Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012


Hey everyone, I am moving my blog posts to my personal website. Hope yer not mad. I won't forget about everyone here though. I will try to post links to my other blog every time I post something new.

For starters, here is my 2012 World's Toughest Mudder report...

Part One is HERE.

Part Two is HERE.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tough Mudder: Kuwait?

I get emails everyday. Many of them are touching and inspirational. I would love to share them all with you but that's just not realistic. Every now and then I receive a message from a man or woman serving in our military. I wanted you to see this particular email to remind you about the incredible depth of character of the men and women in our armed forces.

Mustache Man,

My name is SSG Hardebeck and I am serving with the 1st Cavalry Division as a combat engineer. We just finished our tour in Iraq in December and are currently in Kuwait training to do what we do. We recently held a Tough Mudder Kuwaiti style here in the middle of the desert and feel we need to thank you for you motivation. We found your video and it motivates us! We watch it daily and remind ourselves to Keep on Doin!

You see we recently signed up a team, "Breach Naked" for the Austin TM and have been psyched about it. We are Sappers and as Sappers we are a proud bunch, we are combat engineers that clear obstacles with explosives or whatever means to allow our infantry to get where they need to go. Sappers cleared the obstacles on Normandy, cleared tunnels and mine fields in Vietnam and as for the guys and I we clear roadside bombs or IED's off the sides of the road. It is only fitting that we transition to Mudders as overcoming obstacles is our profession.

Breach Naked: It was once determined that to properly clear a mine field you must remove all metallic objects from your body to ensure you did not trigger any magnetic fuses, it was then determined that loose clothing could get caught in trip wire and set the mines off. The Sappers decided that the best way to breach a mine field was to Breach Naked. We will keep this term and the Sapper attitude of Can and Will do going for as long as there are Sappers clearing obstacles.

Once again I want to thank you for the Motivation!!!!

SSG Hardebeck
C co 1 BSTB

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meet Fred Ettish.

I used to laugh at Fred Ettish. Whenever I would hear his name I would smirk or just wave my hand dismissively. I had no respect for Fred Ettish.

You may be reading this saying, "Who the hell is Fred Ettish?". That is probably a good thing. If you knew the name you would probably of had the same reaction as mine. Here's a picture of him, mustache and all...

I was in my mid-twenties jumping around a Kwoon (Chinese version of a dojo) with my arms flailing around and honking loudly, doing my damnedest to imitate the sounds and movements of a White Crane. My Sifu told me that my eyes were not wide enough and that I had to try and open them wider, like the big, dorky bird that we were trying to become. Also, my honking wasn't loud enough. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he had us drinking shots of espresso so that we were jittery and wild like a Crane as well. Trust me, I'm not making this up.

After class we were getting changed when one of my fellow classmates started telling me about something he saw on pay per view recently. It was called The Ultimate Fighting Challenge (That's right, "Challenge"). In this PPV they would pit martial art style versus martial art style and lock them in a cage until one of them came out victorious. No referee, no gloves, no time limit and no rules. I could barely contain myself. To me, this sounded like the greatest event ever produced. Finally, all the schoolyard conversations where we discussed which martial art style was the best would be answered. I asked my friend who had won the event and he told me it was some little Jujitsu guy. I was shocked. Hardly anyone in those days had heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I just assumed he meant the Japanese kind. My friend was a burly fireman. Without saying it out loud, we were both becoming disillusioned with our style of Kung Fu. We realized that if the time ever came for us to use our fighting skills in the real world our Crane beak strike with a four cornered Dragon stance wasn't going to cut it. This UFC might help us find our way.

I went to my friend's house the night of the second UFC pay per view. For the next few hours my eyes were riveted to the TV set. Style after style stepped up the plate to represent. Kung Fu, Karate, Savate, Ninjitsu, Judo, you name it. It was beautiful. If you ever get a chance, get some tapes of the early UFCs and catch a glimpse of a much different time. I've followed the sport since it's genesis and it's really quite amazing how much the sport has changed since the beginning.

Anyway, the fights were held tournament style with a 16 man bracket. That means if you made it to the finals then you would most likely have fought four times that night. If you won, but were injured, an alternate would take your place.

Enter Fred Ettish.

Fred was an Okinawan Karate fighter. He was brought in to replace an injured fighter to face Johnny Rhodes, an American boxer. Now, if you are unaware, there exist these weird rivalries in the martial arts world. One of the most common is the age old rivalry of Kung Fu and Karate. At the time I was a Kung Fu guy so naturally I wanted Fred Ettish to lose.

My heart skipped as both fighters faced off in the middle of the cage. You have to remember, this was the early days. Bare knuckle and no rules. Hair pulling, back of the head, neck and nut shots - all legal.

I'm not sure of the time, but it wasn't too long into the fight when Fred ate a stiff right cross which opened him up and had him on his ass. Rhodes was a boxer that knew zero about grappling so he just hovered over Ettish.

A crimson mask covered Fred's face and blood ran into both of his eyes which showed a look of confusion and fear. That look on his face seemed to tell the world that Karate, and all other traditional martial arts, have no place in the world of modern fighting anymore. Many people, like myself, saw this as a validation to abandon our current training and look for something we feel could help us survive a "real" fight. Fred Ettish remained in the position pictured above for the rest of the fight while periodically Rhodes would rain down heavy punches and knees that seemed to open up Fred's face more and more. Fred's white gi was saturated with blood and the fight was mercifully stopped at 3:07.

The years that followed had Fred Ettish seemingly disappear in shame. I left my Kung Fu school and would drive an hour and a half, one way, to train in Bruce Lee's art of Jeet Kune Do in Princeton, NJ which favored what I felt was a more "real world" approach to fighting. I later moved to Los Angeles and trained directly under Bruce Lee's number one guy, Dan Inosanto and after many years I became an instructor at his school. I learned to grapple and some time in 1996 I started to fight in single and tournament style "smokers" (kind of an unsanctioned gym fight). Back then MMA was still mostly illegal.

