Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to run the Tough Mudder at Mt. Snow, Vermont. The Tough Mudder is not a race, but rather a 10 mile challenge where participants run up and down the mountain and tackle 25 to 30 military style obstacles. Participants are not timed, and all are encouraged to help one another while on the course. The folks at Tough Mudder donate money from each event to the Wounded Warrior Project.
I ran on a team with 8 other friends, but all of us were at different levels of training, so we split up after the start of the challenge. I was running with my wife, so we stayed together through the entire course.
To get to the starting line of the Tough Mudder, we had to climb over a six foot wooden wall. No problem. My wife and I arrived a little late, and our team was already in the starting area. We realized that we needed to hurry if we wanted to meet them, so we quickly hopped the wall and found them at the start. After honoring our country with the national anthem and taking the Tough Mudder Pledge, we were off and running.
The first mile of the Tough Mudder is a straight uphill climb up a pretty steep slope. We started out running as a team, but after a half mile, it was clear that some of our teammates needed to walk a bit while others could keep running. My wife and I stuck together and we walked a bit and jogged a bit. Jogging back down the slope proved to be easier than jogging up, and we made it down to mile one with no problems.
We then approached the first serious obstacle: the Arctic Enema.
This obstacle involves a big dumpster that is filled with ice water. The temperature is kept to a cool 35-40 degrees. Participants climb up a wooden ladder to the edge of the dumpster and jump into the water. There is a wooden board that runs across the dumpster of ice water, and participants must swim under the board to reach the other side.
My wife and I climbed on up that ladder and hopped right in. Let me tell you, it was pretty cold, and I could feel my muscles tense up on impact. The freezing cold water was pretty good encouragement to quickly swim under the wooden board in the middle and get to the other side and get out. We both made it out together, but my wife was unhappy with that obstacle since she got a pretty significant brain freeze in the Arctic Enema.
After the Arctic Enema, the course led us back up the mountain. While climbing up the mountain at approximately the 1.5 mile mark, we encountered our first medical emergency.
At the start of the Tough Mudder, emergency procedures are reviewed. Participants are encouraged to avoid any obstacle that seems too difficult. For example, if you cannot swim, you are told to avoid those obstacles that require swimming. If another Mudder participant needs help, all other participants are to cross their arms overhead. This signifies to the medical staff that a competitor needs medical attention.
While running up the mountain, people behind us started crossing their arms overhead and calling out for a medic. We did the same, and the "cross arms, medic call" made a chain up the hill to the top where medical personnel could respond. It turns out that a participant passed out cold while running up the hill. The medic call technique worked flawlessly, and the medical personnel responded quickly.
Once my wife and I got to the top of the hill, we did a little flat land jogging and approached the next obstacle. This one involved sliding on our stomachs through mud underneath barbed wire placed 8 to 10 inches above our heads. No problem there, but we did encounter our first taste of real muddy mess. That's what we signed up for, right?
We then jogged and walked a little bit until we reached the next obstacle called Trench Warfare. We needed to crawl into muddy trenches covered by plywood and dirt. There was no light in there, but the obstacle was simple enough. We got out unscathed, but I did get a few abrasions on the elbows and knees during the obstacle.
Right around the next corner was the first set of walls to climb. There were two walls to climb, and each wall was about 8 to 10 feet high. My wife and I needed a boost to get up to the top, but camaraderie was abundant and a couple of guys helped boost us up. Once we got to the top of the walls, we helped our fellow Mudders up and then hopped down. When landing, I was a little concerned about ankle sprains by twisting an ankle in the mud, but the ground was firm and no injury occurred.
After climbing the walls, we once again were led up the mountain, this time underneath a web of ropes known as the Devil's Beard. Again, teamwork and camaraderie helped us up, as other Mudders would work together by holding the ropes up. The climb up the mountain after the obstacle was pretty steep, but we managed to tackle it with no problem.
When we got to the top of the hill, we encountered another injured participant. A medic was tending to a runner with a knee injury. The medic was performing knee special tests, and I overheard that he felt it was a meniscus injury or ligament sprain. The participant had been wearing a knee brace, so I suspected he had a previous knee injury. Regardless, his day on the mountain was over.
Moving on in the Tough Mudder course we encountered another obstacle where we had to carry a log down, and then back up, the mountain. Not a terribly tough challenge, but I did feel a bit of shoulder pain while carrying the log. One of the hallmarks of the Tough Mudder is the use of electricity in some of the obstacles. After carrying the log my wife and I came to Electric Eel, an obstacle where participants commando crawl in muddy water underneath electrified wires hanging down from overhead. We handled this without a problem and avoided the wires. It was not a shocking experience.
Then we ran to the next obstacle where we had to traverse a pond while hanging from a cable. The total distance was about 30 yards, and I was able to hang on with my arms and legs. After getting to the other side, I started to feel pain and tightness in my calves and Achilles tendons. A little calf stretching and we were ready to move on.
More climbing up the mountain up a steep slope called Cliff Hanger required some teamwork. People were struggling, and some Mudders needed to help from teammates to make it to the top. During the climb, I started feeling my right quadriceps muscle start to tighten, and I did a few quad stretches when I reached the top of the hill.
