Banded together from remote galaxies are twenty-two of the most sinister obstacles of all time: the Obstacles of Doom… featuring such fiendish hell-spawned blackguards as Devil’s Beard, Electric Eel, Fire Walker, Glory Blades, and the dastardly-dreaded Berlin Walls. Dedicated to a single objective: the conquest of the universe!!!
Only one group dares to challenge this intergalactic threat — the fearless, intrepid heroes of the Innsmouth Rowing Club.
Long John! Witz! Hokeyboy! Trayfe! The Commish! and Nike!
The Innsmouth Rowing Club versus the Obstacles of Doom!
This is the Challenge of the Tough Mudder!
OK yeah, I’m a huge Superfriends geek. So sue me already.
Early Saturday morn’, March 2, 2013, Boots and I packed up the sedan and made the hour-long trek from Sunrise to Homestead for the Tough Mudder event. This was my first mud event, my first obstacle course, and my first bout of true and utter insanity ever since I committed to the “fitness lifestyle” (whatever the hell that means) two years ago. It was a cloudy daybreak, cold and windy and when I say “cold and windy”, I really mean “South Florida cold and windy”. Lows in the upper 40s, highs in the upper 60s at midday, but without the benefit of sun and teased mercilessly by an unforgiving wind. PERFECT CONDITIONS for an outdoor fitness event.
If that event wasn’t a Tough Mudder.
This time, though, I wouldn’t be facing it alone. Along with Carlos C. (“Long John”), David I. (“Witz”), Aaron S. (“Trayfe”), Carlos W. (“The Commish”), and Nik W. (“Nike”), I had entered into a veritable Justice League of Corporate IT Fitness Challenge Dorks — the aforementioned Innsmouth Rowing Club. Taking our team name from a legendary H.P. Lovecraft tale, we banded together last December and agreed to tackle this monstrosity of an event as a team. That gave us about two-and-a-half months to prepare. It was nowhere near enough time. But we relished the challenge. We chuckled in the face of fear. We mocked insecurity and poo-poo’ed doubt. We stood everlasting and immutable before the wildly capricious, deviously entropic winds of annihilation. Plus we got a team discount.
Fast forward to a cold, gray Saturday morning at the Homestead Motor Speedway, but our excitement couldn’t be contained. After arriving, we made the nearly mile-long walk from the parking lot to Registration, where my fellow teammates and I met up at last. Along for the ride were Boots, Nike’s fiancée Goldie, and Long John’s mom. Although emails from Tough Mudder warned us to get their as early as possible (TWO HOURS BEFORE OUR START TIME??) we were parked and registered in pretty much no time at all. So we had a little time to kill.
After registering and getting our race numbers scrawled onto our foreheads by willing young ingenues with Sharpies, we dropped our bags off at the bag drop. The place was really starting to fill up now. All sorts of fit, young strong, and predominantly attractive people surrounded us. Naturally, we fit right in. Our 9:20 start time was the second earliest of the day, so no time for love, Dr. Jones! First we needed some quick energy…
Then as the warm-up music started pumping, the excitement hanging in the air, palpable beyond measure, and we started… dancing?
Naturally this was taken to some pretty illogical and nigh-embarrassing extremes…
… and soon it was time for the 9:20 flight to make their way to the Start Line. Now this wasn’t just a simple walk/jog to some arbitrary demarcation point to send us out on our endeavors. Oh, nyet nein no! We had to scale a wall before we even could GET to the start line!
OK, not the most auspicious of beginnings, but we all made it over. Then again, everyone did. Lot of teamwork going on here, and throughout the entire race. Long John needed no assistance; the dude practically cartwheeled over the wall without bothering with such needless worries about gravity or the like. Myself, I eventually got over and proceeded to skin part of my right my knee in the process of coming down the other side. NICE! I hadn’t even made it to the Start Line yet, and was already bleeding! Talk about an auspicious beginning, this was portentous, ominous, foreboding, and altogether quite awesome in its own deranged way. I wore it like a Badge of … well maybe not Honor. More like Gooftardedness. I’ll take it.
