America’s Toughest Mudder West (America’s Toughest-West) 2017 Race Recap
Leading up to the inaugural America’s Toughest Mudder West, no one really had any idea what to expect. Even directly after, I had a difficult time processing what I encountered on the course. Now, however, I’ve had a few solid nights’ sleep and the brain is back and running. So here’s a race recap. I hope it helps those who are running an America’s Toughest Mudder learn from my experiences. Hooyah!
America’s Toughest Mudder-West was formatted into two 5 mile loops. The first 5 mile loop consisted of the new-for-2017 Tough Mudder half; the second 5 mile loops consisted of the second half of the standard-length Tough Mudder course. The first loop was open from Midnight until 4 a.m. (Loop 1 was supposed to close at 3:45 am, but a shortage of volunteers required the TMHQ team to creatively transfer volunteers and medical staff from one loop to the next. The extra 15 minutes on loop was a bonus for some 15 lucky racers, as loop 1 was a faster, flatter loop.) At 4 am, the ability to run loop 1 ended and loop 2 opened. Loop 2 was kept open until 8:30 am (but you must have started your last lap by 7:45 am).
For the first hour of the event, obstacles opened at random. As you ran, periodically a horn would blow to indicate a new obstacle had opened. This meant that you could run past an obstacle, the horn would blow, and the very next person behind you would get stuck having to do something like the Artic Enema. During this first hour, I felt like I was running in the Hunger Games.
To earn your 8 hr headband, you did not need to be running the course at 8 am. However, you DID need to be in village area. If you left the village before 8 am, you were not given your 8 hr headband.
Format Take Away:
The obstacle opening at random is something you cannot prepare for. Just run as fast as you can for that first hour and hope that you don’t get caught at one. The more laps you get in while the obstacles are down, the better.
LA-specific Terrain Facts
Toughest Mudder West was held in San Bernardino, CA at Glen Helen Raceway. The terrain was diverse and difficult, and parsed out into two 5 mile loops. Loop 1 was open from midnight until 4 am. While loop one had many loose rocks and poorly marked single-tracks; still it was preferable to the extremely hilly loop two. Loop 2 was open from 4 am to 8 am, and it had some of the most insane, sandy-loose dirt hills I have ever run. That elevation gain of 1537 ft on loop two was no joke! And it put the 800 ft gain per 5 miles to shame.
Terrain Take Away:
The terrain is obviously specific to each event, and each loop could provide very different running experiences. When training for a Toughest Mudder, I suggest you run on a variety of terrains (dirt, sand, hard pack, creek bed, etc.) so you are prepared for whatever the A/TM race designers throw your way. While I think the Raceway’s elevation gain will be difficult to mimic in other America’s Toughest Mudders across the nation, I also suggest you incorporate serious hills into your training.
loop 1 loop 2
Loop 1 was slightly more obstacle dense than loop 2 (likely because this was the Tough Mudder Half loop). In LA, it contained 13 obstacles: Mud Mile 2.0, Quagmire, Devil’s Beard, Rub N’ Tug, Ladder to Hell, The Block Ness Monster, Everest 2.0, Skidmarked, Kiss of Mud 2.0, Pyramid Scheme, ShawShanked, Soggy Bottom, and Berlin Walls. Loop 2 contained 11 obstacles: King of Swingers, August Gloop, Arctic Enema The Rebirth, Death March, Stage 5 Clinger, Black Hole, Balls to the Wall, CliffHanger, Abseil, Funky Monkey the Revolution, Kong, and EST (you chose to do either EST–Electroshock Therapy–or Kong, not both). Some obstacles had modifications from traditional TM obstalces. (For example, the regular TM obstacle Berlin Walls was modified for Toughest West so that a flat platform extended out from the front side; Pyramid Scheme was modified with ropes coming down so that you had to be able to do it on your own.)
Obstacle Take Away:
Keep in mind that one of the loops will be used for the Tough Mudder Half. (For LA, it was loop 1 and it seems likely that this will always be the case, but you never know.) The loop that is used for the half will be likely have more obstacles than loop 2, but it won’t include ice or electroshock. If either ice or electroshock are your nemesis, run harder/faster in this loop so you can amass more laps before having to switch over to the other loop. The loop not used for the Half will require more grip strength. The loop that is used for the Half will be tracked out to hell. Keep this in mind. Unlike World’s Toughest Mudder, you are not getting a “virgin” course.
We had slightly colder weather than is typically experienced during March in LA, but the temperature varied little during the race. We started at midnight with a high at 52°F and it dipped only to 47°F in the early morning hours. While typically temperatures in the 40s would have prompted me to put on my full wetsuit, the extreme elevation gain caused me to generate tons of body heat each lap so I was able to keep my SharkSkins on the entire race. Whereas hypothermia has been a concern at World’s Toughest Mudder, it was not at this race—whether that be because of the warmer temperatures in general, or because of the shorter race time.
Weather Take Away:
Pay attention to the actual weather forecast, not just what is typical for your race area. Also keep in mind the terrain, as this will affect your core body temperature.
Food and Gear Facts
If you’ve run World’s Toughest Mudder, throw away the idea that you can bring your folding table, clothing rack, and reclining camping chairs! In the pit (which was the Tough Mudder bag drop tent), you get a 2 ft X 4 ft taped-off space. In the tent, there were rows of tables. You could utilize the space on the table and below the table. I had packed all my gear and food into a carry-on bag and there was barely enough space to empty these contents into my space. Because the race is only 8 hours, you do not need a ton of food and water. In the 8 hours, I used five scoops of CarboPro (1 per lap = 100 Calories – 50g carbs,) two scoops of Hydra C5 (25g of carbs plus tons of other awesomeness) (one scoop at the before the start and one half way,) and three slips of Cliff Shot Blocks (eaten on the go.) But, the sweetest treat was my after race Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cup!
