Monday, August 1, 2011

Tough Mudder recap

The airplanes have left Oshkosh and I'm enjoying one of those relaxing vacations where you don't really have anything planned. So it's time to put together the Tough Mudder recap. Settle in with a drink, this will be a long one.

It's a week after the event, and while I've lost the scabs from my knees, I've still got some pretty impressive bruises on my legs. And I'm still thinking they were totally worth while because this was a pretty amazing event that I got to do with a great group of people. Definitely glad I did it.

Pre-Tough Mudder
Our start time wasn't until 1:20 p.m., so my friend Peggy, her husband Chad, their daughter and I didn't even leave for Peggy's parents' house in Baraboo until a little after 8 a.m. By the time we were ready to hit the highway, there was our running group, heading over the highway overpass on their weekly long run! There was some honking of the car horn, yells and waving and last minute words of encouragement from Coach Jim. Then we were off to become Mudders.

After meeting up with Peggy's Dad and her brother Jake we were off to the event site, Devil's Head, a ski and golf resort where the pain muddy fun was going to be held. We got our bibs, had our numbers tattooed on our foreheads and arms and then we waited. In the bright sunny sky and temperatures hovering near 90. Oh boy. Finally it was time to head up hill to the starting line. Where we met up with our friends Jeff and Siliva right before the starting

Tough Mudder

Yes. That's right. The starting line is midway up the ski mountain, so you can start with 500 other aspiring Tough Mudders and run down the hill, trying to avoid the rocks and holes, during the Braveheart Challenge, before you begin the Death March, which takes you from the bottom of the ski hill all the way to the top. And it's a long march. We started out strong. Running the hill, after all, we run hills weekly, but about a quarter- to half-way up the hill we slowed to walk. Everybody else was doing it and remember, we still had 10 miles and 20-some obstacles to go. Didn't want to run out of steam too early.

Midway up the hill they organizers had the snow machines on, otherwise known as the Gauntlet. But instead of snow, we were pelted with ice cold water. And it felt so good. I just stood there for a moment. In the mud. But then it was time to keep going up, because the next obstacle was waiting: Hay bale mountains. Two of them. We climbed the bales and kept going up hill. It was one of those hills that seemed like it was never going to end.

But it did eventually and we were met with the Boa Constrictor, an obstacle that had you going through plastic culvert piping down hill into muddy water and then you had to go back up through another pipe. Not too bad.

Back down hill we went. Just a short jaunt over to the Funky Monkey, a set of monkey bars over a water pit. Not just any old monkey bars though. They began at a slight incline, hit a peak and then a slight decline. And random bars were greased with butter. Not that I would know any of this. Monkey bars? As I kid I could never do them. So I wasn't expecting to be too successful. I wasn't. I got two bars in before I lost my grip, fell to the water and swam across.

Remember how we had just ran downhill? Well now it was time to go back up to the top of the mountain. And waiting at the top? The Berlin Walls. Now, going in to the event, this was the obstacle that I was most worried about. I don't have a ton of upper arm strength. And these walls? They were 12-feet tall and had no where for you to get a foot hold or even a grip. But it was also the first obstacle where it really showed how important it was to have a great team.

And I did have a great team.

Standing in line waiting for the obstacle, I was wondering just how I was going to get to the top of the wall and over. But by the time it was my turn, the guys on my team - Chad, Jeff, Jake, and Peggy's dad Dave - had it figured out. Us girls - me, Peggy and Silvia - were going to get a boost. Peggy went first. She made it over but it sounded like a hard landing. Gulp. Then it was my turn. I went up to the wall, looking confused. The guys got into position, my feet were in their hands and I was given the boost up. I was somehow able to grab the top of the wall and pull myself up (although I'm pretty sure I was getting some help from below). I managed to swing my legs over. And I'm not exactly sure what happened next. I might have lost my grip. I might have let go too early. The next thing I know is that I'm falling. I hit my nose and bang my left knee into the wall. And then I hit the ground. On my back. And I've got a paramedic asking me if I'm okay or if I need to quit.

Um, I'm not even muddy yet. And there's still 8 miles to go.

I tell the medic and my teammates that I'm fine. I get up, walk around and check myself out to make sure I'm not bleeding or have anything that feels like broken bones. Just soreness. I'm continuing. Although I do decide to skip the second wall in the obstacle.

