It’s been so long since I posted to my blog, so where have I been? Dealing with injury
After WTM 2017 I flew out to Bonaire with Alisha to do a diving vacation and recover from the race. Diving and obstacle course training don’t mix well so I like to schedule those vacations for when I am rehabbing from a big effort. Problem is, I couldn’t help myself in Bonaire. Instead of relaxing on the beach after diving I would go for short runs and/or ride my rental mountain bike. This is fine if they are short and easy, but I wasn’t giving myself a break to actually recover.
I should have been relaxing, taking an off season, and allowing those 105 miles to really sink into my body. But I didn’t…..
So when I went back into training in late December 2016 I wasn’t fully recovered. I still had aches and pains but figured I could work through them. Mistake #1!
Mistake #2 was starting a heavy Olympic lifting phase WHILE running 40-60 miles a week. If you’re going to lift heavy and build a strong foundation in the winter I recommend just lifting. Do a little cardio to keep your aerobic base but DO NOT try to make gains in both at the same time. That is a recipe for disaster.
Mistake #3 was doing all my running on a treadmill. Treadmills are great for getting a run in on those crappy days, but you still have to run outside on technical terrain. Treadmills build one range of motion and that is it. I put so much effort into one motion of movement that the others suffered and I developed a left knee injury….but I kept running = mistake #4.
I ran through the knee injury and overcompensated with my right foot which developed into a foot injury mid March, right before Toughest LA. What really pisses me off is that I developed the foot injury during my taper. I was ready for the race, announced I’d be there, then hurt myself while hiking with a friend and his dog. My final words were “I’m just going to do a 7 minute run up this hill and turn around to catch up to you”. I did just that and next morning I could barely walk on it. What happened? I don’t know, probably I didn’t warm up and went too hard too fast.
I went to Toughest Mudder Los Angeles anyway and volunteered to pit for the Goat Tough Team which I joined in 2017. It was a fun experience to view a race from the sidelines and gain some valuable Beta as to how the best in the sport approach this new 8-hour race. So here was my plan for Toughest Atlanta:
You can’t freeze to death in 8 hours. LA was pretty cold but most people went shirtless. Atlanta was HOT and you could have run in a speedo. I wore Long Tights to protect from abrasion, a Goat Tough T shirt to keep me cool when wet, my Salomon Vest with 1.5 liter bladder (I carry 600 calories in each load and can run 4 hours on that), Black diamond storm headlamp, strobe, Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 shoes, Injinji Compression socks, and Moxie Gear Gaiters.
Race Nutrition Plan:
I used the same nutrition mix that I used the entire 24 hours of World’s Toughest Mudder last year. I also used this same mix for the Ultra Beast in Vermont, which took me almost 9 hours. During the UB I carried a full 1.5 liter bladder of the mix which carried about 600 calories in it. This lasted me the full first lap (4 hours) and I refilled it in the pit and used the same calorie count for the second lap (4.5 hours). I felt good the entire Ultra Beast so I figured this could be a good plan for the 8-hour Toughest Mudder races, pitting 1x during the entire event. So in total I ran 8 hours taking in 1,200 calories. This is a huge deficit, but people have done more with less.
Pre Race Nutrition:
This is the hardest part and I screwed it up in Atlanta (as we know). I woke at 1300 (1pm) and ate 2 packets of oatmeal with peanut butter (good start). 3 hours later I went to Waffle House with Team Goat Tough and ate 2 waffles and 2 eggs (this might be where I F’ed up), afterwards I went and laid down on the floor for 3 hours and ate a packet of Top Ramen at 2100 (for the sodium). At 2200 we drove to the race and at 2300 I ate a sleeve of clif shot gels. Sounds good right? No, because after my dinner at 1800 I wasn’t hungry anymore but I kept eating. I kept eating while I was full thinking “you need this for the race”…but really I was ensuring I went to the starting line bloated. After 1 lap I shook that all loose and it gave me an upset stomach.
I got my last injury (foot) right before Toughest LA on March 25. I spent March 25 to mid April cycling and mountain climbing (3-5 hour climbs) in sturdy boots. This kept me in shape aerobically but you can’t replace running.
