This is a follow up article to our previous article advising why you must do Europe’s Toughest Mudder (ETM) in 2018 ( http://ocrsolomudders.co.uk/11-reasons-must-europes-toughest-mudder-2018/). Obviously if we are encouraging you to run an ETM, it is only fair that we give you some insight into some items that are worth considering both before and during the race.
A quick couple of disclaimers. Firstly there are more than 11 things to consider, indeed some of the items here could probably stretch to a list within themselves. Secondly these are based on my own personal experiences and those of other Solo Mudders, we do not profess to be experts and therefore none of the below comes with any guarantee that it will make you a better racer. However hopefully it will give you something to think about before the day.
1) Getting there and back again
This is possibly an odd thing to flag up because most people will think that they have a fairly good grasp of driving to a race and getting home again. However with ETM, the odd timings and slightly odd rules mean that you do need to plan your journey for the weekend. This year Tough Mudder management team (TMHQ) closed down the site after the morning event and then did not reopen it until later that evening (10pm I believe but it may have been earlier). You then had to get parked up, grab your pack and be ready to run at 11.15pm. That’s 11.15pm sharp as TMHQ were sticklers on time. That meant that in theory you could not simply park up earlier in the day and then wait until the Tough Mudder (TM) village reopened. I am aware that some people did but you can’t guarantee that you will not be chased out by security.
Coupled with this, come 8.30am it was almost like you were attending a night club and the lights had been switched on. TMHQ were very anxious to clear the TM village as soon as possible. There was definitely no sleeping in your cars in the car park. I am not going to debate whether or not encouraging 700 sleep deprived runners to get behind the wheel of cars was safe, however it did happen so you should plan for it.
In respect of the journey to ETM I would encourage you to look at someplace close to meet up with friends beforehand. You can then relax a little before completing your journey. In respect of the journey back from ETM this will depend on where you are heading. Be safe and even if you have to do the driving yourself it may be handy to have at least one more person in the car to help keep your brain active. I know some people will look to hotels or Airbnb and if you have a long journey it’s probably the best option. Just bear in mind that due to check in and check out times you will likely be looking at a two night stay from Saturday to Monday.
2) Rules and information
Very few people enjoy reading rules and, with apologies to Gil, the ability to rock up and get on with it, is almost a National past time.
However you will be investing a lot of money and time into ETM so why spoil it for yourself by making a silly error. Last year some people had no clue that there would be mandatory obstacles with no option for a penalty and others did not realise that the village would be shut after the morning events.
Admittedly TMHQ is not always the best at distributing the information, however most information is there if you look for it. If you are not sure then ask on a Facebook group such as Solo Mudders.
3) All the gear and hopefully some idea
Gear is a major topic of discussion for ETM. Indeed if you mention you will be attending ETM people will ask you whether or not you plan to wear a wetsuit. I would recommend that your gear is your own choice. But saying that, I would look to be over prepared. Don’t be that person who gets pulled from the race because your old PE kit wasn’t warm enough. Buy a wetsuit or other equivalent cold weather race gear. Bring plenty of spares such as head torches, batteries, socks etc.
Also I cannot stress enough that, when it comes to ETM, comfort is your friend. You may have invested in some ultra-light minimalist running shoes that help you shave 10 seconds from each mile split, however if they will give you blisters after three hours of wear then you may as well be wearing Crocs. Same goes for any other running gear.
In addition to this, give some thought into how to transport and organise your kit. Your old beat up hold all is perfect for a 10 mile race but do you really want to be dragging it back to the car after running for 8 hours? It’s not for everyone but I bought a trunk with wheels for this year’s ETM, although big (and I measured it to make sure it fit within the rules) it was perfect. This year I am aware that for at least one ETM the trunk will be no good because I need to save space for passengers, nevertheless I will still look for a realistic alternative that allows me easy access to everything I need.
4) Its the Pits
ETM allows pit crews, basically friends who will stay in the village area and help to ensure that you can get back running as soon as possible. Some people don’t think they are necessary for an 8 hour race and in truth with enough training and organisation you can probably get by without one.
Personally though if you can convince someone to stay up all night for you then I’d highly recommend it. Having someone there to spur you on, locate gear and provide you with nutrition makes the race a lot more pleasant. Just having a friendly face can help when you reach the dark places during the early hours. So if you can convince your better half/relative/friend/that weird neighbour called Bob to help you out then bring them along.
A few things to consider. One, make sure that they are aware of what you expect them to do, don’t expect them to know what to do. Two, in reality they will likely only see you for a couple of minutes after every lap, so that is a lot of spare time for them to be bored in. Personally I would recommend teaming up your pit crew with other pit crew so that they can look after more than 1 athlete. Three, TMHQ charges for pit crew, whether or not you agree with this is irrelevant, don’t be a moron, make sure you pay this and don’t expect your pit crew to pay.
5) What to eat
For many, ETM is likely to be the first lapped race over a long period that they run. Therefore it is easy to think that nutrition won’t matter because it’s “only” eight hours. However it cannot be stressed enough how important nutrition is to keep you on track.
Sadly there is no magic box available, nutrition is very personal and sadly our bodies are weird sometimes. I would strongly recommend experimenting with various different combinations of foods in your runs and work outs. This is particularly true for items like gels.
Ensure you have a mix of sweet and savoury items because your body will tell you what it wants. Hot drinks are a must for ETM, a hot chocolate at 4am allowed me to carry on. Also, unless you are a super athlete, consider pooling your food with team mates. Your body can be “bored” with your choices which is how my last lap came to be fuelled by cocktail sausages and grapes.