We all make it over and head on. Back downhill. Through the Devil's Beard, a huge cargo net that we have to hold over our heads as we walk under it. And of course we're going uphill. We hit the next section, the CLIFHanger, probably one of the steepest parts of the ski mountain. And it's super muddy. Thankfully it's just a long line of people at this point. The kind of line where you take a few steps. Wait. Take a few more. And all the while you have spectators who paid $5 to ride the chairlift up the mountain looking at you. At the top we realize why it was slow going.

Welcome to the Kiss of Mud. At the beginning of the day, it was lines of barbed wire set 8 inches off the ground over a pit of mud and rocks. But given all the water and people that have already crawled through we probably had a good 12-15 inches between the wire and mud. The worst part of this obstacle? Right in the middle you got a really rocky section. And we're talking big, sharp rocks. And remember how I banged my knee a few obstacles before? Yeah. That really hurt. But I kept crawling and made it through.

A pit stop at a snow making machine to attempt to wash off some of the mud and we're going downhill again. The downhills were slippery, muddy and steep. Kind of hard to keep your footing. Normally I like running downhills, but I wasn't too keen on trying it since I had a feeling it wouldn't end well. So I walked them.

At the bottom of the hill we're met with the Turd's Nest, basically a cargo net strung up between two platforms that you have to navigate across. Sounds easy, but actually doing it was kind of challenging. I took it slow, making sure to place my foot in the right place so I didn't end up going through the net and then once I reached the other side I got a hand from some of my teammates to get back up on the platform.

Then it was back uphill - this would be the fourth and final time up the mountain. And this time? It was the worst. More slippery paths. More mud. More steepness. Someone that we talked to before the start said the worst part of the race was the first 4-5 miles since it was all up and down hills. So true. Brutal. But we kept going.

At the top was the Log Bog Jog, a set of metal pipes that you had to climb over, under and around. and a little further on (during the final downhill) was the Shake n Bake. First we ran through water and then there was another cargo net set up across a sand pit. I think organizers were intending us to crawl under the net army style, but we all just walked.

We were finally off of the mountain and we making our way onto the golf course. Hooray! I could finally run some between obstacles. There was a nice long stretch of run along a wooded trail - a brief reprieve from the sun - before we got to the first big water obstacle.

Walk the Plank was set up on a golf course pond and we had to jump off a 15-foot tall plank into the pond and swim a very short distance before we got to the Underwater Tunnels, two or three sets of big blue barrels that we had to swim under. Let me tell you, it felt good to jump in the water although it was a bit difficult to swim wearing a pair of old running shoes that were caked with mud.

We got out of the water, hit up the second aid station (which had run out of bananas by the point, a bit of a fail) and kept on going until we got to the Spider's Web. We had to climb up a cargo net draped over a rock wall. After scaling the wall it was time for another short run along a wooded trail.

When we got out of the woods we were greeted with ice cold Powerade. And another set of Berlin Walls. Ummm, I already fell once. I don't really want to fall again. So I decided to skip the walls. This was the only obstacle I flat out skipped. I was a little disappointed, but I realized I made it over one of the four walls. Not too bad. So I cheered my teammates on. Then it was time to run some more

Up some rolling hills and then we were greeted with a fun obstacle, Greased Lightning. Basically a huge slip 'n' slide. Hindsight I should have gone down head first like everyone else, but I went feet first. Still it was a lot of fun.

Shortly after we came to the Fire Walker. Honestly, not as cool as I thought it would be. It was essentially a pathway cut through some hay bales that were smoldering. I didn't even see any actual flames. Just a lot of smoke.

A short distance away was Everest, a quarter-pipe that we had to run up. In theory it was fairly simple. Run as fast as you can and your momentum will carry you up the quarter-pipe until you can either grab on to the ledge and pull yourself up or can grab a teammate's hands. But there was a tiny little uphill before the quarter-pipe that slowed me down. The first attempt I wasn't able to grab hold of anyone's hands. The second time I got a grip with one hand, but couldn't grab the second hand I needed. After two unsuccessful attempts I decided to move on. The only obstacle I recorded a DNF on. Oh well.

The next stop was the Ball Shrinker, two ropes strung across a golf course pond that you were supposed to walk across. But it was easier to grab the top rope and pull yourself across the water backwards. Well, easy except for the beginning and end where my arms weren't long enough to keep me in the water. Lots of thanks goes to the random guys behind me who helped weigh down the rope for me in order to make it easier. Totally shows how Tough Mudder isn't about a personal best, but rather teamwork and helping out fellow Mudders. Thanks random strangers!

