Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Tough Mudder: Part II

A philosophy that all our fellow Mudders adhered to.
And now for the rest of the story.

At the conclusion of my last telling, we had traversed about 14 obstacles including a number of mud and water crossings that may or may not have been actual obstacles.  We had encountered three water/fuel stations including one with bathrooms (this is important for older people and those who have given birth at least once) and had stopped to wash the sand out of our shoes a few times.  One of our teammates, Suzanne, was starting to feel the effects of the cold made obvious by her shivering and her nose turning blue, and I, as our team leader (mother hen), made her put on a hat (swim cap).

Happy Halloween!
The next segment was a longer running bit during which we encountered some rather friendly characters including three young men who were trying to get into the spirit of Halloween by carrying a pumpkin and a bag of candy throughout the race.  They very generously offered us some of their candy supply as they ran past with their pumpkin.   We were taking another clean-the-shoes break and they might have thought we were collapsed with hunger and/or were overtaken by our fatigue and gray hair.  Nevertheless, we kept up with them until the next obstacle and then did not see them again until the end.  I'm happy to say that perusing the pictures of the day, I saw that the happy pumpkin carrier made it up Everest with his pumpkin.

The next obstacle was called the "Dong Dangler" and this was a cable stretched over a large pond and (thankfully) covered with a
thick plastic covering.  We were to use that cable to cross the pond by grabbing on with hands and feet and sliding our way across.  We had to wait a short time to get over this obstacle, but we had a pretty decent mud coating to protect us from the wind.

Now, I do have to stop here and be serious for a minute because as we approached this obstacle, we were passed by a lone Marine carrying a Marine Corps flag.  As he got in line, he simply rolled up his flag, place it on his belly, and crossed the water before unfurling it and continuing on his way.  As I mentioned in the last article, there were a lot of military folks at this event.  Some were there to have some fun with their friends, some were running with the names of their fallen comrades on their shirts and their bodies.  When I was checking in, a young soldier with a prosthetic leg was in line behind me.  The Tough Mudder is a fun and challenging race, but it is also a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.  One of the great things about this race is how it encourages teamwork and camaraderie between complete strangers.  We are there to support each other and through the work of the organization, support our soldiers as well.

So, back to the Dong Dangler:  A cable across a pond.  Not actually that bad, although at the middle, you were pretty much in the water again.  And, we had a bit of a back-up on my cable which meant my face got right under my teammate Mereth's muddy foot.  And yup, I got a big dollop of mud right in my left eye.  It didn't really bother me all that much so we crossed the pond and got back to running.  We probably ran another half mile or so before getting to one of the bigger challenges of the day, the Underwater Tunnels. Thankfully, just before this obstacle was water/food/bathroom station that was greatly welcomed by our team.  After a very short break, we continued on to the large pond in front of us.

The Underwater Tunnels did not look that bad from the shore.  There was a sign up just before it that encouraged people to opt out if they could not swim or didn't feel confident in the water.  The water that day wasn't freezing, but it wasn't warm either.  Being fully dressed and wearing shoes helped some as did being active, but the water was going to drain us of heat and we were about to be in the water for a little while.  As we went into the pond, it became very deep right away and I could no longer touch bottom only ten yards from shore.  This was a little unnerving, but I found that I could float easily on my back and do a half backstroke, half sidestroke to get about two thirds of the way across the pond to where the barrels were.  A few people turned back when they realized the depth of the water, one from a sudden and severe hamstring cramp.  Although there were plenty of lifeguards, the water was murky and you couldn't see much more than an inch below the surface.

There were three lines of barrels floating towards the opposite shore and our task was to go underneath of them.  The barrels were floating and had a wooden frame around them which was good because I needed to hang on to something for a second while I felt underneath of it, caught my breath, and got enough nerve to go under the water.  My friend Steve was right there with me and he went under first and so I followed him.  It was a little scary.  We went under the next set, but by then, I could touch bottom and the third set I practically walked under.  However, by now we had been in the water for five minutes and the wind was picking up.

Maxine going into the ravine.
By this time, we were eight miles into the race and had three left to go.  We were feeling pretty good, but the chill was starting to set into all of us.  We ran for probably another mile before coming to another mud crawl under barbed wire.  We then encountered a back-up going through a narrow ravine.  Getting into it wasn't a problem, but getting out was a bit harder.  Luckily, us womenfolk had some help from a group of young, well-formed, mostly naked men sporting mohawks.  I think there could be a legitimate reason to have such assistance on a regular basis, but I'd have to come up with a convincing proposal to make that idea fly around these parts.

No one ran though here.  
Once out of the ravine, we hit another extremely muddy area with a very small hill to climb.  However, this mud was so slick, it was like walking on ice.  Everyone moved very carefully through this and there was a wall of people on top of the hill pulling people up.  My husband Terry and the other guys, Brett, Todd, and Steve, all took turns pulling folks up the slick hill while us girls kept moving to stay warm.

