World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) is a Tough Mudder but like no other. In fact, it’s the only Tough Mudder I have ever considered doing. I haven’t got anything against Tough Mudder but have always liked to challenge myself and after starting with Tough Guy I knew Tough Mudder wouldn’t give me the challenge I needed…but World’s Toughest Mudder is different.
Held in Las Vegas this is a 24hour event where competitors try to do as many laps as possible. With 21 obstacles that are notoriously harder than usual and the change in climate being hot in the day and cold at night, this was set to be more of a challenge than perhaps I was ready for!
Tough Mudder had announced that there would be an additional prize of $100,000 for the team that could reach 100miles (that’s 20 laps of the course). I was therefore recruited into a team with Ryan Atkins, Matt Murphy and Eric Batty with this specific goal in mind. There were other teams there going for the prize but we were the “serious” ones; Ryan had won WTM the previous two years and had sort of handpicked us for his team.
The difficulty of the 5 mile course would be the main factor as to if we were going to make the 100 mile goal. So before I get into my race experience, here’s a little overview of what the course was like.
In short, it was a total of over 260m climb per 8km lap over dusty rocky ground with 21 obstacles interspersed throughout. We would have to get wet 9 times per lap, 4 of which involved more than 25m of swimming and we could be dunked into water up to 14 times depending on if we failed certain obstacles.
From the start shoot there was a sharp uphill before a rolling track leading to the ramp, or ‘Everest’ as it was called. One side had a rounded top whilst the other had a nice lip you could grab on too. The rounded side was pretty impossible alone but if you took the other side a penalty of an extra 100m of running was waiting.
From here, after just 500m into the course, we had our first taste of water. Swimming something like 30m we then had to climb out using a cargo net draped over 3 gigantic inflatable turds…this was called ‘Whale’s Turd’. Thankfully this obstacle was closed after a couple of laps which would aid our 100mile goal..unfortunately for us it turned out to be the only obstacle closure.
‘Hydroplane’ was 3 floating mats you had to run over being quick enough not to sink into the water. A real pulse raiser, we soon found in a fatigued stake a good walk after this one was needed in order to calm your heartrate down.
Next was onto a peg board which we had to go up and over.
Then a short abseil down a 5m cliff and onto the gambler. Rolling a dice to decide what type of wall we went over, these ranged in difficulty and some were really quite a struggle, much teamwork was used in order to go over these.
Heading back up out of the valley we had abseiled into, we then had to climb up a wide space board ladder before attempting a balance beam at the top.
The next was a real “favourite”. ‘Operation’ required competitors to thread a metal pole with a hook on the end through a small electrified hole. We then had to hook a small plastic ring, retrieve the ring and then you could run on. If you dropped the ring you had a hilly sandbag carry penalty, including a crawl.
Round the corner was ‘tight fit’, an extremely loose cargo net that required much teamwork to pass quickly. Then onto the monkey bars…‘Grease monkey’ involved an uphill monkey bar before threading yourself into a hanging plastic pipe which you pulled yourself down.
Back into the water for a swim but with a difference at night time. ‘Statue of Liberty’ meant once the sun went down we had to swim with a lit torch; if the torch goes out, you are swimming again or doing a penalty.
Now it was time for Erics favourite. ‘Gut Buster’ involved stretching out horizontally with your hands on spaced out poles and your feet on sloping wooden boards. Moving along to the other side this turned out to be much more difficult for the shorter competitors. I found the hardest part was getting off without touching the water which would result in a penalty.
Now more swimming and probably something like 40-50m worth. In order to get out of the water we had to climb onto a sloping board and jump for a wooden lip before hauling yourself over the top and down the other side.
Just one more obstacle before half way and a water stop which was ‘Upper Decker’. Jumping into yet more water we then had to climb a rope before threading ourselves into a sloping plastic tube leading downhill into a barbed wire crawl. This obstacle got switch sometime during the night which meant we had to first crawl, then haul ourselves up the tube before dropping out into the water which felt something like being given birth too.
A quick water stop and an opportunity to visit some toilets which were well needed and we were onto ‘king of the swingers’. The obstacle was a bit special, climbing up onto a platform you then had to jump out to grab onto a swing, swinging through you then had to let go and try to ring a suspended bell. Hit the bell and you got a golden carabineer which enabled you to skip an obstacle. Get the bell or not the motion of trying meant your entry into the water from about 15ft up was anything but controlled. Hitting the bell once I soon gave up a just concentrated on getting my entry right so I didn’t perforate an ear drum.
‘Kiss of mud’ was a nasty barbed wire crawl over thick soft clay which hid hard rock stones waiting to bruise your knees.
