14-15 Nov 2015 - I competed in the World’s Toughest Mudder in Las Vegas, Nevada. For the few that competed words cannot truly describe the experience, as it is filled with emotions that are difficult to compare. I have often been a fan of shared adversity. Part of that comes from my many years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. I know that something changes in people when they experience a difficult endeavor. When they experience such a momentous undertaking such as a 24-hour grueling event that taxes you mentally and physically, it redefines your character. It also creates a lasting bond between the participants. I will do my best to write my story. Though it is only one part of the web that ties us all together. Each story is equally as important as the rest.
The buy In – First, I’d like to thank my friend, Ben for convincing me to do World’s while we ran together in LA Tough Mudder earlier this year. I did two laps that day, and thought this isn’t so bad. A week later, while sick, and running a Half Marathon in San Diego I bought my tickets to Worlds. The tickets were in my pocket – or so the phrase goes. I had to go.
The Gear – I was going to travel to Vegas by road, and bring with me: my wife and son as my Pit Crew. I needed to think of my support materials, as well as what they might need to be comfortable while supporting me. I purchased many things throughout the year for both them, and me. All of which was easily two to three times the cost of the race ticket. “An investment,” I kept telling myself. I knew I needed a wet suit, headlamp, and some gloves at minimum. I also needed to get another pair or two of trail shoes.
For shoes I was already using Asics Fuji Trail running shoes. They had performed well over many OCRs throughout the year. Just prior to running the Ragnar Trail Relay Race in Temecula, CA I invested in a pair of Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra SG trail shoes. I ran as part of an 4-man Ultra team. I wore the Asics during the first three legs, and then tested the S-Labs during the second three legs. I loved the speed laces and the way they felt. I bought a second pair of the S-Labs a few weeks later to make my third set of trail shoes.
My wetsuit was an Xterra 2015 Vortex Fullsuit. It was 5mm thick, and I got it at a huge discount. It was worth every penny.
The week prior to Worlds I went to REI and picked up some trail socks, wool socks, (2) pairs of dive gloves, and a Waterproof jacket to wear over my wetsuit at night. I then went to Sports Authority and picked up few more coldweather under armor shirts, and tights and some goggles in case of the sand storm. I went to a local surf shop in San Diego and picked up a few O’Neil Surf tops with hoods, neoprene socks. Lastly, I picked up some TriGlide from my local Bike shop.
The packing lists – Take care of your pit crew, and they can take care of you. I had (2) large gearboxes, one for food and one with all my clothing sets separated by time phases. I had a cooler, a tent, (1) cot for my Pit crew, (2) folding chairs, and a first aid kit.
Gear Box (1) included:
- Clothes set 1 – McDavid Tights, Shorts, Blue underarmor long-sleeve shirt, black running socks, and the Asics Fuji trail shoes.
- Clothes set 2 – Xterra Wetsuit and O’Neil dive vest w/hood.
- Clothes set 3 – Wool socks, Neoprene socks, REI Waterproof jacket, Dive Gloves, and Goggles
- Clothes set 4 – X2u Tights, shorts, Wool socks, O’Neil dive long sleeve top, Dive Gloves #2, and S-Lab trail shoes.
- Clothes Set#5 – X2u Tights & Top, black compression socks, and shorts.
- Recovery set of clothes (Post Race) – Shoes, socks, sweat pants, shorts, compression shorts, and Tough Mudder Jacket.
- (1) Bag with three pairs of extra running socks, Large foam roller, camel pack, (2) large tough mudder towels, (2) small towels, (4) Chem lights, (2) emergency survival blankets, (1) beenie, TriGlide, (3) headlamps, and S-Lab trail shoes (1st pair).
Gear box (2) included:
- Course Nutrition Bags 1 – 7
- Pit Nutrition Bags 1-6
- (3) 20oz Drink shakers, (1) 23oz Hot thermos, (1) 46oz Hot Thermos. Both thermos contained hot cider.
- (1) Small battery operated lantern, (1) Bag of hand warmers, (1) Box of Nature Valley Granola Bars, (1) box of Nutri Grain Bars, (3) Extra Bananas, (1) Bag of extra snack bars, (1) bag of multiple shopping bags and trash bags all plastic, (8) AAA Batteries, (1) Bag of Goal Zero Solar Panels with (20 double battery packs and USB A/C plug to charge the iPhones up to 4x.
