Guest post by Ben Tatar (www.criticalbench.com)
Part 1— What Is The Tough Mudder
Tough Mudder is labeled “The Toughest Event on the Planet.” Tough Mudder is almost a half marathon that includes 28 obstacles. One of the reasons why Tough Mudder is so hard is because it doesn’t matter if you’re a runner or a strength athlete, as one of your weaknesses will be exposed.
Runners are going to need lots of upper body strength to get through 28 grueling obstacles which they aren’t built for. As for very strong people, they will have to do a lot of running (which involves lots of slow twitch fibers,) that doesn’t work in favor of their muscle fiber make up.
Tough Mudder also has challenging obstacles that tackles mainstream fears such as jumping off planks, (the fear of heights,) electric shock therapy, (feels like you’re getting punched in the back by Ray Lewis,) running through fire, (we saw people on the course complain about this,) going under water in pools of of ice,(which is uncomfortable and can make you sick,) and going through small dark underground tunnels and many other similiar yet crazy Tough Mudder extravaganzas.
Part 2— Tough Mudder vs the Warrior Dash
I did the Warrior Dash last summer. The Warrior Dash is a 3.5 mile run that has lots of obstacles. The Warrior Dash is marketed as a really tough event because for the average person, the Warrior Dash is very tough. When people finish the Warrior Dash, they wear T-Shirts that say “I SURVIVED THE WARRIOR DASH.” The Warrior Dash is pretty mainstream and it’s something that the Average Jane or Average Joe can pretend to be tough off of to people who don’t know better.
I did the Warrior Dash, and I did Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder was THOUSANDS of times harder than the Warrior Dash. In my eyes, The Warrior Dash was just a party with costumes and a fun dash through obstacles. Tough Mudder on the other hand was like “torture entertainment!” Some people assume that “Tough Mudder is probably like doing the Warrior Dash 4 times,” but in reality it was much harder than that because every extra mile you go in the Tough Mudder Event, you’re beat up that much more. In the Warrior Dash at mile 3 you’re finishing, and you’re feeling really good. As with Tough Mudder, at mile 3, you’re just getting started! Then each mile takes that much more life out of you. Tough Mudder really does test your mental grit.
I remember doing the Warrior Dash and during the Warrior Dash I relaxed during the first mile, then during mile 2 and 3 I passed thousands of people as I was never passed even once! This made me believe that Tough Mudder would just be another joke like the Warrior Dash was, boy was I wrong.
Part 3— Perception vs Reality
Before Tough Mudder started, I was very cocky. I didn’t really practice 9 mile runs or anything, I was just like “I’m the Tatar Monster, there isn’t anything I can’t handle, and bring it on!” I was like “there are people who dont look like long distance runners finishing this, and there are people who are a lot older than me finishing this, so whatever. This is just like going to an amusmenet park.” These were all misconceptions that I had. The truth is, just because someone doesn’t look like a runner doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing super long distance runs every week!
Then again, when I did the Warrior Dash, there were people who looked like runners and I passed and beat thousands of them. Therefore, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you have to depend on your own training in contrast to the event. If youre not running a half marathon at least twice a week, or if you haven’t been weight training your whole life, Tough Mudder is no joke.
In fact there are THOUSANDS of competitors on Tough Mudder day who don’t finish the Tough Mudder Challenge. You know, thousands of people go into Tough Mudder saying “I can run 12 miles, and Im serious enough to do these obstacles,” but the numbers show that over 20% of the people who think they will complete Tough Mudder, don’t complete it.
Part 4—The Beginning
When I did Tough Mudder, I felt happy just for taking on a badass challenge. I was actually relieved psychologically during the event because I knew the hype of doing tough mudder was over and the challenge had begun. During the event, I always remembered my dad’s message “Always leave some fuel in your tank.” However, I must admit that since I wasn’t running on a consistent basis, my legs were a bit sore after 2 miles.. Which was nuts because as my legs got sore only 2 miles into the run, I knew I had 10 miles to go. hahaha.
Part 5— Getting Hurt
Around mile 7, I went to the ground as I popped my calf muscle after lots of running and sprinting up a mudhill. I was like “Okay, I have a popped calf muscle, and I have another 5 miles to go!” I was like “TIME OUT,” and I stopped some people, where I took a gel pack. It felt like my calf muscle ripped off my socket, but like in the NFL, you massage it a bit, take a gel pack, and the sharp pain fades. Then I remember at mile 9 doing the same thing to my hamstring! I got a sharp pain, where two ladies ended up stretching me. (Showing some tough Mudder Camaraderie.) I kept going though, and despite my physical pain, I still felt happy inside (I was smiling,) because I knew that the Tatar Monster could handle this, that he could handle any physical challenge as long as he was conscious.
