This past Sunday, myself and twelve other idiots, otherwise known as postbacs, threw ourselves into a 10-mile, 28-obstacle “endurance event” called the Tough Mudder, at Wintergreen Resort in Virginia.
So what is a Tough Mudder? The website describes it as “the toughest event on the planet,” but it isn’t – that distinction belongs to the Spartan Death Race, which is a 48-hour race involving just about every kind of torture you can think of, including eating a pound of onions.
While no one had to eat a pound of onions, this wasn’t exactly your standard-fare race. I’d been working on my endurance for about three months, with varying degrees of success, but I at least thought I was ready.
What follows is a “retro-diary” of the Tough Mudder, told through my running narrative with myself during four hours on Sunday morning. This account is quite clear through one particular obstacle… and then everything gets blurry.
5:00am: Wake up. Overriding impulse: No.
5:15am: Wake up II. Ugh. Fine. Holy shit it’s cold. Let’s check the weather. There’s some good news. It’s going to be 40 degrees when we start the race. Genius idea, Friedman.
5:30am: First big decision. Should I have coffee? On the one hand, it will help me wake up. On the other, I really need to be as hydrated as possible. Plus I don’t want to have to poop when we’re driving in the middle of nowhere. Sorry I’m not sorry for mentioning that: this was a true decision point. No coffee it is.
5:50am: Leave to carpool with friends. FUCK IT’S COLD! Shorts were a bad choice. Not wearing a parka was a bad choice. Signing up for this stupid thing was a bad choice. On the plus side, misery loves company, and everyone is miserable.
7:20am: Arrive to Wintergreen Overflow Parking. Uh oh. We might be late and miss our start time of 8:20, considering how far away the overflow parking is. There’s a bagillion people here AND THE EFFING SUN STILL ISN’T UP! God it’s cold. I can’t stop shivering in line for the bus. There’s a guy who looks like a black Arnold Schwartzenegger behind me. He’s probably going to finish this thing in an hour. Sigh. My neuroticness about being late for things is cropping up. It’s probably going to kill me one day. I need to learn to relax.
8:07am: In line. This line is so slow. I read my waiver I’ve just signed: “TOUGH MUDDER IS NOT RESPONSIBLE, EVEN IF PROVEN NEGLIGENT, FOR ANY INJURY OR DEATH THAT RESULTS.” Kind of awesome.
8:12am: I’m asking the race volunteer writing my bib number on my forehead why she’s writing my bib number on my forehead. “The bib usually gets ripped off in the first twenty minutes. This lets us identify you in case you get seriously injured and can’t tell us your information.” Hmm. Oh. You need to mark my leg, too? I can’t imagine why you’d need to do… oh. In case I fall on my face and you can’t read my face. Uhhh….
8:18am: Tough Mudder Start. We’re getting pumped up by the emcee at the start line. He tells us to recite the Tough Mudder pledge after him. This pledge includes the line, “I DO NOT WHINE. KIDS WHINE!” As a champion whiner, I’m doubting myself now.
8:19am: The emcee screams, “CAN I GET A HOO-RAH?” “HOORAH!” CAN I GET A HOO-RAH?” “HOORAH!” etc., etc. Everyone is pumped up and counting down from 10. When 8:20 hits, five hundred crazy people take off from the start line.
8:21am: Well, there goes the glossiness of Tough Mudder. We have to run through a snow-blower shooting out cold water. Shit. And look, a giant hill right after. That’s awesome. Now I’m cold and walking up a gigantic hill.
8:35am: The first of many massive hills. THIS HILL WILL NOT END. At the top (finally), we stop and wait for others to catch up, before…
8:38am: Walls. Walls. Walls. Up and over. There’s a tiny wood block built into each 12-foot-high wall; I watch as a 270-lb black man decides to try to twinkletoes his way over by glancing off the block. BAM. Wall vs. man. Wall wins. What is clear, though, is that the running start this guy tried is the way to go… just without the hundred pounds of extra weight. Over the top we go, with varying degrees of success.
8:45am: A downhill mile! This is awesome, because I’m just now starting to shiver from the dousing we got before. The only bad part? We’re on a fucking ski mountain. What goes down must come back up.
9:00am: The Ice Bath. Okay, coming around the corner at the bottom of the hill. Why are there three dumpsters? Oh, right – this is that pool obstacle. It looks like I have to swim under something, because they put barbed wire across the middle. Let’s see… oh, shit. This thing is full of ice. Well, here we go.
9:01am: AHHHHHHHHH! THIS IS THE COLDEST FUCKING THING EVER! Okay. Have to get out of here. Underwater we go. I can’t feel my legs or my breath. I can’t think of anything except getting out.
9:01:04am: I think I’m through to the other side. Legs, push up.
9:01:09am: Legs. Let’s go. Push up.
