Monday, October 29, 2012

My Tough Mudder: Part 1

Team GeriAtrocities
Well, we finally did it. Team GeriAtrocities traveled to Society Hill, South Carolina early Saturday morning to complete the Tough Mudder Carolinas challenge and we were not disappointed.  There were eight total members on our team and we ranged in age from 39 to 46, four women and four men.  Two of our team members live outside of Charlotte and so did their training on their own.  The other six of us are in Raleigh and have spent the last 8 weeks doing some team training during which we practiced the specific skills and strength we would need for the race with obstacle training stations.

To condition ourselves for running AND strength efforts, we gradually increased the running distances between these stations as well as the total number of obstacle stations we included in each session.  We trained together once a week and started with six obstacle stations with a quarter mile run between each station.  Our last training session, the week before our challenge included fourteen obstacle stations with half mile runs as well as a couple two mile runs between each station for a total of ten miles.  I have to say that I felt that we were very well prepared for the physcial challenges of the Tough Mudder.  We had the strength and the endurance to complete all the obstacles and run the course.  This allowed us the luxury of being able to focus on the mental challenges of getting through this course.  Strategy, motivation, teamwork, suck-it-up-and-just-do-it-even-though-its-scary, and a disproportional amount of hubris regarding one's relative indestructibility are all requirements to complete the Tough Mudder.

Maxine and Suzanne hamming it up.
This was probably one of the more fun events I've participated in since I started training others four years ago.  The camaraderie was excellent all around and even the race organizers and volunteers were cheering us along the whole way.  I hate to sound like an old bitter person, but I was very pleasantly surprised with the young people at this event.  They were engaging, supportive, and always willing to lean over a muddy ditch and help us old folks out when necessary.  Our main goal in this challenge was to complete it uninjured, stay together as a team, and help out our fellow mudders when needed.  We did all those things and then some.  It was a great day overall and its going to take about a week of doing nothing but laying around and eating to recover adequately, but it was worth it.

The nerd tribe.
As far as our fellow Mudders were concerned, there were a lot of younger people at this event, both men and women.  The majority looked to be in their mid 20's to early 30's and most of them happened to be in incredible shape.  That's probably because a large number of them were military and unlike the typical thinner endurance athlete or "I'm-exercising-cause-I-need-a-six-pack" person, these folks were well muscled, athletic, and had thick strong legs that looked like they could run for days with a log or two on their backs.  There were also a lot of  fairly average physiques as well as some heavier folks who were doing quite well maintaining their runs and getting over obstacles.  We were pleased to see a good number of participants our age and older, the most awesome of which was the sixty-five year old man who got across the monkey bars in less than ten seconds while the rest of us were trying not to slip off into the water.

It was a slightly chilly day of 60 degrees with very little sun, but that didn't stop a lot of the participants from wearing little more than tiny little shorts and even a few thongs.  There was a group of young men dressed as teenage mutant ninja turtles with green bikini bottoms and turtle shells on their backs.  There was group of men and women dressed as ballerinas with matching wigs as well as a whole tribe of "nerds" complete with bow ties, glasses, and suspenders.

Me, Suzanne, random guy, and Mereth coming out of the ice.
The race itself started with an obstacle, a low, probably 7 foot wall, that we had to scale to get to the start line.  We started a few minutes after our 9:40 start time so we were well behind the wave but quickly caught up to them as there was a short back-up at the first obstacle, the Arctic Enema.  This was tough.  Its a giant industrial sized dumpster filled with ice water.  In the middle of the dumpster is a board set across the top of the water which means you have to go all the way under to get to the other side and get out.  I carried a small fanny pack with me during the race with a few items I thought I could use during the race and for this obstacle, I pulled out my swim cap. And I was so very glad I did.  I pulled it down over my ears and when I jumped into the ice bath, I got close enough to the board that I just swam under it and surfaced on the other side.  As I came up, I realized I was hyperventilating and getting very cold, very fast so I quickly pressed up out of the tank and climbed down.  I was cold.  Really cold.  But, my ears and my head were not so within a few hundred feet of running and getting through the next obstacle, crawling under barbed wire through mud, I was actually quite comfortable.  I put my cap back in my bag and kept on going.

