Friday, April 27, 2012

Warrior Dash Kick-off

With the Atwell Arsenal’s first Tough Mudder nearly two weeks behind us, it’s time to set our sights on the next challenge.  The Atwell Arsenal won great glory down in the South Amherst Quarries and now it’s high time you found YOUR inner awesome.

Ladies and Gentlemen, for your consideration we present the Warrior Dash

What: A 5k run through mud, mud, fire, and a dozen obstacles.

Where: Clay’s Park in beautiful North Lawrence, Ohio.  Just southwest of Akron and a mere 50 miles from Solon.

Why: To unleash your inner warrior, to taste your fight or flight reflex, to singe the hair off your legs jumping burning hay bales.

When: August 25th and 26th, aka much warmer weather than the Ohio Tough Mudder

Who: Your family, your friends, but mainly YOU.  Were you one of the many people who got completely sick of hearing us ramble on and on and on about the Tough Mudder?  Stop being irritated and start being irritating! 

How:  Join us!  All skill and fitness levels are welcome!  No excuses about being too weak/scrawny /out of shape/scared/old/ or <INSERT PERSONAL HANG-UP HERE>, this is something you can do! 

We have an experienced team of registered professionals (disclaimer: not health or athletic fields) ready and willing to help you make it to the finish line in one piece. 

By joining  in on the fun you can anticipate a full range of team activities, such as trail runs through the Metroparks, Volpe Hill training sessions, chigger bite awareness seminars, and alcohol consumption. 

More details to follow.  For now do some reading at .  On behalf of the entire Atwell Arsenal family, we look forward to having you out on the course with us!

Ohio/Michigan Starting Line Speech

To ensure this is preserved in the annals of history, today the Atwell Arsenal is proud to present the Tough Mudder starting line speech from our 9:00 wave.  When the outstanding MC moves to the center of the group, you can see our team to the back right of the screen ready to embark on the Ohio Tough Mudder course. 

Watch, enjoy, be moved, be inspired.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ohio / Michigan Tough Mudder Recap - Part 1

Get your coffee, take a bathroom break and get ready... this recap is waaaay too long. You'll need a Tough Mudder's endurance to get through this thing. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The Atwell Arsenal assembled at the Great Northern Mall before the sun was up. Our fearless leader Bob-o-licious volunteered the services of his SUV since it could fit the whole pack of crazy in one car. Sears was gracious enough to keep an eye on our cars while we were gone.
(The Atwell Arsenal – Steve, Bob, Erick, Tim, Dan, Justin)

Nerves tensed and stomachs churned as we drove the half-hour to the Ford plant where everyone would be parking. We joked to lighten the air, but anyone on the team who said they weren’t at least a little apprehensive of what the day might hold would be a liar. Would the weather hold? How cold would that water be? Would our legs last through those long miles?

The parking lot was abuzz as we gathered the last of our gear and made the hike to the shuttle bus. Rhianna and Chris Brown pumped from the speakers. Not the most traditional Tough Mudder music, but it worked in a pinch. As the bus neared the course, we craned our necks like excited school kids on a field trip. We could see glimpses of obstacles just through the woods. Black and orange flagging marked portions of the course that ran along the road. And then we arrived: Tough Mudder basecamp.
Registration was quick and painless thanks to arriving so early. We picked up our packets, pinned on numbers, and got the ceremonial forehead number inscribed from Sharpie wielding volunteers.

The Atwell Arsenal stretched and prepared. A big screen overhead showed G.I. Joe 2 trailer on a loop. Jicha took a couple of turns at the keg toss, trying to knock over wood cut outs of Fabio, Mini Me, and Keanu Reeves.

From the stage an MC both directed traffic, offered tips, and kept the atmosphere light. “It's now or never 8:00 wave. If you're not in the starting corral by now, you might as well get back on the shuttle bus and go home. Also, if you're walking around in a pair of those weird separated five-toe shoes please be aware that you are creeping the rest of us out. I don't know what was going on in your regular shoes that you had to separate everybody, but maybe you need to sort those issues out.”
(warming up)

We heard the national anthem being played at the starting line for the 8:00 wave and stood at attention. The MC remarked as the first wave of 600 took off, “Look at them go. Like a bunch of baby sea turtles. Most of them aren't going to make it.”

The quest continues:

Ohio / Michigan Tough Mudder Recap, Part 2

Finally after two more waves and two more national anthem recordings played, it was our turn to line up.