The Nutrition Plan – I gauged my nutrition based on my energy expenditure from the Ragnar Trail Relay race in Temecula in the beginning of October. To calculate it, I took my calorie burn and heart rate from the hardest route of the six I ran and used that as my baseline for 24-hours of caloric need. That loop was a 4.3-mile loop with 930ft of elevation change, and I ran it at night with a headlamp. I completed it in 43:58 with a pace of 9:54 min/mile. I figured I was not going to push that fast in a 24-hour pace, but the tax on my body from the obstacles may come close to the same burn. It equated to about 401 calories per hour, with an average heart rate of 150 bpm. I figured an average of 400 cal p/hour for a total of 9,600 calories needed on top of my normal day-to-day needs. However, during intense exercise the body has difficulty trying to keep in more than a third to half the nutrition spent during exercise. Digestion does not always work as well during intense exercise, because blood flow is shifted to other areas of the body. Hammer Nutrition and Honey Stinger are the ones that I have tried, tested, and enjoy. I planned for 5,000 calories required on top of my normal nutrition needs.
The plan was to start the race at 2pm on Saturday, which would mean I would have a good breakfast and lunch before the race began. With my pre-race meal (lunch) happening no sooner than 2 hours prior to the race. Everything after that would come from either my Pit or Course Nutrition bags.
The Event – 1pm on Saturday the 14th many contenders and pit crew members crowded into the start line anxious to start the event. It was wonderful to meet so many fellow Tough Mudder legionnaires. Some for the first time, and others for quick catch up from previous events. At 1:30pm the Pit Crew members moved away from the contenders. By 1:50pm Sean steps in to rally the contendors with this signature speech. It’s moving every time. However, this time it’s for the Toughest Mudders. We’re informed that from 2pm to 3pm no obstacle will be open. This is to be considered the Sprint Lap. Suddenly everything changes. How far can I get into the second lap before they start the obstacles? Its a game changer…maybe one that could be my demise.
2pm We’re off. My plan for Lap-1 was originally to complete it in one hour. A nice easy pace – nothing too rough. I knew it was a sprint lap, but hadn’t figured a full hour of no obstacles. So I push. I completed the first lap in 45:43, with a pace of 9:09 min/mi. I am the 93rd of 1280 to finish the Lap-1, and I push on to the Lap-2. There are less people now it’s possible to get at least a mile or two into Lap-2 before I have to slow down. Lap-2 was planned for 1.2 hours. I race on past the 7th obstacle before the hour was up (15 minutes into the second lap). All obstacles open to include water obstacles. There are a lot of water obstacles each with a fair distance to swim. I complete Lap-2 in 1 hour 13 min and 34sec, with a pace of 13:23 mi/mile. I incurred a few penalties and probably 0.5miles of extra distance. My pace according to the chip is 14:34 min/mi, which does not include penalty mileage. Completing Lap-2 by 3:58pm, I am now 22 minutes ahead of schedule. I run for the Pit. My tent is all the way in the back. Time consuming for the contender and the Pit Crew.
30 Minutes are spent in my Tent. I change out of my tights, shorts, and under armor. Change into 5mm Xterra full body wetsuit, dive vest w/attached hood, and a dry pair of socks. I strap on my headlamp and strobe light. My Pit crew fills my camel pack and adds in my Hammer Electrolyte Fizz tablets to the water. I consume Pit Nutrition bag#1 and restock camel pack with Course Nutrition Bag #2.
4:28pm I begin Lap-3, 12 minutes ahead of schedule. The plan for all laps was 1.5 hours. An easy plan when penalties aren’t factored in. Always plan for the worst. A valuable lesson learned. I completed Lap-3 in 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 7 seconds, with a pace of 22:43 mi/mile (24:38 mi/mile w/o factoring penalty loops). I estimated I added about a 0.5miles of penalties per lap. This was not where I wanted to be on Lap-3. Now I’m behind the plan. With 839 feet of elevation per lap, 21 obstacles, plus 9 penalty obstacles: I averaged at least 2-3 penalties per lap and I needed to find a rhythm. I finished Lap-3 at 6:31pm. I was 20 minutes behind my plan.