So there we were at the Start Line, with the announcer pumping the crowd up, music blasting, people chanting and OOH-RAH’ing and getting psyched. Our redonkulous dance moves continued. Our announcer then let us know that through contributions and race registrations, Tough Mudder raised over FIVE MILLION DOLLARS for the Wounded Warrior Project, which is definitely something to cheer about. Then things quieted down as the National Anthem began. Hand over heart, as always. I’m good like that. Actually, I did a fist over heart this time. Strength! Unity! Conviction! My knee hurt!
Then, with excitement going through the stratosphere, the countdown began, the colored smoke exploded, and we were OFF! The 9:20AM flight took wing, and the Innsmouth Rowing Club set out to conquer 12 miles and 22 obstacles! No quarter asked, none given! Come back with your shield, or on it!! MY KNEE HURT!
It took us about 4 hours, 40 minutes to complete, give or take, which was slower than average, but we weren’t really that preoccupied with time. This wasn’t a timed event. Each member of the team brought different strengths to the table, but not everyone was a runner, so we went at a pretty casual pace for the most part. That probably worked to our advantage, as we had plenty of energy throughout most of the event. Speaking of which, let’s go over the obstacles we encountered.
1. Arctic Enema
After about a mile-and-a-half jog around the speedway, we reached the dreaded Arctic Enema. Picture a really huge, massively voluminous dumpster, filled to the rim with ice and near-freezing water. Then imagine jumping in, swimming through it, with a barrier that you have to swim under, and then making your way to the other side before your body’s nervous system shuts down from hypothermia. That pretty much sums it up. Some jackballs were cannonballing into the damn obstacle. Nice. When I first entered, I could feel my entire body chattering, my limbs locking in place, and only through sheer force of will were you able to keep moving. I’ve never been that cold before. By the time I got to the other side, I was feeling pretty much like a badass, except that none of us seemed to have testicles anymore. You know when the Elders of our race talk of Shrinkage? This takes it to a whole new plateau. Yowza! Otherwise, this was a fun way to get the event started, and when we emerged from that frigid Dumpster of Woe, we were even more committed to shred this obstacle course but GOOD!
2. Glory Blades
A few hundred yards down we encountered the first of several wall obstacles (not counting the Start Line episode). This wall was at 20 degree incline. Just another hoist and over. Let me go on record saying how much I do not enjoy walls. But through teamwork we made our way through it.
3. Kiss of Mud 1
Huzzah! The first muddy obstacle occurred around the 2.5 mile mark. This was little more than crawling through mud underneath barbed wire. Like super-ultra-badass commandos! The mud was surprisingly rocky, and I could start to feel my knee get torn up a bit. I knew this wasn’t going to look pretty by the time we were finished. Bring on the battle scars, I say.
4. Just The Tip
Let me see if I can describe this adequately… OK, so here you had to cross over a trench of deep cold water by navigating yourself, hanging by your fingertips, using inch-wide finger- and foot-holds on a piece of plywood. I thought I would ace this. The first foothold was extremely narrow, but I got it. Then I got to the finger hangs and I was doing pretty well… until about halfway through, my finger suddenly slipped and LALA-LOOM, right into the drink. Oy. You really need to concentrate on your grip at all times, especially with only fingers and tip-toes keeping you upright.
5. Devil’s Beard
This was a sojourn up a steep hill (underneath a large, constricting cargo net you that kept you near squatting), then down, up again, down, up, down, and finally up once again. This was straightforward and mostly easy, but you had to take care to get a good foothold on each step, or you’d be sent stumbling. I saw plenty of stumblers to realize it’d be best not to rush through it.
