Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tough Mudder Austin - Recap

Completed the Tough Mudder in Driftwood, Texas this past weekend. My first TM. I warmed up to it a few weeks ago with the Iron Warrior Dash, a 15 mile mud and obstacle race by the same folks that put on the 5k Warrior Dash. The Tough Mudder was sort of a last minute decision. I had already committed to the Beaver Creek and Tahoe Mudders in June and July with a couple of groups of friends and I didn't actually realize that the TM was here in Austin until three weeks ago. Even then I thought that I was going to be busy and not able to make the time for the race. Once I realized I was free I pondered the TM season pass for a bit. Since I was already doing two Mudders, this would be my third and then in October I can choose between the Dallas and Houston events, or do both. Season Pass - done. Austin Tough Mudder- I'm in.

Four days later, it's event day. Since the season pass allows users to enter as many events as they like and start at any time they want, I slept in a little bit the morning of the race. Waking at 6:30, I made some coffee and took my time getting ready. I had already prepped most everything I needed the night before. My wife Lisa was joining me so when we were both ready around 7:30 we headed out. First stop, the Taco Shack for a couple of Miga Tacos. They are one of my favorite race morning foods.

Taco down, we were on our way to Longhorn River Ranch in Dripping Sprints. Forty-five minutes later...oooops...traffic jam. One mile from our last turn to the event parking and we were backed up with the rest of the participants. The good news was that we could see the parking area from the jam so it really only added about 15 minutes to the drive. Once we made the turn parking was quick and simple and a short walk later we were at the shuttle buses. One note, there were porta-potties out at the parking area, nice touch, but the lines were a little deep, so I opted to wait until we got to the ranch. The shuttles covered the last four miles to the event in just a few minutes.

The check-in area was very organized, plenty of space so there really weren't any massive crowds, unless you had a registration issue or were trying to register same-day or had a season pass. You see I really waited until the last minute and when I decided I was doing the race, online registration had closed. I didn't think much of it, knowing that I could just show up, pay the $15 insurance fee and participate. What I didn't think about or count on was that same-day registration happens in the same line that they send all of the participants that have other registration issues, and while there were at least 50 people
working the booths to check in participants and spectators, there was only one person working the same-day line. Thirty or forty minutes later I was finally registered.
Off to the start line. Well, pit stop first. Figuring on another line, I was pleasantly surprised that there was an abundance of porta-potties near the start. No lines. Woohoo. That out of the way, I was off the the start line for real.

So they queue up each wave, which happen at 20-minute intervals, between a six-foot tall barrier and the start line. To get to the queuing area, you have to climb the barrier. Once over the MC hyping up the crowd reminds you that if you had any issues getting over the barrier, you might want to reconsider crossing the start line. Chuckle, chuckle.

The MC covers the rules, cracks some jokes, gives a few warnings and then passes through the crowd high-five-ing many of us. Then he gets out of the way and race begins with a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7....we're off, hooting and hollering. The TM begins as any other race or run, people jockeying for position and getting into their rhythm. In just a few minutes the first obstacle is upon us, Kiss of Mud. I've described the obstacles in greater detail below. I didn't want to make this sound too much like a list and I want to mention some more things that I generally observed during the event.

Like I said earlier, check in for registered participants looked smooth and organized. Plenty of stations, broken up by last name, separated by participants and spectators. By the way, spectator admission is NOT free, it is $40 - cash only day of the race, you can save $20 if you buy ahead of time online..be prepared. There were two ATMs near check-in, but only one of them was operational at the time I used them. So if you are pre-registered you pick up your packet, affix one wristband for entry and another for your beer at the finish line, pin your number on and then let the folks with the markers write you bib number on your forehead, arms and legs, wherever you want - although the forehead marking is non-negotiable.

Next step is the Base Area. This houses the port-potties, food & merchandise, showers, changing rooms, gear check. The finish line dumps out here, right in front of the sound stage. This area is large and wide open, plenty of space to move around without it feeling very crowded. This would be a good time to choose a meeting spot for your team after the finish, should you get separated during the race.

