Four years ago, I travelled to Melbourne with two of my best friends for the longest mud run I’d ever attempted – a 20km Tough Mudder.
Now, 10 Tough Mudders later, I am four sleeps away from my biggest challenge of 2017 – World’s Toughest Mudder.
If you had’ve told me four years ago that I’d be attempting WTM I would have told you that the idea was preposterous. Now that the event is almost upon me, it still feels a bit like that.
My mood has changed significantly this week as the event draws closer. I’m feeling emotional and nervous, but excited to take on the challenge and test myself.
People keep asking me what my goal is for the event – expecting an answer in terms of how many laps I want to do. Whilst I’d love to get through at least 10 to earn myself the brown bib, my main goal is to keep moving and have fun. I want to do as many laps as possible in 24 hours, with little rest, but a smile on my face. I want to enjoy myself out on course, and I know that if I set an unachievable goal then I’ll be disappointed if my inner demon takes over and I go into “fuck this shit” mode.
This isn’t my first 24+ hour event, but it is my first 24 hour OCR and I know that it’s going to push me beyond the limits of my comfort zone.
I want to embrace the moment and walk away from the event with a 24-hour headband, a grin on my face, and mud in places that nobody should ever have mud.
This is going to be an event like no other, and I’m grateful that I get a chance to be part of it.
Now I’m going to go and join the other people that are quietly shitting themselves in a corner (figuratively… until the event…) See you all on the other side!
WHAT IS WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER?
I’m not one to shy away from challenging myself, and World’s Toughest Mudder is testament to that. Since watching my friends take on the challenge in 2015 I’ve wanted to try it myself. I missed out in 2016 as I had to leave the US the week prior, so I knew that 2017 would have to be the year I take on my first ever 24-hour obstacle course race.
For the uninitiated – a regular Tough Mudder is a 20km mud run with plenty of fun obstacles and mud, designed to be done with friends as some obstacles are impossible to get through alone. The Tough Mudder pledge even says ‘I will put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time’. (You can read one of my Tough Mudder recaps here).
World’s Toughest Mudder is a whole other ball game. To start – it is a race as well as a challenge. There’s tens of thousands of dollars on the line for the top individuals and teams that conquer the course. The course is 5 miles (8km) long and obstacles are opened on a rolling basis – meaning you may run a few laps before taking on a specific obstacle. This year’s course included 2.58 miles (4.15km) of penalty loops, meaning each lap could be anywhere from 5-7.58 miles long depending on how many obstacles you failed.
Here are the obstacles that were on this year’s course:
- Everest and Everest 2.0 (Penalty – Sandbag carry or swim)
- Mud Mile
- Statue of Liberty
- Pyramid Scheme
- Island Hopping (I don’t actually remember this one – not pictured)
- Pandora’s Box (Penalty – Wade through water) (not pictured)
- The Flying Dutchman
- Snot Rocket
- The Blockness Monster
- Ladder to Hell
- Rope-A-Dope (Penalty – stupidly long walk)
- Stage 5 Clinger
- Kiss of Mud 2.0 (more like kiss of rocks)
- Double Dipping
- Funky Monkey 2.0 (Penalty – Arctic Enema)
- Hangin’ Tough (Penalty – 2x short hill climbs)
- Kong Infinity (Penalty – a great walk that avoided going in that freezing water)
- The Cliff (NOPE!) (Penalty – a loop and a swim)
The course was full of ups and downs and the ground was hard under your feet. There were plenty of additional obstacles to navigate around (i.e. rocks) and the wind caused havoc with your breathing.
Registration was at the Westin at Lake Las Vegas on the Friday before the event. I was with my friend James and his pit crew legend – John. We signed our lives away and got our bibs before spending 40 minutes in the line to buy some merchandise (I’ll never understand why they have only 5 people taking payments when 1600 competitors are trying to buy stuff…). I said hello to my fellow Aussie, Roxie, and we headed to the race site to drop off some gear.
I was racing without a pit crew so I’d signed up to be part of the Orphan Tent, along with a few hundred other solo runners. I filled out a form with my name, bib number and my goal for the weekend, dropped my water off in the tent that had been set up for me, then headed off to get food and pack my bag for the weekend.
Going into the event I was nervous but excited (pretty much how I feel before any major event). I arrived at the venue at around 9am with James and John, giving me three hours to say hello to friends, get myself ready and panic before starting. After dragging my huge duffel bag to my tent, unpacking, and putting my stalking skills to good use, I found Haruko (The Mudcrusher) and her friend Channing and decided to do a few laps with them before heading off on my own at a later stage of the event.
People piled in to the start chute at 11:20 for a safety briefing and to get amped up for the event. The sun was shining brightly so we knew that the first two laps would be nice and warm and we’d have at least 4.5 hours before sunset to get through as much as possible.
The first lap was a speed lap – meaning no obstacles were open. With 1600 competitors starting at once, the last thing you need is a backlog at the first obstacle. While the gazelles took off running, us plodders walked behind with buffs over our mouths as we tried to avoid inhaling copious amounts of dust that was all around us.
