Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tough Mudder New England 2017

Tough Mudder is a unique event. They stand out in the obstacle course racing space for their continued innovation and distinctive obstacles. The Tough Mudder ethos – one of teamwork and a focus on facing fears, over racing for time – is refreshing and attractive to new and old racers alike.

This past Sunday, I headed up to Mount Snow in Dover, Vermont for my fourth Tough Mudder at that venue. I had taken a pass on Tough Mudder last year in an effort to save on cost and because of a conflict with a local event. I missed it, making me extra excited to be back for the 2017 event.

Sunday is my preferred race day for Tough Mudder. Saturday at the New England event brought in something like 7,000 people. In contrast, the Sunday event had only a handful of waves and 1,000 participants. This meant that check-in was a breeze, parking was plentiful and close to the venue, and the course was convenient to navigate with no back-ups.

After check-in (where I saw fellow NE Spahten, Steven!), I headed over to right outside the bag check to meet the rest of the team. A few people had run the course on Saturday and reported that it took them over seven hours. I was hoping to keep my course time around four hours – starting at 9:00 a.m. and being over in time for a late lunch. Fortunately, Sean was also interested in running a slightly faster course time, so we banded together and headed over to the starting corral.

We had a 9:00 a.m. start, but Tough Mudder likes to spend some time with pre-race pep talks. This definitely helps define their community, and it appears that most people think this add a lot to the race, so I cannot personally complain. By the time we crossed the start line, it was probably around 9:10 a.m.

The 2017 course was perhaps my favorite to date, or tied with the 2014 course, which I also loved. The layout was excellent, with obstacles well positioned throughout. The obstacles themselves were a blast! I have done three Tough Mudders before, and was amazed at how many new obstacles were in evidence. In addition, the new obstacles were fun, innovative, and great additions. Finally, the course itself was enjoyable. There was a good mix of climbs and downhill running. Apart from one technical section in the woods, most of the trails followed ski slopes. I did not feel there was as much relentless climbing as in past years. Large sections of the course were very “run-able” for me, something that I really enjoyed. Sean and I kept a comfortable pace hiking the ups and running the flats and downs. With this strategy, we finished at around 12:50, completing the course in 3:40 and having a blast while doing so!

Of course, the obstacles were the stars of the show. Here’s a quick rundown of what Tough Mudder had at Mount Snow for 2017:

