World’s Toughest Mudder RecapDecember 22, 2017
Well, there I was, standing in the middle of a desert beside Las Vegas lake. I had entered a race, running for redemption since last year when I had to quit 45 miles in. Ongoing Plantar Fasciitis issues and stress fractures in my feet made the race impossible for me to finish. But this was a new year, a new race. The noonday sun was beating down on all of us as we gathered at the starting line.
I was up front, having qualified as an elite contender by finishing top 5 at a “Toughest” overnight event in the summer–I was honoured. Just a boy from Toronto, and I’m lined up beside the best in the game like Ryan Atkins and Jon Albon. Last year had taught me a lot, and my head was full of dreams of a podium finish. Having worked so hard to prepare for this race, and finally having a handle on the issues that arose last year, my goals were ambitious: 18 laps (90 miles), with a stretch goal of 20 laps (100 miles).
What Happens in Vegas… Will Probably Happen in this Gosh Darn Desert
My watch struck 12 and we were off. The hot, dry air turned into dust as nearly 1700 runners began their journey through the desert. The course was well-marked, a similar route to last year. I told myself to just enjoy the run, stay relaxed, because there was a long, long way to go. Everything began as I had imagined; the first lap included a swim through frigid waters, waters that remained cold despite the desert heat. I knew the water could have an effect on my condition as the race progressed. To avoid a bottleneck, obstacles were not opened for the first hour, some remaining closed until 4pm. It was a lot of running.
Going into this race I was concerned about the knee and hip flexor pain I’ve been dealing with, and my feet are always a concern. They started to get sore about 3 laps in, I was worried, so I just kept saying ‘you can’t stop now, deal with it’. Then the hip flexor started to sing, and so I told myself again ‘you can’t stop now, deal with it’. I focused on my footsteps, focused on each stride carrying me forward, getting lost in the rhythm of my progress. I had to stay positive and calm. I put mental blinders on, blocking out my surroundings and my competitors. I didn’t want to start out too strong and lose it toward the end, as many runners do. The first obstacle opened, the mud crawl.
They should have named it the rock crawl, as it was no more than sharp stones in a bit of water. By 4pm the majority of the obstacles were open. Toughest Mudder makes some pretty massive ones, so it can be quite nerve wracking to approach them for the first time, especially when you don’t know what the penalties are. The most difficult of them was the ‘Funky Monkey’, a monkey bar on an incline, leading to 3 spinning wheels, and finishing with a long bar.
I managed to get through it the first couple times, but the ‘Ring Swing’ was another story. Nearly halfway through the obstacle I reached out for the rope, but what my hand grasped was a bungee, and so I slipped and mangled my favourite middle finger.
Just Keep Moving
It was dark when I finally got word of my standing–17th place. I was surprised and I felt a bit deflated, but I had to keep going, keep running. So I kept at it, lap after lap, and soon I heard people cheering my name. It’s an amazing feeling to be out there, alongside all these great competitors, and have people cheer you on. But then came setbacks; I approached Funky Monkey and failed it. And then again I failed. Having to attempt it after the water obstacle meant that the bars got very slippery, and the darkness was no help either. The most troubling repercussion of failing was the penalty lap.
It was more than a kilometre in length and included ‘Arctic Enema’, the infamous ice water obstacle. I had to go faster through the penalty laps and hasten any pit stops in order to make up for lost time. Soon I found myself in 11th place, I kept pushing, 9th place, kept pushing, 6th place. I tried not to think of the course, I let my mind run its own race, and so it travelled to thoughts about my family, my brother, all that they’ve been through. I thought about my One Academy team and how hard they work. I thought about all my friends, and ONE Army and the mountains they fight their way up and the classes they push through. I wanted to keep pushing for them.
I thought about all the struggling, all the striving, and I wanted to prove to people what is possible, but no amount of strife could prepare me for what was about to come. It had been twelve hours now since I started the course, midnight struck, and two new water obstacles opened up. I was very cold. The last thing you want to be in these races is cold. It’s like trying to drive your car with the AC on full blast–your body is rerouting so much of its energy just to stay warm. I knew I had to keep moving.
