World's Toughest Mudder: The debrief
This event was everything I was hoping for and more. Sometimes you plan things and it doesn’t go your way. Sometimes you plan things and you get it bang on. Life is so up and down that I still can’t believe how well I did. I completed World’s Toughest Mudder and achieved 50 miles. That’s ten laps of the course.
50 miles was my shoot for the stars goal; my actual goal was 25 miles minimum and get as close to 50 as I could, plus stay on it for the whole 24 hours. After Equinox24 I was unsure if I could make it the whole 24 hours, but I tried and I succeeded.
Just being at the event setting up my pit was a dream come true for me. After watching it online the previous two years I was so excited to be there. The atmosphere was electric and the people were pumped. We needed to be at the start line for 11.20am ready for the debrief and the intro from Sean Corvelle was great. “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”. I had a tear in my eye.
At midday we all set off together, though it took three minutes for me to actually cross the start line! My plan was to run/walk the whole course. Naturally everyone went quick with excitement off the starting line, but I stuck to my guns and went at a very comfortable pace. I’d jog a bit, walk a bit, then when it came to going down-hill I would gallop. I found this technique to be very efficient for me, you can cover a great distance by galloping down-hill as you are pretty much falling but then landing on two feet in quick succession. I naturally started doing it last year when I had IT band issues giving me runners knee. It was the only way I could run down-hill without being in pain, and I figured considering I can do it so fast now, why not just do it from the start? So I did.
The first lap was great, most people passed me because they were running, but I didn’t mind being at the back and having time to take in the route for the first time. At exactly 1pm the obstacles would open, so wherever you were on the course that’s when you would start doing them. I had literally just passed ‘Kong’ when the sound went, which was the very last obstacle on the course (until midnight, when the cliff opened up), so my second lap would see me start fresh with the obstacles. I was happy with that.
I was wearing Hoko-sports compression shorts and my sports bra with my bib on top, plus 2XU compression socks, dirty girl gaiters and Salomon Speedcross4. Plus my UKMQ baseball cap, UKMQ buff and sunglasses for the first lap (the buff was extremely useful for breathing through to try and prevent you swallowing desert dust). For the second lap I removed my hat and glasses and kept the rest of my kit the same. It was still day light and it wasn’t going to get cold for a few hours yet.
The second lap was probably my favourite lap of all time for any OCR I’ve ever done. For me it sealed the deal and I knew at that moment I had made the right decision in coming to WTM. I had a right to be there and I belonged there. I completed every obstacle on that lap.
I tell a lie, I attempted ‘Operation’ (an electrified hole that you pushed a metal pole through to collect a band hanging on the wall the other side), but chickened out when people beside me left, right and centre were screaming and dropping poles; so I quickly withdrew my pole without getting shocked, and just opted for the penalty instead. That was my only attempt at that obstacle and from then on I just went straight to the penalty. Some obstacles required you to attempt them before doing the penalty, but this was not one of them. The penalty involved picking up a sandbag, going through a short tube with it, down a hill and back up again. It took maybe two minutes to complete, and you could probably do it quicker than you could do operation if you wanted to move fast.
So, despite operation (which in my opinion is really not that great of a loss), I completed every obstacle on lap two and I was over the moon with this achievement.
Some obstacles were ‘must complete’ obstacles, and others had penalty loops if you failed them. Here is my review of the obstacles in order:
Must Complete - Jump into water, cage crawl a short way and climb up into a tube that has water pumping down at you. The foot holes were on either side of a Perspex window, so people could see you climbing up the tube. This obstacle was immensely fun, and I loved doing it. Every must complete obstacle I did 9 times.
Jump into the lake and swim across to a slanted wall that you had to pull yourself over and out. There was a penalty of a longer swim around if you failed this obstacle, but maybe It’s because I’m tall but this never gave me any issues. This obstacle closed at midnight so I did it 5 times.
Stage Five Clinger
This was a frame where you climbed up a back board, then a couple of monkey bars to bring you towards the front where you then had to climb up from hanging. The idea was to muscle up but people swung their legs up like they would for getting over a wall. Assistance/teamwork was encouraged for this obstacle and I was given a boost twice when completing this obstacle. As soon as it started to get dark they made this obstacle easier by adding in rope ladders and cargo nets to help you up and over. I completed it twice the hard way with help from fellow racers, once with the rope ladder and 6 times with the cargo net. This obstacle had a penalty loop but I don’t know what it was because I never did it. I believe it involved swimming.
Must complete - This was a MASSIVE A-frame cargo net, you were enclosed with another cargo net on top of you so the fact it was so high never really bothered me because you couldn’t really tell how high you were. It was easy to get caught in the net on top though, and it took forever because I did small steps at a time (no way I’m falling off that!)
