Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tough Mudder - Austin 2012

6 October 2012
Paige, Texas at Cross Creek Cycle Park
Start time: 0945
Temperature: 70's and cloudy
Team: Eve and Seth Switzer, Sean Miller

Following the Dallas Tough Mudder in March, it didn't take long for Seth and Sean to register for another Tough Mudder event 7 months later near Austin. I really didn't think the Dallas TM was that bad so I agreed to do another event with them. I had a few goals right off the bat that contributed to the decision to do another one: (1) Attempt every obstacle – I had skipped 3 obstacles at the Dallas TM for lack of arm strength; (2) beat our previous time of over 5 hours and 45 minutes; (3) get through without cramping problems that slowed us down.

About 3 months prior to TM Austin, I started P90X again to primarily work on my core and arm strength. I sprinkled in a few short 3-4 mile runs a couple of times a week. A few weeks before the event, I increased my mileage and dropped the plyometric, yoga, and leg/back workouts in favor of longer runs and continued doing the arm/shoulder/back/triceps workouts. My last full week of workouts prior to TMA included arms/shoulder/back/triceps workouts, two 5 mile runs and then an 8 mile run the Saturday before. I was definitely more prepared for TMA this time around and I do think it paid off.

I also did a few other things differently this time. I ordered Mad Grip Pro Palm Knuckler gloves for us after reading about them online (small for Seth and extra small for me). I designed fast dry tech shirts (gray) for us on Cafe Press that said “Train, Suffer, Repeat....Tough Mudder 2012” on the front in orange. We received a lot of nice compliments for our shirts and it made it clear that we were a team. I wore compression sleeves on my legs to help my calves.  Seth also bought a new pair of trail shoes. To help combat cramping, I bought a bunch of energy gel and Gu to take in my Spibelt. We made a reservation at the Hilton Austin Airport through the TM website for 2 nights – it was too far to try and drive back home the same day again. In the car, we packed extra plastic bags, a couple of trash bags, a bunch of towels, an old bed sheet, and a roll of paper towels. Seth had also bought 2 portable sun showers which were, essentially, large bags to hold water to hang outside where the water would get warmed by the sun and could run through tubes with a spigot. These proved particularly essential to avoid having to sit in mud and grime in the car on the way back to the hotel.

We got to Austin at around 10 pm on Friday night after a nice dinner stop at the Capital Grille in Fort Worth. We ate ourselves silly all in the name of carb loading. The following morning we got up at just before 6 am. I was wearing much the same as what I had worn in Dallas: running bra, a long-sleeved black tech shirt, our gray short sleeve tech shirt that I had ordered, a pair of calf length running tights, compression leggings, an old pair of running shoes, quick dri socks, Timex Triathlon watch, and a head band that said “Will run for beer and wine”. I took off my rings and left them in the hotel room.

The hotel provided a breakfast buffet to all TM participants at 6 am: scrambled eggs, potatoes, biscuits, bacon, fruit, coffee, juice, etc. Unfortunately, I was still pretty full from dinner the night before but still shoveled in some eggs, potato, and biscuit knowing that I was going to need the fuel. After a cup of coffee and a quick bathroom stop, we headed out to the Cross Creek Cycle Park which was about 40 miles from the hotel. After our experience in Dallas, where we waited in line to park for almost 2 hours, we headed out to the cycle park around 7 for our 9:45 am start, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the traffic wasn't bad at all. After paying our $10 to park, we were directed to a spot that wasn't nearly as far from the start as we were in Dallas.

After easily checking in with our “death waivers” and IDs, getting our packets (wrist bands, race bib, and safety pins), and getting our foreheads and other body parts marked with our race numbers, we easily found Sean, our 3rd team member. Following one more bathroom run, we had plenty of time before our start wave so we took our time putting on our bibs, spraying on some sun screen, tying and double tying our shoes, and donning our wrist bands (one for beer and one for bag check). I also wore my Timex Triathlon watch this time to keep track of our time. We stopped for some “before” pictures and then dropped our bags off. 

