The World’s Toughest Mudder 2012
For those who’ve heard the story, I completed the Tough Mudder held in Barrie, Ontario in August, 2012. Despite the fact that I had completed the course in a respectable time I vowed never to do that nonsense again, stating that once was enough. Until I found out I had qualified for the World Championships. Begrudgingly I knew I had no choice but to compete in the 2012 World’s Toughest Mudder.
The World’s Toughest Mudder is a step up from its predecessor. By invite only, the race attempts to find the toughest participant from all races held across the globe over the past season. Nearly identical to the Tough Mudder, the World’s Toughest Mudder differs in that rather than completing a single lap you have 24 hours to complete as many laps as you possible and the winner is the athlete who completes the most complete laps in that time span.
I was joined by Bryan Gauer of Inspired One Media who agreed to document the event. I’ve worked with him several times in the past and his company always does tremendous work.
The course is designed in all respects to make people quit. All race efforts must be on a self sufficient basis. Each participant is permitted to set up a camp site to serve as home base but once you begin a lap you must complete it in its entirety without any assistance whatsoever. The pit area was abuzz with excitement and tents stretched as far as the eye could see as racers nervously prepared, not knowing what was to come. Should you forget something from the pit area and walk across the electronic timer you must complete 10 miles before you’re allowed back inside. Medical checkpoints at various points ensure participants are of sound body and mind and should their discretion rule, you’re eliminated from competition.
Shortly before 10:00am the 1,500 participants, representing the top 5% of the 450,000 people who completed a Tough Mudder worldwide in 2012 lined up at the start gate for the somewhat different introduction from Startline Shawn. We were informed that although the spirit of camaraderie remained and we should look out for our fellow competitors this was, in fact, a race and we were choosing a quantifiable winner to be awarded $15,000.
As the start gun went racers jostled for position near the front of the pack. Before long we’d established our temporary hierarchy of abilities and I found myself towards the rear of the pack. Knowing I have the cardio capacity of an asthmatic geriatric I had literally no desire to push tempo.
The obstacles were a strong point and aside from a brief funnel at initial challenges they were much quicker than the Toronto event. I rarely pushed my pace beyond a comfortable talking pace and stressed this by stopping frequently to speak with Bryan on camera. The first half was relatively easy and despite my confirmed torn meniscus and ruptured ACL I didn’t really exhibit any boo boos.
On the tail end of the course we were required to swim across a 100m lake and exit by climbing a cargo net. While I was wearing a wetsuit and the sun was shining, the lake was frigid and made even worse upon learning that we had to swim back across immediately upon exiting.
The first lap was completed in almost exactly three hours, twenty-five minutes longer than my single lap in Toronto. After resting forty-five minutes or so and throwing on a few extra layers I ventured back out with a similarly paced friend I’d made on the previous lap and we left out meager creature comforts once again in lieu of muddy misery.
Our pace was slow and the obstacles slowly becoming emptier. On the aggregate the course was significantly more desolate and as darkness arrived we truly felt like we were on a solo mission. When the sun dropped below the horizon the temperature fell from from a tolerable 15 degrees to a nearly unbearable 2. As I entered the lake for the dreaded crossing I felt my finger tips break through a thin layer of newly formed ice on the surface. Upon reaching the cargo net I stayed in the water a few minutes longer to hold the net steady for my teammate to climb with less sway, lest he be unsuccessful and eliminated. The second crossing, however, killed me.
On the second crossing we were required to fully submerge and dunk our heads under water to swim under a series of floating barrels. The moment my head hit the water I felt like all life was sucked from my soul. I felt my body slowing and began to feel eerily calm when a hand grabbed my arm and forcefully dragged me onto shore. Fortunately a warming station awaited us but my teammate informed me that when he looked over I’d stopped moving and had a blank look on my face. Worried I was hypothermic he’d ventured in after me. At the time, ego prevailed and of course I wasn’t. Now? I can bashfully say it may have been possible.
We gingerly stepped our frozen feet back across the finish line fifteen minutes slower at 3:15 and attempted to warm up. I wrapped myself in a series of wool blankets and those silver tin foil ones search and rescue gives out and crawled inside a down filled sleeping bag. I shivered for a few hours, unable to stop.
At midnight, our agreed meeting time to debate the possibility of attempting a night lap, I ventured from my tent. What awaited me was a barren wasteland. The once bustling tent city was now a ghost town with only a countable number remaining. It appeared the majority of participants had succumbed to the cold and quit.
I reached for my wetsuit to start the awful process of squeezing into it and realized a terrible truth: my wetsuit had frozen solid. I picked up the leg and held it perfectly horizontal like a plank of wood. There was no way I was getting into this thing. I crawled back into my cocoon and slept sporadically until morning.
At dawn the scene was noticeably emptier but the warm glow of the suns rays were revitalizing. I found a cold shower trailer and held my still frozen wetsuit under a hose and soaked it until a minimum level of pliability was achieved. Squeezing in we ventured off and barely more than a walking pace.
As rules indicated, all competitors must complete a lap after midnight to be considered a finisher and we had little over four hours to complete this requirement. With a watchful eye on the clock we trudged along and suffered through each obstacle for the last time, each step potentially our last. By now all accumulated injuries were exacerbated by the night of cold and each pace hurt. But we were enthralled in our sense of completion.
We paused frequently to assist the last competitors over obstacles to ensure each person who had suffered as we had could revel in their accomplishment. Most people looked worse than us but having raced for over twenty four hours we would be morally remiss to allow someone not to finish.
At the 4:15 mark we crossed the line to a chorus of cheers and successfully completed the Worlds Toughest Mudder. Adorned in our new headbands we left the course standing just a little bit taller that day. Later we learned that of the 1,500 initial competitors less than 250 successfully completed the course.
I’m proud to be one of the 2012 World’s Toughest Mudders.