Only a couple of miles into the race at this point, about to
hit the first set of walls.
We came to another obstacle called the Spider's web which was simply a net stretched over a cable.  This was when I started to realize what kind of teamwork was needed for this race.  The cable dipped in the middle and although the net was secured, it began to gather and it became quite difficult for people to get over it.  Several folks began to grab the sides and pull it out to provide enough tension for their fellow Mudders to get over it.  I went and did my part for a few individuals until a fellow who looked to be in his early fifties came over and both asked to take my place and told me it was my turn to go over.  Once all of us had done our turn holding the net and getting over it, we began to run again.  This time the path was muddier and we took our time.  We had our fair share of injuries to watch out for and there was no need to rush.

Maxine doesn't need any help.  
One of our team members, Maxine, who is also one of our oldest members and the most likely to have just gone and done this race on a whim with no ill effects was out in front most of the day setting the pace.  At 46 years old, Maxine is an experienced endurance athlete who has competed in multiple triathalons and both qualified for and ran the Boston marathon.  She has recently started dabbling in power lifting and at a bodyweight of 120, is already deadlifting close to 300 lbs.  She also happens to be mother to four children ages 6 to 26.  I'm going to feel like a sissy for saying this, but she had a meniscus acting up in her right knee and therefore was being cautious, but still kicked our butts on pace.

We used a little teamwork to get Mereth
 and her bad ankle up the wall.
My friend Mereth, also a seasoned triathlete and marathoner, severely sprained her ankle 2 months out from this event and still showed up to start training three weeks ago relying on duct tape to hold her ankle together.  Race day was no different.  Duct tape and a good attitude was all she needed to go the distance.
  
My friend Suzanne, who also happens to be the mom of my favorite weightlifting/powerlifting/pole vaulting sixteen year old girl, was also in rare form.  A seasoned runner with lots of miles and a marathon under her belt, she also works out with a trainer friend of mine five days a week training with barbells, bodyweight, and lots of enthusiasm.

I needed a little push.
Compared to these women, I am virtually crippled when it comes to endurance, but I'm pleased to say I kept up with them and the rest of the group on Saturday.  I may be slow, but I am stubborn and had a readily available supply of caffeine and sugar to motivate me.  If anyone wants to know, Sports Beans and Gatorade gels are awesome.  Speaking of refreshments, I was pleased to see that there were five break stations along the way, all of which had either bananas,  or some other kind of snack.  Two had bathrooms which was awesome for the half of our team that had given birth.

I don't know why I'm smiling, this was not terribly fun.
Well, anyway, lets get back to the obstacles.  After the Spiders Web, we ran about a mile over some nasty terrain and finally came to our first set of walls.  I could jump up and grab the wall and pull myself up, but both myself and the wall were so slick with mud I had to quickly ask a teammate to give me a little push so I could get my leg over.   We all (well, except for Maxine) required a little assistance on these two walls, but then we pressed on to the next "obstacle".

I put obstacle in quotations because Hold Your Wood was not so much an obstacle as a strength endurance challenge.  We had to select a piece of wood, or a log if we wanted, and pick it up and carry it about a third to a half mile.  These weren't particularly heavy, probably about 30-70 lbs, but they were awkward to carry.  Picking a good log was a priority here and as one of our teammates found out the hard way, deciding to carry a heavier one was, well, kind of dumb.  They don't give out manhood points on this obstacle, its just something to get through.

Just one of our shoe washing stops.  
It was after this obstacle that we had to have our first cleaning of the shoes.  Here's the thing about dirt.  It generally has three components:  clay, sand, and organic matter.  The kind of mud we were running in was largely clay and sand. The clay would wash out of our shoes on the water obstacles, but the sand would not.  Therefore, after enough mud and water, we would end up with a custom orthotic, toe pad, or random painful three dimensional torture device made entirely out of sand.  Therefore, about 4-5 times throughout the race, we were forced to stop by a pond and wash the sand out of our shoes.

