Massif Athlete Rich Nicholes & The World's Toughest Mudder Experience
Written by Rich Nicholes
In the most basic of explanations, my race was epic! I did not accomplish a single goal, but I left everything I had on the course.
I had everything dialed in on my pre-race prep. I put on a good 7 - 10 lbs (I never did a pre-race weight) in carb loading. I was hydrated so well, I was peeing every 20 minutes prior to the race. I carried a water bottle with me constant for 2 days prior. I was as well rested as one would expect, given the late start time and pre-race jitters. I pre-soaked in a hot tub and took epson salt baths. My mind was focused.
I checked in on the Friday prior to race day and got my bib, credentials, and pit time. It took about an hour of waiting in line before I got my bib. When they handed me the bib, I immediately thought that this is what I have been planning and training for. As soon as I put it on my head I got an adrenaline rush. It’s funny because I turned to the guy next to me and asked him if he got a rush as well. He did. IT’S ON!!! Everything just came slamming together.
About the time I wrapped up registration, is about the same time I was allowed into the pits. I selected a spot with an open path straight to my tent. I also had hot showers and shitters along the same route. I chose this spot due to its accessibility and proximity to the showers (a needed essential when the temps drop).
After the pit was set, I walked past a couple obstacles, but didn’t want to waste any energy on scoping out the course. We headed back to the Condo, had a Lasagna dinner, soaked in the hot tub, and was in bed around 10. I tried for earlier, but it just wasn’t going to happen.
I woke up at 6 and couldn’t go back to sleep. I ate an early breakfast and started my game day preps. I ate another meal of Lasagna leftovers around 10. We arrived at the course just before noon.
We covered the game plan one final time and headed to he chute around 1 pm. At 2 the race kicked off with a 100 yd up hill. I never ran this. Too much wasted energy. The first lap was an obstacle bypass. This gave me the opportunity to gauge each obstacle before getting to it. This was one of my biggest concerns. If I can mentally work my way through an obstacle, I then know I can do it.
I covered the first lap nuts on. I was shooting for 53 minutes for the first 5 miles and I did it in 52:22. I couldn’t have asked for better. So far, right on the game plan. My plan was not to pit after the first lap. I did a quick change over in the chutes and headed right back out. I added sleeves, elbow pads, knee pads, camelback (preloaded with an extra goo, bladder empty), and waterproof phone case. It was about a 5 minute transition time.
The obstacles opened at 3 pm. I managed to get through the gate and hit obstacle 1 as they opened. Everest 2.0, nailed it. (if you want links or pics of any of these, let me know)
I had a short jog to Whale’s Turd. My camelback bladder became a floatation device for water obstacles. It would position perfectly under my head and I would casually back stroke the swim. I was pacing with most freestyle swimmers at a fast comfortable rate. The swim was about 100 M followed by 3 massive balloons covered with cargo netting. The obstacle was about 50’ from side to side, and the initial climb was about 12’+. To initially get out of the water was incredibly demanding in upper body strength. Because of the roundness of the ballon, there wasn’t really a good way for a foot hold. It required me to pull myself a couple feet out of the water before I could secure a foothold. After the initial climb, there was a second ballon that was another 8’ climb, followed by a 3rd ballon that descended about 6’ before a final 6’ drop to the ground. This obstacle was only open for 3 laps before they had issues with one of the balloons deflating and we only did the swim. I was relieved this obstacle closed because of the amount of energy it required. None the less, it was fun while it was open.
I then cruised through Hydroplane, Liberator, Abseil, Gambler, and Vertigo, which leads me to Operation
Operation is a new electricity based obstacle. There is a 10’ long 1’ metal pole with a hook on one end. I had to snake the pole through an 8” hole. The ring of the hole is lined with metal plating. About 6’ through the hole is a wall with rings. The goal is to snag a ring with the hook, lift it off the nail, and bring it back through the hole without touching the sides. The entire time I am doing this circus act, I am standing in water. Did I mention this whole thing is super charged with 10,000 F*#%ING volts?! So I did it once, got away clean, but failed because I knocked off 6 rings in the process. Penalty lap, sandbag over the shoulder for a 300’ jaunt. After my first attempt, I opted for the bypass. It took to long time to fish it through, I don’t have that steady a hand, and the bypass was pretty damn fast (considering my training).
The next obstacle was Tight Fit, short, but a real pain in the ass. It was only about 30’ long. There were 3 row of tires about 4 ‘ apart. The entire obstacle was covered with a couple 3/4” cargo nets. The two cargo nets would snag on everything, camelbacks, headlamps, glasses, just about anything. I found the trick to this obstacle is to work with a crew of people. I would stand on two tires while lifting the cargo net. People could then crawl between my legs, and do the same thing on the next set of tires, and so on, until everyone made it through. It was a pain in the ass solo, but easy as pie with a cooperative group.
Grease Monkey was the next obstacle. It was Monkey bars on an ascent, then kicking my legs into a tube to slide down to the other side…all over water. I failed on this obstacle once and did the bypass on my final two laps.
I then breezed through Statue of Liberty, Gut Buster (freakin loved this one), and Hump Chuck. I chose to do the penalty bypass the final two laps on Hump Chuck.
And then got to Upper Decker. I loved this obstacle. I entered a 20’ muddle puddle about 4’ - 5’ deep. On the opposing side was a knotted rope that I had to pull myself up and into a tube. The tube was on a downward angle. Inside the tube was a rope to assist in pulling myself down. Once out of the tube, there was a 20’ crawl through mud under barbed wire. Every subsequent lap they reversed the direction of this obstacle.