‘Roll the dice’ was quite an ingenious obstacle but required much team work to do efficiently. 3 giant elongated spinning dice were set half way in the water. To get over them you had to get the dice spinning before grabbing onto it and haul yourself over before it started spinning back again. We found if you were quick you could get over and use your weight on the other side to keep it spinning but there were many that would just grab on and expect the dice to take them over…much to the effort of everyone else.
‘Tramp stamp’ involved jumping down onto a trampoline before pinging back up to grab onto a zip wire, if you made it you were then rewarded with a short ride before jumping of.
This is where the course got really hilly. Two big climbs on hard ground which had small snooker size rocks scattered over it made for painful running. The only soft sections were sand which would suck the energy out of you and create chocking dust clouds.
Yet another water obstacle saw us jump into a small pond before dragging ourselves out again up a plastic tube which had water being sprayed down.
This is where the course split. For the first 10 hours we would simply descend down to ‘mud mile’ which involved something like 7 hay bales to go over with muddy ditches in-between. From 12 at night though ‘The Clif’ opened. This involved a 10m drop from a platform to the murky waters below, a 25m swim to a cargo net out and the lap was basically done.
The first hour was obstacle free in order to split the 1200 competitors up. This meant the further we ran in that hour the less obstacles we would do. Unfortunately after just 5 minutes of running my stomach decided to give me a little trouble, in fact I needed the toilet…bad. Disappointed in this problem so early in the race I gritted my teeth as we hammered 12km (a lap and a half) out in the hour. It was now that I apologised to the team and took 30 seconds to empty my bowels. I had to do this twice more over the next 2 laps and was pretty worried that if it continued I was in a lot of trouble.
Feeling the cold after only half a lap with obstacles, we put our neoprene trousers and tops on. And thank god we did, the change between the warm day and cold night in the dessert is crazy, another lap without the added clothing and I would have been having flashbacks to Tough Guy.
We got progressively colder throughout the night and never warmed up. The cold feeling in my lips told me I was only just staying one step ahead of hypothermia but was miserably cold for the entire time.
The speed was there though. We were now into a rhythm ticking off laps in something like 1 hour 10mins each. We were soon up to 5 or 6 laps and sticking to our time schedule.
After each lap we would meet our support crew who would supply us without any kit or clothing we needed and feed us a wide assortment or Clif products. I have always liked Clif bars, gels and shot blocs but would never have thought I would like their liquid food; turns out it’s amazing. Chugging down either liquid pizza or mango and banana paste at an impressive rate, we took no more than a minute or two per pit stop.
Earmarking 10 laps as a checkpoint it took a surprising amount of effort to get there. Something like 11 hours and we were finally 10 laps in and officially half way – and this was when things started to get interesting.
We were all having good and bad laps but no one had yet had an extended stint of feeling shitty. Unfortunately, Eric was the first to pull the short straw. Having 2 bad laps on the trot and his stomach flaring up meant we dropped some time. I spent a lap with him trying to help him through but then found the added effort was jeopardising my own energy levels (and mental state). During this time I’d say we bonded pretty well and had great lengthy discussions as to how miserable the experience was turning out. We found that this race is more about who can embrace ’the suck’ for the longest…because it really does suck. Continually cold, tired, dirty, beat up, uncomfortable and now jumping of a 10m cliff I can’t say I was enjoying this part of the race. We agreed the only good part was taking long pisses into the wetsuit bottoms which gave a brief respite for your left leg from the cold.
Some encouraging news was that we were in third overall with just two competitors ahead of us. We also had something like 10 miles lead on the next team. This wasn’t going to help though, we were there for one reason and one reason only: to run 100 miles as a team. As this goal slowly slipped away as our lap times gradually extended, my psychological reason to be there was slipping away also. I wasn’t competing for myself or to see how much I could do, I was there for the team and the team’s goal. Once we dropped from the 100 mile pace I was ready to quit – the only reason I was still going was because the rest of my team was.
Around lap 13 we got the news at current pace we would miss the 100 miles by 20 minutes. Unfortunately, speeding up wasn’t an option and we therefore had a big decision to make. I told Ryan that I wouldn’t hold it against him if he wanted to split from the team and chase down the first individual who was just 3 miles ahead. Ryan looked torn but in the end decided to stick it out with us. He looked strong and I believe he could have done it but his loyalty to the team was unwavering.
We got a little excited when we heard the laps were a little long. Picking up the pace again we calculated that 19 laps would bring us to the 100 miles, not 20. After half a lap with this renewed purpose our hope was then crushed with the official ruling that 20 laps would be required. We were now halfway through lap 14 and this news brought a psychological hammer blow down, causing Matt’s legs to die. We were all pretty beat but Matt’s legs were now beyond functioning…the rest of this race would be a walk and not even ‘a walk with purpose’ as Matt had been saying the entire 19 hours.