Fred Ettish (undeservedly) became the poster child for what was wrong with the martial arts. Grappling arts became the flavor of the month and any style that didn't contain some type of groundwork was labeled as ineffective. MMA forums on the internet started popping up everywhere and Fred Ettish became a popular whipping boy. I'm sure if you do a Google search you will find thousands of posts, cartoons, and images ridiculing Fred Ettish. I found several and thought about posting a few here to illustrate my point but declined.

Eighteen years have passed since I watched Fred Ettish and I really hadn't given him much thought. All he was to me was "the Karate guy who got his ass beat". It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I learned that Fred Ettish is so much more than that. (NOTE: If you do nothing else, please PLEASE watch this short video)

History Of MMA: Fred Ettish from Bobby Razak on Vimeo.

After I watched this video, I watched it again. And again. The strength of this man's character humbled me. Fred Ettish was simply an honest martial artist looking to test himself, and his art, in what (at least back then) was the toughest proving ground ever. He faced heavy criticism going into the fight and God knows he faced boatloads of criticism after the fight. Like I said, the internet came down on him hard. I am fortunate enough to have quite a few people on the internet that think I'm a pretty good guy. That kind of support can really make a shitty day seem a whole lot better. I can hardly imagine what it feels like to have to bury your son like Fred did and all the while be the recipient of mountains of abuse on the internet.

Over the years I have trained several fighters, both amateur and pro. The strongest, and probably the toughest student I ever trained had his first fight in New Jersey over ten years ago. My guy was around 240lbs of pure muscle. Less than 10% body fat and could kick like a mule. When he grappled you it felt like he could pop your head off like a cork whenever he wanted. In his debut fight he was knocked unconscious in less than 30 seconds. It devastated him. He lost his enthusiasm for training and eventually he quit my school and left the martial arts for good.

Fred Ettish had every reason in the world to quit, to give up. He didn't. When he fought his last fight at 53 years old it really didn't matter if he won or lost. Fred never gave up on himself or his martial art when he had more than enough reasons to do so.

Fred Ettish is a proud martial artist. Fred Ettish is a survivor. Fred Ettish is hard as nails.

I will never laugh at Fred Ettish again.

Fred Ettish today.

Saturday, December 31, 2011


It's been nearly two weeks since the World's Toughest Mudder in Englishtown, NJ has ended and I'm finally sitting down to write this. It has actually taken me that long to gather my thoughts about the whole ordeal. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I am so glad to have been a part of it.

It's funny, many of you come to my websites and videos to be inspired and it seems like I'm always saying, "don't look at me, look at this guy." Well, this is one of those times. The guy whose name I want you to know today is Jason Gidusko.

Leading up to the WTM I ran a small Tough Mudder Training Camp out of our local gym here in eastern Pennsylvania. I had somewhere between 6-12 hardcore members and we trained outside in all sorts of weather and pushed ourselves pretty hard. One guy who joined our camp was Jason. He just showed up one day and introduced himself saying that he lived locally and saw my training video and wanted to jump in. After a few classes he mentioned that he was going to do the World's Toughest Mudder. I was happy to hear that because he and I were the only people I knew at the time who were entered. It was great to talk strategy and equipment with someone who was about to face the same unknown adversity as I was.

Jason is a family man with a beautiful wife and three lovely kids. He's in his 40's, works in sales, and is a former Marine. He's one of those guys who always seems to be smiling. During our training camp we would often run up to 3 miles for a warmup. Jason was almost always the slowest. He would chug along way in the back and I would often drop back and check on him. Sometimes he would be short of breath and sweating. Always sweating. When it came time for our exercises or core work Jason would give it his all. He was not the strongest but definitely not the weakest. Just a hard worker. My kind of guy. Check out this group pic after one of our training sessions, Jason is the sweaty guy with the orange headband.

The Friday before the World's Toughest Mudder participants were encouraged to set their tents up early so that all that you needed to do on race day was pick up your timing chip and get your ass to the starting line. I drove the hour and a half to Englishtown, NJ and got to the registration booth just after they opened. It wasn't hard for me to figure out which line I had to get in...

My bib number was #811, the same as my tent space, which put me at the farthest end of the encampment. The camping area seemed to go on forever. I set up my two man tent in the crisp, windy afternoon. After that I ran into Jason and helped him set up his small, one man tent. We then met several members of a WTM closed group that was started on Facebook called the WTFers. It was great putting faces with the names that I had been seeing for months. I soon said my goodbyes and drove back to PA for some last minute preparations.

I spent the rest of that Friday packing and preparing my nutrition for the event. I cooked up some mashed sweet potatoes, tomato soup, brown rice and quinoa. I loaded in about a dozen bananas and some chia seeds and bars from the good people at www.healthwarrior.com who hooked me up with some powerful stuff. I got to bed around 9pm and probably slept for a total of 2 hours. I was too excited. Thankfully the night before I got plenty of rest.

Just in case you aren't sure what the World's Toughest Mudder is about and it's rules I'll try and give you a quick rundown. This inaugural event is unlike other Mudders because at the end of the race a male and female winner is declared and each is awarded a $10,000 prize. The goal was to complete as many laps around the 8-9 mile course as possible in 24 hours. Outside help of any kind is forbidden and could result in a disqualification. There were a bunch of other necessary rules but they aren't really important right now.

If you've read any of my previous posts you've probably heard me mention my friend Ramon. He's been with me since the first Mudder back in the Spring of 2010 and he bleeds orange like me. A Mudder through and through. Ramon picked me up at my place at around 7am. The plan was for him to drive me to Jersey, hang out until nightfall, and drive back to PA. He then would return on Sunday for the finish of the race. What a pal. For a guy that has 3 kids at home and a wife who works all hours I didn't take his sacrifice lightly.

