THE SHORT STORY
Race: World’s Toughest Mudder 2012
Duration: 27.1 hours | Start 1000hrs 17 November | Finish 1306hrs 18 November
Distance: 122km (plotted via Polar RS800CX / G5 GPS)
Energy Spent: 18,223 kcal
Energy Consumed: 10,856 kcal (approx.)
Max HR: 182bpm
Avg HR: 141bpm
Placings: Overall 13th | Category (Male 40-45yrs) 1st | Category (Male, Aus) 1st
Don’t be alarmed at the 7,367 kcal “hole” you see above. In ultra-distance events, the body will always operate on the principal of an energy deficit as it is not designed to function on a 1:1 ratio of calories consumed to calories spent. What is important is that the calories consumed are portable and easy for the body to digest, especially in freezing conditions where you want your body to spend energy on race performance, not the digestive process. Marcelle and I put an enormous amount of research and testing into this, all of which was completely validated during the race. Not once did I feel hungry or flat….just an array of muscle and connective tissue pain…as expected.
THE LONG STORY
Firstly, I’ll apologise in advance as this post will probably end up resembling a small novel. I usually try to keep my updates short and to the point, but there is just so much to cover in this race summary. I am starting to write this while lying on my bed in our room at Grand Hyatt New York…feet still elevated to get the severe swelling out of my ankles and knees.
Our flight over was perfect. The A380 had a light load and (thanks to you, Leesa) we were offered a row of 4 seats each so we could stretch out and get some sleep. The in-flight service was amazing and we really enjoyed the trip over. Marcelle was loving the dramatic changes in the landscape as we crossed the continental US.
It would be safe to say that I was a mental wreck right up until 30mins before the race started. Since touching down at JFK last Tuesday evening I was like a cat on a hot tin roof…”highly strung” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I felt completely swamped by pre-race jitters and consumed by what felt like an enormous amount of pressure to perform well. With so much support from sponsors, friends, family and fellow competitors the thought of failing or falling short was messing with my head in a major way. The worst thing was that while I could feel this going on, I was incapable of correcting it.
In the face of this, Marcelle was amazing…completely patient, calm and supportive all the way through. An absolute rock.
The weather was perfect and we enjoyed a few days shopping and sight-seeing in New York to acclimatise and shake off the jet lag before jumping in our hire car…off to Englishtown, New Jersey.
The plan was to have a day or two up our sleeve to allow me to conduct what felt like the 100th inspection of all my race gear and basically continue to stress out…my resting heart rate is usually mid-to-high 40s, but I’m sure it was holding over 80 since our feet hit US soil. That evening I went out to meet a heap of other competitors for a nervous dinner at a local steak house….it was great to see everyone in the flesh after so much FaceBook and comforting to witness similar pre-race nerves.
Unfortunately, the next day we realised that Marcelle’s wallet had been stolen. A very sentimental item carrying the bulk of our cash and cards, along with school photos of the boys spanning the last 5 years or so. While I was standing in line for race registration, poor Marcelle was on the phone cancelling our cards and coming to terms with the loss. In typical prima-donna style, I was thinking too much about the interference factor and not enough about how she was feeling. Thankfully, we had OAMPS Insurance as a major sponsor and they were looking after everything for us. Fantastic people (thanks, Dianne & Keith).
The vibe at race registration was electric. The sky was crystal clear, with single digit air temperature and no wind. It was clear that everyone was busily conducting silent assessments of each other while engaging in idle chit-chat, waiting for the registration desks to open.
Once we received my race bib, timing chip and stuff we scurried off to the “Pit Area” to secure the best possible tent position. It was a ‘first in, best dressed’ rule so we had arrived early to take advantage of this. Fortunately, we found a small group of Aussies under a tall flag and happily joined them. Totally by fluke, one neighbour was from Moorabbin (5mins from our Melbourne home) and another was Dan…a US guy I had been talking to on FaceBook quite a bit. I took both of these to be good omens.
