“Fate whispers to the warrior ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back ‘I am the storm.’”
I’ve competed a lot in my life – races, boxing fights, youth and high school sports and just about everything else from pick-up basketball to idiotic challenges only college-aged guys could come up with. But I only recently finished my first ultra-endurance event.
The event, World’s Toughest Mudder, was a 24 hour obstacle course race. From 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday we had to complete as many laps as possible of the 5 mile, 21 obstacle course.
I ran as a team with three of my closest friends and training partners, but it was not a relay. Either we all were running or we all were stopped. We finished as the fourth place team overall and the top America team with 50 miles.
Below are 24 things I learned from running a 24 hour race.
1. Achievements are much more enjoyable with a team.
Having a win or loss be solely on me was one of my biggest motivators to box in college, but nothing beats individuals coming together as a team to help the entire group achieve something great. Many athletes competed in World’s Toughest Mudder as individuals. I commend you. I couldn’t have done it without my team.
2. The right support staff is needed.
We had the BEST pit crew at the race. They kept us in the race lap after lap. Seeing friends and family watching us run at all hours of the day and night continuously pumped fresh blood into us. And of course our beautiful wives, girlfriends and daughters. They allowed us to spend more time with the team then we did with our families. They supported us every step of the way – from the first day of training to the weeks of limping after the race.
3. Misery loves company.
I knew my teammates were in just as much pain as me. If they kept moving so would I.
4. Beards are the most underrated tool in the athletic world.
They’re basically a combination of Batman’s utility belt and a Swiss army knife. Beards can help you get through anything.
In the months leading up to the race I visualized all the pain and difficulties I would face, the needed communication and support between the team and crossing the finish line. This greatly helped me handle everything the race threw our way.
6. Nothing gets achieved without proper communication.
If the team wasn’t constantly communicating when we needed to slow down, could speed up, needed to pit longer and needed help on an obstacle we would have doomed ourselves. One of the most amazing things about our team was how much time we had spent together and the things we could talk about. Endless stories and laughs made any hellish experience enjoyable.
7. Getting wet sucks and hypothermia will kick your ass.
We were constantly in and out of water, but thankfully, we weren’t in life or death situations. Being with a team and having medics all over the course made the event as safe as possible, but numerous racers had to stop due to hypothermia.
I spent months and months working on my breathing technique. When it started to improve I started taking cold showers. This created a situation where my body would freak out and I had to regain control through breath. Taking cold showers from August to November was a great test of my breathing and mental grit and also made me well prepared for the cold water.
9. Check the weather before you do anything shirtless.
We decided to do our last lap without our shirts. When we got on the course for the last five mi
le trek we saw almost everyone else was still in their wetsuit. That’s when the wind hit us. Then we realized it was about 50 degrees and we weren’t able to move fast enough to keep warm. Then we were constantly wet. I shivered for the entire two and a half hour lap.
10. Recover from training – go into race day healthy.
We didn’t do any intense working out for two weeks before the race. I personally didn’t do anything intense for the three weeks leading up to the race. We focused our time on our range of motion, recovery and proactive damage control. I’ve never felt so good going into a race and we all held up better than expected.
11. Eating an old, cold Chipotle burrito at 2 a.m. has consequences.
After completing 30 miles we returned to our pit area to refuel and get some work done on our tight, aching muscles. The crew had Chipotle for dinner and there was a leftover burrito that had been sitting out in the cold for a couple of hours. We set our eyes on it like a hyenas on a wounded zebra. It was the most delicious thing we had ever eaten. We even drank the salsa like shots. While the burrito was a great morale booster, our guts felt it the next lap. It was like running, swimming, jumping and climbing with a brick in our stomach.
12. When your teammate pulls a “dad” moment and tells you to go to the bathroom before the next lap you better listen.
At the coldest part of the night I had to go to the bathroom. We pitted and the crew did an amazing job of getting us warm with on-the-spot thinking to make hot water jugs out of the used gallon water containers. The thought of struggling to get my wetsuit off only to freeze my butt off while sitting in a porta potty was not inviting. My teammate Mike Busby strongly suggested I be smart and go to the bathroom while in the pit area. I opted to take my chances. Bad idea. Immediately after starting our next lap I was in dire need. For the next two and a half miles, which took us a little over an hour, I said nothing, kept my head down and told myself I could make it to the porta potties at the halfway point. I made it, but it was the most uncomfortable miles of the race for me.
13. Turns out you can run a race with two different colored shoes and be good!
I am in the belief that if you look good, you feel good and if you feel good, you race good. Usually having two different colored shoes on would derail that thought, but my teammate Keith White proved me wrong. He did about 16 hours with different colored shoes on and it didn’t slow him down!
14. Ignore your significant other when he/she tells you a mohawk is a bad idea.
I wanted to feel fast for the race, so I thought a mohawk was a great idea. Plus, Mike bet me that I couldn’t get any uglier and I really wanted to prove him wrong. My wonderfully supportive girlfriend was very much against the mohawk, but ended up liking it and at the time of me writing this the mohawk lives on.
15. Time is evil.
Time can play mean tricks. It seems to go excruciatingly slow when you want it to pass and unbelievably fast when you want it to last. Overcoming those perceptions is an important part of being mentally strong.
16. Flex and smile for the camera.
No matter how bad you feel and/or look, when you run by a camera you should instantly become a model. It’s in the rulebook. Those images are going to be on display for the rest of your life.
17. Watch your head.
When you’re cold, wet, exhausted and aching the last thing you want to do is smash your head on a metal beam while getting out of an obstacle. So stay alert because it hurts, a lot… right, Keith?
18. Laugh about it.
When Keith hit his head we were all worried, but moments later (after throwing a brief temper tantrum) he was laughing about it. Once he started making fun of himself we all knew he wasn’t going to let it slow him down.
19. It’s really cool to have a world class professional photographer document your journey.
We were extremely lucky to have our friend Brad Swonetz document the race as part of the pit crew. We have thousands of awesome, hi-res pictures from the race.
20. You can get sick of being told “You look sooo good!”
Bless the little heart and legs of our pit crew member Barbara Roman. She probably ran 40 miles chasing us around the course for the entire 24 hours. Her go-to cheer: “You guys look soooo good!” After 40 miles we explained to her that we’re motivated more by insults than compliments, but she’s literally too nice. When she tried to insult us, she couldn’t even get it out without laughing.
21. When your teammate is limping for nearly five miles, but refuses to stop until he gets to the finish line and completes 50 miles you should be damn proud of him.
More proud of Keith than I could possibly explain in words. He fought through hip and knee pain (old age), running with two different colored shoes, losing his beloved headlamp, popping his shoulder out of the socket and cracking his head on a metal pipe. The last lap was unfathomably painful for him, but he kept moving, just as he did all race.
22. When another teammate helps take as much weight off your buddy’s hurt knee as possible while going down long, steep hills you should be damn proud of him too.
Without Bryan Nelson our team would have never existed. He was the first of us to dream about crossing the WTM finish line. He was our leader and exemplified that on the last lap when he stood by Keith every step of the five miles and did whatever he could to help Keith get through the downhills.
23. Just keep moving forward.
It’s the only way you’re going to get where you want to go – even if it’s one step at a time.
24. No goal worth achieving comes easily.
Completing World’s Toughest Mudder was a worthy goal. Placing fourth and finishing as the top American team are secondary to that. We’re proud not only of what we did, but how we did it.