Registration for Chicago Tough Mudder (TM) for both Saturday and Sunday’s event was sold out. It was great summer-like conditions for mid-May around 69°F. Seneca Hunt Club was the venue located in town named Seneca Illinois, USA. Shuttle buses were provided by Tough Mudder to transport thousands of Mudders from all destinations.
I travelled down from Toronto, Canada to catch up with friends, Christopher Lehman, Andy Vaughn and one other fellow Canadian, Joe Perry from Wallaceburg, Ontario. It also gave me the chance to reconnect with Sean Corvelle also known to many Mudders as “Start-line Sean”. To me he is a great friend, Sean has a voice which carries strength, inspiration and energy to runners who have travelled great distances for this event.
Sean lives up to many Mudders expectation as he speaks to us about camaraderie, team work, honors those who are serving their country, be it active, retired or the wounded warrior. Sean speaks to us about mental grit and the meaning of what it is to be a Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge whatever your reasons for running or the goal which you set to accomplish, I was feeling charged and ready for my run.
My completed death waiver was exchanged for my registration envelope which contained my runner’s wristband, bag tag, bib and bib pins. Andy, Joe, Christopher and I gathered around the picnic area to get ourselves ready. As we stretched, got some temporary tattoos to mark ourselves, we noticed in the distance a female runner wearing a 2012 World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) participant’s shirt. This runner was none other than “the” Amelia Boone, first place female runner and overall second place participant. She is an athlete which many runners admire and one of the most recognizable figures in the OCR circuit.
I went ahead and met with Sean before the 8.00am wave was set to coral into the start line, wonderful to see a familiar face and to quickly catch up as friends do. Then it was show time, the elite runners began filling the start and I was there ready with my camera and started taking photos of Andy and Joe, two elite runners whom I got to know through the Tough Mudder community and who have become wonderful friends.
In amongst these elite runners in the front row was Amelia ready to go. “Start-line Sean” begins his introduction. He walks into the center of the runners and they all surround him. He spoke about some amazing people, acknowledged the Wounded Warriors and all those who served in the Field current and past, National Guard, law enforcement, fire fighters, everyone. It became a circle of camaraderie and a single team.
The chanting of “Hoo Rah” and the combined Mudders roaring changes the energy into adrenaline and jet fuel pumping through your veins, the runners were pumped, the supporters were highly charged and adding to the atmosphere. Sean sounds out what it means to be a Mudder, the pledges a Mudder swears upon.
A moment of silence is taken to acknowledge the fallen soldiers followed by the American national anthem. The time has come to begin the race and the countdown takes place, Sean blows his whistle, he high fives the runners as they sprint out of the starting pen. My role was to take photos of my friends and then run in the 10.00am wave.
Another wave of runners begins filling the starting pen, each wave is separated by 20 minutes. One particular wave later in the day, the national anthem was sung by a retired veteran soldier. He sang with so much heartfelt emotion and honor, though his vocals were broken, his expression and pure dedication to the national anthem was felt by all runners and spectators – everyone cheered louder than I can describe. It was truly moving and impressive at the same time.
One hour and 20 minutes had passed. The first male runner approaches the Funky Monkey (monkey bars) followed by Amelia Boone only seconds behind the leader, Andy is not far behind trailing at third place of the 8.00am group.
By this point I was focusing on my friend Andy who cleared the Funky Monkey and ran to the next obstacle called Everest, known as the half pipe. I did not have time to capture Andy running through the last obstacle – the famous and popular electric shock therapy (aka EST). This obstacle always presents the most amusing entertainment for any spectator. TM host Clinton Jackson would certainly have supportive words to coach all runners through this last obstacle or would say something amusing and fitting to best describes the runner at the time.
I quickly captured Andy’s sprint to the finish, I had 15 minutes to get to the start for the 10am wave. I was supposed to run with Christopher’s team, but somehow with thousands of Mudders walking around the primary area, I could not locate his team. Andy and Joe surprisingly found me by coincidence in their determination to run their second lap of the course.
We let the 10.00am wave of runners pass us by in an attempt to find Christopher’s team, since we did not see him we decided to begin our run. From of the start Joe, Andy and I set off as a new team. Our first obstacle was the Arctic Enema (ice bath), Joe jumped in first, cleared the barrier then I jumped in, little did I know at the time, the person before Joe had issues with climbing out of the large container.
This meant Joe and I were standing in the water longer than we wanted to (next time, wait until the person ahead of you is about to climb out). Once we were out, Andy was already waiting for us and we continue through muddy patches to the next obstacles. When I reached the 6 mile marker, I began to feel so tired and lethargic my body temperature began rising hotter than usual, my face was just burning up.
As I completed the mud crawl, trenches and ran through more muddy trails we had reached the Walk the Plank obstacle, this had a waiting delay of at least 35minutes! Not that I minded since I began to feel so tired, not from a lack of training but this illness was setting in, with cold like symptoms. As I climbed up the wall for the jump I hesitated, I had to let Joe go ahead of me because I needed more time. This was not a feeling I enjoyed, I wasn’t feeling fear, but nervousness and most definitely I needed to take my time.
