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Mud nuts roasting on an open fire....

Mud nuts roasting on an open fire….

I had originally planned on heading out to the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, Texas on the weekend of December 8th, but a budgeting meeting (of both financial and time) with Mrs MuddyJ decided that just wasn’t in the cards. Immediately I sent an email cancelling my volunteer status (with about 60 days left until the event) and set about trying to find something a little closer to home…

Then, like an answered prayer, I got an email telling me about how the Gladiator Rock’n Run was COMING BACK to San Antonio on December 8th, 2012, I scared the Thing’s Three by shouting a rather exuberant “YES!” ( I loved my experience the first time the Gladiator Rock’n Run came to town back in June 2012. )

I set about letting everyone know that I had an awesome time the first time out, and I was ecstatic they were returning…I even managed to con talk my Alamo Running Buddy Stephen into trying out his first mud run.

Since I had cut back on strength training for the Rock and Roll Marathon, I got back into a more rounded exercise regimen- QM’s/ body weight training / TRX / Kettlebells and the like…This event was a lot of fun last time, and I planned on it being bigger and more bad-ass than it was the last time. ( I wasn’t let down )

The only sour note about the entire event was that packet pick-up was a step down this time…last time it was well-staffed and organized, easy to navigate….etc… This time packet pick-up was held at Jackson-Keller Soler’s Sports location. My lackluster experience with packet pick-up led me to post the following on MuddyJ’s Facebook page:

“I have mixed feelings about my packet pickup experience for the Gladiator Rock’N Run this morning…
Pros: 1)GRNR guy gave Thing #2 and Thing #3 Medals and Mohawks 2)the Chip Timer Checking area returned 3)there was a lot of grnr staff
cons: 1)though there was a lot of staff, no one seemed to know what they were doing 2) no bag for…never-mind there was no swag…just a t-shirt, timer, 2 zip ties and a racing bib…glad that I had large sweatshirt pockets to stuff them in 3)those who did know what they were doing seemed very harried and stressed out…
I had a great time at the last Gladiator Rock n Run, so they only have to live up to their own standards….I really hope they do!”

AND THERE WERE NO MEDIUM SHIRTS…AT ALL…EVER…I was easily one of the first 20-50 people there, and there were NO mediums…not a good sign… I was left with an uneasy feeling about how the rest of the event would be…I had super high expectations of this event, because the last time, despite a few “growing pains” my entire experience was positive…

I had talked to my friend Stephen about the event. It turned out that he would be running this as his first ever mud run/obstacle course… the deal-sealer was that his wife had signed up for “The Dirty Girl Mud Run” (Dec. 1st) He couldn’t very well let her be the only one in his house with a mud run medal!

I packed my race bag that night, and set out my clothes. I was still undecided as to which shirt I would wear to the event, so I opted to continue my tradition as well as wearing the last Gladiator Rock’n Run Shirt…I donned the GRNR shirt, and put my Santa Jacket on over it….problem solved!

I woke up early, and grabbed my chia-seed-cranberry-orange-honey-electrolyte energy booster concoction (it’s still very experimental, I’ll post the recipe as soon as I get it figured out) I got dressed, loaded my car, and kissed Mrs MuddyJ goodbye…(she had an appointment later in the day which could potentially cause a time conflict, so we decided it would be best if she stayed home) Stephen and I had planned to meet at the event, but wound up spotting each other on the highway en route…which meant we wound up parking next to each other!

Stepping out of my car was another frightening experience…there were HUGE piles of fecal matter strewn about like a mine-field…was this to be another Muddy Mayhem- like experience? Running through poop? Been there, done that…

It was quickly apparent though (much to my relief!) that the parking area and the racing area were of greatly contrasting quality…parking was in an active pasture (hence the poop) and the run was on the motocross track. The walk from the parking area was a bit long, but it was definitely shy of being a shuttle-required distance…Stephen and I cracked jokes about the walk to the race venue from the parking area being our pre-race warm-up…

Once inside the venue, we hit the port-o-potties (which were not only plentiful, but were nice and clean as well…big +)