  • Quagmire: This was your standard “wade through mud” experience. You had to climb down a mound of mud into some muddy water and back out again.
  • Berlin walls: 10’ walls. I like these. You can stand on a small kick and jump to reach the top if you’re a bit on the shorter side like me. With that approach, it’s easy enough to pull yourself up and over.
  • Swamp Stomp: Tough Mudder created a small river for this obstacle. We had to wade into water waist deep and navigate over trees to cross this expanse of water. 
  • Underwater Tunnels: Tough Mudder is great at using the natural features of Mount Snow for some of their water obstacles. For the Underwater Tunnels, we got to use one of the snow ponds at the top of the mountain. After getting into the chilly water, we had to submerge under three sets of barrels dispersed along the swimming route. Refreshing!
  • HeroCarry: The Hero Carry is a Tough Mudder classic that pays homage to their charity partner ties. You have to carry your partner along a stretch of course, then switch and have them carry you. Fortunately, Sean doesn’t weigh too much more than I do, making this a very manageable “obstacle.”
  • Balls to the Wall: Tall walls with ropes – an OCR classic. Balls to the Wall features walls of around 12’with ropes to climb up them. The ropes have knots and there are convenient footholds, so this obstacle is definitely more manageable at Tough Mudder than at some other OCR venues.
  • Devil’s Beard: Standard crawl under a net.
  • Ladder to Hell: This was a tall ladder with wide rungs that you had to climb up and over. One thing that I really liked was how the ladder offered spacing between the two sides with two sets of rungs – one for going up and one for going down. This meant that instead of having to share the ladder with the person on the other side, there was space for people to ascent and descend at the same time.
  • The Reach Around / Stage 5 Clinger: For some of the Tough Mudder obstacles, an obstacle for first-timers was paired with an obstacle for Legionnaires (i.e. multi-time Tough Mudder participants). The Reach Around / Stage 5 Clinger was an example of this strategy. As a Legionnaire, I did Stage 5 Clinger. For this obstacle, you had to climb a wall and then do monkey bars along a platform above you. Hanging there, you then had to make your way up and over the edge of the platform above you. (Note: The Reach Around featured an angled ladder up to the platform instead of monkey bars.) This obstacle was awesome! Super fun, a little challenging, and a nice new addition to the course.
  • Birth Canal 2.0 / Black Hole: Birth Canal and Black Hole were another first-timer / Legionnaire pairing. The only difference here was that Black Hole was dark, whereas, Birth Canal was not. Both obstacles had you crawl under tarps that were filled with water and pressed down on you slightly. This was not that alarming (or heavy) and made for a fairly easy obstacle.
  • The Block Ness Monster: I loved loved loved this obstacle! The Block Ness Monster was new last year but since I didn’t do Tough Mudder in 2016, this was my first time encountering it. The obstacle features rotating blocks in the water. You have to “push, pull, and roll their way through 60ft of slick, rotating barriers” in the water. It’s super fun to grab the top of the block and have people on the opposite side pull it over, dropping you into the water on the other side.
  • Everest 2.0: Everest is the legendary huge halfpipe at Tough Mudder. It is slippery. In the past, I have made this obstacle. This year, the Icebugs, with their metal tips, proved a barrier. Too slippery! I tried five times to run up the pipe and each time just grazed the fingers on the people helping at the top. Finally, I decided to let them get on with their race and moved on.
  • Mud Mile 2.0: Similar to Quagmire, this obstacle had Mudders climbing over mounds of mud into pools of water.
  • Kiss of Mud 2.0: A barbed wire crawl with some water at the end. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of rocks to crawl over and the length of the crawl was short!
  • Arctic Enema – The Rebirth: Arctic Enema, in all it’s forms, is by far my least favorite obstacle. Why oh why should anyone want to submerge themselves in a pool of ice cold water, just a few degrees above freezing! In three Tough Mudders I suffered through and battled great discomfort during the obstacle and after, as I took ages to warm up. 2017 was Tough Mudder fun only. I skipped it, and, do you know what? I have no regrets. 
  • Funky Monkey – The Revolution: I have always enjoyed the more “technical” obstacles at Tough Mudder. Funky Monkey has always been a favorite, and I love how they keep mixing it up! The obstacle starts with a set of uphill monkey bars. You then transition to a set of revolving wheels, the first horizontal, and the second vertical. Finally, you grab a horizontal pipe and shimmy your way to the platform. Awesome! Favorite obstacle of the day for sure.
  • Augustus Gloop / Snot Rocket: What a blast! This obstacle had Mudders crawling up a vertical tube while water poured down on their heads. It was hilarious. The Legionnaire variant required you to submerge under a fence in order to get into the bottom of the tube, but otherwise these two were the same obstacle. There were some footholds inside the tube, which was handy for getting up. I kept my head down to avoid the dreaded water-up-the-nose. 
  • Pyramid Scheme: Teamwork is a must here. This obstacle requires you to create a human pyramid along a slippery inclined wall and boost your teammates to the top. Some people are the bottom of the pyramid for standing on and others hang out at the top to grab people as they come up. I grouped up with a team of people at the obstacle when I arrive. My job was to hold onto one of the teammate's ankles as people climbed up the wall. At the end, there were so few of us at the bottom that I ended up recruiting a bonus rope on the side of the obstacle so that we could make it over.
  • Kong / Electroshock Therapy: First time participant had to tackle Electroshock Therapy, an obstacle where you have to run through some electrified wires. For those of us who were multi-time Mudders, we instead got do to Kong. I was excited to see the set-up from Kong from the festival area before the race. Kong featured a set of five hanging rings hanging quite high above a crash pad. I was pumped to try – I love rings! When I got up there, it was pretty high, and I actually took a pause to collect myself, get a good grip, and get a good running start before swinging all the way across.

Sean and I crossed the finish line in around 3:40. What a blast! Tough Mudder 2017 was one of my favorite Tough Mudder courses to date. I loved the innovation and the fun. After missing a year last year, I am so glad I was able to get back to Mount Snow for Tough Mudder this year! I will definitely make it a point to try to be there again for 2018.

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