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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tough Mudder: Whistler 2013

June 23, 2013

Tough Mudder is ridiculous. I say that because it does a great job of not taking itself too seriously while scaring the heck out of the average-joe, yet still getting them to sign up. This was going to be my second year doing a Mudder event, and I have to pay tribute to the event for getting me into trail running and running in general.

For 2013, the running wasn't going to be an issue for me, since a quick 18k with some obstacles is not of any major concern. Our team, "Lightning Unicorns" (my boys Paris and Lucien came up with the name and logo), was filled with 9 people this year. Shanthi (a 2012 alumni), Elaine, Sean, Carlos, Kevin, Suzi, Justin, Claire, and I, with my wife, Simone, and boys as our cheer leading squad.

We arrived in Whistler, and as we were running on the Sunday vs the Saturday, had a nice gathering amongst friends at Sean and Elaine's hotel suite. The village was alive with party atmosphere from the Saturday Mudders, including the noticeable "Mudder Swag", where people walk with a very specific limp from the course laying waste to their joints and limbs.

The next morning, we car-pooled to the Olympic Park where the event was happening and were suitably excited for the day to unfold.

We arrived at registration, and wow, great job TM, the organization this year was top notch. It took no time at all, and all the reg desks, package pick ups, bag stations, out houses and the whole area was very well manned and much improved from 2012.

We all got through the process in record time. As a mixed team of athletes of different skill sets, we had agreed that we would have a fast and slow group. However, we would all stick together at least until obstacles 5 or thereabouts (Glory Blades according to the course map).

Carlos duct taped a bunch of gels, shot blocks and gu's to his body, which was hilarious. I had some salt caps with me also. We were a walking aid station, and I'm glad we had the stuff. We gave away most of our food and salt to cramping weekend warriors who avoided death walking to the finish. Hilarious.

The opening speech by the MC at Tough Mudder events is one of the highlights of the event. He brings you up, the brings you way down, then ramps you up again, and gets you so jazzed to chant the mantra "First Aid" that you forget that he's actually having you chant "First Aid!"

Once you get suitably jazzed up to get going, they open the flood gates and you're off.

Sean and I bolt ahead, and once we navigate a few overly ambitious fresh out of the gaters, we reach the first obstacle with no one ahead of us. It's Kiss of Mud, and it's a 25 meter barb wired crawl through mud and water with about a foot of clearance. We get out the other side and wait for our crew. We are no longer clean. In fact, this year's TM is SO muddy that it really did the title justice.

There's a steep little ridge that we run over, and then run a mile or so to Arctic Enema, cargo containers filled with ice. Our cheer squad races us to the site and we wait for the whole team to arrive before going in. Last year, I hated this obstacle. This year, with the heat starting to climb, it felt great. There was a ton of ice on the far side of the barb wire board that forces you to go under and it's much colder on that side. I pull myself out and reach for Sean and Carlos to come out.

The I see Shanthi. And Claire. Shanthi is being pulled over the side in the middle next to the board by an attendant, her shoulder clearly jutting out an odd angle. She's telling him that her shoulder is dislocated and that she needs a second to pop it back in. Claire is struggling with breathing and isn't going under the board. I tell her to take a deep breath, and she's staring at me with wide eyes. "Deep breath, Claire, then under!" I yell. She takes the breath, and comes up on this side of the board. I reach in and help out of the ice. Supreme cold does weird things to people. She's out. Shanthi pops her shoulder back in and comes out of the ice, laughing. Typical Shanthi.

We all regroup, get a wet and cold picture opportunity and then head off to the next session. We clamber over some terrain and head into Bushwacked. It's basically a steep descent down a non-trail.

Carlos, Sean and I break left, as the crowd goes right. Oops, guess left wasn't intended as we hit a cliff. Oh, well. We slide down it on our butts and hands. I look back up and it was a seriously steep slope with some unforgiving angles, but we made it out in one piece. We avoided the mud that others are clambering out of. Haha, suckers. Regroup. My outfit gets some attention, from both male and female participants. Hey, not everybody can pull it off, but who am I to say whether I can or not. I'll take my shirt off in a kilometer or so. It'd be fun to run this thing basically naked.

We take off on another mile long run and reach Warrior Carry. Sean piggy backs me, I fireman carry Sean. Then run back and Carlos piggy backs me, and I fireman carry Carlos. Everyone else has a partner, and we run off to the Glory Blades. These are basically angled walls.Carlos and I help the rest of the team over as they arrive. Elaine decides she would like to do back flips and ends up on the dirt on the wrong side of the wall . .. not once, but twice! Justin, as he clambers up my body decides to boot kick me in the face and pin it against the planks as he pushes of my right orbital bone into the unknown on the other side of the barricade. Carlos can't stop laughing at my plight and shoe print across my face.

We climb over a wall of snow and reach the log jam further down the trail.

At this point we decide to split up into two groups: fast and less fast. Carlos, Sean and I break away and after a quick up and over, and under and over and under and under and over and over some logs, we run along to the next set of whatever Big Mudder has thrown our way.

Trench Warfare is a fair distance away. Not a very exciting obstacle (crawl through boxes), and then one of my favorites for the event: Fire Walker! There's a foot and a half wall of heat blasting fire that we sprint towards (I know, run AWAY from fire, not towards it!), and then a big leap and a jump followed by a 5' foot drop on the other side into a pool of dirty water. We pull ourselves out of the water via a cargo net. That was awesome.

We banana it up at the aid station, drink some water and run off to the next set of goop. It's called the mud mile. It is less than one mile (1.6k) but is very muddy, has little hills and slopes that are slippery and challenging to get up and down and it stinks like bear latrine. Don't breathe and don't fall in.Too late. We exit this obstacle absolutely covered from head to toe in mud.

The next section has a decent amount of running, and we pass a ton of people in severe cramping. I'm handing out salt pills like it's candy. The look on a lot of people's faces at this point is either one of elation or frozen bewilderment. I am enjoying the carnage.

We run down and then up a small hill (N.B. I've been running up 3000' foot mountains, so small is relative to me these days) and come up to a  set of planks, each about 5' feet above the other going up to about 25' feet off the ground. Welcome to Ladder to Hell. I have little fear of climbing, since I climbed trees as a kid daily, so I pop up to the top, flip over the other side and reach the bottom. Sean has some issues at the top transition, but with a quick tip from the HQ ground team to Major Mud, he gets over. Champion mode is on!

We come to Electric Eel after what is a solid amount of running, and the temperature is getting hot. We hear screaming in the distance. That's the sound of people getting zapped! The spectator crowd here is huge!! We hop up the rise and there's barb wire strung 1' foot above about 6 inches of muddy water. I hesitate at this one, because I'm wary of the electric shocks with my tremors. Carlos goes in first, and he looks fine. Last year, I don't even think the electrical was on, and it seems to be the same for Carlos' path, so I get on all fours and follow his route.

Suddenly, I'm pulling my face out of the water?! What just happened?! I got zapped, hard and took a faceplant into the ditch. Crawl, fast, zap. Crawl some more zap! Ok, this thing is ON today. Almost there and BAM, I take an aluminum baseball bat to the lower back. I plop over the final rail and get the heck out of that death trap. That sucked! Can't you tell by the picture.

Now that we've been suitably jolted, we come up to Cage Crawl, which is supposed to be  claustrophobic water tunnel with a cage over your head preventing you from getting your head out of waterline except for your mouth. I've been anxious for this obstacle. And here were are . . . in reality, it sucked. There was no water. It was basically trench warfare but on snow. Wait, trench warfare WAS on snow. So, it's trench warfare on snow with a cage instead of a box. Terrible challenge. Move on.

Here comes Cliffhanger. last year, this hill climb which runs parallel to the Olympic ski jump killed me. It's steep, it faces the Sun and it's steep. Well, after all the mountain running from one year to the next, this climb was straightforward and short in the grand scheme of things. Great to see measurable  progress.

There's a ton of mud along what is an unlisted obstacle, that is actually one of my favorite sections. It's like the mud mile, but occurs in a rooty, rocky, rugged trail. It's slow, treacherous and slippery. Plus people alays take a wrong step and go tip to tail into the mud here which is worth a laugh. It's also a shoe graveyard, as they get suck in the muck, and good luck getting them back. We're at the top of the rise, and after exiting this section, it's a fast descent to Hold Your Wood. You pick a wooden log, carry it up a climb and then down the other side. No problems. Another fast descent, and people are suffering. Cramping all over. It's like a zombie walk for some groups at this point. We see some "Uber-guys" (you know gym dudes with muscles the size of my torso) walking like they came off a hundred mile horseback ride moving at a pace similar to a geriatric with constipation. I make a few salt deals, and we're off again.

We hear more screaming in the distance. And here comes Walk the Plank!! It's a 5 meter climb up a wooden wall to a platform that you then jump off of into a large pool of black murky water. There was a drowning death at this obstacle in the States a few months back, and the number of attendants is clearly bumped up after that tragic accident. I climb to the top, and Sean and Carlos lag behind. I yell down for them to get up here, and Carlos rips up the wall, takes two steps and jumps! Okay, me too . . . oh, sweet refreshing water. All the mud is washing away and I swim to the cargo net to get out of the water.

Sean takes the plunge and realizes it's higher than he thought! He swallows a bunch of water and exits with a smile. We see our support crew and I give my eldest a wet hug!

Now let's take a look at what happened when the rest of the team arrived at this section about an hour later. Elaine and Kevin jumped in first. All good. Shanthi jumped in and came up gasping for air, her arm (the questionable one), clearly out of its socket! They swim over to her and keep her from going under and the attendants start throwing life savers with rope over to the trio. They pull her from the water and she's hooked up with a doctor in an ambulance. He asks her how often she dislocates her shoulder and in true Shanthi fashion she says, "In my life or just today?!". A second waiver is signed, she pops it back in, and off she goes. Warrior mode is on!

Back to the present: Sean, Carlos and I blast through Boa Constrictor (tubes with water) and reach Funky Monkey. I love monkey bars. I secure my grip and swing 3 to 4 bars at a time. I see Simone and the boys running up to get a picture so I hang out in the middle and wait for them to arrive. People are splooshing in the water around me, but I could hang here for days. Well, maybe not days, but I could play "leg wars" confidently and be okay.

Sean and Carlos also rock the bars no issues, which is a HUGE confident boost for Sean, as he was anxious for this obstacle leading up to the event. Kudos buddy.

Everest is next, a 20' foot half pipe that you have to sprint and jump up. Getting someone's arm cuts a few feet from your leap, so it's a good strategy. I run hard, jump up and one arm grabs a helper and the other the lip of the wall. One tug and over. We all get over no issues and help a few other teams up in true Mudder form.

Berlin Walls come up pretty quick. These double walls are higher at 12' feet each, so helping each other is key. We had a solid technique as can be seen here. Yes, we're close friends!

We run to the finish line, Sean is bonking and decides he will zig zag his way along, as Carlos and I have a laugh.

I skip the final Electroshock Therapy. The effect Electric Eel had on me was pretty intense, so no need to play the hero. We cross the finish line, and grab our finisher's swag: t-shirts, the coveted headband, and of course BEER!

We shower off, grab some grub and wait for the rest of the team to come in. We completed in about 2:40 and the rest of our Lightning Unicorns crossed hand in hand at about 3:45.

Great job team! The event was awesome. Good fun, well placed obstacles and a much improved course. The weather was beautiful and warm, so even the cold water was refreshing.

After having done it two years in a row, I doubt I'll do a third year in 2014, and keep my eyes set on Ultra distances instead, but it was a hoot.

Thanks Big Mudder.


Dear Friends,

This post is very special because of the positive effects it can have and is a bit of a public coming out for me with my movement disorder. Running has been an extremely beneficial outlet for my symptoms and has suppressed and alleviates them greatly. The farther I run, the better I feel. The less I run, with days or weeks off being the worst case, the more the symptoms return. So, I keep running and am going further than ever before! 

This year I am proud to play a part in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. As a Team Fox member I will be running 80 kilometers through the mountains at the Squamish 50 Ultra. Taking on the challenge of this fundraising endeavor is both exciting and inspiring. I am making a commitment to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s disease (PD) because of my own struggles with neurological movement disorder since August of 2012. I am dedicating my efforts to The Michael J. Fox Foundation because I believe that I am helping to ultimately shorten the road to a cure.

Over five million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) — a chronic degenerative neurological disorder whose symptoms typically progress from mild tremors to complete physical incapacitation. In the United States, 60,000 new cases of PD will be diagnosed this year alone. While the average age of onset is 60, an estimated five to 10 percent of people with PD experience onset at age 40 or younger.

There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. Currently available treatments temporarily mask symptoms while the disease continues to progress. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today.

I’m asking for your support in our race to put an end to PD.  My personal goal is to raise one thousand dollars. Please help me reach my goal by making a contribution. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law and can be made online through my Team Fox fundraising (click the link).

I invite you to join me in making a difference in the lives of those living with Parkinson’s disease.
Thank you in advance for your generous support as we strive together toward the finish line on the fast track to a cure.


Ed Kumar