2 weeks before the race I went on a 4 hour fast paced hike with Austin Miles to test the foot. After the first 30 minutes I did a few 1-2 minute runs to test the foot. After 15 miles of hiking and running my foot felt great the next day. BUT, since the race was in 2 weeks I didn’t want to do any big efforts so I kept my runs short and sweet. I probably logged 50 miles of running before the race. Might sound good to some, but when you’ve logged 50 miles in 2 months going into an 8 hour race where it takes 50 miles to win, you’re not looking good. I knew this wasn’t going to be a stellar performance, but I was hoping my grit could carry me through.
The week before the race I kept my runs short and easy (40-50 minutes) and only did 3 or so. I flew to Georgia Thursday and Friday morning did a quick run to test out the humidity. I was stiff, slow, and sweating profusely. This was going to be an interesting race…..
From my analysis:
Loop 1 was full of the easy but time consuming obstacles like Mud Mile x2, Berlin Walls x2, Blockness Monster, and Kiss of Mud.
Loop 2 was all the skill based obstacles/ upper body required obstacles like Funky Monkey, King of Swingers, Stage 5 Clinger, and Kong.
This was evil genius, I think their intention was to slow you and wear you down while your fresh….then throw the technical/skill and strength based obstacles at you in the end; hoping you’re so tired you fail.
I didn’t have a plan for this race. I hadn’t been running and I had done zero race specific workouts in preparation, so I had no clue what to expect from myself. But 40 miles was my minimum goal so I set my sights on that.
When the gun went off my immediate goal was to keep Atkins and Woods in sight. They were the guys to watch this race and staying with them as long as possible would guarantee me a good race. The first lap was not obstacle free, Tough Mudder closed the obstacles early on that would bottleneck the race but kept the others open. As we approached Devils Beard, a giant cargo net laying on the ground you have to crawl under, my vest buckle got snagged on the net trapping me underneath. By the time I ripped myself free and tucked it away the Ryan’s were gone.
Tough Mudder made up for the lack of hills in Atlanta by making the obstacles far more time consuming. They doubled up on most of the obstacles, so instead of doing it once, you had to do it 2x. They did this for the Berlin Walls, Stage 5 clinger, Mud Mile, Birth Canal, and the Kiss of Mud.
Mud mile is not an obstacle I usually dread, or even think of. Mud mile is that obstacle I see on the list and glance past because it is so insignificant to me. Well in Atlanta I believe it was the crux of the race. Tough Mudder made the Mud Mile U-shaped with incredibly deep trenches and must’ve polished off the hand and foot holds before the race because there was nothing to hold on to. For the first time in a long time I looked left and right for help across the obstacle. The community jumped in and everyone worked together perfectly all night to conquer this beast, this why I love the Tough Mudder community. Teams of 2 would push one guy over and then he would turn around and pull the other guy up as he slid down into the next trench. But no matter how fast you could do this obstacle, it still sucked a good amount of time out of your lap.
I finished lap 1 in good time and good form but as soon as I cruised past the pits and started my second lap my stomach dropped into my groin, my stride immediately shortened, and running suddenly made me nauseated. This immediately brought me to a run/walk 6 miles into the race. I’d run until the jiggling in my belly became too painful then I’d walk for a bit. Every once in awhile I’d get the feeling and have to jump in the bushes and take a squat. I had to do this 3x during the second lap and once more on the 3rd. Everytime I had to squat my stomach would feel better but my energy levels were getting lower. I was walking tiny hills I could run up any day. I was doing the “100 mile” shuffle on the flats and only opening up my stride on the downhills when gravity assisted. It was pathetic and I was frustrated. I wanted to lay down on the ground and just let the sickness pass.
By Lap 4 Lindsay Webster passed me and asked if I wanted a Gas X, I should have taken it but stubborn me said no.
Near the end of Lap 4 I had 8 minutes to finish my lap to start a 5th lap on Loop 1 without obstacles. That is confusing to read but re-read it because it’s a HUGE strategic advantage. Knowing this I ran the last half mile as if those 8 minutes were 4. Just to be sure I got my obstacle free lap I cruised through the finish and start without pitting with a bladder that had only a few sips left. I drained that sucker by mile 2 and did a pathetic walk/run the rest of the lap. Lap 5 should have been a fast lap for me (40-45 minutes) but it took me nearly an hour to run a flat 5 miles. I finished my 5th lap under nourished, feeling sick, in pain, and defeated.
I walked over to Gina (Team Goat Tough pit crew) and took off my vest so she could re-fill it with my mix. I sat down on the ground and really wanted to lay down forever. She handed me a pain killer and in that moment she saved the race. I trotted away to start lap 6 and 20 minutes in everything disappeared, I was back to my normal self and running again. I was still walking the hills but now I was running ALL the flats and downhills. Matthew Hansen caught up to me and we ran together. It was great to finally meet the guy who is always in the top 5 at WTM and second to Pak in lifetime WTM miles.