Stephen, all spiffy and un-mudded

Stephen, all spiffy and un-mudded

We headed off to find the baggage check…I doffed my Santa jacket and previously earned Gladiator Rock and Run tee and stuffed them in my bag. Stephen and his son were kind enough to write my race number on various parts of my body I couldn’t reach very well. His son seemed to think it was HILARIOUS to write on an adult with permanent magic marker! I headed off to bag check and Stephen posed for a pre-race “clean” shot…

It was as I was walking to baggage check that I finally spotted Dan “Nitro” Clark. I walked over to him to say hello. We exchanged a few niceties, and I wasn’t certain if he knew who I actually was, but he quickly assuaged that feeling by commenting on how excited he was to hear what I thought of the course after I ran it…

“Can I run it twice?” I asked.

“Sure thing dude, just have them take your timing device after the first run…”

We shook hands and I continued on to bag check, which was operating efficiently and had me taken care in short order…there was nothing left to do except race!

Over the PA system the call went out for the 0830 wave to head to the starting Screenshot-MOV00F.MOD-2corral…so I grabbed Stephen and we headed into the corral…a few anxious minutes later, Dan took the stage to tell us about the horrors we were destined to face in the upcoming course….a quick countdown and we were…waiting????

But THIS WAS A GOOD THING….it turned out that someone among the race’s

Dan giving us all a verbal preview of the hell that was this course

Dan giving us all a verbal preview of the hell that was this course

coordinators solved the all too common obstacle race issue… traffic jams…each wave was released in small, unassigned sub-waves every four to five minutes. The awesome result? Barely a wait at any obstacle, at any time!

Our time finally did come, and our sub-wave of about 100 runners was released. Being the wise and experienced obstacle racer I am, I set off at a pace I could maintain indefinitely…Stephen and I have run together often enough that I knew it was a pace he could maintain as well. After the first 100 yards, the course took a sharp left and then a right as it wound down into a small dry creek bed (I don’t think we have wet creek beds in Texas) The terrain went from flat and level to small boulders and roots (and a shopping cart?) …we all played a game of follow the mistaken leader…we were only supposed to head through the narrow creek bed for about 5 yards, then cross it up a steep embankment and hop over a small concrete barrier…instead, we all played follow the lost guy for an extra 50 yards of narrow-root-and-debris filled creek bed…we headed up the embankment, hopped the barrier and we were all back on with the race. (The course marshalls learned from this debacle quickly and erected a ribbon barrier to point out the no-go zone)

Another short straight away and we were faced with “Hell’s Hills” a narrow series of small moguls…up and over we all went, though I adopted a strategy of staying low and using my upper body to crest the small barrier and dropping down the other side. (vaulting it as opposed to running up and down the whole thing while remaining upright.) Stephen and I got separated through these, but quickly regrouped after we made it past the final tiny hill.

The next mile of course wound around a flat section of un-banked switch-backs…the course was as wide as a country road, completely flat, and as soft as you could wish for! I was regretting wearing my Vibrams at this point and I was fantasizing about how nice the warm soft red clay would feel underfoot…just as I was settling into auto-pilot, the next obstacle “Terrible Tires” came into view…Stephen and I Screenshot-MOV01C.MOD-1dispatched this one quickly, barely breaking stride, and we continued running on…straight into the “Wall of Fame” (and it’s lonely/underused companion, the 4′ tall pink “Wall-of-Shame”) which we again dispatched with little to no issue at all…(the wall of fame that is)

Side by side we wound around a few more flat curves, and Stephen had decided his gloves were proving to be more of a nuisance then they were beneficial. Luckily fo him, his children were keeping track of us along side the course… so he simply took them off and tossed them to one of his children. The course doubled back and ran smack into a concrete barrier…without a care for whatever might be on the other-side, I leaped over it with a Kong-Vault (HARDCORE PARKOUR) and wound up nearly doing a face plant when attempting to land on the mound of dirt that was piled up against the backside….the lesson here: LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP… without the flair of a parkour vault, or the near face plant that I almost did, Stephen made short work of this small barrier as well.

