Just two weeks before World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 (#WorldsToughest16), Tough Mudder (TM) put on both a full and half course at the same venue. Obviously, many of the local players made a strategic appearance to check out the course, get in some final obstacle training, and have a good time with great people. There is no guarantee that any of the course or obstacles will mirror that of WTM, but I find it hard to believe that they’ll dig new pits or rebuild certain key obstacles like Everest 2.0 or King of the Swingers. The other caveat is that there was a fire on the course the night before the Saturday event and TM had to quickly reroute us to the other side of the venue.
In the name of reconnaissance, I did both the full and half course. Here’s what I learned and my speculations, so that you can enjoy making similar predictions as the nervousness and excitement builds towards race day.
My race day started very differently from a usual race day because I got stuck in Denver overnight when flying from a trip to New York City. I arrived at the Vegas airport at 7:40 am, and the first wave went out at 8:00 am. I got onsite at about 9 am. Parking was in the usual location in the pits at the entrance to the venue, which is about a half mile walk to Mudder Village. Mudder Village was in a nice, flat alcove that is a bastion within the undulating hills and peninsulas of the lake. It’s exactly where the WTM pit was last year. Check-in, as usual, was smooth. I got a waiver, made it to the shortest line, and sped through registration. I was able to make it to the start line by 9:25 am.
Gear: (minimal due to travel)
Athletes vs Epilepsy tech shirt
Injinji ankle high socks
Merrell’s Orange Tough Mudder shoes
Fingerless biking gloves
The start of both courses was just up the hill to the south of the Village; the same start as WTM15. Sean Corville was his usual inspirational self, and sets the tone for what Tough Mudder is about: finding your best, and putting yourself through new experiences to live your life to the fullest.
Full Tough Mudder
The course started by tracing the perimeter of the lake, weaving around the water. As I ran by some of the alcoves of water, I noticed residual paths and platforms near the edges of the water exactly where they were for WTM15. My speculation is that we will have similar water crossings, or that these paths were just left from last year.
We rounded the first major corner into the first larger peninsula and saw Everest 2.0, facing the opposite direction that it was last year but roughly in the same location. I was able to get up it myself for the first time! I did that in Lake Elsinore earlier this month, but I did have someone at the top to support me. My technique was as simple as people had advised me when I said that I had so much trouble getting up it: respect the height of the extended quarter pipe, run fast and speed up as you get closer, then use high knees to drive up the ramp. If you’ve got the energy and the speed, you just fly over it. I almost side hopped the lip at the top. Maybe that was all my nervous energy rushing to get onsite after being late.
We quickly made a little turn around to make it to the popular Blockness Monster. This was the closest obstacle to the cars and was less than 50m away from where King of the Swingers was at WTM15. As per the recent tradition, there were two rotating blocks with tape on the corners. That means that you can’t grip or grab the corners for leverage when jumping up, but it also means that you can’t use that leverage to break the protective coverage of the corners. Good design change TM. Water temperature: 57F.
For Blockness Monster, if you’re with a team or around your fellow Mudders, you should have people on the bottom pushing the block up while a few people jump up and do a quick pull-up. The key thing is for the person at the top to turn around and grab the lip instead of sliding down into the water. This person on top creates a huge amount of leverage with just their bodyweight for the person on bottom to get pulled up. Rinse and repeat once, and you can get through this quickly. If you’re alone, you should rotate the block so the top corner is as far as you can grab it, the jump up to grab it, do a very quick pull up and get your center of gravity over the axis of rotation. Once you’ve done that twice, you’re free and clear.
Disturbingly soon after Blockness we ran up a small hill to make it down to a valley holding King of the Swingers. However, it was facing towards Blockness. It was built into a corner with rocky hills behind it, making it hard to figure out what direction we’ll be approaching it from and giving ample space for the almost guaranteed penalty for skipping the obstacle or failing to hit the bell. Water temperature: 68F, apparently they had just filled it, so expect much lower temperature in two weeks.