With the start of loop 2 Gina could not have had better timing, because the obstacles now required strength, skill, and attention; the painkillers had finally given me that. First up was the new King of Swingers. I watched people do this obstacle in LA and saw a majority of them fail. It looked easy enough but you don’t know until you try…Well on my first attempt I found it to be draining, but manageable. Simply swing out and grab the net (just like double rainbow at WTM 2016), the traverse the net a few rungs, and lift your legs to the cable, then slide down…..Yeah it’s physically harder that the original King of Swingers and the Double Rainbow, but that’s why we do pull ups and dead hangs, for obstacles like this. It’s far easier than a BattleFrog Rig.
With the high humidity dew was a problem on the obstacles and a lot of people were failing Funky Monkey. I slipped off Funky Monkey on the final ring my first attempt, but learned a way to combat the dew after that.
Instead of using the straight arm approach where you attack the obstacle head on, I started to side traverse the obstacles with bent arms with opposing hands to reinforce my grip. This paid off on my second attempt and I nailed the obstacle the next 2 laps. I did almost slip once but the old “barrel of monkey’s” maneuver (i.e. hooking my elbow on the rung) worked to save myself from falling.
Slipping off Funky Monkey on Lap 6 was my only failed obstacle of the race. The combination of my returning strength and obstacle proficiency allowed me to make a small comeback from 15th to 6th place during laps 6-8 in the men’s race.
Near the finish on the last lap of the race Ryan Woods (2nd place male) caught and lapped me while finishing his 9th lap for 45 miles. We heard the call that 0745 was approaching which meant no new laps could be started. Ryan said 3rd place was close behind and I advised him to start another lap. Woods probably wouldn’t have had time to finish a 10th lap but in my opinion, being out there moving and putting distance between yourself and your competitor feels a lot better than sitting in the pits to see if they make the cutoff to start another lap. My question is:
If Ryan Woods finished lap 9 at 0740 and did not start another lap, but Luke finished lap 9 at 0744 BUT started and did not finish a 10th lap, why should the guy who didn’t keep going be the second place finisher instead of the guy who did? from my understanding, any extra miles accumulated that don’t equal to a full lap do not count. This is just theoretical and I’m not saying anything to discredit Ryan Woods, he’s an amazing athlete and super nice guy. I’m just saying that the guy who pushes the farthest for the longest should be crowned the Toughest Mudder. New lap cutoff should be at 0745, and absolute race end should be 0830. If you crossed mile marker 4 on lap 10 then you finished with 49 miles. This is the most accurate way to decided the race and to prove who really accumulated the most miles in 3 races towards the $10k bonus at the end of the Toughest Mudder season.
Anyways, rant over, I ran my hardest to finish my 8th lap before 0745 so I could start a 9th lap to get in the extra training. I knew I couldn’t run a 44 minute last lap (I don’t know how Atkins did that!) and I knew it wouldn’t improve my overall standings, but I wanted to see how far I could go.
Long story short, I missed the cutoff by 2-3 seconds. I rounded the corner as the horn blew.
All this summed up:
I’m very happy about the new Toughest Mudder series. For all us OCR endurance junkies, all we had before was the Spartan Ultra Beast (which the cash purse is a joke) and the BattleFrog Xtreme (RIP). This race series was everything I had been hoping for since I started this sport. Yes, the longer the better for me and I would’ve liked to see a 12-hour version, but 8-hours is cool and 50 miles is a huge accomplishment for that time limit. Mark my words: 50 miles in Toughest is the new 100 mile of WTM, I will reach it. It may not be this year (even though I had stomach problems and was undertrained I do not see my performance being a 50 miler on that course) but I will reach it.
Going into Philly I just want to do better than last performance. I will be shooting for 45 miles.
My predictions for the season: Ryan Atkins has had 2 incredible race performances, and I mean incredible. He made up a 10 minute time deficit in 4 miles to pass Chad Trammel for the win in Toughest LA, overcoming stomach problems himself. And in Atlanta he ran a 44:00 final lap, he finished the race as strong as he started. There’s only a few guys out there who can hang with Atkins for 8 hours, but I don’t know any who will be to finish stronger than him. If he can recover in time from his foot injury, look for him to sweep the series.