Completing epic challenges really requires the perfect unity of mind, body, and soul. Over my twenty years of endurance racing I’ve learned that of the three, the body is the easiest to train. Subject it to enough work, give it rest and food and it will adapt, become stronger, and more efficient. The mind and soul however, are much more complicated, and more difficult to train.
I’m not shy in telling people that I think the WTM is the toughest 1 day (okay – 25 hour) challenge in the world, and having competed in everything from the Eco Challenge to the Sahara Race and Otillio – I feel like I’ve sampled a good cross section of self-proclaimed toughest races.
While the WTM is certainly a difficult physical test, the area where I found it most challenging was the mental aspect. Simply put, doing endless laps on a looped course WILL grind you down until you begin to worry about upcoming obstacles. Thoughts of failure, self-doubt, or simple fear start to cloud your once focused, positive mind.
When I took on my first WTM I didn’t even bring a wetsuit. Being from Canada and used to cold weather, I looked at the forecast for Henderson and figured that I’d be fine swimming and running in cool night temps. I was dead wrong and by midnight, or 50 miles into the challenge I entered my tent physically chilled, and mentally broken – never to reemerge. Not one to accept failure, I took my learnings from 2014 I went into 2015 feeling ready to compete, and mentally prepared for the challenge that lay ahead.
The first half went well. I maintained a steady pace, my crew did a great job of keeping my pit stops brief but effective, and as a result, I spent most of it in the top 5. However, as the cold nighttime temperatures began to chill me, the seeds of doubt and fear began to grow. The endless loops, and the mental challenge of staying psyched and motivated to continue to push through the obstacles began to take a toll on me. I started to slow down. I started to drag out the pit-stops. I didn’t want to repeat last year’s early exit, but I was afraid of pushing myself into that really uncomfortable place where I would have lived if I wanted a podium spot. Thankfully, I had talked to my crew about my goals before the event, and they knew that unless I was injured, there was no quitting or throwing the towel in early. My crew became my rock, and at my lowest point, they supported me, encouraged me, and helped me remember why I was there in the first place.
I was able to draw mental strength from them during my darkest hours and this made the difference between racing 50 miles, and racing 70. The WTM is not an easy challenge, especially if you want to do well. The key to being successful is to know your reasons for racing and honour them. Honour yourself, and honour your crew if they are there. Remember, you will get wet – repeatedly. The wind will blow and you will get cold. Obstacles will get harder as the hours progress – whether from fatigue, mud, or water. You will get tunnel vision staring down the barrel of your headlamp beam for hours on end. You’ll feel alone and unsure at times. You’ll both love and hate the World’s Toughest Mudder. You’ll want to quit. This won’t be easy but you don’t want easy. You can try to prepare before the event by running at night, or doing cold water swim-runs at night but when you get to that dark place at 3 AM during Black Ops and want to quit, it will come down to you remembering why you chose to compete in the first place. If you can remember this, and keep your promise to yourself you’ll be successful on World’s Toughest Mudder Day.