The technique of King of the Swingers is to focus on the bar, so you don’t realize how high it is. If you deceive yourself, then you don’t have fears to overcome. I explained to many people in line that emphatically were stating that they were scared of heights that I used to be scared of heights, then I started doing Tough Mudder. Now I don’t enjoy heights, but I permit them for getting stuff done. Once you bring yourself to jump, don’t jump straight out at the bar like you want to ram it with your forehead. Instead, jump up and get your center of gravity as high as possible while making sure you get the bar. That will extend the height of the pendulum, so subtract the resistance of the pendulum; you’ll reach that height on the other side. In an ideal physics world, your height or weight has no bearing on your ability to hit the bell.
After running up a mild hill, we made it to Skidmarked, which is an inverted wall. The key to this one is to grab the top, place your feet on the wooden bar across the wall (not the support to the side), then use your legs to stand up and lever yourself over the wall. Once you get comfortable with walls, walls are not complicated obstacles.
At this point, the course was re-routed to go down and up a rocky path, bringing us to Berlin walls. I looked around and even though I had started late, there were no fellow Mudders to help, so I just ninja’ed up the wall and went along my way. There were a few people around Kiss of Mud 2.0, so I couldn’t roll, but I could scurry quickly and cheer them on from behind.
We swirled around to go up a big hill to reach a new obstacle, Mineshafted. This starts with a tube going down into a small covered area with about 3 inches of water. DO NOT GET YOUR HANDS WET, because on the other side there is a wall slanted away from you with no places to get leverage. A big hop to reach the top of the wall, and a good old fashioned wall muscle-up, and you’re over. There’s not a lot of ways to help a fellow Mudder or make this easier.
We then went down the big incline of 2014, and came upon Birth canal, which didn’t have all too much water in the sacks. For this, the technique is to shoulder the hanging water, which will push it away from you, then quickly sneak underneath while the water isn’t on top of you. Rinse and repeat along the side of the obstacle, and you’re through without much effort.
We turned around to run in a valley along the road to Mudder Village, giving a little audience for us and found ourselves at Devil’s Beard. I had a few Mudder friends around at this point, so I advised them to keep their butt up and head down, then walk straight. The cargo rope on top of us wasn’t overly light, so curling my back and keeping my head tucked while I half-bear crawled was all I needed to get through quickly and efficiently.
Then the joy of Pyramid Scheme. This obstacle is all about teamwork and making new friends. For this obstacle, I enjoy spending time and advising people how to do it. I spend a lot of time as the base of a human ladder because it’s the best place to provide guidance. For your human ladder, you should have three people standing on each other’s shoulders, and the fourth person scurries up, grabbing whatever they need for leverage. The optimal way to scurry up is for the human ladder to make a hook with their wrist. The scurrier should put their foot just above the wrist, not on your friend, and the ladder-human can hold the foot in place. The scurrier’s next foot goes on the ladder human's shoulder, and the process is repeated over and over until the fourth person can reach the top. The fourth person should not add themselves to the ladder because that causes too much weight on the bottom. They can help pull people up from the top.
We ran up a quick hill and took a left to find Funky Monkey 2.0. This one is all about monkey bars, then getting a little momentum on the pendulum and grabbing the metal shaft on the other side and carefully making your way down. In every past WTM, there has been a new version of Funky Monkey, so I do not expect the new normal Funky Monkey 2.0 to make an appearance.
After Funky Monkey, we made our way up a slow incline that was one of the major hikes in 2014. Rain man/cage crawl broke up the hike a little, but don’t slow anyone down. Rain man and cage crawl are wire fences above a water pit that you need to go under. The key for these is to take a deep breath, grab the cage, and make big, confident pulls up the cage to get through in one or two breaths. If you need to breathe, bring your face up and stop your momentum, then wait for the water to get still enough to breathe, and then continue. Usually, I can get through the whole thing in one breath and 10-13 pulls. The challenge about cage crawl is that sometimes the cage can be sharp and can slice your hands up. Gloves are good.