Next up: “The Monkey Bars”– Apparently the Gladiator Rock’n Run has taken some notes from Tough Mudder with this one: though it wasn’t suspended over a pool of ice-water, nor was the first half an incline…the bars were about 2 1/2 inches thick, spun freely, and were covered in a slick coating of morning dew…in other words..I didn’t make it… my best effort saw me get within two bars of the finish before I dropped, and I joined a growing crowd of other Gladiators off to the side to do my penalty burpees…

Screenshot-MOV01F.MOD-1 Our first round of penalty burpees complete, Stephen and I set off into the fray once again- and next we came face-to-face with “Buddha’s Burden“: A giant inflatable Buddha with a pile of sandbags at his feet. Our mission, grab a sandbag (about 20 lbs dry, but closer to 50 when wet) and run a circular course that left you back at Buddha’s feet. I grabbed one and took off, thinking Stephen was right beside me. The short loop went through a small creek and I jumped in with my usual abandon, confident in my ability to recover my balance due to the ground feel my VFF’s afforded me. I clambered out of the water on the other side, slipped my way across the final approach to Buddha’s feet, and laid my tribute at Buddha’s feet. I then turned to talk to Stephen-who was nowhere to be found. He apparently had wound up with the Screenshot-MOV01F.MOD-2misfortune of slipping when stepping into the creek wiped out. I ran back to aid my friend, but the trooper that he was, he refused to let me carry his burden (which was now soaked, and MUCH HEAVIER). He deposited his tribute at Buddha’s feet, and off we went in search of MORE adventure… only to be met with a GIANT FREAKING DUMPSTER….

a new Olympic sport is found? synchronized dumpster diving!

a new Olympic sport is found? synchronized dumpster diving!

After a short pause to catch our breath, we tackled this one together. Once inside, I gave Stephen the ol’ basket-hand lift and got him up and out before clambering out myself.

Dan had mentioned in his pre-race ramble (pre-amble?) that, if his team had done their job correctly, we would be faced with a 100 yard long, waist deep, mud pit.

He wasn’t kidding, nor was he exaggerating. It came next….

The pit loomed before us, and I charged headlong into the mire…pausing only to remind Stephen to point his toes as he moved along…he might even manage to keep his shoes that way! My Vibrams stayed in place, as they are prone to, and I moved quickly and easily (ok, not-so-much easily, but definitely easier than others had it) through the mucky quagmire.Screenshot-MOV021.MOD-2I paused on top of the hills as they came, and helped my friend out of the muck and onto the hill. We stumbled and trudged along, and eventually we came out the other side… about 75 pounds heavier each. Pausing to scrape off some of the muck that had adhered to our bodies, we shed about three-quarters of our sudden weight gain and took up a slow trot until we reached a VERY welcome water point!

With both of us renewed by restorative properties of a moment’s pauseScreenshot-MOV01B.MOD-1 and a few swallows of the precious elixir-of-life (H20). We settled back into a pace that pushed us, but was ultimately maintainable…together we made short work of the next two obstacles:

  • The Spider’s Web– A low-slung net that forced you to crawl under it on your hands and knees…made a little more difficult by the fact we were crawling through baby powder fine clay-sand that clung to every bit of muddy moisture on our bodies (another 20 lbs heavier)
  • The Trench of Terror– this wasn’t really a listed obstacle…it was a random mud-filled sinkhole that the course wound down into and out of…with a rusty barrel in the middle..

Climbing out of the aforementioned trench, Stephen and I were faced with a terrible sight: The “Mud Mountain” ( For those of you unfamiliar with Tough Mudder obstacles, click here) There before us was a natural version of EVEREST…30 feet of near vertical hill…loose soil all the way up… We stopped in unison, both of us a little slack-jawed in awe of this awesome mound of seemingly insurmountable earth piled high in front of us.

“This one is all about momentum” I said to Stephen….then I took off at a sprint. I hit the mountain in front of me at full speed and kept my legs pumping beneath me…not even considering slowing until I was near the top…and then I was there… I turned around in time to grab another runner’s hand and hoist him over the top right before Stephen came up behind him…this was the halfway point….

