Last November I decided I was going to attempt America’s Toughest Mudder and see what all the hype was about and see where I stood amongst some amazing athletes. This is one race that has been circled on my calendar since the day I signed up for it. Something about racing at night and punishing your body for 8 hours and pushing yourself mentally and physically seemed appealing to me. I know most non-OCR people would read that and think that’s just stupid or who the hell pays to torture themselves like that. Well a lot of us do honestly. So I wanted to sit down and look back and recap my first ever America’s Toughest Mudder.
The week before the race I started to gather my gear and get everything situated and started to get my nutrition strategy together as well as race strategy. I had been in talks with my Pit Crew member Matt regarding what I wanted to do and what I need him to do for me. I would be traveling to the race with Matt, my teammate Chris, his daughter Dani. The day of the race came, and we packed up and headed to Charlton, MA. It was so weird driving to a race at 3:30pm to start at 11:59pm. However, that’s part of the mystique of this race. We arrived at the venue about 15 minutes after they opened the parking lots and got a very sweet parking spot, easy in and easy out when you are on the end at the exit! We arrived at 8:45pm and the venue didn’t open until 10pm, we met another teammate Brain up there along with his wife and mother. We decided we would head to registration and just stand in line. We were one of the first people through registration and were able to get a very sweet pit area where we were all together and could kind of spread out a bit. As we got changed and my crew member started organizing everything for my pits we just hung out for bit. We also took chairs and were able to get the first spot at the fence right where you could come off for the pits or to quick pit if we needed. This turned out to be the smartest thing we did as we never had to go to the actual pit area. We ended up bringing almost all the gear outside to our “quick pit.”
The clock read 11:30pm and we started to make our way to the staging area. Next thing we know the Start banner deflates and the lights go out and the sound isn’t working. This looked like a bad omen, however it turned into one of the most amazing things I have ever been apart of. There was a gentleman there who had run the American flag all the way across the country. Every athlete came together, and we sang the national anthem as one united group. It gave me goose bumps. The race director went over the rules and the MC gave his message. Next thing I know we are getting the count down 3,2,1 and we take off. The pace to start was fast, like crazy fast but we knew we had to keep up to get away from the pack and get some clean running room. The course itself was mostly very technical terrain and a lot of wooden trail running. As someone who trains this way I was very comfortable and in my element. One thing I did not think about was this. I don’t wear glasses when I race, and I can’t wear contacts which means I’m about half blind racing. Being half blind, in the dark with only a head lamp and crashing through the woods makes for pretty crappy vision. My teammate Chris was right in front of me and everyone was yelling out rocks, stumps to folks behind them. Chris yelled out stump, I heard him however my eyes didn’t locate it and down I went. What a way to start the night. During the first lap, almost none of the obstacles were open and it was about get done with lap one and move as quickly as you can into lap 2 to get some more mileage prior to obstacles opening. I finished lap 1 in 53 minutes and headed back for lap two after getting some supplies from my pit crew.
Lap 2 we were back out and still going at what I deemed a decent pace and we were still on pace to hit the 30 miles. As we were bypassing closed obstacles we heard volunteers saying it’s opening in 5 minutes and then next we heard, opening in 3 minutes. We were still able to make some good ground while avoiding obstacles. Lap 2 was so much better as we cleared the pack and had some nice running room and we could just cruise. We hit Pork Soda and went under the barbed wire and started to climb over the mud rock wall to slide into the pool. As I reached the top of the mud rock mound I heard and felt a pop, then came a very sharp pain on the tip of my left middle finger. As I got out of the pool I looked down and had blood coming out of my finger. I saw I nice flap of skin so pushed it back to see how it deep it was. I took a good chunk of the tip of my finger off somehow. My immediate thought went to infection with this nasty ass water. However, I knew that it was something I could deal with later I had to keep moving and get it out of my mind. So, 2 laps in and I have 2 minor injuries, this race seems to be going well so far. As we ended Lap 2 I could see that Chris was having some leg issues and I didn’t want to leave him even though I was dead set on 30 miles. I entered the pit well ahead of him to tell his daughter what he needed when he came in. I fueled up and grabbed a drink. Flashback to less than halfway into our venture to the venue. Chris started talking about his hydration pack and it dawned on me, son of a bitch my bladder is still hanging in my basement drying. So, I only had my 6ounce bottles from my hydration belt. I only took 1 with me each lap so my crew could fill the other one while I was on course. As we were pitting Chris told me just go man. I told my crew member Matt, next time by I need my spare shoes as the insoles in these are bunching up on the downhills and off I went for Lap 3.
Lap 3 was a little disappointing for me. I failed 2 grip strength obstacles, I am normally very good at these obstacles and having to take penalty loops for this had me quite down. First, I failed Just The Tip. This was the first time I had to do this obstacle. I thought it was a fixed structure and jumped into it and started to shimmy across it, next thing I know the whole thing is sliding back and forth. I was not expecting this, and I timed the sway and my reach just a tad to late and down I went. I quickly ran the penalty loop and kept moving. I came to Spunky Monkey and was going through the obstacle quite well. The last wheel that rotates I got through and had my left leg on the platform for completion and the right side of my body just didn’t make it and down I went into the water. Needless to say, I was pissed these are usually obstacles that are very easy for me and I was making simple basic mistakes. I came off the obstacle Stacks and my insoles were a mess I wanted to get back to the pit as soon as I could to get new shoes. Coming through the last timing loop I heard Justin Scholl welcome back. The MC was announcing every athlete as they came back in, so the pit crews knew who was coming in. I looked up and saw that Matt had everything ready and waiting for me. I quickly pulled off the course and started changing my shoes. I told Matt to change the batteries in my headlamp as I was starting to dim and the amount of people on course was becoming less and less so there was less light on course. As I changed my shoes and quickly ate he changed the batteries and got my pack re-supplied.