At the end of the incline, there’s a turnaround, and we run through a rocky valley that brings us to the base of the path to the cliff. There was another Kiss of Mud 2.0 on the way that was just the same as the previous. When we went up the path to the cliff, we took the same left turn into a valley that had the water pit and tube climb from 2015. Death march brought us to the highest point of the course, which also was the highest and final incline of WTM2015.
At the top of Death March, Tough Mudder was clever in placing a nice Ladder to Hell 2.0. This started the same as Ladder to Hell, with large wooden slats that are wide enough to be a big ladder up. Instead of the top rung, there was a single six by six wooden board that was about chest level for me (I’m 5ft 9). A little hop got you up onto the board, and then you turn around and lower your feet. My feet were a good 6-12inches above the ladder, so I had to lower myself down carefully. I didn’t feel very stable doing that lowering and was worried about falling. On Sunday, they closed that little addition, so I don’t expect it to be at WTM.
After this high point, we ran down a big road on the incline and, instead of heading back to base camp, we took a hard left and explored the other side of the lake. For someone who has spent a lot of time running at Lake Las Vegas, it was nice to see new scenery.
The back section started with one of my favorite rare Tough Mudder obstacles: Turducken. This is a climb a mud hill then a slide through a tube into a water pit. In Dallas 2014, this water pit had ice in it. Thankfully, that was not the case in Vegas. After that water pit, you climb cargo net then slide down into a second water pit. In the second water pit, you have to go under a log and make yourself get to the other side. It’s a water-based fun obstacle that isn’t hard but is exciting. There’s technique to avoid dunking your head in the first water pit, but going under the log in the second water pit makes all of that effort futile.
In the run deeper into the back section, Tough Mudder snuck in a nice Mud Mile that wasn’t hard to get over. I practiced the two-person technique of the bottom person ensures the top person’s feet don’t slip off any of the ledged, and the top person helps pull the bottom person up. Rinse and repeat until you’re through, and this won’t slow you down much. On Sunday, the rocks had made helpful stairs, so I was able to complete this on my own and with no hands. (I was challenged by TMHQ when I complained that it was too easy.)
After a nice little jog down to a low point, we had familiar Liberator/Back Stabber. These obstacles involve placing pegs in holes and scurrying up an A-frame. For Back Stabber, there’s just one line of holes. What I do is place the peg in the highest hole I can reach, then I pull myself as high as I can to get a toe into the little footholds on the side of each lane. Once a foot is in there, I switch my grip on the peg so that I do a muscle up. I put my other toe in the foothold on the other side and reach the top. If I can’t reach the top, I put two fingers where the pegs should go, and lift myself so that I can move my feet then my legs closer to the top.
After Back Stabber, we looked onto a giant steep incline of soft sandy material. This was the story of the weekend because this incline was quite challenging and took the power out of your legs late in the event. However, I believe that it is more than 2.5 miles from Everest and King of the Swingers, so I do not expect that it will appear at WTM. WTM is a 5-mile course, so unless we’re just wrapping around the lake and not going into the hills of the venue, there’s no way to fit both challenges in.
The happy incline gave you a nice gravel run along the lake back to base camp. To break up that run, Arctic Enema 3.0 made an appearance. This is a black tube that slides you down into ice-cold water. The cage that you had to go under in 2.0 was extended so that it was above you after you exit the tube. There was some room to take a breath and eat a sandwich, but the best plan in Arctic Enema is get out, and get out fast. You then had to turn your body so that you could go UNDER the wall in the middle, then raise out of the water. The overall length of the ice-water was reduced, but you spent more time immersed in ice-water than you did in Arctic Enema 1.0 or 2.0.
