Tri-State Tough Mudder Review

Pirate’s Booty

I took on the Tri-State Tough Mudder at Raceway Park in NJ this past weekend, and had a great time. I didn’t do much research on the event and didn’t really know what to expect. I checked out a few of the obstacles the week before and thought it could go either way. Some looked challenging while others looked routine. Tough Mudder bills itself as a “Hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.” I think they hit the mark on some of these elements and missed on others. Overall, it was a fun race event with some great obstacles. Anyone who can run a few miles, should finish this course.

The Hits

The Event was very well organized. The parking was offsite, which sounds like a nightmare, but it was fine. We didn’t have to wait for buses on the way in or out. It was convenient, easy, and free (4 in a car). Registration was fast and efficient. The atmosphere inside was fun. Costume contest, band, mohawks, and all the usual pre-race goodies.

The course was well laid out, but I noticed there were signs that posted potential wait times of up to 30 minutes for some obstacles. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait more than a minute or two throughout the course.  This does signal, however, that the organizers see this as a potential problem, and that would be a deal breaker for me.  We started at 10am with several waves in front of us.  I wonder how the runners starting later in the day made out.

Arctic Enema

The obstacles were very well done and were more about overcoming fear than strength. Getting wet is not my thing, and many of the obstacles had you in cold water. The first obstacle of the day, Arctic Enema, required you to jump in a dumpster of ice water. It was a crazy situation that I never imagined myself in. If that ever happens in real life, you don’t have long to get out. It was quite a shock to the system.

Smoke Chute

One of my favorite obstacles, Smoke Chute, has you climb up to a platform maybe 15′ high where you have your own chute that resembles an air duct. You have to just jump in and trust that you won’t smash your head on the way down.  Of course, it dumps you out in a mud pond.

Two other highlights were Boa Constrictor and Trench Warfare.  Each feature crawling through tight spaces with rising water or complete darkness.  These was the only obstacle where I saw people bail once they got a close look.

The course was very unique. The Tri-State Mudder was at Raceway Park. It was cool to have a Monster truck lead us out, and to spend the afternoon on the dirt track without the dirt bike.

The Misses

Chain Gang

It’s a participation event. This may work for some people and I get that, but you can’t claim to be the “Toughest Event on the Planet” and not offer a competitive option. They could add a competitive wave for singles and teams. Imagine obstacles that require teamwork and strategy. Think log carry or river crossing. How would you get all 4 teammates over the 12′ wall? Could you get yourself over without any help? I understand this is where the camaraderie comes in, but I imagine most of the participants are competitive people and would like to compare themselves to the field.

Ladder to Hell

There wasn’t much of a strength component beyond the running. The rings and bars require some upper body and grip strength, but the climbing was fairly easy with knotted ropes and steps on the walls. Balance and fear of heights was more at play here. Most of the obstacles put you in unfamiliar situations but they aren’t overly difficult to complete.

If you are looking for a fun way to get dirty with your friends, you’ll love this event.  My complaints are mostly personal.  If you are a serious competitor looking for the toughest event on the planet, this probably isn’t for you. At $150, I’m not sure I need to do it again.

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Who Are You Listening To?

The web has nearly as much training advice as it does kittens.  The problem is, whatever you’re into, you can find both a loyal supporter and a staunch critic.  Whether it’s Crossfit, nutrition, training plans, or gear, the debate goes on and on.  At the top of the running field, you’ll find vegans, paleos, barefoot runners, high miles, low miles, and everything in between.  So who do you listen to?  How do you know who’s saying the right thing?  The answer is clear. All of them and none of them.  For the average runner, comparing yourself to the elites doesn’t make sense.  If you have a life and a regular job, you’re likely not able to train like an elite athlete.  You’re not eating 5,000 calories a day, taking ice baths, naps, and getting massages (if you are, please explain).  This wide range of philosophies tells us that average runners need a little bit of everything in our training plan.

Here are a couple of things to consider when putting together your plan

Diet. The average runner/athlete needs a good diet that they can sustain and be happy with.  It should be one that delivers the right mix of calories, carbs, and protein for your goals.  I’m moving in a vegetarian direction, but I still eat meat about once a week along with eggs. I’ve tried to limit prepackaged foods as much as possible, and I’ll never give up donuts.

Shoes. The average runner/athlete needs to understand how they run and what shoe(s) will work best for them.  It really doesn’t matter what kind of shoe your favorite hero wears.  I use 4 different shoes depending on terrain, mood, and planned activity (also a good excuse to buy more shoes).

Cross Training. The average runner/athlete needs cross-training to get stronger, avoid injury, and burnout.  Going to the gym saved my running “career”.  I joined because I was bored.  after a few months and low miles, I noticed I was getting much stronger and felt better than ever when I did run.  Ultimately, this led to running my 1st ultra on just 20 miles a week.

