Toughest Mudder, America West, just outside of Los Angeles, was the first of it’s kind ever. An 8-hour event that ran from midnight to 8am in the Glen Helen Raceway Park.
The format was unique. They opened up one 5 mile course until 3:45am… and at that time they opened up a completely different 5 mile course on the other side of the park.
The two loops were very different. The obstacles on the initial loop were quickly completed and there was far less elevation. Far less, but still a heck of a lot. As a Spartan racer, the elevation was not too daunting for me. But the grade and terrain was a big challenge. Coming off of an LCL tear I sustained midway through World’s in November, slamming down the motocross hills of Glen Helen felt like a little too much flirting with re-injury. Unlike most hills encountered in nature, these are flat, featureless, hard-packed and so steep. I found myself reaching my back arm down to counterbalance the hill. In the dark it was almost like being inside an MC Esher painting. Almost like at any moment, I would just be upside down.
The first lap had the quickest obstacles:
Mud Mile – run through waist high mud pits.
Devil’s Beard – net you crawl under. Butt up head down. Watch getting stuff like headlamps, strobe lights and pony tails caught.
Quagmire – one single waist high mud pit.
Rub N’Tug – climb over tractor tires. Use treads.
Ladder to Hell – Climb up and over wooden ladder. Grab under the board so you have a good grip in case you slip.
The Block Ness Monster – A giant square shaped roller you have to climb over. The trick with this one is pushing it up to get it started and then having a few people jump up – and over – to keep the momentum. If you don’t get your entire body weight all the way over, it’ll stop. I usually pull-up and then quickly kick my legs over and pull the top down. You have to be super careful not to kick anyone in the face though as that is not very Mudderly.
Pyramid Scheme (with ropes) – jump over a small ditch and then jump or crawl up to the halfway length rope to make it the rest of the way. Just make sure to lengthen the rope back down for the next person. The photo of this super fit guy helping another mudder makes me happy and really says what this event is about for me.
Shaw Shanked – climb up a pipe and then drop off into a pool of water. You can use the lip on the top to get into a hang before dropping. Or if you’re really tiny like me, just roll into a ball and spin around. Don’t go head first. The water is only chest deep.
Berlin Walls – they added a ledge with a lip that’s set back about 4 inches which makes this one considerably harder. You can use the side or heel hook to make it easier. Just make sure to lower yourself on the far side of the wall in a reverse pull-up and land with bent knees. This one could be a race ender if you landed funny.
Everest – this one is now a fusion with The Grappler. I found this considerably easier than at WTM where the notch was much higher. I really liked this one. Getting up the rope was surprisingly taxing since it tightens out over the hump and you have to make a pretty big grab for the top of the rope. I imagine you could hook your feet but I was in too much of a hurry the second go to try that.
The second lap had the harder stuff:
Hang Time – the new version of King of the Swingers / Double Rainbow. Trapeze to sideways cargo net, Tyrollean traverse down. They made this one considerably harder. First off, it really gets into your brain. You’re up at Walk the Plank height. If you time it right and have long enough arms, you can grab the net with one hand… or you can lache to it. I couldn’t even jump far enough to reach the trapeze since they moved it further out. You saw a lot of people run out of gas and just hang there on the net. I think once you get that far, you just need to get your feet on and keep moving.
Augustus Gloop – this one is just unpleasant and a little claustrophobic. You swim under a chain link fence and then come up through a culvert pipe with a pretty heavy spray coming from the top. Head down and keep moving.
Abseil – rapel down the side of a cliff using ropes. Or just sliding on your feet in this case. I ran down most of the way since it wasn’t any steeper than the rest of the hills in LA.
Arctic Enema – As alluded to I’ve never seen so much ice in this one. Total brain freeze. Don’t panic and keep moving.
Death March – long as hill. One foot ahead of the other.
Stage 5 Clinger – A ladder to a ledge with a positive grip. It’s like an easier version of the Berlin Wall.
