WTM 2015 was the most amazing event I have ever been to. That sums it up but I know everyone is here for the story so buckle up and try to hold on. It started after getting in late Thursday waking up Friday and going to Breakfast. As we enter the restaurant we encounter a room sprinkled with black and orange. Instant respect and welcoming is given to those around. Then we notice the elite wolfpack team. We laughed, ate, shared some stories and clowned some people. This breakfast was kind of a microcosm of the weekend. Feeling of belonging in the World’s Toughest Mudder community, brushes with famous people in our sport, lots of laughs.
From there we went to Walmart for last minute supplies we couldn’t fly out there. If there was a sprinkle at the restaurant there was a downpour of orange and black in Walmart. Someone would yell “Hey Mudder!” to which replies of “HOORAH” would come back from another aisle. We took over Walmart! We also got to meet some mini celebrities from our group; PIS N Cox!
From there it was on to registration and pit setup. Where we had some fun, got some work done and got some swag. At pit set up, it was so cool to see all the flags from different countries. There was a lot of Australians; people from New Zeland, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and others that I am forgetting. It made the World’s Toughest Mudder event feel even bigger than it already was in my head.
That evening the community dinner brought on more laughs. Meeting people and the start of Mud brother/Mud sister friendships that are just awesome. From there Amina and I took in a Cirque show to relax and get our minds off the race. Saturday arrives, I can’t believe this day has come. It has been a mere thought for two years. The last year I have thought about this day every day. At my home for the next day and a half I get everything organized. Talk to some friends. Then the time has come to warm up. It’s happening! At the start line we gather and wait for the speech and the start of this amazing WTM 2015 race. It’s happening! Sean comes out and is right by us as he looks us in the eye and delivers this gem of a speech to start the race.(Sorry 2 parts)
We’re off! I run tempered, slowing myself at every opportunity. I walk the big hills. I try to check out the obstacles as I pass, but the terrain of rocks demanded attention.
As I completed the first lap in 55 min it was obvious 75 was not happening; which was fine, it was more like a dream anyways. I also was very prepared to change on the fly, luckily this didn’t require a change on my part just a realization. Each endurance race I’ve entered I have calculated times I could hit and depending on the course you can predict pretty quickly if those times were possible. So now it was just about having fun and pushing to make sure I got at least 50 miles, that brown bib and 24 hrs. The other thing 55 min told me was I needed to hurry to get past any obstacles. I picked up the pace, but the horn sounded to open the obstacles as soon as I got to the first one. Up Everest 2.0 I go, no problem.
On to Whales Turd which was promised to be a challenge no matter what time of day. I have to swim about 20 meters to a giant inflatable covered by a cargo net then get up and over. The water was surprisingly pretty cold and the climb up the cargo net was challenging. Once on top I thought I could just roll to the edge and fall down…that would be a negative. As I was stuck in this dip of the Whales crack I thought this is going to suck every lap. After a jog, I come to Hydroplaning- Sprinting across 3 foam mats tied together laying on the water. This was more difficult than it seemed, but did not take a lot out of you. Up a hill to the Liberator An A-frame you had to pull yourself up with pegs. Not a problem at this point. Then down a couple of hills to Abseil- A 2 story repel down a cliff with a rope. I don’t know why, but I rather enjoyed this one throughout the whole race.
At the bottom of the cliff was The Gambler- You rolled a die and the number you rolled corresponded to a wall you had to climb. All of these walls were familiar to a Tough Mudder(TM) course. Some of the walls were harder than normal by removing stepping 2×4’s or adding handles to one but not the other. I drew a 9ft wall on the first go around, I’m glad I was fresh. Over the course of the night I rolled each number at least once. A short jog to Vertigo play off TM Ladder to hell obstacle. Climb up ladder to hell, but at the top walk a balance beam while over looking the 2 stories you just climbed. After a downhill and an up hill I come to Operation. It’s exactly like the kids game, you stand in a puddle of water and take a long metal pole and reach it through a metal hole in the wall to another wall with a bunch of hooks with rubber rings on them. If the pole touched the hole in the first wall ZAPPED. If you touched the hook on the second wall ZAPPED. I reach my pole though and as soon as I hook the ring ZAP! I jump luckily pointing the pole upwards and the ring slid down onto the pole. The volunteer goes “Oh you still got it” so I carefully pulled everything back out and carry on. Another little jog to Tight Fit. probably the most annoying obstacle. 3 rows of big truck tires covered by a loose cargo net in which you could get your head, arm, leg or foot caught. You go under the net but over the tires. A little bit longer jog to Greased Monkey-TM Funky Monkey but with a tube on the back side instead of pipes. I enjoyed this and didn’t have a problem with it.
