This year’s race was very different to last. This year’s race was harder.
I came in to this race with confidence, fitness and a fun mind-set. I had a team mate with me this time and I knew what to expect from the race, having already done it before. Only, this year they changed a few things around, and my experience was nothing like last year at all.
I kind of feel lucky to have experienced last year and how fantastic it was. I get the feeling that this year’s race is similar to all previous World’s Toughest Mudder events (bar last), in that, not only is it hard being a 24 hour race, but the conditions and obstacles were harder too.
Last year they wanted mileage and they got it. People hit their 50 mile goal in troves, this year, they warned us in the race briefing that many people would not hit their mileage goals, and boy, were they correct.
Last year we were lucky with the weather. It wasn’t cold, and it was even warm in some places (like the small valleys they had you climb into before trekking up to the top of a hill, warming you up even more) and the water was often a welcome relief. This year the weather was slightly colder and windier. Enough to make me change out of my 3/2mm wetsuit and put on my 5/3mm wetsuit. The water temperature wasn’t that different though and once I had the thicker wetsuit on, I didn’t notice the cold water at all. In fact, I looked forward to the mini swims we had throughout the course, as it was a chance to relax a little, and let yourself float calmly to the other side, enjoying the rest whilst you had it for that brief moment.
Going in to the race I felt fitter than last year, but looking back, I think my fitness was in the wrong areas. Last year I trained a lot of long running and obstacle races throughout the year. This year, I didn’t have the same opportunity to run as much and my training was based around general strength and fitness through CrossFit. I think this took its toll, as I got tired much sooner than I should have.
The goal was 65 miles or 13 laps. Based on timings from last year this was possible without having to move faster or even run. We just needed to drastically reduce our pit times and try to complete as many obstacles as possible (reducing the penalty distance).
Unlike all previous years, the obstacles were opened gradually. You usually set off at mid-day and at 1pm all obstacles open. This year to help avoid bottlenecks, the harder obstacles were opened one at a time every half an hour. WIN. We did 3 laps before we even had to attempt Kong Infinity etc. This gave us false hope though. We racked up early miles and got ahead of our schedule. We were still on schedule at the beginning of lap 6, but we started lap 7 after the time we were supposed to:
Lap 1 – Sprint Lap – This took an hour and ten minutes which is 5 mins quicker than last year.
Lap 2 – Pretty much also a sprint lap, with only ‘easy to complete’ obstacles open.
Lap 3 – More obstacles opened including Funky Monkey which we both completed.
Lap 4 – We put our wetsuits on and tied them around our waists.
Everest 2.1 opened. This year we had the options of 2.1 (really tall half pipe), 2.0 with short sandbag carry (high half pipe with the top curved over so nothing to grab at the top), or penalty which included a swim. You only had one shot and if you failed you had to take the penalty. My team mate went for 2.1 and nearly made it up, but the people at the top dropped him. I went for it next and made it up. After this attempt, we decided to just take the penalty, as the loop was small and injuries we’d both had during the summer were potentially compromised on this obstacle (people yanking my shoulder and my team mates hip not allowing him to sprint).
Lap 4 also saw the rest of the obstacles opened, so next was Rope-a-Dope. I thought it was a swing across water but instead it was a rope climb out of water and a slide down a second rope.
I love rope climbs. I thought I had this one in the bag. I didn’t have this one in the bag.
The water was 10ft deep so you couldn’t touch the bottom and the rope was weighted down to the floor so you couldn’t wrap your feet around it. Removing the ability to clamp the rope with my feet meant that I couldn’t stand up and straighten my legs and it moved all of the strength to my arms. I literally moved up an inch at a time. I think I got about half way before I decided to call it quits and jump back into the water. I had used up so much valuable energy and I didn’t want to waste any more. My team mate made it up successfully, but he said once up there the traverse over to the other rope was even harder than going up in the first place, so we took the penalty and didn’t attempt this obstacle again. This penalty was long.
When we came to Funky Monkey the second time the rungs were too slippery for me so I fell in. From this point we always took the penalty. The Penalty for this included a really long diversion and also Arctic Enema. Usually I hate this obstacle, the ice is a massive shock to the system, but when you wear neoprene there is no shock and it’s just like getting into slightly colder water. But they didn’t even put ice in it, so it was literally an easy dip in and out. The water on Snot Rocket was 100 times colder than Arctic Enema.