In my backpack, I had a change of shoes (Teva sandals), a pair of shorts, a bra, scrub top, and underwear. I was already wearing an “old” pair of underwear knowing that it wouldn't make it out alive after this event and the last one we did where I had, unfortunately, worn a brand new pair of underwear. Silly, I know, but I really hadn't thought of that the last time.

We hung around and checked out some of the booths while waiting for our start time. Waves had been leaving every 15 minutes since 8 am. As the 9:30 start wave left the start area, we climbed over the wall and made our way towards the start marker. The pre-start event was much the same as it had been in Dallas. The same TM guy from Dallas was there giving everyone a pep talk prior to the start encouraging everyone to wave an arm in the air while repeating phrases in army-like fashion....”I say 'Tough' say 'Mudder'”, “I say 'Wounded' say 'Warrior'”, etc. We then took a knee and thanked our military and participating active military were recognized. After several rounds of “hoo rah”, a recorded version of the Star Spangled Banner, and repeating the Tough Mudder pledge, we did a 10 second count down and were off.

I had reviewed the course map from the TM site but knew, this time around, to take the map and list of obstacles with a grain of salt. The Dallas TM map had not been exactly accurate – the obstacles were no where near the order they were on the map and there were some obstacles that were not on the list and others that were on the map but weren't at the event. I had a handful of obstacles that were particularly worrisome to me. I don't like to swim – not that I can't swim, just that it's not my favorite thing to do. I was also worried about my contacts and had an extra pair tucked into the back pocket of my running tights as I had in Dallas. The under water obstacles (walk the plank, arctic enema, and underwater tunnels/barrels) were particularly concerning to me along with, of course, the obstacles that involved electricity. I had skipped 3 obstacles in Dallas: walk the plank (no arm strength to make the climb up to the platform much less swim my way out), electric eel (no arm strength to crawl), and Funky Monkey (again, no more arm strength left). In retrospect, I could have incorporated more swimming and diving into my work outs but, in the end, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it might be....I suspected as much – it really was just a mental thing.

After a bit of running, we reached our first obstacle, the Kiss of Mud. I shouldn't have turned my Spibelt around to the back because it got snagged several times on the barbed wire. When we reached the obstacle, everyone was crowding along the left side and waiting to go under – the right 1/3 of the obstacle had empty lanes so we decided to go to the right. The first half of the obstacle was dry and I'm sure this is where I picked up a few of my bruises from the rocks and dirt. The 2nd half of the obstacle was muddy and much easier to crawl/glide through. Tip #1 – choose wisely – go down the lane that really is muddy and not dry.

Not far from the Kiss of Mud was the 2nd obstacle and I think I was just a bit relieved that it was the Arctic Enema already - one of the obstacles I had been worried about. We saw the truck that was dumping ice into the water but I never saw actual ice cubes in the water – not like the pictures you see on the TM site. This time, we had to crawl under barbed wire before getting into the water. Don't get me wrong, it really was cold but I'm glad it wasn't a true ice bath. I'm world-famous for being perpetually cold but I must have warmed up quite a bit during the run because I didn't really think it was as cold as some others did. Seth said the cold took his breath away and he couldn't catch his breath when he came up on the other side of the board. Maybe I was too preoccupied with not losing my contacts that I didn't pay any attention to my breathing or the cold. I had also lost my headband somewhere and regretted not remembering to take it off before doing this obstacle. In Dallas, the first under water obstacle was the tunnel/barrel swim and I had lost my headband going under the first barrel but was able to swim over and retrieve it before finishing the rest of the barrels. Hair flopping around my face drove me nuts for the rest of the event and I looked forward to the wet/muddy areas just so I could slick my hair back and get it out of my face. Mud worked much better for this purpose than water did, by the way.

It seems like we did a LOT more running during this event than we did in Dallas. Before we knew it, we saw the 2 mile sign – it had been 28 minutes. Not bad – we were on a pretty good pace to beat our last time. We stopped briefly at the water stop and then continued on.

