Obstacle Course Races, OCR, Race Review

My World’s Toughest Mudder Experience – a final 24 hour dance in the desert

IΒ just came back from the US where I competed at World’s Toughest Mudder, a grueling 24h Obstacle Course Race in the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I wanted to run this race for a while now, and it was my big challenge for 2017. It was definitely one of the best, but also hardest experiences of my life, and I am beyond happy that I reached my personal goal of 50 miles as well as finishing the full 24hours.

But let me take you through the full weekend in chronological order. Beware: it is a loooooong post. So if you want to just read about the race scroll down to that section.

Thursday morning: The Orphan Tent cliff jump practice

“Pit Mama” Traci Watson organized the Cliff Jump practice, as she also runs the Orphan Tent in the World’s Toughest Mudder Community. (This is a tent for runners that do not have a supporting pit crew. It runs with donations and everyone can sign up. )

World's Toughest Mudder Cliff Jump Practice
Unfortunately not me jumping

Even if I had decided not to jump famous cliff at the race, I decided to come to the practice to meet people. The fact that it took place at beautiful Lake Mead was also not disappointing. I enjoyed the day a lot, but still felt bad for not jumping.

Thursday evening: World’s Toughest Mudder Community dinner no. 1

The first community dinner took place at Camp Rhino, a Cross Fit gym just outside Las Vegas. There you could eat, drink, meet people and play with the obstacles they had there. But most importantly you could do something good: there was a charity auction, a raffle and Matty Gregg was selling special World’s Toughest Mudder socks for the benefit of Team Rubicon. Matty Gregg has been doing this for several years now, he has raised tens of thousand USD for team Rubicon, won the OCR World Championships Community award, and will run across the USA next year to raise even more money for charity.

At the dinner I was also able to shake hands with the famous Deanna Blegg from Australia. She is the 2013 World’s Toughest Mudder champion, and a HIV positive cancer survivor. She also invented BleggMitts, the neoprene mittens that would save my hands on course a few days later.

To finalize the triple inspiration that night I met Jesi Stratham, a paraplectic adaptive athlete that was tackling World’s Toughest Mudder in her wheelchair. And as she was one of the people that I shared a flat with, I can confirm that she is super nice too.

Friday morning: loading the World’s Toughest Mudder Pit

As World’s Toughest Mudder is a 24 hour race, there is a big tent city between start and finish that everyone calls the pit. Every racer gets a 3mx3m space that they can fill with whatever they want: a tent, chairs, table, or just a suitcase. The general rule is: the closer to the start, the better the pit spot.

This year spots were split up into 4 areas: Elite contender, contender, open, and national relay teams. As I did not qualify as a contender at Europe’s Toughest Mudder I was in the open category. But luckily my friend Jason offered to share his contender pit with me, as he did not have a tent.

The pit loading process itself is quite annoying. You have to carry all your gear to the pit. If you are smart you bring a trolley or a cart. It is really hard to set up a tent, as the ground is hard as concrete and you need a hammer to put your pegs in. It was also super hot when we set it up. But it was great to meet people. And because we had a spot quite in the front of the pit, I could check out the elites.

Friday evening: World’s Toughest Mudder Community dinner no. 2

The Community dinner on Friday was also a really great opportunity to meet people as over 300 racers and pit crew attended. Even though the food was just average, the spirit was great. The lovely Amelia Boone came out to say hi, as well as 100x Tough Mudder Legionnaire Jim “Da Goat” Campbell. The Community also handed out an award to Pit Mama Traci Watson for her work with the Orphan Tent, which supported approximately 30 percent of all racers this year.

Photocredit: Bob Mulholland for Mud Run Guide

Saturday morning: getting ready for World’s Toughest Mudder

I woke up at around 4 a.m. before the race and could not get back to sleep. There were just too many thoughts in my head. At 6 a.m. I got up for my morning routine: taking a shower, putting on sunscreen and vaseline against chafing and my race make-up. (yes, I chose to sparkle)

After a well balanced breakfast (coffee and a nutella-banana bagel) we headed off to the race. I was a nervous wreck by then. HELLO, pre race anxiety.

