Tough Mudder – Still the Gold Standard
This past weekend I had the pleasure of joining my team in running the Tough Mudder Tri-State event in Englishtown, New Jersey. Temperature for the weekend was unseasonably warm and pushed into the 60’s by lunch time; although, our heat began at 8:45 when the temperature was still around 40 degrees. Like last year, the Tri-State course did not disappoint, packed with an additional 13 obstacles over the 12+ mile spread and loaded with possibly the best mud on the planet. The challenges were great and the camaraderie was even better, and by the time we crossed the finish line, we truly felt like we had earned our orange headbands.
Easy as pie! Somewhere between 25-50 tables were set up in alpha-order based on last name. I stood in line for all of 30 seconds, showed my ID and received my race packet and wristband for my free post-race beer. Another attendant neatly scribed my ID number on my forehead and my leg (by request). Love this feature! Very smooth and organized.
Concessions were exclusively sold inside the gates, including Tough Mudder gear, food and beer. Restrooms were abundant throughout the course; however, only one restroom was available outside the gates, causing lines for both men and women that were longer than a New York Giants game at half-time. Next time, I’ll bring a bucket just in case.
Awesome as always. With friends and family close by, we were worked into a frenzy by the emcee, got goosebumps during the Star-Spangled Banner and pledged our Tough Mudder Oath. Of course, a Monster truck chase followed, complete with red smoke bombs and screaming Mudders. Best start to a race hands-down!
Englishtown’s Raceway Park is a site mainly for drag racing and motocross events. Tough Mudder transforms this vast race-land into pure mud heaven, packed with some of the most extreme challenges around. The mud here is like no other…thick, gravy-like chocolate pudding…and everyone will no doubt be covered in the stuff by the time they meet their maker at Electroshock Therapy. What also makes this course ideal is the layout, especially for spectators, who may follow their mud-men and women through nearly every challenge with ease. The course does not feature elevation changes found at venues like Bear Creek, Mt. Snow or NorCal. Instead, the hilly and muddy terrain of the motocross track, which makes up for about 1/3 of the course, does a solid job in producing its fair share of leg cramps. The course also features several medium to large-sized lakes, a few paved tracks, and scenic trail runs through woods.
Grade: A+ (Really, Raceway Park is the ideal venue for an obstacle-packed mud run.)
Obstacles: 32 Total (2010 Tri-State = 19) – Hello!
- Monster Chase: Not exactly an obstacle, but fun nevertheless. We sang the Star-Spangled Banner, held up our hands and repeated the Tough Mudder Oath before chasing a monster truck down a quarter-mile race track through red smoke bombs. What makes the Raceway Park start is that fans may line the track. Our friends and family ran along with us for the first quarter-mile. Again, tough to beat this kind of start!
- Turds Nest: About a half-mile or so flat run followed the Monster Chase, which was perfect for warming up the body and legs. The Turd’s Nest involved a climb to a platform via a steep-makeshift wooden staircase. At the top of the platform two large cargo nets were suspended and attached to an identical set of platforms across the way. The idea was to navigate across the netting to the other side. This was revealed at Bear Creek last year as the Mystery Obstacle and caused a heavy log-jam due to its placement about 3/4 of the way through the race. I was happy to see that it was in the beginning of Tri-State, so any delay was over and done with early on. Some contestants used a crab walk while others log-rolled, which seemed to work well. I opted to bear crawl and had little trouble making it safely across.
Grade: A (Easy traffic-causing obstacle, great placement in course.)
