Review: Tough Mudder SoCal (Saturday)

Tough Mudder is the king of the mud runs, let’s get that out there right off the bat. I’ve done three other obstacle course races: Warrior Dash and Rugged Maniac, both in Central Florida, and Super Spartan Race in Miami. All three were fun and had their merits. Super Spartan was especially badass and a real athletic challenge as my group traversed 10 miles with most of them on technical mountain bike trail at an aggressive pace. So, I thought I had a good idea of how tough Tough Mudder would be.

Wrong. Tough Mudder was legit, and it may be the hardest one of these races out there. My pal Brian has done Tough Guy in England (which Tough Mudder is reportedly modeled on), and he thought Tough Mudder was a bit tougher, while Tough Guy was colder and wetter. Pick your poison, but I like the idea of only having to fly across the country for an obstacle course, or go as far as my backyard like I’ll be doing for Tough Mudder Tampa, as opposed to overseas. Brian has also done an Iron Man and he made a comment about comparing Tough Mudder to Iron Man, which I’ll talk about below.

Let’s get to it. Need visuals? Here’s a video from a group on Saturday (not me):

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Ascents Suck A Fat One

TM SoCal was held at the Snow Valley Ski Resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, about two hours due east of Los Angeles. Elevation started somewhere around 7000 feet and topped out at 8500 at the highest peak. I’m in pretty good shape but I do NOT train at anything resembling elevation and I only infrequently do uphill runs or stairs. As you can imagine, I was in for a massive surprise of the worst kind.

Here’s where the suckage meter starting counting down. After we arrived, I jogged around the parking lot a couple of times, probably no more than 400 meters, to warmup. My heart rate jumped up immediately, 10 beats higher than normal. The actual starting line was located a good 800 meters uphill beyond the parking lot and I got winded walking to the starting line. At that point I knew I was in trouble.

Starting line. Then a short downhill section with multiple snow cannons blasting compressed air and water in your face. Instant cold drenching. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been blasted in the face with a snow cannon. The course switched back and headed uphill for the first climb. This is where the destruction began. My heart rate redlined immediately and my achilles, calves, and hamstrings were lit on fire. This happened within the first half mile. We weren’t even 10′ into the course and I was getting my ass kicked.

After that: total carnage. When I got to the top of the first ascent, I told the two buddies I was running with it felt like I had just pulled a “2K erg”…which doesn’t mean much to a non-rower, but let me tell you it sucks a fat one. It’s arguably the nastiest workout you’ll ever experience. I was smoked. Still 9.5 miles to go with a million more asecents and all the obstacles. We basically hadn’t even started.

Highlights and Lowlights

There were so many ascents, I lost count around eight or nine. We were literally either always climbing, always descending, or traversing an obstacle. On the ascents I could do nothing more than walk/hike and some ascents were so brutal with soft sand and rocks that I was shuffling like a zombie. One particular ascent stands out in my mind because the path was over a boulder field, which required some good skill to navigate without blowing up an ankle or cracking your skull open. A lot of fun, but difficult. I also remember on one of the last ascents I had to stop and psyche myself up before going up…I did not want to do another climb.

The descents were awesome and I happen to be a good descender, so I blew those away.

The obstacles were perfectly spaced out and were the toughest, by far, of any of the obstacles from any other races I’ve done. Completely on steroids. Some are virtually unpassable without help from friends, such as the 10′ Berlin Walls or the greasy Evil Knevil ramp. BTW, I’ve never laughed so hard in the middle of a race as I did at the Evil Knevil while watching people miss the top by this much and go tumbling back into the dirt. That humiliation includes yours truly, as I failed epically twice before my two buddies caught and hauled me up. A major highlight.

The ice water dunking sucked but it made my legs feel better immediately afterwards. Jumping off the 15′ ramp sucked balls and so did the subsequent 50M swim. Shockingly tough when you’re fried. The monkey bars were super awesome and I rocked it, making it the entire way without plummeting. I saw a lot of people go into the drink.

There was a team log carry up, around, and over a hill, which was fun and mildly difficult. It was nothing compared to hauling Old Misery from GoRuck Challenge, but it still added to the overall masochistic gaiety.

The electro shock therapy obstacle at the end royally sucked. I got nailed in the back with one of the live wires and it felt like I had taken a baseball bat between the shoulders. That gave me muscle spasms for the next 24 hours.

Climbing up the mountain f*cking sucked. Did I mention that? One highlight was the stunning view once you got to the top. I’ll never forget the view at the highest point, 8500 feet, sitting on a rock and looking out over the mountains and Southern California. It was perfectly sunny and mid-70s warm. That was reason enough to do the race.

Total race time: 3:30ish. We were on the course about an hour longer than I expected. It took 2 hours before I got acclimated to the elevation and started breathing normally. After that I was able to attack the course. But the first two hours were rough.

Gear and Footwear

It was warm, so I wore running shorts and a dri-fit top. I saw plenty of guys doing the race without shirts. You were wet the whole time but the work got you sweating quick. I wore Merrell Trail Gloves that I bought specifically for this race and those were perfect. Great stability, light, enough protection, comfortable, and didn’t hold mud or water at all. My only complaint is that a few rocks got into my shoes, which I think I could have avoided with a little duct tape.

We took 6 Hammer gels and shared them between us. There were four refreshment stations that also distributed bananas. I do recommend packing gels if you have pockets or something because you’ll need energy midway through the race. I didn’t think a camelbak was necessary.

Oh yes, we were extremely lucky with the weather on Saturday. On Sunday the weather fell off a cliff. Temps were high of 37 and low of 10 degrees on the peaks with shitty fog cover over everything. I saw one GoRucker post that his Kettlebell froze. No joke. It was a completely different race only 24 hours later.

See this vid for the Sunday carnage:

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Shockingly tough, especially for a flatlander like me. Obstacles were badass. High physical demand due to all the uphill hikes. High skill required because of the ruts, cracks, rocks, boulders, and complicated terrain. It would have been easy to turn an ankle or do a header into the dirt.

I absolutely loved this event and highly recommend doing this specific Tough Mudder because of the challenging geography. You simply can’t not have an epic time. I also can’t imagine that Tough Mudder Tampa will be nearly as demanding, but who knows what they’ll throw at us.

I saw a lot of chatter online about how some of the first Tough Mudder events were somewhat disorganized and the obstacles sucked, but SoCal was not the case. This ran perfectly and was a class event. Whatever kinks they had early on are worked out.

Is this the absolute toughest athletic event on the planet, as the website implies? That’s a little over the top. Brian said doing an Iron Man is many times harder, and I’ve done a couple of adventure races that I thought were just as asskicking. But, if you’re looking for an obstacle course that will truly challenge you, this at the top of the niche.

Bring a water proof camera and snap pics liberally while running with friends as there are many many highlight moments. Tough Mudder will kick your ass and you’ll have a fabulous time while it’s happening.

Be sure to read this blog post on ESPN Insider for another perspective.

My post also got featured on the official Live Tough Community Blog.

Also the official SoCal video is out:

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  • Hell yeah !, that was really great, Congratulations to all the participants for a great job well done. Looking forward always.