Road to WTM: Build up to WTM
At 40 years old, I decided to attempt my first ever Mudder event. Why not tackle World’s Toughest Mudder – go big or go home, right?! I was lucky enough to win a sponsorship from ORM and WTM after my result on my very first obstacle race, Spartan Ultra Beast Vermont. There is something about the endurance races that I find calming. I haven’t completely put my finger on it but I suspect it has a lot to do with settling in for the long haul and getting out of your head. When the race is a long one, the ticking of that incessant clock fades away. It is so grounding to be removed from this fast paced society and dig in, get dirty and continually moving for a full day or maybe even 24 hours. Anxiety and nerves are conspicuously absent. WTM provides an enhanced level of calm, as it is a self-paced race where each individual can dictate how far and how long. I’ve only run two obstacle courses, so my theories are somewhat uneducated, but I truly believe women are suited to the longer races – especially those of the chronologically, but not biologically, aged variety like myself.
Wow, there is a plethora of opinion on what gear one ‘needs’ for WTM. You could literally spend every waking moment researching, reading and purchasing. But, honestly, who has the time or funds? So, the real task becomes how to narrow it down the necessities. I’d suggest finding a mentor that you trust, someone who has been there and can guide you a bit. Once you sign up for WTM you can join a closed Facebook group with a great gear guide list.
I tend to be a minimalist and avoid excessive gear changes. This may also have something to do with frozen fingers and laziness. I heard some people changed every lap whereas I wore the same compression socks, tights, top for the entire 24hrs. I’m sure if you had a pit crew to help you change (dry you off, pick the rocks out of your shoes and make up for the lack of dexterity), fresh, clean clothes would feel amazing. That said they would only stay fresh for a few minutes before being subjected to mud, dirt and water.
Secretly, I didn’t want to remember what clean, dry clothing felt like (I believe that is called denial). I made the mistake of taking my wetsuit off because I got too hot the first lap after nightfall. My next lap I spent utterly frozen and never regained full feeling in my fingers (an epic windstorm kicked up the moment I took my wetsuit off). It is a tricky balance but once you get too cold, it is very difficult to warm up again. Being too hot is easier to deal with because you can increase your water intake, spend an extra moment in the water to cool down and, if need be, eat some salt tablets. Too cold is a more difficult fix and definitely led to many people dropping out of the race.
Here’s what I believe to be the bare minimum gear list:
- Hydration pack
- One great pair of trail running shoes (two if you can swing it)
- Compression tights (2)
- Long sleeve running shirts (2)
- Compression tank (2)
- Windbreaker shell with a hood
- Toque (oh ya, I’m Canadian – that means winter hat in American)
- Compression socks
- Individual toe running socks
- Strobe light (2) (although apparently I break these immediately so I will use glow sticks as well)
- Neoprene gloves
- Mud gloves
- Arm sleeves
- Boy short undies (just incase you rip a hole in your tights – very possible and happens often)
- Lip chap
- Food – such a huge topic! Bring what you like and what you’ve tried. Pack individually portioned zip locks so your dirty hands don’t contaminate all food immediately. Amelia Boone swears by Pop-tarts so everyone should bring some, obviously. I felt desperate for salty foods as a break from sugary gels and sweet electrolyte water. Next time I will bring more brothy soups to microwave – I snagged a sip of one last year and fantasied about more all night long.
- Wet ones/wipes
- Industrial paper towel
- Eye drops
- Plastic bags
- A clean outfit/shoes for after the race kept in a separate bag.
I’ll be the first to confess that I didn’t research my training for WTM. I pretty much kept with my usual exercise regime but I will share the training I did leading up to WTM. I typically attend 3x Crossfit classes and trail run 3x every week. These runs are most often 13km (8 miles) in length but I did increase the distance one run per week approximately 8 weeks prerace. That said, I’ve never run more than 20km (12.5 miles) in training and, for me, this works. I like going in to races with fresh legs avoiding overuse/strain. I realize this strategy won’t work for everyone and some benefit immensely from putting the mileage on their legs prerace.
I mix up my runs so that I’m not getting used to a route. I choose hilly over flat always and I try to run fast up every little hill I stubble upon. Pavement running is something I avoid unless the trails are icy and I haven’t run on a treadmill in years. This stubbornness means that I have to run amidst whatever Mother Nature has to offer – snow, rain, wind, sun, MUD!!! I’m thinking, after last years’ sandstorm/windstorm at WTM, that embracing local conditions and getting out for runs no matter what is rather important. I realize not everyone has access to endless trails so stairs and treadmills become staples for training.
Grip strength. This is such an important topic but definitely worth a research. Crossfit certainly helps in this area – deadlifts, farmer carry, pull ups etc. all aid in strengthening one’s grip.
Swimming. Who knew that swimming would be so very present in Vegas?! I felt very grateful to my parents for insisting I take swimming lessons as a kid and for having great comfort in the water. I’d highly recommend brushing up on those swimming skills and ensuring you are ok with jumping off platforms into water. Each lap at WTM 2014 had at least 5 head dunks per lap as well as substantial swimming. Unfortunately, my friend was DNF’d from the race on her first obstacle lap because she couldn’t swim across the penalty leg for the cliff jump safely. So, get out there and get your swim on!
Prehab. Don’t ever underestimate the value of a great foam roller and lacrosse ball. Rolling out before and after every workout/run will pay off tenfold.
Lastly, come day race just let it go. Have a plan and a goal but be open to letting the race be…what it shall be. Enjoy every moment; soak it all in, take note of the views, fellow racers, volunteers, the highs and the lows. I’d bet you’d be hard pressed to find someone who regrets running WTM, regardless of his or her finish place. The energy is palpable, the people are amazing and the accomplishment is one of the greatest of my life.