As planned I took no Pit between Lap 3 and 4. The plan was to head to the Pit after Lap 5 around 2110. At 6:31pm I went directly into lap 4. This one went a bit faster than the previous lap. I finished in 1 hr: 54 min, and 45 sec. At 5.5 mi (w/ penalties) I paced at 20:52 mi/mile. (22:57 mi/mil with out the penalties factored). I could work this. Except for the ankle pain incurred somewhere after the Tramp Stamp. I completed Lap-4 at 8:28pm. Now 30 minutes behind schedule – I decide to head to the Pit. I changed socks, took motrin, consumed a Hammer Shake, taped my ankle and went back out. 25 minutes in the Pit. If this were a triathlon I would be eaten alive by my poor transition times.
8:52pm I depart on Lap-5. Now I am over an hour behind. I though, “It’s ok; you can make this up a little at time one the course of 16 hours.” The ankle pain has become worse, but I finish in 2 hours and 59 seconds. In 8 hours and 52 minutes I had completed my first milestone – 25 miles. First WTM patch was in my hand.
At 10:52pm, I decide to head to the Pit to rest the ankle. If I can rest it maybe I can make up the time later once it feels better. I change socks, put on my neoprene socks, and drink some hot cider. I consume my Pit Nutrition bag number 2, but start getting cold. The wetsuit wasn’t on well and water had gotten in. I strip down out of the wetsuit to my ankles to allow it to dry while I wrap up. I’m afraid to take the neoprene socks off, because the pain in my ankle. The cold now sets in, and my wet suit is cold and wet on the inside. I remained in the Pit for 5 hours and 32 minutes trying to get warm and rest the ankle. It took a lot of mentally fortitude to put on my wet suite and head back out. Failure was not an option.
Sunday, 15 Nov – at 4:24am I depart on my 6th Lap. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover. My original goal of 75-80 miles is gone. Now I’m set I must complete 50 miles…and do so on bad ankle. I complete Lap-5 in 1 hr, 54 min, and 45 sec, and with a pace of 20:52 mi/mile (22:56 w/o penalties factored in). This included my first cliff jump – a 35-foot decent into water, and then a small swim to climb a cargo net up the face of a cliff to get to the other side. It’s either this or a long run to electroshock therapy. Heights have never been an issue. I take the plunge. My bad ankle bends up on impact, but still an enjoyable fall. I complete the lap at 6:30am, and then run to the tent to toss my headlamp in. Sad that my Pit crew hadn’t made it to watch me jump or take my lamp. They’re exhausted in the tent. I toss the lamp in, and then run back to the start. 8 minutes wasted. Must keep going!
6:38am I begin Lap-7. The ankle pain is increasing. I’m finding I am walking more often, but the daylight helps. I finish in 2 hours: 1 min: and 52 seconds, and with a pace of 22:09 mi/mile (24:43 w/o penalties factored). This is my 2nd cliff jump. I walk to the finish due to ankle pain. No one is there. Sigh. Begin again.
8:40am I push straight into Lap-8. Cannot stop for a Pit. This lap takes me 2 hr: 21 min: and 33 sec, and with a pace of 25:44 (28:19 w/o penalties factored). The ankle pain is severe. I am no longer running anywhere except two obstacles that require it: Everest and Hydroplane. Both require speed. This is my third cliff jump. My ankle pain so severe I lean back at the last second, and slam into the water with my butt. I still tap my head twice to signal the divers I’m fine. It stings, but through a 5mm wetsuit, I can suck it up. Lap – 8 is done.
5 minutes of rest before I started the second lap of the new day. My Pit Crew has a shake for me. Thank God. I cannot eat the food on the course offered by TMHQ. Electrolyte dummies do not sit well. Stick to the plan – or what is left of the plan.