The next obstacle was the Dirty Ballerina – mud walls with muddy water pits in between. The idea was to jump from wall to wall but most people slid into the water and walked through the muddy water across to the next wall. I thought these walls were harder to get over than Dallas. With no footholds, I used my arms a lot to lift myself out of the water and repeated this about 5 times. This was not good using so much arm strength right off the bat because the next obstacle was the Cliff Hanger. I realized right away that I wouldn't be able to get up the middle of this giant mud hill even with help so I took the side route and climbed up the more dry /less slippery area. I waited up top for Seth and Sean for quite a while and when I finally peered over the edge, they were still waiting in the group at the bottom of the hill. I observed a lot of Mudders trying to organize and decide who would stretch down the hill first with someone at the top holding their legs/ankles. I saw many “human chains” being made like this but, invariably, only a handful of Mudders would climb up before the person at the bottom of the chain would drop into the mud. You could hear a group “awwwww” whenever a chain was broken and the bottom 1 or 2 people slid back down again. Seth and Sean finally took an alternate route, climbing about 1/3 of the way up the hill and then climbing up the side with a lot of people helping to hoist them up. We spent a good 30 minutes at this obstacle and when we left, the TM staff were just starting to set up stakes to drop down ropes for people to use. The crowd lining up to get up the hill was getting sizable. Tip #2 - there's no shame in taking an alternate route.

The next obstacle was very close – another of my dreaded obstacles, Walk the Plank - a 15 foot drop into water. This time, it was easier to get up the wall – they nailed 2 by 4s to use as hand and foot holds so I was able to climb up without too much trouble. I waited for the last jumper to clear the landing area then plugged my nose and jumped without stopping to think about it. I remember thinking that it took a little longer to hit the water than I had anticipated. I also didn't sink to the bottom as I had worried about before. I surfaced and started to swim towards the exit but couldn't get my eyes cleared up enough to see very well and still keep my contact lenses stuck to my eyeballs. I got covered by a wave and got a good nose-full of muddy water before making it to the other side and using the rope to pull myself out. Sean reached down and helped me out too. It took a while to get that gritty feel out of my contacts.

If there's an obstacle that I really don't like – not afraid of, just don't like – it's the Berlin walls. These are the toughest obstacles to me at a height of only 5 foot 3 inches. This first set was a bit shorter than the usual walls – around 8 feet high. We got Seth over first and then Sean helped me get over. This wall had no foot holds so Sean hoisted me up by my right foot while I hung on to the top of his head and reached for the wall with my left hand then he lifted me up by both feet until I was able to straighten my arms out on top of the wall. I swung my right leg over and then brought myself over and hung over the other side as Seth helped ease me down. It doesn't matter how I do this obstacle, I always seem to bang my knees up. I have no idea how Sean got over the wall – at over 6 feet tall, I think he could just run up and reach the top and haul himself over without much help.

The next handful of obstacles weren't too bad at all - it was a nice "rest" before we got to the really famous and nasty ones. Log Jammin had us going over and under logs. Not much to it except to be careful and not slip off the log. Trench Warfare was just a belly crawl under a large plank but in Austin, the ground was really dry with a lot of rocks. In Dallas, there just seemed to be much more mud which is both good and bad. On an obstacle like Trench Warfare, it's much easier to slide around in the mud rather than having to use your elbows and knees to crawl across dirt and rocks. The insides of both of my knees are black and blue from doing this. King of the Mountain was a new obstacle to us - climbing over hay bales stacked up probably 30 feet. It did take some pushing and being pulled on to make it up the bales. Spider's Web was another one new to us. Thankfully there were a bunch of guys on the other side of the net pulling it down so it didn't move a lot while you were climbing it. We went right into Kiss of Mud #2 which was much muddier than the first one and made it through without a problem.

Trench Warfare
King of the Mountain

Spider's Web

Kiss of Mud 2
Now, I didn't mind Boa Constrictor in Dallas because I can get up on my hands and knees to crawl through it. Of course, the guys had a harder time getting through and both had to go completely under the muddy water at the bottom of the first tube and going into the second tube. The plastic tubes are angled downwards into muddy water and then you enter another plastic tube that starts in the muddy water and angles upwards. I was able to just hold my nose and keep my eyes above the water going both out of and in to the tubes - the top of my head brushing along the top of the tube. The guys laughed as I reached the top of the 2nd tube and crawled out rather than having to belly crawl or slide out.

