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World’s Toughest Mudder

Josh is, well, an animal. Not only did he complete the Arizona Tough Mudder, but he did well enough to qualify for the Worlds Toughest Mudder! This event is no joke. It’s a full Tough Mudder course with all the obstacles that extends just over 9 miles.  No big deal, right? Wrong! This is an endurance event where you complete as many laps as you can in 24 hours. It takes a special breed of person with the guts and grit to take on this course.  Josh Woods is one of those people.  Read his experience as he competes in the World’s Toughest Mudder:

While serving as a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force, every day seemed to be the same–wake up, go to work, do your job and go home. So after a few months of being home from deployment, I needed something to turn the “press-to test” light on again. Things were going just a bit too slow. Working out 3 times a day and getting paid for it might appear to be a dream job, but I was constantly trying to come up with new and more innovative ways to keep things exciting. I was ready for a new challenge, and that’s when I saw it. The answer was clear–a mud run. I was captivated, scared, intrigued and amazed by the idea of it. I decided that on my 38th birthday, I would compete in what was labeled “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet.” I would run my first ever Arizona Tough Mudder obstacle race.

World's Toughest MudderNow forget everything you ever learned about fitness. Forget all the PE classes. Forget how to run for the military. This was a whole new animal in the fitness world. This challenge was for fun. It was also the longest ,hardest and most challenging run I would ever pay money to do.

I started reading the blogs and researching what a “mud runner” would need. I scoured the internet for clues–YouTube, Facebook, anything I could find. I looked up shoes, clothing and routines that might get me ready, and on Jan 15th at 10:20 am, I tried my luck at surviving–12.6 miles of over , under, around or through, and 2 hrs and 26 minutes of torture on my legs. Finally, I crossed through 10,000 volts to finish my adventure.

I was smoked.

I was proud and in awe of what I had accomplished. Every time I retold the story to my friends and family, I would get chills.


After the race, on a whim and curious to see how my time stacked up against the other competitors, I entered my finish time via Tough Mudder’s weblink. Surely I was wasting my time, right? Two weeks go by, and I received my notification–G-mail delivered from the gods. “Holy Crap!  I was invited to the World Finale.”

I knew I would be competing against elite athletes. Some of these guys do this for a living! So what does a pro do to stay pro? I was consumed with the details–what to eat, what to wear, how to train. I “friended” the champs and read their meticulous notes. Once I was as mentally as prepared as I could be, I was off to train my body. “Have you ever stayed up 24 hrs? Have you ever jumped in a pool of ice water after running the mile? Have you ever climbed the most unsafe structure you could find? Did you dive face first in every mud pit within 5 miles?” These thoughts consumed me, and I knew this training would be like no other.

Finally, it was race day. You know those butterflies you got as a kid when it was report card day? Yeah,  amplify that by a million. Walking down the starting line for the first time is something you won’t ever forget. You have ARRIVED! You realize that the world’s ELITE runners, gym owners, shoe companies, athletic apparel sponsors–EVERYONE–is watching.  And then, the countdown begins….

I woke at 6 a.m. on the day of the World’s Toughest Mudder. I swore I would sleep in to better acclimate for the next 24 hours, but that didn’t happen. I ate a light breakfast and suited up in “minimal gear.” With butterflies teasing my stomach, we piled into the car. It was a “warm” 29 degrees. Once we got to the site, I made my way to the ice covered abode that I had set up the day before. I wore level 3 fleece lined compression leggings,  2 mm wool socks to the knee, level 1 long sleeve compression top, 2/3 mm triathlon wet suit–extra stretchy–Salomon cross country trail shoes with speed laces, 2mm neoprene gloves with wrist cuff Velcro, 3 mm neoprene hood gaiter over a level 3 thermal head warmer, an assembled chest loaded pocket vest with utility lights and refuel kit under the bib of my new 1884 chest piece (race bib), and lastly my trusty ole faithful–my hard-earned original Tough Mudder headband.  Naked and dry, I’m 160 lbs. I was weighing in at about 175 lbs. loaded. It was a perfect transition from the 20lb vest I trained in.

At 8 a.m. all the “greats” started showing up–Pak-man..the previous year’s champion, Ray Upshaw–the guy is a walking tribute to the sport, and people I recognized only from Facebook and Obstacle magazines. Everyone was there, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

All spectators are asked to exit at 9 a.m. We were then on our own, as our support structure for the next 24 hours had to remain 100 yards out of the way. I realized with sudden clarity that in the crowd of 1800-2000 people, I am alone. The mental game had begun, and the clock was winding down. In just a few short minutes, the gates of hell would be opened and a year’s worth of fury and preparation for a title would be unleashed. My only thought was, “I have to pee!”

