“Send It.”- Tough Mudder Twin Cities 2016

This was my third Tough Mudder. While I was disappointed with the first, they more than made up for it on the second, and I was excited to see what they would put me through this year.

Note: If I felt a particular obstacle needed a picture and I couldn’t find one of me, I stole a photo from TM’s Facebook page that I felt duplicated my experience.

We assembled in the warm-up area, the MC put us through some calisthenics, and we took off, thinking that TM had dropped the usual practice of making you go over a wall to get to the starting line. Nope, they just moved the wall a bit further out.

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As usual, we got an awesome pep talk from the MC, followed by a speech from an officer of the local Army Reserve. 13767157_10154307852527790_7631598013526823368_o.jpg

He told us that one of the people that inspires him would be on the course somewhere after the mud crawl, one of his sargents who had lost most of his hand but still found ways to adapt and do his duties. We were encouraged to give him a muddy hug when we found him.

We were then sent off, high-fiving the troops as we went.

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First obstacle was the Kiss of Mud, a low crawl under barbed wire through some seriously sloppy mud. Next were the Berlin Walls. I helped others over and made it over the first one unassisted (using the edge of the wall and diagonal supports) and gave and got some assistance over the second.race_1862_photo_39389847.jpg

Shortly after we came across a group of soldiers.

“I hear someone out here needs a hug?”

*Soldier points* “That guy!”

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When I got to the Electric Eel, a woman out in the middle was freaking out, screaming, ignoring any calls of encouragement or advice on how to get through it, to the point that the volunteers killed the electricity to get her out. While I will do electrified obstacles without complaint, I’m not waiting around for them, so I went through while the power was off.

I think it is good to face things that scare you, and I accidentally did so on the next obstacle, Shawshanked. I just saw that we had to go through tubes, and did not look ahead to see that the tubes delivered you 6′ above 6′ deep water, turned the opposite way of how I wanted to enter the water. I had a life vest in my pack, but by the time I realized it might be useful I couldn’t maneuver enough to get it on. Okay, no way back, let’s do this:

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I left the tube and hit the water desperately trying to turn face-down so I can clear my nostrils and dog-paddle. I felt my hands touch the bottom of the pit, swam out, and was lucky enough to have someone find my headband and get it back to me.

Mud Mile next, teamless teamwork, push the guy in front of you and pull up the one behind, get out of the mud pit then go into the next one. I don’t think I saw anyone accept the help up and then go on, they all turned back to help the rest.

Next obstacle was the peg-board climb, with newbie and Legionnaire options. I tried and failed the hard one, then went back and completed the easier one.

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Arctic Enema has changed. You now slide in on a steep slope, under chain-link fence, making it impossible to stand up and steady yourself before you have to go under the water. Seemingly minor change that made it a lot tougher for me.

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The log carry was when I could feel my training pay off. It is always a good feeling when you hand off the log you carried (solo) to a team rather than an individual. It seemed light compared to sandbag work that I’ve been doing.

I came to Everest, went to the side to drop my pack, and found a group on top of the wall that were ready to assist. One of them made eye contact and called out, “Send it.”

Sprint for all I’m worth, make it to their hands, and between the three of us we are able to get me over. There was a sign calling for all Legionnaires to help at least three newbies before moving on. I made it a point to make that 4 or 5.

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Particular phrases or images often stick in your head from events, that just seem to sum up the experience. “Send it” just seemed to crystallize what we were all doing out here. You know what you need to do, we’ve got your back, let’s do this.

The next was possibly the most fun obstacle I have ever experienced, called the Block Ness Monster, a floating block that would turn toward you if you tried to climb on top of it, and had to be turned by your fellow Mudders on either side while you are rotated over the top.

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Hero carry next. I was odd man out when I arrived, so one of the volunteers graciously stepped in.

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Pyramid Scheme is one of the most teamwork-reliant obstacles I have ever come across. Take Spartan’s slick wall, make it about a third again taller, out of a slicker sheathing, and take away the ropes. We built human ladders, human chains, pushed, pulled till we found a way to get up and over. I took off my pack to give me a little better reach, and found that having something for both of us to grip on made pulling them up much easier.

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Birth Canal is a low crawl under tarps weighted down with water. I took the lane closer to the supports, which made it a little easier.

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Next was a tall reverse wall. The easiest way we found to do this was to have two on top each take a hand of the person below, person below does what they can with feet on the wall.

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I skipped two obstacles here. Funky Monkey I knew I did not have the grip strength left for. I had talked myself into King of the Swingers, went to get my flotation vest out of the pack, and found the zippers too solidly mudded to get it open. I wasn’t comfortable with the float in the pack, so I said “next year” and went on.

Running on through hay fields, over hay bales, through Rain Man (going through water under a chain-link fence, with a hose pouring on you from above) and we made it to the final obstacle/finish line. I elected not to go the electric shock route, and went for Frequent Flyer’s Club, jumping off a platform, trying to hit the bell with your headband color, and landing on an inflatable below.