The next obstacle was the King Of The Mountain hay bales.  These were very high stacks of hay bales, probably twenty feet high although I might be exaggerating, that we had to climb up and over.

Suzanne and Todd coming down off the mountain.
This was actually looked kind of easy, but it was not.  For me, the hay came up about chest high.  I could run, jump, and press myself up, but I only had about two feet of a ledge to get up on.  I found I had to jump, press, and quickly turn such that I was sitting on the hay when I landed.  These bales were not your standard rectagular ones either.  They were the large cylindrical hay bales that you often see sitting out in fields with a large number of cows.  There were two mountains of hay and once we got over that, we had to go over two rows of hay bales.  The first one was okay, the second one, Mereth and I had to help each other over.

Brett going for ring number two.
The hay helped dry us off just a little bit and removed some of the mud which was good because we had a bit more running to do. Just a few more obstacles left, but the next three involved falling in or walking through water.  The first one was called Hangin' Tough and it was the most challenging technique-wise, but also the most fun.  It was an overhead wooden structure with gymnastic rings hanging down.  The rings were placed singly, about five feet apart.  I don't think there were more than four or five rings in the whole obstacle.  There was a pool of water beneath us the goal was to swing across the water via the rings.  Suzanne's husband, who was watching the race with their three children, had been standing there watching for a long time said he didn't see more than one or two people make it.  But that didn't stop us from trying.  The most difficult part of this obstacle was the reach.  Unless you could get a good swing going, it was hard to get close enough to grab the next ring.  Most of us got to the second ring and most of us fell off reaching for the third.  I tried to swing myself hard enough to reach the third ring, but finally decided I was just going to defy gravity and go for it.  Note to self:  Gravity does not care if you try to defy it.  Needless to say, I went for a swim.

Suzanne being awesome.
We regrouped on the other side of this obstacle and continued to run on to the Funky Monkey which wasn't that far away.  This obstacle was a set of inclined and declined monkey bars, again, over water.  We had actually practiced monkey bars quite a bit at home, but couldn't replicate the incline.  In addition, the race organizers tend to like to add a little butter to the bars to make it more "fun".  Only four of our team members made it across:  Brett, Terry, Todd, and Suzanne.  I'm especially proud of Suzanne as when we started this training, she was the only one of the four of us women who didn't think she could do a pull-up (she could), but on race day, she was the only one of us who got across the monkey bars.

I myself found the bars to be very slippery and decided to combat that by using my incredible crushing grip strength to hold onto each bar.   What I ended up doing was wearing myself out, near the top of the incline which meant I had further to fall into the water.  So, out I swam, waited for all my teammates, and found that we had yet another water obstacle to go through.  And this one was gross.  We went from stepping through mud to stepping through some sort of mud/slime/water mixture that provided just enough resistance to make you wonder exactly what was on the bottom of that pond and whether or not there were any snapping turtles down there.  I'm sure if there were any they'd have left after the first wave, but I wasn't taking any chances.  I picked up my feet and swam my way out.

Terry, Suzanne, and Steve about to enter the Boa Constrictor.
And finally, we only had three obstacles left.  The Boa Constrictor was next and after a short run, we were standing in line waiting to go through these pipes that inclined down into a pool of water.  This was a surprisingly difficult obstacle.  The pipes were small and you didn't have a lot of room to maneuver or propel yourself forward.  Going up was even worse.  I was lucky in that I'm small enough to get my feet under me and crawl, but it was a bit claustrophobic.  It was on this obstacle that we almost lost Brett.  In the pool between the two tunnels, he got a severe hamstring cramp and had to just sit and wait while it subsided before coming back up the tube.  We were all pretty cold by then so we moved on to the almost last obstacle:  Everest.

They pulled him up.  
Everest is one of the signature Tough Mudder obstacles that I think is present at every race.  Its a very large half-pipe that you simply have to sprint up.  I'm being facetious of course.  Sprinting up an almost vertical climb after running 11 miles is no joke.  However, this obstacle was designed because it is so difficult, most people need help getting up it and it can't be done alone.  Therefore, there were a line of men and women at the top holding their hands down and encouraging their fellow Mudders to run up and grab hold.  Right as we got there, there was an epic struggle going on up top that lasted three minutes or more as the guys at the top struggled to pull a guy over the ledge.  He had lost his grip, but they didn't let go and when they finally pulled him over, the entire crowd cheered.

I don't have a half pipe in my back yard so we mainly trained for this by doing hill sprints with very high knees.  I don't know if that helped or not, but most of us made it up Everest on the first try.  Mereth opted out after two attempts, but completing the majority of the race with a sprained ankle is pretty awesome in my opinion so she gets a pass from me.

