Lessons from my First Tough Mudder

finisherAfter two showers and a soaking bubble bath, I still have dirt under my fingernails, and cuts and bruises in places I’ve never had before, but I feel so good. Yesterday, I did my first Tough Mudder challenge. As they remind us, over and over before we start, it’s not a RACE, it’s a CHALLENGE. I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, in fact, tell me I can’t do something,  and something in me wants to just do it. But this was different. I don’t know if it’s because it’s been over 5 years since I last ran a marathon or triathlon, or that I’m well into my 50’s and things hurt much more than they used to, or that other than lifting light weights or doing pushups and planks a couple of times a week I don’t really do strength training, but I didn’t even tell anyone that I had signed up to do this thing. I think I was reserving the right to back out.

I’ve done a mud run…a 4 mile run in rural Tennessee with my girlfriends, and had a blast, but this thing was different. Ten to twelve miles at 8-10,000 feet, where the weather can change from sunny and low 70’s or cloudy and high 40’s within just a few minutes, plus 22-26 obstacles like jumping into a dumpster full of ice water, climbing over 12 foot high wooden boards, or running through an obstacle course filled with LIVE electrical wires with as much as 10,000 volts of live electricity. It could have been any one of those things, but on top of that, I kept reading about all the folks who had been training for months…with Crossfit or TRX or other hard-core strength training. I’m a cardio person… I can very slowly move for a very long time.  Upper body strength?  Nah, not much.

But I saw the ad in the paper, and realized it might not ever be here, literally in almost my back yard, again. I didn’t have a team, even though they strongly encourage that.  I was afraid to even try to find a team, in case I backed out or couldn’t do it.  But I signed up a week ago, and began my research. Over and over, I watched every single video of past races and obstacles. I read blogs from people who had done it.   When they sent me the course map I drove to the places that I could get to to observe the layout.  Finally, a day or two before the event, I told a couple of people. Mainly so I wouldn’t back out. My stomach was in knots and I barely slept the night before, but since my start time wasn’t until 11:40, I was able to sleep in a little and actually woke up with excitement, not dread.

Except for the arctic enema. I was petrified of that one. It’s like the ice bucket challenge on steroids.  I don’t do well when I’m cold. And this obstacle was the 2nd one on the course, at mile 2, so if I did it, I could possibly be cold for the rest of the event. Reserving the option to skip it altogether, I headed down to the start.  (Sorry about the length of this post, I’m going to describe all the obstacles.)  I’m happy to say that I only skipped two out of 24. It helped me to read about other people’s experiences, so maybe this will help someone else.  If you don’t care to read about the obstacles, skip to the end for the lessons I learned. If the name of the obstacle is blue, click on it for video.

I had picked up my number and wrist bands the night before, so I didn’t really need to get to the start super early, but I didn’t know how long it would take for us to drive down, since the course crossed our street twice. I also thought I might have to be dropped off since the roads were probably going to be closed, but luckily, it took 5 minutes to get down the hill and Jeff was able to drop me off right at the village. After checking my bag (with dry clothes and a towel), I realized I had an hour to wait. And it was HOT! I actually took off the turtleneck I had planned on wearing, wrapped it around my waist and decided to start running only in my bra top. That way, if I did the ice water plunge, I would have a dry shirt to put on. I walked over to the corral and realized they weren’t checking assigned start times, so I just walked right in. It still took 40 minutes to go through the 20 minutes of warm up exercises, then 20 minutes with the Tough Mudder MC, getting everyone fired up and ready to go.  I think it’s worth doing this event just to hear his opening speech.  He does it every 20 minutes all day long, in every city that they have this event.  We recited the Tough Mudder Pledge, emphasizing for the umpteenth time that it is not a race, but a challenge, and that we are to help our fellow mudders complete the course.  I looked around.  I saw tons of teams, groups of friends and acquaintances doing the event together, most dressed in matching shirts or costumes of some sort.  I had hoped to see at least one other person by themselves but I didn’t.  So I just ducked my head and tried to blend in.  Finally, they opened the gates and we were off!


Sean Corvelle, Tough Mudder MC extraordinaire!

The course starts off downhill, for the most part, and the energy of the crowd made it easy to run.  I had to remind myself that it was long and I needed to pace myself, (plus, I was still trying to get up the courage to jump in a dumpster full of ice water so I wasn’t in a big hurry!)  After about a mile, we hit our first obstacle.

