Shoulder: Surgery Again!

Frozen_Shoulder_Adhesive_CapsulitisFor me the diagnosis (adhesive capsulitis) and recommendation does not come as a surprise. There comes a point in life when you get to know you body and know it well. I have been at this point for a number of years now since tearing my ACL in 2009. Along the way I changed my diet, lost a lot of weight and got healthy. That in itself has made a world of difference when it comes to my body and the aches and pains I feel. The result, surgery again on the left shoulder.

The shoulder has been an ongoing issue for the last 2 years with surgery being required in October, 2013 to reattach a torn bicep tendon. Mistakenly I pulled up my medical history and read the results from the MRI I received last year:

1. Tear of the anterior glenoid labrum. Blunting of the posterior glenoid labrum. Partial tear or thinning of the interval region of the rotator cuff.

2. Tenosynovitis of the long head of the biceps tendon.

3. Moderate degenerative changes of the glenohumeral joint with notable osteophytic spurring of the inferior articular surface of the humerus, loss of articular cartilage and slight irregularity.

To the best of my knowledge the orthopedic surgeon only reattched the bicep tendon and didn’t address the labrum tear. I could be wrong and I will inquire at my pre-surgery appointment.

Last week I received the results of my most recent MRI and the orthopedic surgeon reconfirmed his original diagnosis, ‘adhesive capsulitis’ otherwise known as frozen shoulder. Unfortunately the shoulder capsule has not responded to repeated Cortisone shots or physical therapy.

The pain has been unforgiving and my range of movement limited, not being able to raise my arm, scratch my back or squeeze my shoulder close enough together in order to squat, which is where I first experienced the problems.

Yet these problems have been ongoing since I recovered from surgery last year. The orthopedic surgeon’s PA said she had never seen anyone recover so quickly. I had no pain and my range of motion was back to normal within 4 weeks of surgery, but I took a turn for the worse near the end of November.

The reason is still unclear but I am going to assume it was too much too soon for the shoulder when I got out of the sling. I was just 2 days out of surgery and I was working on erecting the haunted house at my son’s elementary school. I can’t be sure this was the reason for the sudden increase of pain followed by the limited range of motion.

In fact I don’t know when the original injury occurred. I will guess is occurred during an adult soccer game, my last, which saw me tear my miniscus back in 2011. I do recall falling on my shoulder wrong, but I never really associated the two events until now.

Surgery is now scheduled for September 15 in Walnut Creek. It’s going to be exploratory surgery to clean up the shoulder capsule and manipulation of the shoulder in order to tear the scar tissue. It’s was described as being “simple and quick” procedure with minimal recovery time. Once the scar tissue is cleared up, the capsule will be filled with Cortisone and physical therapy will be prescribed.

I am just looking forward to FINALLY having some relief and being able to do what I want when using my shoulder, pain free. More important I can’t wait to strengthen the shoulder up and get back to lifting weights.

2014 Tough Mudder: Luna Sandals

Maybe I got caught up in the hype and excitement of reading Born to Run by ChristopherMcDougall. At the time I had not run further than 13.1 miles, finishing my first half marathon in a time of 1:58 after talking up running only 4 months earlier. After that run a co-worker recommended Born to Run and I was hooked! Much like finishing my first 50k on a runner’s high, I wanted to run…long distances. Inspired by the Rarámuri or Tarahumara I looked to transition to running sandals. If running was not enough I wanted to challenge myself and wear Luna Sandals for Tough Mudder.

I compared Luna Sandals with a competitor’s product (Xero Shoes) and based solely on price I bought the competitor’s “do it yourself” sandals. The learning curve was quite steep and I ended up with many blisters, sore feet and calves as I learned the proper way to run while wearing sandals. Eventually, the pain subsided and my feet toughened up and running in sandals felt refreshing.

Back in May I bought my first pair of Luna Sandals, after reading reviews and looking over the inventory for a pair of trail sandals. With my decision made I purchased the Leadville Pacer and awaited the package to arrive from Seattle, Washington. There was a shipping mix up and my sandals arrival were delayed, but I did get to speak with Barefoot Ted that in itself was cool.

