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The Tough Mudder - Fun and Muddy

25 min read

This past weekend my friends and I participated in the Tough Mudder event in Maysville, KY.  We ran on Sunday which, as it turns out, was the much nicer day to go at it.  On Saturday the weather stayed in the 40's and it rained the whole time.  Approximately 50% of the participants did not finish on Saturday.  I'm not sure what the rate of failure was on Sunday but I'm certain it was far less than 50%.

I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday in order to be ready and to meet with the other five for the 2 hour drive.  I donned my race attire which consisted of under armour winter "infrared" pants, a long sleeve cold weather under armor shirt, my vibram five finger KSO shoes, and my team "Hillbilly Homewrecker" shirt.  The rest of the gear I would need for the day, along with a clean set of clothes, were stashed inside a garbage bag in my backpack.  I had some toasted pb&j sandwiches for breakfast - the toaster is about the only kitchen appliance I have available since we are in the middle of the redoing our kitchen.  Then, at 6:25 Mike showed up and we headed for the meetup point at Ritter Park.

A Tactical Mistake - My Shoes

We arrived at the park right at 6:30 and the other cars were all pulling in along with us except Sean who was already there.  We split up into two cars; myself, Mike, and Sean in one car and Mark, Ed, and Gilbert in the other.

We arrived in Maysville a bit early so we decided to stop for breakfast at the local Bob Evans.  While there we met a bunch of people who had run the previous day.  One guy had a broken wrist from a fall he had taken on an early downhill.  It seemed like everyone, even the guy with the broken wrist, thought it was fun and that we would enjoy ourselves.  We weren't entirely convinced.

Our stop at Bob Evans took longer than expected and we ended up getting to the site of the event a little late; our start time was scheduled for 10:00am but we ended joining the 10:20 start group once we were done registering, doing the bag drop, and getting our bib numbers written on various parts of our bodies.  It was about 42F out when we started.  Cold but not miserable.

The run starts with an obstacle just to get to the starting line.  There is a 7-8 foot tall wall you have to cross.  Mike's bib did not survive the scaling of the wall.  My first effort at grabbing the wall top was a failure so I had to try twice but I got over unassisted on my second attempt.  Sean scraped a nipple which was a minor irritant the rest of the day.  Overall, the first obstacle was a success and did not hinder any of us.

After you get over the wall the MC of the event talks for a bit about what the Tough Mudder is and then asks everyone to kneel.  I'm not a big fan of kneeling.  When I was in the Army one of the first lessons I was taught was to kneel for no man.  I did not kneel when the guy asked us all to take a knee.

As he chatted he got to a point where he said something about how we were all a team and that there were no individuals and .. blah blah blah blah.  I was conspicously not kneeling still so I took a knee.  Damn the man.  About ten seconds later he asked for all who had served in the military to stand up to be recognized.  I stood back up.  Normally I don't like being recognized for military service.  I'm not ashamed I just don't feel comfortable with the praise.  But, not kneeling won out so I stood up.  Eventually everyone stood up and the MC announced that to date the Tough Mudder events had raised over $6 million for the Wounded Warrior program and then he started us off.

The first mile or so is just a light jog.  We took it pretty easy and everything was going along nicely.  It was pretty muddy at parts but you could jog on the edge of the road/path and get enough traction to not be too slowed down.  However, it was becoming rapidly apparent that the mud I'd be facing that day wasn't deep - but it was super slick.
The soil in this part of the country is hard packed clay for the most part.  The mud that formed was about an inch thick and very wet.  This mud just slid over the clay (as you might imagine) and my shoes basically became nothing more than a unweildy surfboard.  Look at that photo above of my shoes.  You'll notice there isn't much tread.  I had been counting on being able to use my toes to help dig into deep mud.  Instead I just slipped and skidded around whenever there was a muddy section of the course.  Whenever there wasn't a muddy section it was because the course was incredibly rocky in those areas.  Look at those shoes again - there is no padding on them.  Thus, I was either sliding or battering the soles of my feet.

