My stomach was in knots. I was nervous, anxious, excited, and cold awaiting the start of Toughest Whistler. I could see my breath in the cold air as Sean Corvelle entered the corral and gave his motivational speech. Upon Sean completing his motivational speech, the knots in my stomach began to loosen and the nervous, anxious feelings turned to excitement…the race was on!
The course began on a wide dirt road/trail, before heading into a few hundred meters of technical swampy single track. The masses charged ahead, headlights bobbing into the distance as racers ambitiously jostled for position. Much of the crowd including myself opted to wear wetsuits (Orca SwimRun Core for me) due to the low temperatures. I was particularly cold at the start so I was wearing the detachable sleeves to my wetsuit, as well as my BleggMits and a buff on my head. Even though I was shaking from the cold temps waiting for the race to start, it took all of 5 minutes into the race to realize I probably had too much on. I warmed up extremely fast. I pulled down my buff so it was around my neck, unzipped my wetsuit which brought mild relief. I tried to push through overheating and keep my arm sleeves on, so I was prepared when the obstacles were open. However the heat was too much, by the end of the first lap I had to strip off the arm sleeves as well.
With only a few obstacle open on the first lap (Mud Mile 2.0, and Everest…maybe a few more I can’t quite remember) it went pretty well. My legs were fresh and there wasn’t a lot of challenging terrain or ascents/descents, allowing for a smooth first lap.
As I came through the festival area I saw my girlfriend cheering me on. She was also my pit crew and was standing back near the bag drop area…far away from the place where I can exit and enter the course. I waved my arms forward as I ran by to urge her forward. However, when I exited the course she wasn’t there…With her nowhere in sight I ran around the festival area only to find her further away then she originally was. Fairly disgruntled I ran over to her, hastily chugged a bottle of Nuun infused water, took a gel and a bar, without saying much to my girlfriend, beyond telling her to meet me closer to the area next time. However, whatever I said was not in the nicest of tones.
I rushed back out on to the course more annoyed with the distance I had to travel to get food/water then the time it took. If I was going to run for 8 hours the minimum number of steps I took while pitting the better.
Heading out now on my 2nd lap, I was absolutely shocked when I heard the announcer call out that Ryan Atkins is finishing up a lap. I completed my 1st lap in about 50 minutes and Ryan was already about to lap me! I knew he was good, but two laps (10 miles/16 km) in under an hour is an insane pace! I eventually learned that the top 15 or so racers were directed off course on the first lap. Which explains why Ryan passed me early on in my 2nd lap. So Ryan wasn’t on his 3rd he was only on his 2nd lap. Ryan would go on and win the even with a total of 45 miles and therefore he is still somewhat human.
At this point I was running with Michelle Ford (who ended up coming in 2nd place) and we got to talking about how we both felt so bad! We had both treated our support crew terribly and we were talking about how thankful we were to even have a support crew. It’s incredibly selfless to have someone stay up all night for you, while you run a race, so best to treat them well. Together we agreed that we’d both have to apologize to our crew the next time around…it’s just so darn easy to get worked up and frustrated in an event like this.
All of the obstacles were now open as I made my way through the 2nd lap. I was really excited to try all the Tough Mudder staples: Funky Monkey the Revolution, Hangtime, Stage 5 Clinger, Augustus Gloop, Arctic Enema, Shawshanked, Kong, and of course Operation. Operation, Augusts Gloop, Funky Monkey, and Hangtime were by far my favourite obstacles on the course.
Operation is such a unique obstacle that I got a little excited each time I approached it. Trying to stay calm with the risk of getting an electric shock is thrilling. Then upon completion a great sense of relief flows through the body. Operation consists of two walls. The first wall has a hole in it that is coated with metal. The second wall is ~8 ft away and has a bunch of tiny rings on hooks. Racers grab a long metal pole, navigate it through the hole of the first wall, retrieve a ring from the second wall, and pull the pole and the ring out. Oh and if your metal pole touches the edge of the hole (the metal) you get an electric shock.
Augustus Gloop is another obstacle that is just enjoyment. Wading through water, tucking under floating barrels, to crawl up a black construction tube, as a hose dumps water on you isn’t overly difficult, but it’s a ton of fun!
Funky Monkey and Hangtime on the other hand are more challenging. Funky Monkey is a set of
inclined monkey bars, to an assembly of spinning metal wheels. The spinning wheels are the highlight as you swing from wheel to wheel.
Hangtime is what I like to think of as a “Big Boy” obstacle. It’s huge! Hangtime requires you to jump to a metal trapeze, swing to a cargo net, transition to the cargo net, then shimmy down a cord. This is both challenging and fun! This obstacle is also situated over a large tank of water so failing this obstacle can be as much fun as completing it.
Although it was fun to try all the new obstacles, I wasn’t happy when I felt my calf quiver as I climbed over the first obstacle on lap 2 (Balls to the Wall). Whether it was from the cold temperatures, running in a wetsuit night, or bad nutrition I’m not sure but I felt quivers from twitching muscles on every single obstacle for the rest of the race. Luckily, the muscles spasms were relatively minor and I only seized up once throughout the race. I was on Hang Time during my 3rd lap, traversing down the cord and my calf seized up. In a significant amount of pain I held on to the cord and gingerly stretched my calf before continuing.
When I finished my 2nd lap my girlfriend was waiting much closer to the pitting area this time. I once again grabbed a gel and a bar, chugged some water. I also profusely apologized to her for being so rude on my first lap. Thanking her again and again, I got my nutrition down and headed back out on the course.
I once again met up with Michelle early on in lap 3. We talked again but this time we chatted about how we both apologized to our pit crew for treating them poorly.