The addition of the Tech Straps, which came standard on this sandal allowed my heel to remain securely in place and were comfortable. I snugged up the buckle on the nylon strap and I was off and running. The only problem I had with the Tech Straps came when they got wet. The nylon wanted to stretch the long tighter I pulled these straps, the less Velcro I had to keep them attached to. At no point did the straps ever come loose. When they completely dried after the event, the nylon straps returned to normal with no extra slack in them.

The Lunas were 5mm thicker than what I had run with before and it was very comfortable. Of course I wouldn’t really know how well they would respond until I hit the trails. Much like strapping you foot into sandals for the first time, it took me awhile to transition to the the Lunas for trail running.

Last year I purchased a pair of Salomon Speed Cross 3 trail shoes for Tough Mudder. After 11 miles and 20 obstacles, my feet never dried, I ended up with quite a bit of mud caked on the shoe and between the treads. I still hailed the shoes in a positive light, but I could not get over how sore my toes were. I rechecked at a local shoe store that the shoes I had were the right size.

I went back and forth for a few months, using my Lunas on the short runs while slipping into the Salomon’s for the long trail runs. After every trail run my toes were sore. This was most evident when I ran my first 50k this past April and they were bruised to the point of nearly losing a few toenails. After that run I vowed never to run in trail shoes again.

At work or at play!From that point forward I have worn nothing but my Luna Sandals. Five days a week you can find me wearing my Lunas from work to play and trails I frequent in the local hills. I am not very comfortable in my Lunas and while the occasional rock might find it’s way between my foot and sole, a quick shake and I am back in my stride.

Recently I made the decision to run Tough Mudder in my Lunas. I did not want a repeat performance of last year. I didn’t want my feet to feel miserable. I had some doubts about the sandals and bought my Salomon’s with me…just in case. Well being “Mas Loco!” I left the trail shoes at the bag check and this monkey took to the trails and obstacles in his Lunas.

The experience was beyond anything I imagined! I made sure I tightened the sandals before venturing off to the starting corral. When the horn sounded I was off and in my element. From narrow trails to steep climbs and dusty, rock strewn descents the Lunas were flawless. I felt at home with these sandals and my confidence grew the more miles I put in.

There was a bit of hesitation prior to the start that I might have some problems on the obstacles that required traction or footholds. The soles of my Leadville Pacers were quite worn, as these had turned into my “everyday” footwear. I felt confident enough that with the assistance of my teammates I would overcome any obstacle in my way.

The obstacles that required traction, Everest and Pyramid Scheme, were no problems for the Lunas. I conquered both obstacles without any issues. No slipping or sliding, which was a minor concern prior to starting Tough Mudder. On the climbs, Ladder to Hell, Balls to the Wall and Berlin Walls the Lunas provided enough support and traction that I climbed up and over like a good little monkey.

Through the water obstacles I knew I would get mud and debris between the shoe and my foot. The great thing about this was it was easy enough to clean without requiring me to take my shoes off. Better yet, I would find some loose dirt and kick it between my foot and sandals to shorten the drying time. Once dried the loose sand just fell out. It was awesome! I ran the entire event without wet feet and shoes.

The best part about wearing Lunas to Tough Mudder, they were a real conversation starter. Sure, I saw other participants wearing Vibrams, but I no one else in Lunas or sandals. I had many people ask me about the sandals and many were shocked to learn these were my running shoes. That usually led to a longer conversation about running in sandals. I would pass others up on trails or descents and sometimes I heard, “Look, he’s running flip flops!”

From a short run on pavement to trail running to mud races, I am sold on the Luna Sandals. I was very surprised at how the Lunas performed after 20 obstacles and 11.61 or varying terrain. I knew the trail running would be no issues, but held out hope I could be successful on the obstacles. Thankfully these sandals pulled through. The next Luna challenge, my first 50k next April, the American River 50 Endurance Run. No longer do I need to worry about shoes again, as Lunas fit the bill for my on and off road challenges.

