Finished Tough Mudder

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"If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."
--
Sir Isaac Newton

Tough Mudder is a series of events held around the country that the organizers like to call "probably the toughest event on the planet". It's an 11+ mile course, often in high elevation and steep. Mixed into the course are several obstacles that run the gamut from crawling under barbed wire through mud to traversing monkey bars over freezing cold water to running through live electrical wires. Sounds fun, right?

Several months ago, a bunch of folks from work, Aaron, J and I signed up for the second Tough Mudder held in Northern California. Our friend Laurie also signed up, but participated on a separate team.

We got up early this morning to register where we saw some of the most hilariously interesting costumes.
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There was a booth in the participants' village where people who wanted to get a mohawk or mullet could get their haircut before the race. Peter, who was one of my teammates, got his hair done for the occasion.
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Finally, after assembling our team, we were ready for the run. The very beginning of it was a steep incline, and this was a reoccurring theme throughout the day. After running through a thick orange smoke, I felt totally out of breath. What a way to start!

This was immediately followed by a clearing where guys were kicking very large orange balls at the crowd of participants. One of them said, "Don't look at me! Run!"
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After a bit more of an incline, we ended up at the next obstacle, a mud crawl under barbed wire.
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A bunch of steep switchbacks followed. The elevation was already a factor in the heavy breathing, but this hike made it even more taxing.
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At our next obstacle, we had to dive into a giant vat of cold, muddy water and swim underneath a vertical piece of plywood. Our teammate Eric hopped right in.
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When I emerged from the other side, I tried to manage a smile.
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The Tough Mudder people poked a bit of fun at the Warrior Dash with this sign and a few others.
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The next obstacle was similar to the one before where we had to swim in the vat, except instead of
muddy water, this one had freezing cold water. When we came out on the other side of this one, there was actually ice on the other side! That was a shocking surprise. When I hopped out of here, I felt numb all over. Some of our team did burpees after. J told me she was glad she did them because every time she did one, ice emptied out of her shirt!
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The next obstacle was called Everest. It was a tall quarter pipe we had to one way or another ascend and climb over. It was a long wait to this one, and everyone was starting to shiver from the cold.
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The method most people were using to get up was having a person stand on another person's shoulders at the bottom of the pipe and then people could climb them, stand on their shoulders and grab a hand or two at the top for a lift.
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I climbed on top of my teammate Bryan's shoulders, and this is when my real problems started. I think it was a combination of the steep inclines, the extreme coldness, and dehydration due to the elevation, but my calves started cramping up on me. Despite the cramps, I still tried to reach for a few outstretched arms at the top. Unfortunately, I only got finger tips, and I fell, crashing into the guys below me. I felt so bad, but we tried again. I made it up on the second attempt. Peter, Bryan, and Eric all played stepping stool on this one, staying at the bottom of the pipe about 20 minutes helping others after the rest of our team had had gotten up and over, and they were freakin' awesome. I can't tell you how awesome because seriously, there are no words.
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The next obstacle we faced was called Funky Monkey, a set of ascending then descending monkey bars that are over icy cold waters. If you drop, you're getting wet again. Even as I was reaching up to grab the bar, the cramps in my calves were extremely uncomfortable. Some people traversed by securing their legs up on bars front of them. There were definitely different ways to approach the obstacles. I took the normal monkey bar method with just using my arms only.
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Immediately following that obstacle was the mystery obstacle, a rope climb. I thought that was cool because if you've been following my blog, you know I can
do a rope climb. The only thing about this rope climb was that instead of having to climb a plain rope, using a foot wrap technique, these ones had knots tied in them to help people climb them. The knots were actually throwing me off! Plus they were pretty slippery, which made using your feet to grip the knots tough.
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This is where my cramps destroyed me. When I tried to jump up and get my feet to stay on a knot, my calves seized up. The left one was in excruciating pain. It was involuntarily flexed. I pulled my pant leg up and my sock down to look at it while I was in pain sitting on the ground. My whole team was huddled around me and we all could not believe our eyes when the muscle first started out looking literally like a rock (already not good), and then started rippling uncontrollably. It was little bit like there was a creature in my leg (think the chestburster in
Alien). I wish I'd taken a picture.

A lady was standing next to J when it happened, and I heard her say, "Do you want to call the first aid guy over there? Because ... I think ... he's done." Peter went to find a medic to come help. By the time they came back, I was on my feet again. The medic massaged my calf for me, which really helped. He told me the best thing for me to do was to skip the rope climb and keep walking and stretching. That's what I did.