As I struggled up one of the longer hills, I became disoriented and thought that I had wandered off the marked course. As it turns out, they had extended the course at midnight to include another lengthy climb, only to descend back down a slippery ladder at the end. By now the wind had picked up and brought with it an eerie feeling.
I kept moving to try to stave off the cold. Your body goes through many stages of exhaustion when moving for this long. I had felt very nauseous on the course, but again told myself to ‘keep going, it’ll go away’. But after failing Funky Monkey again and doing the penalty lap, I was truly exhausted. I threw up a couple times and started feeling better, though the coldness bit deeper into me as I approached the Cliff Jump. Now I’ve jumped off some high things in my life, and I’m not not easily frightened, but let me tell you it’s a whole different game in the desert in the middle of the night, with the wind blowing, after you’ve been running for 13 hours.
I looked over the cliff and I could barely see the bottom. I was scared–and there’s video evidence to prove it. But I muscelled through, finishing the lap with a jolt of excitement as I found out I was now in 5th place.
My Night in Cold Hell
All that went through my head was ‘keep moving, sunlight is coming, just move and don’t stop’. I knew there was just a few hours left, but this next lap certainly took its toll on me. The water got much colder in the desert night, and the wind felt like it was cutting right through me. I couldn’t stop the shivering.
With more than a dozen hours in, there was no way I was going to stop now, especially when I thought about One family watching from home and cheering me on. My mantra became ‘one foot in front of the other’, hoping the sun would peek over the horizon soon. I failed Funky Monkey again and struggled towards the Cliff Jump.
I wondered whether I even had the energy to swim to shore. I reached the lap’s end in really rough shape and felt very cold. I was in big trouble, but thought if I could do one more lap than it would almost take me to sunlight. I remained in 5th place, so that was uplifting. I marched my way up the first hill of my 14th lap, shivering cold, arrived at the first water obstacle and struggled through it.
My hip flexors were screaming in pain and my knee was throbbing. I tried to keep running. At the middle climb the wind felt like it was piercing my skin. I started to slow down. I knew this would be my last lap; I was shivering, I couldn’t see straight or walk straight. I just wanted to finish the lap without needing medics to help me off the course, so I shivered my way through.
Growing up in Toronto I thought I knew the cold, but this was the coldest I’d ever been. Luckily a friend recognized me, noticed I was in bad shape and he stuck with me for the last mile or so of the lap to take me in. I took the penalty on the cliff jump because I feared I wouldn’t be able to swim myself out. I completed what would be my last and 14th lap (70 miles) at 5:18am after running, climbing, swimming and shivering for 17 hours 18 minutes.
I fell well short of my goal and dropped to 36th place, but I was just glad to have my good friends Renee, Tomasz, and Amin there to make sure I was okay. They had been there for us the entire night, non-stop, and were there every time I came to the pit.
Learn the Hard Way
Granted, I was disappointed in my ranking, but I am by no means lowering expectations of myself. I’ll just have to train harder, do more research, and develop more of a game plan. I wasn’t prepared for the climate, as the year before wasn’t nearly as cold. Running through the desert, I was sure I’d be too hot, but let me tell you, it was bloody cold out there.
Being in and out of the water constantly, combined with the wind, really took its toll. Next year, and yes I am competing next year, I’ll make sure I’m prepared: gear for all conditions, at least a base layer of some sort, and another 1mm hooded top to go over it all. I’ll also be spending my spring playing around in the water while it’s still cold in Canada. The physical training starts now, despite the pain in simply walking–grip strength baby!
This race is my goal for next year, along with OCRWC and NAOCRC–third time’s the charm! Congrats to my homegirl Christine Bennet who crushed 50 miles with some time to spare and John Bartello who finished 75 miles in 24 hours. Huge shout out, of course, to Ryan Atkins for taking home the #1 spot, finishing an incredible 110 miles!