At 10 a.m., we are off. Orange smoke cans peppered the track. The pitter patter of athletic shoes resounded in my ears, as screams of pride (and fear) permeated the air. I was calmly losing ground to the anxious. As I jogged pass the stands, I saw my wife and waved. When I realized that she had seen me as well, my heart was overjoyed and I felt not quite so alone. My race started, and my stride settled in. Only 9.7 miles to go for lap 1.

The first 3 miles  felt easy. I was fresh, strong, and quick. A lot of fails occurred, but I was warm and dry. My shoes worked great. I wasn’t wet. My grip was firm and sure. About halfway through,  I noticed the walkers starting.  It suddenly dawned on everyone that the leader was long gone, and 23 hrs were left to go. Better to get a strategy and survive, than to run another man’s race.

This is when Tough Mudder spirit kicks in. You see, not everyone is prepared. Some of the obstacles that are easy for some are impossible for others. You need help, and you offer help. That is how this group of competitors differs. We accept that we likely will not win,  but our confidence in our fellow athletes won’t allow us to leave them to end the day because they hit a wall–so, you help each other. That was how I ran into “my” running partner. I’ll spare the name for privacy reasons, but it’s who he is that is important. He is a previous Tough Mudder athlete. He knew the drill as well as I did. He knew the sacrifices and was prepared, yet a thing like a cramp in the calf can destroy everything. So we slowed our pace and did what people who run together do. We talked, and walked, and ran. We tackled every obstacle as a team and bitched and griped and complained, but we never whined. We finished that lap together. Success is not measured by the distance, but by the stride in which you achieve it. I last saw him heading for his pit. We split up for new ideas on our gear selection to tackle the next lap. I took 25 minutes rest and went back out for lap 2. I haven’t seen him since. We will meet again–sooner or later–someday.

      Worlds_toughest_Mudder-fence

At midnight, I was on lap 3, and 25 miles into a loooong race. I was tired, saturated to the bone with cold. The water at every turn has frozen over. The thought  of jumping into cold water terrified you. My grip was not as strong, and everything was muddy. Everything stunk. I failed more than I succeeded at this point, my mind replaying every step from the last time I ran this course, 4 hours earlier. “This wasn’t this hard last time,” I thought. I was tired of mud in my eyes. My hands didn’t work, and my toes were numb. My headlamp was cutting a path into the fog made by every breath of hot air I expelled. Cautiously, into the waist-deep black mud, I tread, knowing that the next step will likely toss me upside down. “The next obstacle is just ahead,” I think, “Keep going. No one likes a quitter. Keep going.  This isn’t so bad. Next obstacle.”  Then it was all just a blur.

About 12:45 a.m., somewhere around mile 6 or 7 on lap 3, I was faced with the fact that I couldn’t complete the obstacle in front of me, so by choice I opted for the ice water. In I went, without thinking. Out I came, without thinking. I was not steering anymore. It was all left, right, left… left, right, left… and I ended up in the medical tent.

I swaggered in to see about 20 guys all huddled around a heater vent–DRY. I was dripping wet, and no one was moving. I know why now. We were all delirious. I saw a guy pass out dead asleep in the standing position.

A rescue swimmer EMT walks up and says, “You okay?”

“Uh huh,” I answer.

He looks me in the eye and says ” If it’s the choice between smart and hero, choose smart.”  I knew he was right.  I was done.

He congratulated me on the hard effort and said he would call me a ride back in. I was ashamed, so I declined. I chose to walk in–off the course. At 14 hrs and 22 minutes, my World’s Toughest Mudder race ended. I walked into the pit area at 1 a.m. There were no crowds to welcome me. No applause. No one to wave adios to. I had run my own race.

I called my wife, and she returned to pick me up and gather my things. Hypothermia had me mumbling and drooling, but all I could think about after running for 14 hrs was, “Did I beat anyone else?” I looked around, and half the course pits were empty. I made it half way, and only half of the competitors were left. We packed my things, and I left the track for warmer weather.

In the end, I finished 951 of all entries, 132 in my age division, and completed a marathon’s distance over hill and dale through everything  you can imagine EXCEPT fire. I was the only Tucson AZ participant, and I finished 7 of 9 for the state of AZ.

I am a success.


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