To even enter the starting corral you had to clear an 8 foot wall. Each member of the Atwell Arsenal leaped over with ease. Our confidence swelled. We milled among our fellow runners.

The hype man at the starting line responsible for getting everyone in the zone was absolutely astounding. The following is all paraphrasing, pieced together from memories clouded by adrenaline, electrolyte energy gels kicking in, and just a touch of fear. I highly recommend you sign up for your nearest/closest Tough Mudder race to get the full effect.

“Welcome to the Ohio Tough Mudder. Today we have a course designed to exploit your every weakness. To challenge your body and mind.”

The gathered mass hung on hype man’s words as he wandered to the middle of the start corral. “Bring it in close. People in the back crowd in. Now everybody bend your knees and sway.” We crowded in as he had us clapping, howling and shouting out words on command.
“If you've got a little something called 'Mental Grit', let me hear a hoo-rah.”
“HOO-RAH” six hundred voices answered in unison.

As Erick would later say “I could have dunked a basketball from the free-throw line after hearing him speak.”

“When I say TOUGH you say MUDDER. TOUGH”

“When I say TEAM you say PRIDE. TEAM”

And as suddenly as hype man whipped us into that frenzy, he instructed us to take a knee. “Look around. These are your teammates today. Help them. Encourage them. They can't do this alone, and neither can you. Now stand up and say hello to the people around you.”

We did as commanded as he moved back towards the front. “Sarah,” he called to the side “Don't play it.” He turned back to us. “Now normally I save this until the last wave, but when I get a really great group I'll pull it out early. I'll start you off, but I want every last one of you to sing the Star Spangled Banner with me.”

“O-oh say” was barely out of his mouth before the 600 of us drowned him out. Our rendition would of made Whitney Houston proud.

Visibly pleased, hype man stood back at the front of the crowd at the base of a steep hillside and led us in the Tough Mudder pledge:

And with a long blow of the whistle, we were off.

The quest continues:

Ohio / Michigan Tough Mudder Recap, Part 3

We sprang up that first little hillside and got a face full of orange smoke for our trouble. Through the woods and a short distance to Obstacle #1: High Steppin' , a series of 4' high walls, probably 15 to 20 of them.
(High Steppin, from Tough Mudder event pics)

We hopped the hip walls one after another with little trouble. I found it was all about rhythm. Left side hop, two steps, right side hop, two steps, repeat. Clearing the obstacle we were off, through the woods and skirting a quarry toward one of the more ominous obstacles, Obstacle #2: The Arctic Enema.

The AE consists of a vat 15' long, 4' deep that's filled with ice water, dyed either bright pink, green, or blue depending on which vat you pick. In the middle there's a wood wall that forces you to get fully submerged in order to get by. Just to make sure you don't try to jump the wall, there's barbed wire overhead. The Arctic Enema is a poorly named obstacle because as soon as you hit that water your butt and everything else clench up so tight that nothing is getting in or out.
(The Atwell Arsenal emerging from Arctic Enema)

It was on Arctic Enema that we had our first casualty. Bob wore a pink beanie for the race with his wife Pam's initials written on it in honor of Pam kicking cancer's ass. We chose to jump in the pink water in her honor too. But when Bob came up for air, his hat had been swept off his head under the water. Numb hands swept through the water but came up empty. Survival instinct kept him moving forward and out of the icy tank.

We pressed on, one hat down but spirits still high, and turned to run along a road that cuts north and south through the heart of the quarries. A steady stream of golf carts, patrolling ambulances, and other race affiliated vehicles rolled in both directions. A swarm of girls dressed as bees passed us. But we caught up with them at Obstacle #3: Berlin Walls #1.

Nine foot high wood walls stood in our way. The bee girls needed some assistance in getting over the wall which Erick and I volunteered to provide. After that Jicha was the first over the wall and the rest of us followed without incidence. On the other side of the wall was... another wall. We repeated the same process from the first wall and were off again. Not far ahead came Obstacle #4: Fire Walker.
(Fire Walker – We’re in there somewhere)

This challenge was as much mental as physical. Hay bales to either side of a pair of paths smoked and smoldered giving only a few feet of visibility. The stretch through the fire was not especially long, but finding yourself amidst all that fire and smoke it was difficult not to subconsciously do a little panicking. How much further? My eyes burn. Did I get turned around? Where's my team? I can't breathe. We all kept our legs moving and came out unscathed on the other side. Next!

