Monday, August 12, 2013

Tough Mudder 2013 New England

Sunday, August 11, 2013. New England 2013 Tough Mudder at Mount Snow in Dover, Vermont. Epic!

We left our house at 8:00 a.m. and made the 90 minute drive up to Mount Snow. The ride was scenic, the traffic light. As we entered the town of Dover, where the race was to take place, I noticed many local businesses outfitted with orange and black flags (the colors of Tough Mudder) as well as signs that said, "Good luck, Tough Mudders" and "Welcome, Tough Mudders" -- it was very exciting to see the town out in force for us! Seth and I didn't encounter any trouble with traffic as we neared the venue. I had been concerned about traffic, so this was a great relief.

Conveniently, Tough Mudder had on-site parking for the New England event. (Some events have yuu park off-site and then take a bus to the venue.) The information packet, released on their website the week before the event, said that the parking area would be about a half a mile walk from the base area, but we found this to not be the case. We were around a one minute walk away from the entrance -- so opportune.

We headed towards the registration area. There were a ton of people here, but they had many many lines organized by last name, so things moved pretty quickly. Spectators had to check in at a different area from participants, so Seth and I briefly split-up to get registration squared away. I wanted in the line for last names Ro-Sk.

When I made it to the front after a wait of five to ten minutes the woman said, "Oh, Si is in the other line." Wait. Did I just forget the alphabet; I'm pretty sure "i" comes before "k". Either way, she slid me over the the table for the adjacent line (which I was able to cut), and I got my packet. Included was my bib, a bracelet to wear with my bib number, and a bag check tag.

After getting my packet, I had to get my face and arm marked with my bib number as well. (In case you lose your bib and bracelet on the course they want to be able to ID you.) There was a permanent marker hanging from the registration tent on each line. The man in front of me marked my face and arm. I then marked the face and arm of the man behind me.

Following the marking, I met up with Seth and headed towards the entrance.

The venue was absolutely huge! Tough Mudder is a large international event with national sponsors like Under Armour, Advil, and Wheaties, and it showed. Everything was top notch.

After wandering around briefly, I made my way to the starting chute. In typical obstacle course race (OCR) fashion, I had to scale a wall to get to the start.

The time we spent in the starting chute was incredibly lengthy. Announcements were made, music was played, the national anthem was sung, props were given to our troops, the Tough Mudder pledge was recited. It was quite a lot -- well over twenty minutes. I was fairly nervous about what was to come and wanted to get started moving.

Finally our moment came, and we were off!

I had read up on the course and it was going to be a little over ten miles with eighteen obstacles. People online had been reporting that the New England Tough Mudder is the second hardest in the country. I soon found out why: the terrain. The course had us climbing up the mountain, a half dozen steep ascents followed by a half dozen steep descents. All of this climbing was along ski trails. The ascents were as long in some places as a chair lift ride up the entire mountain. The obstacles were often a welcome relief from all the climbing!

The race started off with the flattest part of the course, an even trail run of around one mile, It was during the first bit of running that I met the gentleman who would be my ally through the entire course, Walter. Walter hails from south central Connecticut, area of my hometown, and ran his 50th marathon on his 50th birthday. Awesome guy! Our run led into the first obstacle, Glory Blades, a set of inclined walls that you had to climb and then slide down the back.

This obstacle was fairly fun and not overly challenging. As I always do with walls, I climbed up using the A-frame support to help me get over. I very much liked sliding down the back of the walls on the plastic backing. Unfortunately, this obstacle was also where I sustained my first and only race related injury, a large splinter, whose removal had to wait until I got home later that day.

The first ascent of the day followed. 100% of the people I was with walked almost 100% of the ascents. These hills were steep. I don't mean steep like, "Oh, I wish I had done some more hill repeats on some suburban roads;" I mean steep like, "Wow! I am scaling a mountain and a few degrees steeper and I'd wish I had someone to belay me.My calves were definitely working hard.

Doubled with the first climb was the second obstacle, The Gauntlet. This consisted of being sprayed with water out of hoses while climbing the hill in moderate mud. Honestly, this wasn't much of an obstacle. The water was not nearly as powerful as I thought it was going to be, and the mud was not too treacherous.