6. Boa Constrictor
This is a nightmare if you are claustrophobic, or have even a remote fear of DROWNING… You’re going down a tube into cold, muddy water, and then up a tube back to the surface. Down was a snap. It was your basic gravity in action. The water was cold but not freezing. Now up, on the other hand, was problematic. You’re still half underwater when you start, and when you realize your legs will not help you at ALL in getting up the tube — there are no grips, holds, or anything — and then you realize your face is still mostly underwater, and that you in fact require oxygen or you will most likely die, when a bit of panic sets in. Thankfully, that’s when your arms voluntarily get moving and you wiggle your way up and out. Up took much, much longer than down, but I was able to make it out without assistance. And KUDOS to Tough Mudder for giving everyone a moment of panic when a single yellow wire was waiting for you at the end of the down tunnel, hanging from above, scaring the crap out of you for a moment thinking it was a live electrical wire! No worries; those would come later…
Before I get to the next obstacle, it behooves me to say that the entire team at this point is SHIVERING cold. We kept griping about how, maybe if it were 5 degrees warmer or a little sun was out, it’d be SO much better. But then I remembered that scorching mid 80s weather that absolutely roasted, scorched, and drained everyone at the Disney Marathon in January. So I kept my big fat freakin’ trap shut.
7. Walk The Plank
No big mystery here. We climbed up onto a platform about 20 feet above the ground, and took the plunge into a pool down below. I have no real fear of heights. I have a massive fear of falling to my death, but who doesn’t? My only worry was that the pool underneath wouldn’t be deep enough and I’d end up with mangled legs, but I took the leap and had nothing to worry about. The BIG news here, though, was that the water below was WARM! So unbelievably, refreshingly, embracingly WARM!!
I didn’t want to get out; I could have gone for a nice warm soak, but no time for such shenanigans, because now we had to face one of our first real tests with…
8. Electric Eel
YES! The first truly psychotic obstacle of the day, featuring a crawl through cold water with LIVE DANGLING ELECTRICAL WIRES blocking you! There’s really no two ways about this; you WILL get zapped. The question is, how hard, how many times, and how you react. Trayfe himself didn’t want to wait for our Spectators to arrive to take pictures, and went right through immediately. Then he turned around, came back, and did it again when the ladies got there! MADMAN!! I thought this one was great fun. As I made my way through, I felt a few small shocks here and there, but nothing major. At least, until the last 10 feet or so. A wire hit me behind the ear, I heard a loud POP and my head involuntarily jerked to the side, slowing me down for a second. It didn’t hurt, so much, as it did knock me for a bit of a loop. But I kept moving, and then the big one hit me. Right on the forehead, between the eyes. A big, loud, blinding POPPPP!!! The Tough Mudder website calls this a “Brain Reboot”, and that’s pretty much the best way to describe it. I went momentarily dopey and confused, but kept moving and made my way out. I kind of really loved this obstacle, somehow. Maybe it’s because that last shock made me forget my middle name for nearly half an hour.
At this point we had two “extra” obstacles that were not really obstacles, per se. There were two ditches that you had to cross, filled with murky cold water with muddy inclines on both side. You could choose to leap across and risk injury, or basically get wet again by entering the ditch and “swimming” across. The first time I chose to swim. That mud looked really unstable. Long John leaped across the first time and didn’t quite make it, not realizing that the embankment on the other side was reinforced concrete. That was painful on a whole new level, even just to watch. For the second ditch, my bravado returned and I decided to leap over it. And I did. And when I hit the other side, I completely face-planted into a pile of hard mud. NICE! I looked positively filthy and got a nice bruise on the bridge of my nose as a reminder. Graceful, as always…
9. Hold Your Wood
Easy. Grab a big ol’ piece of wood and lug it for about a half-mile. The wood was bulky but not heavy at all. I even jogged with mine on the quarter-mile back. Show-off…
This was your basic over-under. You had to alternate climbing over and crawling underneath walls of logs. Some walls were higher than other, but I managed to make my way over (and under) all of them without too much effort. At this point, though, I was starting to feel the strain in both my upper and lower body. And we’re not even 6 miles into the course!
11. Wounded Warrior Carry
Here we had to carry our teammates 50 yards, then switch and be carried another 50. Most people did the fireman’s carry, or even piggybacks. Whatever worked. Nike and I carried Long John, Trayfe and The Commish worked together, and Witz hitched a ride with another participant. All good in the hood.
