There were several things I was worried about heading into the 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder in Atlanta, Georgia. Frostbite was never one of them.
Turns out, it should have been.
It’s been nearly three weeks since I ran World’s Toughest Mudder – a 24-hour obstacle race that is essentially Tough Mudder’s world championship. Thanks to an Arctic blast that timed itself perfectly to bring rare freezing temperatures in November to the Atlanta area during the event, I still have numbness in the tips of my fingers and toes. It’s my first experience with frostbite . . . and I can’t say I’m a big fan of it.
This was my fourth time running World’s Toughest Mudder. My primary goal heading into this year’s event was simply to finish in the Top 100. Many people who run WTM come up with mileage goals heading into the event. But I’ve always maintained that the race has too many variables to base your success or failure in the event on mileage. Those variables include weather conditions, course conditions, obstacles and how the race is setup. All of those variables seemed to play a factor this year. Shockingly cold temperatures that dipped into the 20s, a high number of cold water obstacles, an exceptionally muddy course (perhaps due to the torrential rains the day before), challenging obstacles like Lumberjack and more, all contributed to make the 2018 WTM an extremely challenging course that saw the number of high-mileage racers drastically dip.
Regardless of the conditions, I felt good about my Top 100 goal, although I had some doubt when I learned more than 1,500 people were signed up for WTM. Still, I felt if I was able to push through the cold, pain and fatigue, and continue on the course throughout the 24 hours, I would end up in that Top 100, a goal that has been on my mind since I first did WTM six years ago.
For that first WTM back in 2012, my goal was just to not die. Back then, you had to qualify for WTM with a Top 5 percent finish at a regular Tough Mudder. After learning I had qualified earlier in the year, I decided I would enter WTM just to experience it, but with no illusions of doing well. Upon arriving there, I remember thinking everyone there looked super fit – like Ivan Drago – and I had no business being there. I got my ass handed to me that year, but because I didn’t have the gear to deal with the 28 degree temps. I only got 20 miles, but came away surprisingly thinking that physically I might have an outside shot of one day cracking the Top 100, an idea that seemed to me both far-fetched and really appealing. So the Top 100 became my ultimate goal.
The following year, I returned to WTM and notched 50 miles. Three years later, in 2016, I ran the WTM Las Vegas course, getting 65 miles. However, both times I came up a little short of my Top 100 goal, and was left to ponder all the little strategic mistakes I had made that caused me to fall short. This year, now with several years of race experience, I felt if I could just keep moving, I’d achieve my goal.
The 2018 conditions were the perfect example of why you can’t stress mileage goals in this event. Too many variables. Too many things beyond your control – the weather, the terrain, the obstacles. And all seemed to play a factor this year.
This year’s course had lots of cold water obstacles. That plus cold temps had beaten me in the past. I was geared up this time, but there was still no escaping how terrible it felt.
A perfectly-timed cold front meant I’d be facing freezing temperatures again. And the conditions took a toll early on. Four laps in, the reality of the race set in. I felt terrible, and I knew I couldn’t keep going overnight. I absolutely wanted to quit, and if it was just me, I absolutely would have. I think it’s the darkest I’ve ever felt during an event.
Three things kept me going. My pit crew Mike had made a big commitment to take time off work and away from his loved ones, driven me down to Georgia and prepared to stay up all night getting me through this. Becky was home rearranging her life to manage the home front on her own while I was away. I couldn’t just quit knowing how much they were doing for me. And my PT clients – how could I talk about cultivating mental grit if I quit? Those are the ONLY reasons I kept going. And I never decided I’d keep going all night. It was always breaking it down to a matter of finish this lap and try to start the next one.
Night was cold and painful. I was relieved when the electric shock obstacle route opened so I could do that to bypass other obstacles. It’s surprising how comfortable you can get with being electrically shocked. As for running, the wheels started coming off after Mile 40. Not sure if that was due to the maddeningly muddy terrain or the fact my training wasn’t too good this time. The last three laps were painfully slow. I kept waiting for that next gear to show up, but it never did.
Ended up with 55 miles, placing 77th overall. According to TM, there were more than 1,500 racers this year. It’s much better than ever imagined when did my first WTM in 2012. But from this I’ve learned that if you set your goals just beyond what you think is doable, with patience, discipline and single-minded persistence, you can accomplish things you never thought possible.