My 2018 Tough Mudder Experience
Phew! I am glad I can finally check this event off my list, but I doubt I will ever do that again. My first Tough Mudder attempt was in 2012, after training diligently for months I had to bow out gracefully due to injury. Months before I tore my right ankle doing an obstacle workout. Although the damage improved somewhat, the instability was a recurring theme. In addition, I was also training for a half marathon at the same time as the first Tough Mudder. That lead to a severe case of IT band syndrome. I knew there was no way I could run 10 miles up a mountain. Even attempting to do so would have been stupid. Even with that decision, both injuries still haunt me from time to time.
Back to Tough Mudder 2018, I added this goal to my calendar well in advance. This time, it was another big boo-boo that motivated me to try TM again. Besides, this unfinished business just had to be checked off. I had suffered a serious set of injuries affecting my left shoulder, upper back, arm and neck in 2016 after a bad fall during a trail race. It took two years, seven different specialists, two physical therapists, one occupational therapist and a lot of praying to finally figure out the right course of treatment. I couldn’t exercise the way I normally had virtually my entire life, and I was losing my mind. Fear was also taking over. I was afraid of causing more damage, so even when I was cleared to start testing my limits, I panicked. Hence, the registration for Tough Mudder 2018.
My Tough Mudder training was done in conjunction with weekly physical therapy and regular chiropractor appointments. To be in the best shape possible for the course, you must have a solid level of cardio endurance, good grip strength, and perseverance. For me, a certain level of patience was also required. The bulk of the time involves trail running, which I am not a fan. We did that more than anything. The obstacles were spread out widely. TM is all about scaling high walls, pulling each other up and over various setups, helping teammates out of muddy pools, swinging across monkey bars and rings, carrying teammates, and more. A solid grip and arm strength are essential components. But since all the bars were so wet, muddy and slippery, I spent most of my time plummeting down into the frigid water!
To prepare for TM I did a lot of CrossFit workouts, running drills, obstacle course training. Bear crawls, farmers carry, V-ups, planks, kettlebell swings, climbing ropes and hanging. It was necessary to get back to doing pull-ups, and just be able to hang without failure on the left side. Monkey bars have always been one of my favorite obstacles, but at the time it was harder for me to re-master the skill. The rings made me very nervous because my physical therapist warned me of the potential for setbacks. If I ended up hanging for any length of time on the left, that could be bad news. So…I didn’t practice as much as I should have and skipped this obstacle and felt good about it. I also walked around the electric wires. Does that make me a wimp who lacks courage or mental grit? Hardly. I didn’t train for that and I believe it was pointless. I did plunge into the Arctic Enema (freezing cold ice bath) because I was curious. Again, that move was also illogical in my brain, but I thought it might be good for recovery. In the end, it wasn’t that bad. But, I wouldn’t waste my time jumping into a bath full of ice again when I was already very wet, cold and shivering.
The day of TM, I ate the same way I normally do while fueling up for a marathon or any endurance event. First thing in the morning I drink water with lemon. Steel cut oatmeal is my go-to breakfast. I add berries and nuts or a banana. I might have pasta or bread the day before a race, but no gluten or dairy that morning. I can’t recall everything I ate on the days leading to TM, but my typical diet includes lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, rice, and the occasional protein shake.
It takes a good team to successfully conquer all that Tough Mudder throws at you. My team was a crew of four women. Although we are fit and strong, we were grateful for the assistance we received from other teams along the way. Truth be told, women rock, but sometimes you need the strength of a brawny man. What is so great about TM is that everyone there is part of your team. We received help and we aided others along the way, it was just a given.
With some of the high obstacles, it isn’t an issue of physical strength, for some of us, there was a need to dig deep and fight through a fear. That was the case for me and one of my teammates. We fought together by scaling a wall while training, and the heights were even more overwhelming during the event. These breakthroughs alone made pushing through TM worthwhile. I have spent most of my life avoiding heights. There have been attempts to step out of my comfort zone, but the anxiety and physical paralysis take over. Better yet, I have allowed myself to be stopped by fear. Although it was taxing emotionally to do so, Tough Mudder showed me that I can push through the bad feelings. Therefore, I learned I can truly succeed at anything I set my mind to do, and that crawling through mud is just better with friends.