Finally no matter what, put in some comfort food for emergencies. Calories, fat etc do not matter, all that matters is that it will make you happy. You will thank me for this suggestion if you need it.
6) Practise makes perfect
It’s fair to say that there are not many events like an ETM available in the UK. However that is not to say that there are no opportunities for practise runs. Timed challenges are increasingly popular in the ultra and trail running community. They are also quite cheap. So do some digging and find one in your local area. Even if you don’t fancy running them, working as pit crew on one of them would lead to you discovering things you haven’t even considered. For example I noticed another runner using pretzels for nutrition which I eagerly stole as a savoury option.
Another item to consider is whether or not to run a Tough Mudder in the weeks beforehand. Barring any last minute additions the only events before ETM Midlands is London West in the two weeks before. Obviously if you run ETM Scotland you have four possible weekends.
Last year I did not run a TM because I was petrified of getting hurt. However I think this was a mistake and hence I would strongly advocate running at least one TM in 2018 before ETM for two reasons. The first reason would be to give you an opportunity to play on the new 2018 obstacles before ETM, particularly useful for “technique” style obstacles such as Kong. The second reason is that it gives you an opportunity to attempt some obstacles solo. Based on personal experience I would strongly recommend attempting to climb up and on to Blockness if you haven’t mastered this skill yet.
7) Train for success
Regardless of your fitness and plans for practise runs, I would recommend that you spend a fair amount of time training. In particular do some night runs in your cold weather gear. You may initially be apprehensive going out in some of your gear, but as someone who has ran through the centre of Preston on a Friday night at 10pm wearing a wetsuit I can assure you that no one cares.
These night runs do not necessarily have to be overnight but mix in some off road running so that you get used to running without street lights. Obviously make sure that you plan a safe route and ideally run with a friend or take other precautions.
Finally providing you make them long enough, these runs are a great opportunity to experiment with your nutrition midway through the run.
8) Considering your goals
Ultimately we are doing ETM to hit our goals. Broadly your goals will either be surviving ETM, a particular mileage (25 miles is popular due to the “contender” status) or competing for money.
Your goals are your own and all I would recommend is be realistic. You will be a lot slower at ETM as opposed to a regular race and it’s not simply a case of working out how many miles you can cover running in 8 hours whilst adding on some time for obstacles.
Trying not to be too dismissive but the number of people who default to “I’m going for 25 miles” is concerning. The number of, mainly men, who say that they will be doing 30 easy and aiming for 35 miles borders on lunacy. A quick check on last year’s stats will reveal how few people achieved this and TMHQ will be aiming to make 2018 even Tougher. Until you try an event like this, you will not believe how much time you can lose from lap to lap or how your body can decide to “give up” without warning.
Aiming high is great, however it may be worth having back-up goals just in case the race doesn’t go completely to plan.
9) Running with friends
This is an interesting topic that may easily slip your mind because it doesn’t often come up. At a regular TM we will often run with our friends.
In theory ETM is a race in which you are trying to push yourself and therefore there is a temptation to run alone. Saying that, having friends will ensure it is easier to get over some obstacles such as the walls.
My advice is that you have to all be honest. If you agree to run as a team then everyone has to agree to put their personal goals to one side for the betterment of the team. Consequently you need to ensure that you select team mates of a similar fitness to you with the same goals.
If you can’t agree to run as a team then there is no shame in looking to help each other as much as possible and then splitting up as needed. My personal mantra is that I am running my own race, if someone can keep my pace (or more accurately if I can keep theirs) then I am happy to run together. However I don’t expect them to keep to my pace and I don’t expect to have to keep to theirs.
10) Check your ego at the door
This is a major item to consider. As you are aware many of the tougher obstacles at ETM all have penalty loops attached to them. The penalty loops are designed to be more time consuming than completing the obstacle. So the more obstacles you complete the quicker you should be.
Nevertheless it is easy to get into the mind set of thinking that you need to complete all obstacles. Unless you are looking for prize money then this is a dangerous mind set to have. For most people, there will be times during the night in which your personal abilities mean that the smart choice is to take the penalty. A classic example is funky monkey, if you got to half way and fell in three times then why gas your arms any further? Take the swim and do the penalty lap.
In short, complete everything you can but don’t be an idiot about it. There is no shame in taking the penalty lap if needed.
11) Mind games
During the course of the night TMHQ will mess with your head whether by accident or design. At the 2017 ETM we were informed early that some obstacles would be open from the start and that then some would open and close during the night at random times. From other Toughest Mudders we were also aware that come 8am the obstacles would all close to allow you to finish the lap.
Having the “mass participation” obstacles such as kiss of mud and pitfall open from the start was different from previous Toughest Mudders in which there was a true sprint lap to begin. The opening and closing of obstacles was a lie. Once the obstacles opened none of them shut until 8am.
Even the 8am close was not correct. Most of the course did close down at 8am, however the final two obstacles did not close. This led to a situation in which you “switched off” only to be faced with having to having to do some more obstacles. This was particularly frustrating in respect of Kong because you had to climb up it and fall before you could take the penalty. I suspect Kong may have robbed a fair few runners of their final lap.
Ultimately however you have to accept that TMHQ will play games with you for no other reason than they can. There is nothing you can do other than trying not to get too hung up about what you assume will happen and simply running the race you are given.
So there you have it 11 things you should consider before running Europe’s Toughest Mudder. You may not agree with them all and in fact I suspect that some of the above will lead to debate, which we would welcome either below in the comments or in the Facebook group. I hope that the above assists you with your plans for ETM and if not I hope that at the very least you have enjoyed reading.