On coming second at the World’s Toughest Mudder

WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS

vegas

The course was beautiful. It was staged in a hilly patch of desert bordering a high-end golf resort.

On one side you have this pristine green turf with palm trees and man-made waterfalls. On the other, just a whole lot of sand. Gorgeous in it’s own right but barren and without comforts.

People on one side drive around in golf carts and wear pressed pants. People on the other…  well, let’s just say you probably don’t want to know what they do in their pants.

Humans are a funny creature funny: some driven to the limits of pain and discomfort… some to pleasure and security.

Anyway, I liked looking over at the extravagence on the other side of the hill when I could see it. It was like a mirage.

THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER

wtm

Tough Mudder is all about camaraderie and team work. And I could not have done this without my team. Everyone was so impressed by John taking such amazing care of the kids and I throughout the 26 hours… totally selflessly. What they didn’t see are the days leading up to and after of packing and setting up and down camp, cleaning equipment, fetching me food, giving me massages, taking photos, etc.

At a low point, 8 hours in when the night came upon us and I realized that I still had 16+ hours to keep running and Seren was crying, John said exactly what I needed him to. “We are going to finish this. I don’t care if you slow down or break, but we are not stopping.”

Those words resonated with me for a long time. This was just as much his race as mine. I needed to hear that.

And how good are my girls? Wow. We are very lucky parents to have kids that will cheer for mommy in the desert for 26 hours. Seren only cried twice when she saw me and quickly settled – and Ama spent most of the time patiently waiting in the stroller.

Not to even mention all the people who put their own goals aside to help me over obstacles on the course… and all the volunteers who freezed their butts off to cheer for us and keep us safe. The people in the med tent felt like family by the end of the night.

I also had huge support from friends, family and the OCR community (like the Canadian Mudd Queens) which really got me through.

Truly a team effort.

THE COURSE

course

I loved the terrain. It was just hilly enough to give you some hike breaks but not so much as to really put the hurt on your legs. It was also just technical enough to keep your brain running.

THE START

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sean Corvelle started things off with his usual rousing speech asking when the first time you’ve done something for the first time. Turns out there were a lot of first times coming up.

He went into his stories of bigger things, tougher times, stronger people. Cancer survivors and people that struggled but didn’t make it. I was glad to be wearing the promotional spare sunglasses I found in my car. All I could do was keep it together enough not to start sobbing. A good friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and those words drove right through me.

SOGGY BOTTOM

The first obstacle was your basic mud pit… no soggy bottoms – just soggy feet.

TIGHT FIT

Tight Fit is essentially a cargo net with big holes in it strung tightly over rows of tractor tires. It’s not hard but it does suck and it’s exhausting trying to untangle your way through.

MUD MILE, RUN, HIT THE WALLS

There was a mud mile (where you run through mud pits and up over mounds) to a nice little run section into the walls. The first wall was probably 8 feet and the next 10. The last wall was probably 12′ with a rope. Like Everest, the first laps were a breeze but they got hard in a hurry as they got coated with mud and I got tired. My grip felt OK the whole way through… my arms weren’t crampy… I was just pooped.

I also put a pair of Hokas a size too big on (to accommodate both swollen feet and neoprene socks), which made the walls a big challenge.

On my last lap, I made the first wall solo and then was having trouble mustering up the oomph to make the second. Here I met a group of guys from Wisconsin who pulled me (literally and metaphorically) through the rest of the course.

THE WEIGH IN

bucket

You get a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with sand, gravel or water to a prescribed weight. You walk it around the track and they weigh it. Depending on how much you had to carry, you can be off by 3, 4 or lbs. If you’re wrong, you go again until you’re right.

I failed a total of twice in my 14 laps. On the first one… and then again from splashing too much water out as I walked later on.

It was neat because nearing the end of the event, people would weigh their buckets and show the people filling theirs what the correct amount should look like. Camaraderie sure feels good. It’s what humans are meant for: that and movement.

THE BIRTH CANAL

This was a long wooden channel, covered in a tarp that was filled with pink water (eww). You have to smush yourself into the side and pull yourself through using the support beams. It’s super tight where all the water collects in the middle. I don’t know how those big dudes made it through! For me, it went down something like this: not so bad, not so bad, not so bad, lodged into the middle, organs are crushed, not so bad, not so bad, not so bad. Wonder if that really is how babies feel in child birth.

UNDERWATER TUNNELS

They had three lines of barrels that you have to swim under. I found it worked best to tuck my chin in (to prevent water from getting in – people tend to want to look up but then they get a nose full of water) – and use both hands on the barrel to pull myself under.

EVEREST

everest

I was loving Everest the first few laps and could easily do it alone. By the end of the night though, it was so hard to sprint like that and then muscle up. On one go, I missed and slid back down so I did the penalty of dragging a boulder on a pallet out and back. The friction and weigh of it was super tough so I was always glad when someone would help me.

