Tough Mudder: The Obstacles

Behold: The Obstacles.

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Before I forget the details, I want to provide a run down of the obstacles, in case you’re thinking about doing the course, or just curious about what kind of insanity went down this past Saturday. You can find the link to the map here.

15.03.14 Spectator Map PDF

I may write more about some of the obstacles, but for tonight, an overview.

Warmup/start wall: “Coach” (a Reno 911 transplant with a rad moustache) put us through some easy warmup exercises, calling us “Sol” Health Club (instead of SDL Health Club) by mistake. We agreed later that that was apropos, as we certainly had a lot of soul! My bud Jill was being silly to the extreme, and got pulled up on stage where she had us all laughing our heads off as we jumped around and did simple calisthenics. Then it was time to move toward the wall that you climb before the start line. This was it! This is where we actually left the ground. Some people had trouble with the wall – I chose the shorter wall on the right because I knew much harder obstacles were ahead. Our whole team cheered for everyone as they came over the wall. One of our team members, Daniel, is paraplegic, and we got our first experience of helping move through the obstacle. Success! We were pumped! More shenanigans at the start line, including reciting the Mudder Pledge (“We do not whine; kids whine!”) and then through the start line we went. We had agreed as a team to walk the course, and we set off, leaving our cheering support team behind, on into the desert. We had so much energy, laughing and talking and wondering about the course. After about a mile and a half, we encountered our first obstacle.

Arctic Enema 2.0: A lot of people said they were worried about this obstacle, but I was looking forward to it. It would be quick, not highly technical, and would be our first REAL challenge. I climbed the ladder with my friends Jill and Trevor, watched Vanesa and her husband Brian shoot down into the ice water, and then sat down, plugged my nose, looked at my friends to make sure they were ready, and shot down the slide into the water full of ice. We had gotten great advice from one of our leaders Rick to keep moving, moving, no matter what, and that’s what we did, coming up for air, climbing over the center wall, back into the ice, and then hauling ourselves out. There’s a video that shows my elated face as I high fived Trevor, who was wearing a Go Pro. Our bathroom break was hilarious fun – I couldn’t feel my legs so I wasn’t sure if my pants were up or down, and let me tell you, compression pants are hard to maneuver when they’re wet! One of our teammates twisted her ankle on the broken up concrete – the course was on the old GM proving grounds – but thankfully she ended up fine.

After a mile of walking through the dusty desert, the heat drying off as we made our way, we encountered our first mud obstacle.

Pitfall: This is a large pit filled with thick waist-deep muddy water  with pits dug out at random intervals. This wasn’t difficult, but it was fun as Trevor and I, holding hands, made our way through. When I emerged, I turned around to help out some teammates, and then the girls gave each other “mud butts and boobs” by um, laying on hands, while our support team looked on. I marveled at the teamwork that was displayed with helping Daniel through the mud, but knew there wasn’t much I could do to help. Then we were off again.

Skidmarked: After some time, we encountered a higher wall, perhaps 10 feet? I don’t have a good memory of the wall, but I was grateful to some of our male teammates for the boost up (they made foot cradles with their hands and shoved us skyward) and to other male teammates up top who grabbed our hands and pulled us to the point where we could assist ourselves over the wall. This was the first time I realized how much the upper body work I had done (tricep dips!) was going to pay off. I easily pushed myself up and over the wall, and used the tires on the other side as stepping stones down. We were all cheering for each other, and some of the people on the team showed amazing persistence given the difficulty of the task for them. On we went!

Cry Baby: At about the four-mile mark, it was time for Cry Baby. This was one of the obstacles that had initially worried me the most, as I wear contacts. I had brought swim goggles and felt a little silly putting them on, especially once we entered (sliding into more muddy water) and discovered that the fog machine was either malfunctioning or in the process of being refilled. The air was filled with vapors that smelled like eucalyptus. We joked that it was like being at the spa.

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After this obstacle, we took a group picture with the CEO and founder of Tough Mudder.  I remember thinking that the Mudder was much less intimidating than I thought, but I knew more difficult obstacles were ahead.

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Berlin Walls: More up and over action, with the incredibly helpful assistance of my male teammates. I had to laugh when I realized I had totally blocked the reality that there were TWO identical walls – when I climbed down from the first one, for a minute, I thought I was done, totally in denial about the other wall just a few feet in front of me. When I dropped down from each wall (which were maybe 12 feet tall), my legs couldn’t sustain me, and I dropped down into the dirt, landing on my butt. Nothing hurt, but it was an indicator of just how tired I was, despite not feeling it. Which made the next obstacle really difficult.

Warrior Carry: I had practiced carrying my 150-lb teenager piggy back style at home, so I didn’t anticipate this obstacle giving me too much trouble. Daniel chose me to be his carry, and I had a fun ride on his rugged obstacle course wheelchair.