Back to the race. The start is smooth, not too crowded. The course is fantastic. Grass, rock, sand, mud, gravel several water crossings and wild animals. Yup, this is a also a game preserve. About 3-miles in, a couple of antelope type animals, I believe they might have been elands, came crashing through the course just behind me, scaring the bejesus out of a couple of women that they crossed in front of. That was good for a quick laugh! Lots of up and down, significant elevation changes which I am not particularly used to. But the harder parts were the downs. Really hard on the knees- a lot of it steeper than anything that would allow a safe run, so a slow jog or walk would be expected here.

There were plenty of water stations. I would estimate 5 to 7 of them and at each one there was a first-aid station. I think all of the water stations had some sort of food- bananas, Clif Bars and Clif Shots. A nice touch. There were also porta-poties at 2 or 3 of the water stations.

Along the trails there was music, well sometimes there was music, other times just generators running, attached to speakers with nothing coming out of them. I didn't expect there to be music all along the trail so the disappointment was minimal, but it was depressing to see the speakers and generators idle along the trails. I assume there were technical difficulties that stopped them from working, a minor snafu.
1. Kiss of Mud - Crawl on the muddy ground, under barbed wire 18-24 inches above you. Easy, except the ground is gritty and full of sharp things, wreaking havoc on the knees and elbows. Might want long sleeves/pants next time.

2. Walk the Plank - Climb about 12-feet up to a platform and jump into deep water. Easy, unless you are afraid of heights...water is less than warm.

3. Glory Blades - Eight foot tall wall, with a twist. The wall is canted toward you. If you can jump up, grab hold of the top of the barrier, you then can throw a leg over the barrier and drag the rest of you with it. The backside is plexi-glass, so once over you slide down. Then you do it again on a second wall. Intermediate difficulty solo, easier with team help.

4. Firewalker - The was one of the lamest obstacles I've seen in any obstacle race. Presumably there was some fire that I jumped over... It was so easy and uneventful that I don't even remember doing it.

5. Arctic Enema - I was dreading Arctic Enema and rightly so. You jump into an open-top dumpster filled with ice water. In the middle there is a barrier that you travel under...Water doesn't get much colder than this unless it is in it's solid form. The initial entry into the water isn't nearly as bad as you would think, probably due to the shock of it. but when you come up on the other side of the barrier, well that's a whole 'nother story. Your whole body is on fire but in a cold way.

6. Boa Constrictor - Crawl down a two and a half foot diameter tube that is slanted
toward a pool of water, traverse the water and then enter another tube that is slanted up.  Seems a little daunting at first, but there is plenty of light and plenty of clearance. The exit from the first tube and entry into the second is a bit of a mind game at best. Easy unless you are afraid of confined spaces, but even then, no more than intermediate difficulty.

7. Funky Monkey - Monkey bars, 20-25 of them, on a structure suspended over water. To add to the difficulty the first half of them are working 'uphill' while the second half move 'downhill'. If that wasn't enough, the bars spin in place, so you have to be sure to have a firm grasp before you traverse to the next bar. This was one of the hardest obstacles on the course.

8. Cage Crawl - Trenches about two to two and half feet deep filled with water. Chain link fence is lying on the the ground above the trench, effectively covering it. You traverse the 20 or 30 yards of the water-filled trench by lying on your back and grabbing hold of the chain link and pulling your floating body along. Pretty easy, other than the cold and a slight feeling of entrapment. It's chain link so you can see, but it could be another mind game.

9. Mud Mile - Mounds of mud, five of them,  followed by trenches of muddy water. This
 one pretty much requires teamwork. You climb over one pile of mud an land in a water filled, muddy trench, then have to climb up and over the next pile. The piles of mud lack hand holds in most places so you get a boost or a pull and you are up and over. Pretty easy with help. Very difficult without.

10. Balls to the Wall - A vertical wall about twelve feet all, with two-by-fours attached horizontally and a knotted rope secured to the top, hanging down to about five feet off the ground. You grab the rope and use the knots to climb up the wall. Relatively easy since there are foot holds on the two-bys. The rope also hangs down the backside for climbing down, but be careful, there may not be as many knots as you were hoping for and the rope is muddy. If you're expecting a knot that isn't there, the rope will slide through your hands and at best your will have a rope burn, at worst you are going to hit the deck, hard.

11. Log Jammin - Logs stationed horizontally, two and three tall. You climb under some and over the others, alternately.  Overall pretty easy, except that the three high logs take some work to get over. Teamwork helps here, but most can get over and through on their own.

