A Review of Portland Tough Mudder...

This is my review of the Portland Tough Mudder in Lebanon, Oregon, August 9th, 2014 . I have included links to the event as well as links to videos on Youtube of each obstacle. I want to be clear that the Youtube videos are not mine, I have only included them for my friends to see the obstacles. Whenever possible I include video from the Portland event, but some of the clips are other races. The course was approximately 10.1 miles with 2500+ total feet of elevation and 20 obstacles. Tough Mudder's map said that the average participant time should have us finishing between 2:45 and 3:15. Since this was the first Tough Mudder I ran my goal was 3:15.

There wasn't a lot of signage on the way to the event to indicate it was happening in the tiny town of Lebanon. Although I was familiar with the area, I bet a lot of people were nervous about getting lost on the way to the race. Once we arrived, I was glad to see the parking areas were close to the main area we would be entering after the race. I was disappointed to have to pay for parking though. This was not a cheap race to run and adding another $15 for parking was lame.

The main area had a number of food vendors and sponsors booths. There was also a tent to buy Mudder gear. Tina and I bought a pair of Maxi Grip gloves and a Tshirt each. Usually when I've purchased a race shirt along with a registration the shirts are terrible quality and ugly and I barely even wear them. The shirts at Mudder were high quality UnderArmour gear. The gloves were also really great and seemed as though they would be much better for the course than the work gloves we brought along with us, so we changed into them.

Our heat started at 9:20 and we made our way to the "warm up area" at about 9am. There was a group instructor with a microphone doing warm up exercises that seemed more like team-motivation exercises than an actual warm-up. Then the previous heat started and we all emptied out of the warm-up area to the start line. Before we got to the start line, there was a 6 foot wall that we had to scale. This was a taste of things to come, before we even began! There was an MC at the start line, working the crowd and telling jokes and taking pictures to Instagram. He was entertaining and helped to pass the time. Just before we started, Tina turned to me and said that all of the nervousness she had been feeling in the weeks leading up to this race vanished as we were standing there. This made me really happy because we trained hard and it made me glad that she felt ready.

The first obstacle we encountered was near the one mile mark and it was Kiss of Mud. This was a mud pit with barbed wire stretched across the top. Get under the wire and covered in mud, crawl through until the end. This was an easy obstacle. I was glad that I had a chance to run for awhile before I got into the mud because it felt kind of nice.

The next obstacle was the Mud Mile. This was a series of 6+ foot deep mud walls with mud pits between them. To get out of the pit you had to rely on teamwork, either giving you a leg up or grabbing your hand to help you get to the top of each wall. Tina and I met a couple from Vancouver who were in the mud with us and at this point we agreed we should all team up for awhile to help each other through the course.

Next came Pitfall.  This was a mud pit with an electric wire and barbed wire stretched over top. In the beginning you duck under the wire and then crawl through the mud pit being careful to not get snagged on the barb wire. I was able to get under without a shock but the girl next to me got it in the shoulder. She said it definitely stung.

Next was Killa Gorilla. The link I provided is not Portland's course but it looked a bit like the one in that video. It was basically just a section on the side of a great big hill that they made an up and down repeating course to wear you out.

After KG came Walk the Plank. This was not an obstacle I was looking forward to because I'm scared of heights and sometimes I even get vertigo. I was nervous going into this one and I thought it would be better once I was standing in front of it, but I was still really anxious. When I got to the top of the plank I paused a lot longer than I hoped to and I felt my head start to spin a little but there were people behind me and I didn't want to hold them up so I went for it and jumped. The drop was about 12 feet into cold water with a swim to a net on the other side. I have no problem swimming so I made it across just fine. This was the first obstacle that really made me uncomfortable and challenged me and pushed me past my comfort zone. I felt really accomplished afterward and it helped charge me up for the rest of what I had to face.

The Glory Blades were the next obstacles on the course. They were walls that we facing toward you at about a 45 degree angle. You had to scale over them and slide down the other side. This was actually easier than I expected. I helped my team over the wall and then used the supports on the side to hop right over.

There was a short run after the Glory Blades and we came to the Arctic Enema. This obstacle is a dumpster filled with ice and water. It has a wall in the center and you have to pull yourself underwater and under that wall and come out on the other side. I was pretty prepared for this because I went swimming last week in the McKenzie River and it was almost that cold. Tough Mudder claims that there is 25000 pounds of ice used in this obstacle.