We slipped and hopped and skidded down the backside of the mountain, chest’s swelling with the pride of a job well-done…then the visual we got from the top of that mountain sunk in- the rest of the course was a constant elevation shift…we would, for the next 2 miles or so, NEVER BE RUNNING ON FLAT GROUND…it was all hills, and motocross hills at that…

Up and over the first of these dogged hills, we were faced with another 50 yard long quagmire (mud pit) we trudged through it as quickly as we could, and ran up the hill on the far side of it.

The rest of the course, with the sole exception of the final half-mile was a constant elevation shift- we were either sprinting downhill nearly out of control, or valiantly attempting to run uphill.

Up and down and up and down and we arrived at the “Tube Steak” A nice variation on this classic “crawl through the muddy tube” in that we had to clamber over the tubes, then double-back and low-crawl under barbed-wire first, manuever through the tunnel, and then low-crawl through another section of barbed wire…thank god for the water point on the opposite side!

A few more (hellish)hills and we were met by the MOST FUN obstacle of the day… the 150-foot long “Skid Mark“…a big, steep, muddy, water-slide…I sat down on my butt, and pushed off hard. I laid back and crossed my arms over my chest like someone going down an ice luge-which caused me to constantly gather more speed..I was TRUCKING somethin’ fierce when I hit the pool of muddy water at the bottom. Right before I hit, I had the presence of mind to lift my legs slightly-I skipped like a stone for a second, then pointed my toes down and was instantly sucked under by momentum….SO MUCH FUN!

Right behind me came Stephen…we laughed like school children as we set off at a jog to meet the few remaining challenges

Next on the course menu was the “Rope a Dope” a huge slick hill that had ropes hanging down it at the halfway point to aid us in completing the climb. Neither Stephen nor I needed the rope’s assistance, and we crested the large HUGE hill with little trouble…

A quick gulp at the third and final water point on top of the hill, and we were off again, turning downhill and back up for the final set off hills.

Remember P.E. class in your high school gym?…it had everyone’s least favorite event of the year…the dreaded Rope Climb! There it was again, and my nether regions quivered in fear as they recalled the last encounter I had with The 14 foot vertical climb of the Gladiator Rock’n Run’s fibrous braids…(for those who haven’t read my review of the last Gladiator Rock’n Run, I slipped on the way up and knocked my junk against not one, but two knots on the way down…IT HURT)

I stowed away the memory of that pain, and the fear that came with it, and set myself to the task… I grabbed a rope, and hoisted myself up…making it to the top. I paused at the top to smack the ever-living shit out of the cowbell in triumph before slowly making my way back down. Stephen gave it his most valiant effort, but just couldn’t seem to make it the final few feet. He settled off to the side to take on his penalty burpees. Never one to leave a fallen comrade, I took on half of his “burpee burden” and we recovered and headed into the home stretch. Had I been taking notes (this will be important later) I would have noticed we were running on gravel, but with my feet comfortably cocoonned in the (relative) safety of my KSO’s, I just didn’t take note…

20121208_093504You know how people say, “man, I HATE doing burpees”? It turns out that burpees don’t really like you either..and in Gladiator Rock’n Run land, when the penalty for failing an obstacle is 10 burpees, you have to throw a cinder-block into the mix to make it an interesting “obstacle”….

Our cinder-block burpees complete (and our upper-bodies sapped of strength). We turned our attention to the first of the final four obstacles – The Cargo Climb... I have never been all that challenged by any variation of this obstacle, but for my friend, who unbeknownst-to-me-at-the-time is quite acrophobic…this was a real gut check.

20121208_093559He swallowed his fear and climbed, carefully setting each hand and foot as he climbed. I didn’t notice his problems right off, and I had flipped over the top and scrambled down the backside before I noticed he had frozen at the VERY TOP. Wanting to see my friend conquer this all-too-apparent fear…I clambered back up to the top and, with the help of a few other Gladiators, got Stephen to face and conquer his muscle freezing fear!