Obstacle #5: Bale Bonds. Possibly the most fun obstacle and certainly one of the easiest. Hay bale pyramids stacked two bales high. Bounce like a Mario brother or climb like Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger to the top and then back down. Similar to the Berlin Walls, once you were over one you had a second to contend with.
(Bale Bonds, from Tough Mudder pics)

It was around this point when the challenge really started. After another period of running through the woods and trails, we emerged to see one of the premier obstacles before us, Walk The Plank. But the path turned us from the tower, the course designers nefariously wanting to give you a glimpse of the challenge ahead before pulling you away. They'd repeat this game a few times.

The quest continues

Ohio / Michigan Tough Mudder Recap, Part 4

We passed a large banner proclaiming we'd reached the 3 mile mark. Up to this point, the miles had been marked with small 2'x2' placard signs along the side of the trail. But mile 3 is special because Tough Mudder picks on their kid brother the Warrior Dash, proclaiming that if we'd signed up for a Warrior Dash we'd already be done, but you're a Tough Mudder so press on!

Next came Obstacle #6: Killa Gorilla. We scrambled up one side of a huge gravel pile, probably 30 feet in the air, then ran down the other side, wading out into a knee deep pond before turning around and scaling the gravel pile again from the other side. We mudders traveled in a line as the circuit took us into the woods, through more small pools, up and down. Finally we reached the end of the Killa Gorilla circuit, and came to what had been in the back of everyone's minds through the gravel climb.

(Walk the Plank, Killa Gorilla in the background, from Tough Mudder pics)

Obstacle #7: Walk the Plank. A jump from the top of a 15' tall wooden tower into a quarry. Luckily there was plenty the frigid quarry water to break your fall. All told it was around a twenty foot drop, factoring in the water level compared to the bank.

A race official with a bullhorn directed runners when to climb, and another official at the top called out when the last jumpers were clear so that the next wave could take the plunge. Some people froze up at the top, afraid to jump. The race officials gave them three chances before they'd tell them to turn around and climb down. I climbed to the top and leaped when directed, unwilling to look down until my feet were off the platform. If I'd of glanced down at how far away that water was at the top, I may have needed a moment to get the courage.

(Walk the Plank)

I hit the water feet first and sank. Deep. I paddled like mad to get back to the surface. The water was cold! Arctic Enema was definitely colder with the chunks of ice, but AE was over in 15 freezing seconds. It was a 30 yard swim to the shore. I immediately rolled onto my back to swim and kicked as hard as I could toward the ramp leading up from the quarry. Erick waved to me from top, waiting his turn to jump. He'd later say “I tried to get your attention before I jumped but you didn't see me.”

“Oh I saw you,” I said, “But I was too busy trying not to drown.”

Bob was waiting at the shore, standing on a ledge above the ramp leading up from the water, whooping encouragement. “Nice work ladies!” Bob had used a paratrooper technique so when he hit the water he barely went under and could immediately begin swimming. He didn't tell us this until at the bar well after the race. For now, we were all in awe of how quickly he'd made it to shore.

We regrouped, looking like a pack of drowned rats, and set off to see what Big Mudder had in store for us next.

Obstacle #8: Dirty Holes. Or Dirty Ballerina. Or Mud Mile. Or Swamp Stomp. Now might be a good time to mention that the map previously posted to the Tough Mudder website was roughly 98% wrong. Wrong obstacle list, wrong start and finish orientation, wrong wrong wrong. The map distributed race day morning was better, but still probably only 50/50. So this next obstacle could have been called anything, but let's go with Dirty Holes because by the time we were done traipsing through a half mile of knee deep mud and dropping into chest deep pits of murky water, clambering up onto semi-dry ground, and repeating the pits part 4 more times, pretty much every orifice was coated in mud. Every. Orifice. Let the mental image sink in. Ok, moving on. (Dirty Holes, courtesy of Tough Mudder pics)

With a few exceptions, between each obstacle was a half to three-quarter of a mile jog. Signs dotted the course with inspirational quips (“If you don't have the taste of blood in your mouth at the finish line, can you really say you gave it your all?”), signs that were supposed to make you chuckle (“Beware of Velocirapters. Stay on course.”), and some that were apparently supposed to be playing mind games (“Shouldn't you be mowing your lawn?”). I didn't give that last one a second thought, but after the race Erick would report that it did have a kind of psyche out effect on him, making him second guess what he was doing when in fact, yes, he should have been home tending to yard work.