1.  Glory Blades 


Glory blades were relatively easy.  A couple of 8 foot walls that are slanted towards you.  Even though the Tough Mudder website says 50% of mudders need help, I actually made it up and over by myself, by cheating a little and stepping on the slanted support on the side.  (I’m not sure that’s legal, but no one told me not to).  They also had port-a-potties and water here, which was good, since we had all been waiting in the hot sun for at least 40 minutes before the start.  It also gave me a little more time to worry about the Arctic Enema.  So on we went.  Mostly flat, and a little downhill on a paved trail for another mile or so, then we turned into Two Creeks where the three huge dumpsters were waiting.

2.  Arctic Enema


Arctic Enema

Tough Mudder says this obstacle requires more mental grit than any of them. You jump into a dumpster filled with ice and water, and THEN have to go UNDER a wooden partition in the middle and swim to the other side.  I literally did not know until I got there, put my dry shirt and sunglasses on the ground, and climbed up the stairs that I was going to actually do it.  I had analyzed this thing more than any other obstacle and decided that if I did it, I would jump all the way to the wooden partition and go under, all in one motion.  But my body didn’t cooperate.  I think in the middle of my jump my mind and body balked, so I only jumped about a foot in.  But without thinking I immediately went underwater, then had to swim for about four feet to get under the middle.  At this point, I don’t remember much, except as much as I tried to get a breath when I came up on the other side, I couldn’t, until I was able to climb out.  It was OVER, thank God. I grabbed my stuff and started hiking up the ski mountain.  Luckily, it was still sunny, and we had about 1000 feet in elevation gain over about 3/4 of a mile.  But right away, we hit the next obstacle.

3.  Carry your wood


Carry your wood

I had seen photos like this one, and hoped I could find someone to help me carry those big logs.  I actually ran up to two guys who were carrying one just like this and said, “Hey, let me help you!”  They kind of laughed, because when I jumped in the middle of them, they were so freaking tall that I could barely even reach the wood, so of course, I wasn’t helping anyone.  I heard someone say they had single logs, so I looked down and grabbed the smallest one I could see.  It actually must have been kind of dead or something, because it wasn’t heavy at all and I carried it around the loop with no problem.  I dropped the log back where I started and proceeded to hike up for another half mile or so, when we reached the next obstacle.

4.  Warrior Carry


Warrior Carry

I actually had thought I might have to skip this one since I was solo, but luckily, a team in front of me had one girl and two guys.  They were trying to figure out how one guy would carry two people when I offered to carry the girl.  We were very close to the same size, so it was no big deal.  She carried me to the halfway mark (not far), then I carried her.  At this point, we were crossing the street I live on!  I had hoped maybe Jeff would offer to come down to see me, but since he wasn’t feeling well, I had started 20 minutes early, and had run most of the way,  I thought there would be no way he would be there.  But as I came around a curve I heard, “There’s mama!”, looked up, and saw my hubby and my two sweet labs there to greet me.  That gave me another mental push, plus we were entering a downhill run to the next obstacle.

5.  Balls to the Wall


Balls to the Wall

This obstacle has you scaling a wall twelve feet high, using only a muddy rope and upper body strength. But there are pieces of wood nailed about every four feet, so you do have something to leverage yourself with.  And the rope has knots in it which makes it easy to hold on.  As I started, I was pushing with my feet, and someone behind me yelled to keep my body close to the wall.  So I did, and I made it over, with no problem.  Once you reach the top, you have to work up the courage to descend the rope on the other side, but I just didn’t look down, and held on tight to the rope. At this point, I knew there had to be some mud coming up soon, because we were all relatively clean.  Sure enough, I was right.

6.  Kiss of Mud


Kiss of Mud

This is where doing 3 minute planks actually paid off!  When I walked up to this obstacle, there were two sides.  One had dry mud, and there only two girls doing that side.  The other side was about 3 inches of muddy water on top of sticky mud, and there was a long line of people waiting for that one.  I heard some dude behind me say the dry side “must be the girl’s side”, so I immediately joined the line for the wetter, muddier one.  I totally forgot that I still had my shirt tied around my waist, and I should have either put it on (to avoid the bruises and scratches on my forearms, or taken it off and thrown it to the side to stay dry.  Oh well.  I got up with my wet, muddy shirt, and started running.  At this point we were meeting back up with the people who had just started, running in the opposite direction.  We quickly went through the next obstacle, which I could not find any info about beforehand, nor any photos to share.