Boa Constrictor - actual picture of Sean

It was time to get through the Electric Eel. In Dallas, the Electric Eel was one of the last few obstacles and my arms had gone totally numb and tingly by then so I had elected to skip it - sitting and resting in the grass while the guys did it. They finished it and complained a LOT about how much the shocks hurt describing it as being burned or smacked with a stick each time they got shocked. I was prepared for this visualizing multiple needle sticks for each shock but when I made it to the end of the obstacle, I rolled out of it onto the ground and stood up thinking...."that really wasn't too bad". I got shocked plenty but not once did I think the shocks were "sharp" or "burning" or "needle like". I could feel a muscle twitch with each shock which is what I felt doing the Electroshock Therapy at the end of Dallas TM. In Dallas, I thought I had just "lucked out" and not gotten the full voltage wires hitting me. One of our teammates in Dallas got shocked first thing in that obstacle and fell face first into the mud. I thought he must have gotten caught by one of the 10,000 volt wires and I just got zapped by the "smaller" voltage ones. In retrospect and having explored it some more with Seth and Sean, they got the same shocks as I did but had a different reaction to them. We speculated maybe this had to do with more muscle mass and less conductivity? I have no idea but there was clearly a difference in what we thought about it. Seth felt that he had proven himself on this obstacle twice now and if there was a next time, he would seriously think about skipping it whereas for me, it wouldn't be any big deal to do again. Very strange. Tip #3 - yes, women are from Venus and men are from Mars.

I had a chance at redemption with the Just the Tip obstacle where you shimmy along a board with your toes and your fingers. In Dallas, the board for your hands was placed way too high and I had trouble reaching it so into the water I went. This time, the boards for your fingers/hands were placed at varying heights and I found it much easier to hang on to and made it through the obstacle without taking a red water bath. Tip #4 - I had stopped to take my gloves off before doing this obstacle which helped, I believe. I was pretty happy after this one. As in Dallas, Sean was tall enough so he could just hook his fingers over the top of the wall again and just shimmy along that way.

We had no idea what to expect with the next of the "mystery" obstacles. We came upon the Dark Lightning and could hear the "thunder" but couldn't see into the big "box" that you crawled into. We went single file on our hands and knees past the first set of carpet flaps and when Sean reached inside past the 2nd carpet flap, he suddenly hit the deck on his belly. Seth and I were behind him and both surprised at this so when Seth went through the carpet flap, I pulled it to the side to see what was inside. Mudders were crawling in a dark room with electrical wires dangling down. It was pretty dark and punctuated every once in a while with "lightning". It took me getting through about 1/3 of it, and getting shocked a few times, to adjust to the lighting and start seeing the wires hanging down. I was able to go between the wires but there was a bit of a bottleneck getting OUT of the room for some unfathomable reason. At first, I got shocked several times in the same body part whilst waiting for the line to start moving again. I started yelling "gotta keep moving!!" at the people in front but it seemed to take forever to crawl out of there.

We reached another bottle neck somewhere - I can't remember exactly if it was before or after the Dark Lightning but it seemed like we were waiting to get into what was commonly referred to as the "Mud Mile" - a few Mudders commented on this - but it didn't turn out to be so. In Dallas, we had a horribly long wait while trudging through mud up to our knees that made nice sucking noises when you put your foot down in it. It was literally a muddy ravine that, as best as we can guesstimate, took us at least 2 hours to get through, one sucking step at a time. It was brutal and a lot of people lost their shoes along the way. Some Mudders were climbing up the banks looking for an alternate route to go around. We even had heard about someone who had collapsed in this mud behind us, had to be rescued, transported, and then had died. This was the rumor anyways.

