After 9 hours on a Megabus we arrived in Atlanta, we had made our WTM trip into a larger holiday to the states which for anyone travelling from abroad I would highly recommend as if you book in advance internal transfers can be very reasonable. From an accommodation stand point we stayed in Atlanta city due to being there for a few days before the race and wanting to be closer to the things to do…………….it turned out for me personally there wasn’t an awful lot to do in Atlanta (other than the Coca-Cola museum & of course Walmart’s) so in hindsight I would recommend a shorter time in Atlanta and seeking accommodation closer to the WTM venue. This are just a few tips from a travelling Englishman now onto the main event WTM.
We arrived on site for check in early Friday morning to a frighteningly muddy field, shock horror right 🙂 To add some context to this it had been raining horrendously for the previous day & night and that was continuing onto our heads as we stepped out of the car, gathered our gear and made the short walk from the car to registration (keep in mind at this point I am describing this as SHORT). Participant registration a piece of cake, breezed straight through even whilst getting stuck in the mud, Spectator/Pit Crew sign in was a completely different story with the queue being extremely long and only getting worse. With that said to be fair to the TM staff they handled this and the queue was moving. After sign in the next “obstacle” in the way was the shop 🙂 of course a series of items were purchased and then out the other side up a small hill and into the (in parts) water logged “Pit Area” (for those unaware the pit area the where an individual will pitch their tent or shelter which they we use as base camp during the run housing their changes of clothes & fuel etc etc). Getting a good spot neat the hospitality tent thanks to Mr Ridgeway’s contender status was a big plus and almost (emphasis on ALMOST) made putting the tents up in the rain a positive experience. With this done and the inside laid out in a way that would make pits stop as efficient as possible* we helped some of the fellow participants around us and then due to the worsening of the weather we left.
(*For me the best way to layout my space is to have all related items in the same area so for simplicity in making my point all food items would be in one corner of the tent, all additional clothing in another, all lights and electronics needed for blacks ops in another and misc things in the last)
As usual for us with races an early morning was greeted with the standard enthusiasm and a gathering of equipment along with putting on core base layers before heading out the door in hunt of food, and what do athletes eat before a 24hour obstacle course race I hear you ask? Well Chik-Fil-A of course?!?!? (For those of you not familiar with the states Chik-Fil-A is kind of like KFC) Some Chicken and “Biscuits” in the car on route and in all seriousness I believe we had a good base for the day’s activities, although probably not thought of as the “normal” food to eat before a race I actually believe it has some good levels of carbs, fat & protein for fuel as well as salt to assist in keeping muscle fatigue & cramp at day for slightly longer. Considering this was around 4 hours before the start of the race I think it was the right time to eat something larger like this where an hour or even two may be too close for me.
Upon returning to our tents we witnessed some of the “damage” that the continued bad rainfall had had on our pitch with both our tents have some water inside but nothing massively life changing just a minor inconvenience, once this was sorted we headed over to the race briefing where TM officials go through & outline the rules/regulations as well as the course, obstacles & specifics relating to all things event based. If I recall this was around an hour before we had to be in the start chute so once this finished it was getting ready for game time, getting dressed, getting the bib on & trying (and failing) to eat the driest bagel in existence before finally making our way to the chute. Once in the “hyping up” began with TM officials, TM start line heroes & bagpipers all playing their part in this before the countdown commenced and before I knew it we were on our way………….
It sounds stupid but even with a years’ worth of thinking time before this point I hadn’t really thought about a plan, how or what I would do when or anything like that, my teammates had plans, clear ideas around what to eat when as well as what pace they needed to achieve and when they would pit etc etc And although I had been present and involved in these conversations I had kind of floated through them without really applying them to myself. Put this down to my general mental state coming into the event or anything else you can think of but up until this point I had a clear disconnection from the event or any emotion for it and although that didn’t and still hasn’t changed to even this day that I am writing this I had to start putting just something, anything into action. Although I wasn’t emotionally involved or driven I have run enough OCR events including WTM 2017 & the first Europe’s Toughest Mudder that I could draw experiences from so I knew with the first lap being the sprint lap (no obstacles open) that I had to start strong and set a good place so I went out fast trying to get round as much course as possible before obstacles began opening.
I got into around mid-second lap before I began to come into obstacles and what I soon realized was the worst part of the course for me started. This was a section that started with Mud Mile & included kiss of mud, skidmarked, hero walls, pyramid scheme & the dreaded, most hated obstacle of most people’s WTM experience Lumberjacked……… Now you may be thinking that this is when the most of this blog will be and I will go into detail through my laps and experiences with each obstacle but I don’t think that’s the best way to outline my experience and you may lose your sanity so I will outline some key points.
Pit Stops – I had a few major stops, the first was to get into my shorty, the second was to get out of my shorty wetsuit and into my full, and the last was to change my socks and footwear for my final lap. Other than that my pit stops were pretty uniform, I would come in and eat check my lights speak to my amazingly supportive partner and then get back out there. In terms of nutrition if I was feeling cold I would have a Cup-A-Noodle and if not Zebra Cakes would be more than enough. It sounds simple and even I prepared for all situations with a variety of different food choices and don’t get me wrong I did eat some other random things but Zebra cakes for carbs, sugar & immediate energy with Cup-A-Noodles for warmth and a more hearty meals were my staples.
Electric Route – Now the electric route was something that I never thought I would even humor but with the alternative being The Gauntlet, Everest & Blockness it did enter my mind, although I have to admit it took someone I have never met to mock me for disregarding it to force me to go down it for the first time and GOD am I happy I did. Although it felt slow I could get through Electroshock without getting shocked and Operation is always achievable, from this moment I did the Electric route every time as it saved me both energy & time as it saved me doing a lot of penalty loops on the other path as the obstacles were harder.
Sleep Walking – Coming into the early morning on the second hard of the course there was a period after stairway to hell where you walked through the forest for a long time for around 3 consecutive laps at this point I would generally fall asleep on my feet. I would have internal dialogue were although groggy I remember clearly my mind telling my body that it was ok to sleep now as I have a period of straight track, I would awaken what I can assume was seconds later on the other side of the track abit dazed but would do the same thing only seconds later and this continued. At the end of this “straight” piece of track was an obstacle called Trench Warfare which was exactly as it sounds a trench under the ground for you to crawl through and I specifically remember having this internal dialogue with myself having to hype myself up to not fall victim to the warmth in the tunnel and fall asleep. I had to imagine images of me asleep in the tunnel and someone else coming up behind me and having to wake me up to move me out of the way and how bad that would be to convince myself to stay awake. Although this wasn’t “scary” as such for me it was very very interesting for me as a test of the human body.
The Cold – So it was cold, if you have listened or read anything about WTM 2018 then you know it was harshly cold. My own personal example of this was when removing my shorty wetsuit I returned a couple of laps later and it was frozen stiff like an ironing board. Other than that to be honest I was ok with the cold, yes I was cold of course I was, bloody cold at times but I was able to just manage my way through it pretty effectively.
So after around 22 hours I and the last 5 mile loop being in complete agony due to chaffing as I pissed away my Guerney Goo I was on my way to the finish line for the final time finishing my 50th Tough Mudder event and getting 50 miles at WTM which was my goal from the start. Did I feel happy? I had reached my goal so why wouldn’t I right? I have been moving for the whole race and even finishing was an achievement in itself but still there was something missing for me, I went and queued to get my 50 mile bib after my fantastic team presented me with my 50x Tough Mudder headband that they had thoughtfully been to collect before I came in to finish but even standing there with my bib & headband something was missing and the sense of accomplishment & pride for what I had done just wasn’t there and although some may see this as a massive sadness I guess it is just life and I will need to look elsewhere for that pride I was missing.
With that done and with my hands swollen beyond belief* my amazing partner along with my fantastic team with a few special guests appearances helped me out of my clothes (by cutting them off including my wetsuit) and into my clean not piss soaked clothes and I sat down in a children’s small s’mores camp chair and took a few deep breaths out. After a while here and some food/drink we disassembled the tents back our stuff and started the pilgrimage back to the car, now this journey was miles with all sorts of trials along the way and foes to overcome…………………….. or maybe this was the same short walk I alluded to earlier but with weary red raw legs, big bags and sleep deprivation it now seemed a lot worse than before J Eventually we got to the car and I drove us back to our accommodation to eat, sleep & recovery before our flight home.
*I wasn’t lying about the swollen hands:
In summary WTM is a fantastically run event which is always exciting and creates a unique buzz both at and running up to the event especially if you are doing it with friends, colleagues or teammates. I would fully recommend it to anyone who enjoys any OCR event as a way to step up to the next challenge and test yourself.