We got to the event site at around 8:30am and unloaded all of my gear and food into my tent and set up my flagpole. The picture below shows the colors that flew over Camp Mustache that morning.

Before the race I ran into a bunch of people who recognized me from my training video and it was awesome meeting them all. One guy I finally got to meet was a TMHQ worker named Alex. He used to be the guy on the mic at the earlier Tough Mudders until they got the two new guys. We have exchanged emails several times but we never met face to face. He recognized me as I arrived and gave me a big hug and a nice shout out. I think he's a natural on the mic and it was perfectly fitting to have him emcee once again. Here he is in all his glory...

I also bumped into Jane and some other TMHQ workers who are always awesome but when I saw them I tried to cut it short because I know how difficult it must be to run an event of this magnitude. The amount of time allotted to BS with me is probably pretty low on their list of priorities.

At 9:30am the medical briefing was given at the starting line and the dire warnings about hypothermia and frostbite started to sink in. For the first lap I decided to go with just a few layers of cold gear compression type clothing. 2 long sleeved cold gear tops and 3 rash guards for my upper body and 2 pairs of cold gear tights and some billabong swim trunks on the bottom. For the first lap at least I opted for my NB Minimus sneaks with no socks instead of my Vibram Five Fingers. No particular reason. The NB drain well and I didn't want to be running for 24+ hours in a pair of soggy socks and end up with a case of "trench foot". I have a full body wetsuit that I left in my tent at the pit stop that I planned on putting on after my first lap.

I met up with Jason at the starting line and we were positioned near the middle of the pack of around 900 participants. Normally your starting position at a Mudder is no big deal but for WTM it was, because the first obstacle we hit was...

Insane Bolt - The object was to make a mad dash up the dragstrip and reach the cutoff point before a huge black wall adorned with sirens and barbed wire slid closed and blocked your path causing you to run an extra 1/2 mile. As we shot out of the gate I knew our starting position was working against us. I probably could have really poured it on and made a valiant effort but I noticed Jason was doing a little huffing and puffing so I held back and stayed close to him. By the time we reached the wall it was closing on us and we were detoured the extra half mile. Ah well...

Jesus Walk/Mud Mile - These two obstacles ran right into one another and it was kind of hard to tell them apart. The Jesus Walk might be familiar to you if you've done the TriState TM before. A long trench dug to varying depths and full of ice cold water. Besides Electroshock, I get the most laughs out of this one. Since you can't see the bottom it's entirely possible for you to be cruising along in ankle deep water only to have your next step drop off into a neck deep mud bath. Hilarious. Check the pic below for a glimpse of the depth discrepancies...

The Mud Mile was also similar to TriState except there were a bunch of 4 foot walls that separated each section of water. Climbing each wall slathered in mud was a little tricky, but not that difficult. After these obstacles I was surprised at how much energy I had spent.

Get Railed - This was a new one. Several rows of parallel bars spanning a small body of water. Many people were using the "triceps dip start position" stiff arms to inch their way across while their feet swung wildly. I was no exception and finished this obstacle without incident. After a few more obstacles came...

Electroshock Therapy - I know, this is usually at the end right? Well for the WTM they had to keep you guessin'. For some reason it seemed to pack more of a punch a month earlier at TriState. Then again, I wasn't wearing a shirt last month either.

Berlin Walls - These never really present me with much of a problem. Check the short vid below...

Island Hopping - This one was fun. Check out the lone Mudder below...

Unfortunately this obstacle wasn't nearly this empty. It was really crowded and there was a backup on this one. We had to wait for around 15 minutes in the shade while being cold and wet. This is when the shivers started for me. While waiting I had visions of doing the Roger Moore, 007 thing from "Live and Let Die" across the alligators but I ended up looking like Muddy the Mudskipper, hopping onto one island and flopping onto the next. I came a fraction of an inch from shattering my nose during one of my flops.
It was after this obstacle that the shivers really started to set in so I told Jason that I wanted to stop off in one of the warming tents. The place was packed wall to wall with shivering Mudders in far worse shape than I. Most were huddled around a small heating unit and covered with heat shield blankets. As I grabbed a blanket a medic called out for everyone that is calling it quits to move back against the opposing wall and await a medic pickup. A wave of bodies started to move. I was shocked. More than half of the people in the tent gave up and decided to pack it in for the day. I left the tent to rejoin Jason who opted not to enter the tent and tough it out in the cold.

Funky Monkey - Most Mudders are familiar with this one but this one had a slight variation. It was built up at least three extra feet out of the water and if you were unlucky enough to fall from that great a height you had to swim to the side and go under the bordering 2X8s. Although I am 6-0 at this obstacle I was pretty nervous. With hypothermia creeping up on me I really was in no mood to drop into the cold water. Jason just accepted that he couldn't make it. He touched the first rung and jumped in the water and swam under the barriers. I took off my neoprene gloves and struggled to dry my hands on some gravel. It wasn't happenin' so I decided to just go for it with my wet hands. Check the vid below...

Piece of cake. MustacheMan 7, Funky Monkey 0.

Peg Legs - This was a new one. Not difficult at all but pretty cool. Here's a pic after the water iced over...

Shake n Bake - Not a new obstacle but different. We did this one in Virginia but here in Jersey it was downright pleasant. First you take a dip in some cold water and then belly crawl under barbed wire through some type of material that sticks to you and gives you a nice coat. In Virginia it was sand but here it was a mulch of some kind. The beauty was that the mulch was retaining the sun's heat. I still had the shakes and this was a welcome relief. I didn't want this obstacle to end. Here I am at the exit covering myself with mulch trying to warm myself like a four year old playing in the sand at the Jersey shore.

Log Jammin' - Not a new one but it seemed longer and trickier than usual. Up and down, over and under a bunch of logs and barbed wire strewn across mud and water.