It was another lengthy hike up to the next obstacle. While this helped my calf, the effects of our altitude really started to compound for J. She couldn't get enough oxygen and the hiking became increasingly difficult for her. We knew we were at a high elevation, but the ferociousness of these effects on her really took her by surprise. She even turned to me several times and asked what was wrong with her - when we hiked Angel's Landing, she was killing it, while I was dying through our 1,500 ft. elevation gain. We later found out that the peak of Angel's Landing is *only* 5785 ft. The base of Squaw Valley has an elevation of 6,200 ft. and throughout the Tough Mudder course we hiked all the way up to an elevation of 8,500 feet. J was experiencing mild (but very real) acute altitude sickness. Elevation affects different people in varying degrees, no matter what shape you're in, and J was getting steamrolled by it. But she kept going.

Finally we reached our next obstacle called Devil's Beard, which was a crawl under a net on top of a snow pack. This one wasn't too bad at all, as long as you didn't end up in the snow!
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After all the climbing, a downhill section was a welcome sight. We got to the next part where we had to go over and under a series of log structures. This one was pretty fun for me because I rolled under the low ones.
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Right after this one, we picked up a giant log as a team and carried it uphill to a pile ahead of us on the course.
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After another lengthy hike, we were greeted with a pile of logs that we had to carry individually in a pretty decently sized downhill then uphill lap.
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This downhill section called the Rock Slide provided us with a slippery and treacherous path to [slightly] more reasonable terrain.
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A pair of 12 foot walls gave us our next challenge. Because of my calves, which were better but still very tight, I had Bryan boost me up, so I could grab the top of the wall. The walls had small pieces of 2x4s attached to the bases for people to get a bit of a boost from, but for the shorter people, they needed to depend on taller people for help here too.
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This next obstacle was easily the most frightening of all the ones we ended up doing. We climbed to a high platform and jumped into a freezing cold lake. Then we had to swim to shore. The jump was a little scary, but also when I landed in the water, I felt like I wasn't going to come up for a second. Once I finally did emerge above the water line, I felt like I couldn't breathe and I was freezing! Even treading felt tiring and moving was difficult. There were several moments of panic, but after calming myself down, I was able to regain my composure. Eventually, everyone in the team made it across.
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Here's what it looked like before the jump.
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Not long after the lake we got to the Boa Constrictor, a set of tubes we had to climb through that also passed into muddy water, and under barbed wire. While still gross, the water in here was much warmer than the lake water.
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From here to the end of the race, our teammate Jeremiah had severely irritated a previous knee injury and was basically hobbling the rest of the way. He couldn't bend his right knee without excruciating pain. That means for several miles he was hiking up and down mountains on one leg.

Despite some of us being slowed down by our various injuries, our team stuck together and supported each other through the entire course. For a short distance, Eric even carried Jeremiah.
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The next obstacle had us climbing over giant hay bales.
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It took a while, but we finally made it to the finisher's village where three more challenges awaited us. The first was called the Turd's Nest, a giant net that we had to traverse. I wanted to lie down in that thing and sleep in it like a hammock.
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The next one was called Twinkle Toes, a series of balance beams we had to cross over (what else) freezing cold water. Jeremiah, determined not to get wet again, sat on the beam and pushed himself across. Everyone else fell in.
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Finally, we went through the very last obstacle called Electroshock Therapy, where we had to walk or run through more water, up over hay bales, and through to the last stretch at the finish. The only catch was that this last section of water and hay bales had live electric wires hanging down, some supposedly carrying a shock of 10,000 volts. The wires were far enough apart from each other that I didn't have to touch them. Luckily, I didn't get shocked.
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As the sun set on Squaw Valley Mountain, we made it to the finish line as the final team to complete the course. Though some of us dealt with daunting bouts of adversity - J had problems acclimating to the high elevation, I battled the gnarliest leg cramps any of us had ever seen, and Jeremiah traversed half the mountain on a single leg - our team battled through the challenges and showed not just stellar performance, but also incredible heart. Aaron attacked every obstacle with a vengeance, people literally climbed on Peter and Bryan, Eric carried more than his fair share of the load, and together we completed Tough Mudder as the best team ever. We closed this Mudder down!
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P.S. We later heard from people with GPS units - the course was actually closer to 14 miles. Talk about tough!
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