Three-time World Toughest Mudder Champion Ryan Atkins has a clear goal heading into the 2016 rendition of the toughest event on the planet in Las Vegas, NV. It’s a task he accomplished before, but that was an individual competitor in 2013, not as a part of team gunning for a $100,000 prize presented by Cellucor.
“The biggest focus is on the 100 miles and everything else is secondary,” say Atkins. “This year our main objective is run 100 miles or more.”
Atkins will be teaming with Jon Albon of the UK, his Sinergysports teammate from last year who he shared the victory with. While on paper this duo looks to be riding the best wave leading into WTM 2016–Atkins won the short course at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships and Albon won the long course—racing for 24 hours at Lake Las Vegas is a completely different beast. Atkins sees the 2016 rule change from a 4-person team to a 2-person team as an advantage.
“Having two people cuts the probability of someone rolling an ankle or getting stomach issues in half,” Atkins says. “This makes the possibility of getting higher mileage much more feasible.”
“The biggest focus is on the 100 miles and everything else is secondary.”
Atkins explains that pairing up with Albon was a natural, seamless fit.
“From racing with Jon and spending time with him, I knew that we had compatible personalities and outlooks on life, and I have a lot of respect for him as an athlete,” Atkins says. “Jon’s biggest strength is his attitude: he’s a happy-go-lucky guy who loves to run and overcome challenges. He has a very positive attitude.”
At one month out from WTM 2016, Atkins shifted his focus on training for shorter courses to doing longer runs and incorporating more strength training. On average, Atkins runs 55 miles per week, which sometimes reaches as much as 80 miles/week with the lightest weeks being as little as 35 miles per week. The Canadian’s favorite mountain to frequent is Bruce Trail, a rocky, up and down mountain in Caledon, Ontario preferring this site because it’s close to his residence. As for the strength training, Atkins does it all outdoors and hasn’t been to a gym in about a year.
“The strength training is mostly bodyweight and it’s more focused on injury prevention than developling all-out strength,” Atkins says. “A lot of the strength I develop is from doing so many obstacle course races and the grip strength training and rock climbing or bouldering.”
DIRECTIONS: do each exercise one after the other with minimal rest. Complete for 3-5 rounds.
Exercise: Dead hang
Duration: 1 minue
Exercise: Jerry Can Carry
Exercise: Walking Lunge
Exercise: Pullups Using Rock Climbing Holds
Exercise: Wreck Bag Run Around Block
Growing up, Atkins was a high school wrestling, rugby, and football athlete. He was also a unicycling athlete, even using a unicycle on mountains. In college, Atkins focused mostly on mountain bike racing and worked his way up to the national and World Cup levels. Post-biking, Atkins entered the world of ultra running, simply because he “thought it was cool to run far places and really enjoyed it.” Specifically, a friend asked him to run a 50-mile route that people normally just hike over multiple days.
“I thought it sounded like a really fun challenge, did some running to prepare for it and went out and did it,” Atkins says. “Although it absolutely kicked my ass, I had a great time and learned a lot. I got hooked onto ultra running from there.”
Atkins heard about obstacle course racing from a friend who informed him there was a race where the prize was an ATV. That was enough to lure Atkins in.
“My friend was like, “Hey, Ryan, I think you’d be really good at this,” Atkins explains. “So I did it and I won and from there it’s been a whirlwind of adventure and racing.”
The first and only Legionnaire to run 100 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder (he did it in 2013), Atkins understands how to push his body to the limits. To fuel for WTM 2016, there’s no dramatic carbohydrate loading or dietary changes, although Atkins will eat a pasta dinner the day before. Atkins suggests that carb-loading doesn’t make a huge performance difference for a 24-hour race because of the concept that the body only stores about 2,000 calories of glycogen at a time.
“If you carb-load, it could be the difference between having 2,300 calories of glycogen in your blood versus having 2,000 and over the course of 24 hours we’re going to be ingesting so much food that having that small surplus really won’t make much of a difference,” Atkins says. “We’re going to focus on making sure we have adequate caloric intake during the event and dealing with that as we go along.”
In terms of strategy, Atkins and Albon have planned to control the chaos, so to speak. “Our biggest strategy is to run a fairly even race, not getting caught up in any of the excitement at the start,” Atkins adds. “We know the hours between the 10th hour to the 22nd hour is when the bulk of the racing happens so having a strong race then will make a big difference for us.”
Obstacle innovation is something Atkins can’t prepare for, as he’ll never know what the Tough Mudder Product Team has drawn up year to year. The obstacles that have given Atkins the most trouble are Tramp Stamp (“tricky because you have to time your jump with grabbing the bar), King of Swingers, Gut Buster and toughest of all, the cold weather. Atkins also can’t control what other teams are doing but for WTM his main competition is the course.
“There are some really strong teams out there but ultimately we can only control our own performance,” Atkins says. “The 100-mile task is so monumental that it’ll be us against the course really, and not us against other teams.”
Weight: 167 pounds
Residence: Caledon, Ontario, Canada
WTM History: 2013: Individual winner, Distance: 100 miles;2014 individual winner: Distance: 95 miles;2015 Team Winner (Sinergysports), Distance:80 miles.
Number of Tough Mudder Completed: 8