Worlds Toughest Mudder 2012 – One Man’s Journey from Down Under

Australian Obstacle Racing News   |   Nov 27, 2012

Worlds Toughest Mudder 2012

At the start of this journey, I was not even aware that there was a journey at all. Entering the Tough Mudder event in Melbourne because as a runner, it looked like it would be fun. At that time I had no idea that a “Worlds Toughest Mudder” even existed.

The very minute I became aware of this event, it called me, no, actually, it just knew I was coming. A split second decision to determine what my athletic goal for 2012 would be, I would be a Worlds Toughest Mudder competitor. The initial appeal was that this event, unlike all other Tough Mudder events, was in fact a race. With a race winner, prize money, and that extra drive that comes with knowing your name will be a place higher on the results sheet should you be able to catch and pass that next competitor in front of you. But it was also more than that, this was a 24hr test of body and mind, 16km per lap, 32 obstacles per lap, as many laps as possible in 24hrs.

I loved it already!

But first came the qualifying event, and a requirement to finish in the top 5% of the field. I have always been a very calculated racer and this didn’t seem to be a difficult task, with over 20,000 competitors I only needed to be in the top 1000 to claim my spot at the Worlds Toughest Mudder to be held in New Jersey later in the year, and I was confident that my running background would see me through and sufficiently make up for my lack of upper body strength that may hinder my progress on some of the Tough Mudder obstacles at the Melbourne event.

The Melbourne event passed without a problem, and both myself and friend Adam had indeed well and truly finished within the required top 5% of the field.

We now had a month before we were to be confirmed as eligible and then a further 6 months to prepare for what would be an exciting journey ahead.

The analysis of my strength and weaknesses compared to my perceived requirements for the events lead both of us to a plan to work on upper body strength. We were both good runners already and need only maintain that.

Six months of training at CrossFit Bacchus to build strength, agility, balance, coordination and endurance coupled with regular running training to maintain our conditioning saw us both as ready as could be come race day. With some injuries creeping in towards the end of our preparation, race day looked to be an interesting one……

24hrs, door to door Melbourne to New York, that’s a long time on a plane and waiting in lines at airports, and no amount of training can ever prepare you for that, travel is mind numbingly boring, only made pleasant by the great staff and service on our Qantas flight, we were here, the Big Apple.

I have a new favorite place in the USA, New York is beautiful!

After a couple of days in Jersey City, where we had picked up the last of our supplies needed for the race, we headed down to Englishtown on the Friday before the race. The weather forecast was for 11c both Saturday and Sunday and a low of 0c overnight. That was going to be tough, just how tough, we were to yet to find out.

Upon arriving at Englishtown, taking care of registration and setting up our tent in the pit area, we retreated back to our hotel to rest and prepare ourselves as best we could now for the test that await us starting at 10am Saturday morning. The unknowns of doing an event the first time, in only it’s second year running are huge, and both part of the appeal, and the fear that came with this event.

At registration, one of those wonderful things that often happens at an international event like this occurred and I met and introduced myself to the competitor next to me in the line. Paul was over from the UK to compete, and ended up spending the entire event by our sides throughout each and every lap.

Saturday, race morning, ahead lay 24hrs of discovery, not just ourselves, but the course, as we had only been advised of the course and the obstacles at registration the day prior!

We arrived early, a crisp, clear, calm morning greeted us, with frost formed on our tents. Final preparations revolved around ensuring our food was in place and the ritual dance of getting a wetsuit on. It was at this point that the mistakes that would plague us began. After the traditional Tough Mudder pledge was recited by all competitors, some inspirational tunes played and we were away.

Having not been able to run, at all, in the three weeks prior to the race, my running ability was unknown, was my troublesome hip going to plague me, or be ok? Was my weakened should going to allow me to complete the obstacles? Time would tell.

Whilst we prepared and dressed for cold water obstacles on a crisp morning, the though of overheating never entered our mind and the first few km’s saw us with lots of running and no obstacles to cool us down. We were already in trouble, dehydrating by the minute, we continued on at a relatively slow pace, but comfortable that we would wear down many of the ‘sprinters’, as long as we did not destroy ourselves too early on in the day.

The first lap is the lap of discovery, to work out how the body was feeling, and what the Worlds Toughest Mudder course was bringing to the game for us over the next 24hrs.

What we discovered was encouraging, the course was challenging, but not impossible at this point, and the bodies(mine in particular) was traveling alright. The heat continued to be an issue which we addressed with a slower pace and more fluid intake at the drink stations. Nearing the completion of lap 1, the Berlin Walls obstacle bit me, losing grip at the top and trying to hold on strained my shoulder and the landing when I was unable to hold on in a controlled manner had me landing heavily on my right foot, bruising the ball of my foot.

