After running 2 Tough Mudders in Colorado and Australia I decided to try out the WTM. I was drawn to the idea that the race was “Run as far as you can in 24 hours” instead of the old “run 26.2 miles and go home” style. So I signed up and ran my third Tough Mudder in Las Vegas to qualify for the WTM, finishing the run in 1:35……Two weeks later they said they opened the race to everyone. I was a little bent because I flew to Las Vegas just to run the mudder (and drink), but I liked the idea because it opened the race to more competitors. I bought my ticket to the race and reserved a hotel room (hotels around these events fill up quick).
Instead of starting training right away I went to South East Asia and backpacked for 2 months over the summer. My training didn’t start until late August 2.5 months before the race, but I did better than expected and finished 25th overall out of 800, running 75 miles in 24.5 hours. Here’s how I trained, ate, what I packed, and some lessons and recommendations from my experience.
Training officially started late august when I got to work, race day was on Nov. 16 (roughly 80 days away). I had been doing Crossfit for 3 years by then so my starting fitness was pretty good. My training took place in the Desert of Middle-East Asia, so temperatures were pretty high and elevation was around 700 ft. I followed a 60 day plan of cardio and endurance-oriented crossfit WODS (slang for workout of the day), mostly “Hero WODS”. After following my 60 day plan I felt pretty confident. I could do Fran, Helen, and Elizabeth back to back with good times and still breathe afterwards. I felt ready.
The last 15 days before the race I was flying a lot so my last minute training suffered a bit. I had to fly from the Middle East to Washington State to pick up my gear, fly to Virginia for more work stuff, drive up to D.C. to honor our veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, and finally took a train to New York for the race. With all this flying and moving around I managed to fit in a 12- mile run in my wetsuit, a 13-mile run, and a 17-mile run. The 17-miler was 1 week before the race and I spent the rest of the week doing light walks (sightseeing NY).
My approach during the 60-day plan was intensity (high work loads, no rest). I was working 12 hours a day with a few breaks in between so my focus was to run or do a quick workout every chance I got. I tried to get as many pull-ups, rope climbs, sprints, cleans, box jumps, and medicine ball runs as possible. Besides slipping a few times on the rings and monkey bars I completed all the obstacles with ease during the race. The ropes climbs really helped, add those to your training.
Check out my 60 days to World’s Toughest Mudder Document
Lesson #1: I think I could have done better by incorporating more strength training in my routine. Notably, Squats and Deadlifts because the strength and power boost they give to your legs. I focused too much on running and the first thing to go out during the race was my hips. I believe, that doing heavy squats and deadlifts would have helped to prevent this, but it is a common problem in endurance athletes so it’s something you have to learn to endure.
I follow a loose paleo diet, eating fruit, vegetable, nuts, and meat. No dairy or wheat. The problem with this is it is very low carb, which I used to my benefit preparing for the race. Here’s how:
If you eat breakfast and go for a run, your body will use that breakfast as fuel, but once those nutrients are gone your body switches to burning stored fat and most people will burn out (hit the wall) because they are not used to this. My approach was to train for this by eating less than 100g of carbs a day. This would train my body to run off of stored fat, which would be crucial during the race since you can burn off stored carbs pretty quick. The only time I would eat carbs was immediately after a work out. These carbs were high glycemic (grapes, raisins, gummy bears) for quicker absorption and recovery.
For regular meals I ate a lot of eggs, chicken, steak, and vegetables. I’m not going to lie, there were days when I ate more than 100g, but that was necessary to stay sane.
The last week before the race I changed my diet up and started to eat regular. I did not carb binge! I did not want to gain weight, I just ate regular. By regular I mean I included sweet potatoes during dinner and snacked on fruit throughout the day. Again, I did not want to gain any weight because it is more to carry around. This is a 24-hour race with a pit area, not a multi day test of survival where food deprivation is a factor.
The night before the race I ate a half rack of ribs, a place of sweet potato fries, and a salad. The morning of the race I ate a fruit cup and some eggs.
I’m not a gear queer and I never pack a lot for anything. Call me a minimalist, I just don’t like to carry a lot of shit. Packing a lot will just entice you to want to take a break. Here is what I took, and it was TOO MUCH:
Tent – for possibility of rain, I wanted to keep food dry. In reality a trash bag would have worked.