Great technique by the ballerino here.  
Speaking of mud, after the log carry we moved on to the Dirty Ballerina.  This was basically trench leaping.  The trenches themselves were 3-4 feet across with 3-4 feet of dry land between.  We were encouraged to start leaping and keep going, but that's for young strong well-muscled people.  Us older folks need to exercise some caution.  Slipping off the edge of the trench could mean a disastrous injury and so we took our time and leapt over the trenches one at a time.  I may be ornery and have a heightened sense of joie de vivre, but I'm not stupid.  One of the most common injuries in these obstacle course races is ankle sprains and breaks from slipping in the mud.  An emergency visit to the hospital and orthopedist might be kind of exciting and make for good story-telling if I were a 20-something without kids, but come Monday, I, and the rest of my team, have to retake the helm of that ship called home and all its short, irrational occupants.  Therefore, caution and restraint were part of our game plan.

Following the dirty ballerina, we came to my least favorite obstacle, the Electric Eel.  We arrived to this obstacle to see a similar setup as the second obstacle:  barbed wire over mud.  However, this obstacle was different in a rather sinister way.  There was not only water on the ground, there was a fire truck spraying water all over the area where people were crawling, soaking their bodies and faces.  Dangling above them were hundreds of little yellow strings.  Only these weren't strings, they were live electrical wires.

Here's what I know about belly crawling:
1.  Its hard.
2.  I do it really slow.
3.  I don't like it.

And now, I have to crawl on my belly, under electrified wires, while being sprayed by a fire truck, through water up to my nose.  If I lift my head too high, I get shocked on my head.  Electrical shocks to the head are not pleasant.  I know this because I grew up with electric fences and when we're kids, we're all pretty dumb and kind of sadistic.

I think he got shocked.
Anyway, so there I am, sliding into the muddy water that is about six inches deep and I can see the wires dangling down.  I know if I get shocked, I will continue to get shocked until I get away from the wire.  If I get away from the wire fast, it will be because I charge head-long out of the pit and I will most likely get shocked some more.  If I put my head down to avoid the wires, I would be breathing water from both the puddle and firetruck soaking me from the right side.  I started to hyperventilate again.  This was freaking me out.  So, I did what I do best:  Avoid unpleasantries.

I got as flat as possible, turned my head slightly to the left to avoid the water spray, flattened my arms out in front of me, and began propelling myself forward with just the top half of my feet and my fingers.  When I saw a set of wires, I slithered between them.  Meanwhile the guy beside me was shrieking every time he shocked his ear, forehead, and back.  I stayed low and slithered my way out without receiving a single shock so I felt kind of like a dirty cheater, but I had a severe neck cramp, the arches of my feet were seizing up, and I could barely breathe from hyperventilating.

But, then I was out and up and running again.  I had to keep up with Maxine after all.  And into some more mud we went.  We waded down a long trench filled with a dark gray mud.  We'd so far seen yellow and black mud, this was our first experience with gray.  If you are impressed at all by geological variation, the clay on this course was all different shades of yellow, red, orange, gray, and even purple.  Since we were trying not to dislocate any joints, we had time to admire things like this.

I like his shirt.  I understand completely.
This was followed by another relatively short run and then it was time to walk the plank.  This was one obstacle I was already scared of.  Its a platform fifteen feet in the air that you have to climb up and then jump off.  There isn't a lot of room up top and there are people coming up behind you so you can't stand up there and be all nervous and indecisive, you just have to go in.  But, you're going in with at least 3 other people and the water is very deep.  I did not touch bottom despite going way under and although the water was cold, it was not horribly shocking.  There were lots of lifeguards and everyone helped each other out of the pool.  Well, it wasn't a pool so much as a big hole filled with water, but it served the same purpose.  Again, a little bit of hyperventilating after this obstacle probably from the fear of falling to my death.  When falling from a great height, the fact that its water and not concrete doesn't really comfort me much.  I'm kind of scared of heights.

