Europe’s Toughest Mudder 2018

Europe’s Toughest Mudder was my first important race of the season, as a top 5 finish would grant me elite contender status at World’s Toughest Mudder later in the year, and with a 3rd place finish at ETM last year I hoped to make a strong performance this year.

 

Last year I didn’t have a pit crew with me, and when I registered this year I didn’t give it too much thought either. As the race got closer, and after I’d listened to a few podcasts about Toughest races in the US, I realised every competitive racer had a pit crew at the 8 hour events, and in order to perform my best I might need a helping hand. Monday leading up to the race I looked through my Facebook friends for potential UK racers who wasn’t going to be running ETM themselves, and in a hopeful attempt I contacted Sam Winkworth to hear if he knew of anyone who could be persuaded into pitting for me on such short notice. To my big surprise Sam jumped in right away and offered to be my pit crew himself! (This goes to show how amazing the OCR community is!)

The start

Upon arrival I met up with Sam who’d brought all sorts of stuff to make sure we were set for the night, and he even managed to get me a pair of Bleggmitts that I’ve been wanting to try out for some time!

The weather was tricky; it was pouring down from above, but the temperature was 9-10 degrees Celsius, so I was very indecisive about my clothing for the race. I knew there was a lot of water on course (11 out of 18 obstacles had water included), but I work better in the cold than in the heat, and I didn’t want to risk overheating while running between obstacles. Just an hour before start I finally decided on my shorty wetsuit without sleeves and only a t-shirt and tights underneath.

For shoes I wore a pair of brand new VJ Sport Irock 2, straight out of the box. I love the fact that I can always count on my VJ’s fitting perfectly, they never have to be “broken in”, I can put on a new pair with a perfect grip and never worrying about if I’ll get blisters or lose toenails.

 

Usually we get called to the start 30-45 minutes before the race, this Saturday it rained so heavily that they didn’t call us out until just 10 minutes prior. Standing at the start line was, among others, me, last year’s winner Susanne Kraus and survival run champion Vanessa Gebhart. Susanne Kraus, being the defending ETM champion and runner up at WTM 2016, was a strong competitor, and Vanessa, although unknown by the TM community, has won Fuego Survival Run out right and was the runner up at Spartan Race Ultra WC last year, that girl can race. It looked to be an interesting competition and I was both nervous and exited going into it.

 

Coming out of the gate I ran side by side with Susanne, trying to get some good kilometres in before the opening of the obstacles. I tried to keep up with Susanne for a while, but it wasn’t too long before she started making a bit of a distance to me on those first rounds with only the water crossings and mud obstacles open. Susanne is a fast trail runner, and I knew nothing good would come from trying to battle it out with her from the beginning instead of sticking to my own plan.

My personal goal was reaching 4045 miles and I knew in order for that to happen, I had to find my own pace, a pace I’d be comfortable running in consistently, for a long time.

 

The obstacles

The obstacles slowly started opening halfway through my second round, and one of the first obstacles I met was Everest. Despite the name, it wasn’t the regular Everest (4,5m quarter pipe). The top was rounded and there wasn’t the usual wooden ledge to grab on to. I’m already notoriously bad at quarter pipes, so this naturally this wasn’t one of my strongest obstacles. First time approaching it, it was just me and one guy, it was still raining, and both of us failed to make it up, so we had to do a hill run penalty. To my luck, on all of my following laps, at least a couple of guys were sitting on top of the obstacle, offering a hand down to help me get up. Only on my very last lap, so few people were still on course that I had to attempt it solo again with the same outcome as first time around.

 

Pit Fall

One obstacle I cleared exactly 0 times this weekend was Funky Monkey – The Revolution. I really enjoy grip obstacles, and they even made interesting changes to the combination of the monkeybars, spinning wheels and the horizontal bar during the night, but the rain and water from all the other obstacles on course, especially having Boa Constrictor (water tubes) right before, made the Funky Monkey so slippery that I just couldn’t get a grip on it. I found this kind of sad, but that’s the name of the game, and I guess I’ll just have to work on my grip in slippery conditions.

 

At the opposite end of the scale, I cleared Kong (rings) on every single lap this year, despite it being just as slippery as Funky Monkey. The rings were thinner than the monkeybars, so it was easier for me to use a lock-off two-handed technique here to get a decent grip despite the conditions. A great improvement to last year’s performance when I didn’t make it across a single time.

 

I was surprised to find that not all obstacles opened at 01:00 am, as they did last year. In 2017 all obstacles opened, and stayed open, after the sprint hour. This year the opening and closing of the different obstacles was much more sporadic and unpredictable. I found this new setup kind of interesting, as it allowed you to get into a pretty good flow with your running and have small changes thrown at you on almost every lap, twisting the game slightly each time around.

 

Pyramid Scheme 2.0

The mental aspect

Halfway into my third lap, after I’d let Susanne go and had found my own rhythm, I got into the zone and step by step the world around me started disappearing.

When I start running my own race, not focusing on my placing or comparing myself to others, nothing else matters. I’m in it for me, to be the best version of myself and to make myself proud. I’m running to feel challenged and alive, to push the limits to what I can do and get to know myself better. I feel so small running around in a forest at night, being so present that the world we think we know becomes invisible. All I feel is my body working in a perfect alignment with my mind, solving puzzles, moving, breathing. Living.