Another jog to Statue of Liberty- A swim while keeping a torch lit above water. If the torch hits the water and goes out you have a penalty. This was hardest on the first lap because I didn’t have the buoyancy of the wetsuit. Luckily I did not have to take the penalty once. A decent jog to Gutbuster- This or the Gambler was probably the most physically demanding obstacle. Suspend face down over water you walked sideways with your feet on a small wooden A-frame and your hands went from pipe to pipe. I don’t know how anyone shorter than me did this. I was fully stretched and was at the perfect height for the platform you had to reach on the other side. I definitely felt this obstacle get harder and harder as the day went on. That being said I thought it was a great obstacle. Up and down a small hill to Hump Chuck. This was the obstacle cursed online all year from WTM 2014. A swim with a wall at the end you had to clear to get out of the water. There was a 2×4 to stand on about water level. You then had to jump to another 2×4 about 7′ up then the top of the wall another foot up from that. The team work here was great all day. I could complete it on my own, but the last couple of laps I could have used some help. A decent jog to Upper Decker. I had seen a picture online before the event and it looked to be a reverse of sewage outlet from the year before. Get in chest deep water, climb up a rope to a tube, Slide down a tube, then a surprise I couldn’t see in the pic online… As I exit the tube “Why hello there barbwire” what a nice surprise. Next came a Water station. Then a slow uphill jog to King of Swingers- Jump from a platform and grab a long steel pole, swing on the pole, let go to fly and reach to ring a bell, then fall awkwardly into the water. This obstacle had a bonus, instead of a penalty for not ringing the bell, if you rang the bell you got a gold carabiner that you could used to skip an obstacle later in the race. My hands were so muddy from the crawl I desperately tried to wipe them on anything I could find, but they got just as muddy climbing up the platform and I slipped off the pole not even close to the bell. A short hop to Kiss of Mud 2.0- A barbwire crawl with a hay bale in the middle. Then we had a long uphill climb, steep enough to hike it every lap. Then a small downhill to Roll the Dice-this was the team work obstacle of the day and a lot of people’s favorite. I had mixed feelings on it. You stood belly deep water and in front stood 3 rectangular spinning tubes. They were half-submerged in water. If you had a big group you could get it spinning and 1 or 2 at a time jump up grab the top and get pulled to the other side. I’m guessing the people who said this was their favorite didn’t do it in the wee hours of the morning by yourself or just 1 other person. On this lap though, standing in the water so long gave me the same feeling as Arctic Enema on my legs. A long downhill to my favorite obstacle on the WTM 2015 course: Tramp Stamp. From a platform jump on a mini trampoline to grab a zip line and then ride it to the other side of the water. I missed it on the first lap, more water. I did the penalty and saw Amina and Nicolay. “There is so much water. Get the wetsuits ready we are going to need them.” We had great communication most of the day. Another long uphill but you could run part of it. A steep downhill. A run through a gulch to a steep uphill, Another steep downhill to Royal Flush. I enjoyed this, but on this lap I was a little tired of water. You wade through chest deep water to a tube with a rope to pull yourself up the angled tube. The twist was at the top of the tube there was a hose spraying you with water. As I exit the tube I say my usual to the volunteers. “How’s everybody doing?”
“Great! How are you doing?”
“Fantastic! I just got out of the shower!”
Then it was a pretty long slightly downhill run to WTM 2015on Mud Mile. This was not your typical mud mile, meaning you could do it by yourself. Most TM mud mile becomes the teamwork obstacle of the course and I look forward to it. I was happy you could do it by yourself today though. Then it was a jog to the finish line. At this point in the pit I changed into my wetsuit and neoprene cap; Got the rocks out of my shoes; ate and drank some; Did a system check (told Amina the knee was there but not causing any problems) and was on my way. It was still light out when I left, but about a mile in I realized I didn’t grab my headlamp — idiot. The wetsuit on this lap was the right call. Going in and out of the water was not a big deal. My hands were still muddy and I missed swingers again. This was the last lap I tried Operation. I got zapped twice and had a hard time seeing in the dark. So I said F-this and took the penalty the rest of the laps. I later learned the secret of standing in water. Not only does it conduct for you, but if the person next to you gets shocked so do you. This explained a lot about people getting shocked without touching anything. I nailed Tramp Stamp and wondered where this had been all my life, so awesome! Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be a new 2016 obstacle. There was a lot of injuries here. A broken leg and a concussion that I know about.
