This is part 2 of 2 in my series on my first Tough Mudder experience. In part 1, I wrote aboutwhat I learned from the day. Here, I’m going to describe each obstacle that we had on Sunday, September 29 at Mount St. Louis Moonstone. Note that each event presents different obstacles and you won’t know which ones until about a week before your big day.
So fresh and so clean, pre-start line high fives – Pic by Dan Sprague
Even before getting to the start line, you’re presented with a taste of what’s to come. A smaller version of the Berlin Walls, most will need a step up from their team to get up and over. With spirits and energy levels high, everyone is eager to lend a hand and the tone is set.
Peter gives Angela a helping shoulder – Pic by Dan Sprague
After an inspirational talk by start line emcee Sean Corvelle, you’re on your way. For us, this meant a jog up a junior ski slope to wake up the legs. The excitement is high at this point, but as Mudder Erik reminded us all, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s important to pace yourself. The total distance is approximately 17km (10 miles).
Clem, Rick, Blair, and Erik. Still all smiles – Pic by Dan Sprague
It’s perfectly fine to walk – Pic by Dan Sprague
Our first real obstacle was Kiss of Mud. The trick of this one to get down — get way down — as you belly crawl under barbed wire, strung 8 inches above the ground. You crawl through muddy puddles and while you’re doing that, you occasionally get sprayed by a hose. Long sleeves or elbow wraps help, but expect to get scratched up here. Practise keeping your butt and head down in army crawl and you’ll be fine.
High ponytails do not fare well here
It’s funny to think back to how after Kiss of Mud, we thought we were dirty. So naive. It’s helpful to go on a training run while wet so that you can see how your clothes and shoes will feel while moving around. Some of us did this a few weeks before the event at an awesome “Mock Mudder” session, designed by Julian.
Zev takes the hose to Julian, who stands in icy water, at our “Mock Mudder” training session
After a short jog, we were on to the Glory Blades. You’ll need your teammates’ help to get over these 8-foot angled walls, so it helps to be comfortable with each other because you might need to put your helping hands in places on your person and vise versa. Of course, if you’re going solo, you’ll have plenty of help from strangers. Arm strength helps here to push yourself up over the top of the 3 walls.
Up ‘n over the blades
After this, we had our first water station. Water, bananas, and energy snacks are provided along the course; there’s no need to bring your own supplies, though Julian did:
Water-impermeable bacon and pancake snacklets by Julian
After a short jog, we came to Cage Crawl. This, like other obstacles involving water, had some people worried, but when we got there, we saw that it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal. Mudders position themselves on their backs, floating in about 2 feet of water under horizontal metal fences. As we surveyed the scene, the guy running the obstacle shouted, “If you have morning coffee you want to get rid of, here’s where to do it!” He was joking. Relieving yourself on the course is not allowed. There are port-a-potties along the way.
As you pull yourself along in the water, a peaceful feeling comes over you. Calm your breathing and just glide. Watch you don’t bump your head at the end.
Note the smile – easy peasy
Killa Gorilla was next for us. I seem to have blacked this one out, but here’s a video. Oh yeah, now I remember – a steep hill with a slippery climb up. Not that hard.
I should point out that at 3 (or was it 4?) points throughout the course, we had to make our way up these massive ski hills. This is the one thing that I’d say is worth training on. You don’t have to do it fast — and you’re probably not going to be able to. They’re steep and they’re long. Walking backwards can help to mix things up a bit, but it is a slog. The scenery is beautiful, though. Take a moment to stretch and take it in.
Kill the hill – Pic by Dan Sprague
And then there was Walk the Plank. If you are afraid of heights at all, this one could give you some grief. After climbing up a ladder, you get to the top of a 15+ foot platform. Down below is muddy water. There will be a crew member at each jump off point, who will offer to give you a little push if you need it. My best advice: don’t think – just jump. Look forward, not down. It’ll be over soon. After that, a short swim to a muddy embankment and out.
Safety is paramount for the entire Tough Mudder outfit. Although you’re required to sign an EXTENSIVE waiver before participating, they really don’t want any accidents. Divers keep a watchful eye over the water and make sure that no one stays under for more than a few moments.
Here’s a little known fact about the obstacles: you can skip ‘em. They don’t advertise this widely, but there is no shame in omitting an obstacle if it just don’t feel right. Know your limits.
Like falling off a log
By now, we were soaked through. The next obstacle, Hold Your Wood, was a bit of a break. Pick up a log from a pile by yourself or get one handed to you and a friend or two from people completing this task. Then you just walk with it ‘til you get back to the start, where it helps if you hand your wood off to a new person.
The biggest fear I had going into Tough Mudder was anything involving electric shock. I was about to face that fear with Electric Eel. Similar to Kiss of Mud, you’re on your belly in water, a little deeper this time, pulling yourself along. But this time, there are live wires hanging down above you. Personally, I thought getting shocked felt like someone was rapping on my collarbone with their knuckles. However, all around me, I could hear screams of what sounded like agony. Don’t let it get to you. Just keep your head, focus on your breathing, and get through it. I did end up with some burn marks from this one, but I bruise like a peach.
