The Final Obstacles

October 20 I officially ended my OCR season with the Tri-State Tough Mudder. This particular location (Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ) is allegedly the hardest of the Tough Mudder locations and is home to the World’s Toughest Mudder competition which will be held next month.  The event promised to be “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.” After competing in Spartan Races, I wasn’t expecting it to remotely live up to that statement, but I gave it the chance to be at least a really fun day in the mud.

I registered in July with a team of 7. After confirming the registrations, the computer screen said we would be sent our final wave times before the event day. This was troubling to me because Jay and Matt had done the Tough Mudder last year with an 8AM start time. I sprung for a hotel room for them because it would have totally sucked for them to have a crappy night’s sleep in anticipation only to have to wake up to leave for the venue before daybreak. I kept thinking how hard it would be to find a hotel this year for 7 people at the last minute, but how it would be a waste of money to book one early only to find out we had a noon start time.

I kept my eye on the local hotels until we finally got word on our start times NINE DAYS before the event. Phew 12:40. Not bad. Can leave the New York at around 10 and get down there in plenty of time to pick up our packets and get warmed up. But what’s that down in the Participant information? No onsite parking? What the hell is that about? I did my first race ever at Raceway Park and there was no shortage of parking. The guys said that parking wasn’t an issue last year at the Tough Mudder either. What gives?

Whatever. It’s not like we’ve never had to park down the road and take a stinky school-bus to the actual venue.

Wait a second, the parking lots aren’t even in Englishtown? Our assigned parking lot is the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. FORTY minutes by bus to the Raceway. And we need to allow ourselves 2 hours to park, grab the shuttle, and check in before our start time. Well, we’ve got to leave the house by 7:30AM to make our wave.

Meanwhile, as I am getting cranky already about this foolishness, Outside Magazine publishes this telling article about the creation of Tough Mudder and its battles with my beloved Spartan Race and Warrior Dash.

I kept reminding myself that I was just going to do the Tough Mudder for fun. I shouldn’t compare it to Sparta.

So bright and early Saturday morning, we all pile in to my girlfriend Colleen’s SUV (to save on parking fees) and head down the Garden State. We pull into the PNC parking lot and are pointed back onto the Parkway to the spillover PNC lot. Our usual modus operandi is to leave our clean clothes and shoes in the car and come back to change after the race before the post-race fun. Since we were miles away, we decided to shove all of our stuff into a couple of bags and actually use the bag check tent instead. We walk about a mile to get to the main parking lot by the front gate of the Arts Center where the shuttles picked us up and drove us to the Raceway.

We arrived in time to register, check our bags, and get to the start line. Tough Mudder got its first batch of cool points from me right there- they had a wall blocking the start line which we had to get over before even thinking about starting. We all took a knee when prompted by the MC and thanked our Veterans. We sang the National Anthem. We jumped and cheered and started the run.

The obstacles were all pretty cool. The Arctic Enema, which was a dunk in a water- and ice-filled Dumpster, was freezing (duh.) The Walk the Plank (15′ jump into water) was no biggie after the 18′ cliff jump in the Super Spartan. I burpeed on a few obstacles- monkey bars, swinging across rings, log hop (couldn’t get my footing,) and this smoke-filled slide thing that freaked me out. I didn’t have to do burpees, as there are no penalties at Tough Mudder, but I couldn’t bring myself to just skip or fail an obstacle with no repercussions.

The real challenge to this event was navigating the super-thick, chunky, dense mud that went on and on and on. It took most of my strength just to wallow through some of the spots where I had heavy mud up to my chest. It was life-sucking mud that took small-framed women and big, burly dudes down with the equal efficiency. It stuck to your clothes in inch-thick layers and seeped through compression gear like it was cheesecloth. I think by the time I was out of the worse mud bog, I weighed at least 15lbs more than I did when I went in.

By the end of the course, my team was cold and exhausted and just wanted it to be over. It was tons of fun, don’t get me wrong. I would totally do it again, but I was in too much pain from an aggravated previous injury that left me unable to run, to want to be on that course at that time.

After a jog through the legendary Electroshock Therapy, which felt like this:

Those guys falling to the ground in the videos must be the world’s biggest pansies or the world’s best actors.

we crossed a very anti-climactic finish line to receive our orange headbands. We were cold and filthy so we immediately went over to bag check to get into some dry clothes. It took forever for my husband to find our bag.  Things weren’t where they had been left – big shocker there- but he did eventually find it and I grabbed my clean leggings, Spartan Race t-shirt, and flip-flops and headed to the ladies room to attempt to get clean-ish. Colleen and I hit the sinks and rinsed off our arms and hands enough to handle our own clothes, then hid in an abandoned staff tent to change.

When we got back to the guys they were shoving burgers and fries in their faces and handing us cardboard trays of the same. Between chews they inform us that the last shuttle is leaving in 10 minutes and we need to hurry. I was incredulous. We were far from the last people to cross the finish line. Hell, we had left at least 100 people behind at Everest (half pipe climb.) There was no way this rumor was true.

Oh but it was. We hustled to the PNC shuttle line dropping french fries and foil blankets in our wake only to have to wait for 20-30 minutes to actually make it on a bus. The shuttle dropped us off and we walked to the car.

No we didn’t ! This wasn’t the right parking lot! We were on the right bus, right? Yes. Yes we were. Why do I not see the PNC? My brother scurried over to the woman with a clipboard at the driveway of the lot who maybe possibly knew something. Clipboards = knowledge, right? She said we were in the overflow lot. Fat lot of good that is. We were picked up in one location and dropped off in a totally different location. Could she point us to where we needed to be? Nope. But she did say that we were supposed to catch another bus to bring us to the proper PNC lot. So we head to the line of buses we assume were these alleged second shuttles. There was another group of people over there in our same situation talking to the driver of the lead bus. Then the next bus, and the next bus, and the next bus. The bus-drivers were done for the night and had no idea what this pack of muddy hooligans was talking about. This experience changed my mind about the Tough Mudder. I felt like they did not care about us after they had our money. They really arranged the shuttle service this way? It’s bullshit. I really had fun at this event, and now this is going to be my final impression of the Tough Mudder empire- leaving it’s participants in an empty parking lot without even a direction to head in.

Absolutely how we felt- minus the people try to eat us. We even joked about it as we wandered the lots.

So here we are, still cold and tired with me limping about in ridiculous amounts of pain with every step and about ready to cry, and this wonderful girl, Brooke, from the other stranded group, JUMPS in front of a bus that is trying to leave, forcing it to stop. She convinces the driver, Gladys – our new guardian angel, to bring us over to the front of the PNC Center so we could find our cars. We all pitched in and give Gladys a really nice tip. She wouldn’t accept it, but Brooke left the money on the dashboard for her. We would all have been wandering around New Jersey trying to find our vehicles if it wasn’t for that driver.

Our large group of lost Mudders walked together to our cars. We were stopped by a New Jersey State Policeman who wondered what we were doing out there. When we explained, he said that it was happening a lot out there that night. This just further reaffirmed to me that Tough Mudder really fucked up. If it was just us, I’d say that we screwed up. More than our group stranded means that Will Dean and his people screwed us.

Turned out we were all in the same lot section. That ended up saving our butts, because we still had one more obstacle to go. A dead car battery. Brooke and her group came to the rescue again. Brooke ran over to another group at their car to get jumper cables and her car-mates gave us the voltage.  Part of the Tough Mudder Pledge is “I help my fellow mudders complete the course” and “I put teamwork and camaraderie before course time.” This was never more true than with this group of people.

My next OCR isn’t until May 4, 2013. Kicking it off with the Dirty Girl Mud Run in Scranton, PA. Posts until then will be slightly less muddy, but probably still messy.

P.S. I’ve been trying to find this Brooke chick on Facebook all week. My team is indebted to her and her friends. So if anyone out there in the blogosphere knows a Brooke Houghton (“like Hogan, but not” in her words) from Brooklyn, NY, please send her to this blog!

P.P.S. I am not a stalker. I promise.