Eventually that first mile ended and we reached the first obstacle.

Glory Blades

These things are walls that lean back toward you a bit. We made pretty short work of them.  There were two and we just gave each other a boost to get started and then slid down the other side.  This was one of the easiest obstacles of the day which was good because we were all thinking about the second obstacle which wasn't much further down the trail.

The Arctic Enema

This was one of the obstacles that had the group worried well before the day of the event.  Basically, it involves you jumping into a giant dumpster full of ice water.  Then, once you reached the middle, you had to submerge yourself fully and duck under a board.  Finally you could work your way to the end and climb out.  It was 42 F out and the water was about 33F.

I brought swim caps for the team and I also had some foam earplugs in.  I had heard that both would help prevent a massive freeze headache.  I don't know if they were the reason but I thought the enema was much more tolerable than I expected.  I jumped in and went under water upon entry then I swam under water until I passed the board.  Finally I popped up, walked to the edge, and climbed out.  The water was definitely cold but it didn't have any kind of adverse effect on me.  I was pleasantly surprised.
Just a little further down the path we reached the big steep muddy hill that the guy had broken his wrist on the day prior.  It was super steep, super slick and muddy, and super rocky.  It was a recipe for disaster and I figured if one of us was going to be injured it would be on this hill.

The rest of the group took off and got well ahead of me while I cherry picked my path down the hill.  For a while I just sat on my ass and rode the mud - there was no safer way to proceed.  My shoes were useless.  Eventually I reached the bottom and caught up with the team at the third obstacle.

The Electric Eel

This was the first of two electric obstacles on the day.  In this event we had to get down on our bellies and low crawl under some electric leads that were spitting out some pretty serious voltage (almost no amps though).  Oh, and your sliding on ice water.  Fun stuff eh?

A trick I had picked up reading anothers retelling was that because the ice water is resting on plastic tarp you can get a push off at the beginning and just slide through a big chunk of the electric eel.  So I gave it a try.  I leveraged my toes on the starting lip, tucked my legs up beside me like a frog, and pushed.  I slid about halfway through before I had to start low crawling.

If there is one skill I am good at it's low crawling.  I pushed my right ear to the water, kept my ass down, and slid my leg and arm up and slid along.  I was as flat as a person could be.  I got shocked.  I didn't know what had happened.  My arm just shot forward when I wasn't expecting it.  I got shocked again.  I didn't really notice the shock but my arm jumped forward again.  I got shocked again and I noticed the electric tingle as my arm shot forward one more time.  I was shocked again and again and maybe one more time until I reached the end.  None of them hurt but it was a really strange feeling.

After we climbed out of the eel we got to jog again.  We had to jog for about a mile before the next obstacle.  However, during this jog my left knee started to act up.  This year, for the first time, I've started to have some IT Band issues and it is manifesting as seriously sharp knee pain.  It just started to twinge during the second mile but it also started to make me worry.  I still had about 9 miles to go!  Fortunately, before I could dwell on my knee we ran into obstacle number 4.
Honestly, this one wasn't really much different from the Electric Eel.  We had to low crawl through icy water again but this time it was under barbed wire.  I flew through this event and I think the hole team would agree it was a forgettable and easy barrier.
Just a short distance after the Kiss of Mud was the first water station of the day and then we were almost immediately at the next obstacle.

The Cage Crawl

In this stage you had to get on your back and enter some icy water head first.  Above your face, about 8 inches above the waters surface, was a chain link fence.  You basically just used your hands to pull yourself along the full distance of the caged tunnel.  At least twice I thought I had reached the end only to find out there was at least one more section to go.  This water actually felt colder to me than the Arctic Enema but that was probably because I was in it longer.  The guy behind me got disoriented (he had closed his eyes) and ended up going sideways until I talked him into opening his eyes and following my voice.  He was pretty freaked out I think.
Not much after that we encountered the first of two Ha Ha Ditches.  The Ha Ha Ditch is basically just a big, maybe five foot deep hole, partially filled with mud.  You jump in and then you climb out.  The area just outside is about as slick as it could be due to all the mud dripping off the folks climbing out so there is a good chance you might fall on your ass (or back in the ditch) while you stand outside of the ditch helping others climb out. 
Just a short jog further down the path we hit an obstacle I surprised myself on.