2 pairs of shoes – only really wore 1, more on that later
2 headlamps – only used 1
Strobe – Must have for race
2 wetsuits – 3mm and 6mm, should have packed a thinner one, more later
2 gloves – 5mm and 3mm, only used 1
Beanie – didn’t use, hair sufficed
Fanny pack – used but honestly could have done without because laps were only 5 miles
Socks – one to start, one for the dark, and one post race
Watch – ended up taking off after 6 laps
2 Towels – I forgot these, thank god my girlfriend borrowed some from the hotel. Bless her, they are necessary for post race.
* I purposely didn’t pack a sleeping bag because I didn’t want to sleep.
Lesson #2: Bring thinner wetsuit just in case it’s warm
Food for race
I did not bring a lot of food. I wasn’t planning on having any sit down meals and this worked out because I never burned out. The only reason I slowed down during the race was because of the pain in my hips, which I think was due to my lack of strength training. Here is what I took and what worked:
Muscle Milk protein powder – Wanted to use Syntha-6, but it was $60, hell no. This was my main fuel and I recommend it.
Chia seeds – I believe these worked, hard to tell though because I mixed these with my muscle milk and drank one bottle every lap. One of the two was the hero. My girlfriend Carolyn pre-mixed me about 6 drinks before the race, she is the hero.
Almond butter – hardly used, too much time to swallow haha.
GU energy shots – I used one a lap until I ran out halfway through (poor planning), not sure if they made a difference. Better than nothing and quickly absorbed.
Gummy Bears – Hardly used, great snack after the race though
Chunky Soup – Ate half a can cold, threw out the rest, used mostly for the broth.
Detour Protein Bars – A solid version of the muscle milk, ate 6 throughout the day to chew on something.
Bottled Water – Essential for mixing protein drinks, saves having to use mixer cup.
Fruit Cups – These were great, bring tons, drink one every lap
Gatorade – I forgot these as well, my girl ran and grabbed some thank god. These were essential to replace carbs since I wasn’t getting much from my protein drinks and ran out of fruit cups.
Lesson #3: Bring Gatorade, I think if I do this again. I will only bring Gatorade, Fruit cups, Protein, and Chia Seeds. I will also pre-mix everything for a 24 hour period.
Lesson #4: Plan the race and pre-set up food to go.
The night before the race I did not hydrate excessively, nor did I the morning of. Hydrating too much will flush your body of nutrients. I drank normally, which means I drank a beer the night before the race to help me sleep.
The morning of the race I ate some eggs to get real food and ate some fruit to get some last minute carbs. I checked in and set up my tent the day prior so all I had to do race day was show up and sit at the starting line.
2013 was a warm year for the WTM. I didn’t listen to the weather and started out in my 3mm wetsuit (Mistake #1) telling myself the temperature will drop, but it never did.
Lesson #5: Dress for the current weather. Changing clothes does not take very long.
Laps 1 to 6
First lap was just a sprint, no obstacles. About 2 miles in I over-heated and peeled the top portion of my wetsuit off and tied it around my waist. This was a problem in the devils beard because it kept snagging on the net. (Devils beard was the worst obstacle in my opinion. It snagged on the hood of my 6mm suit, the heels of my shoes when I fell, and my fingers.)
Anyway, Laps 1 to 6 (first 30 miles) went great. I ran everything but the small uphill obstacle, I powered through the obstacles, and finished 6 laps before the night portion started around 1730. Easy breezy, I felt great having ran my first marathon and completed 100 plus obstacles. Nothing could stop me.
During the night we HAD to wear headlamps and a strobe. I stopped to put these on and I changed over to my 6mm wetsuit for the night race (mistake #2). I also changed my socks and switched to my other pair of shoes, which were brand new and not broken in (mistake #3).
Lesson #6: Wear the shoes you train in.
I started lap 7 running, but my new shoes were too small and started killing my feet so I slowed to a fast walk. They were INNOV-8 trail shoes and the traction did not hold up on the muddy wood as good as the New Balances. I was too stubborn to stop though, and I ended up going all the way to lap 9 in pain before stopping to change back into my New Balances (great shoes, great traction, no complaints). This mistake ruined my momentum. I was dumb for not testing the shoes out first.
I started fresh again on Lap 10 with a light jog but by lap 11 I was back to speed walking because my hips were going out 50 miles in. The weather still hadn’t dropped at this point and my 6mm wetsuit turned into a sweat suit. This sweat drained down into my 5mm gloves and I constantly had to take them off to empty out puddles of sweat. I had already stopped to change my shoes and I wasn’t going to stop to change my wetsuit, so I just kept moving forward steaming like a train engine.
