Friday, June 30, 2017

Tough Mudder New England 2017

June 25, 2017
I did my first Tough Mudder (TM) in 2015, and I had a lot of fun. It didn't take me long to sign up to go again for both TM New England and TM Northeast in 2016. Unfortunately neither race panned out. In general, 2016 did not turn out to be a good racing year for me, and Samurai Sprint was my last race of the year. (the exception being the two family races I did with my kids)

I transferred my 2016 registration to this year, and I needed the motivation to get into shape and hopefully get back into OCRs regularly. As usual, the training was not to be, so I ended up going into this race out of shape, again. Since as far as I knew, my friends weren't going to this one, so I figured I'd have to do it alone. The downside, of course, is that you have no one to run with, but the upside was that I wouldn't be holding anyone back by how slow I am.

But fortunately I ran into some fellow members of the New England Spahtens, and we would run (walk?) the race together. We spent the wait for our race time arguing about who was slower. The racers would be Mama Hen Sandy Rhee (who lives up to her nickname), the two Amys with their matching blonde hair, telephone pole-impersonator David with his Go-Pro camera, and his friend Phil, who at 61 is a badass. Sandy had done the race on Saturday, and was thinking she wouldn't do it this time, but we convinced her to go with us and she obliged.

Tough Mudder is a popular race, and Saturday is the most popular day to run it. My first TM was on a Sunday, and after that experience and this one, I think I'll always do Sundays. The atmosphere is laid back, the obstacles are not crowded, and as such there are few waits. I can take my time and enjoy the experience without feeling rushed.
Phil, me, David, Sandy, Amy, and Amy
My start time was 9:00am, but as a group we were still waiting for some one.  We divided ourselves between the slow and the fast groups, and the fast group went ahead while the slow group (me included) waited, and therefore we didn't start until 9:30.  TM stated that start times would be strictly enforced, but on Sunday things are less strict as there were far fewer racers.

Waves left at 15 minute intervals, and as I wasn't looking forward to the intro, as I remember it dragged the first time I did a TM. This time, however, it wasn't so bad, and we were off right on time at 9:30. The trail meandered a short ways up the mountain, and as I expected, I lagged behind on the upslopes, but my team kindly waited for me. Back down the mountain and to the first obstacle, Quagmire, which is a simple pit dug out of the ground filled with muddy water.  Climb in, wade through waist deep water, and wade back out.

Soon after that was Berlin Walls, which was a simple wall climb, perhaps 10 feet high. It had a step on it, so I was able to get a leg up by boosting myself on it so I was able to climb over without any help.
"Climbing over without any help" doesn't necessarily mean "easy."
Back up the mountain to Swamp Stomp, which was a walk through a thigh deep muddy water pit that had some logs barring the way so you had to watch your footing.

Farther up the mountain to Underwater Tunnels, which was in a small pond. You had to get in the water which was about 4 feet deep, wade to the "tunnel", which was really just a floating barrier perhaps three feet wide, swim under it, and then on to two more tunnels. The water was colder than expected, and most people cringe at the cold water and try not to get wet (despite the fact that we all have to dunk under).  When faced with these obstacles, I just try to plow through them as fast as possible to get it over with. So rather than wade through it, I ended up swimming and got through pretty quickly.

Immediately after Underwater Tunnels was the Hero Carry. Sandy carried me the first quarter of the way, and I carried her to the halfway point, and then she carried me to the finish. I offered to do the last quarter, but she was't having it and powered my considerable weight to the end.
Sandy carries me through the Hero Carry
A short climb and then back down to Balls to the Wall, which was a wall with a knotted rope hanging from the top. The wall was tilted a few degrees towards us, which made it a bit harder to scale the rope as you couldn't use the wall itself as much to take up some of your weight. Going down the far side is much easier.
On the mountain
More climbing up the mountain, and then down a long ways through a very steep, very muddy, very technical wooded section. Despite my trail running shoes, I slipped several times and it was slow going. This was easily the most technical part of the course, matching if not surpassing part of the Killington Spartan Beast I did in 2015.

