I was eager to compete in the WTM this year, more so than last year, for several reasons. One, they moved it from nowhere New Jersey to the world’s playground in the desert of Las Vegas. Two, I have a lot of desert experience having served in the United States Marines Corps during the War on Terror with plenty of desert miles under my feet and buckets of dust in my lungs. Three, I ran a Tough Mudder in Las Vegas the previous year, so I knew what they could dish out with the desert terrain and knew what the terrain would consist of.
All that said, I had no plans of doing as well as I did. I knew the race was growing in popularity, which would attract more ultra-runners and other elites from other sports to go for the title. I also figured that with the swimming and hills added to the race, it would slow down my pace from last year dramatically (I ran 75 miles last year). To my surprise though, the extra mileage I put in for preparation paid off and I succeeded in running for the entire event (as in I did not resort to walking).
Here’s a little recap from the race:
I showed up to the race the day before to find that everyone blew off the gate opening times regardless of what color headband they had. So all the good spots near the course had been taken. I had to set up a bit further back but this was not a problem. I set up my tent, staged my gear, and chatted with my fellow mudders for a bit before taking off.
I went back to my friends apartment, cooked some steak and ate it with a side of avocado and sweet potato.
Next morning I ate 3 eggs mixed with 2 bacon slices and drove to the race arriving 1 hour early. I had already checked in so I spent this time pre-mixing my protein shakes for the race. My main fuel the entire race was a 50/50 mix of Syntha-6 and Carbpro with chia seeds mixed in.
I also staged my gear in certain corners of the tent so it would be easy to find when I was tired and delirious. I brought 1 3mm wetsuit, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves, a buff, 3 headlamps, 2 strobes, and 1 thermal shirt to use during the race. I started in a neoprene UA T-shirt, cotton shorts (dumb idea), cotton socks, and Newbalance Minimus shoes.
I got to the starting line at the 15- minute warning and it was already full, which meant I had to start in the back of the pack. I wasn’t worried about it though because I remembered last year that with the wide course it all started pretty fast. This year that was not the case. The course was super narrow and I was stuck walking behind a huge crowd for the first 5 minutes. Very frustrating.
I spent the first lap running as fast as I could up and down the hills passing people trying to make up the time I lost behind that crowd. I finished lap 1 in 41 minutes and was in 77th place overall. Skipping the pit I immediately moved on to lap 2.
The second lap always gets me nervous because this is when we move on to the new obstacles. There is always a bit confusing during this lap because it is the first time actually running the full course with obstacles and that results in mistakes. That’s the best part of OCR though, running into the unknown.
First mistake I made was on “weigh to tough”. I understood the idea; fill a bucket, run a loop, get it weighed and be +/- 5 pounds; but for some reason I brain farted and was over by 15 pounds! So I ran it again and ended up hitting the nail on the head, which I continued to do the entire race.
Second mistake was on “swingers”. I ran up to the obstacle and the volunteer said “jump off the platform, swing on the bar, and ring the bell”. So I jumped off, grabbed the bar, swung as hard as I could, and let go thinking that a full swing would result in the bell ringing via a pendulum or some shit, but it didn’t. Stupid me. I didn’t realize you had to ring the bell by hand. I ran my 1/4 mile penalty loop and continued on.
All in all, I really enjoyed the obstacles this year.I love that Tough Mudder put more emphasis on upper body strength to level the field with the runners.Some of the best additions in my opinion were “grabbing shaft”, “grappler”, “liberator”, and the “cliff”. The cliff was fun but resulted in lines because there was only 4 lanes. Next year create more lanes!
With all the mistakes out of the way, I finished lap 2 in 1:03 moving up to 37th place, skipped the pit, and moved on to lap 3 without refueling.
During lap 1 and 2 I had only drank water at the station, so during lap 3 I snacked on gummy bears I had put in my underwear pre-race to try to stay ahead of the carb depletion. Once you burn too many carbs during a race you will start to bonk and then it’s over. It’s important to get some fuel every 45 minutes to stay ahead of going empty. Training for this race I would run 15 miles with no water or food to try and train my body for 3 laps with no pit stop. It worked.
Lap 3 went well and I completed all the obstacles including the more difficult ones like “the grappler” and “grabbing shaft”. I finished lap 2 in 1:13 and moved up to 20th place. Before starting lap 4 I stopped briefly to slam a protein/carb shake.
Re-fuelled and motivated from being cheered on by my family and friends I picked up the pace during lap 4 continued to run the hills and finished in 1:02 moving up to 16th place. I did have one brain fart when I decided I would try out my new gloves on grabbing shaft. This resulted in me immediately slipping off the bars and falling into the water. I had to carry a cinder block a quarter mile as penalty. Do not try to use receiver gloves. After the lap I pitted again to drink another protein/carb shake.
Lap 5 went much the same with me finishing in 1:07 and moving up to 11th place. I had fallen into a good rhythm by this time and had a good strategy for all the obstacles. I had my lane carved in the course and was cruising on auto-drive. I continued to pit every lap after this for a quick shot of protein and carbs.
Lap 6 I held steady in 11th place finishing the lap in 1:12 and raced to the starting line to start lap 7 before it got dark and night-time rules went into effect.
Lap 7 was my last lap in my comfortable shorts and T-shirt. I wrapped it up in 1:14 and moved up to 8th place because the guys in front of me had probably stopped to change after lap 6. It helps to push things as far back as possible, every delayed pit stop gains you valuable minutes.