Unlike many others who donated their muddy shoes at the end of Tough Mudder, I hosed them off and they looked brand new. So clean in fact I ended up wearing them for the 2 hour drive home. You would never know I ran Tough Mudder in Luna Sandals.

2014 Tough Mudder Obstacles

While the focus of Tough Mudder is on teamwork and camaraderie, you also test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and determination. 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. 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 last year, we were introduced to 9 new obstacles and one big ass mountain; Mt. Pluto with a summit of 8,610 feet. This year TMHQ introduced the Legionnaire’s Loop, two additional obstacles for participants who have run in multiple Mudders. 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 in order of appearance on the course map are the 20 obstacles we challenged in Lake Tahoe, not to mention the 11+ miles of running and the 2400+ feet of altitude we climbed.

tm_gloryblades1. 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.

Warrior Carry2. Warrior Carry: 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. Unlike last year, this obstacle was early on in the event, with a nice wide, rock free trail. No real challenge, unless you couldn’t hold your teammate. I made sure I teamed up with a partner 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.

3. Devil’s Beard: It was early in the event when I experienced the first “WTF?” in regards to this obstacle. It wasn’t difficult, not even challenging, which made me wonder why is this even included in Tough Mudder? Maybe without a line of Mudders ahead of me, the net would have been more difficult to get under and get going, but I didn’t experience that. It was a straight forward walk, on your hands, uphill in order to get to the far side of the Devil’s Beard. Hopefully this doesn’t return in 2015.

4. Pitfall: This obstacle was the first opportunity to get “down and dirty” in the mud. As you approached muddy water, you needed to get on your belly and slide through electrified wires, down a mud berm into the water. The muddy water was only about waist high (I’m 6′-0″ tall), but you had to take it slow as you made your way through the pit that was dotted with holes you had to be wary of. Not difficult at all, but a nice little warm up of what was to come on the course.

Mud Mile5. Mud Mile: Just down the trail 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 and soft but had no concern about losing my Luna Sandals. 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.

Prarie Dog6. Prairie Dog: Not sure where the challenge in this obstacle was. It was nothing more than a black, plastic tube you climbed into and slid down. At the exit you made the decision to go feet or head first. I rolled onto my back, grabbed the top of the tube and pulled myself, ungracefully out of the tube and fell into the muddy water. From the base of the tube to the bottom of the mud was about 4′, so it was a bit longer of a drop than expected. Last year I found Boa Constrictor much more challenging, especially pulling yourself up these muddy tubes.

Hold Your Wood7. 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 uphill on a narrow, woodchip laden path. The trail was very soft with good footage, at the bottom of the hill you had to carry your wood over a small improvised berm that had been built. 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. This year I combined with two other teammates and carried a larger log around the course.

Pole Dancer8. Pole Dancer: This obstacle had me a bit concerned, much like Funky Monkey did last year. Pole Dancer requires upper body strength and determination to make it up and down the parallel bars. Most of the images I saw ad the bars in a ‘V’ shape, but it was in an ‘A’ shape for Tahoe. There was “inspirationally deep” water if you fell off. The THMQ volunteer was telling participants it’s better to make it over anyway you can rather than fall off. So many Mudders were putting their legs on the bars and pulling themselves across. I surprised myself making it across. Can’t say it was easy, as my legs were swinging wildly from side to side. I was able to keep the arms straight and walked my arms little by little over the bars until I reached the far side.

9. Kiss of Mud: A replay of an obstacle we experienced last year, but this year it was much muddier and cold than last. The TMHQ volunteer was constantly wetting the obstacle and Mudders, as we get down and dirty belly crawling through about 20′ feet of mud. The catch, the barbwire that is just 12″-14″ 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.

10. Lumberjacked: This was a log based obstacle, one in which we experienced last year, but unlike the previous challenge these logs were about 7′ high with no foothold to aid in boosting you 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 but possible.. We saw Mudders able to jump and grab, but lacked the strength to pull themselves up. Unlike last year I had the speed and strength to get my torso on the cross member and pull myself over a series of these logs.