- Chernobyl Jacuzzi: Next up was one of the most feared obstacles that generated some buzz leading up to race day, basically a dumpster loaded with green-dyed water and ice cubes. We got excited as we ran up to this one for some reason, apparently very eager to hop into a freezing waste container. There were four “jacuzzi” from which to choose, so wait time was nil. To get through this challenge, you had to hop into the ice cube-filled water feet first, then duck-dive under a wooden wall that separated the dumpster into two halves before climbing out the other side. As I waited to take my plunge, a group of Mudders huddled at the end of the jacuzzi and struggled to climb to dry land. With little desire to spend overtime in a freezing dumpster, I hopped over to the next jacuzzi and leaped in. Absolutely freaking freezing, yet bearable since the entire obstacle lasted for a mere 10 seconds total. I got delayed a bit fishing around for my orange headband, found it and pulled myself out. A couple of my teammates mentioned that they suffered from serious brain freeze afterwards, but two things here that really helped me fight off the effects: 1) polar plunges 2) earplugs.
Grade: A+ (Bonus points for cool coloring and creative use of a dumpster.)
- Just the Tip: Ball Shrinker’s slick younger cousin…Instead of two rope lines to navigate across about 40 yards of lake, there was just a single rope covered with plastic tubing. The best approach was Navy Seal-style, reverse, face-up, going hand-over-hand. The lines were nice and slippery, and I was able to lock the crook of my knee over the tubing and pull myself along with good speed. The only thing that slowed my progression a bit was a fellow Mudder just ahead of me. Next time, I’ll just wait a few seconds longer before hopping on.
Grade: A (Fast and fun. Solid change-up from last year.)
- Walk the Freezing Lake: Not sure what the name of this was, but it was definitely tough! Choose one of three rope lines and traverse across 100 yards plus of freezing lake water. Most of the travel was walkable, but anyone under 5’5″ likely had to doggie paddle some. Our heat was at 8:45, so the weather outside was frightfully chilly still. A few Mudders ahead of us, made it nearly half-way out and decided to turn back. By the time our foursome made it to the next challenge at the other side, we were spent and shivering.
Grade: A (Solid progression of difficulty from previous obstacles. True test of will.)
- Rope-a-Dope: This was one hard-core challenge. After struggling across the freezing lake, we landed at a low-spot that required a brief (panicky) swim before clutching to a cargo-style rope-ladder that limply draped from a 15-20 foot platform. Still about chest high in cold water, this challenge required serious teamwork to conquer. My teammates and I helped pull the ladder taught by lowering our weight into the water, while one-at-a-time, Mudders climbed to the top. My teeth were chattering hard by the time my number was up and I thought that I might not have quite enough strength or coordination to get to the top of the ladder, nevermind pull myself over the platform. I reached it, grabbed for a 2×4 and was helped by a fellow Mudder before assisting the rest of my team to the top.
Grade: A+ (First ass-kicking of the day!)
- Walk the Plank: My good ‘ol nemesis. Let me just say, I fear heights…I’m also an awful swimmer…so the fact that Walk the Plank was about 5 feet higher this year made a BIG difference. I climbed up to the top and watched my teammate launch himself into the lake. A drill-sergeant yelled, “Don’t think, just jump!” I really wanted to head right in after him, but my legs wanted no piece of that water. The fact that my teammate headed straight for the safety buoy didn’t give me much confidence that this was going to be easy. But, with earplugs in, I worked my way to the edge and took the plunge. The experience wasn’t terrible. I went under, still with my wits and made a few hard strokes toward the surface. My orange headband was lost and I thought about looking for it for maybe a nano-second. I swam over to the rope and pulled myself across the lake, again about 100 yards or so. I actually swam a bit to catch up to my teammate. Perhaps I’m getting used to these things already! Really, I think the earplugs made a world of difference here. One question – how the hell do the GORUCKs make it across this with their rucksack? You guys rule!
Grade: A+ (Awesome height. Drill sergeants always a nice touch. Appreciated safety lines.)
- Turds Nest: Same as previous Turd’s Nest, just reverse and this time we were freezing.