I am going to stop the recap right there for a second. I want to talk about my crew member Matt. Matt is the husband of my wife’s best friend and we have become good friends over the years. Matt and Emilee came on vacation with us to Killington last year for the Beast. He came to the race and I think he fell in love with the sport from a spectator side of things. I could tell he found it cool and interesting. I asked him to pit for me for this race and it was hands down the best decision I could have made for this race. Each lap I was given times, where I was everything was ready, and he was willing to do whatever I needed to get me back on course as quickly as possible. I did reach my goal of 30 miles and I truly believe that if Matt wasn’t there I would have never made it. Reaching the goal of 30 miles isn’t just a success for me, during that race we were a team and as a team we reached 30 miles. He deserves as much credit as I do for that race.
So, hear we go Lap 4 and I am feeling good really good heading into going on 20 miles. Each mile there was a timing loop. I figured this out after Lap 2. This was huge for me knowing where I was on course. As I hit mile 1 my headlamp with new batteries was bright as hell which gave me new life. I hit Artic Enema and as soon as I got out my hips started locking up and my knees started to kill me. I had knee issues for about two weeks prior to the race. Timing loop 2 comes and all of a sudden, I can’t see on the course while in the woods. I took my headlamp off to look at it and I was basically I am getting 1 candles worth of emitting light out of it and then all of a sudden it went dark. I have no clue what happened, but I am now in the pitch black in the woods and can’t see a damn thing. I also knew that I had three miles to go until I could get back to my pit. As someone who trains a lot on technical trails I didn’t start to panic. I just slowed down a bit and made sure I had a sure foot coming through the trails. I failed Spunky Monkey again and mostly cause my hands were just covered in mud, not an excuse but it is what it is. As I came back into the pits I saw Matt and my teammate who was racing Brian. I started pointing to my headlamp and yelling I need my spare now. As I pulled off course, Brian jumped right in and started to undo my headlamp as Matt scrambled to get the spare out. Matt looked at me very seriously and said if you don’t push we aren’t going to make the 30 miles. I was in so much pain I thought to myself for a very short second, I don’t think this is going work out the way I had hoped. As I made my way back to the starting line for Lap 5, I started talking myself back up. This is why we came here to push what I can do mentally and physically. I told myself suck it up buttercup and do what you came to do. Not sure how or why but I just started running and running and blocked the pain out. I ended up knocking off 15 minutes off my time for that lap than the previous lap. I started running through times in my mind and I knew if I could back to the pits for Lap 6 before 6:30am that I was golden and could make it happen.
Lap 5 ended at 6:18am, as I pulled off course to get some more water Matt looked at me said dude you got this man. You picked it up and you are going to get 30 miles. Once I heard that I knew I just had to be smart and finish this right without taking any stupid risks. I hit the first obstacle of the lap and my hip and knee pain suddenly came rushing back. My legs weren’t working right, and I was sooooo cold. I knew if I didn’t keep moving that I was going to be in some serious shit. I knew I had more than enough time to make it. Every obstacle I came to I yelled to the volunteers, what time is it???!!!!! For me on each lap when I hit Everest I knew I was only like 15 minutes from finishing the lap. I had nothing left in my legs to get up Everest on Lap 6, so I took the sandbag penalty loop. I asked what time it was, and they said 7:30am. I knew I was good for sure. I finished the final lap of my race at 7:56AM with 30 miles completed. For not being able to run for the two weeks prior to the event and never doing an event of this distance I was very happy with myself and Matt. I ended up finishing 71 out of 658 overall and 13 out of 103 for my age group 30-34. As I crossed the finish line and pulled off into my pit I just sat down and said I just want a damn beer. Next thing I see is Matt is gone, 10 minutes later he is back with 2 beers. Not only is that a great crew guy but that’s one hell of a friend. I was exhausted, I was in pain. I had cuts and bruises everywhere. Chris was there, and Brian finished his last Lap a few minutes after me. The three of us went there as teammates all looking for something. The three of us all came away with learning things about ourselves and each other.
There is nothing like having family, friends and teammates at a race with you. This race taught me a lot about myself and what I can endure. I am so fortunate to have that support system with family, friends and teammates that I consider myself a very lucky man. Our team has become like one big family over the last year. Everyone truly cares about each other and wants to push one another and make sure that everyone is ok. Overall looking back, this race had nothing, but roadblocks put in my way and I was able to overcome them. Its just like life sometimes you need to adapt and overcome. I am very fortunate that I ran this race as it was an amazing experience. Now it’s time to heal up and get ready for Palmerton!!!!!!!!!!!!!