Arctic Enema11. Arctic Enema: It wasn’t until nearly mile 7 we approached 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 shit brown. 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. A few quick steps to the edge of the pool on the far side and I pulled myself out. Once out of the pool, you climb off the structure and start to regain your body temperature. This obstacle was a letdown as it was NOT freezing. There was no ice in the water, nor were TMHQ volunteers adding any,which led me to believe they might be out of ice at the time we ran.

Pyramid Scheme12. Pyramid Scheme: Another new obstacles for 2014 and the first that required a total team effort in order to accomplish. Looking similar to Everest, but considerably muddier teams had to use team members to build a base on which others would climb on to assist them up the muddy wall. At the top of the wall another team member would lean over, being held by their feet to help pull them up the wall until they had a grasp on the top of the obstacle. Probably the most fun of the new obstacles and truly a challenging team obstacle. With a good base and a strength at the top, teams can be successful with this “scheme.”

Walk the Plank13. Walk the Plank: No fear to overcome this year at the top of the structure. I waited for the volunteer to say “Go!” and I didn’t have a second thought and jumped. It was repeated over and over that ou should be a strong swimmer to challenge this obstacle. If you can’t swim, don’t jump into the water. 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.

Cliffhanger14. Cliffhanger: Much like Devil’s Beard, this obstacle didn’t live up to expectations, based on what I read and videos I watched. Described as “all about teamwork and camaraderie…to get up a 15+ meter cliff of slippery mud angled at 45-degrees.” The only mud involved was that of the wet trail leading away from the previous obstacle. From my estimate, this was a 400′ climb up a steep quarter mile hill. I didn’t find it all that difficult, then again I am comfortable with hills and in good shape. But many struggled getting up this hill, which wasn’t covered in mud and didn’t require assistance from teammates outside of encouragement.

Berlin Walls15. Berlin Walls: No other obstacle saw more Mudders on our team “sit this one out.” Not sure if it was the height, their comfort level, strength or tiredness but only a few succeeded. 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. No issues getting up and over this year, best of all didn’t experience any leg cramps throwing my leg over the top.

Balls to the Wall16. Balls to the Wall: Another new obstacle similar to the Berlin Walls. This time around it’s one 12′ wall with a knotted rope hanging down. Positioned on the wall, 2×4 to act as footholds. The object, pull yourself up and the wall and descend the back side. With upper body strength it was simple enough to lean back, go hand over hand on the rope, using the footholds to get you to the top. I did see a few using an arms only to climb the rope. At the top, it was a quick climb down to finish the obstacle.

Ladder to Hell17. Ladder to Hell: The last of the new obstacles this was an over sized ladder about 15′ high. Your challenge, to get up and over and back down. Five large 2×8 boards made the up the ladder rungs. Even for me it was tough to climb, but I managed, one leg at a time to reach the top of the ladder. I threw one leg over, followed by the other and it was time to descend the back side. It was slow going and the most difficult part was mustering the energy to beat this obstacle.

Funky Monkey18. Funky Monkey: Strangely enough the monkey bars were my biggest fear again this year. I was not sure how my left shoulder would fair because of ongoing pain. I fully expected to find the drink and swim out the other side. 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. I did wear gloves for the obstacle and had no grip issues while moving through the rungs. Nearing the end I underestimated the remaining distance to the platform and I let go just a rung early, but still landed (on my ass) on the platform. After completing 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.

Everest19. 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. More so than last year, this obstacle lacked any mud or grease that was advertised to be all over the fiberglass pipe on the front of the structure. Many Mudders made the top of the obstacle with no problems, both men and women. Being this late in the event I had my doubts, as I was the first of our team to run it. I had enough speed, grabbed the 2×4 at the top and easily pulled myself up to the platform. Like a few of the previous obstacles, Everest was a bit disappointing.