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At the transfer point, he offered to carry me the rest of the way, but I wanted to have the experience of carrying a teammate myself, so I jogged back to the beginning. There I found Kimberly, and asked her if she wanted a ride. She asked if I was sure, because she outweighs me, but I told her I thought I could do it. From the beginning, I was worried I might have made a mistake. I was so tired. My legs immediately began to shake and for the first time, I felt truly physically challenged. I was breathing hard, and not enjoying myself at all, and also not wanting Kimberly to feel bad. I shifted position and (horrors!) actually dropped her. We both went sprawling into the dust. She was so very kind, and let me try again. Her encouragement for the rest of the arduous carry was amazing. I was so worried I was making her feel like a burden, something I’m painfully aware of feeling myself sometimes. I was so glad that a water obstacle was up next. I didn’t feel good about the warrior carry at all, and I have to laugh when I see pictures of people seeming to love it!

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Funky Monkey: At this point it seemed like we had been on the course forever. I was starting to get worried about our cheer/support team, who had been waiting for us for a very long time in the 87 degree heat. When we met up with them, they looked tired, but so happy to see us. I’m calling this obstacle a success, as I was able to complete the first half of the monkey bars, only falling after I had my hands on the trapeze. I couldn’t swing out to the vertical bar, and dropped into the water instead, and that was perfectly okay.

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One of our teammates was suffering from heat exhaustion, and after she couldn’t keep liquids down, she made the difficult decision to leave the course and be transported to the medical tent. I felt really sad for her, but I was glad she was keeping herself safe. As we were walking away from the obstacle, another teammate told me she was really upset with herself and the obstacle, because she had “failed.” I told her I was surprised as hell, because I felt like there was no good reason that she couldn’t complete it – she’s so strong. I then commenced to worrying that I had said the wrong thing, not been supportive enough. That worry would be carried with me, and expand, over the rest of the time on the course. I wanted to be a good friend to all, but my insecurities about “saying the right thing” began to interfere with my genuineness.

Birth Canal: This was the height (or depth) of the human-interaction weirdness I was about to display. I was unimpressed by the obstacle, and was vocal about how easy it looked, completely disregarding that this was a major fear for many people. Finally, when I joked that it was like being “smothered by Kool-Aid,” Rich and Trevor quietly said that “smother” could be a trigger word for some people, and gently joked that, jeez, I’m a therapist, right? I was simultaneously grateful for the redirection and totally embarrassed that I was caught out being an ass. Shannon made me laugh though, as she followed me into the obstacle, making comments about her mixed feelings about being so up close and personal to my vagina.

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Me after being kind of a dick.

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Yay, I still got a hug.

Mud Mile: I think this might just qualify as “everyone else’s favorite obstacle.” I enjoyed it too, but was pensive and far too much in my head at that point to have as much fun as I could have. I quickly rappelled down the side of a mini-cliff and then hopped into the extremely muddy water with my buddy Trevor. We made quick work of it, then turned around to help our teammates. I got out and tried to be of assistance, but I felt like no one was reaching out to take my hand. I put my arms around Rebecca’s waist to provide support as she hauled people out, but ended up pulling her over rather than being helpful. I just felt kind of sad, surrounded by people who were clearly loving the experience.

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Ironically my favorite picture of me at the Mudder.

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As we walked away, one of the women took out a tiny container and scooped up some mud for a Christmas ornament she was going to make at home. I thought that was a great idea.

Devil’s Beard: Completely no big deal – we walked single file under a mesh made of ropes, and we moved on.

King of the Swingers: Oh, my. Terribly imposing in appearance, it was everything I had been afraid of. I took swimming lessons for five weeks, mostly to prepare for this. And it was quite an upgrade from “Walk the Plank,” the 2014 obstacle that they upgraded for 2015. Now, instead of “just” jumping off a 14-foot platform into 12-foot water, the obstacle was to jump out over the water, catch the T-bar, and swing out, letting go, to try to ring a bell that was approximately two miles away, or maybe ten miles, I can’t be sure. This was where my bud Trevor’s advice to not hesitate came in handy. I quickly decided to jump off the platform closest to the edge (and the lifeguards) and made my way up the ladder. There’s a great video of my, as it turns out, extremely short experience, in which you can see I was basically out of my body. The staff began the countdown from 3, I shook myself awake, and made the leap out to the bar. Underestimating my ability to launch, I overshot the bar, and felt it hit my wrists, then my hands, as I dropped like a stone.

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I’m all the way to the right, crouched down just before my leap. This was, hands down, the scariest moment of the entire Mudder for me. It didn’t last long.

The water seemed endlessly deep. On my way back up I began to seriously question whether I’d reach the surface. I emerged, gasping, and the lifeguard tried to hand me their red floatie. I waved them off, saying I just needed to catch my breath for a second, and then I struck out for the fifty yards to the end of the pit. It was a long swim, and my sneakers were so heavy. Fortunately, my boyfriend was there to point me to the rope ladder. I would be proud in a minute; at that point, I was pretty traumatized. I watched, holding my breath and with tears in my eyes, as Daniel was helped to the edge of the platform, steeled himself, and then dropped into the water. One of my other teammates pulled herself out of the water, dropped to her knees and began to weep. I knelt down next to her to comfort her and ended up gulping back tears of my own. I can’t overstate the intensity of that obstacle. I shake even now writing about it.