After making it to the top of the hill, we were rewarded with the descent. My quads got pounded as we went down the hill, alternating between running and walking for the parts that were dangerously steep. The downhill run ended with obstacle three, Mud Mile. This was very similar to an obstacle from Superhero Scramble. You had to climb piles of mud and then descend into muddy water. All and all pretty simple. The water was much more shallow than what I had to deal with at the Superhero Scramble. Here's a picture from Tough Mudder to give you an idea.

Right around this point, we got to stop for a quick water break. I also ate my first gel of the day. Those GU Roctane gels really helped me get through the race. I had four of them for each of the hours the race took. The carbs mixed with the caffeine boost really did the trick!

Shortly following the Mud Mile was the fourth obstacle, Electric Eel. I had sworn off the electrical obstacles before the event, no out of fear but because I thought them unsafe having heard of people suffering heart attacks. However, avoiding the shocks seemed easy for Electric Eel. All you had to do was slide on your belly through the water and avoid the shocks overhead. I'm pretty small, so this was a piece of cake. I made it through shock free.

It was then back up the mountain for obstacle five, Walk the Plank. Seth wasn't able to follow me up to the top of the mountain for some of the obstacles, so I'm supplementing his awesome photos and videos with some of the ones Tough Mudder posted on Facebook from the event yesterday. Walk the Plank was analogous to Leap of Faith at Superhero Scramble, but in this case way, way better. Instead of jumping into a small dug out pool of muddy water, we were able to jump into a fresh-water pond. The water felt fantastic. Also, the jump seemed a bit shorter. The Tough Mudder people had a ton of volunteers and emergency response people at this obstacle. (The only OCR death I've heard of was related to this obstacle at a Tough Mudder around four months or so ago.) I came out feeling refreshed and, dare I say it, slightly cleaner seeming. 

It was then back down the mountain for obstacle six, Funky Monkey, a set of ascending and then descending monkey bars over a pool of water. I had heard this was one of the hardest obstacles, but after doing the rings so well at Superhero Scramble, I was feeling confident. This was a mistake. The bars were super greasy. I couldn't get a good grip and ended up giving up and just swimming across. My teammate, Walter, did much much better making it to almost the halfway point. This was way better than most people!

We then moved back up the mountain, ascent number three; we were not even to mile four, and already my legs were definitely feeling it. Overall though, I was in great shape. I was having a blast, and enjoying every minute of this amazingly fun experience.

Back at the top of Mount Snow, we were greeted with obstacle seven, Lumberjacked, which required up to climb up and over two suspended logs. I employed my usual strategy and climbed up and over using the frame. No problems here!

Next up was another trip down the hill to obstacle eight, Cage Crawl. This obstacle had us sliding through water pulling ourselves along a wire fence. There was very little space between the top of the water and the fence. I made sure to carefully keep my head up and out of the water as I slid quickly along.

We moved immediately from the cage crawl to the ninth obstacle, Boa Constrictor. Here, we were sliding down an incline through a black tube into a muddy pool of water with barbed wire above. Then we had to climb back up another incline through another tube.

We used to do some very easy and mild spelunking when I was a child, so I don't mind enclosed spaces at all, and found this obstacle to be no problem. This as also an obstacle where my small size was a big benefit. Most people would have to use their arms to pull them along, but I was able to crawl on hands and knees to get out of the second tube.

Up next was the obstacle I had been fearing for month, Arctic Enema, a dumpster filled with freezing water teeming with ice. You had to swim through the water, dive under a wood plank and then pull yourself up and out of the ice on the other side. I dislike the cold with the most powerful of dislikes. It's my Achilles' heel, and this obstacle was a big fear for me. I thought for sure, I would cop out. Seth had been very supportive when I was angsting about this the other day. "Just do it," he said. "You always say that --it's good advice. Just do it."

With this in mind, and Walter and Seth's encouragement, I moved towards the Artic Enema and, before I could think too much, jumped in. @#$@%$&%$! It was cold. I did not play this as well as I might have. In my fear, I lingered for longer than I should have before diving under the wooden plank. Frozen, I finally dragged myself out on the other side. Every piece of me was horribly cold. (Warning: Video contains profanity.)