Funny moment here; sometimes you had to belly crawl under barbed wire wrapped logs and if you were wearing a backpack like Jason was, you had to remove it or you would get hung up on the barbs. Jason stood in front of the log barrier and removed his pack and tossed it on the other side. The pack landed in the mud just a few inches on the other side and slid back under the log wall and returned to Jason like a lost puppy finding it's home.

Twinkle Toes - Where this is normally a 2X8 balance beam across the water this time they put a WTM spin on it. On top of the normal beam they nailed a smaller 1X1 strip of wood across making the balancing area half the normal size. In no mood to advance my hypothermia I took the pussy way out and did a butt scoot across the beam to avoid the polar plunge. Crazy Jason just jumped right in the water and waded to the other side. Right about here I started to question his sanity.

Trench Warfare - Pretty sure this was born out of the previous obstacle Kinky Tunnels. This is like Kinky Tunnels on crack. A dark, wet crawl underground in near total darkness. I love this one. Below are pics of the entrance and exit...

Hangin' Tough - New one. Rings hanging across another body of that lovely December Jersey water. As we approached I saw everyone falling like flies. The rings were covered in mud and anyone that tried to hold on with just their hands didn't make it far. I watched a few guys try to make it by holding the rings in the bend of their elbows and they managed to get further before ultimately falling. Jason just said "fuck it" and jumped in the water and waded across. If you watch the vid below of my attempt you can kind of see the moment where my technique clicks for me and I figure this one out...

Unfortunately this was a penalty obstacle. If you failed this one you had to wait in a penalty area for 5 minutes. Even though I made it, Jason didn't. I hung out and waited for my pal and then we made our way to...

The Factory - If you did TM Virginia this was the mystery obstacle. Only this time there was no 2X4 ladder structure to climb up or a slick tarp at the exit. You had to climb a rope to get up the back. This was surprisingly difficult. Jason made a valiant attempt but couldn't make it. I struggled and made it up to the platform and climbed into the dark, tarp covered chute.

The vertical drop down the dark slide gave me pause once again if only for the thought of the cold dip in the water that awaited me down below. Look how happy I look after completing this one...

Unfortunately this was another penalty obstacle so I stuck it out with Jason for the 5 minutes of punishment.

Tired Yet - Nuthin' special here. Jason taught me a technique where he ran across the edges of the tires instead of stepping into the center of each one. Made this one less tedious. Ramon snapped a nice shot here...

Berlin Walls - ...again. Only this time they were much higher. I'm usually pretty good with these, maybe because I loved climbing trees as a kid. Here's another vid...

Bale Bonds - Hay bale climb. Here's Jason taking them like a boss...

The Meat Locker - This was cool. A trailer bed filled with hanging tires. If you went through this too aggressively you probably could end up with some nice bruises for souvenirs.

Around here is where hypothermia got a good grip on me. The sun went behind some clouds and I couldn't stop shaking. I told Jason I wanted to stop in the medic tent to warm up and once again he waited outside. They were offering warm chicken broth which Jason said really helped when he had some but I declined. I left the tent after around ten minutes and Jason made a great point. He avoided the warming tents because you then relied on an outside source for heat instead of generating heat yourself with your own body.

Everest - Unbeknownst to us around 500 Mudders had already dropped out at this point. When we got to this obstacle the course was pretty empty. One thing that helps with this obstacle is the Mudders stationed at top who would reach down and help you up. Here there was nobody. Plus, this was not your typical Everest. Instead of the grippy surface they normally have over most of it the entire transition was slick. We noticed tiny spray nozzles that were mounted at the top coping area that no doubt sprayed some type of liquid making the surface even more impossible to climb. I got a running start and jumped but fell a few inches short. My second try was even worse. Jason also tried once and failed and took the 5 minute penalty. After my second try I decided to take the penalty as well. Here is a great pic of Jason during his attempt...

Massive Turd - By far the most impressive looking TM obstacle ever created. Nearly three stories tall. This is it under construction a day before WTM...

So much fun. Once you climb the 2X4s you had to scale a rope ladder up to the next level. Here's Jason and I on the approach...

And here is Jason looking like a warrior and me looking like Wilford fucking Brimley...

If I was afraid of heights this would have sucked. But I'm not, and it didn't.

Dong Dangler - The first of the dreaded water obstacles. Big Mudder was very clever putting all of these at the end. Really nice way to break whatever spirit you had left. This obstacle was basically the same as "Just the Tip" at TriState a month earlier except we were going in the opposite direction. I didn't have much of a problem with it then even with a case of beer strapped on my back as seen at the 1:02sec mark of the video seen here. Even with no beer strapped to my back the fact that this was after I was already spent made this much more difficult. Like usual, Jason took the plunge, swam across, and took the 5 minute penalty. Looking back I probably should have done the same. Nobody near me seemed to be making it across but I tried anyway. Around midpoint I started feeling really weak. I paused and hung for a few seconds before digging deep and pushing through. Encouraging shouts from other Mudders and TM volunteers pumped me up and just barely gave me enough strength to make it to the other side. As I dismounted I released my legs and held onto the bar with both of my hands. I swung my legs down and landed on the slippery mud next to the cement pilings. The slick mud caused my knee to buckle inward and sideways and I heard a pop. I lost my footing and slid down into the cold water. After all that shit I fell in anyways. As I cursed and climbed out of the water the TM volunteer told me not to take a penalty because I had made it across but I ended up taking the time anyway to hang with Jason. Another TM worker saw me limping badly and shivering like hell and kept asking me if I needed a medic. "No", I kept telling her.

Underwater Tunnels - A short swim under some plastic barrels. The water was a little chilly. When I went under the second row of barrels I got the most painful brain freeze. I'd never experienced that before. I was jealous of Jason's neoprene hood.