Along the way, I did see other fit people getting hurt, screaming they couldn’t continue. I would look at them, and be like “my hamstring is pulled and so is my calf muscle, but it’s fun” I would go..”GET INTO THE PAIN, in Pain there is GLORY!”
Part 6—- The Obstacles
One of my favorite parts about the Tough Mudder challenge was that no matter how much pain I thought I was feeling physically, I could always kick the obstacles ass! There were like 30 monkey bars, and lots of people couldn’t make it past two of them. I would storm through obstacles like the monkey bars with ease. Even at mile 11, where my calf was cramping and my hamstring felt like it had a knife inside, I remember having to go up that ramp that is seen in the video below and stacks of hay. I just remember blocking the pain out, going off adrenaline, and smashing it! I was able to embrace all of my adversities into excitement. Completing all the obstacles well despite pain, would always keep me smiling through everything.
Part 7—– The Finish Line
At the finish line my teammates Mike Westerdal and Chris were happy drinking beers. They were celebrating pretty hardcore. They had trained much more than I did for this. They worked hard for this and celebrated hard. I remember finishing and the finish line kind of surprised me… I was pretty beat up and I was like “I’m done?” For me, after you go so far, youre expecting such events to never end and they do end. I felt like I was in a car wreck, but I was also ready to keep going because for me personally, when youre going so far, you never think you’re going to just stop until you die.
When I was going that far, I was no longer think in reality, you think of making friends with pain, conquering obstacles no matter what, and then when all the craziness just stops, youre just kind of shocked. Even Championship Pro Athletes often say, “We worked so hard this year, and we won the Championship, Although we have won the championship, in our minds, it’s like we are getting ready for the next series, and i’m surprised this series is over.” Tim Thomas, the goalie of the Boston Bruins stated after he won the Stanley Cup last year “It still hasn’t kicked in, if I’m completely honest,” Thomas said. “I can’t believe it’s over. We’ve had our battle meter up so high for so long; it feels like we’re moving onto the next series or something.” You know, I felt like I was ready for the next mile, just in a more beat up form than my previous mile.
When I did finish though, I loaded up on a protein shake, ate some Burgers, and then my mindset was back into reality again
Part 8—- Tough Mudder Quote
Mike Westerdal told me that I was probably the only contestant to finish Tough Mudder who wasn’t practicing long distance runs.
I conquered an event that has a label of being “the toughest event on the planet,” just through my own guts, persistence to fight guts, and toughness. Through the physical intensity of it all, I felt glory after every mile and obstacle during the event..
I heard some marathon runners say that Tough Mudder was harder than marathons because they struggled with the obstacles, and the obstacles took them out of rhythm. For me, the obstacles were a nice distraction from the running, and made me feel glory between each each obstacle. They made the event entertaining.
Part 9—-My Advice For Others
Tough Mudder was a day of pain, glory, entertainment, and camaraderie! You can’t anticipate what will happen before Tough Mudder starts until you do it. There is one thiing we know though, Tough Mudder is a challenging MYSTERY, but as long as you stay strong and complete it, youre one of few who have made tough mudder HISTORY!
If you think you’re ready for Tough Mudder, I suggest you bringing 3 gel packers, drinking lots of water to prevent cramping, and having enough nutrients before the event. A lot of it is nutrition as well. Most of all get ready for an epic challenge with friends and let the games begin!
Part 10— Looking back at Tough Mudder–
I was glad that I completed Tough Mudder. It was a very challenging ride, but I will always have my glory and pride for doing it.
…If you want to get out of your comfort zone, and prove you are tough in all areas, give tough mudder a try. Only the strong survive.
Tough Mudder – Tampa 2011
They called it the Tampa, FL Tough Mudder but it was actually in Dade City which is about an hour away. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Tough Mudder their web site calls it “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.”
It’s a hardcore mud race that spans 11.5 miles and had 28 obstacles designed by British Special Forces to test your strength, stamina, grit and teamwork. It’s not “really” a race though, it’s actually a challenge just to finish and camaraderie is more important than your time.
If you’re an endurance athlete this is probably just your kind of event. As for me, this was way out of my comfort zone. Most recently I had been competing in powerlifting and consider myself to be more of an explosive athlete rather than an endurance guy.
That’s a damn good question. During the months leading up to the event I often asked why I wanted to put myself through this.
After all some of the obstacles included jumping in a tub of ice water and waiting for others to climb out, crawling underground in dark tunnels, climbing over Berlin Walls, schlepping through waist high mud and even sprinting up a half pipe (see video below). Did I mention the 11.5 miles? Well it’s worth mentioning again.
Any normal person would wonder why I’d want to do something like this. At first it was strictly peer pressure :) Some of my buddies over at Strength Camp Gym were all doing it and talked me into it. That got me signed up but I still had to find my own motivation.