The last half of this lap I tried to hang with people so I could see where I was going. I was worried I would be DQ’d for not having it. I was also kicking myself thinking I would injure myself on any step. Lap 3 complete. Changed socks, got headlamp, glow sticks, ate, drank and was gone. Knee still ok. This lap they turned Upper Decker back to sewage outlet, Tricky, Tricky. Good news going this way my hands weren’t as muddy and I got swingers for the first time. Lap 4 complete. Changed socks and into neoprene socks and gloves. Ate, drank and was gone. Good things at this point I was well hydrated which was good for the body and I was peeing in my wetsuit an average of 6 times a lap. That’s like getting to stand by a fire 6 times every lap. Don’t knock it till you try it. Also don’t think I was close to being the only one doing so; I would say 100% of my fellow crazies were on board with this. At this time it was getting a bit lonely. I hadn’t run into any of the people I knew except for being around Richie and Dom for the first couple miles of the day. So I used little games to keep things interesting. Team wolfpack arrived the same time I did to Operation. I completed the penalty and thought I wonder how long I can keep them behind me. I was able to do that for 3 miles. Not gonna lie that felt pretty good. I’m pretty sure it was this lap where as I approached mile 3 fireworks started bursting. This was awesome and I spent the next 10-20mins trying not to trip as I watched. I was motivated to get one more lap in before I had to do the cliff. I was worried about jumping with the headlamp and the body was starting to ache a little bit so it wouldn’t hurt to take one less jump. Lap 5 complete about 20 min before midnight, this meant the next lap the cliff would be open.
I changed into my hood and changed shoes. Ate and drank like normal and was off. I was a marathon in and my legs were starting to get tired, but they felt better than when I have done a marathon. So that’s good. The obstacles are starting to get a little harder each lap. I found a friend on this lap. His name was Caesar, a 19-year-old who talked a bunch of junk, but he was entertaining. It was also welcoming to talk to someone more than “Good job! Keep it up!” my normal mantra as I passed or got passed by someone. The knee was starting to get worse and I started going down the steeper hills backwards. As I reached The Cliff I started to get excited. I had been dreaming about this for a year. My plan was to be as safe as possible on the first one and rehearsed the form the navy seals use to jump out of helicopters. The idea to leave my headlamp on my head and allow it to pop off since I had it tethered to my bib occurred to me while I was running. The volunteers didn’t like that and made me wrap it around my wrist and hold the lamp in my hand. My main concern was the lamp hitting me in the face. I step to the edge. 3, 2, 1, Jump…. No joke you actually have time to think cross arms, cross legs, Wait for it….Splash!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ndh8Gh_y17Y (This was later in the day but you get the idea)
That moment bad things started happening. The excitement from the jump was quickly tempered by realizing my mouth had been popped and as I surfaced I realized the main part of the headlamp had popped off and hit me in the mouth. It was already sunk nowhere to be found. I climb out and run to the pit. Now I considered not putting this part in, but it is part of my WTM story so cover the kids eyes and if you’re squeamish turn away. The only person at the pit was Aimee’s dad. Amina and Nicolay had gone to get Aimee her timing chip which she forgot when she pitted.
“I’ve got to go number 2 and I’m in a wetsuit”
“I’m here what do you need?”
Now I probably wasn’t thinking clearly. “Just take off my bib” I asked. My thinking was I would get too cold walking to the porta potty by stripping down. Once in the porta potty it was warm and I don’t know If I relaxed or what, but the urge grew and as I fumbled to get out of the suit it happened. All thoughts of the race were gone. I had one mission at this point. I cleaned up the best I could in the dark then walk back to the tent wondering what the next step is. Amina was back and I lowered the bomb. Amazingly she didn’t skip a beat got some bottles of hot water and I stood butt naked behind the generator of one of those stand up lights. I couldn’t help but think we weren’t supposed to be doing this for each other for another 50 years. I did make her put on some gloves which we were both happy about. Got cleaned up with hot water and thank goodness for wet wipes. That concludes the worst 30 mins of a race I’ve ever had. Amina equates this to child-birth in that you throw all decency and get done what you need to get done. For her she said it wasn’t even a reality. What happens in Vegas, goes on facebook, I guess. Once back on the course it was back to business as usual. I was alone again though as I lost my entertainment by taking so long.