Peter takes a faceful at the end of Electric Eel
Warrior Carry is next. Get with a partner or two and carry them for 100 yards. Switch off at the halfway point.
The Funky Monkey was next for us. You’ll be going hand over hand on bars spaced 1.5 feet apart that go uphill for the first half. Some bars are apparently greased with butter (though I didn’t meet any). I used a swinging technique to reach the next bar, which is what I did during training using monkey bars at the park. This helped, though some Mudders were stymied by how far apart the bars were compared to those built for kids. I dried my hands off as best I could before going. Some people wore gloves, but I’m not sure if it helped. Upper body strength is what you need. Don’t have enough and you’ll be falling into water below.
Try not to hang for too long by one hand. Keep moving.
The Berlin Walls are similar to Glory Blades except 12 feet high instead of 8. You’ll need your team’s help to get up, and then hang down and drop down the other side. It can feel scary to drop, but remembering that the distance from your feet to the group is usually only about 2 feet helps.
Lots of helping hands – Pic by Dan Sprague
Bale Bonds were next and were not a big deal. Navigate piles of hay. Take your time, though. Easy to turn ankles.
At various spots along the way, there are these mini obstacles of varying degrees of difficulty, like Devils Beard, where you have to make your way under a heavy net, climb over tractor tires, navigate a mucky walk, etc. At this venue, because it is a ski hill, there were these snowboard pipes that we had to get over. For some reason, I found these really tough. They’re just thick, round metal pipes, about 5 feet high. You can get help up, no problem, but once you’re on top, be careful because since they’re rounded, there’s no resting before you slide awkwardly off the other side. Bruises were acquired here.
For the next one, Just the Tip, upper body strength helps. Holding on by your fingertips and stepping with just your toes, you shimmy across the hand and footholds, keeping your body close to the wall. Then, there’s only a ledge by your hands to hold on to, but it’s easier to grip than a bar. Bit by bit, you’ll get across and if you don’t, you’ll land in water. Using your legs as swing leverage helps a bit. Most, if not all, of our group made it past this one, even if they did not make it through Funky Monkey, which used similar muscles.
Balls to the Wall was our next challenge. Climb up a laddered wall using a knotted rope for help. No issues.
And then, it was everyone’s most anticipated obstacle, the dreaded Arctic Enema. Here’s another one where mind over matter definitely helps. Drop into a bin of icy water (there are actual ice cubes), then move across it a few feet to the middle, where there is a board with barbed wire blocking your path. There’s no choice but to submerge and swim under the board. Once you’re back up, it’s just a few feet to the end where people will help you out.
OK, it’s cold. Get over it and just power through. Don’t bother testing the waters – just plunge. Try to jump as far out and close to the middle as possible to minimize your time spent in the water. Admittedly, if you have a little more “insulation” like I do, this obstacle will be easier to endure. Adrenaline helps too. Once again, there are lifeguards on watch to make sure no one stays under for too long. If you are traveling as a group, wait until everyone is there so that you’re not waiting at the end to get going again. You’re going to want to warm up fast.
Catherine, Jessica, and Julian giving it a good think – Pic by Dan Sprague
Next was what many on our team chose as their favourite obstacle, the Mud Mile. This is where we got real, real dirty. What’s involved is crawling up and sliding down super slippery mud hills into gloopy water. It’s a challenge because it’s hard to get a foot or handhold on the hills, plus you can’t see where you’re stepping underwater, so it’s easy to fall into a pit. If you wear contacts, try to keep your head up on the way down the berms to avoid getting grit in your eyes. At this point, you’ll be pretty tired, so getting up and over those mud piles is hard-going. And guess what? You’ll be doing it twice.
Peter, Mike, and Catherine on the way out… Pic by Dan Sprague
…Zev, Peter, and Erik on the way in – Pic by Dan Sprague
Next up: Smoke Chutes. Up until this point, I felt strong and brave when faced with each obstacle. This is the one time where I had a bit of an “oh shit!” moment. This was partly due to not knowing exactly what to expect. After climbing up a ladder, you get to a platform about 12 feet high. You’re presented with the opening to a tunnel, out of which smoke is pouring. Peering into the tunnel, all you see is sheer vertical drop into darkness.
When you ask, you’re told by the crew member that the drop turns into a slide that ends in the water. Take a deep breath and drop off the edge. There is not even enough time to feel the drop. In a fast second, you’re zipping down a slide so fast, all you hear is whoosh whoosh, and before you can register anything else, you’re shot out into waist-deep muddy water. Again, if you are a contact lens wearer, be careful. There is no avoiding getting splashed in the face here.
Up the chutes… Pic by Dan Sprague
…down the chutes! Pic by Dan Sprague
Next up was the Boa Constrictor. If you’re claustrophobic, I suppose this one could bug you, but the tunnel you crawl through is not actually that tight, so again, just concentrate on your breathing and you’ll be fine. First you crawl through one tunnel going slightly downhill, slosh on your belly out in the open under barbed wire for a metre or two, then enter the other tunnel, which is going uphill. I found this one a bit more difficult because it was slick with mud and water, but training upper body strength helps. At the end, there was a slight slide down a small muddy hill. I went down on my belly and got scratched up a bit, but not terrible.