For the next hour or so we went about setting up my tent and getting our own Aussie flag flying. In the end, we had a nice little Aussie compound going on, full of encouragement and random pats on the back. We later discovered there were around 60 Australians in total registered for the race. Just before we left, we met another Aussie couple, Luke and Annastasia. They were going to catch a cab back to their hotel, so we happily offered them a ride and agreed to pick them up the following morning. Unbeknown to any of us, there was a guiding force behind this chance encounter.
The sun was setting with an amazing display of colour…not a breath of wind. Race organisers had some slow, very bass-heavy Pink Floyd playing loudly as I walked out of the pit area. I was officially in race mode.
With the set up completed, we dropped off Luke & Annastasia and returned to our rather dodgy accommodation to pack everything up, ready for an early departure the next morning. On Marcelle’s wise advice, we pre-mixed 18hrs worth of my Hammer Perpetuem carb solution and made sure everything was where it should be. I had other gels, bars and soups packed to make up the other 6hrs of race food. I did not want to be hunting around for this stuff while I was too cold to even think straight.
When this was all sorted, I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for the next 7 hours while listening to Marcelle sleeping next to me. Completely wired, I had absolutely no chance of getting any shuteye and did not want to medicate for fear of adverse effects the following day. My guess is I might have drifted off for around 90 minutes or so.
As soon as Marcelle was awake I was busily taping my feet for blisters and groin for chaffing. From previous long training sessions,I knew these were definite ‘hot spots’ that needed protection. Once I was done, Marcelle did a great job taping my shoulder up before we checked out of the hotel.
After collecting Luke and Annastasia, it was off to Raceway Park…with six months of intense research, preparation and training behind us, the day had finally arrived. It was 0745hrs and bitterly cold. Briefing at 0930hrs. Start at 1000hrs.
Almost like clockwork, my bowels decided it was time for a “nervous one”…I hate to share the gory details, but this was not a “healthy movement” and I quietly prayed this was a one-off.
After fluffing around with my new GoPro Hero3 HD video camera, I quickly unzipped the bag marked “Day Kit” and got myself ready. I paced around nervously, only calmed by the company of some other Aussies and the gee-up banter of Tough Mudder MC and icon, “Start Line Sean”.
After some pumping music (think Eight Mile etc.), yelling and screaming the ten-second countdown commenced. I was there to run my own race, with my own plan….not to be deviated from. No matter what.
I decided to run this lap with my GoPro camera as I was fresh and was able to cope with the distraction. This was the lap to become acquainted with the 32 obstacles over the 16.2km course…let my body acclimatise to the stressors and quieten my mind a bit. The camera was a bit annoying but I’m hopeful it was worth it. I had never used one before, so I was keen to give it a crack. Sadly, a post-race inspection revealed a fault in the camera and I’ve since had it replaced. The only footage I salvaged was at the start line and the first obstacle or two. Bugger.
The course was a little congested as you would expect but progress wasn’t too bad. I was a little uncomfortable wearing a 2mm top over my 2mm short wetsuit…the compression effect around my rib cage made for laboured breathing. Even before we started running my heart rate was 90+….I probably have the pre-race pep talks to thank for that.
I was a little concerned about muscle cramps appearing towards the end of the lap, but just hoped my body would settle and the hourly doses of 500ml Perpertuem (261 calories), 2x magnesium and 2x electrolytes would take effect. Other than this, I felt good about the course and confident in my capacity to pull some good numbers.
At the end of the first lap, with a time of around 2:20, I felt ok, but not 100%. By the time I reached my tent for some food my gut was rumbling and I was running to the toilets…wondering how quickly I could shed the five layers I had on. I was worried.
My plan for the first few laps was to maintain a three hour cap, including transition. So far I was pretty much bang on target. The field had already spread out and I felt better after hitting the toilet and ditching my head-mounted camera.
Taking a fully loaded CamelBak around the course with me was a tough decision. It weighed around 5kg and would often get snagged on obstacles, making life pretty frustrating at times. It wasn’t long however before I became more proficient with the obstacles and the benefit of having all the nutrients/kit I needed with me was invaluable. It would be safe to say this strategy was a deal breaker.