I loved the set up here, they had Everest 1 and Everest 2.0. If you did Everest 2.0 then no penalty; if you did Everest 1 there was a short penalty that involved a short swim; if you didn’t do either Everest then the penalty was a longer swim. I did 2.0 (with assistance) the first two times, but on the second time I felt like my shoulder was pulled out a bit and so I didn’t want to get injured and decided to do Everest 1 for the next two times because I could do that myself without assistance. Then the last 5 times I just took the penalty.
I’ve already described this above.
This was a rope climb up a steep desert rock/wall. To start with the ropes were all in place, but as the race went on they removed the ropes and you had to throw them up and catch them between two boards. You had three attempts, if you missed them you had steep switch backs as the penalty. I climbed it 7 times as the rope was in place when I arrived, but twice I attempted throwing the rope and missed every time, so I did the penalty twice.
Must complete – This was a knotted rope that you climbed down a steep desert rock/wall (the opposite of the grappler, only the ropes were constantly fixed for this one).
Must complete – The normal pyramid scheme set up, though this one had a ditch filled with water at the bottom to stop you having a run up. Plus, it had small ropes to help you pull yourself up. It looks like this obstacle was never completed the way it should be done (forming human pyramids to climb up).
Funky Monkey – The Revolution
This was the standard monkey bars up then you grabbed a horizontal wheel which spun you round (much like Nuclear’s spinning monkeys), then you needed to grab a large vertical wheel that took you to a medium vertical wheel, and finally a small vertical wheel to the other side. Failure meant falling into water. I completed this the first time no problem. The second time I slipped off the medium wheel and had to do the penalty. The third time I came to it they made it easier by providing a plank to walk along so you didn’t have to do the first set of monkey bars, and instead you started at the horizontal wheel. I completed it with this set up once, but landed on my bum (but in the dry!), the penalty was a sandbag carry, and after landing on my bum I opted for the penalty every time. You had to jump into the water before doing the penalty. (Completed twice, penalty 7 times).
Must complete – This was my favourite obstacle. It’s super fun and you have to work with others to complete it. Massive cubes in water you have to rotate up whilst someone holds on and is pulled upwards. When up on top they spin around and grab the other side to pull the block down to keep it spinning, and so it continues like that. The water in this one was coloured red! One time I came to it they were fixing something that broke, so I did it 8 times.
This is the obstacle I am most proud of. They released images and clips of this obstacle the day before and it struck fear into the hearts of most racers. I mean, what were they thinking? Swinging from one trapeze to another? Who do they think we are? Circus folk? If you failed on the first swing you fell into water, if you fell on the second swing you were likely going to crash into the side and end up in the drink to top it off. If you completed it you landed gracefully onto a massive airbag. As this was an extension of ‘King of the Swingers’ - where you had one trapeze out and had to ring a bell then fall into the water – and I had only tried that once and failed it, I instantly decided that there was no way I could complete this obstacle. To top it off all the videos I saw of it in action was of people failing it.
I’d got it in my head that I wasn’t even going to attempt it, I mean why risk injury by smashing into that side when you had 24hrs to run? I’m not sure when I changed my mind, but when I approached the obstacle for the first time there was massive queues, and I had the chance to watch and also listen to great advice from people who were on their third lap already and had completed it once before! As I got to the top I also realised that the bar was taped with foam so it was more grippy, and I thought, you know what? I CAN do this. To start you had to jump up to grab the bar (you couldn’t touch it from standing), and I thought that’s easy, I’ve jumped up to grab a pull up bar many times before. Then once you had swung out, all you needed to do was reach out with one hand and grab the other bar. You were actually suspended for a second in mid-air, but it went quite slowly, then once having a firm grip on the second bar you had to let go of the first to swing across and land upright on the other side. I can tell you that completing that obstacle the first time was the best feeling in the world. I’m sure I shouted for joy when I did, and I had a massive spring in my step for the next section. I also completed it the second time I came to it, but unfortunately on my third go I think I reached too far for the second bar and missed it, then had no time properly grab hold so I ended up in the water. After that I didn’t attempt it again as the foam had all come off and I was very tired, so instead you just had to jump into the water from the top. The penalty was just a running loop, no sandbag. (Completed twice, penalty 7 times).
Must Complete – This obstacle was the most hated one I think, and to start with I hated it too. It was a peg wall with the single line of holes down the middle, and notches in wood either side for your feet. They made this one easier after about my 4th lap by adding in a plank of wood you could stand on to get you up there to start with, but you couldn’t make it all the way up there from that plank as there was nothing to grab a hold of at the top. Usually there is something you can pull your body weight up with, but on this you had to reach right the way over the top and down about a foot before there was a hand hold. This meant that you had to use your toes in the notches to hold your body weight as you went up. It took courage to do that, and I didn’t learn how to trust myself not to slip until the last three or so laps, when a lovely girl who I kept switching places with showed me/gave me tips on how to do it. I wish I remembered her name. This obstacle claimed many victims with many injuries, but luckily I had escaped and even got better at it as the night went on.