Hanging tough and Kong infinity also opened up lap 4. Hanging tough are rings but low to the ground and had a bungee cord in the middle. By this point the rings were too slippery and wet for me to complete, but my team mate made it half way until the bungee nearly ripped his hand apart. So, we took the penalty for this one, but this penalty was only 2 short switchback hills, so one of the better ones.
Then Kong infinity was rings but on a roller which moved the further across you made it, then onto monkey bars. These rings weren’t as slippery but I still only made it across a couple before falling onto the air bag. The penalty was an extra loop which was quite simple at first, but after midnight they increased the distance.
Lap 5 and Lap 6 – much the same as lap 4, only we knew which obstacles to complete and which to avoid and take the penalties. Average time for these laps was approx. 2 hours 15 mins. Last year my average lap times were 2 hours. Already we knew how much harder this race was compared to last year. My mental game was also not playing ball. I struggled a lot on these past three laps and had to dig down deep to find the determination to keep moving. I felt tired, I felt sick, and I wasn’t enjoying myself. We weren’t even half way through the race! We were slowing down and I got cold.
My team mate had music blaring from his backpack which helped a lot with motivation, but if a sing came on that I didn’t know I started singing out loud. “I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry chap stick”. I sang that a lot. We had some cherry chapstick which we smothered all over our dry lips, but we couldn’t use the chapstick without singing the song first. #rules
I also covered a few Rocky Horror songs.
Lap 7 – I put my thicker wetsuit on and I felt much better, but the lap times still got slower. I refused to let any negative thoughts come into my head but I was too tired to strike up a conversation. Instead I began talking to myself out loud. I kept repeating words and phrases. “Yes, yes, yes, yes”, “You can do it, keep it going, you can do it, keep it going”. “We can do it, we can do it”. I was in my bubble and had no awareness of the people around me, I’m sure they thought I was a nutter, but I just didn’t care. It was working. I was focussed on my team mate and moving forward, that was all. He started to pull me up hills. I needed it.
We began lap 7 just before midnight, this meant course change and new obstacles opened. First up Humpchuck. Naturally harder than last year, it was higher and at a harder angle (basically, a wall out of water), easily done with assistance from others at both the bottom and the top.
Then Statue of Liberty, carrying a flame across water without putting it out (a nice chance to float and relax).
Then the course change. With the cliff opening up the route had to be extended somewhere else, and that meant a big walk up a fuck off hill. Ladder to Hell was at the top.
Finally, we got to jump the cliff again. I’m not scared of this type of thing, I can jump without hesitation, so off I popped and successfully landed without any issues.
Lap 8 – This lap was most definitely my lowest point. I felt bad at lap 4, imagine how I felt lap 8. We started this lap at 2:30am and finished it at 5:30am. It took 3 hours. I was a shell of a person. By this point the gremlins in my head were winning. I was ready to quit there and then. Who needs a 24 hr head band and a 50 mile bib? I’ve already got one!
Every step was slow, my mantra was failing, the hills were getting steeper. Half way up a hill I would just stop and sit down. My team mate would notice a few seconds later and come back and pull me up. I remember other people on the course being concerned for me, asking how I was. I remember one person also helping to pull me up a hill. My mantra turned from “Yes” to “Just finish this lap, finish this lap, finish this lap”.
I had nothing left and yet, I still kept moving, albeit very slowly, but we were still moving. Small wins.
I also completed a top-notch cliff jump. No issues, perfect landing. Ten out of ten I’d say. Pretty much the only good thing about that lap. I did enjoy floating there, watching my team mate struggle to jump. Swings and roundabouts. He is good at some things, I’m good at others. The perfect team.
Returning to the pit I went straight to sleep. There was no way I could continue in that state. Our pit times had been fantastic, averaging around 10 mins or less except when we put wetsuits on, but I was done. In my head at that point I wasn’t going back out there.
We slept for about an hour and a half.