Laps 2 and 3 went fairly smoothly, except for failing Everest 2.0 on lap 3. I climbed to the top of the rope twice. But I was unable to make it over the crest of Everest. While near the top I could feel my grip tiring on the spot as I struggled to make it up the narrow rope. A little defeated I opted to take the penalty rather than struggle any longer.
Kong was not too far after Everest. Although my grip was tired I was able to swing my way across the slippery rings.
Beyond physically doing ok after 3 laps, I was fighting a mental battle. I ran the majority of lap 3 by myself. The solitude and darkness got to me and I was incredibly bored. I wasn’t having fun. I was all alone running in the blackness of night. There was no other competitors insight, to instil the thrill of racing in me, or the camaraderie that is preached by the Tough Mudder brand. The novelty of running at night had worn off. The darkness wasn’t exciting, it was dull and unchanging.
During this time I seriously considered dropping out because I was so incredibly bored. Honestly if Pat and Jason (two guys I was here with) wanted to quit and were nearby me, I think I might have done it. I took a long break after lap 3. I chatted with my girlfriend told her I was bored, ate a few pretzels and drank some regular water. I didn’t eat much this lap, because my stomach was quite upset and I was feeling very full. I also had to find some regular water. I had only brought bottle full of Nuun, but had no desire to drink any of my Nuun, I was craving plane old regular water…which is something I’ve never experienced before.
After maybe 10 or 15 minutes, I headed back out four my 4th lap. Even though I wasn’t enjoying myself at the moment, I knew I’d likely regret coming all this way to drop out because I was bored. I also thought that once the sun began to rise maybe I’d enjoy myself.
I took my BleggMits off before heading back out as hand were warming up. This turned out to be a mistake because only a few hundred meters onto the course my hands were freezing. With frozen hands I did not like my chances as I approached Funky Monkey. I got half way through Funky Monkey with hands that felt like cinderblocks, but couldn’t make it to the spinning wheels. Same thing happened with Hangtime. I managed to grab the cargo net, but couldn’t transition down the cord. Failing both these obstacles was a common theme for me throughout the rest of the race. This was disappointing as they were some of the most fun obstacles out there.
I also proceeded to fail Everest, taxing my grip even further. After failing Everest on lap 4 I decided I wasn’t even go to try this obstacle anymore, it wasn’t worth the strain on my grip to simply fail.
Although failing a number of obstacles, I did begin to enjoy myself throughout lap 4. I think this was largely due to the fact that the sun was slowing rising and I could see the silhouettes of the mountains in the distance.
Lap 5 was even better then lap 4. I still failed Funky Monkey and Hangtime but the sun was almost up. Which meant the amazing nature of Whistler Olympic Park became visible. I also ran most of lap 5 with Scotty (just met him on the course, he’s from New Zealand and sounds like a solid dude). Chatting with Scotty was revitalizing as we talked and joked about the race. Scotty was also having troubles with Everest, and he was on board to opt for the penalty as well.
Upon reaching Everest we made a half ass run up the slope (like 3 steps), before sliding down and taking the penalty. This moment in particular stands out as a highlight from the race. Nothing like have a little bit a of pure stupid fun in the midst of an 8 hour even. At this moment I had a truly genuine smile as I slid down Everest.
Despite failing 3 obstacles, lap 5 was still completed in about 1 hour and 10 minutes. I looked at my watch and if I could complete lap 6 in a similar time, I’d have enough time to try for a 7th lap. However the ski jump hill (aka The Soul Crusher) was now open…
At 5:00 AM the race course adjusted. After Balls to the Wall, racers now had to ascend the slope of the ski jumps. The same slope as the Red Bull 400 race. A 37o slope is no joke. So pulling off another lap in about 1 hour 10 min would be difficult.
I climbed the slope, switching between using my hands on my knees and bear crawling. The slope was long and gruelling but the view at the top was quite amazing. As I ran down the subsequent slope, I tried to pick up the pace and felt my I.T. band flare up. I’ve never had I.T. band pain like this before. It was extremely painful to maintain any sort of pace down the slope.
With the immense I.T. band pain heading down the slope I knew a 7th lap was unlikely. About halfway through lap 6 I looked at my watch, and the time confirmed the 7 laps wouldn’t be feasible. Therefore, I continued on at an easy pace, essentially treating this lap as a fun/victory lap.
Being my last lap I decided to give Everest one last solid attempt. I made it to the top of the rope, and luckily this time there was someone at the top. I grabbed the fellows hand and he helped heave up me up! Completing Everest with the help of another Mudder was a great feeling. It was the only time I got to experience the Tough Mudder camaraderie on the course and it was awesome! I only wish there was more of it.
I ran the rest of the course with the guys who helped me up Everest. At Blockness Monster there was a guy with “Free Hugs” written on his bib, so naturally we all gave him a hug and proceeded to do the obstacle together. I really enjoy Blockness Monster and with this being my last lap I knew I would get to do it again. A part of me truly wanted to stay at this obstacle and just help other racers over until the end of the race. But I also knew my girlfriend, Pat, Jason, and Pat’s wife (Pat and Jason’s support), were in a hurry to get home. So I just continued on and finished my lap.
I finished 6 laps (30 miles) in 7:36:12 in 26th place overall (21st male). I was able to head out for another lap, but I needed to complete that lap by 8:30. Completing a 7th lap in a time of 44 minutes was not possible. So I called it quits.
I reached my goal of 30 miles and I’m happy with that. It’s become evident that I still have a lot to learn about fueling and racing ultra events. I ate way too much, I didn’t want to drink my Nuun, and I didn’t push myself to the edge of my physical ability (I had a little gas left in the tank), like I anticipated. Notes have been taken and I’ll be sure to continue to learn and grow, as I pursue these events.