Mileage. The average runner needs to know what their body is craving.  It might be different that what your predefined training plan is calling for.  I wrote out a 40 week training plan for the LT run, and I adjusted it almost daily to satisfy different cravings. You might not have 50 mile/week knees, and the good news is you might not need them.  There is more than one way to train your running muscles.

So who do you listen to, and what are they saying?

3 Running Mantras

I always find it hard to remember what I think about while running.  I get flashes of things here and there, like what I’m going to eat when I get home, but I don’t spend much time in thought.  Isn’t that the beauty of it, the escape?  Anyway, I do use a few mantras while I run.  Here are three small phrases that keep me going or get me back on track.

“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless… When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”  Micah True said this while explaining the basics of running far. The funny thing is that I always forget one of the 4 elements, or the order, and I get a bit frustrated.  I also get hung up on the ‘easy’ part.  It’s not often that running is easy, and when it is, it’s short-lived.  I do however like to daydream about a time when 20 miles is easy, and that helps pass the time.  The key here could be practicing to make it effortless.  How do you do that?
This is where I am right now.  I use this often.  This is a great saying to use when you start thinking about how far you’ve gone, or worse yet, how far you have left to go.  It’s very calming and brings your focus back to the present, which is the only thing you can control.  This comes from Matt Fitzgerald’s, “RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel”.  I don’t remember the context, but it stuck with me and I’ve been saying it for about 2 years. It’s also a good overall system check.  I take inventory of what hurts, what feels good, and what I can anticipate.
Take what it gives you.  I say this throughout a run when I’m questioning my pace, both slow and fast.  Again, the thought process comes from Matt’s book with regard to trusting your body to know what it’s capable of.  I don’t usually plan to run fast or slow ahead of time, instead I let my body decide and just go with it.  It’s a great feeling when it’s harder to slow down than it is to push ahead (maybe this is True’s “effortless” feeling).  On the flip side, if my legs feel like lead, I’m OK with just riding it out.
What do you say to yourself when it’s just you and the road? Any key thoughts or phrases that help you get through your long runs?

Traprock 50K

OK, I just signed up for the Traprock 50k on my home course, the Metacomet Trail, in Bloomfield, CT.  I’m very excited and definitely nervous.  This happens to fit right in with my training as I would have done 5 hours that weekend anyway.  This will be a great opportunity to see if I’m on pace for the Long Trail.  The winner last year finished in just under 4 hours.  I’d like to finish under 6.  My plan is, slow and steady.  Here’s some more info about the race.

Timer Time Out

I realize different runners have different goals, but I think there is room in every training plan for running without the looming shadow of the timer.

I don’t consider myself a fast runner, even among amateurs.  My half marathon pace was 7:37, and I haven’t broken 21:00 in a 5k.  It’s not bad, but I’m not winning my age group or anything.  When I was training for the half marathon, I set a goal, and I lived by the watch, tracking my pace and splits.  I timed all my workouts, and memorized what it felt like to run 7:37miles.  I’m happy to report that it worked.  I ran my time and finished under 1:40:00.  By association, when I learned what my “fast” felt like, I also learned slow.  I hated slow.  It became a real drag and sucked the fun out of running.  If a workout wasn’t going as planned, it was hard to find any pleasure in the run, sometimes I’d even cut it short.  Of course I put this pressure on myself, but heavy legs shook my confidence and had me second guessing.  I’m sure a lot of runners struggle with the clock, but when the race was over, I had trained myself to think there was no value in going slow.  Some might say I was right in that thought, but for me, it was all wrong.

As an aspiring ultra runner, my focus has changed from speed to distance, no matter how long it takes.  It is such a freeing feeling when you realize it’s OK to go slow.  This may sound like a convenient excuse for a slow runner, but now I find that my runs are more rewarding and have more variety.  Sometimes I go fast, sometimes I drop to 10 minute miles, and sometimes I even walk.  With this new attitude, I’m able to find pleasure in every run, including the slow ones.  Going slow has given me time to become a better runner.  I’m concentrating on my form and efficiency, differentiating good aches and pains from the bad ones, anticipating the highs and lows, and learning how to refuel on the go. I haven’t timed myself lately, but I know I’m faster and stronger than ever before.  If I topped off with a little speed work right now, I could smash PR’s.  Distance running has enough pressure as it is, give yourself a break and leave your watch at home next time.  You just might learn something new.

Your thoughts?  Do you feel naked without your watch?

How CrossFit has Affected My Running

I largely run by feel, meaning when I leave the house, I only have a general idea of how far  or how fast I’m going to go.  I let my legs dictate the pace and follow their lead. This year, I’m not too concerned with speed, but I’m finding my mid week runs are usually 7:30 to 7:45 pace, and longer runs are between 8:00 and 9:00.  This is a similar pace to last year when I ran my first 1/2 marathon, and I’m not doing any of the speed work.