Electroshock Therapy20. Electroshock Therapy: The quintessential Tough Mudder obstacle you must go through in order to earn your orange headband and a cold Dos Equis. One of the few obstacles you can compete as a team in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. Prior to tackling the high voltage, TMHQ volunteers were spraying Mudders down with water before they started their run. Myself and two teammates locked arms and went charging through the mud and electrical wires. The uneven terrain was tough to navigate while getting shock after shock from the wires. I did find this a bit more challenging than last year and was shocked countless time. We made it about halfway before the guy in the middle was struck and went down, we followed suite, got back up and finished the obstacle. We were rewarded with the orange headband and a cold beer at the bottom of the hill.

After Everest and prior to Electroshock Therapy returning Mudders had the opportunity to run the Legionnaire’s Loop, which included three additional “mystery” obstacles. Part of the draw this year was me was to run some of these obstacles. Unfortunately after spending 6.5 hours on the mountain, pushing nearly 4pm we made the decision not to run this loop.

The three obstacles were near the start/finish line and we saw them for a long time before actually getting to them. Also, from what I hear after the fact included another Prairie Dog type type obstacle with (reportedly) high voltage wires prior to entering the tube. The next obstacle was built on Funky Monkey, instead of pulling yourself over the ‘A’ frame of rungs, you pulled yourself across two piece of pipe hanging over the water. At the mid point you had to transition to the second pipe. This looked tough.

Finally to finish the Legionnaire’s Loop one of the most impressive obstacles called Leap of Faith. Mudders would run off a platform, jump over a muddy pool and grab a cargo net in an attempt to use all your upper body strength to pull yourself up. The challenge was to get onto the net, if not you were going for a swim. For those lucky enough to make the jump, you climb the obstacle and descended the net on the far side. Great looking obstacle, hopefully we have the opportunity next year for this.


The trail running was more challenging this year and based on my Garmin FR210 I logged 11.61 miles from start to finish with a elevation gain of 2,489 feet. The first 6 miles were virtually all uphill, minus the first half mile that let Mudders run downhill. At points it felt distances were longer between some obstacles, with 14 obstacles within a 5-10 minute walk of the start line for spectators. There were some challenging ascents, which many Mudders walking. The descents were very technical with slower Mudders walking, soft dirt and many visible and loose rocks and the occasional single track. Surprisingly for 2 years now, the altitude has not bothered me, not sure than can be said for all though. Get your running in before you challenge Tough Mudder, especially in Tahoe.

I wasn’t impressed with the course layout. I understand the idea of positioning obstacles closer together so spectators can watch their loved ones, but to have 11.61 miles of running I feel there could have been better placement. As I mentioned previously, there were a few obstacles, which were an out and back configuration. The worst offender being the Berlin Walls, which was probably just over a 2 mile run from the obstacle before it, to the obstacle following it.

The only steep ascent was on Cliffhanger, this was a short climb just over a quarter of a mile, but it was steep and claimed many Mudders who stopped to rest or wait for teammates. The only other climb that was slow was a half mile from the start, which led to Glory Blades, but the climb wasn’t as steep, but as the rule of thumb goes in trail running, if you can’t see the top, walk. Many Mudders did just that.

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. 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.

Fantasy Football Love Lost

No longer does fantasy football rule my life. Saturday marks the 31st year I have organized and participated in the TFL or Toumi Football League. What started back in the early 80’s with 6 close friends who played soccer together has grown into lifelong friendships that span the coast of California. Through the years we have lost a few diehards, but gained new blood and made new friendships, yet the core group have been together for 31 years. It’s quite an amazing achievement, considering what the league and fantasy football in general has grown into.

A few years back I stumbled upon Fantasy Football Starters, a fantasy football site based out of Phoenix, Arizona. I started participating on their forums during the season and was asked to be a moderator, which was a wonderful gesture. I felt as if I might regain a love I had lost for fantasy football and possibly see that flame ignite while being an active participant and being involved.

Unfortunately 3 years later I emailed the guys behind FFS and told them to remove my alias as a moderator as fantasy football was no longer a priority in my life. In fact I have no interest in watching the NFL, sports in America have degraded that much. In these days of big money, poor sportsmanship, increased injuries and nonstop advertising I no longer care about the NFL, MLB, NFL and never did watch the NBA. Sports have no relevance in my life, outside of international football (soccer those American struggling to call it football).