Kiss of Mud
Must complete - This was a standard barbed wire crawl with a hay bale in the middle to negotiate. Sometimes it was filled with water, sometimes it wasn’t.
Ladder to Hell
Must complete - This was at the top of a very long hill, and I was glad it was a simple obstacle to do after trekking all that way (although when I was at my most tired this certainly was a challenge). Wooden frame to climb up and over (much like the vertical weaver at Wild Forrest gym only not as high and you didn’t weave you just climbed up and over).
This was a balance beam with a step in the middle of the beam. If you fell you landed in water. I completed it three times and failed it once. The penalty was a short run. After that they closed the obstacle because the water kept draining out and injuries kept happening in the shallow water.
Must Complete – Pull yourself through a tube and land out in water (quite a high drop), then climb out over a mound and slide back into some water, then sheep dip under a pole in the water.
This was six different walls. You rolled the dice and that indicated which wall you needed to climb. In my opinion 2, 4 and 6 were the easiest. So I prayed for those each time.
Standard wall but with slats to stand on making it easier
Balls to the wall (wall with knotted rope to help you over)
Balls to the wall with slats to stand on
The Liberator – easier peg wall than backstabber
The liberator with slats to stand on making it easier
I think I rolled (in no particular order because I can’t remember) 2,2,2,2,3,4,5,6,6. The penalty for this obstacle was a run up a hill then ‘Arctic Enema 3’ (arctic enema going head first down a tube). I didn’t do the penalty at all.
This is hang tough rings but high up in the air. There were only about 6 rings to do and if you fell you went on to a big inflated landing bag. I completed this obstacle twice, then chose not to attempt again. The rings were dusty and I’d rather fall safely than not. During the night they removed the rings and replaced them with hanging horizontal poles that you needed to shimmy across. I believe that a slack line was also meant to be under the poles, but these got removed. I didn’t attempt the horizontal poles, so had to jump off onto the crash mat before doing the penalty of a sandbag carry. I did the penalty 7 times.
This opened at midnight. It is simply a jump off a 35ft platform into the lake. I did it three times. I was looking forward to this obstacle because I’d trained for it by doing my coasteering adventures and I knew how to fall and land etc. The key is to look straight ahead and keep your arms in tight. The height wasn’t as issue for me, I don’t think I even looked down at all. It was dark anyway so I couldn’t see anything, but as I was falling I thought, ‘gosh 35ft takes forever’, (I’d held my breath from the top and wondered when I’d be able to breath next). On the first jump I tilted slightly and I felt the impact on my feet and my bum a tad, I also felt it jolt my head and I had a head ache for a short time afterwards. The second jump went perfectly. I was in a nice straight line and only felt the impact on my feet. No jolting of the head and no headache. The third time I tilted slightly again but this time to my right as I felt the impact slightly on my feet, then right hip, and I felt my left shoulder come up a tad and it jolted my head again. After the third jump I was glad that I didn’t have to do it again (as on the final lap the cliff was reserved for contenders only), and instead we climbed down the side of a cliff using rope and then swam across the lake, which was quite nice, because it was a short cut compared to the route we took during the day.
Regarding the rest of the race I stayed fairly consistent throughout, with my lap times being under two hours until lap 7, which was 2:02, then lap 8 (which was my worst) at 2:20.
Laps 1 &2 – On top of the world and completed everything.
Laps 3 & 4 – I put on my 3mm shorty wetsuit. I started to fail obstacles and was getting tired and losing confidence in the strength I had left, so opted for penalty loops on the harder obstacles.
Laps 5, 6 & 7 – I put on my full length 3mm wetsuit for lap 5 and added a wind stopper for 6 & 7. I was tired and I felt sick constantly, but I always had high spirits and I would chat rubbish at anyone who spoke to me.
Lap 8 – My wall. I put on my 5mm full length wetsuit with my windstopper and I literally felt like I was going to fall asleep whilst walking. That’s a very odd sensation. Before attempting even the easiest obstacles I had to pause and will myself to move. Despite being so incredibly tired, I was constantly surprised at the strength that I did have left when hauling myself up and over things. I could still pull my body weight over a wall, and that was comforting. At the end of lap 8 I took a tactical break and slept in my tent for exactly 1 hour and 15 mins. That would see me wake up at 7:30 to get my stuff together and head out at 8am for my final two laps.
Laps 9 & 10 – I put on my neoflex leggings and neoflex long sleeved top. It was daylight now so starting to warm up. I also switched to my Innov8 Roclites and I had a spare windstopper. The rest did me a world of good. My brain switched back into game mode and my lap 9 was back to under 2 hours. Lap 10 was the final lap of the day and you needed to be on course at midday to get your finishers headband. Lots of people came back on course for this one which was quite nice as everyone was in high spirits and the atmosphere was pumping again.