Last year, I loosely followed a standard training plan from Hal Higdon.  The month before the race (September 2010) was the heaviest workload.  Some of the workouts were tempo or track workouts, but overall, this is what it looked like.

 

Over 6 months, I did about 600 miles getting ready for the 1/2 marathon.  Certainly not a lot of miles by some standards, but after the race, I felt tired and bored.  I ran for a few weeks after the race, and then I didn’t run any significant miles again for a few months.

In the Spring of 2011, I started going to Crossfit as a way to get in better shape and to find a substitute for a lot of the running.  The mix up in training immediately made running interesting again, and Crossfit helped me keep the miles low, gain strength, and improve my overall performance.

I feel I am at the same training point (distance wise) now as I was just prior to the 1/2.  Here is a look at a similar five week section of this year’s training, which has 7 fewer runs, 10 days at the gym, and 6 more workouts total.

On this year’s training plan, my mileage dropped from 128 to 91, but I had 2 fewer days of rest and more total work.  I believe it’s because of CrossFit that I still feel fresh, strong, and ready for the next step.  My legs feel differently this year.  Deadlifts and squats are having a huge impact, and I can feel it in my stride.  Thankfully, CrossFit has kept me running strong.  It’s also a good place to hide when it’s 25 degrees in CT.

The Long Trail

Vermont is the home state of our 30th President, the great Calvin Coolidge.  Early in his political career, Coolidge gained a reputation as a man of decisive action, and in that same vein, I’ve decided to run the entire 272 mile length of The Long Trail. The trail runs the length of VT along the ridge of the Green Mountains which are part of the Appalachian Mountains and in particular the New England-Acadian Forests.

I spend a lot of time driving up and down Rt. 89 and going this way and that on VT backroads.  I’ve seen thousands of miles of old farms, and rolling hills. Sometimes they’re green and other times snowcapped, but no matter what the season, they are always awesome.  Since my running has increased, I’ve often fantasized about pulling over and running across one of the fields and into the mountains.  I imagine pulling off my tie and ditching the black dress shoes, hitting a perfect stride just as I disappear into the woods. I’m almost like superman but without the phone-booth.  When I’m driving and the mountains are in view, something about it looks so inviting and daunting at the same time that I can’t take my eyes away.

The reason I chose this challenge is because it’s ridiculous.  What business do I have thinking I can run up and down the mountains for 10 days touching 4000 ft. peaks when the farthest I’ve gone is 13.1 miles? I don’t have an answer…yet, but I think this goal is within reach if I do the work.  I’ve never done anything like this, but for some reason, I know I can do it.  Lance Armstrong buttered his bread in the mountains, and that’s where you find out what you’re made of. Ultimately, that is the goal.  I want to see what I’m made of.

So you’re gonna do 10 marathons in a row?

I really have no interest at all in the traditional marathon, so I’ve decided to skip it and move on.  I got my first taste of trail running just as I was finishing Born to Run.  I was also eating chia seeds and taking my shoes off, so I’d say the book had an effect on me.  My first thought after finishing the half marathon was, “I can’t imagine only being half done”, but after reading the book, I started thinking and reading more and more about ultra running. I was in awe of these runners and their ability to push to their outer limits both physically and mentally. I started to wonder what it would be like to run 100 miles.  How would I train?  What it would feel like?  What do ultra-marathoners look like?  That was about a year ago and I didn’t do much about it until Spring when I came across an article about Courtney Campbell’s Long Trail speed record. The story stuck with me and I started looking at the mountains differently on my back and forth trips to VT.  I started picturing myself running over the ridges, ripping through the woods and running through an entire state. I dismissed any thoughts I had of attempting it, and even joined CrossFit with the intention of cutting back on running.  That didn’t work as I found myself to be running stronger than ever and craving mileage.  I suspect I’ll satisfy my craving and then some over the next 40 weeks, but I can’t wait to get to the border on July 28th, 2012.

For a Good Cause

For the past seven years, I’ve been working in VT for a large dental company selling technology and equipment solutions, and have been able to make a very good life for my family. The dental community has been very good to me, and I’d like to take this opportunity to give something back. The people and culture of Vermont are great, and after a tough summer, they can use the help.  This run will be a benefit run for 3 Free Dental Clinics that serve a large portion of Vermont.  I will be working with the Vermont State Dental Society to help these clinics continue their great work.  My goal for this fundraiser is to reach $10,000. You can check out the Giving page to find out more about the clinics and what they mean to their communities.  Of course, if you’d like to sponsor me, you can do that here through PayPal’s secure service.  Not a member, no worries, credit card or check accepted.