WTM Commandments Revisited: One Year Later

You all can blame WTM 2011 for me entering into the blogosphere. It’s because of that race that you feel obliged to read my unimportant and trivial ramblings. Post-WTM last year, I sat down a wrote four posts on the Ten Commandments of WTM (you can find them here, here, here, and here).

But this year’s race was a whole different animal than last year. So did these Commandments hold up? Or, now, in my infinite wisdom (after being at this for less than a year), have I committed sacrilege by violating my own commandments?

(1) Thou shall respect the power of neoprene

If you took a look at the pics of the starting line this year, it’s clear that everyone obeyed this one: aside from a few weirdos in speedos (several of whom I saw in the med tent being treated for hypothermia later), we all waddled to the starting line in our wetsuits.

I started in a 3/2 full, and nearly died of heat the first lap. I almost wanted to fail at Everest solely so I could jump in the Arctic Enema as a penalty. And for the first three laps (all before sundown), the 3/2 full was all I needed–no hood, no vest, no gloves, no socks.

I threw on the 3mm vest/hood combo and 3mm gloves the 4th lap, and then added the 3mm long john and a 5mm hood from laps 5 onward (though I delayered again the last lap, stripping the last hood). Surprisingly, I never put on neoprene socks for three reasons: (1) my feet had started to swell so much I don’t think the neoprene could have fit in the shoes; (2) my feet actually stayed pretty warm with the injinji/smart wool combo; and (3) I NEVER HAD TIME. Being chased sucks.

Most other racers had similar strategies. Coupled with warmer temps, this meant I saw relatively few people shivering in the med tents. Personally, my hands only really got cold at a few points in the early morning hours, and my core never got cold. No uncontrollable shivering, no loss of feeling in the hands.

Neoprene for the win. But it’s not attractive–ohmygod it’s not attractive. TMHQ, let’s have a warm weather WTM next year–fit shirtless men and women in sports bras and booty shorts? Marketing dream.

(2) Thou shall dry off completely between laps

Yeah…this didn’t happen at all. In fact, I never changed out of my original socks or tights, and only took off my shoes once to scoop out the dirt that had caked in the end. Would I have liked to dry off? Yes. But once again, no time. The longest I pitted for was perhaps 25 minutes, in which I mixed up some hot chocolate and hid from the camera crews while stuffing peanut butter and pretzels, Snickers, and Ensure in my mouth.

(3) Thou shall know the beauty of aid stations

True, but yet again, no time. This year, there was no hot jello (thank you), and while there was hot broth, TM volunteers were regulating it like soup nazis, monitoring how much you could take. I grabbed a small cup at a few stations during the wee morning hours, but once again, kept trucking. I’m sensing a “no time” theme…

And let’s take a moment to discuss the Sharkie situation. Sharkies are hard to chew as it is. Frozen Sharkies are damn near impossible to chew. I will regret saying this, but I totally miss the sharkies in hot water of WTM 2011.

(4) Thou shall learn how to climb tactical ladders

Once again, people must have done their homework. No back-ups or lines at the tac ladders on the backside of Everest (granted, they were much shorter), but the cargo net out of the water proved to be a bit of a bear. Then again, I was also ahead of the pack for most of this race, and found the only traffic jam to be on my third lap, when most people were trucking through their second.

(5) Thou shall not undestimate the power of logrolling

After logrolling for a mile and a half at the Death Race, I’m pretty sure I can handle two Kisses of Mud. Perhaps I don’t have a “dizzy” switch, but I’ll never understand how a 50-ft roll can get people all discombobulated.

(6) Thou shall not get wasted the night before

I did not. I ate a massive omelette at IHOP. Joel did not. But he cramped and finished less laps than last year. So I will stick with not getting wasted the night before, but perhaps Joel should go back to the bottle.

(7) Thou shall get your ass in the water

Still applicable, but Walk the Plank was a million times less daunting this year, as we weren’t jumping into the lake, but a man made hole. And it seemed to be about 10 feet shorter. But the swim back and forth across the lake was still there, and no less daunting. Tip on passing the time: chat with the lifeguards on kayaks and paddleboards. They are bored out of their minds

(8) Thou shall smile (and thank your volunteers)

I gotta hand it to TMHQ–the volunteers were WONDERFUL. Absolutely wonderful. So much encouragement and cheering, so many words of comfort. Perhaps, at times, TOO much. (lady at mud mile during day 1–nice enthusiasm, but I was ready to get out and strangle you and your chants of “tough! mudder! tough! mudder!)