I was in awe of the amount of people that I could see on the course – this truly was an event like no other! I’m used to the ‘big’ events letting waves of 400 people off at a time, so this was a different experience. We hung back and embraced the moment as we surveyed the terrain and the obstacles that we’d face on the second lap.
Just as we thought we’d gotten through the speed lap unscathed, we had a freezing cold water crossing just less than a mile from the finish line. The faster runners had already started overtaking me and I thought it would be humorous to count how many times Ryan Atkins lapped me (I counted 9 times in total throughout the event). Crossing the finish line for the first time was exciting, and felt amazing after every other lap.
Throughout the first lap Channing and I had tried to ensure that Haruko kept pace with us. I started joking that I could create a tether out of ribbon that I had in my bag so she was with one of us. At the end of the first lap I headed to the tent and created the tether – turns out the girls thought I’d been joking! What started as a joke ended up being a good idea as the three of us were able to stick together on the second lap.
The first few obstacles that were open on our second lap were Mud Mile, Pyramid Scheme, Pandora’s box, and Abseil. We formed a human chain at Pyramid Scheme to get everyone up the slippery slanted wall. We all chose to avoid Pandora’s Box so we could avoid electrocution. I said I’d try it on another lap (but never did), so we all took the penalty which was a wade through murky waist-deep water (that also seemed to contain the tiniest rocks that were then embedded inside my shoes).
We ran past Snot Rocket just as they were about to open it, and headed to Blockness Monster – my favourite obstacle. This is where teamwork is essential as you need to have people pushing the huge rotating square blocks from one side, and pulling them from the other. I had the biggest grin on my face as I made my way over – it’s just too much fun!
Stage 5 Clinger had easy lanes open so we were up and over that quickly, before walking up yet another hill and then down towards Kiss of Mud. Normally the Kiss of Mud is filthy, heavy mud and a pleasure to roll through. This was more like ‘Kiss of Rocks’ as the only mud was in a tiny puddle at the start, and we spent the whole time rolling on jagged rocks that were not comfortable at all, especially without a wetsuit on.
The course took us up and down more inclines and declines, before we faced some walls at Double Dipping, and more water at Shawshanked. Shawshanked involves pulling yourself up a tube, then dropping into the water below – much like you’re escaping from prison.
It was becoming clear that the theme of the course was to get everyone wet, then just as you dried off you’d be back in the water. That, and they’d make you complete a water-based obstacle before attempting a grip-based obstacle (i.e. the Funky Monkey (monkey bars)) were immediately after Shawshanked and near impossible to do with wet hands unless you’ve got super grip strength.
The penalty for failing Funky Monkey was a huge loop that contained another obstacle – Arctic Enema. Thankfully the water didn’t have ice in it, but my first time in there was without a wetsuit and 10 minutes before the sun was due to set, so I was feeling pretty cold when I emerged from the water!
Night Ops officially started at 4:30pm and anyone on the course at that time had to have a head torch and flashing strobe or glowstick on them. The girls didn’t have either, so we had to haul arse on the last mile and crossed the finish line for the second time at 4:32pm (just in the nick of time).
The sun set at 4:30pm and the air became noticeably cooler almost immediately. I put on my wetsuit and long-sleeved compression top underneath. I took some time to eat, have some Tailwind, check in at the Orphan Tent, use the toilets and prepare for the first night lap. I met up with the girls and we headed out for our third lap.
Heading out on course just after the sun has set can be a mental challenge if you’ve never run at night as one little thing on course can make you want to give up. We were all feeling good as we got through the first mile on lap 3, but Snot Rocket changed that. Snot Rocket is a “great” obstacle that involves submerging yourself as you swim under a pipe, then climb up a pipe using a ladder whilst freezing water is pouring down on your head.
The girls both used Haruko’s neoprene hood on their heads to avoid getting too cold, but the water pressure was too much for Channing. The mood was dampened after Snot Rocket and the girls just wanted to be done. The lap took us significantly longer as we took more penalty loops and the pace slowed due to the cold. Our legs and feet were already hurting and I tried my best to keep my spirits high.
We crossed the finish line for the third time and I had more food and added an additional layer of clothing and a neoprene hood before checking on the girls. They were both in warm clothes, curled up in their tent. Haruko was suffering from sore hips and Channing had decided not to go out again after Snot Rocket. I returned to my tent and was questioning whether to have a rest when Traci, Orphan Mum, found me. She asked why I was hesitant and I mentioned that the girls had gone to bed. She reminded me that this was MY race, and if my goal was 24 hours then I had to go out. I snapped out of my wallowing state and got out for a fourth lap.
Being alone at night was completely different to being with the girls. I headed out at 10pm and while there were people around me, I noticed that there were a lot less people on course than there was at 5pm when we started the third lap.
I tried talking to people around me to keep my spirits high, but every time we approached a water obstacle the mood would change and nobody wanted to talk. As I walked through the course I just wanted to be done with the lap as my feet were hurting and I was craving warm food.
I approached The Cliff after it was opened at midnight and took the penalty without hesitation. While I know WTM is about facing your fears, I was not ready to jump off a 35 foot cliff! So I took the penalty which was a loop and a swim (surprise!).