A meandering climb back up the mountain to Devil's Beard, which is a net stretched across the ground that you have to go under. Many people opt to crawl under the net, but I found that there's just enough slack in the net to walk under, albeit very hunched over. I let the net slide over my back and plowed my way through it, going through relatively quickly.

Farther up the mountain to the highest point we would reach that day (which was only maybe 2/3 of the way up Mount Snow), to Ladder to Hell. It is a ladder with four rungs made of wide planks, spaced several feet apart. The only difficult part is the transition over the top, which can be tough for people who are afraid of heights.
Looking Tough!
Back down the mountain to Reach Around / Stage 5 Clinger. The Stage 5 Clinger is for Legionnaires only, so while I qualified to do it, it looked to be a little much for my upper body strength, so I opted for the Reach Around. it consisted of a ladder angled towards you by about 30 degrees. You had to climb that and maneuver your way up onto a platform above. The ladder itself was easy; it was the transition to the platform itself that was hard. I struggled a bit--it's at the edge where you cling on with a deathgrip, hoping you don't slip, but I managed to get onto the platform ok. Phil slipped at the top and fell to the woodchips below, but he brushed himself off and kept right on going. David and Sandy both conquered Stage 5 Clinger, while me and one of the Amys did the Reach Around. The other Amy was racing with a broken thumb, so she can be forgiven for skipping this one.
Reach Around
Not far after this was Birth Canal 2.0 / Black Hole.  Essentially you have to crawl underneath multiple tarps that are filled with water to the point where they nearly touch the ground. With the weight of the water and it sloshing around, it makes for a difficult crawl. The difference between the Birth Canal and the Black Hole is that the Birth Canal's tarps are clear, so you can see where you're going, whereas the Black Hole's tarps are opaque, so you have to crawl through in darkness. I went through Black Hole, and it wasn't all that bad. I thought the Birth Canal from my first TM was tougher.

Soon after was the funnest (most fun?) obstacle of the race: Block Ness Monster. It consisted of a pool that was probably between four and five feet deep, crossed by a pair of large rectangular blocks on axles that rested a little above the surface of the water. You had to get over the freely rotating blocks with assistance from your teammates. In essence some people turned the blocks on their axles while others grabbed on and rolled their way over the top. This was a lot of fun, both from the perspective of helping people over and riding over yourself. Our group was having so much fun that we stayed with this one, helping people over until no one else was in sight.
The Block Ness Monster
Following Block Ness Monster was another teamwork oriented obstacle, Everest 2.0. This is a slippery quarter pipe where people have to run up the slippery slope as far as they can while people at the top try to grab them and pull them up before they fall. David made it up by himself. On my first attempt up this one, I got up farther than I expected, and I missed grabbing the offered hands of people up top, so I slid back down. My second attempt up was much better, and I was pulled over the top without a problem. Amy with the broken thumb attempted a run, tripped, and did a somersault so smoothly we all thought it was intentional. We spent a while helping people up that one, and there was a lot of good teamwork involved, so it was a lot of fun.
Everest 2.0
Following this was a long walk before we reached Mud Mile 2.0, which was a series of muddy water filled trenches followed by little berms made of the dug out dirt. We waded through this one and then marched another long distance to Kiss of Mud 2.0.  Here we had to low crawl through the mud under barbed wire. Fortunately the crawl was relatively short. Through most "muddy" obstacles this far we didn't get too muddy (relatively) as there was plenty of water that washed off the excess mud. This time, however, there was little water, and we were covered in mud by the time we got out.