7.  Bell Hop

This is exactly what it sounds like.  We went under three separate beams suspended at different heights (each a little higher), with bells attached.  You were supposed to jump up and ring a bell.  I tried, but unfortunately, old white chicks can’t jump.  Our next obstacle was one I had also dreaded.

8.  Funky Monkey


Funky Monkey

This is a set of monkey bars, fifteen bars going UP, and fifteen going down, over a body of water. Oh, and I think they grease the bars!  I don’t think I could do a pull up to save my life, and they say the best way to train for this is to do pull ups.  So I figured it was a done deal, if I tried this one, I would fall.  But I was on a roll…I hadn’t skipped any challenges, it was still relatively warm, and I was pretty muddy so if I fell at least I’d wash some of that off.  So I tried holding onto the first couple bars while standing on the platform.  My super sticky rubber gloves that I bought for this obstacle were useless.  I could not get a grip.  So I threw them to the side, grabbed the second bar in, and took off.  I did one bar at a time, letting my body swing (which is what all the tips told me to do), and before I knew it I made it to the top!  Then I had to come down the same number of bars, and at this point I just wanted to be finished, so I started doing every other bar.  And to my complete surprise and astonishment, I made it without falling!  When I gathered my gloves and started running, I was more out of breath at this point than I had been at any point so far.  But I was smiling.

9.  Bushwhacked


Except ours were uphill

We started our climb up to the highest point of the course, at Sam’s Knob.  We had a few obstacles on our way.  First was bushwhacked, which was basically heading straight up the mountain without using the trail.  But it wasn’t a big deal.  Since it was mid-day, most of the bushwhacking had already occurred.  We passed some veterans, waiting to help their friend up hill, and I shook his hand, and had a little cry.  Then, Hell happened.

10.  Underwater Tunnels


Underwater Tunnels

We’re at around 9,000 feet at this point, the sun was behind a cloud, and it felt like it was 20 degrees cooler.  This involved sliding down a tarp into an icy cold reservoir, then swimming under a series of floating tubes.  I’m a strong swimmer, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but this is when my body slowly began to freeze.  When I got out, my teeth were chattering and I couldn’t feel my feet.  I grabbed my almost-dry shirt from where I had thrown it, and spent the next 400 yards trying to get it on, while running to the next obstacle.

11.  Rail Garden


Rail Garden

This was just a series of hurdles, waist high or so, but pretty easy to climb over.  I was just trying not to fall on my face since my feet were so numb I didn’t feel like I could count on them to support my weight.  Still shivering, teeth chattering, I ran up to the next obstacle, and  froze, both literally and figuratively.

12.  Pitfall

When my daughter was little, Jeff would play a game with her in the pool, called “holes”.  He’d put her on his shoulders, and walk across the pool, every now and then yelling, “Holes!”, and bending his knees, sinking down into the water with her.  She loved that game!  But this version didn’t look like fun to me. The volunteer informed us that the wires we would crawl through were live wires, and carried electrical charges.  After crawling under that (just one bar), you had to wade through about 20 yards of muddy ice water that had huge holes dug in random spots.  So I watched for a few minutes, jumping up and down to try to get feeling back in my feet.  People were screaming as they were shocked, then falling into holes and getting submerged.  I truly think if it was just the electrical thing, I would have tried it.  But I could not handle both that and the cold water at that point.  So, with my head down, I took the obstacle bypass.  After that, I HAD to do the next one, which surprised me by being the hardest obstacle of the day, at least for me.

13.  Mud Mile


Mud Mile…I wish they were that small and slanted.

This wasn’t really a mile, but it felt like it.  It was a series of very tall, straight edged (I wish they were as slanted as in this photo) piles of mud between waist-deep, ice cold, muddy water.  I made it through, only because some poor guy was nice enough to give me a boost over the first one, and like a lost puppy, I followed him through most of the rest of them.  Until I got so cold that I sat on top of one of the piles, shivering, for a long time, trying to get the guts to slide back into that muddy pit of ice water.  I don’t know how many actual piles we had to climb over.  It felt like 50.  But was probably 6.  When I pulled myself out, I did a few jumping jacks, still not feeling my feet, and ran about 20 yards to the next obstacle, which I almost didn’t do.

14.  Walk the Plank


No, I did NOT do a belly flop!