Coming into the Pit we calculated one more lap would seal us the team win, so we had a couple of hours to eat, chat and sleep in the pit before heading out for the last lap. Completing this walking with friends and chatting to other competitors was surreal and I was glad we were finally nearing the end. The goal wasn’t achieved but much was learnt in the process of trying. I had made friends, found new respect and realised a lot about myself.
16 laps done and over 135km of running it was now time to eat, clean and sleep.
Laps were being clocked anywhere between 5.3 to 5.5 miles. Having the course correctly measured would have done wonders for our lap times.
We weren’t prepared for quite so much water. Swimming on average probably over 100m per lap we probably covered more than 1.6km of swimming during our 16 laps.
As a team we weren’t ready for the added possibility of penalties. If one of the team members were to fail an obstacle, the entire team had to do the penalty. This was pretty heart breaking, especially when you have taken a lightning bolt to the brain in order to complete one – only to realise you have to do the penalty anyway.
The start is usually at 10am giving extra hours of daytime before the cold night comes in to slow progress, we started at 2pm meaning the majority of the important miles were at night.
One of the greatest memories from the race was the sight of Matt trying to warm himself on a brief pit stop. Our amazing pit crew had cooked us up a little chicken soup which was absolutely fantastic to drink. Matt however found a new use for this soup. At something like 3am in the morning Matt was having chicken soup poured down the front of his wetsuit and by the look on his face he was really enjoying it!
A slightly less enjoyable memory was the electric shock I got from ‘Operation’. My technique was to run the metal pole along my shoulder helping to keep it steady. On one occasion accidentally touching the side, sent a thunderbolt directly into my brain through my cheek! Somehow managing to hold onto the bar and keep my little hooked ring on the end, I was dazed but continued…some 2 seconds later I heard a call from a team mate saying he had dropped his ring and we were to do the penalty anyway! Just my luck.
Throughout the entire race I was overwhelmed by the support we were given on course, we didn’t go more than a kilometer without having competitors shouting words of encouragement. The most vivid memory of this support was when some competitors saw us coming up to the cargo net. With a few words, they all then formed a perfect tunnel allowing us to simply walk through. When we then turned back to help them follow through, they all refused help – telling us to ‘go get that 100’…legends.
A slightly unfortunate incident at something like lap 7 saw the top layer of skin on two of my fingers get sliced off on the ramp. Dripping with blood they weren’t too painful but the real enemy was the adrenaline rush the injury gave me. This made me crush the following lap but left me feeling low on energy thereafter. It turned out we didn’t bother dressing them as to do so would have slowed us down and we were just on course to miss the cliff jump before it opened at midnight.
Another minor injury I picked up was involving the cliff and my ‘olives’. Accidentally having my legs slightly open caused quite a traumatic entrance into the water which left me feeling slightly mutilated. The left tactical took the brunt of the impact and I feared the worst. The pain and stomach ache subsided after 10 minutes though and some hot chocolate and cookies made me feel much better.
As a team we owe many thankyous. Although Sinergy Sports were amazing in supplying us with the means to compete, my first thankyou will have to be to our support crew. They were absolutely amazing and we couldn’t have done more than 20miles without them, from changing head torch batteries to hand feeding us there wasn’t much these guys wouldn’t have done in order to help us to our goal. Josh was amazing, practically squirting liquid food into my mouth and supplying me with copious amounts of hot chocolate and cookies. My best memory of Lindsey was her big smile as she cheekily threw some pills into my water cup, the caffeine tablets were well needed but as they dissolved the water then proved pretty disgusting to drink. Chris was great and was always first to be thrusting a water bottle into my hands every time we came through to finish and start another lap.
Sinergy Sports were the reason we made it to the event. Supplying us with the means to travel there and buy the kit we needed, we owe them huge thanks. They also supplied us with some of their products which were used in training to prepare us for the physical abuse we were put through.
Clif bar supplied us with the nutrition we needed to last 24hours. I have never eaten so many Clif products in 24 hours but the massive variety of types and flavors we had meant I never got sick of them. The liquid food was a god send and I have fond memories of squeezing a chocolate gel all over my face by accident whilst running around.
A big thanks is due to all the other competitors. From the simplest words of encouragements to hauling our tired asses over obstacles, it was an honor to take part alongside them and we wouldn’t have made it anywhere near our goal if we were out there alone.
Lastly, thanks to the team: Ryan, Matt and Eric. We went through a lot together and I don’t think it’s an experience I will forget anytime soon. Ryan, you were an unwavering rock supporting the team. Matt, you kept a smile on my face every time you had an update on what was happening to your body and Eric, we shared some dark times together that wouldn’t have been possible alone. As Eric said while we were running around in the dessert: it was “a lot of type 2 fun”…