The physical and mental CHALLENGE became my motivation.
I had not run more than 3-miles straight in the past five years so I knew I’d have to improve my long distance running. I was also carrying too much weight having taken advantage of the powerlifting lifestyle a bit so I’d have to drop some LBS to conquer this event. Those were cool incentives, but…..
When it comes down to it I wanted to do this event for myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could accomplish this. You see ever since Baby Karina was born in March most of my life has revolved around taking care of others, working and helping out as much as physically possible.
The Tough Mudder event was just for me. Sure I’d be tested physically and mentally but I knew that when it was all said and done I’d be a stronger father and husband. The obstacles in a mud race can never compare to the obstacles and adversity you face in your everyday life. By crushing this event I’d be better equipped to be the solid rock that my family would rely on when times get tough and they do and will get tough.
Intensification vs. Simplification
Just to let you inside my head for a moment, I don’t know why I think this way. I don’t recall reading it anywhere or studying this.
During my training I would intensify the event making it seem extremely hard in my head. I would remind myself that I better be prepared because this was no joke. They make you sign a death waiver after all. If I got tired during training I’d remind myself that if I can’t fly through the workout I have no business doing the Tough Mudder.
I did this for a while and used it as my “running fuel”. It served me well for a while. I got to the point where I could run 9-miles straight. However as the event started getting closer intensifying it wasn’t working anymore because it was actually making me nervous.
That’s when it was time to start simplifying. I was prepared and ready so to get rid of the nerves I started simplifying the event by finding out of shape looking people looking in the event videos and telling myself if these dudes can do it, so can I. I had made up my mind that I was going to finish the event no matter what. Before the event even started I had decided I don’t care what happens I would finish no matter what. I had to.
CriticalBench reporter Ben Tatar and personal trainer Chris Wilson who is a high school buddy of mine did the event together with me on Sunday.
I can’t really explain this and I don’t know how it happened but I had my head in the right place the entire race. I never expected it to be easy so I wasn’t really surprised by anything.
My Strength Camp buddies had told me how hard it was so I wasn’t caught off guard.
I recall thinking to myself, “Man this is the perfect weather and I don’ think there’s any place I’d rather be in the entire world than right here right now, breathing this fresh air, getting exercise and enjoying good friends and the company of other determined tough mudders.”
We had to sign a waiver that said we wouldn’t bitch and complain and I laughed to myself a few times as I jogged past a few guys that were bitching and complaining.
Ben, Chris and I all made it to the end and helped each other and other participants out along the way. When I crossed the finish line I had such an adrenaline rush, I immediately jugged a beer with Chris and thought to myself that wasn’t so bad after all! Well, it must have been the adrenaline rush because I was walking like an 85-year old man later that night and realized I had sprained my knee a bit and has some pretty nice bruises on my forearms.
At 230 lbs I did an 11.5 mile mud race with obstacles. Who would have thought that I’d actually get comfortable being uncomfortable!
Oh one more huge key during the race. I never looked forward to the next phase or wondered when the race would end. I just tried to enjoy the experience and everything going on around me rather than looking forward to the future. In that state of mind it doesn’t really matter when or if it ends which for me was a much better mental state to be in. Now that it’s over I can look back and say, Wow that is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life!
If you’re going to do this event you may have different weaknesses than me. I’ve been lifting weights, heavy weights for that matter for over 20 years. On the other hand it had been since college that I had done any long distance running over 3-miles so that’s what I had to focus on.
Every week I’d get 2-3 long distance running sessions in. Typically I’d do one shorter and one longer run trying to improve each week in either distance or time.
Another thing I did was try to mimic the obstacles. Granted I couldn’t build monkey bars and hang ropes across gator infested waters but what I could do is run a mile and then immediately perform some high intensity resistance cardio.
Have you ever heard of Workout Finishers? Typically these are heavy weight / low volume circuits that you can add to the end of your workout instead of doing 45-minutes of steady state cardio. The problem with too much cardio is that you lose strength and muscle. Since Finishers only take 5-10 minutes and are super intense you spare the muscle you’ve been building while getting the fat burning benefits.
Now in my case I used them a little differently to mimic obstacles from the Tough Mudder. Like I said, I’d jog a mile than I’d perform a Finisher mini-workout for 5-10 minutes. Than I’d run the next mile followed by another finisher. I was able to do 6-miles with 6-finishers a few weeks before the race and I think this really helped me out a bunch.
The actual Finishers I used were created by strength coach Chandler Marchman who has a gym here in Tampa too. I’ve been visiting his gym on Wednesdays because he has tons of cool equipment and is always dropping knowledge on me so it’s an awesome place to hang out.