Rope a Dope - If you did TM TriState you probably remember the twisting rope ladder climb out of the water. Well nothing was different here except for the lack of helpful Mudders at the top that gave you that little assist which made all the difference. Both Jason and I made it all the way to the top but were unable to reach up and grab any support that would help us with that extra few inches we needed to get to the upper platform. We both precariously climbed back down and dropped in the water to take our penalty. While waiting I saw nobody complete that one. Eventually they just shut this one down due to the rate of failure and the pure dangerousness.

Walk the Plank - Fucking cold.

Hold Your Wood - A cool WTM spin on this one. Grab a log and walk through the water around a few buoys. Obviously the log wasn't heavy since all you had to do was push it as it floated across the water's surface. There was just that little issue of freezing your balls off again.

This was the end of the obstacles. 39 in total. As we headed to the finish/start line I looked inside my head. My injured knee and uncontrollable shakes made me feel weak and the thought of another 20 plus hours of this seemed impossible. Ramon snapped a pic of Jason and I during my moment of defeat and aptly named it my "walk of shame"...

Jason on the other hand still had that smile on his face and was ready to keep going. He said he was going to throw on his wetsuit in the pit area and keep going. After each lap we were required to enter the medical tent for a checkup. When I entered the tent it looked like something from a battlefield. Bodies everywhere and cots full of prone Mudders stripped down and wrapped in layers of insulating plastic to stave off their violent shaking fits of hypothermia. A woman holding a clipboard wanted me to write my initials next to my bib number on a piece of paper. I joked with her as I tried to steady my hand but I just couldn't make it happen. After scribbling on her paper I turned to leave and limped for the door. She said, "You're not going back out there in this state are you?".

"Nope, I'm done."

After changing into dry clothes in my tent Jason passed by on his second lap. He had put on his wetsuit and said it made a big difference. I was slightly tempted to put on my wetsuit and see how it felt but in the end I don't think it would have helped much.

Ramon and I drove back to PA that night and planned on returning the next morning to pack up my tent and watch the winner cross the finish line. That night I was thankful to sleep in my warm bed but I was wondering how my friend Jason was doing. Having not heard from him I sent him a text around 10:30pm. I was sure that the sheer temperature drop must have sidelined almost all of the competitors until the morning at least. After not hearing back I went to bed around midnight.

I woke up around 6am and checked muddernation.com for the latest standings. I couldn't help but shout out loud when I read the update that read "Jason Gidusko - 5th place"! That son of a bitch! I was overwhelmed.

Ramon picked me up and as we drove back to Jersey I texted Jason's wife Heather to tell her that Jason was in 5th place. She said she was already aware and would meet us up there.

We arrived in time to see the two winners cross the line at the same time. It was an amazing moment to see Junyong Pak and Juliana Sproles declared the winners and given their ceremonial $10,000 checks by the TM founders Will and Guy. While the winners were interviewed you can see my stupid face in the top left of this shot...

There's one thing that annoyed me here, and I will try to be brief about it... This event was the culmination of nearly two years of Tough Mudder events and the first event of it's kind in which a Grand Champion was crowned. I would think if you considered yourself a Mudder and you were capable of being there you wouldn't have missed this for the world. It shames me that I think there were barely 70-100 people there. What happened to the nearly 900 participants the day before who I am sure had every intention of being at the end but were nowhere to be found? I had to limp my decrepit ass to that finish line but I made damn sure I was going to show my respect to those champions.

Around 20 minutes later Ramon spotted Jason steadily making his way to the finish line. "There he is!". We stood next to his wife and kids and I couldn't help myself as I limped in front of them and gave Jason a big hug before he crossed the finish line.



In the days that followed the World's Toughest Mudder there was a bunch of controversy about the manner in which some people took on the obstacles, penalties taken and all other kinds of bullshit. I now choose to ignore it. I've also heard some amazing stories about the performances of the top finishers and the way they bounded up and over obstacles like Spiderman and jumped out of the water running like rabbits. You can ignore that as well. What really impresses me is that a regular joe named Jason really took it to these superhumans. He wasn't bouncing over obstacles like some 90lb freerunner. He merely kept on walking. Just flat out doin'.

I've talked to him several times afterwards and he admitted he never got the shakes. He said he wouldn't allow his mind to go there because he knew that if he did he wouldn't stop. He also said that he knew he wouldn't quit. He said while being in the Marines you could never say "ah, I just quit." That sunk into him. Jason said he ran into some Navy SEALs that were much younger than him that also ran that day and they dropped like almost 800 other people.

Weeks before the WTM I would read tons of posts by Mudders that talked a big game. Chest pounding and bragging about their epic training runs and how they hope it is cold enough on the day of the event. Many swore they would never wear a wetsuit and that the only way they would quit is to be DQed or dragged off by a medic. There was even a group that said they planned on doing the final lap of the 24 hour run in their underwear. I'm sure you can guess that none of this happened. While all this boasting was going on Jason never said a word. The fuckin guy is a do-er, not a talker. Like I said earlier, my kind of guy.

My weakness that weekend was my mind. I know that now. It kind of pisses me off when people bitch about their gear and all which basically means that if they had proper clothing on they would have given the finishers a run for their money. Screw that, just deal with the fact that on that day the finishers were better than you. I make no excuses. I've already begun work on my mental state in cold weather conditions and I picked up two books, "The Mind That Changes Itself" and "Becoming the Iceman". I am determined to redeem myself for my performance next year. I didn't have this type of drive going into the 2011 WTM. I plan on kicking 2012 in the balls.

I also have a source of inspiration, Jason Gidusko, to help me get ready.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder Report - Part Two

Continued from Part One which can be found HERE.

We blasted out of the starting gate into the crisp Sunday morning air with a couple hundred other screaming Mudders.