I made it across about half of Twinkle Toes, wobbly 2-by-4s that were set up as balance beams about 10-12 feet above water, before I lost my balance and fell in.

The next obstacle, Dry Wood, was nasty. It was another obstacle in a golf course pond. We had to grab a log and carry it with us as we walked a loop around the pond. I carried the log for a bit, but then the water got deeper than I was tall, so I started just pushing the log in front of me - hello, wood floats. But the worst part was the water. It reeked like cow poo and there was stuff floating in it that I'm not even sure what it was. And I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what it was.

Stinky water behind us, we kept going. It was hard to tell just how far we'd gone by this point, but we knew we had to be getting close to the end. The next obstacle was the Mystery Obstacle, where we were walking through knee-deep muddy water and randomly people would fall into holes they had dug out. I just kept my eyes on the people in front of me and tried to avoid those spots, but I did go down once or twice.

After another longer loop through a wooded path we came upon the Chernobyl Jacuzzi. Three dumpsters. Each of them filled with ice cold water that was dyed red, white (well, more like brown considering all the mud that had been washed off people) or blue. You just had to choose a dumpster, go in, swim under a little divider and get out. I choose the red dumpster (hello, Wisconsin Badger red). Yes, it was chilly. But it felt so good.

There was just one obstacle left: Electroshock Therapy. First we had to run up a slight incline and then we found ourselves standing at the start of the obstacle, with a party deck full of people watching us. The event guy tried to get us to link arms and run through 7 across but we weren't stupid. People were nervous. Hello, running through live wires. But then Jake just took off randomly. He made it through with no shocks. Then Chad went, he wasn't so lucky and got a nice jolt that sent him flying. Then Peggy's dad.

Then it was my turn. I wasn't too worried about the live wires (remember, I DID volunteer to get Tased a few years ago). So I ran. Midway through I felt a small shock. Nothing too bad. I think I would have made it through without falling in the mud, but I tripped on the hay bales that they had conveniently set up midway through the wires. And down into the sloppy, muddy mess I went. I'm pretty sure I came up with a smile on my face though.

After Peggy, Silvia and Jeff came through, we wall grabbed hands. And the Breezy Hillbilly Goatherds ran through the finish line together.

We were muddy. And bruised. And some of us were a bit bloody. But we were smiling. We made it through the 10 miles of 20-some obstacles and we survived. We earned those orange headbands.

We were Tough Mudders.

Looking back
The event was great. It was a challenge, something unlike anything I've ever done before. Not only does it test you physically, but it also tests you mentally. Because all of the obstacles have characteristics that some people may be afraid of - tight spaces, heights, water, fire, live wires. But you band together and work with a team of people to overcome those obstacles and fears and in the end you earn that headband.

Yes, I'll remember the obstacles. After all, it'll be a little difficult to remember falling off that 12-foot wall. And I'll remember the bruises (which still seem to appear overnight, more than a week later), the scabs on my knees and scars they leave.

But I think the thing I'll remember most is my teammates. If it wasn't for deciding to sign up for a half marathon training group, I would have never met any of them and I wouldn't have logged countless miles with Peggy and Jeff. Or gotten the phone call from Peggy the night after the Oshkosh Half Marathon in April asking me if I'd be interested in doing this crazy thing called Tough Mudder.

But more importantly, I wouldn't have gotten through those 10 miles at Devil's Head without the help and support of my teammates. Or had such a good time while doing it.

We'll always be the Breezy Hillbilly Goatherders. And Tough Mudders as well.


Renee said...

Awesome job Jen! This is quite an accomplishment. I don't think I have it in me to do something like this. I will run and run and run, but the idea of the obstacles is a little much. Congrats again total badass.

amybee said...

HEY! CONGRATS on finishing this very tough but very cool sounding event! (I'm not sure I would have continued on after that wall accident!) Nice job!!!!

krittabug said...

This is SO awesome! So proud of you for kicking ass!!

Carolina John said...

Very cool. Those walls are not fun, neither is the live electricity. But you made it through the whole thing. Good job!

Suzy said...

That sounds awesome! So great that you ran as a team and stayed together. You will always remember that. ITA, cargo nets sound easier than they actually are.

palexander75 said...

My mom read this tonight and said again how proud she was of us all for rocking the course!