After Joe had cleared this obstacle I jumped and as previous experiences would have it I could not touch the bottom of the pit and I did not open my eyes. I squeezed my nose to ensure I would not swallow any water (it was really dirty). After the plunge I swam to the cargo net to climb out, the life guard standing in front of me handed me his life float to assist with clearing me out for the next swimmer. This was very helpful.
Signs were posted leading up to this obstacle to ensure weaker swimmers were not obliged to attempt the water obstacles if they were not confident to do so, this is reassuring for anyone who truly isn’t ready for this particular challenge. The trenches were completely dark, for some tunnels they were muddy and others were dry yet scattered with stones which did not make crawling easy on the hands and knees.
The dong dangler was my favorite obstacle and not at all challenging in my mind because I allowed the cable guide me as I floated along the water. The under the barrel water obstacles was not an issue for me because I swam (not well) but able to maneuver my way through. I could touch the bottom of the stream however I wasn’t tall enough to get traction to walk my way through this obstacle, it was much easier to swim or hold the shoulder of a taller person who was walking to make my way to the other side.
The glory blades and berlin walls will always be my challenge due to my height, with a bit of help from fellow Mudder’s I was able to climb over these with little concern. Watching Andy and Joe effortlessly jump and climb over these two obstacles was impressive they were like ninjas displaying no signs of strain, it was effortless.
For the first time, I had arrived at the Ladder of Hell. The distance setting each board apart concerned me. The height was something new and did not give me confidence to quickly or eagerly tackle this particular obstacle. I recall the fear of reaching each board and yes, I got stuck at the top and then trying to come back down was another story. I slowly took each board and held on for dear life and sure enough I “just” had the body length with tippy toes to reach each board, talk about a stretch!
Sure enough I gave it a shot and while feeling extremely nervous about heights, I was able to clear this obstacle and it felt amazing with huge relief that I accomplished a new obstacle, I had a fear of slipping, however Joe spotted me and kept encouraging me as I focused on my hand and feet coordination.
I continued running, feeling ill and feverish. The weekend prior to Chicago TM I ran the Toronto TM with winter-like conditions, my contusions were still visible on my knees and elbows and now my cold had set in. By the 6 mile mark my energy was rapidly depleting. I doggedly would jog my way through each obstacle, including carrying Joe for the Wounded Warrior Carry for 100 meters. Carrying my own log which by this point I was completely zoned out, simply focusing on each step and moving forward was an effort.
Before I knew it I approached Everest, the mudder of all half pipe obstacles. It took me 5 attempts to make this wall with assisted help. My legs were fatigued I was wishing it was the end. The wall was so muddy, when I ran up I felt the tips of the catcher’s fingers but watched me slip down Everest with disappointment. I got up and let runners ahead of me, taking a moment to regroup and gave my second attempt a shot. This time I grasped a hand but it wasn’t enough grip to hold me and I slid down the wall again and this time cleaning the muddy wall leaving a white stripe of clean mud less path for someone else to run.
Fit runners would run up and slip down as well, this failed attempt did not discourage me nor did watching failed runners make my ego feel better. I wanted to make it up Everest! That is the whole point. After my third and fourth failed attempt, Joe watched each failed run and heard each thud as I slid down the wall and sad expression on my face. Again I wouldn’t give up and on the fifth attempt and with success, I conquered Everest! My legs felt like jello but I was feeling awesome. I hugged the amazing runners who assisted me.
Finally, the last obstacle for the day Electric Shock Therapy! Andy and Joe discussed the strategy of holding hands, I was so tired I probably said yes (I don’t recall a clear discussion from my part). Our hands locked in and the three of us ran off through the hanging wires. I got shocked and it hurt big time (more than I have experienced in the past). Being in the middle, I had no free hands to cover my face and therefore I was feeling shocks more than before.
We ran over hay bales which didn’t make for a flat obstacle and at the end, I slipped into a hole in the mud and lost my footing, the boys did not let go of me and pulled me out of the mud with true camaraderie right there. I ran and finished the Chicago TM as a team with the most amazing elite runners by my side. Joe and Andy are the best! I was overwhelmed by the support. They remained by my side in true spirit of Tough Mudder.
They realized I had reached the finish, happy tears for the fact that Joe and Andy did not leave my side no matter how slow I was, and sad tears because I had missed Christopher’s team and I wanted to run with his group. I will always remember Joe’s comment “the little engine that could”. I can honestly say I felt that statement as I lost my voice with the sudden onset of laryngitis. At some point during the run, in my mind I made a wish to myself that I wanted to finish and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own because of my condition. I am grateful for the outstanding support from many Mudders along the course.
I felt proud I had finished 20 obstacles in 10.1 miles. For a moment I could have pulled out BUT there were great rewards beyond the orange headband and a free beer. The extras are the great memories, meeting new Mudders who have become friends and feeling proud to have accomplished a Tough Mudder. It was excitement and a grand feeling when that orange headband was being placed on my head. The sudden feeling of pain did not become the center of my focus the laughter and smiles and hearing people congratulate you, high fives which become the replays of memories in my mind. When are you signing up? It’s an investment!