I was still completing all the obstacles and voluntarily took the penalty on Everest a few times to get my wetsuit wet and cool me down (The penalty was swimming across the river). During the night I went through the pit area every lap to refuel with a protein-chia shake. The pit area sidelined the track so this did not cost me any extra time. There was only 1 aid station on the 5 mile-track so I ate half a banana and drank 2 cups of water every time I passed it. The water, bananas, and protein shakes kept me going until the end of the race.
Once the sun came back out I happily stripped off my headlamp and got my second wind. I was on lap 13 by this time and I made a goal to make 15 laps and get the silver bib. Unfortunately, my hips were a wreck from the impact of running and jumping included in the obstacles. These last 2 laps would have to be made walking as fast as I could. I still continued to stop and get protein every lap because this did not cost me any time. I continued to complete all the obstacles except for falling off the monkey bars and Olympic rings a few times. Falling into the water cooled me down though, so it didn’t bother me.
I actually picked up speed the last 2 laps because I stopped pacing myself and went all out. Looking back I think I could have gotten 16 laps if I hadn’t screwed myself over with the shoes and stayed in my 3mm wetsuit. There is always next year. I made 15 laps though, which I think is pretty good since I went in without any real plan. My only objective was to finish the race and not sleep (not packing a sleeping bag helped accomplish that). Next time I will approach the race with a structured plan including a pre-set meals and an actual goal (100 miles).
- I’d recommend including heavy squats and deadlifts into your training program. These increase strength and power in your legs and this means stronger, faster muscles. If you are against this, then I hope you are one heck of a runner and have miles to prove it.
- Brings towels, it is a necessary comfort to be able to dry your feet and hands for a bit until you change into new socks and shoes. Also, pack a thin warming layer to start the run in and use this until the temperature drops and it gets cold. Hold off on the wetsuit until night (if the weather is similar to the WTM 2013).
- Bring Gatorade. Lots of Gatorade. It was designed for athletes and by running this race, consider yourself an athlete. The sodium and carbs in this beverage are essential. The pits will have chicken broth as well. Hit this up if you get a chance.
- Plan the race and pre-set food. Make a goal. 10 laps, 15 laps, anything. I had no clue what my goal was. I just wanted to keep moving. This screwed my pace because I never really set myself a pace. If you are going to take my recommendation and drink protein shakes. Mix those up with chia seeds BEFORE the race. Mix at least 10 bottles. Better yet, mix a bottle for every hour. Good rule of thumb, have one serving of protein, fruit cup, and Gatorade for every hour of the race.
- Dress for the current weather. I really screwed myself starting in a 3mm wetsuit when it was 60 F outside.
- Don’t throw on new shoes you have never worn in the middle of the race like me. I don’t know what I was thinking. Buy two pairs of New Balance Minimus, train in one for a few months. Train in the next pair for a few weeks before the race and use both pairs during the race.
I never ate any big meals during the race. I just snacked on protein drinks, fruit cups, and Gatorade after every lap. I’d recommend this because it’s only 24 hours and the goal is to keep fuel in the tank, you can go 24 hours without a nice warm meal. The protein, carbs, and fat from these items does this well. I had 2 cups of coffee in case I started to burn out, but I never drank them because the adrenaline kept me going all night. It’s safe to have on hand though.
Bring thermal layers and start the race in those. I think I could have made more progress during the day in the warm weather if I didn’t have a wetsuit on from the start. You are never more than 5 miles away from food and warmer clothing. I screwed myself assuming it would get cold. Go off the current weather. You warm up once you start running, common sense huh?
I went to hard in the beginning of the race and I think this is one of the reasons my hips went out. Up until lap 6 I was running a good pace but doing the obstacles like an Olympic athlete. I was doing muscle ups over the berlin walls, running with tires instead of walking, and taking a lot of impact on my legs. Next time I will try to run the whole time, but slow down on the obstacles. Use the obstacles as a chance to catch your breath.
Have a good running foundation. I never ran a marathon coming up to this event, the farthest I ran was 17 miles the week before. The only thing that kept me going was the stubborn leg muscles I developed as a Grunt in the Marine Corps. There were 25 or so obstacles in a 5 mile lap, but there is still 5 miles of ground to cover in between those obstacles. Being a solid runner is most important.
Also, make sure you give your bib number to your friends and family so they can follow your progress through the race.
I highly recommend this race to anyone who is looking for an intro into endurance sports. There is no set distance, all you have to do is see how far you can push yourself in a set time limit. So if you burn out after 50 miles, you are still a finisher. It’s a great intro race for someone who is considering doing an ultra marathon (100 miler). I hope my experiences, recommendations, and mistakes helped. Don’t make my mistakes.