Lesson learnt – I should have though more carefully about the packaging of my supplements as the harsh environment saw my pills and capsules mashed into a disgusting paste that still had to be eaten if I was to survive. I’ll know better next time because this stuff tasted like shit.
I finished the lap in around 2:30 and had to make a decision. Do I get into my night gear now, or do one more lap as I am? My plan was to avoid doing this in the dark, so I decided to get it done now as there was no way I’d be back before sunset. This was the right call. I cleaned myself up a bit and changed into a completely fresh set of gear. This felt great and really lifted my spirits….I didn’t care how cold it became now because previous testing had proven my night gear to be well and truly up to the task. I even had enough time for a “Dance Battle” with Marcelle…she was on a grandstand about 100m away and we were bustin’ some moves back and forth…funny stuff (for the record, I kicked her arse).
The only thing that continued to worry me was yet another sprint to the toilets….I had obviously ingested something nasty and was in a spot of trouble. This transition took me about an hour in total.
I was stunned to see that some competitors were bailing out already…victims of poor preparation. With a $500 registration fee, that had to hurt.
As per the race rules, I had my headlamp and safety strobe fitted…ready for darkness to descend during the next lap.
In slight contrast to some others around me, I felt well equipped, prepared and nourished. A short way into this lap I joined up with another four Aussies…Trent, Steve, Josh and Luke. We held the same pace for a while and had a good old chat. Before long, Josh and I had started to drift ahead and ended up pushing on as a pair. He was a nice guy….mid-20’s and fit. He was happy to run together although I know he cold have gone a bit harder. Despite my urgings for him to push on, he even stopped while I hit one of the on-course toilets….yep, my guts were staging a violent mutiny. The worst thing was getting that bloody wetsuit off…energy spent and serious loss of valuable body temperature. It was heart breaking watching steam billowing out of my suit and pulling wet compression gear back on sent me into shivers every time.
This was unbelievably frustrating because everything else was so rock solid.
When we finished the lap in around 2:50, I went to the medical tent to see if they had any Imodium or similar to bung me up. I had even taken an extra dose of Panadeine Forte to seek out some constipation effect. During this mild chaos, Josh decided to push on and I wouldn’t see him again until the start of Lap 6.
I had also received word that Trent was in trouble…the cold was closing in on him and things were looking bad. I really felt for him…the guy had trained hard and wanted to do well for his family.
During this time, Steve and Luke had pulled into the transition area and were already getting ready to hit the course again. I was forced to wait while one of the awesome Tough Mudder medical staff (thanks, Gabby) found me some Pepsol Bismol tablets from her car kit. I gratefully accepted them and made another bolt for the toilet before playing catch-up.
Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I kicked off the next lap determined to pull the other guys in as quickly as I could. Not only as a short-term goal but I knew it would be a good morale booster for me. I could feel a couple of soft tissue niggles creeping into my right knee and ankles, so I opted for a jog/walk interval approach. The walk pace was very strong though, and I was still able to pass others on the course.
With darkness enveloping the 16.5km circuit and the ambient temperature dropping rapidly, many were discovering “gaps” in their equipment and general preparation. This cut the field considerably and I was loving this feeling of “validation”. With the exception of my rumbling gut, everything was going according to plan.
After an hour or so, I caught up to Steve and Luke at one of the drink/medical stations…these provided athletes with cold water, hot chicken broth, energy snacks and heat (if you wanted it….I’ll talk more about this trap-for-young-players later).
Totally by chance, Marcelle and Annastasia were there too. This lifted my spirits even more…it was so great to see Marcelle. She put me through 20-questions to make sure I was sticking to the plan and swiftly told me to HTFU when I droned on about my troubled back end.
