I had to go to Denver for business, just a couple of days before the Tough Mudder in Beaver Creek, so my friend Ben talked me into racing. Well, it didn’t take much convincing. :-) It looked like a fun event to run, and one that I would love to do closer to home in NC. There’s one in VA in October, but I hope to run the NF 50miler at that time.
Once I got the go ahead from Kelly, I was all set.
My meetings were Wednesday, and when they were done, Ben picked me up. That evening he and I met Harry at Highline Canal for an “easy” 5 mile run. That “easy” run, while at an 8:30 pace, felt more like a sub 7:00 pace to me — where are my mountain lungs!!! After that, Ben and I headed out to Deer Creek for another 5 mile run, this one with about 1500 feet of elevation change. I was certainly trying to force myself to adapt!
On Thursday afternoon, Ben and I took off for Elk Meadow for a 10 mile run that got us close to 10,000 feet. I would have loved to bag another 14-er, to add to my six, but it was not to be. Most of them are still covered in snow, and while possible, it probably would have been a bit too much two days out from the Tough Mudder.
Friday was a rest day. :-)
Saturday we left Highland’s Ranch around 7:45 a.m. and made the two+ hour drive to Beaver Creek. We had to stand in a few lines to take the shuttle bus from the parking area to the base of the resort, check in, etc. It was packed! 5000 runners over two days was pretty impressive to pull off as well as they did.
Our wave was set for 12:40 so we got to watch a couple other waves take off, hang out, get ready, etc. About 12:00 we headed up the steep hill 100 meters or so to get ready for our wave. I wish I had brought some water — it was hot and dry up there!
Here is a course map TM provided. I’ll try to walk through each obstacle as best I can, but I’m not so sure this map matches up exactly. For an interactive map, click here.
Here is an excellent video that shows a bunch of the obstacles live. (It is not me — just some random posting to youtube!)
Also, I don’t have a lot of photos of Ben and me on the course, so let me just link to the photos TM has on their site.
Here we are right before we headed to the start. As you can see, I chose the inov8 x-talon 190’s as my shoe – they have nice lugs that I thought would do well in the mud and snow, and I was right. I saw a few Vibram Five Finger wearers, as well as several people in road shoes or shoes with no real traction — and they all struggled on the slippery stuff.
After about a 15 minute speech, telling us what to do, what not to do, what to expect, safety rules, etc., a recording of LeAnne Rimes singing the slowest version of the National Anthem I have ever heard, we were off! We started on a very steep descent, maybe 30-40% grade, for 100 meters or so. Ben and I had positioned ourselves in row two, and took off. Well, he took off — he is much faster on the steep downs than me! (Well, much faster than me everywhere these days — especially at 8000 feet! :-) )
After that short steep descent, we had an easy little run on a paved walking area, before we started a gradual climb. The gradual climb took a hard left straight up the slopes, and then it got steep. And steeper. I was already red lining! Not good. But I switched to power hike mode and just made my way up as best I could. Looking ahead, there were only 8-10 people in front of us, so I didn’t feel too bad. (We quickly mingled with the waves in front of us, so we have no idea how we did relative to the rest of our wave, though I think top 10 is probably about right.)
The map above shows the 1st obstacle as “cliff hanger.” I don’t really remember anything like that. There was a muddy area from the snow sprayers misting us, which felt awesome, but that was it. The 2nd obstacle were a couple sets of the “Berlin Walls,” which weren’t too hard. If you use the leg stands on the side it’s very easy, but even without that, a quick step into someone’s hand up, grab the top and pull over.
After that we had some more slope climbing and a little single track running. I ran whenever the grade allowed and power hiked the rest. The 3rd obstacle was the Boa Constrictor, which was just two ~20 foot black pipes, perhaps two feet in diameter. In between the two at the bottom was water, so you crawled down into a bit of water, then out. Again these were not tough, but I was glad we were pretty close to the front of our wave so that we didn’t get backed up in a bottle neck. After that we had some more single track running along a pretty level grade. Here we started to pass people from the 12:20 wave.