- Berlin Walls: After a nice cool jog :), we made our way to the first set of Berlin Walls. Having just climbed walls at ABF a week prior, I was confident that I could get over solo, so I helped the team over, stepped back and got a running start to push-off the 2×4 and hook my hand over the top. My Mechanix gloves worked perfect and my New Balance Minimus really gave me solid footing to push-off with. One caution here specifically for men: it’s very easy to knock your junk on the way over, so use caution.
Grade: A (Just tall enough to be challenging. Liked that there was two.)
- Mud Mile: The Mud Mile at Raceway Park almost seems like a mile. The mud here was a superb consistency and the constant foothills made my knees and legs burn. I high-stepped with a good pace through the first pool, but was quickly put into my place as the mud got deeper and thicker. I had a great time getting tripped up by several pits and valleys. By the time I made it to the end, my legs were on fire, but I was about as happy as, well, a pig in shit!
Grade: A+ (The signature Tough Mudder obstacle did not disappoint!)
- King of the Mountain: Designed to be a slow scramble over stacks of hay bales (think Q’bert), KOTM, was a more of a speed-bump than an obstacle. Really impressive to look at and made for some interesting pictures. I used speed to my advantage here and despite my lack of vertical ability, managed to get through pretty fast.
Grade: B+ (Impressive-looking design, lacked challenge.)
- CLIF Hanger: Before arriving at CLIF Hanger, we had to run up and down a series of dirt hills (used for motocross). What made this great was the fact that you would constantly get shot with cold sprinkler water while sloshing through the muddy terrain. Unlike last year, CLIF Hanger was slightly less slippery, therefore less challenging. I gave it one shot with a full head of steam and made it to the top okay.
Grade: A (The run leading up to CLIF Hanger is stellar in its own right.)
- Mudslide: Basically, the backside of CLIF Hanger. The TM team added an extra level to the hill this year for an added punch of adrenaline. I ran down the hill full speed because it didn’t look quite slippery enough to slide down face first like I did last year. Running was super-fast and pretty thrilling due to the 90 degree turn at the bottom!
Grade: A- (More water could have made the difference here.)
- Turds Nest: Same as previous Turd’s Nests, just a different location…this one was located above the main entrance gate near the starting and post-party area. In other words, as we climbed over, people were walking beneath us. Really cool design.
Grade: A+ (Great idea!)
- Bale Bonds: A series of hay bales stood between us and the next set of Berlin Walls. Not too challenging, but fun to climb up. Small windows that were created by the stacks of hay bales were fun to ninja-dive through.
Grade: B (Just another set of speed bumps.)
- Berlin Walls: The second round of Berlin Walls were about a foot or so higher than the first set. A lot of grab-ass and teamwork got the team up and over with no real problem. I managed to hurl myself at the second wall and climb over solo, which was a nice little personal victory, especially for someone who can hardly jump and touch a basketball net. I’ve learned to appreciate this staple Tough Mudder obstacle.
- Everest: My vote for best new obstacle of the year! A mudded-up half-pipe that you needed to run-up as fast as possible and leap for the top, hoping that a few good Mudders would catch you and pull you up. Fantastic! I watched some hit and misses as I rounded the turn from Berlin Walls and thought that maybe I’d be a face-planter too. The key to obstacles like this – like the drill sergeant said, “Don’t think, just jump!” I targeted a set of hands atop the ramp and ran full-throttle. Near the top, I left my feet and stretched out as far as I could and made a connection with a pair of arms. They pulled me up to safety and it was my turn to help out. In terms of a thrill, assisting at the top was equal to, if not better than, the actual run and jump up the ramp. I worked with a group of Mudders to catch and pull over each of my teammates and a few others. This was Camaraderie 101 and really exemplified what the Tough Mudder event is all about. I think could have stayed there for a while, but there was more course to conquer!
Grade: A+ (Forced camaraderie is often the best kind.)
- High-Stepping: A series of about ten hurdles. Still feeling energized from Everest, I leapt the first one without the use of my hands and quickly determined that I would not make it over the second hurdle using the same technique. I switched to pushing off with my hands and alternated from my right to my left hip with each jump. A real leg and lung-burner.