Another great thing about this race was rubbing elbows with the elites of the OCR world. You might see these people warming up at the start of a typical race or at the end collecting their check, but here as they lap your chances to see them in action arise. I frequently saw the eventual champ Chad Trammel. I talked briefly with Pak, Boone, Atkins and Albon. I saw all of these people help others even thought they were in a race for money. Knut Koller on the hand was one of the few people I saw being a complete A-hole- I witnessed him at hump chuck jump over someone and speed off. I also would recognize people I had been seeing all year from in WTM facebook community. It was like meeting mini celebrities. I ran into Carlo and Josh from the Pis N Cox show, sharkbait, the wetsuit fairy, Ben “the Asian sensation” and his friend “the Caucasian sensation”, Lo chains, you can’t make this stuff up. I met the guy from 3am waterfalls and talked for a mile or so, he was really nice. I met Jase Lydon who put a great series of videos together about last years race, also a very nice individual. The laps kind of run together as the mostly remained the same. I made swingers once more for a total of 2 carabiners. The third time I did tramp stamp I failed, but nailed it every time after that and was status quo on the rest of the obstacles. The next jump off the cliff was a lot more enjoyable. The life guard even commented on my perfect form. Pit was much more enjoyable this time around as well. As I started this lap I knew it would be my last with darkness and that was a good feeling. It wasn’t going to get any colder. I started doing math with how many laps I could get in. For the first time all day I saw friends on the course Mike and Garrett at the Liberator. It was brief, but up lifting. Then you could notice brightness in the horizon.
As the sun rose my spirits lifted with it. Helping me ignore my body starting to wear down. I decided to jump out a little bit on the cliff this time around…that was a mistake. I could feel my feet out slightly ahead of my body and there was enough time to let out a big “OH SHIT!” sorry kids. Luckily the fear of hitting wrong was far worse than smack I encored when I hit the water. As I come up the lifeguards were looking at me with a smile
“I guess my form wasn’t as good on that one” I said.
Lap 9 complete. I pitted – ate and drank as normal and was off with the brown bib in sight! My run at this point was more like a shuffle but it was still slightly faster than my hike so I pull it out on the flats and slight uphills. I would hike the steep uphills, walk backwards down steep downhills. I was walking the downhills at this point. It was very evident people were waking up. All of a sudden there was a lot more people on the course. The previous 2 laps it was just me and another person at roll the dice. This lap there was 7. This is also where I started being around Chun Lee. He was pretty hilarious and gave me comic relief over the next couple of laps. I saw Chris and Troy on this lap as well. The thought of the brown bib gave me whatever pep I had in my step, as this was the fastest lap I had since started walking more. As I finished the lap I felt great and started to make mistakes. I told Amina to meet near then entrance with a PB&J and some chia water. I was warm so I ditched the wind gear. I had 2 laps time wise to give me 60 and I should finish sometime shortly after 2pm and I was off with the finish in my mind. As I made my way I would count down each obstacle. Next to last time I do this and that. I started thinking about the finish line bringing tears to my eyes.
Each obstacle was tough at this point. Grunts came out uncontrollably at gutbuster, the walls, and all of the crawls. These are all signs I was near my limit. I would usually take a gel at the water station half way. On this lap as I reached for one and I was out. I didn’t pay attention and never refilled since lap 4 or 5. The last 2 miles of this lap I was straight walking.
I think 2 things happened-my calories were down and by walking my adrenaline level plummeted. I should have said F-the knee and tried to run through the knee. Getting to the cliff I started seeing spots and wobbling a little bit so I started asking people if they had any gels. These 2 nice ladies shared a gel and this got my head back in the game to get off the cliff. At the entrance to the cliff I saw a couple of people laying in the sun. They were waiting for 2pm to be official finishers. It was definitely tempting, but that thought went quickly out of my head. It was 12 and I had plenty of time to get some food and get around for 60 miles. Also Let’s face it, I didn’t get to this point by taking the easy way out. I’ve pushed all year what’s a couple more hours. As I wait my turn you could hear more and more loud pops. The sound of a wetsuit smacking the water. Each POP followed by an OOOHHHH. People were getting tired and their form was going. I concentrated so that would not be me. As I exit the water I am shaking uncontrollably as I walk to the finish line. The wind was kicking up and not having the wind gear, low calories and being wet was not a good combination. So we set out to get warm. Amina is shoveling calories in me as I stood in the warm shower. I come out put my wind gear back on and go back to the tent. Wrapped up in a space blanket and a sleeping bag Amina is forcing food and hot beverages in me. All of a sudden I am warm and I inexplicably fall asleep.