After that, Rick and Dan (our leaders) had a quiet discussion about the time. We had been on the course for six or seven hours at that point, and still had many miles to go. They felt it wasn’t fair to the support team or the Mudder staff to continue as we had, because we would have been going until nightfall. They made the executive decision to cut out two obstacles (Quagmire and Balls to the Wall) and about three miles of walking time. I felt relief for the support squad mostly – I still felt like I could go for miles. I found out later that one of my teammates was especially upset about it because she was doing the Mudder in part to honor her husband who passed away. I don’t think I was as sensitive as I could have been to those of us who didn’t like the decision. The mood of the group definitely soured for a little while, until…Jill asked us if we wanted to see her ass tattoo. Naturally we said yes (I mean, duh!) and so she pulled her pants down, giving us the full moon, as she scampered away from us down the path. That completely changed the mood, and we were back to our badass, laughing selves again. At some point during this time, Jill turned to me and very matter of factly said, “This is my life now. This is what I do. I walk in the desert.” Which completely cracked me up. I love me some Jill. At several points during the course, I kept an eye out for my friend Nyki, wanting to be a support to her, but couldn’t figure out what she needed from me, if anything. Later she told me she needed solitude, so I’m glad I didn’t push too hard. I was a complete mix of emotions at that point – proud of myself and everyone, unsure about how the others felt about me (if they felt anything at all) and how I fit in, and both tired and exhilarated.

The Liberator: I’m not sure any of us were thrilled about this one. We were tired and it was yet another wall. With pegs in it. I took the easy route, up, down, whatever. As I was walking away from it, though, I looked back and thought, wow. That was really high.

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Kiss of Mud: Here I found my second (fourth? twentieth?) wind. It was the muddiest of all the obstacles which made it so fun, and involved army crawling through thick mud under barbed wire. I got snagged and had to yell for Trevor to unhook me, but other than that, it was a speedy trip through. We had been on the course so long that the parking lot, which was adjacent to the obstacle, was 2/3 empty. Some departing Mudders stopped to cheer for us. And we soldiered on.

Everest: I had to pee so badly by the time we got there (my third bathroom break) that I didn’t even care who watched – I tapped my boyfriend to be my guard and then squatted down behind some low bushes, hoping everyone’s attention would be on the obstacle, an enormous half pipe that extends skyward 22 feet. The pee break meant I missed the setup of the human ladder to help Daniel reach the top. I’m glad there were pictures, because I was only focused on getting myself up to the top. The advice given by Kris (I think) was to focus on the faces at the top, and it worked. I ran at the obstacle as fast as I could, leaped as high as I could, and was mercifully caught by the guys up top – Daniel and David. After some “fish on a hook” wiggling and straining up at the top, they were able to pull me up to safety and I gave my friend Rebecca a huge hug. The sense of accomplishment was huge.

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Electroshock Therapy: The last obstacle! Nyki and I had agreed long before the Mudder to run through holding hands, despite being warned that it would make the shocks so much worse. I don’t know if that’s true, but wow, we got all the shocks. Near the end of the obstacle, Nyki fell and, trying to help her up, I kept getting shocked over and over again. I dropped down next to her and sort of ineffectually tried to help her stand, not comprehending that there were blue wires around us (the extra electrified ones) which were continuing to shock us as we were trying to escape. Finally, our teammate Lisa rushed back in and helped Nyki to safety while I quickly followed. I was very glad to be done with the sadistic nature of that last obstacle.

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Finish Line: We gathered together as a team, helped Daniel out of his wheelchair, and walked across the finish line as a team.

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So many emotions that day, so many physical and mental hurdles confronted and completed, or at least attempted. More on the psychological stuff another day.

I’ll say for now: I couldn’t be prouder. Of myself and my team. ❤ The experience, truly, of a lifetime, but I can’t do it just once. I’ll be back at the Mudder in October and I already can’t wait.

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6 Responses to Tough Mudder: The Obstacles

  1. brian says:

    I could not be more proud of you. Beyond a warrior, you are an awesome caring teammate and a great friend. 🙂 Just a great blog of what those of us on the support team could only imagine. I love you. 🙂

  2. Brian, your support – at the Mudder and every day- is more than I ever allowed myself to dream of. THANK YOU. ❤ I love you too.

  3. Nikki says:

    It seems like a similar experience I jad with the water! Although your obstacle was much harder, I felt like I was never going to come up and how hard is it to swim in clothing and trainers lol! Well done chick!!! Great work!

  4. I’m doing it in October in Philly! I turned to a teammate on the course and said, “I wonder if there’s a way I could get paid for doing Tough Mudders.” LOL I truly loved it. And even better: My 17yo son is doing it with me next time!

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