Braveheart Charge - I like this one better when you charge downhill. In NorCal it was an uphill and usually within a few minutes the wild, screaming hoard turns into a walking, panting mess. Downhill feels more untamed and sadly, if you lose too much control and are not careful you could turn an ankle and end your run before it even started. Ramon and I stripped off our garbage bags and we ran into our first snow cannon of the day. The air temp was in the low 50's (F) so all that was being spewed from the snow cannon was a cool mist that chilled to the bone. Now we were awake.
After a long uphill run came the first...

Berlin Wall - Ramon and I both remarked how this wall seemed higher than all the previous Mudders we had completed. Not sure if that is an accurate statement but it sure seemed that way. Now, you can have other Mudders help you over the wall or you can use the strategically placed block that is bolted into the wall just below waist height to get a foothold and boost yourself over. Ramon went first and used the block and vaulted himself over. Without using the block I jumped as high as I could and grabbed the top of the wall and pulled myself over. We both repeated the same process for the second wall.
I have one note of caution/advice for future Mudders out there when taking on this obstacle. When you reach the top of the wall with some assistance from a friend or stranger be aware of your flailing legs please. I've seen too many selfless Mudders get a face full of feet for their act of kindness. Check out the pic below of some poor sucker's rearranged face.

We then ran another downhill, which are bittersweet because it usually means another torturous uphill is just around the corner. Since the start of the run I had been struggling with my cargo shorts and my Vale Tudo shorts underneath. Both were determined to slide down just far enough to give the fine people of Virginia an eyefull of my untanned ass. While I ran down the steep slope I held out my left arm for balance while my right hand was firmly clamped onto my waist band. It was all I could do to keep my shorts from falling down around my ankles. Near the middle of the hill I heard "Nice plumber's crack!". I turned around to see a smiling Marine running behind me. I laughed. Immediately I spotted a discarded long sleeved compression shirt on the ground and with Ramon's help fashioned it into a lovely makeshift belt. Problem solved.
At the bottom of the hill we made a hairpin turn and ran into...

Bale Bonds - A few rows of huge cylindrical hay bales separated by mud and all being doused by another snow cannon. Not a very difficult obstacle, but a fun one. This was followed by another crazy ascent up the mountain that was broken up by...

Devil's Beard - This is a tightly strung nylon cargo net that is bolted into the ground that you have to crawl under. Easy enough. It's always helpful when other Mudders stand by the start and finish of this obstacle and hold the net up for easier navigation like my man shown below...

Hold Your Wood - It was right around this obstacle that I noticed I was nervous. My hands and legs were shaking like I had just drank a pot of coffee. My stomach had butterflies and I wasn't sure why. For this one we each grabbed our own logs and walked a good distance over some rolling hills. The lap was punctuated by one of those pesky snow cannons again. The mist was building up a fair amount of mud which made the walk a little more dangerous.

Funky Monkey - The infamous monkey bars over cold water obstacle. Ramon and I are both undefeated with this obstacle and planned to stay that way. This one is tricky. Each of the rungs tend to spin a bit so you have to make sure you have a good solid grip before proceeding to the next rung. Act like Tarzan and move too fast on this one and you're getting wet. I've heard of many big injuries here when people fall into the shallow water and break parts of themselves. For that reason I never approach this obstacle overconfident. But alas, today was again our day. We agilely defeated Funky Monkey again. The record stands at 5-0.
There was one new development that we saw with this obstacle that I have to applaud. There have been some people who take this on by climbing on top of the rungs and crawling up and over to the other side. Well, Big Mudder was watching and this morning we saw a TM worker with a staple gun and barbed wire creating a barrier that prevented any sneaky Mudders from taking the easy way out. Nicely done Big Mudder.
Another bit of advice for future Mudders; don't wear gloves on this one. They are usually wet and slick with mud which make it harder to get a good grip. What I have found works best is when you spit on your bare hands and rub them together vigorously to create that tacky, stickiness. It's never let me down.

Twinkle Toes - After a long trail run came this one. F'n Twinkle Toes. The balance beam over muddy water. Did I ever mention how much I hate F'n Twinkle Toes? Not sure what my record on this one is but I'm pretty sure I've failed more times than I've succeeded. My nervousness was really kicking in here and my legs began to quiver as I approached the beam. There wasn't a huge backup here so it was pretty much one person at a time. It can get tricky when you have more than one person per beam. The wobbles can get nasty. I tried the slow and steady method and felt fine till about the midway point. Then the beam and I got the wobbles. Without turning my head I shouted over to Ramon on the other beam. "How's it goin' over there?!". He said all was well just as things for me started to become unwell. I crouched down as the wobbles got worse. Then, I did the biggest pussy move ever. I sat down on the beam, straddled it and inched my way across to the other side. I really hate admitting that. I should have just toughed it out and either gone for broke or taken a mud bath like a man. It's the second time I have used that method on Twinkle Toes and I vow that it will be the last. Ramon made it across bone dry like a champ.

Cherynoble Jacuzzi - This was it. If you've ever been through this one then you know. It's the worst. It's a dumpster filled with ice, water and red or green dye and more ice. It's not just the cold that gets you, it's the aching pain your muscles feel when you enter this. It's like your body knows this type of environment you've voluntarily thrown it into is wrong and violently fights back in protest. I talked to Will, the founder of Tough Mudder about this and he described the feeling perfectly. He said, "It's like a brain freeze, but over your entire body." Pretty sure this picture below captures the feeling accurately...