After this obstacle we washed our shoes out yet again and then ran a bit more before getting to a sign that told us it was now time to carry one of our teammates an undetermined distance.  My husband, being a gentleman, had me jump on his back and carried me the next 50 yards.  I should have seen this coming, but I'm dense sometimes and didn't anticipate the sign that instructed us to switch partners.  And we were at the bottom of a kind of steep hill.  Well, it wasn't that steep, but I had my husband on my back.  In his defense, he was against the idea altogether, but again, I'm stubborn and didn't want to look like a sissy so I carried him up the hill on my back.

And then, without warning, a miracle happened.  We rounded a corner and there was a row of porta-potties.  And beyond that, a water station with bananas and protein bars.  It was like an oasis in a desert of mud and suffering.  We stopped briefly for all calls of nature and then continued on to the second round of Berlin Walls.

These walls were high, I think it said they were nine feet, but I think they were ten.  We all needed help getting over these, but there were plenty of people to help both on and off our team.  The strategy that worked best here was for two of us to put our backs to the wall and get down in a half squat.  The person going over the wall would then step onto our hands which were on one knee and then up to our shoulders until they could grab the top of the wall.  We then continued to push them up until they were able to get over it.  The drop off the other side was a concern as well.  Dropping three feet to the ground may not be that bad, but with fatigued ankles, it is easy to twist or sprain something.  Needless to say, we got through this just fine.

And then it was time for the Cliff Hanger.  This should have been called the "Muddy Cliff Net Climbing Mud Climb.  You basically slid down a hill into a pit of mud and then had to climb back out on a cargo net that was practically embedded in the side of the opposing hill.  It wasn't that bad, but was very slick and you had to be very careful getting up the net.  As the guy overseeing this obstacle told us, "Be careful sliding down the other side, you'll tear your pants and I've see a lot of butts today."

Log Jammin' was next and was actually a pleasant suprise.  Generally speaking, over under type obstacles are horrible.  They are exhausting and require that you continually climb over and then under a series of barriers.  It doesn't look that bad, but halfway through, your muscles are telling you to stop and you can't breathe.  I've seen similar obstacles on a number of obstacle course races and they are always far more taxing than one initially thinks.  For this reason, I built a fence in my backyard to train this particular race demand.  And it paid off.  We got through the logs without really getting tired or out of breath and hit the trail running.  I did have to get a boost over one of the higher barriers, but for the most part, this was pretty easy.

Everyone had been very helpful up to this point, but the Mud Mile was another opportunity to see the incredible teamwork that this race encourages.  The mud here was back to gray and what we encountered was a series of trenches about waist deep with low muddy hills to periodically climb over.  It was slick and the trenches were hard at times to climb out of because there was nothing solid to grab and you'd slide right back down.  There were a lot of helping hands here and we pulled each other and a lot of our fellow Mudders along the way.  We came out of this obstacle and started to run and it was at least a mile before we finally got to the next obstacle.  At this point we were about seven miles down and the water obstacles began to get a bit more frequent.  The wind was picking up and the mud coat we acquired  to protect us from the wind and cold began to get washed off with more frequency and we began to feel the effects of the cold.  I made Suzanne put on a swim cap because her face was turning blue and it seemed to do the trick.  Remember when our moms would always make us wear a hat when we were cold?  I've turned into my mother.  And she was right.

I'm going to leave this for now.  We had actually gone through about 14 obstacles by this point but a lot were crawling through mud, tunnels, muddy tunnels, and more mud so they all kind of blurred together.  The next installment will be all about the last four miles, water, swimming, more mud, hypothermia, muscle cramps, electrocution, and beer.  And maybe cheeseburgers.  Stay tuned.  

2 comments:

  1. Sara,

    I am sooooo impressed with you and your teammates! What an incredible race and what great memories you'll have. Thank you for describing in a way that made me feel like I was right there with you!
    Gail

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  2. Thanks Gail, I'll post some more tomorrow. :)

    ReplyDelete