So where does that leave me for fantasy football? I am acting commissioner in two leagues, the TFL and my work league, but won’t actively participate in the drafts. Actually considering an auto draft in my work league. Why not? The winning team did that last year. As for the TFL, I am sure many of the owners I call friends, aren’t happy with my lack of interest and participation. No longer do I make the roadie to Las Vegas or Palm Springs, as family and career come first. Not sure they all understand that, but I don’t expect them to. I would probably do better to call it quits and let more new blood join the league.

Not sure that even winning the league would increase my excitement about the game or the NFL. That is how bad it has gotten. So with that said I will participate, but it won’t be to the degree that I lived and breathed football, waiting for the Thursday night games and MNF. It’s just another sport that has become irrelevant in my life. Hopefully the interest remains, or I will lose contact with a number of childhood friends.

2014 Tough Mudder Experience

toughmudderAre you tough enough?” Designed between 10-12 miles to test your all-around strength, stamina, teamwork and mental grit, Tough Mudder is dubbed as “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet. Probably.” This year, like 2013 the event in Northern California was hosted at Northstar Caliifornia, Lake Tahoe on Saturday, August 16. After finishing last year I knew before we donned the orange headband I would back this year for more fun, more mud and more challenge. After all, “Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge” as repeated in the The Mudder Pledge just prior to starting the course.

Mudder preparation actually began last year, when I signed up early to get a $99 entry fee. The sooner you sign up and make that commitment the more time you have to train. This year, TMHQ had a sweet deal with the Global Mudder sale of tickets for 2015 at $79 during a 48 hour span. Enough of the non-race related material, let’s bleed orange.

toughmudder_groupThis year was considerably different from last year, not necessarily a bad thing, as the organization was much improved over the 2013 event. This was first seen when we arrived at Northstar Village and had to wait until 7:20am to get registered. Unlike last year, registration was done at the bottom of the hill in the village, which was expedited by scanning your Tough Mudder ticket and assigned number separately. No more waiting in individual lines based on your the spelling of your last name. It also helped that we were there early and in line waiting for registration to open.

Once we had our assigned number it was off to ride the gondola to the staging area to preparation for the start of the challenge. First wave was scheduled to go off at 820am, our PLANNED start was 840am, which we didn’t make. This gave us time to place our bag at the bag drop, which was a $10 fee. I took the opportunity to get my head shaved into a mohawk. We walked around looking at some of the exhibits, signed the Tough Mudder wall and received our Mudder Nation Legionnaire Loop wristband. This was something new for 2014, more it in later.

toughmudder_knucklesWe waited for the remainder of our team to join us before we made our way to the starting corral. Unlike last year, there were 14 obstacles within 5-10 minutes walk of the Day Lodge. Good planning, poor layout. While the event seemed more organized at the point without the crowds for registration, there were some later complications that should be addressed for next year. Unfortunately we missed our start time by about 60 minutes. Part of our group was late to the party and got caught up in a long registration line. It took quite a bit of organization and communication within our team to get everyone together and into the starting corral together. For some it would the first and only time we would see some of our teammates until we crossed the finish line.

Overall the Tough Mudder experience was awesome! No other way to describe it when you are out there pushing yourself to succeed. Unlike last year I wasn’t a nervous about “facing my fears” as I really didn’t have any. I knew what to expect, even though there were 9 new obstacles (not including the Legionnaire’s Loop). In fact, those of us who had participated in TM previously were looking forward to the added obstacles in the Legionnaire’s Loop!

toughmudder_pyramidscheme01This year I felt the course was more challenging with great elevation changes through out the course. There seemed to be some longer distances (still not a mile between any of them) between some obstacles, as well as a few out and back loops that I was particularly fond of. The addition of ‘Cliffhanger’ as an obstacle saw a 400′ climb in just over a quarter of a mile. When approaching it it appeared to be constant line of Mudders in a death march to the top of the hill. Generally the first portion of the course was uphill, even though we started with a quick sprint downhill for about half a mile.