Another pat on Big Mudder's back here is the way they "fixed" this one. I did an earlier version of this obstacle (which you can read about HERE) where we were to eat a hot pepper and jump into the dyed dumpster water and then jump out. Besides the hot pepper nearly killing me it was easy as cake. I first experienced the newly mutated version of Cherynoble at NorCal where there seemed to be more ice than water and, to prevent you from wading across the water submerged only up to your chest, they bolted a wooden barrier adorned with barbed wire across the midway point which forces you to get completely submerged. What NorCal had that Virginia didn't was a team of volunteer Marines busting your chops while you were suffering. Love that.
We approached the obstacle like dead men walking. The butterflies in my stomach were in a frenzy. Ramon and I climbed up the side and stood on the edge of the dumpster and shared some funny words with the volunteer workers who were using a big old bulldozer to dump the ice into our jacuzzi. Ramon looked at me, "You go first." he said. The dumpster is just wide enough for two people to go at the same time so I figured he wanted me to go first for safety reasons and that he would be right by my side as soon as I got situated. The shock of hitting the water was as expected. Pain. The goal was to move as fast as possible. I ducked under the wooden barrier and found something strange when I popped out the other side. The (at least) two foot thick layer of ice on top of the water created an unexpected barrier between me and the surface world. It wasn't deadly or dangerous or anything like that, just unexpected. My head slammed into the ice and broke through. Amid screams I scampered for the side and and hoisted myself out and onto the ladder and then turned immediately to offer a helping hand to my partner Ramon who was no doubt feeling the same pain as me. I looked across the dumpster and my good buddy was still perched on the opposite end of the dumpster like a giggling little prima donna. What the fuck?! "GO!" I yelled. This made Ramon laugh harder. He was trying to ask me something while standing there bone dry but I guess the sight of me and his fit of laughter made it hard for him to talk. The bitter cold was making the adrenaline surge through my veins and my patience was non-existent at this point. I didn't have a mirror with me but if I did I'm sure I would have been reminded of Bill Bixby from the great 1970's TV show when the iris's in his eyes switched to white right before going into Hulk mode.

With a primal scream which even shocked myself I silenced my laughing friend, "JUST FUCKING GO!!!!!" Looking like he had been hit with a cattle prod, Ramon jumped into the jacuzzi and the results were the same as mine. Screams and four-letter words filled the air.
As we were leaving Cherynoble I had noticed my butterflies were now gone and my nervous shakes were no more. Was this what I was worried about? Not sure if I'll ever know. We both made our way to the next obstacle sharing the heartiest laughs of the day.

After a quick cargo net climb a heat shield was offered and declined. It's amazing how invigorating an ice bath can make you. All the exhaustion from the previous hill climbs seemed to disappear. Next came another hill climb, and then...

Greased Lightning - I always thought this was pure fun. Just a big old water slide. What's strange is that I've heard of many injuries stemming from this one. Hell, at the very first Tough Mudder in 2010 they had to shut this one down because people were getting jacked up. My wife shot this pic of some unlucky Joe who had the back of his head opened up for him after playing on the Mudder's version of a Slip-N-Slide...

In another case, one of my earliest childhood buddies contacted me and told me he was planning on doing the Vermont Tough Mudder this year. I told him to call me when he had finished and to no doubt tell me how much he loved it. After waiting until nightfall and still hearing nothing I texted my friend to see how everything went. I received a text that read, "leaving emrgcy room now, call u soon.". We later spoke and he told me how he gathered up too much speed and careened wildly off the side, completely missing the pool at the bottom. He tumbled end over end down the ski slope and dislocated his shoulder.
No such drama for Ramon and myself here today. Once again, fun-fun-fun. Just look at us silly kids...

Boa Constrictor - This one is one of those that went from worst-to-first. The early versions of this were a joke. Crawl through a tube. Big deal. Set the same tube on an angle, fill tube with mud and sharp rocks, have tube spill out into cold water followed by another tube and you have a completely different animal. This day's version wasn't that bad though. They spared us by not having so many sharp rocks in the tube (as (not) seen below)...

Underwater Tunnels - Kind of like an above ground pool full of filthy water straddled with logs and barbed wire that you have to duck under. Fairly easy. Just another excuse to keep you cold and wet. Here we are exiting this one...

As a bonus, here's one of Satan's children that did this obstacle as well...

Death March - This one was official. Not like there weren't about a dozen other "death marches" on the course, this was the real thing. It's just plain tough. Every now and then I would walk backwards to alleviate the stress on my calf muscles but it hardly worked. Making my way up this one was a bitch. Check the ball of energy below...

Kiss of Mud - Your standard belly crawl in the mud under barbed wire. Trenches were carved into the ground by all the previous Mudders. If you aren't properly hydrated this is one of the obstacles where cramping will occur. Ramon made it through easily but I (like an idiot) got my makeshift belt hung up on a barb and couldn't free myself. With the help of a fellow Mudder I was good to go.

After a long run we came upon "Tired Yet?" which is a field of car tires laying on their sides which you have to hop across like an old school football drill. Easy enough, but if you are already exhausted it's less quick hopping and more big stepping. Then came "Log Jammin'", "Bale Bonds" (the official version) and "Berlin Walls" (part 2). Each of these are one of the up-and-over type obstacles which again, are easy enough but contribute to your overall exhaustion. Another run uphill brought us to the...

Mystery Obstacle - We approached the top of the hill and there was a watering station that was blasting some tunes. As if on cue the kick-ass song "Jessie's Girl" by the immortal Rick Springfield came on as we rounded the corner and caught a glimpse of the strange construction. The sight, coupled with the music created quite a surreal scene to say the least. I happily sung along with Mr. Springfield as I went to get doused with water by the TM worker holding the hose (seen below)...

We were instructed to climb the ladders and lift the black flaps. When we saw a light we were supposed to count to three and then go. Huh? After lifting the black plastic flap and looked down. With a small amount of sunlight that was peeking in the bottom which was mixed with smoke I could see about a 4-6 foot vertical drop. At the bottom was a tight transition that looked like it would eject you down the mountain. Now heights don't scare me but this drop straight down gave me pause. I hesitated for a beat, and then jumped feet first making sure to hold my hands out in front of myself so as not to whack my head against the opposite side of the chute. I spilled out onto the black tarp through a cloud of smoke. Here is what the exit looks like...

I turned and looked for Ramon and saw nothing. Around five seconds later he came flying out laughing. We talked about how we were both hesitant of that first drop straight down. Another good one Tough Mudder.

