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Tough Mudder 2x - Sunday, October 7, 2018
Warning: minor Tough Mudder spoilers ahead!

Yesterday I ran my second Tough Mudder, this time at the Sonoma Raceway, an hour and 45 minutes from home. I and two others from Pure signed up and were supposed to do it last year, but that event was cancelled due to the Sonoma wildfires. Fortunately, the skies were clear this year for the rescheduled NorCal event.

Our start time was 10:00, but despite pulling into the parking lot an hour early, we ended up going out in the 10:45 wave due to insane wait times, particularly a 45-minute wait to get checked in at Mudder Village. The checkin process was pretty slow and inefficient, and there were not enough helpers. It took another 15-20 minutes to get our bag checked in. At least there were enough porta-potties at the village for there to be no wait there.

Once on the course though, everything was great. There were well-stocked water stations (half with food) every couple miles. The obstacles were excellent and the wait times at each were minimal. And the camaraderie was amazing.

When I did my first TM in 2014, there was only one type of event, which is now called the Full. Now, there's also a Half and a 5k that overlaps with the Full event. It's TM's way of broadening the appeal and reaching those who may not want to do the full distance or set of obstacles (e.g. no Arctic Enema or Electroshock Therapy on the 5k and Half). Our group did the Full (I wouldn't settle for less). There are also harder event types that are held in different locations, but we're not crazy enough to do those, yet.

The format for the Full has changed. It involved doing two laps around: first a 6-mile loop, then a shorter 4-mile loop. Because of this, 4 of the initial obstacles were encountered twice. There were 20 unique obstacles on the Full route.

After an initial jog up and down a hill, the first obstacle was the Kiss of Mud 2.0, where you crawl on your belly under barbed wire through mud. Great way to start things off - with your frontside completely covered in brown!

The Mud Mile 2.0 was a little annoying. You had to slide down into a 6-foot trench filled with muddy water and get help up onto the next section. The way the walls were constructed, you couldn't really get a good grip on the walls yourself. So usually this would involve at least two people helping you from above, below, or both. You had to do around 8 of these. I skinned both my arms pretty good on this obstacle, and it was the sole obstacle our group decided to bypass on lap 2.

Block Ness Monster was the most fun. This involved teamwork but also some basic physics. Most people however did not turn around and grab the block on their way down; it would've allowed more people to get over faster if they did.

Last time, I didn't have much trouble with Cage Crawl, but this time, my head dipped below the water early on and I got water up my nose. I then started getting anxious and ended up swallowing some of the water a couple times (hope it was sanitary). I guess the trick here is to be relaxed and to realize that you have enough room to keep your head above the water without your face rubbing against the cage.

Berlin Walls was easier this time. The three of us were able to get on the step at the bottom and jump up and grab the top of the wall on our own. Last time, I needed help reaching the top. I think the step has been made bigger so that you can have both feet firmly planted on it, which wasn't the case last time.

Happy Ending was by far the obstacle requiring the most teamwork and coordination, and as a result, was the most rewarding. It involves forming a human support structure to allow people to climb up a smooth 40-degree wall. In some videos, you can see ropes or horizontal planks halfway up the wall, which makes it a lot easier to get up. Ours had none of these. So it took a lot of effort to form a chain to get people up, and man were things chaotic. One person would have to stand on a narrow ledge at the base of the wall, then another on his shoulders, then a third on his. A fourth person would be at the bottom supporting the first person's feet, which otherwise were likely to slip and cause the entire human ladder to come crashing down. Finally, the ladder would be long enough for one person at a time to climb up to the reaching arms above. In practice, things were not so orderly. I started out holding a guy's feet, but then they told me to climb up, but the ladder started collapsing before I could get high enough, so then I ended up being part of the ladder for a while. Finally, people gave me the chance to go up again, and when I was standing on top of a 2-person ladder, a guy above who was dangling down, his legs held onto by others, was able to grab my hands to pull me up. Talk about teamwork!

Arctic Enema didn't feel too bad when I first got in, but when I dunked my head under the water was when I really felt the chill. Still, this was pretty manageable.

On Electroshock Therapy, I got shocked in the middle of the back when going through the first or second row of wires. It felt like a rubber band snapping against my skin, but it probably would've been worse if the wire had touched my bare skin. I rolled over the hay bale in the middle and then crawled the rest of the way, so I didn't get shocked again. Next time I'm going to try to force myself to just run through quickly. It seems more mental than anything else.

On Just the Tip, I did fine climbing along the wood edge, but as soon as I tried to grab a round knob halfway through, I didn't have enough grip and bailed. I'd been wearing gloves up to this point, thinking that they would help during the climbing obstacles, but all they did was get muddy and slippery.

So on Funky Monkey and Kong Infinity, I did it without the gloves and got all the way across on both. These were pretty cool - it was nice to see that those obstacles got a big facelift since last time.

Everest 2.0 was the final obstacle. Despite the rounded lip that's been added, most people were able to get up on the first try as they grabbed onto the hands above. I just ran hard towards the wall, and when I felt myself losing speed due to the curve, I made myself run even harder, so I think I may have gotten my hands on the rounded lip, but of course I had nothing to really grab onto, so the people up there pulled me up all the same. Tough Mudder complete!

Special mention to some very awesome people we met on the course. The first was a guy decked out not in athletic wear, but in a suit and tie. He was also wearing a black 25x headband. Respect! We also ran into some guys carrying a large crash pad the size of a twin mattress. They were also doing the Full and would be rewarded with money for charity for getting the thing to the finish line. Really taking that team building to the next level!

At the finish line, I was sad to see that there weren't people crowning Mudders with headbands. I guess it would get too hectic given that each event type has its own headband, but it could still be done. Instead, there was a table with event headbands and all the different Legionnaire headbands that were out for taking on the honor system. There was a staffer there, but she wasn't looking people up on a list. Also, my headband just says "Tough Mudder Full", no longer showing the year. Makes it a little less fun to collect them. The finisher T-shirt (now blue instead of black) does still show the year.

Compared to last time, the showers were not freezing cold and there were changing tents. It was nice to be able to change into fresh clothes immediately after hosing off. I would've liked to change my mud-water-infused underwear, but I didn't have a towel and didn't want to bare it all in the tent I was sharing with several other guys, so I opted to just change my pants and shirt. I changed my socks and shoes when I got back to the car, and having paper towels on hand was very useful to wipe off my feet before putting on fresh socks.

I had a lot of fun and was glad to run with my coworkers. I trained more this time around, but even without that, this event seemed a little easier than the one we did in 2014 (e.g. there's now just one obstacle with electric shocks instead of three). The obstacles are more complex than some of the more basic ones we did before. Tough Mudder definitely seems to have gotten more mainstream and commercial since 2014, but as far as I know, they still rely on volunteers for staffing. Given that the company had over $100 million in revenue in 2016, perhaps it's time to start hiring people to ensure an adequate level of staffing for the larger number of participants it's allowing into its events.

My Tough Mudder adventure will continue next month as I do the SoCal event in Lake Elsinore.
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