I just spent five days out in Colorado with my dear friend Chelsea. She is unlike any other person I’ve ever met – and I have to add that we met while both volunteering on a missions trip in Africa where we were roommates, quickly turned best-friends, which is so sweet of the Lord. A few months ago, Chelsea endured the World’s Toughest Mudder, which is…well I’ll just let her tell you about it.
By: Chelsea Hunter
It has been a couple of months since I endured the hardest challenge of my life; a race comprised of 5 miles, 21 obstacles, 840 ft. of elevation gain. Oh… and you race for 24 hours to complete the course as many times as possible.
Go ahead and say it. “She’s crazy.” I won’t disagree.
The World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) left me with blisters covering my feet, bruises, a sore hip flexor, and a tight IT band, but I’m slowly recovering. Minor injuries considering I completed 50+ miles, 210 obstacles, and raced for the complete 24 hours. With any major life event, returning to normalcy takes some time. I’ve spent the week sharing my own stories, as well as reading about other’s experiences, pondering how I go about describing such a roller coaster, especially one that lasts for an entire day. I’ve decided to break the race into each lap completed, a play-by-play including the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.
Let’s first start with the pre-race, and the fact that I forgot my wetsuits at the rental house. The list of supplies for this type of race is endless, but there are only three things you absolutely need to race: time chip, tennis shoes, and a wetsuit. Clearly, my nerves were high, and that is exactly why you bring a pit crew. My friend Ashley was amazing throughout the whole race, but her willingness to drive 30 minutes through traffic back home to grab my wetsuits, and still make it back to see me start the race was incredible. An added bonus was when I stopped by the orphan tent (a group of people available to help anyone) to drop off some donated food, I mentioned my forgotten wetsuits, and was gifted a 5mm wetsuit that someone had donated because it didn’t fit. Can you say thank you, Jesus? But seriously. Alright, wetsuit problem solved, time to race. The participants gathered at the Start Line 30 minutes prior to the race to review the rules, and listen to an inspiration talk, by the famous Sean Corvelle (if you don’t know him, look him up). These seemed to be the longest 30 minutes of the whole 24 hour race, but at exactly 2:00 pm, we were off. All 1,280 of us.
Lap 1: Obstacles don’t open until 3:00 pm, so this is a sprint lap. The idea behind this is so the participants are more spread out to prevent long lines at the obstacles. My strategy was to run hard, so that I could hopefully finish the first lap with extra time to bypass a few obstacles on the second lap. Adrenaline is high, weather is warm, and I’m feeling great.
Lap 2: With 8 minutes to spare until 3:00 pm, I don’t pause between laps. I’m able to bypass the first two obstacles on the course. One of which is Everest, a muddy, greasy quarter pipe climb. The horn goes off to signify 3:00 pm just as I arrive at my first obstacle, Hydroplane. There are three long foam mats floating on water that you must run across quickly, so you don’t sink. I’m light and quick, so I had no issues. One obstacle down, only 209 to go. I got this. I’m able to run most of the course, completing all obstacles, except one. Gut buster is where you have your feet propped on a wood board and reach for a series of metal poles across water. You are in a plank position, and have to coordinate your feet and hands to move along the series of poles. Sounds fun, except when your 5’4” frame doesn’t reach. For the entirety of the race, I didn’t even attempt the obstacle, but instead jumped in the water, climbed out the other side, and took the penalty, which included carrying a cinder block around a tenth of a mile. During this lap, dusk is approaching, and temperatures are dropping fast. The cold water reminds me that night fall is upon us, and I would need to put on my wetsuit at the end of this lap. My favorite obstacle this lap was Tramp Stamp. Let me explain. You jump onto a trampoline, reach for a metal bar that acts as a zip line across water. The volunteer at this obstacle was amazing. He gave me tips, cleared the mud, and allowed me to dry my wet hands on his shirt. After a little pep talk, I jumped on the trampoline and grabbed the bar effortlessly. I’m still wondering why I was never able to complete this again, but I enjoyed it while it lasted. Added bonus: Ashley got a video.