Luckily we were early, so I was able to witness the first World’s Toughest Mudder wedding. After my final preparations we went to the start area for the obligatory safety briefing.

Meeting Roxie the Aussie and her Mommy DesirΓ©e before the race.

During this briefing TMHQ (Tough Mudder Head Quarter) announced that this year’s theme was hard as hell, that the obstacles required a lot of grip strength, and that the penalty loops added another 2.5 miles to the 5 mile course length. They also briefed everyone on the dangers of overhydration and the use of NSAID painkillers like ibuprofen. This happened after my friend Jason had to go to intensive care after World’s Toughest Mudder last year. Read his story in this article.

After the safety briefing the famous Tough Mudder MC Sean Corvelle pumped everyone up for the race. He reminded us:

You don’t finish at the finish line. You finish out there on course and then make it to the finish line.

And of course that:

No one is better then your best. But your best will make you better.

We were standing out there for around an hour, and it was really hot. We then finally had to do the famous Tough Mudder Pledge before we were sent off onto the course.

Photo Credit: Cora Pynenberg

Lap 1

The first lap if World’s Toughest Mudder is called the sprint lap, as obstacles are closed for the first half of the course. While this might sound easy, the sprint lap is really hard. It was super hot, and with so many people running at the same time, there is a lot of dust in the air. I was covering my nose and mouth with a bandana, but I probably still inhaled a lot of desert dust.

Soon I was overheating. I really regretted running in a t-shirt, when a sportsbra could have been enough. I only got a little cooler at the water station half way through, and at the swim at mile 4.

My goal was to finish the sprint lap in under an hour, and then head out again as soon as possible and cover more distance before the first obstacles opened. I left my hydration pack in the pit, so when I finished lap one in 56 minutes I just grabbed it and went out for another lap.

Lap 2:

The first obstacle after the start was Everest 2.0 . It is a quarter pipe or warped wall that you had to get up. The higher version was called Everest 2.1, and was a one try only. No way I could ever make it. So I had to try the 2.0 version, which had a short sandbag carry penalty. Failing Everest would mean a swim penalty.

When I started my second lap shortly before 1 p.m. I just wanted to get past Everest before the obstacles opened.

And I did. Not because I was super fast, but because they opened up the obstacles gradually until 3 p.m. So on my second lap only Mud Mile, Abseil and Kiss of Mud were open. But Kiss of Mud was brutal. It is supposed to be a muddy barbed wire crawl, but here it was just a big puddle with rocks to crawl through. And the rocks were very sharp.

Me on Abseil on lap 3

But somehow I managed to still run a quite fast second lap and finished at 2:02 p.m.

I then decided to change into a long sleeve shirt and leggings and headed out for another lap.

Lap 3:

During lap 3 more and more obstacles opened up. One of the first ones were Devils Quagmire, a muddy pool with a net on top that you had to climb out of, and Block Ness Monster, which is one of my favorites.

Also the climbing obstacles Reach Around and Double Dipping, which were basically 3 different versions of walls to climb over opened.

I finished the lap in 1 hour and 13 minutes, so still quite fast.

I knew that the sun would set 4:30 p.m., and that it would get quite cold. So I put on neoprene shorts and a neoprene top and stuffed another neoprene jacket into my hydration pack. I ate some instant noodles, put on my headlamp and off I went on my 4th lap.

Lap 4:

On lap 4 finally all obstacles were open. One of the new ones was Pandora’s Box, where you had to crawl through electric wires in the dark. I also did Snot Rocket for the first time. Usually I love this obstacle. It is a muddy pool, where you first have to dunk under a tube and then climb up a tube with water coming from the top. But this time it was aweful. It was freezing cold and the water was really intense. I always left it shaking.