Yep, another ice cold DEEP pool of water.  Climb up to a 12 foot platform, and jump in, then swim 40 yards to the other side.  I stood there, again, for quite a while, trying to decide whether I was going to do it.  I was SO COLD.   Ultimately, I decided that I couldn’t really get any colder, swimming was my strength, so I might as well just do it.  So I did.  Cold, cold, cold.  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.  Thankfully the next obstacle helped get my blood flowing.

15.  Killa Gorilla

I can’t find any good photos of this one.  I think it varies, depending on where the event is located, but it was basically up a very steep, slippery, muddy bank, and back down on the other side.  Lots of “whoops” moments on this one, but I went sideways down and made it unscathed.

16.  Cliffhanger



I actually think I’m getting these last two kind of mixed up.  I actually think this was when we turned right and went straight up what felt like a 90 degree slope.  But it was slowly helping my feet warm up.

17.  Gauntlet


Gauntlet…cold cold cold cold!!!

This was more of the same, with some things to climb over.  But way steeper, muddier, and there were hoses spraying ice water in your face as you made your way down.  After this, we had a stretch of a mile or two of running.  I was SO happy for that.  No obstacles, and the running was kind of warming me up a little.  Surprisingly, I was passing people left and right.  There were a lot of people cramping up at this point.  I think the combination of the cold, the wet, and the altitude were affecting a lot of people.  I am very thankful that I’ve been hiking and running up and down this very mountain for a few weeks, so it seemed very natural to just run.  But my running euphoria quickly became panic when I saw the next obstacle.

18.  Pole Dancer



I had forgotten about this one.  I have no idea if it is harder or easier than funky monky.  I knew it took arm strength, and I knew the water underneath was COLD.  I had no hesitations.  I passed it up.

19.  Ram’s Horn/Mystery Obstacle

For some reason, I can not remember this one.  I had done so many searches trying to figure out what it is, and couldn’t find anything.  Now, either they didn’t have this one, I didn’t realize when I went through it, or my brain was frozen and I can’t remember it.  Either way, after I skipped the Pole Dancer, I did not intentionally skip anything else.  Maybe someone out there can spark my memory.  But I DO remember an obstacle earlier in the course that wasn’t listed.  We had to go over and under a series of Round Tubes.  The low ones were REALLY low, so you had to crawl under, and the high ones were greased and slippery.  I got a boost on one, but for the rest, I just stepped on one of the supporting tubes and climbed over.

20.  Everest



This is the one that most people really need help with.  It’s a 1/4 pipe, greased and slippery.  You have to run up to the platform on top.  Thank goodness for the guys who grabbed my hand, and my leg, and very ungracefully helped pull me up.  Pretty embarrassing, but I made it.

21.  Berlin Wall


Berlin Wall

This was 2 12-ft. walls, with NO rope this time.  There was a little ledge close to the bottom that you could step on, but it basically took some wicked upper body strength to pull yourself over by yourself.  Then, on the other side, you had to slowly release and hang, then drop.  I saw a couple of people twist their ankles on the dismount so I was a little nervous.  On the first wall, a guy came up behind me and gave me a boost, but on the 2nd one I told him I was going to try it by myself.  I did it, but I cheated a little.  I stepped on the angled support beam on the side and lifted my leg up onto the top, then used my leg and arms to pull myself up.  Again, not pretty or graceful, but I did it by myself!

22.  Leap of Faith/Mystery Obstacle

Another obstacle I don’t remember.  Either they didn’t have it, I did it and I don’t remember, or I didn’t see it.  Either way, I have nothing.  I think it involves jumping over water onto a cargo net.  But I didn’t see it.  We did have another obstacle that wasn’t listed which involved pulling yourself with your forearms through an elevated narrow tube, then falling out on the other side.

23.  Devil’s Beard


Devil’s Beard

This is where I finally lost my dirty, muddy, red bandana, that I had been carrying for the entire course.  I had stuck it in the top of my shirt, into my bra top, but we had to crawl, or slither, underneath a VERY HEAVY cargo net.  It was so heavy it basically kept you from being on your hands and knees.  The easiest way was to just lay on your stomach and pull yourself through, bringing your knees up to your shoulders on each side.  Then, last, but not least…

24.  Electroshock Therapy

10,000 volts of live electricity?  My dear husband says there’s no way.  But that’s what they advertise.  Being small is actually a benefit.  Those big burly guys running through have more surface area, so it’s easier for them to hit a live wire.  There was a line for this one.  On the other side was the prize, the finish line, the orange Tough Mudder headband, and a nice cold Dos Equis.  I watched the entire time I was in line, and noticed that the people running through on the left side seemed to be getting shocked, and the ones on the right seemed to make it through ok.  So I stuck to the right side, put my hands up to protect my face,  ran through and jumped over the muddy piles of hay, and before I knew it I was done!