Since it was still somewhat warm, I only took off my T-shirt and put on a long sleeve cold gear UA shirt with my strobe and headlamp for lap 8.
I finished lap 8 in 1:23 holding my place in 8th place. The course had changed for nighttime rules by taking away the cliff jump, rerouting the hill climb, and adding the statue of liberty swim. I found the statue of liberty obstacle pretty easy since I always swim with a side stroke and it’s easy to pull off with one hand out of the water.
With the sun setting quick and the winds slowly picking up I decided to pit after lap 8 to put on my wetsuit and gear up for the rest of the race. I didn’t bother to change my socks or shoes at all because they were working fine and I knew I would be wet again after crossing the start line. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Lap 9 I moved up to 7th place and finished in 1:22. Ryan Atkins lapped me around mile marker 2 and my heart sank. I figured that a top 5 was out of the question since Junyong Pak and at least 3 other amazing athletes were right on his tail. I just kept my turtle pace going and waited for the inevitable.
Lap 10 the winds began to pick up and before I knew it there was sand in the air. I didn’t panic or even think anything of it because this was regular is the middle east and I had dealt with it before. It did make breathing more difficult because of the sand in the air but I was running with my buff and used this to cover my mouth. Having dealt with several sand storms in Iraq and Afghanistan I knew that a buff was a desert essential. I finished lap 10 in 1:17 and moved up to 6th place. I believe this is when Junyong Pak dropped out.
Lap 11 I kept going at my turtle pace but the growing winds dropped the temperature dramatically and my hands were freezing! I was still not wearing any gloves at this point and this was making the obstacles harder to complete because of the limited range of motion. I failed “swingers” and “grabbing shaft” this lap and took every opportunity to cup my hands around my mouth and exhale warm air on them. I wrapped up lap 11 in 1:18 and moved up to 5th place and stopped at the pit to grab some neoprene gloves that didn’t fit. I also believe this is when Nickademus dropped out.
Having moved into the top 5 I found my second wind and set off like a new man (with frozen hands).
During lap 12 I kept pushing on through the sand storm and moved up to 4th place finishing the lap in 1:20. By this time the mudder village was destroyed by the winds but my pit crew was camping in the tent to give it weight so it wouldn’t fly away. I feel bad for everyone that raced alone and lost their tent that night.
During lap 13 I continued to push on through the storm. Tough Mudder had closed several obstacles by this time due to winds. Most notably “swingers” cause it fell/crashed and “statue of liberty” cause the winds were killing the fire. When I was attempting grabbin shaft I fell off the pipe at the end and nailed my ribs on the platform before falling headfirst into the water dropping my head lamp and strobe. Taking the penalty I limped through the rest of the lap in a daze finishing in 1:30 and maintaining my 4th place. Losing that headlamp, I went through 3 headlamps, 2 strobes, and 1 pair of sunglasses this event. Triple up on everything.
During Lap 14 I kept pushing through the storm and I believe this is when Matt Hansen fell out which moved me up to 3rd place. I finished the lap in 1:25. When news came out that I had moved into 3rd place my family woke up and drove down from their hotel to cheer me on. Once I heard I caught my third wind and found even more motivation to go! I never thought that I could be in 3rd place in a race as big as this. I was ecstatic! I just had to keep it up for 6 more hours.
During lap 15 the winds died down and I tied my WTM 2013 record in 19:53 (5 hours faster), finishing the lap in 1:23. The sun began to rise as I moved on to lap 16.
I wrapped up lap 16 in 1:21 maintaining my 3rd place overall.
During lap 17 they re-opened the “cliff” and the daytime course; and I fought to maintain my 3rd place position. 4th place was 20 minutes behind me but in WTM, that is close. I finished the lap in 1:21 but still had about 1 hour on the clock so I set out for lap 18 to wrap up the race.
Lap 18 should have been a victory lap for me but my buddy told me that 4th was closing in (total lie) so I picked up the pace pushing myself harder than ever. It was the most miserable 1:21 of my life, but when I crossed the finish line I have never been more happy. Right away I had a camera put in my face and was asked several questions which I don’t remember and I suppose I answered them like a drunk. I don’t remember much after the race. I was so tired I felt black out drunk, but supposedly we broke down the tent, moved into a trailer, and waited for Jarrod Pace to finish his 19th lap. He mentioned that I pushed him to do that last lap but to be honest, I would have never caught him.
Once Jarrod Pace finished we held the award ceremony where we were given our award bags and Ryan Atkins pulled us on to the top step of the podium for pictures, which was a very nice gesture on his part and just goes to show how nice and considerate of a guy he is. Congratulations to Ryan Atkins on defending his title and Jarrod Pace on his amazing second place finish. Great job representing Canada and Australia guys! I was humbled to finish was well as I did and proud to get the USA on the podium (4th place was another Australian). Tough Mudder did a great job of designing the course and making it more of an OCR course this year.
My recommendations for next year are to make the mudder village and the course more spectator friendly. Provide more concessions, seating, and pack the exciting obstacles near the village. I would like to see emphasis put on obstacle completion, I heard a rumor this was true and think it would be a great idea. I know these events are expensive to host, but a finishers medal would be a cool thing to walk away with, especially after you’ve ran 50+ miles in 24 hours over countless obstacles in a sand storm. Just saying.
Anyway, I’ll definitely be back next year and the goal is 100 miles. See you all there. Thanks for reading.