I don’t know how long I was asleep. I’m guessing it was about 20min. I wake up decide I have to attempt it even if I don’t make it by 330pm. Sleeping made my whole body lock up. All of a sudden I could really feel my knee. My calf was tight on the verge of cramping; My forearms were cramping and struggling to hold on to a bottle of water. I crossed the start line about 110pm limping badly. Amina worried about me walks with me. I get to Everest and try to sprint up the halfpipe. I took 2 steps and the body said nope! As I take the penalty and go through birthcanal each time I used my hands to pull myself through my forearms would cramp. As the wind picks up even more, the water on the next obstacle looks daunting. I can’t run to warm myself up I thought. Can I even make it by 330? What’s the point if I finish with 55 miles anyways no matter what I do? I broke down and had a moment with Amina. It was over. Bottom line is I quit and technically didn’t finish. Luckily the final rankings don’t give you a DNF. I finished 87th. I am extremely proud of a top 100 finish and my race. It’s the first time I can say I left everything out there and completely emptied the tank. Of course, like any race I look back and I feel I could have done better. I will learn from my mistakes. I am coming back next year with a goal of 75 miles and the silver bib. Crazy you say? Maybe? If I continue to get better, learn from my mistakes and improve on the things I did well; I think I have a pretty good shot. The only thing that upset me is I didn’t my get finisher moment. I think about finishing towards the end of races and it gets me there.
Overall this event was absolutely amazing. The obstacles were Awesome! There wasn’t one obstacle that I thought was stupid. Some were fun. Some were physically demanding. Some were completely mental. The people make the event, is a common theme and couldn’t be more true here. The stories coming out after the event have been amazing.
One guy, on his second lap, like most people had not gotten the chance to change into a wetsuit. The sun had set. At upper decker he stood in belly deep water and helped people get up the rope. His friends got through and asked him to come on. His response “Go ahead these people need my help”. He stayed there for another 45 min until he became hypothermic and was pulled from the race. That type of selflessness was everywhere. Maybe not to that degree, but a helping hand was always there. TMHQ has since given him a free entry to WTM 2016 for his act. One lady drives from Canada every year to run a pit tent for people do not have pit crew. Not because she has someone in the race, but because she thinks everyone is awesome and she wants to help. They had a pizza cake this year-how amazing is that.
Then there is the people you meet in the registration line, at Walmart, at the community dinner, on the course and you have an instant connection. You know what it took to get to the starting line, and what kind of things they went through on the course. There is a respect and a friendship that forms. Thank you Eric, Aaron, Carlo, Josh, Brian, Troy and Chun for helping make the event awesome and I look forward to seeing you in the mud again. Then there are the people you met along the way this year that you have shared laughs and have a respect for. I am proud each of you and can’t wait to see you all again. Thank you Richie, Dom, Chris and Francis for making the event. To Garrett and Cynthia thank you for the condo and making it not just an event but an awesome weekend-you two are great people! I enjoyed our conversations and look forward to seeing you again.
To the other 2/3 of the Wilmington Triple Threat I thank you for the friendship not only this weekend, but the past year. The workouts and races have been epic. The laughter we have shared has been a huge part in making this one of the best years of my life. I am proud of everything you have accomplished. Aimee’s parents and husband Nicolay helped me tremendously. No matter what awesome things we accomplish in the future I will never forget how epic this weekend was. Aimee and Mike Thank you!
To all the people who made this event so special before I even left. I felt like a rock star with all the support I received. Being on the news, everyone wanting to know about the event, the well wishes, people following from home, texting Amina during the event, Thank you! My biggest cheerleaders Katharine and Kristy, thank you! To Tonya and Jen always talking strategy, Thank you! To my Shape teammates Thank you for all of the love! To the many who are too numerous to name, Thank you! To my kids who responded to my 11 laps “Why didn’t you get 20 daddy?” Thank you for everything. To Tika for all your help all year and taking care of the kids so Amina and I could go on this adventure.
Lastly to my lovely wife I’ve expressed my gratitude to you, but so everyone else knows how awesome you are. I was blown away at how awesome you did. Not only with me, but the people around us. There is talk about getting pit crew headbands which I think is totally deserved after your performance. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for me. You are the love of my life and I look forward to every day with you!
To wrap up my year I just want to say it has changed me. I am in unbelievable shape. My thought process is completely different. I used to live and die with a football game or sports in general, now watching a full game is boring. I used to be competitive at these events to the degree if my results weren’t good or I didn’t reach a goal time I was unhappy. I am still competitive, but the results don’t define my race anymore. It does feel good when the results are there though and only adds to the event. OCR world has become one of my happy places. It is one of the few places I feel at peace. I look forward to the next year of races and WTM 2016. Not because I have something to prove, but because WTM is my Disneyworld.
Race Miles for the year: 308
Here’s a bootleg version of the video they showed at the champions brunch.
Steven Shade is a certified personal trainer with SHAPE Fitness Group in Wilmington North Carolina. Steven offers private and semi-private personal training sessions, teaches group fitness sessions, and offers exercise classes specific to obstacle course race training.