Next came "Kinky Tunnels" which was a plywood constructed series of zig-zagging tunnels which are probably really tough if you are claustrophobic. I'm not, and they weren't. Next was a clever obstacle with an even cleverer name called "Shake and Bake". First we were to take a dip in some muddy water and then military crawl under some barbed wire across a field of sand. We emerged from this obstacle looking crispy-coated. Funny stuff. I grew concerned about being covered with sand and having to run. If you've ever run a considerable distance I'm sure you know about chafing. Sand can only make things worse. Not to worry though, because next up was...

Turd's Nest - This gets my vote for the day's "most improved". Basically it's a cargo net strewn across two platforms that you have to go across. No big deal, I've done it before. This time Big Mudder added an antagonizing Marine holding a water cannon who would blast you in the face while you tried to make it to the other side. Funny stuff. This one was great but I'm not sure the poor guy/girl below thinks so...

Everest - This is the one that typifies true Tough Mudder camaraderie. It's basically a skateboard 1/4 pipe that you need a running start to run up and either grab the lip or an outstretched hand of another Mudder to help you up onto the deck. The other way is to create a human ladder like shown in the picture below (which is my favorite shot of the day for obvious reasons)...

I got into a crouched stance and spotted a helpful Mudder on the top deck and pointed at him. He pointed back and it was go time. I ran, jumped up, grabbed the lip and the hand of the helpful Mudder and was up with no problem. I thanked the guy who happened to be with Chris and the crew who were the guys blasting the Rollins Band who parked next to us earlier that morning (which I wrote about in part one). I then turned and lay down on the deck and reached out to help Ramon and other Mudders make it to the top. Ramon failed on his first try but blasted up and over on his second. Then came the one guy who just couldn't make it up. We kept reaching for him and shouting words of advice and encouragement but with each failure you could see the exhaustion on his face. Me, Ramon and the guys around me weren't going anywhere. We would stay there all day until this exhausted knucklehead made it to the top. Eventually we devised a way that our legs were anchored by other Mudders so that we could get more of a lean and longer reach over the side. The dude grabbed onto or hands which caused the surrounding crowds to erupt in applause. The stranger thanked us and we told him that he wasn't going anywhere. "You lay your ass down and pay it forward." He smiled and started helping other Mudders up the obstacle.
If I could take a moment to rant (not like this isn't long enough as it is) I would like to say a few words about the Tough Mudders who fly through the course with a time of 1 hour and 50 minutes or less. I really applaud your physical prowess and all, but there is no way you are doing any of the shit I just wrote about. I kind of feel sad for you really. To me, it's moments like this that make me love Tough Mudder as much as I do. I assume your motives are more self centered, which I guess is fine. Seems shallow to me though. That's it, rant over.

Firewalker - The iconic run through flaming bales of hay. Depending on the wind (or lack thereof) this can be a breeze or very dangerous. Today the smoke was thick as pea soup and had me choking from the burning sensation in my throat and lungs. Ramon had to use the assistance of a fireman standing nearby telling him which way to go because he nearly ran straight into a wall of fire. Toughest version of this I have ever faced right there.

Electroshock Therapy - The last obstacle. I was there in Jersey for the first version of this and a lot has changed since then. You are now doused with water before entering the field of electrically charged dangling wires. The ground is slick with mud and littered with hay bales to prevent you from running through this as fast as possible. Take your medicine like a big boy. Ramon and I went through getting blasted three times each. When people ask me what it feels like I usually say that it is akin to being stung by a wasp or a hornet. It sucks.

We crossed the finish in around 3 and a half hours and collected our orange headbands, tshirt and complimentary beer. We both decided to go to the car and get changed and come back to enjoy the post-run party. After using the outdoor hoses provided to wash off the mud we made the slow walk to Ramon's car. I was a little self conscious as I was stripped down to my wet, yellow, white and green skin tight Vale Tudo shorts that left little to the imagination. I hardly cared though. We had been through a war and you couldn't say shit to us.

We got back to the party nice and dry and grabbed another beer. For the first time we tried the keg toss which was fun. Distance was fine but accuracy was not. The live band finished playing and the very energetic emcee grabbed the mic and announced a pushup contest was about to begin. The participants were already lined up and they needed official counters. We volunteered and I found my guy. He had a huge set of pecs and a thin waist. It looked like all he did was pushups. As they got down into starting position I kneeled down in front of my guy. When they began, the music was pumping so I had to lean in a few inches from the face of my guy and shout the numbers out loud so he could monitor his progress. His pushups were very short and very quick, definitely not the kind I like to do when I work out. After a couple minutes people started dropping out. Coincidentally it came down to Ramon's guy and my guy. In the end, my guy won with 252 pushups. He got a free pass to any upcoming Mudder for his win.
After the contest I turned and saw the face of some guy smiling at me. "Are you the guy from the video?". Yup. "My kids just love watching that, can my wife take your picture with them?" I was honored. The kids were probably around 4 and 6 years old and looked up at me with big wide eyes. Not sure if it was inappropriate but I tussled the hair on both of their heads and smiled a big smile for them. They laughed and we took a nice picture. I thanked the nice family and Ramon and I walked off for or last beer of the day.

I noticed that my mother had died exactly one week ago at around the same time it was then, 1:20 pm. What is incredibly ironic is that Ramon's father had died exactly 10 years ago on the exact date, October 16th, and the exact day, Sunday. Not sure what Ramon was thinking and I didn't ask, but I silently toasted my mom that day. I'm not going to say anything like I felt my mom's presence that day or she gave me strength from the great beyond to overcome all obstacles. I hate all those sappy, hollywood, bad drama movie cliches that get people all teary-eyed. I will say though, that if she were alive she would have told me how wreckless I was being for doing such crazy shit on a mountain in Virginia. I wish you were there to see me mom, you would of hated it.
I love you.