Muddersection was just a great big mud pit. Climb down, wade, climb up. We went through this one twice.

BaleBonds was not too tough, but when I first started up the rope I couldn't get my feet dug in well and didn't pull my body close enough to the wall so I slowed for a second until I could fix that. Up and over!

I've determined that it has to be our volcanic soil that makes obstacles like Trench Warfare so painful. I swear our dirt here is just sharp and with both Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash I come out all cut up on my shins from it. The being underground part wasn't so bad but being cut to ribbons always sucks.

Hold Your Wood was the next obstacle on the course. This was literally just taking a huge log and carrying it for a certain distance. It was pretty far (two hundred yards?) and my shoulders were burning by the time we finished. I think my log was about 40 pounds and it was awkward. I'm glad I spent so much of my summer helping to the clear the woods at OCF because I think it definitely helped me prepare for this.

Berlin Walls were next. These were a few 10-12 foot walls we had to scale. I helped with leg ups and used the boards on the side to pull myself up and over. I was really pleased at how easy things like scaling walls seemed. I haven't had a lot of practice with this and don't have an obstacle course training area yet so I just did lots of pulling in my strength training and it translated well.

Cliffhanger was an obstacle as well but I didn't find a good video. This was basically just a steep-ass hill that we had to climb. There were parts of it that I'm sure were at a 45 degree angle. It was incredibly difficult to run up this and I stopped and walked at many parts. Within a one mile section we had 1000 feet of elevation. It reminded me of trail running events with my crazy EH3 friends, but with less beer. It was hot on that hill and it would have been nice to have a water station near the cell tower.

After Cliffhanger we finally reached the top of the hill and then started the treacherous downhill. Running downhill is hard and beats up your knees. When you mix in the rough terrain, rocks, tree branches and other people navigating it can take a lot out of you. We were about 2/3 of the way down the hill when we came upon the Devil's Beard. This was a cargo net stretched over the course and you had to get underneath it and crawl through. It was a lot tougher than it looked with the cargo net pressing down on you and at this point I could really feel the 7 miles we had run so far.

With Devil's Beard behind us, we arrived at the Warrior Carry. The Warrior Carry is an obstacle that Tough Mudder included to honor and raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. This is a great charity that Mudder is involved with to help wounded veterans. The point of the obstacle is to carry your partner through the designated area. There was a switch point at the midway where you change positions and your partner carries you. My teammate (Tina) and I decided I would just carry her through both points instead of having her try to carry me because at this point in the race she wasn't sure how far she could go with me on her back. We came to the end of the obstacle and I set her down and we continued on!

After the Warrior Carry was Bushwhacked. This was just a steep rocky and wooded area that was pretty typical of any trail in Oregon. If you've done any trail running nearby you would probably encounter the same type of stuff. This was not particularly challenging and it didn't really seem to have a start or end. Hard to call this one an obstacle.

Prairie Dog was the next obstacle on the course. This was the toughest obstacle for me. The obstacle consisted of tubes with the entrance low and the exit higher up in the air. Each tube was slick on the inside, with a knotted rope running through the middle. By the time I got to this obstacle the rope and inside walls were both so slick with mud I could barely hang on. It was extremely difficult to pull myself up this rope. Right about midway I started feeling a little claustrophobic and trapped. My muscles were tired and I was mentally pretty exhausted too. I really had to push myself to keep moving and stop thinking defeating thoughts. I thought to myself that the movement I was using was a lot like a dumbbell pullover and I need to keep increasing my weight for these in my program more than I thought. Thinking about my training helped me keep moving. Once I got my head back on tight I moved past a few more knots and saw Tina reach down into the tube. I grabbed her hand and she helped pull me out. I was very glad to be out of that tube.

Next up was the Quagmire. This was yet another deep mud pit. There was no teamwork required to get through this one. The mud was a little stickier than previous mud but that was about it.

Everest was another obstacle that I wasn't sure if I'd be able to finish when I was looking at videos online. Once I got to it in person I was feeling a bit better. Basically you have to run up a quarter pipe and jump at just the right time to catch the lip at the top. They slick the pipe with vaseline, cooking oil, or whatever else they feel like at that moment. If you don't jump at the right point you don't make it to the top. This one took me two tries. I was able to grab the lip at the top on my second try but I needed someone to lend me a hand to climb up. I stayed at the top and helped Tina and another guy and his girlfriend to the top and then continued on.