Just the Tip

You have to climb up some small bits of wood on a wall until you can grab a thin lip with the tips of your fingers.  Then you hand walk along the wall using just the tips of your fingers until you reach the other end and climb down.
The first couple feet of the finger grip was really slick and muddy because every participant gets that far.  If you can get past that first section it gets drier and your grip improves but you have a pretty good distance to travel still and you have to transition from ledge to ledge a couple times before you reach the end.  Of the six of us in the group only three of us finished this obstacle (myself, Mike, and Mark).  Sean noticed that there was a ledge that, if I fell off at the last minute, could really hurt me so he stepped up and spotted for me at the end.  I'm glad I didn't need him to save my ass but I certainly appreciate his being there.
Once we all finished this we got to jog some more until we reached a super easy obstacle called "Jumpin' Bale" which basically just involved climbing onto a round bale of hay and then jumping from it to another until you had crossed all five bales.  I think the bales were on poles and they were supposed to rotate when you landed on them but for the most part they were stable.  The last two rocked a little but they didn't cause anyone any issues.
Perhaps the worst part of Jumpin' Bale was that we had a two mile jog ahead of us.  For the vast majority of that two miles I had to walk and crawl to get past all of the super slick mud. It was a slow and painful two miles.  My knee was in full flare up mode, my feet soles were getting battered by the exposed rock edges, and the sides of my feet were getting hammered as I slid all over until I ran into the sides of the exposed rocks.  In case you missed it those shoes were a huge tactical mistake on my part.

I know plenty of people do these runs in toe-shoes.  I can see how they might be beneficial, but the particular model I had just wasn't cutting it.  Heed my advice - if you do a Tough Mudder make sure whatever shoe you have it has great traction.
Eventually the two miles of foot hell ended for me and we reached another obstacle.
Okay, well, honestly, the next obstacle was the real rest stop for me and the one time my team really carried me.

Warrior Carry

They all knew my knee and feet were killing me so instead of doing two man teams we did three man teams and Ed and Sean carried me the full length.  It was super cool of them to do it.  The only exercise I got during this was the fact that I was doing a crunch to sit up the entire time and I expended a bit of energy waving at the people around us.  It was a nice ride.
We then had another water station followed by some more muddy trail running.  Some of this trail was actually pretty dry so I was able to generally keep up though Mike was having trouble with uphills and my knee was killing me on the downhills so we stuck together up to the next obstacle.

Log Jammin

This was a very Army like obstacle.  You had to go over logs and then immediately drop to the ground and roll under the next.  We all made short work of this one and we were quickly on our way to one of the more difficult team tasks we faced.

Hold Your Wood

Sean was the first one to the wood pile and he picked out a log that he intended to be a six man log.  I jumped into the middle and Mike grabbed the back.  We figured Ed, Gilbert, and Mark would grab on but they took a log from some other group that had just finished.  Their log looked substantially thinner than ours.  After we walked a short distance we realized having me, the tallest person in the trio, in the middle was not working so I switched with Mike and we made pretty good time.  However, we were a little off course and Sean's efforts to navigate us back to the path were not the most efficient so we carried our log a bit further than most teams.

We offered to drop the log and pick up a very thin lady and her solo log and carry them but she wasn't agreeable to the offer (she looked substantially lighter than our tree; I really wish she had agreed).  Eventually we reached the end of the obstacle and we gladly threw the tree just before I saw a sign that said "Don't throw the trees, they break bones"  Fortunately we didn't hit anyone.  However, Mark was carrying his go-pro camera with a pole arm extension and the pole arm was broken when they threw their log.  Our first and only casualty of the day.
After leaving our logs behind we had another 2 miles of jogging.  This was really hell on my feet and knee.  A LOT of people passed me and the rest of the team probably spent a long time waiting for me when I finally reached the next obstacle and water station.  As soon as I arrived there they took off jogging again and eventually I caught up with them at the next obstacle.

