Despite the early weather forecasts for rain in Whistler, BC, competitors saw lots of sun. And despite the fine weather, course runners saw lots of mud.
Tough Mudder’s 2012 inaugural voyage onto Canadian soil was a resounding success.
The 4 a.m. wakeup call Saturday, June 23 jolted us into the harsh reality. Today, our team, “True Grit,” would be tested. Even with the availability of YouTube to scan previous Tough Mudder courses, the challenge of facing 11 miles and 22 obstacles was still a mystery.
Had all the training and doing our “Minnie Mudder” in Williams Lake a month ago been enough preparation? Developed by the Ex British Forces and used as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors Project, the Whistler course turned out to be a challenge that did not disappoint the 16,500 competitors.
Beginning at 8 a.m. and every 20 minutes later until 2 p.m., a new batch of 500 athletes would be set loose on the course. The atmosphere at the starting line was continually charged with a mixture of adrenaline and energy as Tough Mudder staffing laid out course etiquette and cautions (such as no electrical course obstacles for people with pace makers, etc). Some athletes were there as individuals but the entry line was covered throughout the day with teams wearing colorful jerseys and elaborate costumes coming from various communities around B.C. and even Washington State.
Not long into the course that rainbow of beautiful colors was soon changed to the ubiquitous brown of B.C. mud. At the opening bell, competitors raced up a ski run about one kilometre, only to run back down to their first obstacle which was a muddy belly crawl under barbed wire.
The “Arctic Enema” followed soon after where competitors were forced into a 10-metre long ice bath.
Although this dyed bath was only a metre and a half deep, athletes needed to totally submerge themselves to get under the wooden beams laid half way across the bath, which was filled with floating ice blocks to keep the fluid a balmy 4 C.
By 8:15 a.m. our “True Grit” team found this a rather shocking way to begin our day.
The course then took competitors away from the crowds at the Whistler Olympic Park roughly eight miles through a well marked course comprised mainly of cross country ski trails. Here, rocky scrabble waited to twist ankles and knees. Snow patches and mud puddles dotted the trail, keeping all feet soaking wet and filthy. Many hill climbs raising body temperatures and increased sweat levels.
In order to remedy this dilemma, course organizers directed the trail to a 15-metre snow slide down a 45 degree gradient emptying into a small lake surrounded by snow and ice. Colorful language (and now somewhat clean outfits) emerged from this dip into frigid water as the air was shockingly forced from the athletes’ lungs.
On and on the course progressed with every step taking the mud warriors closer to their ultimate goal of completing the challenge. And yet, the true meaning of mud was yet to be discovered as many of the next obstacles involved wading through knee deep muck and swampy slime. Invisible rocks and branches tripped some weary athletes, precipitating face plants and mud baths.
Good sportsmanship and high levels of camaraderie were often observed as fellow competitors, even total strangers, were quickly on the spot to lift others out of the mud and mire. By the end of the course, it was not uncommon to see these dirtied, limping athletes, now “Brother Mudders,” make their way to the finish line.
Without a doubt, the whole event was built to challenge, and by and large this was accomplished.
“Although the course was made one mile longer than expected, I was preparing myself for some obstacles that were not here,” said True Grit member, Brooke Greig. “My toughest obstacle was called Mt. Everest, which consisted of a large quarter pipe that we all had to scale.”
After her fourth unsuccessful attempt Brooke dug deep within herself and was able to make the summit on her fifth try with the help of her fellow team mates pulling from the top. The missing skin from her arms and legs are a bloody testament of this challenge which she met head on, and conquered.
Her brother, and fellow “True Grit” teammate, Jay Greig, echoed that toughness and courage.
“I heard once that pain is only weakness leaving the body,” Jay said. “When the course got tough, I kept this thought in mind.”
Bobbie Dickens, another team member, said “It was really special for me to be able to do this event with my brother and sister, both of whom impressed me in many ways. My brother was the anchor for our team, using his animal-like strength to pull or push all of us over and up the various obstacles. I loved that our team stuck together through the whole event and that we were able to cross the finish line holding hands as we ran through the ‘electric shock therapy’”.
The Concrete Fitness team from Williams Lake took a similar approach to Tough Mudder and determined to stay together as a team.
“We finish together or we don’t finish at all,” Tyler Hamm added.
Teammate Cher Sytsma was impressed with her team, led by Stefan Hoelzler and Brian Doering who helped their team through the course near the end of the day.
“It was definitely as tough as I expected,” Sytsma said.
When the “True Grit” team crossed the finish line just prior to noon, our squad was far off the course record (of one hour and 40 minutes), but we were all smiles.
“We came to do this course as a team, and we accomplished that goal,” said Kevin Ernst. “Now I can cross that item off my bucket list.
“Indeed, events like the Tough Mudder reinforce the concept that life is all about the journey, not the destination.”