- Tired Yet? A long strip of tires to run through – NFL style. Apparently, I was “tired,” as the gauntlet of tires nearly took me down…twice. In three Tough Mudders, I have yet to step in a tire filled with mud as advertised.
Grade: A- (Minus one point for almost making me hit the ground, but not quite.)
- Rubbernecking: A brisk jog around a quarter-mile racetrack while carrying a tire. I went for a personal best and hauled a tire on each shoulder to the calls of “Show-off!” by my teammates. Actually, carrying two tires might have been the easier way to go, as balance was never an issue while rounding the turns. Try it next time!
Grade: A (A classic and necessary challenge for a mud run on a racetrack.)
- Firewalker: From afar, this obstacle nearly always looks worse than it really is. We could feel the heat from the fire as we exited High-Stepping. It’s basically a short man-made trail carved out between burning hay bales. Firemen are on-hand to both stoke the fire and put you out if needed. What adds a level of complexity to this obstacle is the sticky mud that lines the path. We headed through single-file and I had to bounce over a few stray burners at my feet. I held my breath throughout the dash and as long as I could afterward, which seemed to minimize the damage to my lungs. This is probably the best obstacle for pictures on the whole course.
Grade: A (You can’t go wrong with fire.)
- Nature’s Pocket: A more fitting name might be Tunnel Rat as this challenge consisted of an underground labyrinth that emptied into either wet dirt or a mud pool. There were about five or six different tunnels from which to choose. I picked my poison in the middle and was pleasantly surprised that it was not littered with sharp rocks. Instead, the tunnels consisted of soft mud that was somewhat soothing on my hands and knees. I saw a glimmer of daylight and headed for it, feeling my way around a few blind turns in the process, and emerged dry. My teammate lucked out and plopped out into the giant puddle of mud. I was jealous!
Grade: A (Not for the claustrophobic.)
- Twinkle Toes: Yet another Tough Mudder classic. Shaky balance beams made from 2x6s stretched over a large lake of mud. I fell four times in a row last year and knocked my teammate off in the process. I’ve made it across at each Tough Mudder since. IMO, it comes down to one thing – confidence. The second you think you can’t make it, your body will let you down. Hit it like you’re flying through a cross-walk in Times Square and you’ll make it across without getting wet. I also think running on curbs during my training runs helped build my sense of balance.
Grade: A- (Last year, this was immediately after Funky Monkey, which up’ed the difficulty ante a bit.)
- Log Jammin’: A series of over-unders through fallen trees. What I liked about this obstacle was that the lower trees forced you to submerge yourself in mud. Several Mudders struggled on these due to sheer exhaustion, but overall, more fun than challenging.
- Boa Constrictor: At the end of Log Jammin’ you had to crawl down into a drain pipe that spit you out into a chilly mud pool, then head back up another pipe, which dumped you into more mud. The incline was the hardest part. I went hands and knees and wedged my back against the top of the pipe for traction. Nice teamwork all around, as Mudders yanked each other out of the pipes the last few feet.
BONUS: After Boa Constrictor, a great mud runway lay in front of us. We hit our best slides for home and were rewarded with an extra thick layer of mud pudding that coated us from head to toe!
- Devil’s Beard: A long stretch of cargo net that required a fair amount of teamwork and crawling to get through. We headed through hands and knees at first and switched to a bear crawl, which proved to be much faster. Nice wear and tear factor and good muddy fun!
- Spider’s Web: At around mile 9, we hit the entrance of the Log Bog Jog. To enter, we first had to get past the Spider’s Web, a tall cargo net that required coordination and a team effort to pass. To conquer, Mudders on the flip-side of the net held it taught by hanging all their weight and pulling the net down as low as possible. I headed over and took a few turns to pull the netting down. This obstacle is easy with a solid amount of camaraderie and another example of what makes Tough Mudder an awesome team event.