The next obstacle on the map was the High Stepper, just walking across a net over something like water. I don’t recall it right here on the course, but I do recall a couple similar obstacles.
Next up was the Kiss of Mud, a crawl through mud with barbed wire on top… The bobbed wire was probably just 18″ above the mud, so you really had to belly crawl. This cut my knees a bit, but other than that was not too bad. We had started to stack up a bit with the next wave or two, so it was getting a bit crowded, but not terribly so. We finally hit a water station, which was much needed!
Next was the Swamp Stomp, a walk through mud at about waist level. There were a couple of hidden rocks in there, that many of us ran into, tripped over, or fell down on. :-/ (Or perhaps that was one of the river crossings later?? They kind of blur together…..)
After a bit more running, we hit one of my most dreaded obstacles — the Underwater Uunnels. Here’s a photo from the TM site — I just want you to see it. This perspective makes the tunnels look a bit closer together than they really were!
We walked into freezing water — 36F — to about waist level, and then had to dive under each tunnel. 36F on your head is COLD!!! I took a couple of deep breaths, went under, and came up. Ouch! Brrr! A couple of steps and it was tunnel #2. A few more deep breaths — now starting to shiver — and I went under. I opened my eyes and it was pitch black. I came out the other side, and now the water was shoulder level — a couple more steps to the next tunnel, a few big breaths, and under again. This time I came up and I could NOT TOUCH the bottom! That was unexpected. :-/ I had to swim the 20 feet or so to shore and I was not happy at this point. It was very cold. I got out and grabbed a couple of the emergency blankets to wrap myself. I was ready to go but Ben was back at the water looking for me. I kept yelling but he could not hear, so I had to go back to get him.
We started running up a gradual slope, me still wrapped in the emergency blankets, towards the next obstacle, the log carry. I dropped the blanket after a few minutes and then grabbed a log. Ben and I ran up the hill carrying our logs, and now it was starting to get really crowded. The log carry had us going through the woods on single track, and there were a couple of bottlenecks on bridges. We snuck around the crowds as best we could, wrapped through the woods, back to where we dropped the logs.
From here it was a pretty long run down…. And down… Sometimes gradual, sometimes a bit steep, but nothing too bad. Ben did take a roll at one point, but he was always in front of me. We reached the Chernobyl Jacuzzi, which you climb up and jump into some bright colored FREEZING water… (They start the day with 200 bags of ice, and keep adding ice all day!) We ended up in the bright green, but there was also blue and pink. I should have cannon balled. Once you jump in, you progress forward and reach a bar that you have to go under, so your head gets totally wet, freezing, and colored. Climb up and out, and start running again, mostly down.
We next reached the Turd’s Nest, which was just netting across the river. Some folks chose to roll down, while I just walked it. We ran down from there to water station number two, where I forced down a gel and drank some water.
After that, we headed up. Steep steep up. 40-50% grade maybe? At some point, we reached the Devil’s Beard, just a net on the climb. I tucked in behind someone tall and just followed. After that, there was still more climbing. This was a quite steep hill, and it took a while to get up.
The map shows the next obstacle as the mystery obstacle, though I don’t recall it at this point on the course. I’m pretty sure it was later, but I’ll write about it here. Anyway, it was a long windy tunnel made of plywood, with black plastic on the ground. They had said it would be filled with smoke, but it was not, thankfully. I was able to slide on the plastic using my arms for the most part, saving the knees, which were already cut up a bit.
The climb continued until we reached The Gauntlet, which I don’t see on the map. The Gauntlet was a 50 or 100 meter run up the hill, with some hay bales on the ground to slow you down a bit. There were 4 high powered hoses on each side– think fire hoses — with folks manning them. They would shoot you as you ran up. They waited for me until I hit the 1st bales, and one went high and one went low — they were trying to take me down!! I made it up as best I could, and I have to admit, this one took a bit out of me! At the top, I was hurting. And we had a long ways to climb still….