The three of us were happily reunited and took off. About half way through, Steve was suffering. A knee injury sustained earlier was beginning to take its toll and he was having a very hard time moving. Unsure if he was going to be able to complete the lap, he refused to allow Luke and I to stay with him and insisted we push on. Marcelle stayed behind and kept an eye on him for a while.. When we arrived back at the pit area, I was less focused on the self imposed 3-hr cap and moreso on ensuring I was adequately prepped. This (sadly) included more begging for anti-diarrhoea medication as my toilet stops were becoming more frequent. With permission from race organisers to allow me to receive outside assistance, Marcelle took off for the nearest pharmacy to score me enough medication to plug Niagra Falls.
Aside from this on-going drama, I methodically went about restocking my CamelBak and making sure I had everything I needed to maintain hourly doses of simple carbohydrates, magnesium and electrolytes. “Normal” foods included beef jerky and Snickers bars for whenever I needed flavour and something to chew on. Thanks to temperatures falling to -1°C, the Snickers bars were now more like peanut brittle.
Shit (metaphorically speaking) is getting serious. Pitch black dark, sub-zero temperatures, repeated exposure to mud and water and physical exhaustion are a recipe for “medical withdrawal” and required focus and discipline to maintain control of our environment (as opposed to the environment controlling us). The three of us were happily sharing resources…poor Luke had a shocking time with anything electrical….he lost his GoPro camera, Garmin GPS, headlamp and strobe. The latter two items are compulsory and Trent kindly donated his kit after recently being pulled out by race medics with hypothermia.
Luke and I were very conscious of our timing and knew exactly where we had to be. Our aim was to finish our 6th lap sometime before 10am so we could get another lap done. If we came through after 10am, the course would be closed and that would be our race over. Not going to happen!!
To give you an understanding of our environment, our wetsuit hoods were frosting up, cargo nets were frozen solid, mud was crunching underfoot, puddles were frozen over and timber obstacles became slick with ice, making them even more treacherous. Yet we continued to crawl through blacked out, half submerged pipes, swim lake crossings, waging war with the 32 obstacles scattered around the course.
Might I add, Marcelle was STILL on the course. She would materialise at random points screaming check-lists at me and encouraging both of us with the good humour (she can actually be quite funny sometimes) and expert care of a trained medical professional. She is no stranger to harsh wilderness conditions and is very sharp when it comes to hypothermic prevention and survival. She was my angel in the night.
Earlier, I mentioned the heating provided at the three medical stations around the course. This was a trap. So intense was the desire to seek heat that many would hit the tent and never leave. It literally sucked the desire to continue from your very soul. We were very conscious of this and while happy to grab some hot chicken broth to maintain a good core temperature, we would consume this outside the tent or on the move. I’m a bit of a fan of apocalyptic zombie movies, but not this one…the heaters were surrounded by broken competitors wrapped in space blankets, each silent with a thousand-yard-stare. It was eerie.
Oh, and while my body was busy metabolising the anti-diarrhoea mediation I was still hitting the porta-loo’s. Marcelle was happy to tell me how she could see all the steam from inside my wetsuit pour out of the ceiling vents. My hard earned core temperature going to waste!
Luke was great….he helped me pull off the outer layers and waited for me every time I had to take care of business. In return, I did whatever I could for him by sharing kit, supplements (which were critical at this stage) and moral support. We were each other’s keeper…never deviating from the plan. It was around this time that we heard Steve was out and was pretty unhappy. We talked about him for a while…he’s a great guy and it was a pleasure racing with him. I’ve no doubt we’ll rub shoulders at another race soon.
To give you perspective regarding the prowess of some of the athletes on this course, we passed the leading female, Amelia Boone. She was on Lap 7 and was being pursued by a 43yo Australian, Deanna Blegg. Amelia would go on to complete 8 laps to take the female title and finish 2nd overall. Deanna finished 3rd. At 9 laps, first placed male was Junyong Pak, who was also last year’s winner. All truly epic efforts.
The biggest thing about this lap was that it would bring us beloved daylight. The course resembled a battlefield and was littered with wounded competitors. Many of whom had enjoyed a few hours of sleep in their tents before hitting the course for one more lap.