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I was extremely pleased with the event, but would have liked to do a couple things differently. Promises to myself for next year:

Sort out your swimming/floating situation. You are going off that platform next year.

The Army Reserves were running a fitness challenge at the festival area. I didn’t see it until after I was done and for various reasons didn’t step up for it. If it is there next time, I’m making it a point to do it.

 

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The Devil in the Details: DWD Devil’s Lake 50(ish)K

A group of my friends decided, shortly after the race was over last year, to commit to their first 50K this year at Devil’s Lake. Some just looking for a new challenge, one celebrating his recovery from cancer, and a few of us just along for the ride.

The course started out relatively flat, but the big hills that I remembered from last year started around 5 miles in. I stopped to get out the trekking poles, and was surprised at how much easier they made the uphills.

Several portions of the course were out-and back paths, which was nice because it allowed you to check in with people ahead of and behind you, check how they are doing, share food and meds if needed, etc. The proof that you had made it was to tear a page from a book that was posted there and return it to the last aide station.

Came to the 10 mile drop bag point and checked my feet. No issues, so I changed socks and went on. We came back to the drop bags 3 miles later, and it didn’t seem to make sense to tend to my feet again, so I just stuck a change of socks in my hydration pack to change out somewhere around mile 20.

Around mile 16 I caught up with a friend who had fallen and injured her hand around mile 5. It was now swelling and discolored to the point that we couldn’t deny it needed checked out. I walked with her and chatted to the aide station around mile 18, where she dropped from the race and checked in with the course medics.

The out and back that was the next 5 miles was some seriously brutal terrain. Stopped to check my feet at the turnaround point, and was surprised to see that at 20ish miles I had no blisters. Back up the hills to the aid station, stopped to share some ibuprofen with a friend along the way. The volunteer who checked my number gave me a glass of ice, which was about the most awesome thing ever at that moment. I actually lost some time through the next few miles, not moving as fast as I could have because I didn’t want to drop my ice. Its strange what will make you happy when you are past the 20 mile mark.

About this time, a few miles ahead, something was happening that I wouldn’t understand for the next few days.The course had been revised from the year before, and no one considered that the sweeper pulling the markings after the last 50 miler was also pulling the last 6 miles of the 50K course. Five runners, myself included, were pulled because the rest of their course was no longer there. (I emailed the race director when I got home, found out that the oversight had been corrected later in the day, and runners will be alerted to this time hack for future races. The five of us who were pulled have been offered our entry fees back due to not being able to finish.)

When they gave me the news, I was able to keep from directing anger at the volunteers. I didn’t understand (yet) why I could be pulled with 6 miles to go and 5 hours of the 50M course time left. I simply asked for the time (1:58 PM) and mileage (around 25 miles), then went across the road to collect my post-race food and beer.

Then I did what any Rucktard would do in this case: I refilled my hydration bladder, condensed everything I had brought into the rucksack that I used for my drop bag, and ruck marched the four miles from the race site to the camp where we were staying for the weekend. I was dead set on an ultramarathon this weekend, and 25 miles wasn’t going to cut it. 29 miles total was not the 50K I was hoping for, but it is past marathon distance, so I’ll take it.

Takeaways from this:

Foot care protocol is improving. After 29 miles, I came off with one small blister and one beat-up toenail. Much better than previous events.

Trekking poles are awesome. Can’t wait to see how they do at the Hitchcock this year.

Along the hike back to camp, I also noticed mile markers that may indicate a longer-term challenge:13645289_10209312408034476_8303004503989289543_n.jpg13680613_10209312408994500_9101178927206203241_n.jpg

It turns out there is a patch for completing all of it by foot. Stay tuned for details on that.

Sons of Sparta: MN Spartan Sprint 2016

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When asked if he wanted to run the kid’s Spartan course again, my son Josh expressed little enthusiasm. “I don’t know, I’ve done it already. If I could run the adult course, maybe…”

He may or may not have been of age on race day, but his paperwork showed that he was and no one questioned it. We set him up with some of my spare gear, explained to him that there would be obstacles that he would need coached or assisted through, and made it clear that we were going for a good time and a finish, not doing anything crazy to push for a faster time. It turned into a cool perspective, seeing something like this through new eyes.

Time for our wave came. I encouraged him to get to the front of the corral (the energy up there is something I can still feel from my first race) and told him we would move to the side as soon as we were moving to make sure we were not in the way.

Pre-race speech, fist-bumping our fellow racers, yelling “I AM A SPARTAN,” and we were off, up a steep hill. We slowed to a walk before reaching the top, but kept a steady walking pace at least. I could tell he was doubting his decision to upgrade to the adult course by the top of it, but he kept moving.

First obstacle was a pair of 6′ walls. I moved forward to assist some other racers that were having trouble, and he could see the process, so we had no trouble getting him over.