Watering Hole. I always snagged about 150 cal. of energy gummies and drank 24 oz of sports drink.
This is where the uphill all begins. I then hit King of Swingers, which I never could quite do (fortunately there wasn’t a penalty bypass), Kiss of Mud 2.0, Roll the Dice, Tramp Stamp, and Royal Flush.
Royal Flush was the single most physically demanding obstacle. It was another 20’ long, 4’ deep mud puddle. At the opposing side were a number of tube sloped upward. I had to dip my head into the water to get into the base of the tube. Inside the tube was a rope and a burst of water spraying from the top. Because of the angle of the tube and the water, the inside was slippery enough that it became very challenging to pull myself out by my final lap. To add insult to injury, I bruised the tar out of my arms in the way I was crawling out of the end of the tube.
After Royal Flush, I began my final up hill, followed by a very long down hill. The downhill was AWESOME, until I lost my stride. I finally made it to The Cliff. I know you didn’t want me to do this one, but truth be known, I do OCR for this EXACT obstacle. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift. I got to jump into a green abyss in the middle of the night…SO MUCH FUN!!! Or I could have run another 1/2 mile and gotten shocked, yeah, I think I made the right choice.
And then I got to do it all again.
After lap 2, I knew it was going to get cold quick so I changed into my 5/3 wet suit, with a neoprene skull cap and full head cap. My glove of choice is Snap On Mechanic gloves with a rubber grip. I wore a bandana incase the winds kicked up and had a pair of goggles in my camelback. I took almost a 1/2 hour in change over. I got 300+ in calories and rehydrated.
After 3 I was 52 minutes off pace. I made a 21 minute pit to fuel, hydrate, and swing by the showers to warm up. By this time, my suit wasn’t working as efficiently as it should. Gravel had gotten in-between my knee pads and wet suit and worn holes. Additionally, I had 3 holes in my crotch from snags on obstacles.
I made up some time and was only 34 minutes off pace after finishing 4. It was getting colder and I took extra time trying to stay warm. I had a cup o soup among everything else and topped it off with a 5 hr energy. I had well over 400+ calories, plus extras.
I came in strong after 5. My first lap with obstacles, lap 2 and lap 5 I had the EXACT same times, tying for my fastest obstacle laps at 19:06/mile. Even though 5 was strong, it wasn’t enough to overcome long pits and I was now 1:25 off pace. Fatigue was setting in and I my right knee was starting to ache. I took a 1:11 minute break. The temps had dropped to 45 degrees.
I finished 6 laps, 30 miles around 3:25 am. I was now officially 3 hours off pace. Ok, goal 1, 60 miles is not promising, AND Timing is not tracking age categories, so there is no real way to track goal 2. Ok, goal 3 i still attainable. I could now feel a definite chill in the air, I’d lost a couple head lamps, I was feeling fatigued, I was questioning the reality of 20+ more miles on my knee, it was time to regroup.
It was decided I would strip out of my wet clothes, smear some icy hot on my knee and attempt to get some sleep. My goal was 1 hour. My pit let me sleep until I stirred, which was about 1 1/2 hr. I suited back up, got in 300+ calories and cracked the glass and drank 1/2 a C4.
I finished lap 7 in 2:24. I realized at this pace, the way my knee felt, and as fatigue was setting in, there was no way I was going to accomplish 50 miles. I had a phenomenal support group that came down and supported me all night long. I called a meeting with everyone. We met in the chute and I explained the situation. I felt I could do one more and because of timing would extend my time in the pit for another hour and bring in a chill final lap. My brother wouldn’t accept that and pushed for 2 more laps. That was all I needed. It took a second to register, but I’d thrown in the towel and literally 1 person made all the difference. I could do this. I took just over an hour before I was back on the course. I ate hot lasagna, protein bar, egg, hydrated, and smashed the fucking glass. Double dose of C4.
Lap 8, 40 miles was completed in 2:11. It was around 12:30 pm and I had one final goal, I didn’t want to get caught on the course when time ran out. I wanted to finish my final lap. I had 3 hours. My knee was hurting something fierce and had significantly slowed my pace. Fatigue was also a major factor. My advantage was training hikes and my long stride. By this point I was being very selective on which obstacles I would do, and which I would take the penalty bypass. I was most concerned about Royal Flush. I only bypassed Greased Monkey and Hump Chuck. After I got through Royal Flush, I did well on the uphill, but came to a screeching halt on the down hill. I’d pretty much hobbled the bulk of this lap, but the down hill was awful. As I drew closer to The Cliff, I was concerned of swimming to the opposing shore and the cargo net ladder to get out. The winds had picked up by now and as I came to the obstacle, I was informed that if I wanted to do the bypass, Electro Shock was closed. I figured I had close to 1/2 hour left and I could probably crawl that far in the given time. I chose the bypass. The final obstacle I got was Mud Mile. It was 7 trenches dug around 3’ - 4’ deep with bales of hay stacked between each trench, making it about 5 - 6’ high. It was everything I had left to jump and pull myself from trench to trench. I finally made it through and wanted to finish strong. I mustered up the best shuffle I could and put down the last 1/4 mile.
I participated in the longest and most physically demanding event in my life. I ran 45 official miles (and easily 50 after penalty), finished 24th in my division, 371 of 1140, put in a final lap at 25:02, climbed 7550’ in elevation, and got to play on 195 obstacles. And that made it all worth while. Before I started this race, I said that next year I would volunteer, but wouldn’t be racing. Now that I’m done and with my knee still aching, I don’t know if sitting on the sideline is good enough.