Food and Gear Take Away:
Pack smart. Have options for different weather, but don’t overdo it. If you do a gear change, you’ll likely only do one. Prepare to layer your clothing changes to minimise time and maximise your layers. Know your body and its fueling requirements. When it comes to food and gear, this is one area where you really do need to follow “to thine own self be true”. (And make sure to have a cheat treat for after the race. There was no victory beer!)
Pit and Pit Crew Facts
Unlike World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM), access to the pit area was not tiered based by your WTM mileage. It was strictly first come, first serve. You were not granted access to the parking lot until 9:30 pm, and registration did not open until 10 pm. Though I arrived to the parking area around (;00 pm, there was already a long line of cars ahead of me. Similarly, the line to registration was long by the time I got there. Like lines at amusement parks, they let a handful of people go at a time. The line was long, but it moved quickly. It also didn’t really matter where you dropped your gear because unlike WTM, you didn’t have the whole pit village situation. Everyone was in the bag drop tent and whether you were at the front or the back made no significant difference. This is also in part because unlike WTM, pit members were allowed to hand you food and changes of gear outside the pit tent. I don’t know if this will change in future America’s Toughest Mudders, but I saw many pit members handing items to runners on the course. I found the attitude regarding pit rules to be extremely lax, but at the same time, no runner complained. After all, having something handed to you on course is way better than running back to the tent.
Also unlike WTM, you could only have 2 pit crew members not 4. But, unless you are running for prize money, you really don’t need a pit crew at all. While having my wife, Jenny, pit for me was helpful (for example, she helped get my fluids blended, my wetsuit on, and she rolled out my calf when it cramped)—I would have been ok doing these things myself. While wetsuits are tricky, you can always ask a willing runner for help. But, because I didn’t know better I brought Jenny and our daughter, Sydney (5 yrs), along. There was some initial panic that kids under 12 years old wouldn’t be allowed in the village or pit area, this turned out to be false. But, while kids are allowed, significantly less attended this race than WTM. Because of the midnight start time, it is a much less family-friendly event.
Pit Facts Take Away:
Get to the event early because waiting in line sucks. But don’t fret if you get stuck in it anyway. It’s unlikely that there will be any significant benefit to those who enter the pit tent first versus those who enter last. If you bring a pit crew, DO check with the TMHQ before the race to understand where the pit crew can hand you items. Just because Americas Toughest West was lax in the pit department, it doesn’t mean your race will be. If you have kids—you can bring them. Highly recommend using a Bob stroller for young children. Sydney slept in it the entire time, and it allowed Jenny to walk the course easily.
CBS filming Facts
CBS films these events. You have to consent to being filmed to race.
CBS Filming Take Away:
If you don’t want to be filmed, don’t attend. However, if you do attend don’t expect to become famous from being filmed. CBS and their crew have a list of the athletes they want to focus on, and they really only focus on those athletes. (You can tell when they are filming someone because the music stops. Boo!) You may get a cameo at the starting line, but then it will be dark and you’re in a wetsuit so no one will recognize you anyway. Do the race for the race, not for the fame!
Tough Mudder has done an amazing job of building a community of athletes that, while still competitors, continue to follow the basic fabric of Tough Mudder–to help fellow Mudders (e.g., teamwork no matter what). This has been exemplified time and time again by the top athletes at WTM. Even during the event briefing, the likes of Junyong Pak (3 time WTM winner) and his assistance of others on the course, were mentioned. At America’s Toughest, everyone helped everyone whether they were in the pit or on the course. I’ve run a ton of competitive events in my lifetime, and this teamwork/commraderie is extremely unique to Tough Mudder. Throughout the event, athletes of all levels would pair up with others on the course, run and converse for a while, and attack the course in happy company. As much as is possible, I found America’s Toughest to be a family of athletes that was not only welcoming, but happy to have new and old members become part of their ranks.
Overall Take Away
America’s Toughest Mudder West was a challenging race, perhaps more challenging than I expected. I was glad that I hadn’t run a Tough Mudder regular or half the morning before the race. The course was challenging—primarily due to the steep, sandy hills—and I don’t think I could have run in the morning and the afternoon. (Also, there’s that thing called sleep!) However, if want to earn the Holy Grail and you only get one shot at it, then you don’t have much choice than to run them all. To you, my hat is off.
My goal was to run 25 miles to become a World’s Toughest Mudder contender. As a contender, I will be eligible for prize money at WTM (not something that actually applies to me or to the majority of runners, but still); I will get a special bib at WTM, a better pit location, and a better start location. The Pit and the start location DO matter at WTM!! After I hit my 25 miles around 6 am, I decided to call the race. There wasn’t anything for me to be gained by pushing for another lap (other than more bumps and bruises!). I got my contender status and that was enough. I’ll save my pushing body to the limits for WTM, thank you very much! However, this was my personal choice. Plenty of other Mudders ran to the bitter end.
Overall, it was a very cool experience to be part of the inaugural America’s Toughest Mudder. I am glad I completed it, glad I got my contender status, and glad my wife and daughter were there to support me. I saw many familiar Mudder friends and faces, and I can’t wait to meet up with my Mudder family again at WTM.
Hooyah! Hooyah! Hooyah!