Dirty Ballerina

I guarantee you that this event was 1000% easier on Sunday than it was on Saturday.  Basically, what you have to do is jump over progressively wider mud filled ditches.  When we did it on Sunday the landing area between each ditch was pretty dry and mud free.  The landing areas are about 4-6 feet long so if they had been wet you couldn't have landed easily if you jumped really powerfully and you couldn't have stopped.  Thus, when muddy, the landing areas would send you either backwards into the trench you just cleared or forward into the next trench.

However, since they were dry when we hit them I was able to just run and jump, jump, jump, jump, jump to clear the trenches all in one quick action.  I didn't make it over the last trench with much room to spare so I know I would have wiped out hard a few times had it been muddy.  I'll bet this is a crazy obstacle when the conditions are rough.  I'm glad they were dry!

After the dirty ballerina we jogged another quarter mile or so before hitting the mystery obstacle.

Mystery Obstacle

I'm not sure what it is called but we had to crawl through a tube and then pop out in between two walls. One wall was smooth and the other had thin strips of wood nailed on to it.  To ascend the walls I pressed my back to the smooth wall and then used the strips as toe holds to push myself up with.  I'd push then step up to the next set of strips before pushing again.  Repeat that until you get about 20 feet up and then you climb over the toe strip wall and descend  a cargo net.  I was pretty tired when I reached the top so I really took my time climbing over to the cargo net to make sure there was no chance I'd slip and crash back down to the bottom.  
If I had fallen there was nothing but wood, people, and earth to catch me.
From there we had another short jog to the Boa Constrictor

Boa Constrictor

Up until the night before the event I wasn't concerned about this obstacle at all but I had read some other peoples posts about it and I started to get a little nervous.  To complete it you have to climb down a tube tunnel that is partially filled with water.  As you go down the tube the water gets higher and there are no real hand holds in the tube.  
Eventually you reach the bottom where you cross some icy water under some barbed wire before climbing up an identical slick tube.  Laying on my side and inching up was the only way I could go up.  I thought I was making good time but the guy behind me actually caught up with me.  
It ended up not being scary at all but I had convinced myself it was going to be much much worse.
We then jogged a bit more until we reached another small forgettable obstacle, the Tire Climb.  Basically there was a big pile of big tires that you had to climb onto and then walk across and then climb down.  It would tough when wet but since the tires were dry it was super easy.    I'm glad we had a couple easy ones because next up was The Berlin Walls.

The Berlin Walls

These are twelve foot tall walls.  I think there were three of them and you had to climb over each.  We basically had a couple guys boosting then once you got over the wall you'd walk back around it to help boost the guys behind you.

Our group actually helped a few groups get over the walls so we spent quite a while on this obstacle though we made it through pretty smoothly.  Once we almost boosted Mark too much causing him to nearly fall over the other side of the wall but fortunately he caught himself and descended under control.
Almost immediately after the walls we hit the next obstacle

The Mud Mile

Thankfully this thing isn't really a mile long.  It's probably closer to 100 yards.  Over the course of the 100 yards there are big mounds of super slick mud you have to climb over.  Then you have to either slide down or jump off of them into waist deep mud water before climbing the next mound.

Considering both of my feet were hurting and my knee wasn't doing well I slid down each mound.  When I was on the middle mound as I pivoted to slide down the next mound I was suddenly sliding sideways and I actually slid right out of the obstacle.  It was pretty funny.  I climbed back in and finished up.