Some individuals were dinged up coming into the event, an ankle here, a shoulder there. Others weren’t necessarily in shape, but the great thing about TM is there is no prototypical body time that can challenge the course. Everyone out there is participating for their own reasons. My reasons, to push myself harder than I did last year, which is a bit difficult to do when you do not leave a fellow Mudder behind. I wasn’t the best teammate, as I wanted to run between obstacles, much like I did last year. So, sorry to my teammates for leaving you behind, but waiting at the next obstacle.

toughmudder_group02Even though I indicated this event was better than last year, it was not without some criticism. First some of the new obstacles were pretty weak. The Devil’s Beard was one such obstacle that I don’t need to see next year. It’s wasn’t a challenge. I was also disappointed in Arctic Enema. TMHQ, where the hell was the ice? Sure the muddy water was cold, but nowhere near freezing like last year. Some of the obstacles we faced last year weren’t as difficult this year. That was true of Everest, which wasn’t muddy and with good traction many on our team were able to make it up unassisted. Another obstacle that failed was Cliffhanger, which was tabbed as a, “15+ meter cliff of slippery mud angled at 45-degrees. Maybe you even start with good intentions. But soon a muddy sprint up onto the slope turns into a crawl with handholds and footholds in short supply.” For Tahoe it was that previous mentioned death march up a steep incline. There was no mud, some foot and handholds. As long as you kept moving (even slowly) Cliffhanger wasn’t as difficult as advertised. Finally, Lumberjacked, where you pull yourself over a 1.5m log hurdle, this obstacle seemed easier this year as I didn’t require am assistance to get my leg over.

I understand Tough Mudder is as much a spectator sport as it is a competition, but to have 14 obstacles only a 5-10 minute walk I feel caused some problems. The first problem, the distance to some obstacles and there were two in particular that were out of the way, which required you to double back on the trail you arrived on. Everest worked better than the Berlin Walls, as these were the two obstacles required competitors to loop back.

toughmudder_trailrunningThe other problem when you closer to the the finish line there were more and more spectators fouling the trails. Sure there was an attempt to cordon dedicated corridors for Mudders to run in. Unfortunately with many walking, these narrow corridors because jammed up, seeing others run on the trail that was marked for spectators. It was a mess and completely disorganized and at times unsafe. Hopefully cramming 14 obstacles so close to each other will be changed next year.

Finally the finishing obstacles were somewhat unspectacular, as was achieving the halfway mark. Last year there was a challenging ascent to the top of Mt Pluto with spectators cheering you on. This year, nothing. I didn’t even know I had hit the summit as there was very little fanfare like last year. The same can be said for the finish line. Electroshock Therapy didn’t seem to be set in a good viewing area for spectators. All the competitors seemed to congregate in the mud at the exit of the obstacle with only a narrow path down to the finish. As with any event you take with good (which there was a lot of) with the bad and look towards improving the event in 2015.

toughmudder_electroshock02Initially we had about 26 signed up on Otto’s Mudders, but started with 20. That number quickly broke down further before the first obstacles. Eight of the original 20 took off at a quicker pace thinking the rest of the group was ahead of them, when in reality they were behind. The two groups passed around mile 9 as we neared the finish. The next time we saw each other was at the conclusion of the race. Of the remaining 12 Mudder, two were kids who took off to finish the course in about 3.5 hours. That left 9 of us to finish the course. We had grandiose images of finishing in 4 hours, maybe 5 hours. It was 6:45 before we crossed the finish line. Like 2013, this is far too long to spend running in the event. Yet only 2 who started did not finish, but they plan on returning next year because they had fun.

Overall I loved the event and until I can no longer participate I plan on returning to Lake Tahoe to continue to challenge the course. In fact I would like to get two events in for 2015, as there is a Los Angeles event in March. Great time, great team and we all had fun. What else could you ask for? And yes, we got our Dos Equis at the finish!