Soldier on……

I was still able to run and use my shoulder, but there was pain, which I feared would cost me dearly in the near future.

Lap 1 complete, into the pits for some nutrition. The question was, to remove layers due to the warmth, or not, as the layers kept us from getting too cold through the cold water obstacles. We opted for warmth as its easier to cool down than it is to heat up if we were to get too cold at any point. And so we continued, happy with our progress, and ready for lap 2.

It wasn’t far into lap 2 where my recent lack of training started to make things difficult for me. Whilst Adam and Paul both had run in them, I was reduced to a jog/walk at this point. However, it seemed I was not alone, as even at this pace, we were still passing more than being passed which was encouraging for all of us. One good thing for me was that I seemed to be having no problem with any of the obstacles, completing all so far with no penalties. Which pleased me immensely knowing that all those WOD’s at CrossFit Bacchus had paid dividends.

Lap 2 was much the same as lap 1, just at a slower pace due to my jog/walk. Even on only the second lap I was getting through some obstacles better having learnt a little about them on the first lap, and again managed to get through without having to complete any penalties, and this was a mini goal of mine, so was just a little pleased with myself at this point.

Not enough credit can go out to Adam and to Paul for sticking with me throughout, even when they could have gone quicker, they were glad for the help on the obstacles, and I was certainly glad for the company!

You guys are the best!!

At the end of lap 2 we took on some more nutrition, mindful not to be stood still for too long and get cold, we were back on our way. This was a difficult lap for me, in hindsight I should have put on my warmer gloves at the start of this lap, opting instead to wait, and it cost me. As the sun quickly disappeared, the temperature plummeted, and my hands were very cold. Very, very cold. So into the first aid tent we went for some chicken broth, and that broth was just what I needed. Not for my stomach, but pouring it over my hands and feet took that sting out of the cold for a little while, just enough to get through a few more obstacles and to the next first aid tent and more broth.

Adapting to the conditions is what is required in a race like this, and I think we did that pretty well. But the cold was coming, quickly…..

This was the first lap I missed an obstacle, falling into the water on the funky monkey bars and the rings, they were muddy and wet, and I didn’t have the grip in my cold hands to hold on, and so I got wet.

Our plan at the end of this lap was to enjoy a warm shower and take on some warm food, and we did this with the help of another Aussie who had been removed from the race already after suffering form the conditions. Trent went and microwaved our food, and helped us in putting on our extra gear for the next lap. For me this meant the springer wetsuit over the top of my tri suit, the 5mm neoprene gloves, and the full hoodie on the head. Had I been able to jog, all this may not have been needed yet, but I couldn’t jog, and so it was a necessity. Unfortunately, the showers were not working, and the much looked forward to warm shower, was no longer. Even still, the cold had a bigger bite than we had anticipated on this next lap, and we were all suffering from it. More broth on the fingers and toes was all we had to look forward to, moving mentally from one aid station to the next in search of the warm broth and the temporary relief it gave.

Mid way through this lap Adam started to struggle, physically from the cold, which then taxed him mentally, I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice, he was done when we got back. It wasn’t until the last 2 miles of lap 4 where I joined him in this line of though. As Tough Mudder started to modify obstacle because they were no longer safe, we made our way through them and toward the end of our nights work. At this point the forecast low of 0c had been well and truly passed, and the gauge was reading -5c, another blow.

Adam and I decided that this was all we had on this day, and called an end to it at the completion of 4laps straight, pleased with what we had achieved.

On reflection I have mixed feelings, disappointed with the outcome as I had aimed much higher, but ecstatic with the outcome knowing what it took of us to achieve it.

As I sit here a little over a day later, my body sore, I want to come back next year, I had a goal, and I did not achieve it this past weekend. I am now a little wiser as to what it takes to compete here, and I hope to return next year.

Congratulations and thank you to Adam and to our new pommy friend Paul for sticking by me, we would have made a formidable team, as it was, we were 3 formidable individuals who did something special on this day.

To all the others who were out on the course, you all are amazing individuals, whether you completed 1 lap or 9laps, I was grateful for your encouragement and help, and glad to help some of you along the way.

To the Tough Mudder staff and particularly the volunteers throughout the weekend, a huge thank you, those volunteers were amazing with their encouragement and positivity throughout, for people who were there for the love of it, you are amazing!

Thank you to everyone else who has shown love, support and encouragement along the way, you all helped to make this possible, and I thought of many of you during the night when it got tough.

Finally thank you to my family, my kids who are always cheering while Dad works out, Val(Gran) who enables me to go away and do these silly things, and my beautiful wife for never giving me grief when I tell her the crazy things I am doing. I love you all very much!

- Mark Stiegler