Astrid emerges unconstricted from the boa – Pic by Dan Sprague
More Bale Bonds and then Everest. Sean Corvelle was back at this one to emcee. He had some helpful tips too. When approaching this slippery quarter-pipe, there is no need to come at it at a full sprint. If you do, you’ll just slam into the ramp, impeding your attempt to scramble up. Instead, slow down slightly and lean back. Keep moving, keeping your eye at the top of the ramp where people will be waiting to grab your outstretched hand. Another important tip: to help your awaiting helpers after they’ve got hold of you, let your legs dangle. If you try to help out by using your feet to climb the rest of the way, you’ll be adding weight by pulling back, making their job harder. This one took me 3 or 4 tries, but as soon as I followed Sean’s tips, I got it in one go.
Blair gets a hand up Everest – Pic by Dan Sprague
And finally, your last obstacle, Electroshock Therapy. At this point, the end is so close you can smell it — literally. As the scent of various fried foods in the finish area wafted up to our final hill descent, Jessica had this choice quote to share, “I smell something fried. I don’t care what it is – I want it in me!”
Strings of live wires hang down as you run across bumpy, wet, muddy terrain. Having seen the burn marks on my arms from Electric Eel, I wanted to avoid the same on my precious face, so I ran with my arms up in front of me. I don’t know if it was because I was all adrenalined up or none of the wires that touched me were live (not all are), but I didn’t feel a thing.
You will hear stories coming out of Tough Mudder that seem to be designed to psyche you out, but here is one that actually happened to one of our Mudders, Zev. Running through this last obstacle, he must have gotten zapped in the face by a strong voltaged wire. This was his first realization as he regained consciousness when his face hit the ground after having blacked out from the shock. He was lucky to have come away with just a small cut on his forehead and a great war story.
This might be the moment when Zev (far right) got zapped in the face – Pic by Dan Sprague
And then you’re done! And you look and feel like this:
Erik’s elation – Pic by Dan Sprague
Angela’s accomplishment – Pic by Dan Sprague
And holy wow, is it ever worth it. And after that, all that’s left is to cross the finish line and collect your trophy headband and shirt and celebratory Dos Equis beer, the best beer you’ve ever tasted.
Happy ending – Pic by Dan Sprague
Here are some other random tips that might help you get through:
- Do train. We followed the plans on the site. These helped with strength and stamina, but also training as a group helped build camaraderie and kept the motivation levels high. If nothing else, you’ll feel more confident going into the event. Can’t stress this enough, though: by far, the most important thing to train is hills.
- Wear close-fitting clothing. Anything lose will just drag you down as it gets wet. One of our girls wore pants that she ended up tucking into her socks to get out of the way. Check the forecast and dress in layers for warmth if needed. We were lucky with the weather on our day, but could definitely see how being cold and wet would really slow you down and make you hate life.
- Gloves or no gloves? Everyone on our team who went without said they were fine. Some people wore them and said they liked them too. If you’re iffy, bring ‘em (you can pick some up at Mark’s Work Wearhouse for around $10) and toss ‘em if you don’t like. You see quite a few along the way.
- There are various parking options provided by Tough Mudder. My carpool opted for the cheapest option, which had us parked about a half hour away, then shuttled to the starting area. This was totally fine — there were plenty of buses and the operation is run smoothly. However, we discovered that there are residents who live right across the street from the starting area who are offering space to park at their houses FOR THE SAME PRICE. I guess the risk is that by next year, people who remember this option from this year take up all those spots and you’ll be stuck paying for something more expensive or driving the half hour back to the cheap lot. And oh yeah, if you can avoid it, do not use the port-a-potty in the cheap lot. Trust me on this. There are lots of non-frightening ones available where the shuttles load, just across the street.
- You’ll get bracelets in your race package for bag check, entry, and beer. Put them all on before you start. For some reason, a couple of us thought that we’d be returning to our bags before the beer, which wasn’t the case, and they’re pretty strict about only letting you have a beer if you are wearing the bracelet.
- If you wear your number on your front, there’s a good chance it’ll get torn off going over the various walls. Wearing it on your back, however, significantly decreases your chances of getting official pics taken. We were lucky to have had Catherine’s fiancé Dan come as a spectator and take such great photos. I recommend wearing your number on your front and be careful of it going over walls.
- Check your bags together. Julian brought his hockey bag and a bunch of us stuffed our packs inside. Saves time at the end.
- Wear clothes and shoes that you won’t mind leaving behind. Your gear will get so filthy that there’s a good chance you’ll want to throw them away. There is a big pile of shoes and plastic bags full of clothes that gets cleaned and donated after each event.
- Don’t forget a clean change of clothes and a towel. You won’t be getting squeaky clean, especially since the “showers” (hoses) are freezing, but it would absolutely suck to have to sit in wet, muddy clothes for your ride home.
Finally, just tell yourself that you can do this. You are tougher than you think you are and will be carried along by the hype of the day. The event is very well-organized and full of positive spirits. Believe it or not, it’s actually a lot of fun.
Originally posted October 24, 2013