Next up came the consensus vote for most difficult obstacle, Obstacle #9: Trench Warfare. A series of eleven gravel berms mounded to a point, separated by chest-deep moats. You could try to leap the trenches to stay dry and risk racking your ribs/knees/shoulders against the other side, or you could submit and drop into the water each time and have to pull yourself out. Jicha opted not to go airborne and “happily” slid into each trench. The rest of us did our best to stay dry. Erick and Conway each had a particularly nasty spill when their feet just caught the dry ground, their chest and face would bounce off the edge, and then bounce backwards. Think Wipeout with mud and no pithy hosts.

After another run through the woods, next was Obstacle #10: Swamp Stomp. Ever been hiking and had to skirt the edge of a swamp so as not to get your feet and gear wet? We cut across that swamp, but in a roundabout route that led us to deeper portions of swamp, over downed trees, and finally emerged to dry ground out at the edge of Interstate 80. I'd like to think that the drivers, upon seeing dozens of mud coated swamp people emerging from the woods and lurching toward the highway, for a moment thought to themselves “Did I take a wrong turn and end up in Mississippi?”

The dry ground didn't last. First the spotty showers that had been threatening all day turned into a slow, steady soaking. And almost immediately after seeing Interstate 80 we hit Obstacle #11: The Mud Mile.

Once upon a time the Mud Mile was clearly a driveway used for haul trucks and other equipment. Then Big Mudder came to town and cut out the road to be knee to hip deep and filled it with the thickest, slurriest, grayist mud they could find. It had the viscosity of reduced tomato soup, and coated shoes, legs, and any body part that neared its surface like paint. Several people had spills coating themselves in the gray paint. This was the first obstacle where I saw cheaters too... people who opted to walk along the dry edge and out of the obstacle. Sure, that was certainly the more comfortable and smarter way to go, but what did you sign up for again?
(Bob-o, our fearless and tireless leader)

We found dry ground again and got tangled up in Obstacle #12: The Devil's Beard. A cargo net around 100 feet long, staked to the ground at the edge. We soldiered through this one, holding the net over our heads in a snake of people. I think this one is intended to be done from a crawl, but some of the stakes were out of the ground allowing us to stand. Just ahead came the next obstacle.

Obstacle #12 : Boa Constrictor. Diabolical. First you slide down the inside of a twenty foot pipe into a pool of water. You can't stand up because of the barbed wire overhead, so you crawl forward to the pipe leading out. Only that pipe slopes upward and is slick inside with water and mud from the person who went before you.

Six lanes worth of pipes pointed down into that water. Bob led the way, diving in head first. I followed a few second later and could not believe the chaos down in the water pool. The muddy water churned like rapids as everyone scrambled toward the exit pipe. Backups were everywhere as people trying to climb up got stuck. Bob disappeared into our exit pipe. I hurried after him. I grunted and swore as I fought for traction in the tiny space. Too narrow to get on my hands and knees, I went with a side stroke type position; one hand ahead pulling at 6 o'clock, one hand on the ceiling pushing at 12 o'clock, and my legs to either side at about 4 and 8 o'clock to stop any backward sliding. I made it two-thirds up the pipe before Bob was able to reach my arm and tow me the rest of the way out.

As we waiting for our teammates we heard pitiful cries echoing from the pipe. “Man... come get me!” Jicha was trapped!

He'd made some progress in the climb, but then had slid all the way to the bottom. Bob took charge. “Biegs, go get him! I've got your feet!” I plunged back into the pipe headfirst, arms outstretched like Superman... a very cold and droopy mohawked Superman.

“It's ok big fella,” I said as I slid down the pipe, “I'm gonna get you home!” We locked wrists and shouted up to Bob-o. With the help of another mudder, Bob pulled our big asses out of there.

Looking back, if we'd of been smart we'd of had Tim grab onto Jicha's ankles and get up too. But then Tim wouldn't have gotten to showcase his excellent tunnel rat skills. Tim scurried up that pipe like the gopher from Caddyshack, and was out in the daylight only a few seconds behind the Jicha Rescue Party.

The good news was Boa Constrictor rinsed most of the thick grey mud from our legs, feet and hands. The bad news was we were again soaked, and scrawny me as starting to feel the cold. Not nearly as bad as some of the grim faces we'd seen already at medical tents; people wrapped in heating blankets, shivering faster than we thought possible, their eyes glazed over into thousand yard stares off into the distance. I scooped up a foil blanket from where it had been discarded alongside the course just in case and we shuffled on.