It’s just so humbling and makes you so deeply grateful when someone helps haul your tired arse onto a platform. I wish I could better express that… but thanks mudders. I owe you one.

If someone doubts the nature of humankind, send them out on a Tough Mudder course and they will return a changed person. I swear it.

THE GRAPPLER

I should have taken those roping lessons. You had to throw a rope attached to a ball about 20′ up and then repell up to throw the rope back down. I was useless at this and took the penalty after three laps of hitting everything but the target: an over-under-through wall. Not so bad.

ABSEIL

rope

This was cool. It was also just after the 2.5 mile aid station so I was usually still choking down a bar when I got to it and I could finish eating while i descended. Basically you repelled down a cliff with a rope.

TUBES

There were three sets of tubes including the Sewage Pipe that you had to pull yourself through with your arms along the course. That made 42 times I pulled myself through tubes yesterday. Funny, my abs were getting sore from lifting my head off of the ground. At the end, some of the ropes fell off so I would just plow through my forearms.

THE LIBERATOR

I loved this one at first… it was a wall with holes you climb with pegs. At first it wasn’t tough and I just scampered right up. It definitely got tougher with every lap! Plus some of the pegs were too skinny or too fat to get in properly and it got pretty slick.

ISLAND HOPPING

There were two types: one where the floating cargo boxes were attached along the sides, and one where they were all attached by netting. I took little steps to recenter and then leapt from box to box. I think the trick is to go slow enough to stay in control but quick enough to be responsive and stay upright.

STATUE OF LIBERTY

This one was almost relaxing but it was only open at night.

They gave you a torch that you had to carry across a body of water without letting it go out. The first time my torch lit on fire and the canister fell out but I still managed to keep the wicker lit.

I got two laps in before it closed when the wind charged in.


HUMP CHUCK

I enjoyed this one. You swam across a lake and then had to work with fellow mudders to get up and over a slippery wall.

This was one of those that got more tiring. After the sand storm, the course got very very lonely – and cold.  Still only a couple times I ended up alone and swam the penalty route.

It was cold though. At one point, I heard the diver quitting during the coldest part of the night, “Just give them PFDs or something!” Not sure if he actually left…

On that note, I couldn’t believe the volunteers stayed out there in those conditions. The true selfless heroes out there.

THIS COULD HURT

latter

The Latter to Hell is a fairly easy obstacle but one that I realized could hurt A LOT if your grip gave on you at the top. After falling off the incline wall in Dallas with frozen crampy arms, it was definitely on my mind. They had you cut through the middle during the sandstorm so nobody would die I guess.

The volunteer there was amazing. She offered free hugs to cold, soaked people all night. I didn’t take one physically every lap but i always got an emotional hug from her.

THE GAMBLE

You could actually get through the whole course with no shocks or penalty! You went to a table, rolled a dice and then either got a “walk-thru” (in the mud of course) or had to crawl through a pit of water and live wires or do the penalty. The penalty was a crawl uphill through sharp rocks and low hanging barbed wire. I did it twice… and both times it sucked.

SWINGERS

swingers

Not my favourite (and kinda my favourite) obstacle. Basically you leap off of a platform like 15′ above water to a trapeze and swing across it to let go and ring a bell. This requires timing and bravery… two things that I have not got scads of. First off, the trapeze looked just a little too far. I was surprised each time when I made it easily.

Just when I got into the swing of kicking the bell before bombing into the water, they changed the rules to hands only on the bell. I never could get it hands only: my timing was always off.

For whatever reason it started off open during the night time rules but they closed it when the sand storm started. A girl and I high-fived when we heard the words “closed indefinitely”.

In the morning it reopened as Walk The Plank, where you just jump off  into the water. I hadn’t nursed Seren since I started getting hypothermic so that was an uncomfortable fall. That and the rolling over the top of walls was pretty ouchy.

Here’s a litte video of one of the TMHQ staffers trying it…

PENALTY LAPS

brick

I guess last year they didn’t have penalties for all the obstacles so people were just skipping things like the monkey bars in which it’s faster or more efficient to swim across. This year they had penalties for everything you failed outside of the “must-do” obstacles. Usually the penalties were an extra swim/run, a run lap, or cinderblock carry. The worst by far was The Cliff penalty – which probably nailed on a good ten minutes, and I would know too, since I did it so many times. More on that later…

GRABBIN’ SHAFT

monkeybars

This one was super hard but super redeeming when I finally got it. You had to go across a set of monkey bars then grab a trapeze, swing across and traverse down a single hanging pole. My initial plan was to side traverse the pole but I was having trouble getting far enough via trapeze to grab the pole. I finally figured out that I could grab the side pole with my feet and traverse across that way. This got exhausting quick through and after a few laps I started just taking the penalty.

This is also the point where people started recognizing me (I guess from my name on the leader board) and a group of ladies really pumped me up as I jogged past.