For Luke and I, this lap was fairly uneventful other than to maintain injury management and keep moving through the course within our pre-determined time frames. With each of us sporting different aches and pains, Marcelle said she could pick us at distance from my “robot walk” and Luke’s “cowboy walk”. My stride was dictated by severely inflamed connective tissue in my ankles, shins and knees while Luke’s was similar, but also featuring vicious chaffing of what was left of his manhood (no post-race action for this guy, let me tell you).
And yes, Marcelle was STILL on the course!! I wish I had a camera at this point because she was nothing short of inspirational. I knew how hard this would be on her, yet she refused to leave us. Often coming back with information regarding our overall placing and general race updates. I even found her cleaning up one of the water stations after volunteers had abandoned their post!
I would also like to announce that this lap marked the last time I “dropped the kids off at the pool” and I was finally able to fart with confidence again. Happy days.
We entered the pit area at 0925hrs…smack on target. We allocated 10 minutes to restock, organise and leave for our final lap. While we were getting ready we found Josh at his tent. Feeling under nourished and concerned about doing himself some damage, he had pulled the pin after five laps. Fair enough, mate…lesson learnt for next time.
Luke and I were in two states…relief at knowing we would make the 2pm cut-off for our 7th lap and dread at knowing we had to drag our broken bodies around that course one more time. Annastasia had made it back after catching some sleep and I was relieved to hear that Marcelle had gone to get some rest before we finished in around 3.5 hours.
This lap was the hardest physical task I have ever completed. We didn’t talk much, separated here and there, and were clearly wrestling with our own demons. I was giving myself a serious talking to on a few occasions when I was alone…reminding myself why I was there and what it represented. EVERYTHING hurt…my breathing was rapid and rough, my joints had all but shut down and my motor skills were somewhere back at the pit area. BUT…I was moving, I was warm and I was well fed. One foot in front of the other…it doesn’t matter how slowly you go, just don’t stop.
I was looking forward to the lake crossings…the ice water was much needed therapy for my legs and marked the start of my favourite section. My spirits picked up…the finish line was approaching. Marcelle appeared from her “rest” and excitedly told us we were placed 14th and 15th overall….heads up though, boys…16th is not far behind. Great, don’t tell me we have to start running?!? We made eye contact with this guy at the 300m tyre drag and reluctantly picked up the pace.
After Luke and I negotiated the last obstacles, Mud Mile, Berlin Walls and Electroshock Therapy, Marcelle passed us an Aussie flag and we “ran” the last 800m with it.
Against 1,300 competitors, after 27 hours, over 122km, hitting 224 obstacles we crossed the line to receive our coveted black headbands before heading straight into the arms of our respective #1 fans. Tanks were empty, bodies were broken, spirits were high.
After 6 months of preparation and training it was hard to believe the job was done. It was a result beyond what I thought I was capable of and would not have been possible without the unconditional love, generosity and support of so many. My family and friends for their continuous encouragement and belief, and my exceptionally generous sponsors….listed down the right hand side of this page… for putting their brands behind my performance. The fact that I thrived in this race is a testament to their quality, design and product integrity.
Marcelle was straight onto business. She ushered me off to get warm, showered and changed while she quietly packed up my “kit explosion” and got us ready to head off. She was even cleaning up other sites and helping Annastasia with Luke’s gear.
On that note I stand before you, hand on heart and confess “I am a terrible patient”. After arriving at Grand Hyatt New York that evening almost unable to walk, I assumed the persona of a bed-ridden, grumpy bastard. If the post-race come-down and intense pain weren’t enough, I hated watching Marcelle work her butt off cleaning all my mud encrusted gear. I remained immobilised with my feet elevated, trying to reduce the severe swelling while munching down anti-inflammatories and pain killers. This went on for two days and in her typical style, she ignored the idiot and waited for her husband to reappear.
Eventually he did, and that week in New York was one of the best times we’ve had together for many years.
People always say how much you learn about yourself in events like this one. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s how lucky I am to have her.
If you would like to see more photos of the race and our galavanting around New York just give either of the links below a hit to look at our FaceBook galleries.