11:07am I begin Lap-9. Again no running the ankle is definitely swollen. I can feel the pressure on it, but I’ve still got two laps to go to at least get 50 miles. Each step is a soft step to avoid sharp shooting pain. I think to myself, “it’s a race, you’ve got brothers who have done worse… just endure until the end…you know when it is the end… find the strength and bear the pain.” My pain becomes mantra. I pray for strength, I pray to maintain my honor and finish, and I pray my kids learn perseverance through my actions. I continue. As I come to the trail that leads to the Cliff I see tons of people sitting down. They know the end is near. No one wants to be on the beginning after 2pm. I have to be. I have not met 50 miles. I walk up to Cliff jump number 4. My wife and son are there. My strength comes to me. I take the plunge again. My ankle does not care about my strength, and my body leans back. I land poorly again, but swim across the water, and painfully climb the cargo. I walk in to the finish with my family. Had that been 20 minutes later it would have awesome. They would have seen me cross the finish line for the final time. The end…but I cannot. It’s not 2pm, and I have not finished 50 miles. No time for food. Must continue. My conviction forces my body to drag on.
1:37pm I begin Lap-10. Sigh. I walk over the start line for the last time and trudge up the hill. I begin my mantra of prayer again. I sense a lesson coming, but I’m unwilling to accept it. Every step is like a zombie walk. I step forward with my right foot, and then drag my left. I once again must run up Everest. I swim across the water at the Whale Turd. Climb up the Liberator, and then down rapel down abseil. The gamble is the wall climb. It hurts. Obstacles are starting to close. I walk past the Vertigo. It’s taped off. I’m good with that. I make my way down the road foot drag by foot drag.
I come to the Operation. Brady got me shocked on Lap-1 with this syndistic version of Hasbro’s Operation for Mudders. I learned from Lap-1, and had not been shocked since. I had no intention in doing so on my last. It was faster to complete it than to do the penalty. I calmed my mind and my breathing, and captured the ring from the electric mind-game recreated by Brady. With a constant pain I drag on to the cargo net with tires. I could never remember its name. No reason to start now. My partner, Jeff, I picked up in route stays with me. Company is a blessing. We make it through.
By now its 2:45pm. I’ll never make it to the finish. I cannot run. The next obstacle, less than half mile way seems like a different time and place. I trudge on. We pass the loop that parallels the start line. I can see people crossing and finishing. The same people I passed when I walked by them on the last lap. Emotions are welling up in me. Why did I not stay on the other side? That party could have included me. Stupid. Foolish. I become mad at myself. I will not finish with my friends. My family will not see me finish. By now I know I won’t make it, but the WTM rule was making forward progress after 2pm to complete 24-hours. Stops become more frequent due to shooting pain, but I continue. I make it to Grease Monkey by 3:18pm. Lap-10 is a bust. I ask the volunteers and medical, “if I sit down will you disqualify me?” They tell me “no, not as long as you don’t require medical attention. You can rest for a bit.” I’ve got 12 minutes until 3:30pm. I sat down.
The finish – Sometime after 3:40pm we ride back in a Gator with TMHQ staff. Graciously they drop me by the finish line, and Jeff and his friend carry me across. I bite back the pain and emotions welling up. Dignity may be gone, but I’ll control my emotions. No tears of pain or joy. Just expression of gratitude and humble blessings to those who helped me meet the end. After I receive my headband I’m carried to the medical tent. Thank you Jeff for staying by my side for the past few hours. My foot is bruised and swollen. They wrap it and give me crutches. I begin my lonely clicking hop to my tent. The grounds are windy and barren. Practically everyone is gone. Cold sadness is mixed with relief. My results can be seen here.
24 hours Later – The foot is swollen, but I’m excited we’re going to the brunch I can see the people I ran with. As a Marine I know the power of adversity, and shared adversity builds a bond – an often-unbreakable bond. In the military we use tough realistic training events to simulate combat environment as close as possible, but also to help create and strength the bond of the men and women from different walks of life. There were many bonds formed.
48 hours later – The Withdrawal. As is often seen with tough events where men and women shared a bond through adversity, when they are alone and away from that event they miss where they were and whom they were when they were there. I was amazed. As I sat there on the couch back at home, in pain, with my swollen foot elevated I longed to be back in the desert. In the elements running beside my fellow Toughest Mudders was where my heart was.
WTM 2016 is a long ways a way. I will be back again in November. I will race farther, and smarter. I will adjust my plan to factor for the anomalies better. I will also finish with the crowd and be a part of the party. I will.