After standing around waiting for about 20 minutes we finally made our way down a hill into a creek bed only to cross through a little bit of mud (it took me maybe 6 steps) and go up the other side. I still don't understand why there was such a long bottleneck here but it wasn't anything like the one in Dallas. It was sometime after this that we reached the REAL Mud Mile where you actually climb over mud mounds into a pool of mud while trying not to lose your shoes. After sliding into the first pool of mud and getting my shoe nearly sucked off when I planted my foot down, I climbed the first mud mound and after that remembered what I had done in Dallas. Tip #5 - GLIDE. I slid into the rest of the mud pools and pushed off the side with my legs, glided through the mud without touching the bottom, and reached the other side and climbed out. I got a lot of mud in my face but it was much better, imo, than losing a shoe and having to drag your leg out of the mud which totally zaps your energy. I repeated this 3 or 4 times and got through the obstacle noticing a lot of Mudders standing around trying to fix their lost shoes.

I'm not sure what it is about swimming under things that is creepy to me. Maybe it's the thought of losing my contacts, not being able to see in the muddy water, or maybe it's just the feeling of being out of breath that I dislike. The final water obstacle was next: Underwater Tunnels - where you swim across a pond and have to bob under 3 sets of barrels and swim out the other side. This time around, it didn't seem as bad and I swam under the first barrel but had a lot of trouble wiping the muddy water out of my eyes to see where the next barrel was. I did the next 2 barrels mostly by feel and swam across the rest of the pond with my eyes mostly closed until I could reach the bottom with my feet. I could hear Seth yelling at me trying to guide me in the right direction because I could barely tell if I was there yet or not. I was pretty glad to get this last water obstacle out of the way and really started to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Hold Your Wood is an interesting obstacle. I picked up a pretty good sized log but it didn't seem too heavy. Of course, the longer you walk with that thing on your shoulder, the heavier it seems to get. We walked around for a half mile it seemed like and I had to switch the log from shoulder to shoulder a few times to give my arm and shoulder a break. Some people always opt to get a long log and have several people carry it together. That looked really hard to do as we were going up and down hills as well and, obviously, some people were shorter than others. We dropped our logs off and continued on mostly walking from this point on. We had done a fair amount of slow jogging so far but after mile 10, we walked more than jogged - there was no question that we were feeling it and both Sean and I had some minor cramping problems. I should mention here that I had brought 2 packs of gel and 2 packs of Gu with me. I had taken one before our wave started and then took one at the 2nd and 4th water stops. I could defnitely feel when they "kicked in" - it felt like a second wind. The minor cramping we had were remedied with just stopping and stretching - no where near as bad as the calf cramps I had in Dallas. I'm pretty sure it would have been much uglier had I not packed those gels in especially since I didn't really eat a good breakfast. Tip #6 - BRING GU or GEL (and don't eat a ginormous dinner the night before).   Prior to Dallas TM - we stopped at a burger joint and just had burgers and fries the night before. I think we ate at an IHOP the next morning.  I'll never do a Tough Mudder again without energy gel.

So things are going pretty well - I've attempted and made it past all of the obstacles so far. Cue the sinister music now because the Funky Monkey was next. Seth got to the 3rd bar before dropping in the water but I could barely even reach the first one. I touched the bar and gave up, sliding into the water and swimming across. Monkey bars going up at an angle and then coming down at an angle spaced impossibly too far apart, greased and freely rolling in your hands - this is one obstacle that I don't see myself ever completing - most don't.

Now along comes version 2 of my least favorite obstacle - Berlin Walls #2. This time, the walls are 9 feet tall and there is a strip of wood about 3 feet off the ground to step up on. Seth got over first with a few pushes. This time I put my left foot up on the thin step up while Sean boosted me from below, hooked my fingers over the top of the wall, brought my right leg up to the support beam and then Sean pushed me up by my left foot until I was able to straighten out my arms at the top of the wall. I swung my right foot over the wall and sat up catching my breath for a few seconds and contemplating the drop down the other side. Even with me hanging by my hands from the top of the wall, it was still a pretty good drop to the ground. I don't know how many times I asked Seth if he HAD me before I dropped down. This is where I'm sure I scraped up my left knee and banged the snot out of both knees. Thank goodness there were only 2 Berlin walls to climb over.

