I ran my first obstacle race in 2011 and as with many of you reading this blog, I was instantly hooked. Over the years I began to participate in more and more races every year and continued to look for new ways to challenge myself. In 2016, I competed in my first World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) in Las Vegas and completed 50 miles at the end of the 24 hours. In 2017 I returned with hopes of hitting 75 miles, however, a broken finger and torn ligament limited me to 50 yet again. I came back again in 2018, thinking the third time’s a charm. The only issue is that no one expected subfreezing temperatures in Atlanta. After completing 25 miles I went hypothermic and spent most of the night in my tent trying to warm up. I was able to complete 1 more lap in the morning to finish with 30 miles. That is enough about me, the remainder of this post will discuss this awesome sufferfest that 1,200 of us put ourselves through.
In 2011, the first World’s Toughest Mudder WTM was held in Englishtown, New Jersey, in mid-November. The idea was simple, see who could run the most laps around a 10-mile course in 24 hours. Fast forward to 2018, WTM was held on November 10th and 11th in Fairburn, Georgia, for the first time. Little has changed about the format of WTM over the years, other than the transition to a 5-mile loop. Yes, there have been tweaks to some rules, or what constitutes a finisher, but the person who runs the furthest in those 24 hours is still the winner.
This year WTM was held at Bouckaert Farms in Fairburn, Georgia. Roughly 40 minutes west of Atlanta. Bouckaert Farms is a beautiful 8,000-acre horse farm that is made up of rolling pastures, woodlands, and several water crossings. Oh, can’t forget the Georgia clay as it was in full effect during the entire race. It had rained for several days leading up to the event, making the ground very soft. This made for a vast difference in terrain from the open desert environment in Las Vegas. In addition to being an equestrian paradise, there have been several concerts held on location and as well as several scenes from Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War were filmed on the property.
The course was a 5-mile loop that started at 12pm on Saturday, November 10th, and ended at 12pm on Sunday, November 11th. Participants had until 1:30pm on Sunday to complete their final lap. Each loop had a total of 26 obstacles, 663’ of elevation gain, 2 additional miles of penalties, 8 penalty obstacles, and 18 must complete obstacles. Of those 26 obstacles, 14 of them had some sort of water element.
There was an evident theme to this years course and that was the course of choices. The creative geniuses at TMHQ gave every runner an opportunity to run their best possible race. They added a new High Voltage route that opened up at 8pm and two gold routes that were accessed by obtaining golden carabiners In 2015, a golden carabiner was given to any runner who was able to hit the bell on King of the Swingers and the carabiner could be used to bypass Operation. This year, runners had 3 opportunities to obtain a golden carabiner. They could be obtained by hitting 25 miles and/or completing upgraded lanes on Funky Monkey and Leap of Faith at various hours throughout the night. Once a runner had a carabiner, they could be used on Gold Route 1 to bypass 8 obstacles in the front half of the course or Gold Route 2 that bypassed 6 obstacles in the back half of the course. The High Voltage route was a series of 3 electric based obstacles in the second half of the course. If a runner decided to take this route and attempt the 3 electric obstacles consisting of Electroshock Therapy, Entrapment, and Operation, they would bypass 5 other obstacles including Blockness Monster, The Gauntlet, and Leap of Faith.
These course options really made runners question what was the best option. Would it be better to take the High Voltage route and risk getting shocked or continue on the normal route with both water and grip obstacles? When should the golden carabiner be used and should it be used on Gold Route 1 or Gold Route 2? These questions crossed every runner’s mind while they were out on the course. Thus creating the course of choices.
Both the obstacle layout and obstacles themselves were very well thought out this year. There were two sections on the course that were very obstacle heavy. These were also the sections that could be bypassed with the golden carabiner. For this section, I am not going to discuss the common Tough Mudder obstacles like Mud Mile, Funky Monkey, etc., only the ones that were new.
Hydrophobia – The first obstacle on the map was Hydrophobia and it came up less than a quarter mile into the loop. This was not a difficult obstacle unless you had a fear of water or enclosed spaces. It was made up of a large metal container filled with water and 3 plastic tubes partially submerged in the water. Runners had to crawl headfirst into the tubes and maneuver their way through the tube.
