The Conductor: Race Review #3 -America’s Toughest Mudder – Philadelphia 5/21/17

Location: Plantation Field – Coatsville, Pennsylvania
Background :  I mistakenly thought this was the same venue of my first Tough Mudder in 2013. Similar terrain rolling hills and wide fields. Granted I could not see that for a while. The better Tough Mudders utilize a wide open space. This was my 4th Tough Mudder but first attempt at this madness.
Race: America’s Toughest Mudder is a baptism into insanity. This 8 hour multi-lap experience is just that, an experience.  “5” mile course, 17 obstacles 8 hrs….go. The kicker is that the baptism started at midnight of Sunday May 21st. This was the first year the ATM was being held and this was the 3rd ATM of the year and being touted as the hardest.

My friend and race partner had experienced the 2nd ATM and apologized in advance in a voicemail that sounded like someone who was pre and post-op at the same time. I still have that voicemail.

Nifty race bibs gave a uniform feel as we got set to go in the pit area where you can come in between laps to refill, quit or die. The concept of starting a race at midnight was weird. I felt myself get tired at the usual time still 1.5 hrs out from start. At that point I understood that this race was going to be run mostly on adrenaline.

Starting line looked like if the movies Mad Max and Tron had a baby. Headlamp and LED lights, drones in the air….yeah we crazy. Short speech then off.

First lap was the sprint lap. This lap was virtually no obstacles open save one or two that were mud obstacles on the actual path and thereby unavoidable. 50 degrees but manageable once we started running. As we passed the obstacles volunteers sounded like carnival vendors proud to say that their attraction opened at a certain time. Looking back at it, strategy would be to hammer the sprint lap and as much of the 2nd lap before the obstacles opened.

Lap one was about an hour. Light run and power hiked any hills to save the legs for the next 7 hrs. Pit stop to throw something down and stay ahead of the nutrition and hydration and back out. Obstacles started opening,  first up was Mud Mile.

Mud Mile sucked. Not an actual mile of mud but it is a series of alternating trenches and mud mounds. These mounds were approximately 6.5 -7 ft high. So it was a combination of throwing people up and dragging people out for the next 12 mins. Mud sucks the heat out of you. It was 1:30 am and sunrise wasn’t for another 4+ hrs. In other words it was bit cold but started running and felt okay.

(To save time I’m not detailing all the obstacles, the course map is available on the Tough Mudder website)

I was great until Arctic Enema. Tough Mudder staple obstacle that is great in the summer, not at 2:00am with the weather now in the 40s. Cold doesn’t bother me but the slide down the pipe into the water was at such an ackward angle that I drank a mouthful of bubonic plague water. I thought I was going to transform into a mutant with superpowers….i just coughed enough to realize I wasn’t going to die or throw up. But now I was cold and glad that I brought my wetsuit to change into at pit.

Pit for lap 3 looked like a field hospital post battle. Damaged human beings were there. You have to be ready for these races and some people were not, I swear I saw someone in a wheelchair. Solar blankets and hypothermia were on the menu. People were done for the night.  Back out for lap 3, the course looked empty.

The original goal was for my friend to get 25 miles, if he won I won. You get a dope patch and perks for the World’s Toughest Mudder which is 24 hrs of this ridiculousness. Lap 3 held well and it looked like we were going to get it. By this time grip was shot, obstacles were being failed left and right so we were running a bunch of the fail penalty loops which added miles.  Lap 4…was a pedestrian stroll with more penalties.  Sun came up and my adrenaline decided to chase the moon. I was actually nodding off while walking – didn’t know that was possible. Someone asked if my leg hurt..yeah nah my brain was stupid heading into hr 8 and I was basically drunk.  Remedy was a small shot of a caffeine energy gel and I was back. At this point the 3rd man in out crew was encouraged to go ahead (He got 5 laps and the patch) I stayed with my guy and we kept it trucking to the finish line without enough time or conviction to try a 5th lap.

Conclusions:  The time flew by. I had great immediate company with my friend and new friend I met that night.  I saw some training partners out on the course who we linked up with,  and the overall OCR community was out in force making this thing feel like a parade more so than a race.  No foolishness, no costumes or gimmicks, just people pushing themselves.  From the outside in we look crazy, from the inside out we know we are crazy but we are family and you will be hard pressed to see unity like what you see on course for a hard race.

I love Tough Mudder.  I’ve enjoyed every one of their races.  Huge quality obstacles,virtually impossible to complete some of them without receiving help in.  Nothing like grabbing a handful of buttocks throwing someone you don’t know over a wall.

We missed our goal and settled for 4 laps (20 miles + penalty mileage) but we had an experience that stands alone from any other race. Solid effort and pushed it and my friend was proud of us.  This was especially so since he had a baseline from ATM #2, which he said was not as hard as this, so I was pleased. I am down for next year.

The course was marked off very well especially considering 75% is run in the dark with a headlamp. Water was spread out very well that carrying personal hydration was not necessary. Great simple use of mud and water for some of the obstacles, less is more. This was by far the muddiest thing I have ever participated in.

Festival area was very well organized. All the normal stuff one would expect save one big downside. Downside was no food at the venue that early in the morning…..get a pizza delivered. I will next time. Great day in the books not to be quickly forgotten.
Oh and I got the dope bib number considering the race location.


Rating:  9/10 (they have to consider food next time)

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