A Non-Athlete’s Tough Mudder Experience

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This post is for people who like challenging themselves and are thinking of doing a Tough Mudder course but might be hesitant because of physical limitations.

toughmudder

In spring 2014 I coerced the hubby into running a Tough Mudder with me. After a Survivor Mud Run I did with friends six months prior, I wanted to do something more challenging. I was not a super-duper athlete by any means; this was 11 months postpartum and I couldn’t even run a mile. But I had been walking daily and doing what I could with bodyweight exercises and some yoga. The obstacles intimidated me, but I was hungry for a confidence boost.

The site was a two-hour drive away, so the hubby and I woke up early, dropped off the baby at grandma’s house, and headed down at about 8:00 a.m. I had my trusty gorilla smoothie for breakfast, and, boy, that was the best thing I did for myself that day.

Our course was 10 miles long and had a million cliffs hills, so I think they kept it on the shorter side and the obstacles on the easier side (or at least easier than I was expecting). The hubby and I didn’t actually run, so I had much more energy than the average participant. I felt great and positive the whole time, in fact, and I chalk that up to simply walking every day and eating the perfect pre-race breakfast. It took us 6 hours to complete — longer than I expected — with many stops to rest because of the hubby’s dehydration-induced leg cramps.

But let me just say: UGH. SO many cliffs hills! We’re talking get-on-all-fours cliffs hills. One was steep enough to warrant ropes, but we got to rappel down, which added an element of interest. But then came more cliffs hills. Every time you got your hopes up that they were over or the finish line was coming up, the trail U-turned you around right into another steep one. Thanks to my beloved Vibram FiveFingers shoes, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. A tip: these steep cliffs hills might involve “surfing” downward a lot, but keep your mind in your legs, not your upper body. Sliding is okay as long as you don’t lose your cool. There is thicker dirt around the sides, so opt for climbing there where it’s easier to get a grip.

Our Tough Mudder was more wet and sandy than muddy. We had great weather that day, but as soon as you got nice and dry, you had to get in cold water again. I came home with dirt only from my knees down; a few splashes elsewhere, but I wasn’t covered in it. The hubby was merciful and didn’t drag me down into it like I thought he would. He was such a big help to me; I’m so glad we did it together. This makes a fantastic date, by the way.

Now, the obstacles. I wished there were more of them, so maybe I need to find a new race that is more of an obstacle course than a hike run. These are just the highlights. The other “obstacles” were pretty easy and not worth mentioning.

Human Pyramid — The slope is a lot less slippery than you think. You don’t need to form a human ladder to get up. Just sprint up as high as you can, grab the top tightly, and either you’ll make it or someone will pull you up.

Arctic Enema — I was super nervous about this one. The key is to not think; just jump. It was freaking frigid but over fast. Recovery was easy because we had a warm day, though all my meaty spots felt chilled to the bone. You feel powerful having made it through. In all the research I had done prior to the day of, everyone’s advice was to jump as close to the board as possible when you go in. They are correct! Don’t waste your time. We jumped and submerged all in one fell swoop right next to that board, swam under, and made a beeline for the other end. Instincts took over, and, in spite of imminent numbness, I hauled myself up with no problem at the end.

Walk the Plank — This was probably my favorite because of the unexpected thrill factor. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but I got up there and was like, whoa, 15 feet is not a joke. The jump tickles your stomach. Lots of (dirty) water got up my nose when I plunged in. Next time I will plug my nose or hopefully time my exhaling better.

Family Feud — My only failed obstacle, not because of physical inability, but because those stupid balls mess with your head. I was able to duck and crawl across the beam the whole way, but fell right before my last step at the end because I let the last ball distract me.

Funky Monkey — This one made me nervous, too, and motivated my months of upper-body preparation. I couldn’t quite do a full pull-up at the time, but I made it across successfully. I thankfully had enough strength to make sure each hand landed with a solid grip. Grip strength is everything here. For weaklings like me, land on each bar with both hands and only move forward when your body is done swinging all over the place (and hitting everyone around you) and you’ve regained control. Once you get halfway across and you’re done with the upward part, you can totally make it. I didn’t need gloves. Landing safely on the other side was an immediate confidence boost.

Cage Crawl — A fun one, though it kind of stunk having to stay almost fully in the water the whole time; it was chilly. The key is to stick your chin up and reach higher over your head than you think so you can take longer strides through. It’s over pretty quickly.

Balls to the Wall — This was fun. Take your time with steady limbs, grip, and core balance.

Berlin Walls — I am short, so these were tough. But with help, you can definitely do it. I used the support beams to get over each time. Be careful when you land. Lower yourself down as far as possible, and then squat (and roll, even, if you know how) as you land so your ankles don’t take all the shock.

Everest — Another one that I was scared of beforehand. It’s not that bad and, again, not very slippery. Just sprint fast, keep your eyes and head up, and grab that beam! Swing a leg up, and you made it!

Electroshock Therapy — The electric stuff terrifies me. Now, after the fact, I feel like my orange headband isn’t fully earned because I made it through this one without a single zap! I walked through very carefully — the only thing that sounded worse than getting shocked was getting shocked and landing hard on my face in the mud — with my arms up in front of my head. The wind was blowing, opening clear paths through the wires for me. I was in near disbelief at the end when the shocks never came. The hubby got shocked and said it definitely sucked. I believe my experience is a rare one, however, so don’t go through expecting the same luck. My next time might more than make up for it.

Then we ran to the finish line and got our headbands! We felt so good about ourselves. The hubby was raving about it more than I was — ha! He even signed up for the next year while we were still there… but, long story short, we ended up skipping it when the time came.

I was (pleasantly) surprised they didn’t put Electric Eel in this course. That’s the one I fear most.

They did a good job with the water stations. After the first one, they start providing snacks like bananas, electrolyte gummies, and halved energy bars. I took some water at each station, but didn’t feel a need for food until about two-thirds through the course. It wasn’t really a need even then; I just wanted to make sure I had optimal energy so I’d finish with flying colors. It worked!

Like I said, the hubby signed up for this only out of love for and protection over me. He is the best. He is so not into this stuff, but at the last minute decided he’d take on the challenge, and we are both glad he did in spite of the next morning’s overwhelming soreness. He was pleased with the patriotic support shown toward military and veterans, being a veteran himself. It was especially encouraging to see many teams all working together to make sure a disabled member (in wheelchairs, even!) got through every obstacle. He had a hard time with the cliffs hills, but kept going and was my main source of help for many obstacles. He rocked every single one and really impressed me.

In a word, Tough Mudders are doable even for those who aren’t Marines or gym rats. It doesn’t matter if you keep falling in the water or you have to stop to rest several times. Just don’t quit. Help and be helped. Everyone is concerned with judging only himself, not you or anyone else (unless you’re with a mouthy team poking fun at you). That’s what attracts me to these events. Mud runs (at least the Tough Mudder) are about yourself now versus your old self, and I thrive on that.

Hopefully this convinces someone out there to try the Tough Mudder. It’s FUN.

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