Best spot for it? coming down the backside of Everest. I made a point of throwing my hands up and going “woohoo” every time I slide down that thing, meeting the cheers of volunteers and spectators standing around. I wish someone could put together a montage of those 9 photos–perspective on the slow demise of my sanity.

(9) Thou shalt not stop for bathroom breaks

That’s what wetsuits are for. And that massive sinkhole of sh*t in the woods. Though, for the love of God, I hope if you had to take a dump on the course, you stopped. Otherwise I’m blaming you for whatever nasty eye infections I come down with.

(10) Thou shall never travel alone

Of course, the last commandment is where I committed real sacrilege. Well, I take that back–there were cameras in my face for about 95% of the race, so I guess I was never REALLY alone. And while it was rather depressing and lonely at times to not have a running companion, it didn’t mean I was the only one out there. The shouts of encouragement from other racers as I ran by kept me going, and stealing the small chats here and there with people moving at the same time. I put names to faces, and faces to names. I joked for a few moments with those around, and then shuffled on my merry way. Towards the end, I was being passed left and right by others moving faster than me. And when my strength failed me on Everest and the 12 ft walls as the night progressed, tons of people pitched in to get me through it. So while I didn’t have the constant companionship like I had with Joel last year, I never felt utterly alone.

As I’ve said countless times before, it’s the people and the fellow racers at these events that keep me coming back. And here, it was no different. I’m honored to run among all you amazing athletes, and I thank you for the help and support along the way.

Like I’ve said, it’s amazing the difference a year makes. And if I wrote commandments this year, they’d look a hell of a lot different than last years. So maybe I will. Just maybe I will.

Day After World’s Toughest Mudder Hangover

No, not like booze hangover. I wish. Back to work, back to the grind, and thanking the higher powers I’m a desk jockey. Sitting is the only thing that doesn’t kill me right now. I need a dog to go fetch my print jobs from the copier.

I always like to mull over races for a few days to let it all sink in and organize my thoughts, so that will happen at some point.

But let’s get to the not-so-important and meaningful things: the “random thoughts” edition. So in no particular order:

(1) So much warmer than last year. I got a bit chilly at around lap 4 or 5, but it was never unbearable. As it became harder and harder to run, though, it got colder since I couldn’t keep my body temps up. And thank you wind for not picking up until the last lap. Did anyone notice how calm the wind was during the night?
(2) Who is in charge of TMHQ’s music? I swear to God it was the same 5 or 6 bands on repeat throughout the course the entire time: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182, Tupac, Van Halen, and Pink Floyd. I must have heard Nirvana’s “Rape Me” about 5 times during the race–very motivational, guys. I heard a racer say he thought Christmas music was playing during part of it. Hallucination or not, but that’s freakin’ hilarious.
(3) Mudders rock. The amount of encouragement from other racers out there was just amazing. I apologize to those of you who called out to me and I had no idea who you were–wetsuit hoods make everyone look the same. I met tons of awesome people along the way, and offered people $5 here and there when they helped me out in some way (offering to hold down the cargo net, etc.). I hope you all don’t think you actually are going to collect on that.
(4) Wetsuits are not flattering. As I ran by people, I must have been told “keep it going, man!” or “well done, dude!” about two dozen times. So yes, we all look the same in wetsuits: like dudes.
(5) Wetsuits do prevent gnarly gashes. While I’m covered in bruises, at least I don’t have to worry about infected cuts like after the Death Race or the Ultrabeast. Infected eyes from the Jersey mud, however, are probably inevitable.
(6) Windburn and eyeball burn hurts. I spent the entire flight back to Chicago last night with a Coke can pressed up against my face. And rocking sunglasses in the Philly airport to shield my eyes. People must have thought I was either a celebrity or a beating victim.
(7) When your grip strength goes, you’re screwed. I cruised through the Funky Monkey and Hanging Tough and that rope climby-thing the first few laps just fine (I’m going to go ahead and thank Crossfit for that–struggled immensely with all of those last year). But between the monkey bars, rings, ropes, tac ladders, and that damn cargo net out of the lake, my forearms were shot after 4 laps. Couple that with the freezing water, and there’s no way to regain that. I’m just thankful I didn’t fall off of that cargo net the last couple laps. God knows I was precariously close.
(8) Being in the lead is stressful. I felt like I was being chased. I mean, I guess I was. Sadly, I never had the opportunity meet Deanna Bregg, the Aussie who held down third, but I wish I could have–what a great competitor and athlete. She stayed consistently 30 minutes behind give or take a few for the first 8 laps, and you bet that I was looking over my shoulder the entire time.
(9) OH MY GOD THESE PICTURES. I’m not vane or anything (ok, I am…a bit), but seriously?! Is that seriously what I looked like? Swollen face, mud mustache and eyebrows, and just pain? Yikes. I gotta work on that.
(10) I have phenomenal friends and support. Those who helped me break down my tent and campsite afterwards, who brought me clothes, who drove my rental car when I was in no condition to, who posed with my giant check and gave any interview…oh…wait.
(11) This is my first semi-serious race injury. I thought it was a sprained ankle, but the swelling has migrated to the top of my foot. Crossing my fingers there are no broken bones. Ice and rest for the time being, and you all know how I hate rest. Hate it.
(12) I still cry after races. This time, I made it successfully away from the race track and through a shower without breaking down into sobs. But as soon as I got on the phone with the parents, the flood gates opened.
(13) I did not break the 2nd place streak. I mean, I won for women, but I still came in second to Pak. Not that I even thought I could get within a lap of him, let alone less than 10 minutes. In other words, I’ll take it.
(14) Running alone blows. It’s lonely out there. Thankfully, I kept myself company by singing this on repeat for 24 hours. Check it out: THIS IS F*CKIN AWESOME.
(15) Watch out boys, we’re coming for you. 1300 competitors, only 100 of them women. Second and third place OVERALL held down by women. You figure out the rest.