- Log Bog Jog: Nearing the home stretch, we ran into the wooded trails of the Log Bog Jog, which consisted of a scenic trail run dispersed with log jumps and dives through mud pits and puddles. Fast and relaxing.
Grade: A (Love the placement of this challenge.)
- Creek Crusade: At the end of the Log Bog Jog, we hit the Creek Crusade – a long creek of knee-high grade A+ quality mud, gooey and grey, just the way we like it! The Creek came with its own set of challenges in the form of deep spots that brought me down a few times. Exiting the Creek Crusade lie a final challenge before ditching the woods – a five foot drop into a muddy valley, followed by a tedious climb back out.
Grade: A+ (Best mud on the course!)
- Funky Monkey: Another Tough Mudder staple, this monkey bar challenge set on an A-frame definitely claimed several victims. The bars were stretched across a muddy, but extremely shallow lake, which was a problem. This was the only obstacle that I actually saw someone give the “X” sign with their arms, meaning an injury had occurred or a rescue was needed. I was 1 for 2 on the Funky Monkey in previous TM’s, and felt that I prepared well enough to make it across again. Instead, I hit my first bar and went to reach for my second, but got distracted by a TM attendant who yelled something like, “Bend your knees when you fall!” I missed the second bar and hit the water face-first in a spread eagle position. Complete f%*$in’ belly flop. I was really bummed, so I climbed back up to the platform, hit the bars again and made it across. We’ll call that 2 for 3 1/2!
Grade: B- (Poor placement and/or not enough water in lake.)
- Underwater Tunnels: As we approached this final water challenge, we could tell that Mudders were experiencing some real issues trying to get through. The obstacle consisted of about 50 yards of bone-chilling lake with three sets of floating barrels positioned near the middle. The idea was to swim to the barrels, then dive underwater to clear each set. It was brutal, and my teammate and I used the buddy system to get through in one piece. We swam up to the first barrel, counted to three and dove under. We swam up the next set, held on for a second to catch our breath and again, counted to three and ducked under. A final duck-dive under the last set followed by a short and ridiculously cold swim, and we made it to shore still whole. From talking to fellow Mudders, the Underwater Tunnels certainly lived up to their frightful hype.
- Electroshock Therapy: The final obstacle – a gauntlet of wires with charges up to 10,000 volts. TMHQ designed this year’s electric nightmare with a wild card – hay bales. In previous Tough Mudders, you could dart through the wires and come out with just a few zaps that may or may not level you. This year, hay bales were inserted in the path to victory, which really gave you two choices: run or crawl. When we arrived at the obstacle, a good amount of traffic had formed as Mudders were trying to crawl through or around the outside of the hay bales. The gauntlet was literally littered with bodies and it seemed that a slow crawl may not be the best approach. Instead of waiting for the crowd to disperse a bit and haul-ass through, I dropped down and went for the slow approach. BIG MISTAKE. I got zapped hard, and felt like I was punched in the side of my head. I crawled on, then the next thing I remember, I was sitting on my bed as a ten-year old playing Zelda on my Nintendo. WHAT?! Exactly, I was knocked so hard that I apparently had no idea I was shocked and blacked out long enough to recall an old memory from my youth. Crazy! I soon realized that I was surrounded by hay bales and wires, stood up and ran and fast as I could, escaping with a desperate forward somersault. When I got up, half of my face was ringing and a trickle of blood dripped from my right nostril. Holy crap — THAT WAS INSANE!
Grade: A+ (You really out-did yourself TMHQ. Not going to lie, I’m a bit scared for the World’s Toughest Mudder.)
One more thing!
Special thanks to my wife, Jennifer, who has my back in all of these crazy mud run events that I take on – I love you and could never get through these things without you in my sights…to all of our friends and family who came out to see our team through this incredible challenge – thank you! And a well-deserved congrats to my teammates for whom I would not have made it through this course without! You guys are the best!