Lap 3: After a wardrobe change, wound care on my already formed blisters, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I was off for another lap. With darkness brought the addition of a new, night ops obstacle, Statue of Liberty. Simply, carry a torch across a body of water. If the light goes out, you are disqualified. No real surprises on the course, and still able to jog most of the time. I did discover the pure joy one gets after peeing in their wetsuit. Disgusting, yet necessary, and everyone did it. I pass the finish line, and must stop by the medics to assess for hypothermia before continuing onto the pit. They ask, “What year is it?” In my head, I’m thinking this is easy, it’s 2015; however, 2012 came out my mouth. Over, and over, and over again. By this point, I have three medics surrounding me mildly concerned. I’m frustrated, and confused. Remember, in my head it is still 2015. I make them ask me a different question, so they ask, “Where are we?” I reply with Nevada. Yes, got one right, finally, I can move into the pit to warm up. Ashley over heard the entire conversation…the look on her face as I approached her was priceless.
Lap 4: After a hot shower and some warm oatmeal, I’m back on the course. This is the first time during the race that I run into someone I know, Matty (we ran met running Tough Mudder Seattle in September). Right before mile one, I’m finishing up on Liberator, an obstacle where you are required to climb a wall using pegs to pull you up. I stop long enough for him to say, “Keep up the great work and keep running.” It isn’t until mile 4 that we reunite, as we jump into another pool of water and climb up a big black tube, all while being sprayed with water (Royal Flush). It’s completely dark, so our pace has slowed to a fast walk. There is now time to introduce me to his team, Team Four Eyes, comprised of three other guys from across the country that have completed all every WTM. Their humor and sarcasm kept me entertained and distracted from the cold. We can’t help but laugh through the most pathetic Mud Mile in Tough Mudder history. Usually, this obstacle is multiple trenches of water separated by huge hills of mud that require assistance to get over. At WTM, they were small puddles of water separated by hay bails, requiring little to no assistance to conquer, but with almost 20 miles under our belt, you didn’t hear us complaining.
Lap 5: I’m still in good spirits, but at this point, my hands are freezing. I attempt to put on my neoprene gloves, but they are so swollen I can’t fit them on. Looks like another lap with my athletic gloves. There is no time to stop, as I want to complete 25 miles before midnight. At midnight, the 35 ft. cliff jump opens, and I want to avoid jumping off it for as long as possible. Quickly after starting the lap, I’m beginning to regret my decision to take the time to put on my gloves as I start to lose feeling in my fingers. Imagine repelling down a cliff (Abseil) when you can’t tell if you are holding onto the rope. Then, try climbing over a 10-12 foot wall (Gambler) and shortly after climbing back up the cliff using slippery wooden steps and balancing across a two inch beam (Vertigo). Scary. With nearly 4 miles still ahead of me, and scared of frost bite, I stick my dirty, muddy fingers in my mouth as the only way I knew to warm them up. It was gross, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Temporarily at least, and I managed to finish with plenty of time to spare before midnight.
Lap 6: I took my longest break in the pit. I took a hot shower, removed my wetsuit, and changed into my second pair of shoes. This would be the only time the rest of the race that I was completely warm, dry, and sitting down. Dry, fed, and reenergized, I head back onto the course. I’m still smiling, and excited to keep moving. Staying dry lasted approximately 10 minutes. I’m now swimming across yet another body of water. Originally, the obstacle known as Whale’s Turd required you to swim to a series of inflatables, and climb up at over them using a cargo net. Only a few hours into the race, the inflatables collapsed. No more Whale’s Turd, but you better believe we were still required to swim. I can now feel my body getting tired, and my right knee tightening up, but do my best to keep moving at a reasonable pace.
The course is quieter, as less people are heading back out, but you still manage to find someone to help during obstacles like Tight Fit (tires covered with a heavy cargo net that you needed to crawl under). Sometimes you talk while moving, finding the conversation a nice distraction, and other times you find it easier to walk in silence. One guy I met told me a series of jokes to pass the time. As an outsider, you would think we were all a bunch of walking zombies. Because it’s after midnight, the course has been rerouted, and as lap 6 comes to an end, I’m forced to finally jump off the 35 ft. cliff. After a few deep breaths, and a pep talk from the volunteer, I held onto my headlamp, crossed my arms, and walked right off the platform. After the longest 2 seconds, I’m in the water, in one piece. I let out a sigh of relief, as I have conquered my fear, and realized I’m almost done with 30 miles.