After Arctic Enema, my quads were especially frozen. We hobbled on frozen limbs back up the hill for what would be the longest climb of the day all the way from the bottom to the top of the mountain. 

Punctuating this long ascent were two obstacles, the first of which was the eleventh of the day, Kiss of Mud. This obstacle proved to be surprisingly more challenging than I had anticipated and was probably my least favorite. We had to crawl on our stomach over wet and rocky ground under barbed wire. The rocks definitely were the worst part and the amount of ground we had to cover was more than I thought we'd have to do. We also had water raining down on us from a hose above. The crawl was cold, wet, and, with the rocks, ouchy.

We continued up the mountain to obstacle twelve, Warrior Carry. This marked a little over half way through the course and was a largely symbolic obstacle. You took turn carrying your teammate on your back and then being carried. Walter, champion that he is, went ahead and carried me the entire way, saying, "Oops, and we didn't see the sign telling us to switch." Cool guy!

Shortly after this we came upon Hold Your Wood, the thirteenth obstacle. You had to grab a log out of a wood pile and walk around a short loop with it. I know obstacles like this tend to be OCR classics, but I've always found them kind of lame. The logs were very very easy to carry since the wood was quite dry. I took a small piece but certainly could have easily managed a larger one. 

We then began running down the mountain. We made it about half-way down before the course doubled back up the mountain again. These climbs were hard. This was definitely a place where all my cardio training, especially Insanity, was a big help. I felt fairly strong as we walked up and up, which allowed me to cheer people on. I couldn't be of much assistance pulling people over and through obstacles because of my small size. (I tried on Boa Constrictor and both the guy and I almost fell over and down the tube.) I could help moral though. Tough Mudder is great about camaraderie and teamwork. Everyone on the course was helping everyone else -- it was awesome to see! For people worried about the state of humanity; come to a race like this and see everyone assisting and encouraging everyone else. You'll feel better soon. 

Walter and I soon came to obstacle fourteen, Berlin Walls. I had done walls at Fitathlon and Superhero Scramble, but these were something else at twelve feet high. I am only five feet tall, so I can't even jump that high. Good news is that again, I was able to get up using the frame. I dangled down the backside of the wall and dropped down into a pile of mulch, then promptly feel over onto my bottom. Walter helped me up, and we continued on our way.

We didn't have far to go, a fast running tumble down the mountain, which shot my quads, and there we were at Cliffhanger, a steep slope of mountain wet with mud. We hauled ourselves up on all fours using the hand and foot holds available. Honestly, this picture does not do the climb justice. We're talking forty-five degrees. I kept myself focused by remembering this was the last time up Mount Snow for the day -- it would be all downhill from there.

At the top of Cliffhanger was a much needed water station, the seventh and last of the course. The weather was perfect that day, high of 71 degrees and mostly sunny. It was ideal for the Tough Mudder, and the seven water stations did well by us. For any hotter of a day, I would have wished I had a CamelBak for bringing my water, but this worked well for the day we had -- not too cold (so the water obstacles weren't killer) and not too hot (so that the hours of climbing up and racing down hills didn't cause overheating).

We got to go back down the mountain part way for the third to last obstacle, Just the Tip. I was still feeling pretty strong and had some good energy from taking my final gel at the last water stop. I love a good transverse wall. This one had to pulling yourself along for part of it with your arms only -- no foot holds. Fortunately, there was a good lip on the beam, and I made it across very nicely. This was perhaps one of my favorite obstacles of the day!

With only two obstacles and less than a mile to go, we flew down the rest of the mountain knowing, at last, that their would be no more trips up (or down) for the day. With less than half a mile left, we came to the penultimate obstacle, Everest, a quarter pipe that you sprint up and then have people grab you at the top. I launched myself at top speed towards the slope and jumped high grabbing the hands of the people on top who were providing help and support. I went to pull myself over, but they quickly dragged me up before I even could do a thing. Their support sure made the difference.