12. Mud Mile
Just past Mile 7 was the Mud Mile, and this was a real challenge (one which we all completed, of course). Small Mud hills and ditches, almost a dozen of each, which you had to crawl over and slosh through, respectively. The mud hills had little footing and were loosely packed, which made getting over them difficult but not impossible. I even managed to slide down a few mud hills after I reached the top of them. Might as well have some fun with it. There’s no way of doing this gracefully. I think I proved that to be more than true.
13. Fire Walker
We were frozen solid by the time we reached this event, so being close to any heat source was a god-send. Here, we had to leap over fire and into a pool of water below. Not a major challenge by any stretch of the imagination. The flames were maybe ankle-to-shin high. We leaped over them as a team and splashed into the water below, where (thankfully) the mud caked over my face from the aforementioned face-plant was finally washed away.
14. Hangin’ Tough
The dreaded rings over water. Here you had to swing from ring to ring from one side to another, or else fall into in the water below. This requires strength and coordination, and I don’t think any of us made it past the third one. I certainly knew how to plunge like a champion!
15. Cage Crawl
Imagine a 40′ trench, 3 feet wide, filled with freezing colored water, covered with wire with just enough room at the top for half of your face, if you’re lying on your back. Then you had to pull yourself from one end to the other. This was actually really easy, but more cold water, disagreeable temperatures (for South Florida), and already cold participants made exiting this obstacle not so much fun. But it was a nice to “ace” an obstacle after the challenge of Hangin’ Tough.
16. Funky Monkey
The monkey bars! These weren’t straight across, but angled. 45 degrees up, then 45 degrees down. I thought I would have done better than I did. By the fourth monkey bar, my grip slipped and I plummeted into the water again. DAMN! I really wanted to do better. Next time. Shout out to Long John, who made it to the second-to-last ring before slipping, and Nike, who completed the damn thing!! Nice work gentlemen.
17. Log Jammin’
More over the logs, under the logs, but this time with BARBED WIRE!! This was another easy one. I managed to scale the logs pretty quickly and instead of crawling underneath them, I simply rolled instead. Piece of cake. I don’t think any member of the team had issues with this.
18. Drag Queen
Another one that wasn’t too challenging, but definitely required some precious stamina. You had to grab large NASCAR tires (2 or 3), all of them attached to a rope, and then pull them behind you for about 200 yards. This was fairly easy; the tires weren’t too heavy and as long as you had some good lower-body strength still going for you, you were fine. When you finished, you had to hand off your tires to the next person waiting. The woman I handed mine to look terrified and asked me, in a shaky voice, “Are– are those heavy?” I assured her they weren’t, but she didn’t seem convinced. Have faith, young Padawan!
19. Kiss of Mud 2
The same as before, another mud crawl. We found it faster going just by rolling through the damn thing on your side. You looked utterly ridiculous, and you ended up dizzy as hell by the finish, but with sliced up knees and tired legs, doing it that way was a no-brainer.
20. Berlin Walls
Three walls in a row. And the only obstacle I skipped. Eff that noise.
With that we made it to the final two obstacles of the day, and two of the toughest. Without further ado, let’s begin with…
Holy mother of God. This was the one I was dreading the entire race. Everest is a quarter-pipe (think of a curved skateboard ramp) that’s been greased up a bit. You need to get a good running start and then a strong leap for your hands to reach the top; then you need to hoist your entire body weight over. Unless you’re in really great shape, this is almost impossible to do on your own. You need assistance from your teammates or other Tough Mudders at the top to lift you over. Trayfe went first, followed by Long John, then myself, Nike, The Commish, and finally Witz. I made it up on the first try… but it wasn’t pretty. I almost decapitated this older guy at the top with my leg. Ugh. A lot of people skip this. But we all made it up there, and proudly. We even got featured on an official Tough Mudder photo!