Some time in the night, Ryan Atkins (who’s won WTM two years in a row and is now a legend) was coming up behind me. He asked if I was “Allison Tai”. I asked if he was “Ryan Atkins” on the sound of his voice alone (I’ve seen too many interviews I guess). That was pretty cool and kept me going strong for a couple laps.

SEWAGE OUTLET

tubes

This was the next combination obstacle: a barb wire crawl to tubes that dropped out into the water. When I got to the top, I rolled into a ball and flipped around to drop out feet first. I guess this was not how most people do it. Those poor guys who kept peeping out of their tunnels to see me sitting there feet first. Sometimes it pays to be small!

Here’s what it looks like during the sandstorm…

THE OLD SWITCHEROO

tube

THE SUN WILL COME OUT, TOMORROW… TOMORROW

dark

The night was really long: from 5pm to 6am. 13 hours of darkness, cold and sandstorms. I humoured myself by singing this song to myself for a couple hours. John wetsuited me up and tried to encourage me to keep as warm as possible, but they replaced the cliff jump with a big hill at beginning so I didn’t want to overheat. Apparently that would not be a problem.

Ama got cold so they headed back to the hotel and me for another lap.

I was fine in the beginning but after a few dunks in the lake and the wind exposure out of the water, I was frozen.

Halfway through the lap a volunteer gave me her emergency blanket. What an angel.

Even with the blanket, I was seriously considering calling it. I realized though that I just had to make it another mile or so (with a few more dunks in the way) to the med tent, where I could warm up and keep my 65 miles.

It was tough but I soldiered on.

By the time I got there I was an absolute mess. I could barely communicate and was convulsing. I guess the 3/4mm wetsuit top wasn’t such a good idea. I spent 29 minutes in the med tent by the heater (which didn’t feel hot) with the amazing med tent people. They kicked me out at 30 minutes or I would have DNF’d as per the rules.

i wandered around tent city, tried to find my jacket and then collapsed under two winter sleeping bags. The fly was down and the inside of the tent was coated with sand. Outside lay the wreckage that was tent city at 5am… like a tornado had been through it. I just layer there shivering using Ama’s etch-a-sketch as a pillow until the sun came up.

It took everything I had but I figured that the sun had to warm me up… and given my still convulsing violently state, the tent was not clearly not helping.

Onwards.

I walked the next lap clutching the now very torn tin foil blanket … swimming with it around my neck, dragging it behind me as I crawled, and climbing with it in my mouth. I felt like little Lionel from the Peanuts meets Gladiator.

I was ecstatic when I saw John pull up as you can clearly see in the following picture.

I spent another long time with John in the med tent before deciding on another lap (if you head out before 9:45am you can officially do another lap if it takes less than 2 hours). John was worried about sending me out in my current state and was adamant that I didn’t go back out. I was more adamant though… and off I went

This is where I met those lovely fellows from Wisconsin who were happy to death march it with me.

KILL ME NOW

kill me now

OK, maybe I don’t look ecstatic.

IT WAS A WET ONE

water

There was a lot of water… which was super nice in the daytime. But as soon as it got cold (and it got really cold), the frequent and interspersed water dunks combined with the chilling wind were a fierce combination. To recap, I learned that…

REPEATEDLY SUBMERGING IN WATER + FREEZING WIND = HYPOTHERMIA

WORLD’S SOFTEST MUDDER

cliff

Nobody asks, “How was the race?”

No… they want to know how The Cliff was. And I couldn’t tell you. I got up there, after nights of lost sleep over this bad boy and wussed out. I tried all the tapping and breathing and singing techniques. Nothing. I walk back and forth on the plank for about ten minutes and then decided that I wasn’t likely going to be conscious when I hit the water which would make the rest of the race difficult at best.

I’ve had the PTSD attacks under control for years now and I didn’t want them to come back. I took the penalty each lap… which was a run to two fairly long swims and then another run back up. I tried to enjoy them as much as possible and made peace with them being my “rest zone” to replace any extra pit rest.

I’m glad they made the penalty big for this one. I’m sure it drove more people to reach outside their comfort zone and take it on.

THE PODIUM

world's toughest mudder

I met Amelia Boone again! She’s so much larger than life for all us OCR fans. Plus, she’s a really amazing and humble person. I also had the pleasure to meet the killer 100 miler, Freyah Bartuska, who was probably my biggest competition but also one of my biggest cheer leaders.

Thanks Tough Mudder for an awesome event… and congratulations to everyone who took this crazy event on at my side. I love you all.

One thought on “On coming second at the World’s Toughest Mudder

  1. Congratulations, Allison, you are amazing. But what is equally impressive is that so soon after such an ordeal you can write so well an interesting blog. So inspiring but I have not decided if I wish I could attempt such a race or grateful I am too old to consider it. I will stick to Ultras.

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