Tough Mudder!

“I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” – George Patton

Sunday, February 26: big achievement, I completed the Tough Mudder SoCal #1. Thus marking the farthest I have ever run/walked: 11 miles, 23 obstacles in 3hrs 45 min! This event really earned its name. The distance was the real killer for me, the cramps began after mile 7, left calf, then right calf, then right quad, then left quad finally the right hip flexor… Nevertheless, some stretches and some moral support from J & Steven and I powered on (Both medium to long distance runners). The obstacles included 10ft wall jumps, mud crawls, 15 ft dive, ice bath, water slide, monkey bars and not one, but TWO electric shock obstacles. The worst would have had to have been the ice baths, followed by the second electrical obstacle because you knew exactly how it felt from the first time!

15 ft drop!

Now they don’t promote it as a ‘race’ so no official times are kept, people are simply encouraged to finish as their goal. The event definitely deserves its name, with a reported failure rate of 10% on average, across their global races. I’m proud to say that I completed the TM! Everyone will face their challenges throughout the course, for me being a primarily strength based athlete, the distance was the real kicker. Almost all the ‘challenges’ weren’t that physically demanding for me, I was able to complete them all except the balance beam (another thing I must improve!). My training for the distance was not nearly enough. In between trips and sickness I really only had 5 weeks to go from almost nil running time to being able to run 11 miles, staying in the zone between not enough training and over training before a big run.

The TM is as much a test of your physical strength & endurance, as it is one long test on your tenacity and perseverance. 3 hrs and 45 minutes is a lot of time to think. One thing that I never doubted was finishing the race, I woke up that morning with 100% certainty that I would finish the race – no matter how long it would take me.  The thought of quitting never entered my mind throughout the race. However, past the seven mile mark I start to question my own abilities: why didn’t I train harder, have I drank enough water, why don’t I push past this cramp, I should have been better than this. Shouldas, Couldas and Wouldas won’t get you anywhere and they didn’t help me at all during the race. Focusing on the task at hand and taking one step at a time (both literally & figuratively) is how I managed to finish the race. The same resolve that helps me grind through a heavy set, was the same exact resolve that helped me finish the race.

All smiles at the finish line! With the coveted orange head bands

What the TM highlighted and pointed out to me was a blatant weak link in my overall measure of fitness. The farthest distance I completed in training was 5 miles, not even half of the distance I had to run. Now I don’t ever aim to compete in a marathon, or even a half marathon. I would however, like to be able to run a reasonable distance without feeling like my lungs are about to explode or cramping up in four separate muscles simultaneously. This has definitely changed my current plans with regard to my training and goals. As much as I enjoy avoiding cardio intense activities, in favor of anaerobic exercises, the TM has definitely opened my eyes to the fact that I am well below average, (overweight & elderly people were passing me!) with regards to running.

I used to be wary of long distance running, not only due to my general lack of interest in it, but also because I assumed it would be way too catabolic. However, upon a fair bit of reading on the topic, I have decided to bite the bullet and slowly start to include running into my training regime (currently averaging 2-5 miles per week). Three big reasons stand out for me personally to start taking running that little bit more seriously (definitely some bro-science here):

  1. The cardiovascular benefits, it’s definitely not fun being strong whilst running out of breathe running up a couple flights of stairs. Now running isn’t the only method to improve this area, but having friends who run helps with this.
  2. Cardio/aerobic capacity can effect your strength levels. Just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a poor aerobic capacity can have a limiting effect on your body’s attempt to exert maximal effort. This is not to say that running is going to directly increase my squat poundage, but if my heart is able to pump blood around the body with more efficiency, it will definitely assist.
  3. Steady state running doesn’t appear to have such a great effect on weight loss as previously thought. Coming from someone that doesn’t want to lose a lot of weight, this was a big factor in my choosing to not run. A big myth about running is it’s effects on weight loss.
Run Mr Caveman!

Evolution shows that the human body is extremely adaptive (we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t) and when looking at physical exertion the body’s adaptability to new stimulii is very great. It is in the body’s best interest to become more efficient at energy expenditure, the body has evolved to hold onto every calorie possible, wasting calories is very detrimental in a survival situation (as I have learned a lot watching Dual Survival & Man Vs. Wild). By exposing the body to the same physical stimulus the body adapts over time to burn fewer and fewer calories. This is why to make jogging an effective weight loss program you must increase the mileage over time. If you stick to running 10k all the time, all things being equal, your body will actually be burning fewer and fewer calories over time, which is quite counterintuitive for a weight loss exercise plan.

The body will adapt to the new stress that it’s exposed to, making the muscles more efficient at that activity. This is one of the rate limiting factors for any exercise.  This is why physical activity gets easier and easier on every subsequent attempt; running 5k, lifting 100lbs, the body adapts to perform these same activities with less wastage of movement and energy. Be it neural activation, enhanced muscle fibre recruitment, metabolic improvements or muscle memory the body will adapt to new stimulus and grow efficient at old ones. Which is why the #1 goal in almost any exercise plan is progression.  Notice the people in the gym that look exactly the same year in year out? It’s probably because they don’t change their routines. You’ll only get stronger by lifting heavier and you’ll get slimmer by running further.

You don’t drown by falling in water; you drown by staying there. – Edwin Louis, Cole

The TM definitely pushed me passed my limits, both physically and mentally. The main thing I took away from events like these is that we are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. The only way to improve ourselves, is to find out our limits and to push past what we thought we were capable of. As of today I have also signed up to complete the 10k Camp Pendleton Mud Run.

If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. – Bruce Lee


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