With that done, it was a short jog over to the twenty-second and FINAL event of the course:
22. ELECTROSHOCK THERAPY
This was it! We were almost done and could taste that cold beer waiting for us. First we took a quick team photo in front of the obstacle sign:
And then we were ready to face it. Electroshock Therapy is nothing more than a sprint through soft, wet, ankle-deep mud, while making your way through a tangled nest of LIVE ELECTRICAL WIRES… upwards of 10,000 Volts of electricity coursing through each one. We were warned ahead of time that many people ended up getting shocked and falling helplessly into the mud. We were determined to make it through as a team, all six of us at once, together. Many teams joined arms or hands and went through like that, but that’s a recipe for disaster. If one person goes down, EVERYONE does. Plus you’re not protecting your face and head at all. We agreed to use our arms to cover our heads, and try to make it through without wiping out. After a quick countdown, we were off!
It started out fine, but about a third of the way through I felt the first shock on my right arm. More painful than I remembered from before. My arm went numb and started to convulse, but I kept my face covered as I kept going. Running through the mud was difficult; it was wet and caught your feet pretty well, so I kept my pace at a steady jog rather than an all-out sprint. I felt two more hard shocks, another on my elbow and one on my hip, both pretty hard and sudden, but the next thing I knew we had made it out to the other side! Witz was a total trooper (he did every obstacle, rain or shine) but alas, that last zap brought him down into the mud. No matter.
We had done it.
We WON! As a team!
We had completed the very last obstacle of the race!! All we had to do was cross the finish line, which we did together, chanting and raising our fists the entire way to the very end.
As we crossed the finish line there was a gaggle of nubile young lasses who knighted us with our “medals”: the much-coveted and not-easily-won Tough Mudder headband, a vision of victory in bright orange! We made our way through the chute, grabbed some water and a protein bar, and then finally grabbed our victory Dos Equis! They offered both regular and dark; I grabbed the darker beer. The sweeter the berry, after all. We toasted our victory like the champions were are!
Afterward it was simply a question of rinsing off in the outdoor showers and changing in the tents. There was some talk of going out to the Longhorn down the street for some victory steak and beer, but everyone was pretty sore and exhausted, and it was at least an hour drive back. Boots herself was fried and sore as well. It wasn’t easy for spectators who walked all three Spectator Trails. We’re talking 7 miles of walking, just to watch. Our ladies were troopers. Here’s a shout out victory picture of them as well:
After bidding everyone farewell with the promise of lots of awesome pictures to be shared, we waddled back to the car (painful), made a quick McDonald’s stop (we were both famished), and headed for home. My mind was swimming with the events of the day. All the pain, fun, exhilaration frustrations, limitations, determination, all of that… it was an incredible experience.
I have to give Tough Mudder absolute credit for doing a stand-up job on this event. I’m no stranger to races and fitness events, and I’ve seen various levels of organization and efficiency. Everything here moved like absolute clockwork. The hydration stations had plenty of water and provided bananas, oranges, and Clif Shot Bloks (which I’d never tried before, but I loved them! They might replace my GU habit…) There was plenty of beer, food, and other concessions. The free head-shaves and mohawks were a cool idea too (if I hadn’t seen Holly the day before to make my dome like as beautiful as it does, I might have indulged). The obstacles were well-staffed and maintained, and if the Porto-Potties were utterly depraved, even by Porto-Potty standards, that’s to be expected.
If you’re looking for a challenge, this is it. But you don’t have to be a total Fitness Monster to do one. There wasn’t a single obstacle that you couldn’t skip if you didn’t want to or couldn’t do it. All you need is some basic fitness training and a willingness to see how far you can go. I’m pleased to say I did all of the obstacles except the Berlin Walls, and now that I’ve completed a Tough Mudder event I’m more than ready to try another one. And do better. And train harder. And all of that self-congratulating, self-determining nonsense.
Give it up one more time to my brothers in the Innsmouth Rowing Club!
Nik/Nike! Aaron/Trayfe! Carlos/Long John! David/Witz! Carlos/The Commish! And myself, Matthew/Hokeyboy! We came as Men! We left as Champions!! We’re forbidden to dance in public until Simchas Torah 2015!!! Here’s the video: