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WTM 2019  

Eric Sirois's picture

World's Toughest Mudder (WTM), a unique obstacle course considered the OCR long-distance event of excellence, held its ninth edition on November 16th and 17th in the Atlanta area. Those who follow the news and the obstacle course activities will no doubt remember the ridiculously cold temperatures that the participants had to contend with last year. It was therefore an important topic of discussion during the two weeks preceding the race.

WTM marks the end of the year at Tough Mudder even if a regular event remains a little later. For the company, it was a very busy year, both in organizational change and change in events. We all remember the chaos caused by the announcement TMHQ made about the prize money that would be absent from the races for 2019. This was followed by a wave of messages on social networks from athletes like Ryan Atkins announcing their absence of TM events. Two of the most important faces and members of the TMHQ team also decided to leave the company. Eli Hutchison and Nolan Kombol took care of the Toughest of Philadelphia before taking different paths. In July, Kyle McLaughlin who was then president was promoted to CEO. If the end of 2018 was quite difficult for TM, the year 2019 seems to have gone well. Other changes in 2019: We return to the base with the classic distance and a 5k. Toughest editions were converted to 12h format rather than 8h. Medals were also awarded at the end of the "competitive" waves.

Back to WTM, the race is actually over a period of 24 hours, but if we take the event as a whole, it is four days of activity to which participants can take part. Friday was historically devoted to the selection of camp sites, commonly called "pit". Each participant has the right to select a space to put his equipment. This year, this selection was made online via an interface representing the layout of all available spaces. The system still prioritized participants according to their rank (contender or not). Some lucky people were able to select a covered space in the stables and be ready for all the whims of Mother Nature. Moreover, a good downpour happened Friday on the site as the participants came to register and prepare their location for the next day. Another interesting novelty, the "Hot lap". Participants could take part in a lap on Friday to get an idea of ​​the course. The best part of all this was that it was totally free for the registered participants as well as for their pit crew. I find this option really interesting for the support teams as they can see the course their athletes will face the next day. I do not have the numbers, but according to what we have seen, about 60-70 people have taken the start. The difficult conditions have certainly not helped the cause. Parking was once again very far from the pit area, but TM had put in place a shuttle system with buses and trucks to help participants carry their equipment to the start of the festival area. Everyone who has taken part in this race knows that the most difficult task is to carry your equipment out when it's all over.

Fortunately, the shuttle system works very well and the wait is more than reasonable. Friday ended with a rally where a presentation was given on how the weekend events unfolded. TMHQ took care to make some announcements regarding certain changes to the course. Among other things, the obstacle known as Augustus Gloop, the one where we see vertical black pipes and where we poured water on your head, lost his pipes and his "system" of integrated ladders to be replaced by a rope to climb. The latter had knots and there was still a wooden wall with a few holes and planks to set foot on. Certainly, the obstacle requires more grip strength with this version than the original. The boards at the base of the Mudderhorn and Pyramid Scheme were also removed, a matter of complicating the task of the runners a bit and thus strengthen the mutual help necessary to overcome these obstacles. Another slightly crazy idea from TMHQ was to add 1800 little yellow ducks floating in Blockness Monster’s water. Some of these ducks had color painted underneath and could be traded for carabiners at the race center.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tough Mudder officials

The day of Saturday and Sunday are obviously reserved for the race. Although the start is at noon, most racers arrive in advance to finalize the preparation of their pit, discuss the latest details with their support team and enjoy the atmosphere on site. A little past 11am, they call the runners to get in the starting area. First the "contenders" then the rest of the participants. To be considered a "contender", you had to do a certain number of laps at toughest events earlier in the season or apply to TM and hope you matched the selection criteria. Before the start, the runners are entitled to the always appreciated speech of the Mirror Man, Sean Corvelle as well as the less appreciated knee on the ground! John Cooper also played some notes of his bagpipes, he who was not supposed to be on the spot, but who finally decided to make the trip because he was touched by the comments of the runners the few days before the event. Finally, the moment everyone is waiting for arrives. A countdown of ten seconds is given and the race is officially in motion. The first course section leads participants through a very narrow section of forest trails for the number of runners arriving at the same time. So we had to be patient if we found ourselves far away in the starting area. After a few minutes, the racers finally come out of the wood and have to jump over a small trench before continuing their race. On the other side of this trench is the first obstacle of the race: Devil's Taint. But, as usual during the WTM editions, the first hour unfolds without obstacles. This is, if you will, a free ride for the runners and a good way to disperse the people who have all started at the same time. If we did not do that, waiting for obstacles would simply be endless. The fastest runners will have almost two or three laps without having any obstacle since these open at different times. In short, some obstacle opens after the first hour, others after 2 hours and so on. The last obstacle to open was Arctic Enema, 4 hours after the start of the race. By the way, TM served us a special version of Arctic Enema. Certainly, the regular ice tray in which to dive was there, but it was lined with a mini cage crawl with such cold water. Many had trouble finding their minds after this cold crossing. From the opening of Devil's taint, the runners quickly realized how important it would be to work as a team to overcome certain obstacles. Devil's Taint is a Machiavellian version of Devil's Beard. If you are familiar with TM, you probably know the net attached to the floor under which one must pass. This version is essentially the same principle but adds a large trench of cold water and a tarp that covers the net for the second portion. This tarp really changes the game since it makes the net extremely heavy. There must be several people at the same time to "ease" the task, especially towards the end. A little further, Pymarid Scheme had many ropes as in other editions, but as mentioned above, the bottom board was not present. The athletes had to work together to reach the rope and climb. The next big hurdle on the way was the Everest. The famous ultra-slippery ramp had its angels camped at the top to help the athletes cross the wall. If, on the other hand, it was not possible to climb there, it was required to do a lap of the mini-mudder (the course for children). In addition, a mini-mudder headband was given to you at the end of the penalty. I have the strong impression that some have missed the wall voluntarily to get one of these headbands!

PHOTO CREDIT: Tough Mudder officials

The two walls that were at the top of the hill immediately after Everest were quickly found covered with mud and it was increasingly difficult to cross them. Once the sun was down, an option was offered to runners to avoid Everest, Skidmarked and Berlin Wall: the electric avenue. It consisted of Electroshock Therapy, Electric Eel and Operation. It was necessary to succeed the three obstacles in order to continue on this road and thus avoid the three obstacles of the regular course in addition to saving a bit of distance to run. Halfway through and almost immediately after a changed version of Black Widow (mostly two "binders" one on top of the other) was the coach's quick pit. At this location, the runners support crew could give their runners food and drinks. A few used this "advantage", but it is rather encouragement that has been distributed in this area in the middle of the field. On the other hand, what attracted attention was the sound and light show organized by Coach T. Mud. A real party worthy of a disco in the middle of nowhere to recharge the batteries of runners and put a smile on their faces. Subsequently, a series of obstacles separated by only a few hundred feet offered a good variety. First, the mud mile which included 7 basins instead of the usual 5, Mudder press which was simply a series of pipes under which we had to crawl, Blockness Monster and Funky Monkey. Funky Monkey's penalty was particularly long and exhausting: A pass over a mountain of dirt, 20 rope jumps, a good distance to run or walk back and forth and a fairly heavy carpet that had to be dragged for a distance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tough Mudder officials

From 8pm, the obstacle Statue of Liberty opened. As if the racers were not enough in the water, they had to add more! On the other hand, the lake being not too hollow, the majority of the runners had water up to the hips or a little higher, but no complete submersion. All there was to do was to make sure the torch flame stayed on. Further on the course was waterworks. A simple pipe with water reminiscent of hydrophobia. On the other hand, at a certain moment during the race, a menthol gas was sent into the pipes. The runners were therefore in the cold water and in the gas. Coming out of these tubes, the course descended a little to go back up to two obstacles: the Gauntlet and King of the Swinger. The Gauntlet was tweaked and included Twinkle toes (balance beam) as the first section, two metal pipes to go through in second and Kong in third. No pegs or metal balls. Followed the most feared and difficult obstacle of the race: King of the Swinger. The obstacle may seem simple at first glance: A handle that swings you towards a bell. The problem is that the famous handle is very high in the air which forces you to throw yourself into the void to grab it and that the bell to ring is really, really far. I do not know the numbers, but I can assure you that the success rate was very low throughout the event. The penalty of this obstacle was declined in two versions. If you try to reach the bell and you do not succeed, we sent you to make a penalty loop with a log and a slice. If you decided to literally pass the obstacle without even trying, we add another loop to run before doing the one with the log. This loop was smaller than the advertised one (half a mile advertised) and it was sometimes worth it if there were a lot of people on the platform. Once swinger was passed, it's almost a hike towards the end of the course. On the other hand, you had to go through Augustus Gloop with the rope, cage crawl that many hated, lumberjack which was lower than last year. Subsequently, three obstacles stood in the runners and the finish line. The first is natural: a good big slope that brings the mudders to Arctic Enema and Mudderhorn.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tough Mudder officials

Let's talk about the benefits that runners could accumulate during the race. First, the orange wristbands. From the sixth lap (30 miles), the racers could pick up a wristband at the race center allowing them to skip an obstacle (and its penalty). Many of them were used at Funky Monkey. Devil's taint also received his share of wristbands, especially at the end of the race when there were fewer runners on the course. Then there were the famous carabiners. These carabiners allowed to take an alternative route and thus avoid some obstacles in addition to the distance to go. A real way to save time and that has allowed some to go for an extra lap. There was a carabiner cost to take each of the roads. When they opened, the cost was three carabiners, then went down to 2 a little later. Towards the end of the 24th, it was possible to use a single carabiner in exchange for a dance, or push-ups. The first road allowed to skip 4 obstacles (kiss of mud, pyramid scheme, spread eagle and Everest) and thus to save ¾ of mile on the distance. Definitely the route that saved the most time. The second allowed to skip the Gauntlet and King of Swinger while the last Augustus Gloop and cage crawl. The carabiners could be obtained in different ways: By finding them on the course, succeeding a "level up" line of some obstacle or by completing different challenge proposed by the volunteers at the obstacles. The electric avenue also had some available. Not only in operation, but also attached after the electric wires of electroshock therapy and electric eel. The more determined braved and agreed to be electrocuted multiple times to get the advantage.

A little before sunrise, two obstacles were closed: Statue of Liberty and King of Swinger. One could only feel the joy in the cries of the mudders who had just been avoided two passages in the water. From 8am Sunday morning, all those who completed a lap was considered as finishing 24 hours, which gave right to the famous black WTM headband. On the other hand, several continued to increase the number of laps completed. All had until noon to start on a new lap and it had to be completed before 13:30. At the finish line, the encouragement of the pit crew and TM’s Emcee’s staff managed to put a smile on the most tired of runners. Those who were there were even given a good request when Adam Ribeiro found the strength to kneel after completing 75 miles to ask his girlfriend in marriage! Throughout the race, the volunteers were simply incredible, giving encouragement and a big dose of love in the form of hugs. It is also important to make an excellent mention to the medical staff who took care of the runners in bad shape. TM does not skimp on safety because you could see the medical team everywhere on the course. The runners had to empty their camp space before 3pm. Fortunately, the shuttle system was available and still worked quite well. Many gave the equipment or food that they did not want to bring back so that TM could return it to charities.

Each participant was given different items according to their achievement. The orange, black and orange headband for the 24-hour finishes, a 25-mile patch if you reached this distance, a special 60-mile patch and the 50, 75 and 100-mile bibs. Interestingly, there were patches available for all distances in the merch tent. After a good rest night, a last activity was offered to community members. As every year, TM holds a brunch after WTM to unveil the winners, the people recognized by the community and the novelties of the next season. The announcement of the next location for WTM was also announced during the presentation: Dallas. TMHQ has also introduced the TM Hall of Fame. Five people were inducted: Guy and Miranda Richardson, Amelia Boone, Jim Campbell and Sean Corvelle. I will not mention the names of all the winners of the age groups, but for the overall winners we find Trevor Cichosz (105), Kristopher Mendoza (100) and Javier Escobar (100) who was very happy to get his orange jacket. For the women, Morgan McKay (80), Erin Rost (75) and Corinne Kohlen (75). For teams of two, Muddy Canucks (105), Untouchaballs (100) and Team UK (85). In the quartets, German Toughest Mudders (85), Poorboy running (75) and The Replacements (65). TM has one chance per year to succeed this event. Of course they have a huge amount of event as experience and some rehearsals with 12h editions throughout the year, but still, we must emphasize the effort put in place to make everything run like clockwork. Once again, TM delivers an event of great quality that cannot be blamed for anything major. If you have not yet taken part in this unique event, I strongly suggest you take it into consideration. Whether as a participant, pit crew or volunteer, you will undoubtedly find some stories to tell!