The night had finally come for the first Toughest Mudder of the season: Toughest Mudder South. With every race comes a level of uncertainty and anxiety that consumes every competitor, regardless of mileage goal. On paper, the course didn’t look like it’d be a killer, with approximately 500 feet of elevation gain per 5 mile loop. But I knew there’d likely be a curveball that could put my high-mileage goals in doubt.
As everyone arrived at the Tough Mudder village, the energy was palpable. Friendly and familiar faces in the Tough Mudder community arrived, including World’s Toughest Podcast Host Will Hicks and Overcome and Run hosts Jay and Heather Bode. Having arrived in Texas just a few hours before the race, I was a little underprepared—and grateful that Merrell ambassador Mirna Valerio agreed to pit crew and support me throughout the night. As every racer knows, a good support crew can make or break a competitor’s event.
I unpacked my gear, filling up my water bottles and laying out the food and supplies I’d need for the night’s escapades. The weather was slightly cool, and I tried to gauge the conditions. I had an important decision to make: “To wetsuit or not to wetsuit…” After looking at the weather forecast I opted for no wetsuit. Long compression pants and shirt seemed like the perfect compromise.
At the starting line Sean Corvelle gave his inspiring speech. A moment of silence brought life back into perspective—this is just a race, and there is so much more to life. Tough Mudder is just a catalyst to help others be their very best and make the most out of our time on earth. Next came the not-so-serious Coach T. Mud who got us ready to go and brought the supple hips all night long.
Three…2…1… and we were off. The sprint lap was relatively obstacle free, but we could see that the course was an obstacle in and of itself. We immediately hit muddy, technical terrain. For most of the course, it felt less like running and more like trying not to fall in the mud. I kept thinking, “Don’t break an ankle, don’t break an ankle, don’t break an ankle.” There were very few places to open up our stride and drop the hammer, making it a much slower course than anticipated. We dodged through single track filled with multiple roots, logs, and hanging branches that punished anyone who wasn’t paying attention—or who had lost their headlamp. (Wishing a speedy recovery to Shelby Lee, who broke her fibula after losing her headlamp on lap 2.)
The field went out fast during the sprint lap and while there was one official creek crossing on the course map, there were additional sections of deep water that slowed down the pace. The field spread out as the obstacles slowly began to open up.
The obstacles were as challenging as the terrain, both mentally and physically. Cage Crawl tested everyone’s mental strengths. Third place finisher Brian Gowiski even admitted to being intimidated by this obstacle before the race. The constant water obstacles made “Just the Tip” extremely difficult, and only a handful of people completed it all night. Funky Monkey was just as wet and slippery, making it an obstacle with a high failure rate. Rope a Dope and Kong-Infinity, two obstacles from World’s Toughest Mudder, challenged the grip strength of all competitors.
Toughest Mudder is a competition, but the principles of teamwork and camaraderie are still woven throughout the event—and teamwork was most evident on Everest, which was slippery and more difficult than in previous years. Fellow Mudder Shawn Michael Meyers was committed to helping people all night long. He sat on top of Everest from 2 am through the entire event to help competitors up the challenging obstacle. He helped me throughout the night, and I knew that I owed it to everyone else to return the favor to the next competitor up. That’s what Tough Mudder is all about.
The final obstacle, Happy Ending, is new to the Toughest Mudder series—but it may not have been the happiest ending to my race. I woke up the next morning with a bruise on my tailbone, wondering what could have caused that. It must have been that Happy Ending….
The Men’s Race
The men’s race opened up from the beginning as Ryan Atkins and Shaun Stephens-Whales set the pace early. Brian Gowiski challenged them during the early laps but was unable to keep pace. I fell in the pack behind those three, as Robert Wiltshire, Matt Lister, and myself continued to battle for a top 5 spot. During the first four laps, Atkins was challenged by Stephens-Whale, but gapped the field and ran into a comfortable lead. The 4th through 6th spots remained a close race, although I had no idea at the time. I wasn’t getting splits throughout the race, only to find out that Wiltshire ended up finishing in 4th, less than a minute in front of me. Lister finished in 6th for the men, continuing his strong performances from last year’s Toughest Mudder Chicago.
The Women’s Race
The women’s race proved to be much closer. Rea Kolbl, Allison Tai, and Lindsay Webster challenged each other throughout the 8-hour race. Webster and Kolbl traded the lead during the early stages, pushing the pace for all of the women. Tai remained consistent throughout the entire race and eventually pushed past Webster to take hold of 2nd place. With only one lap to go, Tai pulled within 2 minutes of Kolbl, putting on the pressure. Kolbl pressed on knowing that she couldn’t slip up and ended up winning with only minutes to spare. Tai kept the race close the entire time and ended up bringing home 2nd place, while Webster finished in 3rd. New to the Toughest Series but not to obstacle course racing, Alex Walker pulled off a gutsy 4th place finish, running half of the race with a few broken toes. Margaret Kaderli and Adriane Alvord fought for 5th place, with Kaderli edging out the final spot for Elite Contender Status for World’s Toughest Mudder.
Overall this was a very difficult race, as the course proved to be an obstacle in and of itself. Many people, including myself, had to change our pre-race goals in order to accommodate for the mud and water. While we have been lucky with the runnable Las Vegas course at WTM the past few years, perhaps this race is a preview into the mud and condition of WTM 2018 in Atlanta. Only time will tell.
Thanks to everyone who came out, supported, raced, and made this a fun experience. Here are a few “awards” I want to shout out. Feel free to add your favorite moment from the race in the comments!
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work Award: Shawn Michael Meyers
For spending hours on top of Everest Helping People Up
Most Ridiculous Post Race Attire Award: Joel Forsyth
For his MEC Belly Button Jacket
Never Getting Hit by a Car at Night Award: John Jae Woo Lee
For his insanely bright and reflective jacket that blinded anyone whose headlight got too close.
Name on a Bib Causing me the Most Confusion: Miller (Possibly Launce, David, Charles, Nick)
I could have sworn I just passed Miller… I need to get some sleep