Screenshot-MOV024.MOD-120121208_093627

I high-fived my friend for conquering the obstacle, as well as his fear…and we hit the third to last obstacle…a simple barbed-wire-covered mud crawl…complete with REALLY cold water!

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With two of four down, and two left, we came face to face with “The BEAST” a 14 foot near-vertical climb, slick with mud and the moisture left by those who had come before us. I climbed up, struggling mightily and barely making the top , I then turned around to aid Stephen:

20121208_09411320121208_094127

Full of true grit and never ready-to-quit, Stephen gave it his best shot…making it to the top and sliding back down three times before deciding it just wasn’t in the cards for him to complete this obstacle. KUDOS on the valiant effort my friend! I again took on five of his ten penalty burpees, and we headed off to jump over the final flames…Screenshot-MOV00E.MOD-1

Mud nuts roasting on an open fire....

Mud nuts roasting on an open fire….

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1 hour, two minutes later, we were back where we started…but muddier, beat up, and very tired…

AND DID I MENTION PROUD?

20121208_094521

We talked for a few minutes, and Stephen thanked me for helping him to complete the course… a few cups of water, and half a banana later, we said our “see-ya-laters” , Stephen and his family left, and  I headed to the baggage check to stow my Finisher’s medal, and my shoes in my bag….

I had finished the course, yes, but I wasn’t quite done…

I bet you thought that after the Finisher’s medal photo, I would be done with this review...

Now lighter a pair of *very muddy KSO’s, and my finisher’s medal, I hopped into the starting corral again..BAREFOOT...

Upon re-entering the starting corral, I received many a sideways glance, after all, the race hadn’t yet started for this group and I was already covered in mud from head to uncovered toes… I simply stated that I hadn’t gotten enough last time and I was going to run it again, which seemed to genuinely scare some people. This time Dan “Nitro” Clark was in the starting corral and when he spotted me, he glanced at me with a puzzled look on his face…

“You said I could run it again if I wanted….” I said…

“I thought you were kidding,” he replied, before giving me a “HELL YEA!” and a clap on the shoulder…a few moments later, I was off.. again…

Since I went into great detail on each obstacle earlier, I’ll skip the major descriptions, but here’s the highlights:

  • The ground was every bit as nice as I thought it would be.
  • The creek in the beginning was a lot easier when we went the right way
  • It’s 100% easier to gain traction in mud with completely bare feet…and you won’t lose a shoe!
  • Buddha’s burden was a lot heavier: ALL the sandbags were SOAKED=extra heavy
  • The “mud mile” was REALLY easy without shoes… I simply walked right through it as people mired in the muck shouted in amazement and dismay. I did attempt to help quite a few people…
  • The “Trench of Terror” had a really big fucking rock hidden in the mud which I found with the big toe on my right foot…ouch…
  • The “Skid Mark” was REALLY fun the first time…the second time I had even more fun with more speed – which I gained by DIVING HEADFIRST onto it…I caught up and nearly ran into the person in front of me.
  • My toes ARE strong enough now to grab rope and hold some of my weight when negotiating a rope climb
  • Turning upside-down on the rope climb and kicking a cowbell Hobie Call style gets you a cold stare from the course marshal if you aren’t actually Hobie Call…
  • Running on gravel isn’t that bad, really…the guy in the clown wig didn’t believe me until I passed him on the stones…then he passed me in the grass, but I proved my point as a barefoot runner.
  • “The Beast” is a whole lot easier when you can grab the rope with your toes after grabbing the lip with your hands.
  • Jumping over the fire is actually REALLY scary when the fear of stepping on a hot coal is a clear and present danger
  • Earning a second finisher’s medal on the same day is even sweeter then getting the first one…especially since I managed to finish 22 minutes faster!

18315_4440362338557_1019452475_nNow I have three…..

Thanks for reading and, as always:

Stay Muddy My Friends!

AND SPECIAL THANKS TO STEPHEN AND HIS FAMILY FOR PROVIDING ALL THE PHOTOS IN THIS POST!