The Orphan Tent finally had hot water so I asked for some 2-minute noodles and went to change my shoes and socks. I gave up on my Icebugs and changed into my Salomon Speedcross 4s – with a fresh pair of Injinji socks and a layer of Trail Toes – and I was set to go. The feeling of having dry feet was incredible! That, coupled with warm food, lifted my spirits and made me excited for the fifth lap at around 2am.
My arm strength was starting to go causing me to fail Everest and take the penalty (a swim – surprise). But that was just the start of the water.
Humpchuck was now open (a swim followed by climbing up a slip wall), as was Statue of Liberty (a swim with a lit torch). The river water was significantly warmer than the water at obstacles, and a few people commented that it was nicer in the water than out as the cool winds had started to blow. The water at Snot Rocket felt like it was 10 degrees colder than the previous lap and I was officially over having water spraying down on my head.
As I stumbled my way through the course I felt like I was sleep-walking. I hadn’t had any caffeine and I was in desperate need for something to wake me up. I was over being out there alone and wished that I had someone to talk to. At one point I saw an acquaintance and was just so grateful to see someone I knew that I stuck by them for 10 minutes.
I started getting incredibly bored on this lap. I was sick of the monotonous nature of the course and the same obstacles. I thought to myself that I needed to be carrying a canoe upside-down whilst reciting the alphabet backwards to make it more challenging. After the SISU Iron, this was mind-numbing.
I’d been doing well emotionally until I reached the double walls. I had help getting up the second one, but the guy walked away from me before I was safely on top. I panicked and started crying as I tried to pull myself up and avoid falling. The tired crying continued for a good five minutes, but it felt like a great release and I felt so much better afterwards!
As I got to the Mile 4 marker I saw Lindsay Webster and we started chatting as we meandered the last mile together. The sun was starting to rise and it was a special moment to cross the finish line (again) at sunrise.
I checked in on Haruko and Channing and they said that they’d decided not to go out again. I said my goodbyes and headed back to my tent.
I needed to go out to get my 24-hour headband, so I refuelled, had a tea (for caffeine), grabbed some warm chicken broth and started my sixth and final lap.
The sunlight made a huge difference to my mood and I felt a lot more alert and awake than my previous zombie lap. The presence of more people on course also helped as I knew more people were out there struggling with me.
Snot Rocket in daylight was a lot less miserable, and Blockness Monster was so much fun that I did it twice 😀
Half-way through the lap I spotted my friend Maria so I stuck by her as we completed the remainder of our final lap. She was with her friend Gus who was trying to earn his brown bib. Together we were joined by a young guy who was doing his first ever OCR – he signed up for WTM as he thought it would be a good challenge before Air Force training. He’d never done a mud run or an OCR before and was running in Converse, but he was pushing through and doing really well!
Mentally I was feeling a lot better with the sunlight. I knew the end was near and I just wanted to get it over and done with!
I took the penalty at The Cliff and when I went to find Maria and Gus I saw that Gus was still on top of The Cliff and hesitating every time he went to jump. For a few minutes I joined the crowds as we cheered him on, and when he finally jumped the crowd went wild!
I crossed the finish line at 11am, 23 hours after starting, with a smile on my face. Although I was definitely a lot more exhausted than after my first lap!
I reached my goal of going through the night and finishing with a smile on my face! I knew that I wouldn’t be fast enough to get another lap in, so I accepted my headband and shuffled off to pack up my gear.
World’s Toughest Mudder is truly an event like no other. Unlike the other two 24+ hour endurance events that I’ve done, this was repetitive and incredibly boring at times. The course tested me mentally, physically and emotionally and was designed to crush people’s spirits at times.
The constant in and out of water was tough on the body, especially once the cold wind started after midnight. Most obstacles required a considerable amount of upper body and grip strength, and once that was gone you had no choice but to take the penalties. Some penalty loops were incredibly long and enough to make you want to quit.
I’m proud of myself for taking on the challenge and achieving my goal of going through the night without rest. If I had’ve rested then I doubt I would’ve wanted to go out again.
I’m grateful to the incredible volunteers at the Orphan Tent who were always looking out for me (and the other few hundred orphans). All their help was appreciated (especially the food, the hugs and the help in getting in and out of a cold wetsuit).
Did it suck? Yes.
Will I do it again? Absolutely!
Event: World’s Toughest Mudder
Type: Obstacle Race
Distance: 5 mile loops + 2.58 miles penalty loops – as many laps in 24 hours.
Location: Lake Las Vegas, Nevada (USA)
Date: 11-12 November 2017
WHAT I WORE
First two day time laps:
- Long compression tights
- Singlet top
- Arm sleeves
- Buff around neck
First two night laps:
- Long-sleeve compression top
- Long compression tights
- 3mm wetsuit
- Buff around neck
- Neoprene gloves
- GoreTex jacket
- Long-sleeve fleece lined compression top
- Long-sleeve compression top
- Long compression tights
- 3mm wetsuit
- Neoprene gloves
- GoreTex Jacket