After the obligatory screams of cold, we passed by the familiar site of the cliff that strikes fear in my heart. I hate heights, so I tolerate the cliff, but I do not enjoy it. If you’re worried about it for WTM, make sure to watch Youtube videos on how to go off 15m or 40ft high dives. It’s high enough to hurt you really, but the technique for how to do it efficiently is simple to learn.
Skipping that cliff, we went down the hill and turned back towards base camp. Our familiar Balls to the Wall was the last major obstacle. This is a 12ft wall with ropes on either side. To get up this, you use the rope to get your feet on the supports then grab the top of the wall. Once you can reach the top of the wall, just climb the ladder of the wall. On the back side of the wall, ignore the rope and just climb down the ladder.
The last part of the course was a glory lap around registration and Mudder Village so people could cheer you on as you approach the finish line. We ran deep into the Mudder Village alcove, then turned back to find Frequent Fliers and Electroshock therapy in the middle of the alcove, and the middle of Mudder Village. For Frequent Fliers, there have been problems with people rolling ankles, so I ignore the colored bars and just jump off onto the air platform. The goal is to primarily land on your butt, then roll off and into victory.
My policy with Tough Mudder is to do every obstacle every time. As a Tough Mudder Legionnaire, I have the privilege of being able to skip Electroshock Therapy (EST). However, Tough Mudder does not have mandatory obstacle completion so technically I could choose to skip any obstacle. Instead, I believe in embracing every challenge presented to me and figuring out how to make the most of it. After completing more than 35 Tough Mudders, I have learned to fear and respect electricity, so I cannot bring myself to run through EST upright. Instead, I cowardly slither through the bottom of the obstacle like it’s Electric Eel with more clearance for my bubble butt. This gets me dirty near the end, but I usually can get through without hitting a single wire. At worst, I get shocked once.
Right after EST are the wonderful Tough Mudder Volunteers that crown you with your well-earned headband. I enjoy giving them a hug and thanking them for being fricking awesome, then turning around and encouraging others to embrace the challenge of EST.
Course distance: 15.45km or 9.6 miles
Course time: “Tough Mudder does not care about your time. They care about finding your best because your best will make you better. Your best will make us all better.” – Sean Corville. If you insist, first lap time was 2:10.
Tough Mudder Half
Contrary to my initial expectation, the Tough Mudder half was very similar to the first half of the full course. Usually, there are special Half loops or Half obstacles, but for this event, the Half participants skipped King of the Swingers and took a right after Pyramid Scheme to avoid Funky Monkey 2.0 and instead take their glory lap early. There was no special finisher obstacle, so it was just half of the full Tough Mudder with less of the excitement. If someone is scared of the 10-mile distance or scared of electricity (logically), I encourage them to get a taste of Tough Mudder by trying out the half, but for the OCR enthusiasts out there, go full or go home.
Course Distance: 7km or 4.4 miles
Course time: “Tough Mudder does not care about your time. They care about finding your best because your best will make you better. Your best will make us all better.” – Sean Corville. If you insist, my time would be 1:10.
In talking to TMHQ after and during the event, we learned that all the water pits, likely, are in the same places, but they may or may not have the same structure above them. I believe the King of the Swingers water pit is unique, so they probably won’t be moving that one. The other ones and Turducken have potential of switching, but I believe that Tough Mudder probably would rather build a new innovation lab or never-before-seen obstacle above those pits than switching locations of familiar obstacles.
We really didn’t see many new obstacles on-course, so I think Tough Mudder is playing their cards very close to their chest. They’re not revealing many secrets leading up to their signature championship event, which means that we need to be prepared for anything, including things that are entirely new concepts of what humans can do in obstacle courses. I’m eager to enjoy the fruits of their crazy minds.
Overall, the course was short due to the last minute fire, but the elevation was similar to the past. That means that there’s a mild amount of elevation over the entire course that will add up as you do more laps, but it won’t give a big advantage to mountain runners or a big disadvantage to residents of flatland. Tough Mudder is getting the course distance independently certified for WTM, so I do not expect the WTM course to be anything other than 5 miles.
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