The next obstacle was Rope-a-Dope. It is a jump to a rope, climb up and climb down another rope. If you can’t make it, you fall into water. I tried it and failed, but because the rope was attached to the ground and the ropes were really tight I could not use my usual technique. And the ropes were really slippery.

When I came to Funky Monkey I could also not do it because it was really slippery. So I fell into the water. But the penalty loop for this obstacle was really, really long. And it included Arctic Enema as a must-complete obstacle, a slide into ice cold water.

There were two more obstacles I could not complete after that because my hands were just too cold: Hanging Tough and Kong Infinity, two ring based obstacles.

So in the end it took me just under two hours including all the penalties, which was not so bad.

In the pit I put on my wetsuit and had some more to eat and drink and then headed out for another lap.

Lap 5

I don’t remember a lot of lap 5 actually, except that I ran into a guy called James for the first time. He was wearing a kilt, even though he was not Scottish, but is from Ohio. We mostly ran the next three laps together, as we both had the same speed and always randomly bumped into each other.

I completed lap 5 in less than 2 hours, which meant it was now 8 p.m. and got my 25 miles patch.

I put on some neoprene socks and a new pair of shoes, and headed out for another lap.

Lap 6:

I also don’t have a lot of memories of lap 6. But I met Roxie the Aussie, who is a service dog, and her Mommy Desiree out on course. They both love to do OCRs together, and seeing them do World’s Toughest Mudder was such an inspiration.

I finished lap 6 in two hours, which was not bad despite that I now did nearly all the penalties. My original plan was to finish lap 6 at midnight, so I was way ahead schedule, which made me confident.

So I had some more soup, I put on two more layers of neoprene gear because I was really cold and then headed out for another lap at 10:30 p.m.

Lap 7:

I knew that the night obstacles would open at midnight, which included the Cliff Jump and Statue of Liberty. But there was also another course change which meant we had to climb up another hill to Ladder to Hell, a big wooden ladder we had to climb over. But I was fast enough to go past all of them before midnight, except for the cliff.

I had decided before the race that I would not do the Cliff Jump, because it scared me too much. So I had to do the penalty which was another ice cold swim.

I finished lap 7 at 1 a.m. and I was really cold. I said good-bye to James who wanted to take a longer pit break. But I wanted to keep moving so I would not get any colder. So I went to the Orphan Tent for a hot drink and headed out for lap 8.

Lap 8:

I started lap 8 at around 1 a.m. and it was now a full night obstacle lap. This meant that 17 out of 20 obstacles involved some kind of water. The course was also longer and with more elevation gain. The obstacle Reach Around changed to the harder version Stage 5 Klinger, which I could not do. So I had to do do the penalty loop which was really long and somewhere in the far back. The battery of my headlamp started to fade, so I had to walk it in complete darkness. At one point I thought I had gotten lost.

In addition they added another 1/4 mile to the penalty of Kong Infinity. By the time I came there I could no longer run. I was freezing and shivering and had severe tummy cramps because of the cold.

I finished lap 8 at 4 a.m. and I felt completely shattered. But I knew I had to do something about the cramps if I wanted to make my goal of 10 laps.

So I ran to my tent and grabbed three heat packs and my NYC Marathon poncho. I headed to the Orphan Tent where they helped me out of my wetsuit. They stuffed the heat packs onto my tummy, wrapped a foil and the poncho around me and fed me hot chocolate.

I knew there was only one thing I had left: I had another wetsuit in my bag, which was a 5mm one and that I had only bought as a last resort and that I had never worn before. If I wanted to continue I had to put it on.

So I grabbed one of the Orphan Tent Pit Crew to help me into the wetsuit. And it was just perfect timing that when I was out of the top of my wetsuit I felt my tummy and hat to run to the porta potties. What happened next is not easy to describe, so I’ll just won’t do it. Let’s just say I had to spend a long time in that porta potty.

After that I changed into my dry, warm 5mm winter surf wetsuit with the help of my friends. It took us around 30 minutes as it was so hard to put on. But once I had it on I got warmer immediately.