Gilbert was a stud on this one as he carried the go pro in one hand and climbed over all of the mounds and jumped down off of each.  After the first mound he made it the whole way without using his hands.  It was pretty impressive.
Since we were already all covered with mud and water it seemed fitting that we then ran into the Ha Ha Ditch number two.  As I was wading through it Mark, while standing still, managed to lose his footing after he had climbed out and he smacked down in the mud around the ditch.  Ed summed it up nicely, "ha ha".
Then we were running again for another half mile or so before reaching the Devils' Beard.

Devils' Beard

This was a strange obstacle.  It wasn't hard but it definetely encouraged team work.  Basically you had to climb over big hay bales while you were underneath a heavy cargo net.  As you got to the next level you would hold the net up so the person behind you could climb up.

We were flying though this obstacle but when I was on the top hay bale holding the net up for the guy behind me I noticed my legs were in his way and making it hard for him to climb up.  I was kneeling so I tried to rotate my legs while holding up the cargo net and my left thigh locked up with a wicked painful cramp.  I thrashed my body back and swung my legs out from underneath me so that I was sitting with my legs pointing away from the guy climbing behind me.  I was still holding the net up but my new position caused me to be on the very edge of the slippery bale and I suddenly just slipped down off the bale.  I apologized as I disappeared down the hill of hay.
After the beard we had another solid mile of jogging before we came upon the final mile of obstacles - five piled up in the last mile of the event.  They came fast and furiously!


I don't really remember this obstacle.  I think, perhaps, because we were so late the bushes had already been whacked so it was just more jogging/slipping/foot banging for me.

Funky Monkey

This obstacle, just like the Just the Tip depended a lot on upper body strength and I've seen them both on American Ninja Warrior.  I now know I wouldn't make it through the ninja course because of this obstacle.  Basically it's a ladder that is on a slight incline and, as you climb, he rungs get a little further apart.  I'd guess the ladder is about 20 feet long before you transition to another ladder with an equal but opposite tilt downward.  You have to swing like a kid on the monkey bars until you cross a great chasm of icy brown mud water.

I made it to about the fifth or sixth rung on the first ladder before realizing I couldn't swing and reach the next so I looked down to make sure it was clear and then dropped in.  Mark and I both failed to cross this obstacle.  I think Gilbert, Ed, Mike, and Sean all made it across.

Ed and Sean had actually started and were about six rungs in when Mike started.  He passed them at the mid point and just flew right to the end.

Walk the Plank

To complete this obstacle we just had to jump off a platform into a deep pool of cold water.  It felt a lot higher when we were jumping off of it than it looked.  Plus, the pool is deceptively deep.  I'm kind of amazed I got back to the surface so quickly in the video because I felt like I was swimming up for ten seconds.

None of us did any cool tricks jumping in.  I should have at least done a cannonball.


Everest is a big wall.  A really big wall that you have to run up.  It's basically a half of a half pipe but it's sort of muddy and slick.  There is an obstacle like this in American ninja warrior except in this instance your friends can help you get over the top.  It's a good thing too because my arms were fairly useless at this point and I am certain I didn't have enough strength to pull myself up.

Electric Shock Therapy

In this event we had to run through a mesh of wires that are shooting out 10,000 volts (no amps though).  I'm just going to let the video do the talking here with one exception. We started this event with the "no man left behind" motto.  We don't do a great job of that here.  In fact, as Mark tries to get away from the shock he accidentally kicks mike in the face.  Watch closely at the 1:20 mark or so. Mike was the first guy to get shocked and ends up being behind the rest of us... watch this one in full screen.

The Finish

After we finished we were given a Dos Equis in a plastic cup.  By this point I was really cold and shivering uncontrollably.  I think my shaking hand caused me to spill at least half of my beer.  They had outdoor showers where you could sluice the mud off ourselves and heated changing tents.  I was so cold I just bypassed the cold shower and went straight for the tent where I scraped the mud off with my towel and put on some warm and dry clothes.

We had a lot of fun overall.  In fact we all figured we'd do it again next year (though I'd wear a different pair of shoes).  However, it sounds like it won't be back in Kentucky next year so we aren't really sure what's going to happen.