More hilly trails. At a few points they had turned on the snow-making equipment to help cool us off, and to make the trails muddy and slippery. We came to the over-under-through, 2/3 of which he could do without help. I ran just a bit ahead and could see the water/ mud pits coming up, so I called back that Spartan was giving us a chance to cool down. He smiled and picked up the pace to get there. He made it through the rolling mud portion with only a few comments of how wet shoes feel weird, but seemed less sure of himself at the dunk wall. I explained the process, had him take off the pack so that it wouldn’t snag, and went through first. (A few other newbie racers also appreciated the demonstration.)

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And he made it look good:

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Money bars were right after, which we both failed and knocked out our burpees together. Cargo net was next, which I instructed him to do one leg at a time, while I flipped over the top to show him the other option. (“Doesn’t make it much faster, but its fun and it looks cool. You need to be able to do pullups before you try that one.”)

Back uphill, taking a quick breather whenever either of us said we needed it. In particular I remember, when the hill got steeper and we entered a woodline, a racer passing us checked in that we were okay, and made a comment to me of, “I’d ask his age, but he qualifies as a man taking this one on.”

Tarzan-swinging on trees to get up the hill, constant reminders to keep hydrating (it was in the high 80s or low 90s at this point), up and over more walls, making sure that he saw how to get others over. I could tell that he had never thought about an obstacle like the reverse wall, but made it over with help after seeing it done a few times. The barbed wire crawl was one of those things that looks awesome until you are in the middle of it…

This crawl was admittedly pretty nasty. Slick mud, small gravel at the start and big rocks toward the end. I made it through well ahead of him, and walked back along the side to take his pack and encourage him along. I was proud of him, you could tell from his face that this was no fun no more and he just wanted out, but he kept going.

Just after the mud crawl: “I can’t even tell what color these shorts used to be!”

“Now do you understand why we wouldn’t let you wear a new shirt?”

“Yeah…”

I pulled him aside to give him a quick tutorial on how not to face-plant on the slick wall, then went up first to help him over the top. He got about halfway up, slipped back down, and I decided to try another way. He held on to the rope, and I pulled it hand-over-hand to get him up. Hadn’t thought of this before, but it worked.

Atlas Carry was next. Josh decided that his weight-bearing ability was not up to snuff, and he would just get started on his burpees. I completed the obstacle and then knocked out the last 4 or 5 burpees with him.

We then both completed the Z wall by way of broad interpretation of the rules. There were a few points where I was holding him off the ground until he could sort out his footholds, and I used the top of the wall a few times to get through.

More trail running. I asked the volunteer if Josh could do the ladies version due to body size. Volunteer took a quick look at him, snickered and nodded.

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Drop the sandbags, quick shuffle through the woods, and came to the next obstacle, which was a beam set at about chest height. I got down on all fours so that Josh and a few other racers could use my back as a step. One of the ladies that I had helped over looked back and asked, “Does Dad need help over?” Not sure yet, I took a step back and was able to jump just high enough to swing my legs over. She smiled and said, “Got it. Dad is awesome!”

Some welcome downhill running, and we hit the Hercules Hoist. I did it first to explain what will and will not get you rope burn, then had him try the ladies’ weight. I stepped in to steady it when he needed to re-grip, but he fought through and did all the actual lifting.

The bucket carry here was brutal even a little more than most. He did the female weight, but that was still more than half his body weight, and the hill was the steepest I have seen outside of Vermont. We would push as far as we could, set it down, rest, hydrate, and do it again. I got mine to the top, went back down to help/coach Josh up, and for some reason decided to go back down again to help a newbie tag-team his bucket up to the top.

Downhill was easier, but the bucket is still clumsy and heavy. There was a steep uphill immediately after that we went up really slowly, Josh deciding to crawl part of it.

Next was what is probably my favorite obstacle of this race. A steep sloped wall about 7 feet high, with a ladder-type frame above it. I helped a few racers up it, then surprised myself by completing it unassisted.

The Rig was next, which we both failed. Heat and maybe a little dehydration was getting to us, so when we started getting light-headed when coming up from a burpee, we decided that was enough. I think we completed about 20?

We were overjoyed to find the 5 mile marker just after that. As we were running down a hill, we could hear the festival area, and they started playing “Carry On My Wayward Son,” which I couldn’t help but find appropriate. Spear throw, burpees, rope climb. The rope is usually hit-or-miss for me, as if I can keep the rope where I need it, I’m fine, but if it moves I’m usually in trouble. This time I remember stopping in the middle of the climb, okay untangle it, okay reset it, okay back in action, and was able to complete it. When I was done Josh had 22 burpees to go, so we each knocked out 11.

We formed up to do the fire jump together…

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Josh got cold feet for a minute, but recovered to finish strong:

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And now we both start training for next year. After ice cream, ice cream first…