The last Obstacle in Tough Mudder Portland was Electro Shock Therapy. I'm going to be honest here, I was DREADING this one. 10,000 volts, 50 feet long. Thousands of wires hanging down over mud. You get to run, walk, crawl or otherwise spasm your way through. I used to have horses as a kid and we had an electrical fence around the corral. As a matter of course sometimes you forget the fence is on or try to be fast and sneak between and you inevitably get shocked. This happened to me a lot as a kid (can you tell?) I expected that the shock I got from Electro Shock Therapy would be a little less than this jolt I used to get occasionally and I would be fine.

I reached up and grabbed one of the wires to test the zap and didn't get a jolt at all. I used the other hand to press it to the inside of my forearm to test and came back with a big popping zap that hurt just as much as the fence I remembered as a kid. They didn't turn this sucker down AT ALL. My arm hurt, my stomach lurched, I felt a little tingle in my leg where my foot was in a puddle. I had to stand there for minute or two and psyche myself up to get to the point I could do it. I backed up and sprinted as hard as I could through the hanging wires. I know they worked on a pulse so I thought if I went quickly enough I may be able to avoid some of the pain by catching in the middle of a cycle. I felt a few small zaps from the first row, and about 4 more from the second row. As I was almost through the second row I felt a wire wrap around my head and I caught a huge zap right in the temple. I felt another brush my face and give me another jolt and then I fell. I was actually dizzy and nauseous and for a second a forgot to breathe. I raised up onto my hands and knees and heard an announcer telling me to keep going. I started to stand and got another zap. That was enough for me and I threw myself forward and through the last row of wire with only another small zap or two as I went through. I think I got it about 8 times total. I'm really glad that was the last obstacle because my muscles were all cramping and pissed and I was hot and miserable and sore. I know this doesn't sound like a very positive review at this point BUT I HAD SO MUCH FUN!

As you cross the finish line after all the electrocution, lovely ladies award you with your prize: The coveted orange Tough Mudder headband. They even let you give them incredibly muddy hugs!

The course support was great. Where normal races may have water, this had water and bananas at nearly every stop. There were also electrolyte gels and protein bar samples from race sponsors. At the end you get a free Dos XX beer, which tasted incredible after running 10 miles and beating myself up.

The food vendors were fine and the prices were good. I had a beer and a corndog and a Coke and it was great. There was an area to clean off, a bag check (proceeds partially benefit Wounder Warrior Project) and a changing area. When I ran Warrior Dash, you had to clean off in the lake and it sucked so it was nice to have running water to clean the layers of crud off. Good job with that Tough Mudder! Finally we picked up our finishers shirts and headed to the car, exhausted but elated.

Tough Mudder for me was a symbol. When I started running in 2010 I set my goals on being able to complete Warrior Dash. Warrior Dash is a similarly themed event with mud and obstacles that stretches out over 3 miles. When I started training for Warrior Dash I couldn't even run a mile without stopping and I was weak and flabby. Even after running 3 Warrior Dashes successfully, I was still intimidated by Tough Mudder. It was the obstacle course designed by British Special Forces! You had to be really fit to complete a Tough Mudder. I didn't know if I'd ever be up for the challenge, but sometime last year Tina and I decided to register for it. We began training in earnest, running the Ridgeline Trail and around Spencer's Butte. We did lots of lifting and functional training in the gym to prepare and I programmed grueling kettelebell and circuit training sessions to help us get lean and mentally tough. We did intervals, we did sprints, we did endless Turkish Getups and Bulgarian Split Squats. As hard as the training was, I felt prepared for Mudder once I got there. My teammate Tina and I both trusted our training and it carried us through. I wanted to complete the course in 3:15 but it took us 4:30. At the end I wasn't disappointed because it wasn't about time as much as completion and helping your team. As a two person team, (but with plenty of help from our fellow Mudders) we took something that we never thought we'd be able to complete successfully and turned it into a great achievement that we're looking forward to improving upon next year! What I'm getting out of my training is feeling amazing about myself and my body and the things I can do with it. It gets better all the time!

Want to join us for Tough Mudder Portland 2015? Leave a comment below or contact me via email and we'll conquer it together!