I’m not a beer drinker, but that cold one tasted good!  I walked through Mudder Village, took a few samples of protein bars, got my photo taken, and then easily grabbed my bag of clean clothes.  I was amazed at how quickly that process was!  Since I know Snowmass Village very well, I knew where the ladies rooms were, so I went down there to change clothes and pretty much had the whole place to myself.

It was kind of lonely, being by myself, so next year I am recruiting some friends to do it with me!

Here are some of the things I learned:

1.  You don’t have to have a team.  The theme of the day is “No man left behind”, and there are always people who will help you if you need it.

2.  There is no shame (other than self-induced) in skipping an obstacle.  They emphasize multiple times that if you’re uncomfortable with a challenge for any reason, have a heart condition (for the electrical ones), or can’t swim (for the water ones), that you should skip it.  It’s just a personal challenge.  I hope next year that I do them all.

3.  It is VERY helpful to have a strong running, or cardio base.  Even though my upper body is not where I’d like it to be, my legs and cardio ability got me through 75% of the event.

4.  Core strength is very helpful.  With that said, I think more functional strength training, using your body weight instead of weights is probably the most useful.

5.  Some people wore minimalist running shoes, like the Vibram ones with individual toes, or very thin soled shoes because they think they won’t hold water as much but I talked to a guy who wore them and he said they were the wrong choice.  His feet were very sore.  It’s a rocky course, so I grabbed an old pair of running shoes and they worked fine.  Just remember to double or triple tie them or you will Los.e them in the mud!  At the end of the race they have a shoe donation table so you don’t even have to take the gross muddy things home with you!

6.  I was afraid of being cold, so I wore an underarmour heatgear turtleneck.  Luckily I had a bra top underneath, because it started out pretty warm.  I definitely needed the long sleeves later in the race, though, so I’m glad I had it.  I wore tight fitting running capris and knee high compression running socks, which was perfect.  I still got a couple of bruises and a scratch or two on my knees, but it would have been much worse if I’d worn shorts.

7.  Costumes are fun and a conversation starter.  I talked to Waldo, Princess Leah, Uncle Sam, a gladiator and a ballerina.

8.  There are definitely some hard bodied, muscle-men and women, but there are also people who don’t look like they could run a bit.  Everyone there was doing the best they could, and that was beautiful.

9.  I was worried that I hadn’t “trained” for this event.  But for years, I have worked out 6 days a week.  It was a fabulous feeling to realize that all that working out was good for something other than just keeping me healthy!  I actually enjoyed this event, way more than I thought I would.

10.  Next time I am wearing my Go-Pro, even though I think it looks goofy.  I’d give anything to have footage of the challenges as I did them.

11.  I took an old red bandana with me, which came in very handy to blow my nose, or wipe mud off my sunglasses.  It was easy to throw it to the side when I went through the wet challenges, and I almost made it to the end without losing it.  I’m glad I had it.  And sunglasses were helpful when the sun was out.  It wasn’t a big deal to hold them when it got cloudy, or to toss them to the side during the water challenges.

12.  And last, but not least, next year I want to volunteer!  If you volunteer one day you can run the next day at a greatly discounted price (although the money goes to the Wounded Warrior Project, which I am happy to support).  But this morning I walked the dogs down the street to cheer on the runners and had so much fun, I want to work the course next year.

ifinished  sign

About Elisha

After our only child left for college, my husband and I decided to pack up and head for the mountains! We split our time between Colorado and North Carolina and love everything about the mountain lifestyle. I write about the empty nest experience, and our adventures living, playing and working. Taking a couple years off from writing while I get my master's degree in Nutrition.
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2 Responses to Lessons from my First Tough Mudder

  1. Sharanya says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all this! N hats off to your courage and spirit!

  2. Super helpful posts and I enjoyed reading every line. I’m running the Colorado, Snowmass Tough Mudder in less than a week and like you, I’m trying to learn everything I can about it.

    In my head, I think I played up all the cold water and ice challenges too much, but after reading this, I didn’t play them up enough. So not looking forward to these, but I’m excited regardless!

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