A very happy group.
After Everest was the dreaded Electro Shock Therapy obstacle and it was only a short distance from the finish line.  Its basically a bunch of dangling yellow wires charged with 10,000 volts.  There are some bales of pine straw to keep you from running through too fast and a big puddle to make sure you get the most out of your shock.  I decided I was just going to try and run between the wires as best I could and not go too fast.  And once again, I didn't get shocked at all.  My teammates weren't so lucky, but we were all so grateful to be finally done.

For hypothermia, we moved on from swim caps to hugs.
The finishing area was probably one of the best things about the race.  When you cross the finish line, a volunteer gives you your headband and directs you into a largish area that is strictly for the race finishers.  There are tables on either side where you can get your T-shirt, your free beer, and most wonderfully, a thermal heat sheet which works far better than you think it might.  We had grand ideas about hanging out after the race that morning, but by the time we finished, we were all cold and just wanted dry clothes.  So, we took our free beers (somehow the most delicious beer I'd ever had), reclaimed our bags from the bag drop (another really awesome thing about this race), put on some warm dry clothes, and started to head back to the cars.

It was a 2.5 hour drive home from the race and we were pretty hungry so we stopped at the first fast food place we came to and got some cheeseburgers.  I wish I remembered what restaurant it was, but I suppose it didn't really matter, cheeseburgers somehow seemed like Nature's most perfect food at that point in time.  I'd have eaten three of them, but I knew we had some great food waiting at home.  It was, after all, my 40th birthday celebration and my parents had planned on feeding us all on our return to Raleigh.

This evening, I'm just past the point where my everything hurts.  I finally removed the significant amount of sand in my right ear and my bruises are just now achieving their full bloom.  I plan on taking the rest of the week off from doing anything particularly ambitious, but I am already thinking about my next training cycle.  I have another Highland Games to train for in April and I might just do the Master's National Weightlifting meet in the Spring.  But, all that remains to be seen.  One thing is for sure, I don't intend to lose this running base so I will probably be keeping a once or twice a week run in the training schedule.  However, if I start talking about doing a marathon, somebody please talk me out of it.

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.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Final Tough Mudder Training Day

Well, we're almost there.  Our Tough Mudder is this coming Saturday and we are about to do our last workout today.  It will involve a total of 10 miles running and 14 obstacle stations.  This is still less than the actual race, but many of the Tough Mudder obstacles are psychologically challenging rather than strength challenges.  Our goal today is to sustain our efforts for the entire time without breaking down significantly, practice a consistent race pace together,  and figure out the last bits of strategy that will help us succeed as a team.

This looks worse than it actually is.  
There is no need to push the prowler today or do any agility drills.  We're as strong and conditioned as we can possibly get and unless we had another four to six weeks to work on it, its not going to get any better.  In fact, for most of my teammates, I would strongly suggest they do little else this week other than a shorter run, a long walk, a yoga session, or even a little swimming.  Anything that is not intense or obstacle specific would be ideal.

The reason for this is that the last 8 weeks were a period of what we call "Transmutation".  Transmutation is similar to football training camp or any pre-season sports training.  Its when you take all the base strength and endurance you've built up and make it sport specific.  Just like the ancient alchemists sought to turn lead into gold, we seek to take all our nonspecific strength and endurance work and turn it into something that will make our physical abilities as specific and optimal for the Tough Mudder as possible.

This period of training is incredibly stressful and not just because the workouts are harder.  The simple act of turning full body strength into activity specific strength endurance is very taxing.  Your central nervous system has to make a lot of adjustments in muscle fiber recruitment, coordination, balance, proprioception, and kinesthetic awareness.  Our bodies also became more specifically conditioned for race day efforts during this time.  The base of long steady distance endurance we built will allow us to sustain a three to four hour effort on the course, but this race specific conditioning will allow us to transition between strength and endurance efforts more easily.  Most importantly, we developed positional and postural strength that will help support our joints through our efforts to mitigate the risk of injury.

Train smart, don't smack yourself
 in the face.
Because transmutation is so stressful, this is a period where individuals may feel more fragile and may actually sustain injuries.  For this reason, it is extremely important to include a taper or deload week prior to entering into competition or the competitive season and make recovery the number one goal.

I like metaphors and so I like to think of training as shooting a slingshot.  The construction of the slingshot itself is the phase during which we build our base.  The wood and the elastic band must be structurally sound and not likely to break.  Transmutation is the period of time when we load the stone and pull back the band.  If the slingshot was made well and doesn't break from the tension, the stone will go straight and  far when released.  If the rubber band is worn down or the wooden frame is weak, you'll just end up smacking yourself in the face.