A word of warning: with the cold setting into my bones and brain, the second half of the course is a little hazy. I think I got these obstacles in the right order, but could have mixed them up in a few places. Please no torches and pitchforks if I make a mistake.

With half the course behind us, we saw two familiar faces. Abigail and Michelle waved at us from the side of the course. They were bundled in hoods and hats against the elements. We posed for pictures before tackling Obstacle #13: Trench Warfare.

Got a fear of confined spaces, the dark, or being buried alive? Welcome to Trench Warfare! A two foot wide hole in the ground welcomes you to the obstacle, while the sharp gravel lined bottom tries to get you to stay away. For around 30 feet, in the pitch dark, you wind your way through a rabbit warren of tunnels, scraping stomach, elbows, and knees in the process. On the plus side, the tunnel didn't have any water in it, so that made it tolerable. Once out on the other side, Abby handed me back my foil blanket and we were off again.
(Dan Jicha emerges from Trench Warfare, like a little baby being born into the world)

Before long we found Trench Warfare's wet, open-air brother, Obstacle #14: Kiss of Mud. Gravel on the bottom, water on top of that, a little bit of head room to get your breath on, and barbed wire overhead to keep you from doing something foolish like try wading through. Welcome to Kiss of Mud! Another 50 feet of army crawling and we were through. Nice and refreshing!

The quest continues:

Ohio / Michigan Tough Mudder Recap, Part 5

As Obstacle #15: The Funky Monkey came into sight, we saw two more familiar faces. Erin and Jerry waved from the starting side of the meanest set of monkey bars you've ever seen. We posed for team pictures and took a breather before attacking the obstacle.
The Atwell Arsenal had varying degrees of poor performance, falling into the water underneath the Funky Monkey bars anywhere from halfway across to 2 rungs in. Other than Steve Conway that is. It was on Funky Monkey that Conway began to put some distance on his teammates for the Atwell Arsenal MVP race. Steve “Grand Back” Conway made it all the way to the second-to-last rung... before falling and clotheslining himself against the wooden finishing platform. How he didn't break a rib I'll never know, but Steve popped out of the water looking unfazed. He flashed his cock-eyed, cowboy smirk and we pressed on.

More woods, more muddy trails. We hoofed it over a set of moguls that led to two big dirt piles, Obstacle #16: Cliffhanger. Like Killa Gorilla, but smaller, shorter, and lamer. From the top of Cliffhanger, we saw another of the fabled obstacles just ahead, and a huge line to go with it.

Obstacle #17: Electric Eel. More army crawling through the mud, but this time instead of barbed wire overhead, it was dangling yellow wires, some charged with the voltage of a Taser. The rain and overcast skies were combining to make me quite cold, and I couldn't feel any electric shocks over the jolt of being submerged in water again.
(The Team Attacks Electric Eel)

Another half mile or so and we came to Obstacle #18: Twinkle Toes. Five balance beams over a pool of water. Fall in, get wet. Pretty simple. But Big Mudder added another twist... in past events people must have been scooting on their butts across the obstacle, because just below the walking surface the course designers ran those familiar yellow wires, ready to shock any dangling legs. Dan Jicha nearly made it across, but when his hand drifted down to catch himself the zap made his legs even wobblier, and into the drink he went.
(Twinkle Toes, pic from Tough Mudder. This was from Sunday’s running)

Obstacle 19: Hangin Tough was a few hundred feet away. About 10 rings dangling over water, same idea as Funky Monkey and Twinkle Toes; fail the obstacle and get wet. One after another the Atwell Arsenal splashed into the water. All save once. Putting a stamp on his team MVP award Steve Conway powered across, and this time did not miss the platform.
(Hanging Tough, from Tough Mudder’s pics)

The path disappeared into a winding wetland, complete with tall grass and cat tails and ankle deep water. When we found dry ground, we came across Obstacle #20: Berlin Walls #2. Between the fatigue of 9+ miles on our feet, conquering obstacles along the way, and the walls being 12' high instead of the first iteration's 9', the walls were humbling. We took turns helping each other and our fellow racers over the wall. With his low center of gravity and hands strengthened by years of intense CAD use, Erick proved to be a valuable asset in helping people over the wall. He'd clasp his hands into a step and on the count of three gave boosts to just about everyone in eye shot.

The quest continues: