While the focus of Tough Mudder is on teamwork, you also test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. Individually you must be ready to “dig deep” in order to overcome your fear as you step up to challenge the Tough Mudder obstacles. For some it’s narrow, dark places, others sub-zero water or even heights. For me, it was monkey bars, must be some childhood memory I have stashed, but I had never been very strong, which left me a few rungs short when playing on the monkey bars. Tough Mudder obstacles require a variety of strength and skills, as well as teamwork in order to accomplish them.
While we didn’t experience all the obstacles in the Tough Mudder – 2013 Lake Tahoe event, we did challenge 19 obstacle and one big ass mountain; Mt. Pluto with a summit of 8,610 feet. Below are a summary of each obstacle. Prior to getting into the starting pen we experienced a small wall you must get over before you tackle the rest of the course. Listed below n order of appearance on the course map are the 19 obstacles we challenged in Lake Tahoe, not to mention the 10 miles of running and the 2000+ feet of altitude we climbed.
1. Glory Blades: These are 8′ wooden walls with a 25-30 degree slant toward the approach side. On the back side of the slated wall, is a smooth surface to slide down. With no foot aid to assist in grabbing the top of wall, this obstacles might require a teammate to give you a boost. This is just one of many obstacles that require a Mudder to pull themselves up in order to kick one leg over the wall before transitioning to the smooth, downside of the Glory Blades. Some of our team used the wooden braces on the edge of the obstacle to help them get a footing and get over the slanted wall.
2. Kiss of Mud: The first obstacle that lived up to it’s name as Mudders get down and dirty as they are required to belly crawl over about 20′ feet of mud. The catch, the barbwire that is just 8″ above the mud. It’s a must to keep the head and butt down, using forearms to pull you forward. With our early start time the obstacles wasn’t as muddy as expected (see image). Unlike some pictures I had seen, we were not pulling ourselves through a sea of brown water. In fact one lane had virtually no water in it and very little mud, as a results some Mudders decided to take the “easy” way out of this obstacle.
3. Arctic Enema: After a quick mud bath and a short run it was time to face the sub-zero temperature of the Arctic Enema. Much had been made about this obstacle on how to pass it. Unlike the pretty green water I saw in You Tube videos and images, our pool looked like shit brown, as volunteers were madly pouring bags of ice into the pool. After a short climb to the top of the platform I decided to jump as far as possible before hitting the freezing water. A step or two forward and I felt for the bottom of the wooden wall that divided the pool and quickly submerged myself, coming up on the other side. Unfortunately, the individual in front of me stopped and I was delayed getting out of the pool on the opposite site. There is no step inside the pool to assist in getting out. This is also the first obstacle in which you could experience cramps due to the cold water. Once out of the pool, you climb off the structure and start to regain your body temperature.
4. Just the Tip: From my understanding there was a similar obstacle last year to Just the Tip. This year it seems they removed the lower strip of wood which Mudders used to cross a pool of cold, colored water. Using small, wooden steps Mudders climbed up onto the structure and took hold of a 2×4 that was attached to a plywood wall. You were then required to move your hands horizontally in order to cross the pool of water, while your legs serve as a pendulum in order to create a swing-like movement to assist you. Nothing too difficult about this obstacle, the most difficult part is having adequate grip strength. For taller Mudders being able to grab as far down the 2×4 as possible shortened the distance they were required to travel to make it safely to the other side.
5. Logjammin: This obstacle was a series of logs and barbed wire that required you to go up and over or down and under in order to achieve the objective. The logs were about 4′ high, as you grab the log, you would pull yourself up and over and come down the other side. This was followed by strings of barbwire that required you to go under the following log. It was a series of 8-10 logs to complete before come out the far side of the obstacle. Some assistance might be required for teammates who struggle with upper body strength.
6. Lumberjacked: I was somewhat surprised to see a similar obstacle to that of Logjammin as the next obstacle. It was another log based obstacle, but unlike the previous challenge these logs were about 7′ high with no foothold to aid in boosting your over the log. I did see some Mudders with the upper body strength jump up, grab the log and pull themselves over, but the majority of Mudders used the team concept and boosted teammates up to the apex of the log, where they threw their legs over and came down on the far side. Running up to and jumping up was challenging. We saw Mudders able to jump and grab, but lacked the strength to pull themselves up. Another Mudder I saw jumped and grabbed the log and then fell onto the ground. Team concept worked well here.
7. Trench Warfare: This was the first of a few obstacles that challenged those who might be claustrophobic. As you come up on the obstacle, all you could see was the entrance and exit, as the top was covered with plywood and earth on top it. Once you got to the entrance, it was a 3′ wide trench as I started into the darkness I realized it was not as bad as I thought it would be. There was light being let in by holes in the ceiling. As you enter the obstacle you cannot see the exit. Why? This trench jogs to the left and the right, requiring you to navigate the corners before seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
8. Electric Eel: The Eel was the first of two obstacles that had high voltage associated with it. Much like the Kiss of Mud this obstacle required you to belly crawl through mud over a slippery surface while high voltage wires hung down from the 2′ high wooden structure. I heard the voltage zap a few Mudders while pulling myself though the Electric Eel. I saw the damage after the fact, when a Mudder too a jolt off the top of the forward, leaving him with blood streaming down his face. I was fortunate, I had no zaps, as I kept my head and slowly crawled my way through. As I neared the exit, I rolled onto my back and pulled myself out by grabbing onto the wooden structure.
9. Berlin Walls: No other obstacle claimed more Mudders in our group than the Berlin Walls. This obstacle is a series of two 12′ high wooden walls. About 4′ up is a 2×4 that Mudders us as a foothold in order to boost you up in order to grab the top of the wall. At that point the wall is only half conquered. Upper body strength is required to pull yourself up in order to kick that leg over, as you pull your up. On the back side of the wall, it was necessary to get the second leg over and hold the top of the wall, letting your body swing down before dropping to the ground below. We had 3 Mudders come away with leg cramps, myself included after finishing the walls. Our toughest Mudder of the day required help getting onto the wall and assisting him to the top of the wall. Unfortunately he rolled his cajones and ended up losing his grip and slipping off the backside of the wall with a loud, “THUD!” With the exception of Everst, the Berlin Walls required a team effort to get everyone safely over the walls.
10. Kiss of Mud #2: Much like the second obstacle, it was another belly crawl through mud in Kiss of Mud #2. Much like the first mud crawl, this was a straight forward obstacle. Being able to keep your head and butt down and pull yourself forward with with forearms made accomplishing this obstacle straightforward and easy. Much like the first Kiss of Mud, they had a TM staff member constantly spraying water onto the obstacle. Still it was not as muddy as I expected it to be. That could have changed as the day wore on and more Mudders went through it. Stay low and crawl!
11. Boa Constrictor: Here was another obstacle that caused me a bit of pre-Mudder anxiety. I am not claustrophobic, but did have one incident in an MRI chamber once and these drainage tubes reminded me of incident. This is a series of 2 drainage pipes, the first descends into a pool of muddy water and the second ascends back uphill, where you exit the obstacle. Going in on your belly and sliding down the first portion of the obstacle was easy. The muddy water wasn’t deep and you could crawl on your knees to the next pipe. The problems were twofold. First, going into the pipe too soon required you to stop and wait in the pipe, probably not the most comforting feeling if you don’t like close spaces. Second starting into the second pipe you quickly found out you had very little traction and not much to grab onto in order to pull yourself up the pipe until you could reach the edge of the pipe and pull yourself out. Some Mudders required a hand to assist them up and out the pipe. Looking back, this obstacle was not as challenging as my mind made it out to be.
12. Funky Monkey: Strangely enough the monkey bars were my biggest fear headed into Tough Mudder. I felt I did not have enough strength to carry myself 20′ over monkey bars set in an ‘A’ frame. I fully expected to find the drink and swim out the other side. There were rumors that the rungs moved in your hands when you grabbed them. That was not the case during Tough Mudder. I stepped up and grabbed as far forward as possible (3rd rung I believe) and started off. I felt good and was surprised when I got to the apex and was half way home. What helped me was the support of a teammate just to the right on another set of monkey bars. I did wear gloves for the obstacle and a few of us had experienced our gloves starting to slip off our hands as we came to the finish. After completely Funky Monkey I had a new found confidence for the remaining obstacles. The only help your team can help with are words of encouragement, this obstacle is up to you and your grip strength.
13. Mud Mile: After coming away from another aid station we were confronted with the Mud Mile. Watching from the aid station, this looked to be a very slow obstacle, having no idea how soft the mud was or how rough the terrain was under the water. Berms divided the course into separate areas requiring Mudders to climb the berms in order to move through each section of the Mud Mile. The muddy water was cold, but not so soft I had to concern myself with losing a shoe. At no point did I get stuck in the mud. The biggest problem was the lips on either side of the berm that seemed to drop off into the muddy water, making the obstacle slow going. Words of encouragement and helping hands were available for those who needed an added advantage.
14. Hold Your Wood: This obstacle tested your stamina and strength as you were required to carry a log or stump of wood 1/4 of a mile. This course was circular in nature and started on downhill on a fairly smooth path, but as you made the turn at the bottom, the climb got a bit technical. We did see many Mudders sitting along the side of the pathway taking momentary breaks. It didn’t matter how you carried the wood, some throw it over their shoulder, others above their head or holding it tight against their chest. For me it was a combination of all three ways with no resting. After the technical climb it was back to the wood pile and the completion of the obstacle.