Lap 7: There will always be a moment of weakness, and this was it. My right knee was throbbing, I was cold, and tired, and for the most part alone. Any night shift nurse will tell you the darkest, most dreadful hour is 4:00 am, and I’m here to tell you that the same applies during an endurance race. I wanted to cry, and more importantly I wanted my mom, but knew neither of those would help me in this moment. The idea of limping for another 15 miles seemed miserable, and impossible. I just tried to put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving. At this point, the only thing I was looking forward to was the hot shower at the end of the lap. I crossed the finish line, and the medic asked me how I was doing. I mumbled under my breath, “No,” and when she asked me again, all I could do was turn around and give a “thumbs up.” To make matters worse, the hot showers were broken. The guys could tell I was pretty discouraged, so they took me into the Outpost tent (where Tough Mudder provided hot water and microwaves) to pour small cups of hot water into my gloves and down my wetsuit. It definitely wasn’t as rewarding as a hot shower, but it helped… a little. The sun was on the horizon, and that would be only hope for warming up. With days leading up to the race, I had written myself a letter to read for when I became discouraged, but never took the chance to read it; however, I did remember one of the scriptures that I had written. “God is within her, she will not fail.” (Psalm 46:5) Quitting wasn’t an option, so I walked over to the start, and stepped over the line. I was now committed to another 5 miles.
Lap 8/Lap 9: There weren’t many differences between these two laps. The sun was out, and the warmth helped me pick up my pace slightly. At this point, I was just walking through the motions… Crawling under barb wire (Kiss of Mud), up more black tubes into more bodies of water (Upper Decker), and miserably failing at jumping towards a swinging bar to provide enough momentum to hopefully hit a bell 15 ft. above the water (King of Swingers). The conversations with the other participants are short and sweet. Everyone is just doing their best to keep moving. I did mange to complete the monkey bar obstacle, Grease Monkey, through the entire event, while many others chose to take the penalty. Also, I dominated Operation, an obstacle (think about the childhood game) where you stick a metal pole through a metal hole to retrieve a plastic ring hanging on a board 6 ft. away. If the metals touch, you are electrocuted. Even if it meant getting shocked a few times, I still managed to hold onto my pole to retrieve the plastic ring. Every. Single. Time. I made transitions in the pit much quicker during these laps to ensure I would stay on pace for my goal of 50 miles. Between laps 8 and 9, Ashley met me at the finish line with my last pair of tennis shoes and dry socks. She re-taped my blistered feet (definition of a true friend), provided me with food, and sent me on my way.
Lap 10: The final lap. The grand finale. There is no stop in the pit, except for Ashley to hand me a recovery drink. Mentally, I’m in it, adrenaline has kicked in, but physically my body is still in pain and can’t move any faster. The overall attitude on the course is positive; we can all feel the end is near. It is more crowded, which slows some of the obstacles, but allows for more conversations to aide in distraction. At the halfway point, Team Four Eyes has caught up with me again, and Amelia Boone (the female winner) is with them. Matty introduces us, and I’m able chat with her as we just keep moving. She’s walking with ease (or so it appears), and I’m hobbling along, but I do my best to keep up with her. As a group, we completed Roll the Dice, the only obstacle one could not complete alone. You have to climb over 3 rotating blocks in water (another water obstacle… shocking) that you spin using the momentum of people holding on to it. (Hard to explain, but just know it defines camaraderie). We take our time throughout the rest of course to ensure a finish after 2 pm and end at the cliff. The line is the longest it has been all day, and we wait for nearly 15 minutes to jump. Ashley is waiting for me after my jump to give me a huge hug. She walks with me for a couple minutes, and then runs ahead to capture a picture as I cross the finish line. With a smile on my face, and hands in the air, I cross the line and the 24 hour headband is placed on my head. I’m awarded my really cool, slightly ugly, 50 mile bib, take a few pictures, and text my mom to let her know I’m alive. I can’t believe I actually did it.
And there you have it. 50+ miles, 210 obstacles, and 24 hours combined into my first, really long blog post.
Take aways: Believe in yourself. Set a goal, dream big, and work hard.
Chelsea Hunter is a neonatal intensive care nurse at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She lives in Denver, Colorado, where she was born and raised. When she is not at the hospital, you can find her at Crossfit, in Africa, climbing a mountain, or somewhere crossing the finish line of a race.