The last obstacle was Electroshock Therapy, where you run through electrified wire slogging through mud and jumping bales of hay. I had promised myself to avoid this for the reasons of safety sited before. I have to admit, while I did this, I am not kind of regretting it. Everyone seemed to be handling this last obstacle fine, and I think I could have managed it. The completionist in me is upset that I missed this one thing. (After all, I even did the Burn Zones, areas where you had to do extra work along the course; in this case push-ups and a bear crawl through mud.) On the plus side, this gives me something to look forward to for next year!

At around four hours, Walter and I crossed the finish line to celebration and bright orange headbands.

Over 10 miles of grueling hills and 18 tremendous obstacles. I am so excited to be a Tough Mudder. It was one of the most fun times I have ever had. I felt great all day, had lots of energy, and loved conquering those crazy obstacles.

Seth even enjoyed watching so much he's curious about taking part next year. I would love to have Team Sibley at Tough Mudder 2014 New England!

There was lots of energy at the finish line and a great celebration going on. Sponsors were giving out freebies. I snagged some Clif Bars loaded with protein for a snack on the ride home and some Advil. (I had only eaten gels since my breakfast of Ezekiel 4:9 cereal and  Larabar.) I also got a bowl of Wheaties with chocolate milk. Here I am holding my bowl of Wheaties in front of an inflatable box of Wheaties.

I headed over to the washing area, where there were hoses to rinse off. I washed out my shoes and got my body at least passably clean. The water was cold, but the pressure was good. A fellow Mudder helped me get the backs of my legs. I scrubbed my arms as well I could. I was still kind of dirty under my clothing, but a full shower could take place when I got home. I was able to change into my Tough Mudder finishers shirt, yoga pants and flip flops in a convenient changing tent. Kudos to Tough Mudder for providing the tent; there was nothing this organized at the Superhero Scramble.

While I was out playing in the mud at the top of the mountain, Seth was busy picking me out some awesome swag. He got me a super cool mug and special 2013 New England event t-shirt. It all came in a fun bag that said, "Official Badass." Here's the stuff along with a close-up of my finishers headband.

I'm fairly obsessed with the event t-shirt and purposely did a wash today, so that I can wear it again tomorrow.

The Tough Mudder was an outstanding event that definitely lived up to the hype. I seriously had a blast and would love to do it again! I definitely think that my training, bringing gels, having the best spectator around (aka. Seth), and finding an awesome ally on the course helped make the day a success.

The obstacles were, in a word, epic. The quality of the obstacles was greater than in any race I've done before. I felt well prepared for them emotionally and physically. Having access to see common obstacles on the Tough Mudder website was definitely a help.

I loved the large scale of the event. The support that the participants provides one another was amazing to see.

The terrain was definitely the biggest surprise. I assumed it would be tough, but I didn't anticipate how much so. I had assumed I'd get to do a bit of running, but it was walking lots of the time. In a way that makes the event more accessible to more people, so I don't mind. That being said, I would definitely recommend doing your cardio or else you will not make it up those hills. Cardio definitely holds the day. Strength is certainly helpful but slightly less important. Agility is surprisingly necessary to navigate the tough trails and definitely proves a bonus when navigating those obstacles.

The Tough Mudder definitely requires a good base level of fitness, but it was, in some ways, not as hard as I had through. (I would rank it as easier than a half-marathon, for example.) If you can do an hour long intense workout, such as Insanity or two T25 workouts, and workout five days a week on cardio and strength, you can handle a Tough Mudder. There are many opportunities to rest; you take things as your own pace. Tough Mudder is a challenge; not a race. Your time doesn't matter. It's all about having an experience. Having time to catch your breath is helpful. The obstacles break-up the miles nicely.

The spacing of obstacles was fairly well done on this course, though I would have liked to see some more interesting obstacle placed between Kiss of Mud and the Berlin Walls (between miles five and six). The Warrior Carry and Hold Your Wood were kind of dull. I do understand that they want to keep the neater obstacles at the bottom of the hill for spectator access though. As someone who gets a lot of motivation from seeing my husband, it's great to have his have access to as much of the course as possible. I liked that he was able to see the most extreme and exciting obstacles.

Tough Mudder was everything I had hoped it would be. I imagine that you might see me at Mount Snow in 2014 for next year's Tough Mudder.

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