The Gearwhore Edition: Cold-Weather Racing

It’s that time of year again. The time when I dig out my boxed up hats, gloves, snow boots, and full-length down coat. The time when I mournfully put away my bikinis and sundresses. The time when the box is freezing for the 6am WOD. And the time when racing becomes a whole lot more…painful.

Gone are the days of racing in spandex shorts and a sports bra. The days of beanies, smart wool, compression gear, and yes–wetsuits, have arrived.

F*ck.

Nothing reminded me of this more than the Midwest Super Spartan this past week. The weather was eerily reminscent of World’s Toughest Mudder weather last year, and bite of the wind at 7am brought back vivid memories. I brought option after option of what to wear, and in the end, ended up OVERdressing. I was dying of heat 2 miles in, and looked forward to that last water obstacle solely to cool myself off.

But as I prepare for the rapidly approaching WTM (assuming I’m going), I remember that, most of the time, being overly warm is NOT the problem. And oddly enough, I’ve done more cold-weather races than I have warm weather races. Several races/challenges spring to mind that I can classify as “cold as f*ck”: WTM 2011, Indiana Tough Mudder, SERE D.C., Winter Death Race, etc.

I’d like to say that I have a system figured out–that I KNOW how to dress and prepare myself for the cold weather. I’ve fumbled my way through trial and error, I’ve underdressed, I’ve occasionally overdressed, but I’m still learning. So I bring to you, in NFL-style, my Matt Ryans and Tony Romos/Mark Sanchezes/Michael Vicks. (Is Matt Ryan the most underrated? I used to think it was Flacco, but not so sure anymore)

Overrated: UA Cold-Weather Compression Gear
Don’t get me wrong, I love Under Armour. Hell, my workout wardrobe is about 90% UA. But while everyone speaks of UA ColdGear like the holy grail of cold weather obstacle racing, it’s been pretty much a disappointment for me. While the compression is nice for movement, once it gets wet, there’s no warmth left. And it doesn’t dry as quickly as I’d like.

Underrated: Wool

S.E.R.E. Urban: Chicago
Specifically, smart wool and bio-merino wool. I have an I/O Bio-Merino wool top that I swear by–super light, quick-drying, and EXTREMELY warm. It made me die of heat at the Ultrabeast (til I went sportsbra style), and again at the Super Spartan. However, it’s easily packable so if you need to take it off, storing it in a pack isn’t a problem. It’s not tight-fitting like compression (as you can see from the pics), but I’ve never found it to be inhibiting while racing.

Overrated: Neoprene Socks
When I was preparing for WTM last year, everyone spoke of neoprene socks like they were the holy grail. I dunno–I wore neoprene socks for the entire race, and I still narrowly avoided frostbite on several toes. While they do insulate, they also keep your feet wet, which spells T-R-E-N-C-H-F-O-O-T. And blisters. Horrifying blisters. Not to mention how much room they take up in your shoes (so make sure to size up your racing shoes if you are wearing them).