9:01:15am: Taking stock: Legs no longer work. Ice is too thick to push through with nonfunctioning legs. Possibilities: a) drown; b) do something with hands. I opt for b).
9:01:23am: After what seems like 30 seconds under this freezing water, I finally surface. Must. Dig. To. Side. After what seems like full minutes, I now try to pull myself out to walk down the ladder on the other side.
9:02am: I fall off the far side of the dumpster, unable to move. Through my narrowing vision, I catch sight of a backhoe with its bucket full of ice, ready to dump another huge amount into my dumpster.
9:03am: I can’t feel anything south of the border. Or north, really. I can’t feel anything. Have to keep moving. I’m gonna go ahead and wrap myself in all this tinfoil they have lying around… Huh? A heat blanket, you say? Whatever. Give it to me.
(Side thought: heat blankets are actually amazing, because they reflect 99% of body heat. The problem? I WASN’T GENERATING ANY GODDAMN BODY HEAT. Heat blankets don’t do shit if you’re about as metabolically active as a bear in winter.)
9:05-9:45am: Everything is a blur. I remember there were two or three more water
obstacles, including a tunnel crawl and some sort of balance beam over another ice bath, carrying logs up and down a hill, and going through slanted-uphill monkey bars greased with butter and oil, but details are extremely hazy due to my frozen brain. I’m finally coming out of it when:
9:46am: We round the corner to see a sign labeled, “Death March.” Great. It’s about a 1000-foot vertical hike uphill. This is actually not as bad as it seems, because I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get warm that I don’t care.
9:48am: I care.
9:49am: I really, really care.
10:05am: We finally reach the top of the hill and crawl through some sort of mud-and-barbed wire obstacle. No biggie. The bigger obstacle is a douchebag of a volunteer standing at the top of the hill repeatedly yelling the following:
“CONGRATULATIONS. YOU ARE HERE. YOU CAME FROM THERE. YOU ARE GOING THAT WAY. BEER IS THAT WAY. WATER AND BANANAS ARE THIS WAY [there was an aid station behind him]. I SAY AGAIN: VITAMIN B IS THAT WAY. WATER IS THIS WAY.”
A guy asked him, “Do you know how far we’ve come?”
“I KNOW EXACTLY HOW FAR YOU’VE COME.” Pause.
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?” he asked.
“YOU HAVE COME THIS FAR. YOU HAVE THAT MUCH FARTHER TO GO,” while pointing in the direction of the trail. Thanks, jackass.
I heard that refrain repeated about thirty times while we waited for the rest of the team to catch up.
At this point, the exact order of things gets really hazy, but the remaining obstacles included, among many, many others I’m forgetting:
- Jumping and climbing over a series of 15-foot-high hay bale stacks
- A sixty-foot slip ‘n’ slide
- More walls
- A crawl, uphill, through sand, while being sprayed by hoses
- A series of dark tunnels where a giant 240-lb muscled black man collapsed, felled by a cramp. We had to pull him out by his arms and make sure he wasn’t going to die before running on.
- Another series of water obstacles, including one where you had to go under a number of logs. This resulted in the following picture, where I look like I’m staring off 100 miles away:
My favorite obstacle left? Something called “Everest:” basically, a quarter-pipe from skateboarding greased with Crisco and mud. The goal? Get to the top and down the other side. Just from standing in line, it became immediately evident that the only way to complete this, assuming you were under 6’5”, was to take about a twenty-foot lead, hit the wall at a dead sprint, and when your feet start slipping, jump with everything you’ve got toward the top. Then, you just have to pray the other Tough Mudders hanging over the edge with their arms out can grab on to you. If not… well, you smack into the side of the quarterpipe. Hard.
I know this because I watched a girl leap for someone’s arms, he missed, and she hit the wall and slid all the way back down. Painfully.
I tactfully moved to the left a bit, where I saw a meathead effortlessly lifting people up over the wall. That’s who I wanted catching me. Luckily, I made it on the first go.
A few obstacles later (including running through a field of live wires, another hill, and running through an incredibly smoky fireball of hay) and we were finished.
The effects of the race were striking. I was afraid to sit down even when it was time to get in the car for fear of my muscles locking up. When I came home, I ate every protein-containing food in my house, then went to Chipotle with a friend and ordered a double meat burrito bowl. I ate the entire thing in about thirty seconds, and probably would have gone for two had the line not been too long. I came home and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then topped off my second dinner with a quesadilla. I felt so tired I literally could not watch TV because I couldn’t focus my eyes on the screen. I ended up going to bed at 8:30 and slept for ten hours without, as far as I can tell, moving or breathing. When I woke up the next day, I felt sore on the outside of my quads, which I didn’t know was even possible.
But hey. I do not whine. Kids whine. LET’S DO IT AGAIN!!!!! HOO-RAH!
Next up? The Spartan Death Race.
(No, not really.)