Just a minute or two later, we hit the Sweaty Yeti’s, which were large snow mounds with orange netting over one of them, that you had to go under. Again, it was a bit crowded here, but we made it through… Just to have more climbing. And more climbing.
Next was the Mud Mile, which was a series of 5 or 6 deep mud pits, about waist level, that we had to trudge through. Then we hit aid station 3, which was totally packed! I got a little water and had a honey stinger. I wanted more water but it was too crowded to wait.
After that there was a bit of running to the log jam, just a series of logs that you had to go under or over. It was pretty easy. Now it was a long dirt/gravel road to run down, so we let gravity do its thing. There were only a couple other runners — everyone else was walking.
The map shows the hay bales next, but I am pretty sure it was a series of 3 Berlin Walls. Again it was getting very crowded so we had to wait in line a bit, but we helped a few teams over, and other teams helped us.
More down hill running on the the dirt road… The Hay Bales came, but they were pretty torn up from the thousands of runners that had already gone before, so it was an easy jump up and through. The hay on the other side was thick, and I did fall in a hole in a couple of places.
(The map shows a super G slalom, but I don’t think we ever did anything quite like that.)
After the hay within just 50 meters or so, was the Spider Web, just a high net wall that you had to climb over. There were a bunch of people holding it down for us, so we held it for another round of other runners, and then it was back to running down, down, down.
We finally saw Allison and Isabella and she snapped this photo — still smiling after about 9 miles!
The map shows Mud Slide and Greased Lightening, but I only recall the big slip and slide… Greased Lightening. There was a bit of a line to the left, but the right was wide open. The volunteers were telling us to go left, as people were getting hurt on the right. I choose to go right so I wouldn’t have to wait, but didn’t dive quite as fast as I would have due to the warnings, and ended up not having quite enough speed to make it to the bottom without a little bit of help from my arms pushing and pulling…
A bit more running down, and we made it to the Monkey Bars, where we had to wait a bit… We took our gloves off, and used the dirt to dry our hands. We both made it over pretty easily, though Ben had a bit of a longer time than I did. The lady in front of him took a while. :-)
Next up was Everest, a large, greased, half pipe you had to run up and over. Most people take a few steps and dive for the top, pull them selves up, and keep going. I watched Ben do that just fine, but I missed! So I had to come down and try it again, and then someone grabbed my arm, though I had made it anyway.
A bit more running and we were at the final obstacle, the Electric Shock Therapy. I had dreaded this all day — I don’t like to get shocked! There was a long line, but we again made our way up front. I pulled my arm warmers up to protect my arms, crossed them in front of my face, and made a mad dash behind a group of other people. I never got shocked! Woohoo!
There was a short sprint to the finish, where we saw 14:50 on the clock — we had finished in about 2 hours 10 minutes. No official times are kept at Tough Mudders, though you can submit them later – if you are in the top 5% of any event you can get invited to the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24 hour event in December. I think we’ll be close, but I doubt either of us will run it. Just not a good time of year for that kind of thing! (Plus, it’s in New Jersey!)
It was super crowded in the finish chute as everyone was getting their head bands, their shirts, and their free beer. Ben and I got separated, but we of course eventually found each other. A bit of a clean up with the hoses, picked up our bags, changed, took the shuttle bus(s) to get back to the car, and we were off… Heading towards Idaho Springs for Pizza, though we got stuck in some pretty good traffic on the way.
All in all a great run. I question the “Probably the Toughest Event…” on the shirt — if you are going to call it the toughest, don’t say “Probably.” :-) Ben and I both agreed we’ve done tougher races in our years of adventure racing and ultra runs, though I certainly see that an event like Tough Mudder is much more accessible to many people than those kinds of races. So it is “probably” the toughest for many of the participants.
I found out later that a few people actually run the course two (or more?) times on their day, so I may consider that in the future. Once to go fast and hard, and a 2nd time to run at a more leisurely pace where I can help out others more.