Underrated: Injinji Toe Socks & Smartwool socks
After WTM, I traded the neoprene socks for a base of injinji with smart wool over. While toesocks are a pain in the royal ass to get on, they are the best blister prevention I’ve found. However, they are not warm enough for cold weather races on their own–hence, the smartwool topper. Both quick drying, but let’s be honest–your feet are never going to be completely dry in one of these races.

Overrated: Gloves
If you can find me a pair of gloves that works to keep your hands warm while wet, I will be forever indebted. I’ve tried pretty much everything: neoprene, sealskinz, wool, ski gloves, waterproof, Seirus All-weather, etc. When wet, NOTHING keeps the heat in (though Seirus is the best of the worst). On the other hand, if you aren’t going to have wet hands (think Winter Death Race), down-filled ski gloves are EXCELLENT. I stayed pretty toasty at the WDR with some cheapo ski gloves.

Underrated: Beanies
Everyone knows you lose some ridiculous percentage of your body heat through your head. So keep that noggin covered, all. I may look like a man (and have been mistaken for a man on the course while wearing a beanie), but at least it prevents THAT HAIR from letting loose (see, e.g., Ultrabeast pics)

Overrated: Waterproof boots/shoes
As many before me have said, shitty at keeping the water out, EXCELLENT at keeping it in. The only exception to this would be the Winter DR–since most of the water is frozen and you are only in the snow, waterproof boots are an excellent choice (especially with the snowshoe component this upcoming year). That being said, don’t wear them if you have to go take a dip in the pond under the ice 😉

Underrated: Snowboard/ski pants with vents

This one is unique to the Winter DR as well–I would laugh if I saw some of you all out at WTM in a pair of ski pants. But for the snow, uninsulated ski pants do the trick well. And the vents are fantastic if, say, you have to do 3,000 burpees (and everyone wondered why I was in a sports bra…). As I think I’ve said before, I was pretty toasty (and downright hot) at the WDR.

Overrated: Handwarmers
They get wet, they stop working. End of story. That being said, shake a couple before the race (if it’s only a few hours long), and they’ll be nice and toasty by the time you are done.

Underrated: Windbreakers
This one I owe to the indubitable Joel Gat. While I was freezing my ass off last year at WTM, he was toasty in a Gore-tex windbreaker. Yes, even through the water. And when I thought I was going to go the way of Steiner at S.E.R.E. D.C. in January and Joel gave me that windbreaker, I was toasty to no end. It’s simple: wind + wet = death. So while it may feel weird (and super-unflattering) to swim and crawl through mud in a windbreaker, I’m a believer.

Overrated: Putting on an extra layer of fat
Ok, ok, this may work. But vanity would get the best of me.

Underrated: Neoprene vest/hood combo
Yes, wetsuits are great, and I sure as hell will be wearing one at WTM this year. But the key is keeping your core warm, so if you are going to have a layer of neoprene, concentrate it mostly around your core, neck and head. And that neoprene hood serves as great insulation when you get zapped by the Arctic Enema (is that what they are calling it now? It’s been forever)

Overrated: Dry Suits
Sure, I imagine they work. But they are also incredibly expensive and you risk puncturing a hole in that spendy investment.

Underrated: Aquaphor
Every list I make always comes back to Aquaphor. This time, it’s not about chafing–it’s about windburn. I suffered from slight windburn this past weekend at the Super Spartan, but I’ll never forget the “face on fire I’m going to die” feeling after WTM last year. So lube up the face and the lips with regularity, or prepare to bathe in a vat of aloe gel.

Overrated: Booze
Unfortunately, “beer blanket” does not work here.

Underrated: Hot liquids
I kept a thermos of hot water in my tent during WTM. It was a godsend. As was the hot chicken broth at the aid stations, but that’s another story.

Overrated: Cleaning up post-race
That shower hose on-site is only going to make you colder. Bring clean towels, wipe yourself down, and save the shower for when you can sit in it for over a half hour.

Underrated: Down coats
For after the race. After WTM last year I threw on my full-length sleeping bag coat and felt my body temperature slowly come back to normal. Bring lots of dry, warm clothes for after any cold weather race.

And, for the record, no one is paying me off here for these views. I wish I was that important. So UA, don’t come after me, mmmmkay?