A relatively short slog down to the bottom of the mountain to Arctic Enema the Rebirth. This is one of the more mental obstacles, as you go down a slide into icy water, getting fully dunked, and then under a wide barrier with only a few inches of breathing space in it. The original intention of the obstacle was to go down the slide headfirst, but they changed that quickly for safety reasons. Since we were near the tail end of the race, by the time we got to it, they were nearly out of ice, so the water, while very cold, wasn't as cold as it could have been. I went down and through and out relatively quickly, not nearly as chilled as I was expecting to be.
Arctic Enema the Rebirth
Following this was Funky Monkey the Revolution, which is a set of climbing monkey bars, followed by a horizontal wheel and two vertical wheels that are free to rotate, and then a handing longitudinal bar that is free to swing on chains.  All of this over electric green-dyed water about four feet deep. In my first TM, I got perhaps three rungs up the monkey bars before falling. This time I did much better, as my grip has improved, and I made it to the horizontal wheel, swung around on it, then grabbed for the first vertical wheel, slipped and fell. So I didn't complete it, but I'm happy that I made some progress on it. Both Sandy and David made it across, while the rest of us did our best but didn't quite complete it.
Getting farther than I expected
Following this was Augustus Gloop / Snot Rocket.  This consisted of going into water, muddy of course, then climbing up the inside of a nearly vertical pipe with makeshift hand/footholds (not enough to quite call it a ladder). On top of that, there is water cascading down on you from above like a waterfall.
Augustus Gloop (near) and Snot Rocket (far)
This turned out to be one of the most mentally challenging obstacles for me, if only for a moment. The water was colder than I expected, so there was the shock of that as soon as I got in. Then to the pipe, where I was expecting a ladder and not the handholds.
Not quite a ladder on the inside...
I climbed upwards into the water, which felt ice cold, and as I climbed, the water got stronger, and eventually completely blinded me. For a second or two I felt "trapped" in the pipe with the icy water pouring onto to my head so hard that I couldn't see. But almost immediately after that moment of panic I reached the top and got out, but afterwards I was felt freezing--even more than I was after doing Arctic Enema, and it took a while before I warmed up.

At about this time we caught up to "Darth Vader," the nickname for a veteran who had recently had his right leg amputated. He was being helped through the race with a team of runners that pulled him along on a wagon, with him walking over some of the parts that were too technical for a wagon to cross. Once again it showed how the TM community (and by extension the OCR community) come together to help each other out.

A short walk brought us to Pyramid Scheme, which is another teamwork-based obstacle like Everest 2.0, however this one is not a half pipe but a flat sloped slippery wall, perhaps at a 45 degree angle. The standard strategy is to form a human pyramid on the slope that others climb up to the top. Fortunately there was a rope assist where you did not need to climb far on people to reach. After some effort we managed to get everyone up.
Pyramid Scheme
And then, were reached the final obstacle(s), Electroshock Therapy and Kong. Kong was a set of rings over a long drop onto an inflatable mat, for legionnaires only. With my arm strength and loose shoulders, I opted to do Electroshock again (which was my plan all along). Electroshock consists of a fifteen yard or so walk through a foot of water with dozens of hanging electrified wires that zap you as you brush past them. Typically people run though it, cringing and trying to minimize any contact with the wires. Some groups link arms and go through together. At my first TM, I went through it at a good clip, expecting every single wire to be electrified, so it was almost a letdown when I only got a few zaps, and those weren't as hard as I was expecting either.  This time I was determined to be a little "tougher", so rather than rushing through it, I went through at a walking pace, determined not to flinch at the wires. I think I got half a dozen shocks, none of them that bad, the worst being a zap on my left quadriceps that caused my leg to jerk and stagger my pace. But I kept going, and at the end I extended my arms to catch more wires on the way out.
Finishing Electroshock

After waiting a bit to cheer on my teammates who were doing one or the other, we crossed the finish line and race was over. I got my second TM headband, this one bright green.
At the finish line
All in all, this race was a lot a fun. When I showed up, I was expecting to run alone, and it would be been "ok", but running with a group of people: Sandy, Amy, Amy, David and Phil, made it a whole lot better.
GPS map of Tough Mudder New England 2017. My GPS measured it as 10.67 miles in 5:47:17.
Before doing this race I was eyeing doing others, including Savage Race in July, and Warrior Dash and a Tough Mudder in August. I wanted to see how this race went before I signed up for others. Now that I've done it though, I definitely want to go ahead and try these other races. On to the next one!

1 comment:

Siph_Horridus said...

Great read, looked brilliant fun!