Everest was another obstacle I had skipped in Dallas. It was also towards the end of the course and I didn't even attempt it there because I still couldn't feel my arms. In Austin, though, I was feeling really pretty good with my arms. I told myself I had to try at LEAST 3 times to get up the half pipe to the top. Sean got up the wall without a hitch all by himself. It took Seth a couple of tries and he was up too. I took a deep breath and ran as hard as I could but was pretty far away from catching their outstretched arms sliding back down the half pipe. No luck again on my 2nd attempt. I kept hearing "keep running, don't stop" from others and collected myself a 3rd time. My fingers just brushed past theirs and down I went again this time landing on the left side of my face and banging my teeth. I made a quick decision to try a 4th time. I didn't wait too long this time and repeated "keep running" to myself as I ran up the half pipe, grabbed onto Sean's hands and then tried to scramble up the rest of the way but lost my footing. Seth grabbed my right wrist and Sean repositioned himself and re-grabbed my left hand and both of them yanked me up to the top. I was so happy that I hugged Seth and we cheered for ourselves. Another obstacle conquered. We were almost done.

The Electroshock Therapy is traditionally the last obstacle in every Tough Mudder event. This one had what seemed like even more wires dangling down and it wasn't just a straight run though the mud - there were several mud "speed bumps" along the way and they weren't straight either. Sean took off immediately and I watched him get through followed by Seth who almost made it but got tripped up on the very last muddy speed bump and fell on his left hand (with an impressive bruise showing up the next day). Just as Seth fell, I went for it and could hear myself saying "oh', "oh', "oh" every time I got shocked but, somehow, I got through it without tripping or falling. What a relief. We collected ourselves together and crossed the finish line, posed for a group picture and made sure the photographer had my bib number - I had re-pinned my bib back on multiple times during the event and was determined to get through without losing it.
We were bestowed with our (2nd) orange Tough Mudder headbands, picked up our shirts, and picked up our beers. We stood around for a bit feeling pretty accomplished, munching on Cliff bars (me) and drinking beers (Seth and Sean). Our time was 4 hours and 18 minutes. We headed to the showers to rinse off and I was so glad to see that the set up was vastly different than Dallas. There was a sizable wooden frame erected with tons of hoses hanging down from the top 2 at a time each with it's own sprayer. Even the water was warm. We spent a little longer than the recommended 2 minutes rinsing ourselves and each other off. Someone even had a bar of Lever soap and it felt good to use it on my face to wash the grime off. Afterwards, we picked up our bags, I changed shoes and donated my old running shoes, putting on my Teva sandals instead. It felt so good to get those shoes off and this time I remembered to pull out the expensive Walking Company inserts that I wear in my running shoes - putting them in a ziplock bag in my backpack along with my gloves which I also intended on keeping. We stopped at the TM booth to buy some souvenirs - TM stickers for our cars and a TM baseball cap for Seth. Sean had already left - he wanted to drive back to Enid that same day.

After party

Shoe donation

We walked slowly back to our car and I spread out an old bed sheet in the back seat, shut the door, and peeled the wet clothes off. With a large towel wrapped around me, I rinsed off one more time with the Sun Showers that Seth had bought - it was great to be able to get that last layer of mud off after stripping off the wet clothes. I climbed back into the car and got dressed so glad to be rid of the wet things. We drove back to the hotel stopping at Sonic along the way to get something to eat.

All in all, I again enjoyed doing this Tough Mudder event. There aren't that many couples our age (married for 20 years in a few months) doing this sort of thing together. We earned those bragging rights and I'm so happy that I met my goals - I hit every obstacle, we beat our previous time by well over an hour, and the cramps were kept to a minimum. There were a few obstacles that we noted missing from Austin - twinkle toes (balance beam) and Devil's Beard (walking under a cargo net tunnel).  My Tough Mudder sticker will live on the back of my car as we look towards Tough Mudder Albuquerque in 2013 - Seth already has us pre-registered.

Addendum - our pictures were just posted they are:

Mud Mile

Trying to stay upright
Electroshock Therapy