So I was warm enough, but my tummy was still bothering me. I did not have any imodium with me, so my friend Jason convinced me to go to the medical tent for some.

The medical tent was located right next to the start line, and each runner was allowed a max of 30 minutes in the medical tent without being disqualified.

But unfortunately they did not have anything to sort out my tummy issues. I did not know what to do. I wanted to do another 2 laps to reach my goal, but what if my tummy issues got worse? There was only one spot on the course where there were porta potties. And I could not get in and out of my wetsuit on my own. So I knew that if I wanted my 50 mile brown bib I had to take the risk. So I grabbed Jason’s headlamp and headed out on lap 9 at 5:45 a.m.

Lap 9:

It was already dawn when I headed out for lap 9. The sun was slowly rising and the pink sky was absolutely beautiful. The newly gained body heat gave me a boost. I felt great and strong, and started running. I was a little bit overheating until I hit Snot Rocket again. Then I was suddenly cold. And I stayed cold. I was hoping that the sun would heat the desert up, but it did not

I finished lap 9 at shortly after 8. This was the official time when we could end this course and get a 24 hour headband. So when I crossed the finish line they wanted to crown me with the 24h headband. But I said no.

And after a quick stop at the Orphan Tent I headed out for another lap at 8:22

Lap 10:

On my last lap I felt absolutely knackered. Could I still run the lap before, I could now only walk. So I would get even colder. But I was super happy because I knew I had over 5 hours to finish my last lap. This was probably enough for two more laps if I pushed really hard, but I could no longer do it. So I decided to take it easy, walk the course and try to enjoy it as much as I could.

Every obstacle that I completed or passed on the penalty I thought: I am so glad I don’t have to do it again. Shortly before Funky Monkey I met James again. He had severe knee problems and could only walk slowly, but he was also on his tenth lap. I congratulated him and headed off to a power walk.

It was shortly before 11 a.m. , which meant that the Cliff would close at that time and we would not have to do the penalty again. So I walked slower, maybe hoping to escape this last penalty swim, but then I did it anyway.

I finished my tenth lap at 11:06, and all my friends from the orphan tent were waiting for me.

I was super happy when I got my 24h headband. But when I went to get my 50 mile bib, my time did not show up in the system, as my timing chip had stopped working after lap 6. (and TMHQ has not yet fixed it) Luckily I had my log sheet and witnesses from the Orphan Tent, and they gave me my bib.

This moment, when I took pictures with my bib in front of the finish line and the Austrian Flag in the background I was really happy. I will not tell you if I cried or not, but you can guess.

Sunday afternoon: the hardest thing about World’s Toughest Mudder

After the race I had to conquer the final obstacle: cleaning up.

You have no idea how hard it was to dry up, change into clean clothes and clean up my tent. Luckily my friend Jason, who had to drop out after lap 8, and Rhonda and Matthias from the Orphan Tent helped me clean up and carry all my stuff back to the car. I can’t express enough how thankful I am for these people and all the support I got from them.

Jason helped me clean up my mess

Monday Morning: the World’s Toughest Mudder brunch

After I had a shower, a pizza and a night of good sleep, I was feeling much better. We then attended the World’s Toughest Mudder brunch, which was probably the best part of the weekend. Everyone was wearing their bibs and headbands, and drank beer out of their holy grail beer mugs that they handed out at the brunch. I got to see all my old and new friends.

Of course I took lots of pictures with all the OCR celebrities.

At the brunch they also awarded the winners of the race, and gave away the community awards.

And most importantly they announced the location for next year: Atlanta!

What’s next?

Immediately after the race I said: no way I am ever doing a 24h race again.

But now that I’ve recovered a bit, I am not sure.

Because it looks like I not only qualified for OCR World Championships in London next autumn, but also for the OCR 24h Enduro World Championships in Australia next June. And I wanted visit my friends in Australia anyway…

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