Twin Peaks – The next obstacle on the map was the new Twin Peaks. This was a fun obstacle that became more difficult as the hours passed by and the grip wore out. The idea was to traverse down one slant wall using a rope, then step/jump across a gap to another slant wall, and climbing up and over the wall. To make things more difficult, there were also high-pressure hoses spraying down on the slant walls that were soaking the ropes. If a runner was unable to make the transition between the two walls, or slip on the walls, they would fall into roughly 3 feet of water. If that happened, they would then have to complete the designated penalty loop.
Spread Eagle – This obstacle consisted of 30’ slacklines that runners had to lay down on and pull themselves across. It sounds fairly simple, however, it still required a good amount of balance and core strength to stay on the slacklines. If someone were to fall into the water, they would have to complete the designated penalty route.
The Stacks – soon as the announcement was made that WTM was leaving Las Vegas and moving to Atlanta, everyone was wondering what would replace the infamous Cliff. TMHQ answered with the Stacks. This enormous creation was 36’ tall, four shipping containers stacked on top of each other. Runners would have to climb up a giant staircase of containers and make the 36’ jump to continue. For anyone who was not comfortable completing this obstacle, there was a relatively long penalty route. The penalty route took significantly more time to complete compared to climbing up and making the jump.
Black Widow – Similar to Spread Eagle, Black Widow was another obstacle consisting of 30’ slacklines that runners had to traverse. This obstacle is appropriately named because it does remind you of a spider web. There was one slackline that could be walked on to make it from platform to platform, but there were many other lines running in all different directions and angles. What made this obstacle the most troublesome was having multiple people holding onto all the various slacklines. Someone could easily be knocked into the water if someone else made a sudden movement on one of the lines. There was a penalty option for the obstacle if someone were to fall into the water.
Entrapment – If you are a fan of Tough Mudder, you have either completed or heard horror stories of the obstacle called Electric Eel. Well, Entrapment is a very similar obstacle. The wires were low to the ground and actually got lower towards the end of the obstacle. Oh, there were also random wires hanging down just waiting to deliver a little shock. Participants had to stay low to avoid hitting the perpendicular wires while trying to dodge the hanging wires. Entrapment was the second obstacle on the High Voltage route and was a must complete if runners decided to take that route.
The Gauntlet – To date, this is the longest obstacle Tough Mudder has ever put on course. It is a 100’ long rig combining 4 individual obstacles. These obstacles consisted of Twinkle Toes, Hanging Tough, Just the Tip, and Gut Buster. If any of these sections were failed, the runner had to immediately take the penalty route.
Leap of Faith – This was very similar to Rope A Dope from 2018 and nothing like the original Leap of Faith. Runners had to make a 7’ leap straight out to a cargo net, climb up the net, transition to a metal pole, and slide down to the ground. If the runner fell into the water at any point without holding on to the net or pole, they had to complete a penalty route.
Mudderhorn – How do you make a 35’ A-frame cargo net climb worse? Add roughly a 9’ slip wall at the bottom of it. This obstacle forced teamwork, whether it was an elite or first-time WTM participant. With the mud and cold, it was nearly impossible to get up the slip wall without a boost. This was a must complete obstacle, which meant some runners would have to wait if no one else was there to lend a helping hand.
The most challenging obstacle of the event was the weather. No one expected “Hotlanta” to be so cold. With a starting temperature in the mid 40’s, many runners started the event wearing a full wetsuit. Once the sun went down, things changed drastically. Temperatures dropped below 32 degrees and at one point when I looked at my phone, it was 28. It was so cold that many of the obstacles had to be shut down at midnight due to them beginning to freeze. These obstacles stayed closed until about 8am. You can see the thick frost on the top of my tent as the sun began to rise in this picture, it was brutal. Having the correct gear or correctly timing additional layers was critical to one’s success at this event. I should have put my full wetsuit on before my 5th lap but I thought I could get 1 more lap in before the sun went down. That was an error on my part and something to learn from.
The World’s Toughest Mudder will be held in the same location for 2019, on November 16th. If you are looking for something new to challenge yourself or missed out on WTM 2018, you will not be disappointed with this course.
By Mike Weaver