When I came up out of the water the first time I let out such a scream and my entire body tensed at once. It looked something like this:

Luckily after this short bath, the sun came out and there was a giant hill climb (Cliffhanger).  This was the the hill we climbed (you can see the back of Everest in this picture):

 (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook

On this climb I caught up Angela again.  We chatted about races, past and upcoming, and just caught up on life in general. I walked with her and her team for a bit when the coolest thing happened.  One of her teammates got a horrible leg cramp.  Now hold on, that was not the cool part.  I'm not that mean.  A random guy came up and grabbed her leg and said, "I am going to stretch this and it will hurt. I'll count to 10." He helped her stretch and you could see the pain in the injured teammates eyes.  After 10, she put her leg down and could walk.  The look on her face was beyond priceless.  It showed the Tough Mudder spirit.  Team work and comradery. She ran up to him and gave him a big kiss.

Up next was Funky Monkey. I made it 3 rungs in before I fell into the water.  My gloves had lost their grip and the bars were super wet.

 (not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook

Only 2 more obstacle left and the next one ended up being one of my favorites!  Dead Ringer!

(not my image, pulled from Tough Mudder's Facebook

You had to make your way across pegs using 2 rings.  I missed a peg a few times, but managed to hang from one arm to get it back.  As long as you kept your momentum up, you were fine.  I almost made it all the way across, just 4 pegs left. So close.

Then it was Electro Shock Therapy! 

This was very anticlimactic.  I managed to duck and weave enough to not get shocked once.

Then I was done!  

I was still assuming my team was behind me so I waited at the finish line for about 45 minutes (after getting my free beer of course). I then went to bag check to change clothes and check my phone. There was a text message saying that the team was in the car waiting and had been there for an hour.  When I called them, they were already back at the hotel.  

At first, this made me kind of angry, but later I found out that a few people on the team were in very bad shape physically due to the cold temperatures and rain.  I could not fault them for that, plus we never had a plan for if we got separated. When we separated at Shawshanked, they had decided to just run the rest of course and only do a few of the obstacles here and there.

Once back at the hotel, everyone asked me how I dealt with the cold.  I joked and said I was naturally insulated, which is true.  

I may not be as fast or as strong psychically as most, but my mental toughness has had 31 years of training.  I set out with the goal to do every obstacle and that kept me going.  I also reminded myself that no matter how cold it got, how much it rained, or what pain I was feeling, the 2014 Vancouver Marathon  was worse. 

My knees and elbows are scraped, my shoulder is injured, there is something up with a few of my metacarpals on both hands, and the metatarsals on my right foot, but it was worth it.

When was the last time I did something for the first time?  

Saturday, when I completed the aptly named 2015 Whistler Tough Mudder.

How about you?  

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