Up on top of the hill were hundreds of old tires that we had to run over "football style." We managed to do this without a problem, although my wife did fall down when she caught her foot on a tire.
More camaraderie was encountered when we came upon the Spider's Web, a cargo net that was strung up about 15 feet in the air. A group of Mudders on the opposite side of the netting would hang on the bottom of the ropes to provide stability to the netting. After climbing over, my wife and I took our turns holding the netting down, and then continued on our journey.
We made our way through the mud and over some barrels to another pond. We climbed up on a 15 foot plank and hopped into the water. We swam to the side and crawled out of the pond. Easy peasy.The next obstacles involved logs. First we had to make our way over and under logs while walking in waist-deep muddy water. Some of the logs had barbed wire on top, so we were forced to go under them. Besides the horrible odor, this obstacle was pretty easy.
The next obstacle was one with logs that were bolted together forming a matrix of logs. Mudders had to crawl under or climb over these logs. By this point in the run, our bodies were getting pretty tired. Climbing over and crawling under logs was pretty daunting. My wife scraped her forehead on a bolt as she climbed over one log, but no real injury occurred.
After climbing over logs, we jogged a bit to another electricity obstacle. The Dark Lightning obstacle required that we commando crawl into a covered area of mud. It was totally dark inside, and occasionally a dim light would flash giving us a glimpse of what may lie ahead. Electrified wires were hanging down from the low ceiling, and we had to scoot through the mud in the dark to make it out. The flashing lights helped us avoid any wires, and we did not get shocked.
During the crawl through the dark, my wife did smash her knee on a small rock, and she complained of knee pain afterwards. She said it felt like patellar bursitis, but she was able to continue along.
By this point in the Tough Mudder, we were 8 miles into the course and feeling pretty tired. We again had to climb uphill, which we managed to do slowly. Halfway up the hill we passed a runner who couldn't walk because of quadriceps spasm. His teammates carried him up the hill and he did some quad stretching to help relieve the spasm.
We then came to Funky Monkey, as set of monkey bars that spans about 20 feet over water. My wife and I tried to make it across, but we both fell a few rungs into the obstacle. At least we tried.
We then came across another set of wooden walls to climb over, but this time the walls were about 12 feet high. We helped a couple guys up to the top, and then some other Mudders help push us up and over. Again, I was a little concerned about hanging down from the top and landing in the mud. An ankle fracture was not on my to-do list. Luckily we made it over the walls, helped a few others make a soft landing, and continued on our way.
After the walls, we had a little flat land running to do, but we took it easy since my wife's knee was a little sore. I was happy to walk a bit too since my calves and quads were feeling pretty tight. We ran through some fire (really) and then came upon the balance beam obstacle called Twinkle Toes.
The obstacle is a 20 foot balance beam situated over a pool of water. I usually demonstrate balance exercises to my patients in the clinic so I was able to handle the obstacle with no problem. My wife almost got to the end, but she lost her footing and fell into the pool. After swimming to the end she climbed out and we were once again on our way.
We knew we were just past the nine mile mark and that we were almost finished with the course. We quickly crawled through a pair of corrugated tubes that led us into a pond of muddy water, and then we were on to Everest, the giant quarter pipe obstacle.
This obstacle requires participants to run at full speed up the ramp. Usually, other Mudders are at the top to help pull you up. My wife tried a few times, but I think she was about out of gas and was unable to make it.
I ran full speed up the ramp and was quickly pulled up by two other Mudders. I then helped another participant, and then I climbed down the wooden ladder on the opposite side. I started feeling a sharp pain in my left middle finger, and when I looked down I noticed my finger was covered in blood. I wiped it off on my muddy shirt (not recommended), but the blood kept coming. Closer inspection revealed a pretty deep cut in my finger. I saw a medic standing next to the final obstacle near the finish line and asked him for a Band-Aid. Unfortunately, he did not have one. I figured I would get patched up in the medical tent at the end.
The final obstacle was called Electroshock Therapy, and it is a wooden frame with hundreds of electrified wires hanging down. Participants are required to run through a muddy mess under the wires to reach the finish line.
In physical therapy, we use many different therapeutic modalities, including electrotherapeutic treatments like TENS and neuromuscular stimulation. But there is no real way to train for this obstacle. You simply have to run as fast as possible through the wires and hope for the best.
My wife and I started running together, but she stepped in a hole under the water and tripped. I was about midway through, so I kept going. The shocks on my shoulder and chest were pretty painful, and they made my muscles jump quite a bit when they made contact with my body, but I was able to make it safely through. Like a true Tough Mudder, my wife got up after falling and continued through to the end. We crossed the finish together and completed our first Tough Mudder.
After the event, we had our obligatory beer and then I reported to the medical tent. There we saw a few other participants with lacerations on the knees and elbows and one man using the R.I.C.E. method on his sprained ankle. My cut finger was washed and a bandage was applied by the medic. My wife and I then washed off in the hose area and changed out of our muddy clothing.
Great event, great day, and great fun.
If you are thinking of participating in a Tough Mudder competition, your local physical therapist can help you devise an appropriate training schedule to accommodate any specific injuries or conditions you may have. If you have run the Mudder, you may need your physical therapist to help put you back together again.