15. Walk the Plank: My last fear to overcome, jumping off a 20′ platform into a muddy pool of water. I guess my only concern was brought to light when my sister told me a Mudder drown during the West Virginia event. It was repeated over and over that should be a strong swimmer to challenge this obstacle. TMHQ had plenty of personnel ready to jump into action if required. This obstacle was slow going because of the climb to the plank and then waiting a short period of time before the water beneath you was clear. At the top of the structure it was “show no fear” and don’t think about the height, just jump. When the water was clear it was quick run and leap into the air. Once in the water it was a short 1-2 stroke swim and grabbed the cargo net to climb out of the pool.
16. Cage Crawl: This obstacle looked to be simple and should not have caused any problems. Looks can be deceiving this obstacle was a bit more challenging than I expected. Two reasons why this obstacle was tough, the first the number of people in the water made for very slow going. Second there were portions of cage that hung very low to the water. What made that worse the cage hung even lower, sometimes in the water when you grabbed it to pull yourself forward. This became a problem when the people in front of you stopped, which was usually at the exit of the obstacle. It also felt as if the water got deeper the further you moved yourself though Cage Crawl. I did suck in quite of bit of water because of the slow going and had to favor the side of the cage to prevent me from staying submerged in water.
17. Warrior Carry: This was the home stretch as we descended Mt. Pluto. From this obstacle you could see the remaining course ahead of you. This obstacle required you to pick up and carry your teammate about 30 yards before coming to a change point, which required teammates to switch positions. The only difficulty with the Warrior Carry was the fatigued that had started to set up. Tired legs, being out in the warm weather, but still driving by that cold Dos Equis waiting for you at the finish line. I made sure I teamed up with a partner was was close to my weight and we cruised through the obstacles under control and maintained our balance and got through the Warrior Carry without falling.
18. Everest: This obstacle is essentially a quarter pipe that requires you to get a running start in order to reach the top lip of the structure. From there you must pull yourself up in order to accomplish the climb. The best part of this obstacle are the people who are at the top to lend a hand in order to help pull people to the top of the quarter pipe. What this obstacle lacked was the “grease” or mud that was advertised to be all over the fiberglass pipe on the front of the structure. I saw many people making it to the top of the obstacle with no problems, both men and women. I was tired by this point and didn’t get a good running start and needed some help to get my leg up on the top of the platform to finish the obstacle.
19. Electroshock Therapy: The quintessential Tough Mudder obstacle you must go through in order to earn your headband and Dos Equis. One of the few obstacles you can compete as a team in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. Our team locked arms, two separate groups and went charging through the mud and electrical wires. The uneven terrain was tough to navigate while getting shock after shock from the wires. This obstacle was played up a bit more than I expected. The shocks were not all that painful, but you got a good jolt when struck. It was over quickly as we came out the other side and crossed the finish line to be rewarded with our orange Tough Mudder headband. This was a great way to finish off the day, as a team completing Tough Mudder 2013 – Lake Tahoe.
Let me also mention the amount of running that could potentially be involved. If you haven’t run much, you better get out your kicks and start putting the miles in. I read another comment before this event saying something to the effect of being able to run 3-4 miles with requiring water. Fair enough, since none of the aid stations are spaced that far apart on the course.
Even with all the ascents, especially in Lake Tahoe, I would look to push your to run a few times a week, but include a long run on weekend as you build up to your Tough Mudder. I could not tell you how many people were walking the course. I know because I was one of them for various reasons. Initially I stayed back with my team through about 3 obstacles and then broke out with another team member as we wanted to put in a few miles running.
Then there were the steep ascents up Mt. Pluto, especially the final haul to the summit, which was steep! The rule of thumb goes, if you can’t see the top of the mountain, walk. That is what many participants did. For me, it felt great to run between obstacles, as it appeared I was pushing myself, considering all the running I did leading up to my first Tough Mudder. You will be the judge when you climb over the wall into the starting pen how you will approach the trails between obstacles.
Hopefully these brief descriptions of what our team experienced in Lake Tahoe will help, in preparation for an upcoming Tough Mudder event. I now have a much earned respect for the obstacles and have a better understand of how to approach them in order to be successful. I do believe all obstacles can be accomplished without aid from team members, especially if you carry the upper body strength to pull yourself up (get to those pull ups!). With that said, there is no shame in approaching obstacles with the “TEAM” concept in mind. Our team accomplished every obstacle as one, even though our group was divided between obstacles. Continue “digging deep” and pushing yourself for reward awaits once you cross that finish line.