I felt so much better. As soon as I woke up and they told me the time (7am) I knew we could still get the 50 bib. That was my minimum goal and by hell I was getting it. We had approx. 6 hours to do 2 laps. I knew it was in the bag.
Lap 9 – I’d missed the sunrise but I didn’t care, I had energy again. This lap took 2 hours 20 mins, I knew I was back in the game. The only bad thing about this lap was my final cliff jump. It was daylight now and felt different to my previous 2 jumps. I must have looked at a different point on the horizon when I stepped off, as I tilted ever so slightly forward which meant my arms raised up despite being crossed across my chest, and I felt my shoulder go again, in exactly the same way that I injured it last year. Still, at least it was done. No more cliff jumps… Sad times.
Lap 10 – You have an hour and a half grace at the end of the event, so it doesn’t actually finish at midday, they stop you starting a new lap at midday. This meant we had plenty of time to do our final lap, and I definitely slowed down again because I knew I could. I had less energy than lap 9, but my spirits were high. We helped a friend over the double dipping obstacle (balls to the wall followed by overhanging Berlin walls), meaning she didn’t have to take that penalty, and we also got to run with my OCR hero Deanna Blegg for a few seconds. We saw her on the penalty loop for Funky Monkey. I love the fact that even though she is a super human, she is human and fails penalties too, but still has the energy/capability to run the whole event. I could literally only keep up with her for a few seconds, and she was on her 16th lap! She came 4th female.
The cliff was closed to us, so we took the super smelly by-pass loop (gross) and finished the race at 12:31pm to collect our 24 hr headband and our 50 mile bibs. Despite doing ten laps, we actually covered 60 miles in the time, meaning we did ten miles worth of penalties.
This was most definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done. I only got the same miles as last year, but boy did I earn them. I do know for a fact that I wouldn’t have gotten that far without my team mate. Not forgetting my pit crew either, who helped us so much. Having three people look after 2 runners is definitely the way forward. They fed us, dressed us, warmed us up, and gave us the motivation when we needed it.
Despite not enjoying about 75% of the race, I’m sad that it’s over. I won’t be heading to Atlanta next year for my third instalment, as I need to re-coup and save money. But who knows what will happen in future years. With the OCR World Champs coming to the UK next year, it means I can focus on a different type of training and different type of race, and with my 50 miles in the bag, I’ve already qualified.
Obstacles I’ve not yet mentioned:
Mud mile – Sandy banks that collapsed super quick, easy to get in and out.
Pyramid scheme – We had this obstacle down. It was harder this year as only 1 set of ropes (there were 2 ropes last year and you could easily complete on your own, but you needed help this year at the bottom and the top to get up). I would lay down and my team mate would climb up me to the first rope. I’d then climb up him to a grippy layer 2/3rds of the way up, and would get assistance from someone else to pull me to the top, then I’d lean down and pull my team mate up.
Island hopping – No actual hopping, just a short swim through water (relaxing time).
Pandora’s Box – Like electric eel, but in a box. Electric wires hanging down with chains. Really easy to avoid them. I touched one once and the shock was minimal.
Abseil – Climb down a small cliff using a rope, nice edges for feet, easy to do.
Devils Quagmire – Dip in water, climb up and out using rope/net, all underneath a big net. Easy to do with assistance to get out of the water.
Snot Rocket – A favourite from last year they made harder by only have the ladder one side not both, plus the water was really cold.
Blockness Monster – Still a favourite, heavy to turn on own, need at least 4 people to get it going. We got held here a couple times waiting for people to arrive to help us out.
Stage-5-Clinger – This started off being the easy reach around obstacle, an inverted ladder to help you climb up and over. At midnight, they turned it into the harder version, where you are supposed to monkey bar across and pull yourself up. I just used my team mate to hoist me up at this point. We never did the penalty for this obstacle. Last year they made this easier, not harder, another mind fuck for us.
Kiss of Mud – Or as I like to call it, the Kiss of Gravel. Literally rolling/crawling over stones. Not very nice.
Shawshanked – Usual obstacle, climb up pipe and fall out into water. It started off having ropes to traverse out of the pipe, but they were bending the pipes, so they removed the rope making it the standard obstacle we are used to.