Throughout the event I was using Torq gels to fuel myself, I aimed to have them every 45 mins, but I missed a few and ended up having a couple each lap instead; one at around 45 mins and then one at the 1 hour 30 mark. When I got back to the pit I would attempt to eat as much food as I could. This proved quite difficult as I just didn’t want to eat anything (a mixture of adrenaline not making me hungry and also because of feeling sick). I was eating my microwaveable rice like I had done in my training this year, but it was just so dry. I tried to eat some pasta with sauce but that didn’t taste right. I tried adding the sauce to the rice to stop it being dry, and that was ok for a bit. Everything I tried worked for a couple of mouthfuls, but then I just didn’t want anymore. I resorted to force feeding myself rice by taking a mouthful of rice and washing it down with water or juice, kinda like I was swallowing lots of tiny pills in one go. This was quite successful in getting it in me, but I did gag a couple of times. The gels were going down fine and I could drink juice, so I knew I had calories going in, the reason I wanted proper food in me though was because I didn’t want my stomach to start hurting from being empty, which I have suffered from before. But luckily I managed to avoid that. In the future I’d like to try eating baked potato instead of rice, as I think it will be easier to swallow, and also I’ll bring lots of caffeine too. I had some paracetamol with caffeine in quite early on, but I only had the two. I did buy a small squeezy pot of caffeine to add to water to make squash, but it was so sweet I hated drinking it. I was well hydrated throughout the race and was drinking water whenever I could. I opted not to carry a hydration pack with me, which meant every pit stop I was drinking lots of water or juice, and at the half way mark they had a water point, so I’d drink 2 or 3 cups there too. The great thing about wetsuits and going in and out of water a lot meant that you could go to the loo really easily! This meant I didn’t mind drinking lots of water as it wasn’t a hassle to stop. Peeing whilst walking (or swimming) is an odd sensation but quite fun at the same time. Just make sure that you flush out your wetsuit with fresh water every time, otherwise the person behind you might not be that happy to climb in your pee!
Things I would do differently:
My strobes kept malfunctioning. I had three, I lost one, one stopped working then started again. The other lost power but we couldn’t open to switch batteries. I was given one that instantly broke, and in the end I resorted to some glow sticks, one of which I found on the floor. So I would definitely get a strobe that I know will last the distance.
If I was to come back again next year I think my plan would be to get even stronger so that I can complete more obstacles further into the night. The penalty loops whilst not very long at all on their own, add up to an extra 2 miles per lap if you did them all. I didn’t do all of the penalty loops, but over ten laps which is 50 official Tough mudder miles, I actually ran 60 miles; I would also attempt the obstacles further into the night instead of opting for the penalty straight away. I have confidence in my abilities when I’m not tired and full of beans, but I need to work on my confidence with obstacles when I’m tired.
One thing that kept surprising me was the fact that at no point during the race did I feel sore. Usually something will hurt like my hip flexors, or my knee (IT band) or my calves or something! But no! Even on lap 8 I didn’t hurt, I just felt sick and tired. When I went back out for laps 9 & 10 the course was filled with people hobbling along as best they could. That was usually me, but this time it wasn’t! I can only think that the reason why was because of my run/walk strategy that I stuck to, meaning that I didn’t have any of the repetitiveness to get sore. Pretty much every day I power walk where I’m going. It frustrates my partner so much because they like to go slow and I like to go fast when we walk anywhere. I can power walk for hours, but I can’t run for hours as I learnt from Equinox24 and my 50K ultra run. Well, my walking certainly paid off here and if I was to do WTM again I would certainly use this tactic, but I would try to run a little bit more. If I hadn’t have had the break between lap 8 & 9 I would have been on track for 55 miles, so if I can go even a little bit faster with my laps and not have to rest at all, then next time I recon I could make 60 miles. Especially if I can complete more obstacles without penalties.
So that’s it, my journey for this year is over. I trained hard, I pushed hard, and I backed off when I needed to rest. Everything came together and I succeeded in all of my goals for the event. I had the most amazing time participating and I would do it again in a heart beat. I’m a stronger person with new goals to achieve, and I can’t wait to get back to it. But for now I need to rest. I have signed up for Tough Mudder’s newest event called Europe’s Toughest Mudder though, so I’ve got that to look forward too, Plus I believe that I’ve already qualified for World OCR champs next year because I hit 50 miles, so go me!
Thank you to everyone who supported me in one way or another, I couldn’t have done it without you, and if you fancy joining me next year then please do; I hope I have shown you that if you want something bad enough then you can make it happen. xxxxx