Birth Canal – squeeze yourself under some tarps filled with water. This one would suck for the bigger athletes. I’ve stuck to the sides and pulled myself through using the bracing or just gave each tarp a push before going through to get the water waving around.
Cliff Hanger – an incline wall.
Funky Monkey – upwards monkey bars to a couple cogs and a sideways bar. Keep moving though steadily. I grab each bar twice.
Kong – 5 rings suspended 15 feet in the air. Get a good swing going an relax. You can grab each one twice if you have smaller hands and need the extra grip.
Unfortunately, the course was messer than the port-potties after a full day of Tough Mudder. I was thankful to be running with a handful of people that knew the course well on the first lap. I didn’t really notice how poorly marked it was since I was just following a string of bobbing lights until I came out of the Kiss of Mud to find Morgan MacKay confused as to how she was all of a sudden ahead of people she had been chasing. She went on despite not being credited for any of the lap but still went on, only to get lost again for upwards of twenty minutes to later drop out.
On the following lap coming in to the Ladder to Hell I found myself arguing about taking over first place as I was solidly in third and hadn’t passed anyone. I diddled away on my first lap stripping down as I was wearing full frog skins and there was very little water on course. I’m glad I did… always better to take a minute to be comfortable as far as I’m concerned.
Several minutes later Lindsay Webster appeared beside me in Block Ness Monster, chatty and happy, explaining how she and Sara had went off course. That’s Lindsay. We ran together for some time and the split up at the pit.
On the next lap, I had no more lights to follow and having not had paid as close attention to the course, I got lost three times. When I wasn’t lost, I was paranoid I was. So many intersections had several options and no arrows. At times you had to cross over fallen flagging tape. Thankfully I had some idea of the course at this point and would eventually realize I went off course, only to run back to where I took the wrong turn. There was this one particular hairpin turn with no markings that got me every damn time.
Before the gun went off, we were discussing strategy in the pit. We decided that if you were anywhere near the finish around 3:45am, you’d sprint through it. On my fourth lap, I found myself in that very scenario. Not having looked at my watch until mile 2, it hit me that I had twenty some minutes to make the cut-off. I decided it was worth it.
With most of the obstacles on that lap still ahead, it was a risk, but one I decided was worth taking. I tied my jacket around my waist, ignored my hydration and fuelling needs completely and hauled ass. The Berlin Walls and Everest were tricky to tackle at that pace but I ran my last mile in under 6 minutes and made it through at 3:44am. Turns out the risk was well worth the effort. I was able to slowly jog and refuel the entire lap (thankfully I still had the unused fuel from the last lap) since they closed the obstacles to move them to the new loop.
And the new loop certainly lived up to it’s name. The Arctic Enema was almost all ice and so cold that it took several minutes to regain composure as a I stumbled about, blinded, clutching my forehead in pain. It also had the unfortunate ramifications of making me incredibly nauseas for the remainder of the loop… and killing my headlamp.
I was worried about all the upper body obstacles being on the later half of the course but by the time I got there, I was just happy to give the legs a break from the battering down hills and swing around in the air for a bit.
Here are the top three things I took away.
- Minimize pitting – I was told the course ran right by the pit stop tents. Far from it. We were diverted easily 100m off course every lap to go to the tent. Carry enough fuel for the lap or get a pit crew if you’re worried about time, every second counts. I was lucky to have WTM champ Trever Cichosz’s help last minute so I think I only pitted three times. Although even that probably cost me 5 minutes. I’m hoping that the eventually line the course with tables to make pitting easier. My sense is they set up the festival area and just wanted to use the gear drop where it was: on the other side of the layout.
- Strategize – Listen to cutoffs etc. and plan accordingly. Part of this race is strategy. I feel like they changed the rules around finishing but it was the right decision to make, lest almost every runner be on course when it closed.
- It’s still a Mudder – It’s still about supporting each other to achieve really amazing things. It’s not a typical race, for better or for worse. Sometimes you’re chasing a cut-off time or a placing… but in the grand scheme, don’t forget why you’re really there. It’ll be all that much more rewarding.