12. Hold Your Wood - A basic a log carry. You have option of carrying a small log solo, or larger logs as a group. Difficulty is determined by how big a log you grab.

13. Electric Eel - Crawl through a muddy bog with electrified wires hanging overhead. I can't speak to this one as I did not experience any shocks along the way. Not sure if I just got lucky or if the obstacle was malfunctioning. The mud crawl part was easy enough....the wires were daunting.

14. Island Hopping - Nine floating 4' x 4' 'docks' chained together, crossing a creek. As you jump onto each dock, it immediately begins to sink. I saw plenty of folks skip across these
with ease. It looked like the best strategy was to spend no more than two steps per each dock and to keep moving quickly from one to the next. I had a plan and tried to implement it. I sunk the first dock, the second, the third and almost all of them, but I stayed on. It was tough. I think this was was one of the harder obstacles on the course, I saw a lot more people in the water than ones that made it across unscathed.

15. Berlin Walls - Nine foot tall walls that you go up and over. No foot holds to speak of. A running start, a foot on the wall, using upward momentum and you can grab the top and throw a leg over. Takes upper body strength, otherwise you work as a team giving each other a leg up.

16. Dirty Ballerina - A series of trenches that are 3-4 feet deep running parallel to one another and separated by 3-4 feet. With a running start and some coordination you can jump each trench, taking a couple of steps at the landing and then jumping the next, and the next and the next. If you stop in between them it is hard to get a running start for the next, but do-able.

17. Underwater Tunnels - The name of this one is a little misleading. These are a series of barrels floating in the water that you have to swim under to pass through the obstacle. This is really just a matter of swimming underwater, fully clothed in cold water. I think this more psychological than physical. One note, on the TM site the images show rope holding these together and in place, at this event there was metal strapping instead of the rope and the strapping was sharp, so you want to avoid contact with it for fear of getting cut.

18. Kiss of Mud #2 - Same as the first obstacle although this one was less muddy, making the grit and the sharp objects even more abrasive. Long pants, long shirt???

19. Trench Warfare - Three foot wide by three foot deep trench that runs about 20 yards, covered with plywood so it is essentially a tunnel. The trench zig-zags so once you get a bit of the way in it is dark. Probably not a fun obstacle for the claustrophobic but there is plenty of moving-around room until you get to the very end. The exit is tight. The easiest way through the tunnel for smaller folks in on hands and knees, bigger folks, belly crawl, but for everyone, at the exit scootching out on your back is probably the best bet.

20. Wounded Warrior Carry - Exactly as it sounds. You carry a teammate on your back or shoulders or however you like for about 30 yards, then they carry you. Keep the swap in mind. I did not and got lucky. They guy I teamed up with with about my size. Could have been bad otherwise. 

21. Everest - Everest is a curved ramp, like a skateboarding half pipe that you run up and at some point make a leap for the top. Guessing the top to be at around 15 feet. The TM website describes the ramp as being muddy and greasy, but that wasn't my experience. Maybe they ran out of mud and grease. I was able to run almost to the top and grab hold without assistance from the folks at the top. Would like to see the greasy version...

22. Electroshock Therapy - The Mother of the Mudder. Prior to this event I had watched countless videos of people getting knocked on their butts in this obstacle. Second to the Arctic Enema, I was very concerned about it. It was hard to imagine what the shock would feel like. Well, this one doesn't disappoint. First I will say, that I enjoyed the shock- in a twisted sort of way. It was very interesting. It felt like a sharp pinch, then i fell to the ground. Why? I'm not sure, but I think its because the electricity short circuited my muscles and I collapsed. Got up for more and collapsed again. Not because I was shocked again, but I don't think my left leg was working yet. Up again and a few more feet and I stumbled. Why? Still the effects of the electricity or just truly a stumble. I'm not sure. What I do know is that I am looking forward to this obstacle in June...and I'm not looking forward to the Arctic Enema...

All in all the TM was a great event. A few rough points from the producers standpoint, like
the line at registration and the malfunctioning speaker system, but these were in the shadows of all of the great parts of the event. The course was great, the weather perfect and the people working the course were super friendly. Longhorn River Ranch was a great venue, the views from the top of the bluffs were incredible. I can't wait for the Beaver Creek Colorado event, hoping that there will be some different obstacle than here in Texas...hell there will probably still be snow there. Can't wait!

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