 

I only had a few thoughts running through my mind during this race, or at least that I held on to. That’s another interesting part of endurance racing, I never fail to get in my own little world after the first couple of hours, and at every race I have new mantras keeping me moving when the hours get long. This time I had a strategy of counting my laps backwards, starting from 8, as I didn’t know if I’d be able to make 9. Once I got to my 4th and the time on the clock at the finish line only read 3:15 I knew I could make 9 laps if I kept at the same pace and I went

“4 laps to go”

twice. I also found myself counting down the last hour to sunrise at 5:10, and on those last 3 laps I counted up from 13, tricking my mind into thinking we were just getting started. I like the way tiny mental tricks can make a huge difference and by “lying” to yourself you take focus away from the big overwhelming picture. This type of reframing works very well for me, and I do it automatically in order to keep my mood up and the smile on my face during the whole event.

 

Electroshock Therapy

“Every lap to the best of your ability”

Was the one mantra running through my mind at this race. Only allowing myself to focus on one lap at a time, resetting between Finish and Start at each lap and running with the same words in mind on the next.

In the early morning hours when the going got tough, I reminded myself

“The days are long, but the years are short”

Those 8 hours will be over before you know it, and you’ll regret it for a long time to come, if you didn’t take advantage of the amazing opportunity it is to be a part of it and give it your all.

 

The Pit Crew

One of the advantages to having a pit crew is making sure you’re getting enough energy is easier. I like taking my nutrition with me, so I don’t have to spend too long in the transition area, and with a great pit handing you what you need after every lap, those transitions work smoothly and you don’t burn out halfway through due to a lack of calories. One of the mistakes I’ve made in the past is not eating or drinking enough when I run, as I can go fairly long without consuming any energy, but of course I won’t be able to perform at my highest level if I go by this approach.

Sam was really good at keeping up with me yelling stuff at him like “Water!”, “Salt!” and “HURRY!!!” when I ran to him at the pit area. I don’t like stopping when I’ve started running, I don’t know if it’s because I’m afraid I won’t be able get my legs started again if they’ve been standing still for too long… I’m just not taking the risk. 😛

So, I wasn’t exactly the most patient runner at the pit stops, but it worked well for us; I knew what I wanted with me on each lap, and Sam quickly threw it at me and also got me drinking, even when I didn’t feel like it.

 

Transition area

I started getting a stinging feeling in my right hamstring just about two laps in, like I was about to get a cramp, and I never tend to get cramps. This forced me to slow down a bit on the following lap while I was taking in some more salt to try to solve the problem. Luckily it never evolved into a cramp and after a few laps of problem solving with salt crackers and electrolytes the pain slowly subsided and didn’t return until after I’d crossed the finish line.

As soon as I did though, it was a whole other saga; my right hamstring decided it had put up with me long enough, and stopped working cooperating, making me unable to reach my toes or make any quick movements – another situation where your pit crew comes in handy! Sam got the pleasure of clothing me and cleaning me up, like the helpless child I’d become just minutes after being more than capable of running for 8 hours straight. 😂

 

You’re Smashing It

After Susanne took off on the first or second lap, I never really saw her or any of my other competitors again on course. It might have been that I just got blind to everything around me once I got into my own flow, or that I passed Susanne while she was doing a penalty loop or was in the pit area. Nevertheless, because I never knew I had passed Susanne somewhere on lap 4, I thought I was in second place all up until I passed Vanessa on my 7th lap who told me I was leading. I tried convince her that I couldn’t be, as I hadn’t seen Susanne all night, but when the film crew started driving next to me filming me on my 8th lap it sunk in.

Almost from the very beginning Sam had been greeting me with

“You’re smashing it!”

Every time I passed him in the pit. Being naturally sceptical and not 100% familiar with the British take on that word, I thought

“Am I smashing it for a second place?” – “Is he just trying to be nice?” – “Is he trying to encourage me to keep pushing harder?” – “Does he know I’m so far from 1st place that he know I can’t close the gap and is just telling me I’m doing well anyway?”.

 

I was never directly told where I was placed during the race – or I guess I was, I just didn’t understand any of it. Even the film crew and some volunteers used the same expression and I was still on the fence with what it all meant. I guess I’m a bit of a “don’t believe it until you see it” kind of girl.

I knew I was in the top 3 when we got the leader bibs on, as the sun started coming up, but anything can happen, and the race is never over until you’ve crossed that finish line.

During my 8th lap the film crew started following me around, I can guess it was because I had a big enough lead that I’d already won, but all I could think was “why are they filming me now? Can’t they at least wait until my last round?”

I knew I was going out again no matter what. Last year I finished having time to spare and could’ve made an extra lap, which haunted me long after, so I wanted to go on till the very end this time, no matter if I had to or not. It’s an 8 hour race, so I’m supposed to see how far I can go in 8 hours.

 

Operation

The last lap was a special feeling. I had enough time left to take it easy, and I was getting tired too, but I told myself

“This lap isn’t any different than the previous. Every lap to the best of your ability. There’s no slacking, you’ve gotta earn it!”

I did have time to chat with some of the last runners on course, and several people were cheering me on. I made sure to take everything in, thinking that it was the last time I got to see every mile, every obstacle of the course. It was both a gratifying and grieving feeling.

 

The third last obstacle on course was Mud Mile, and one of the volunteers was a guy who cheered me on every time I ran by, and he made me smile even more than I already did approaching the obstacle. “You go girl”, “Here comes the machine again!”, he made me laugh and I had time to chat a little and make some jokes back at him every time I came by. On my last lap, when we were joking about whether we should just continue this race for a few more hours, he said

“You’re the only leader running by here still smiling”
“I’m sorry to hear that” I responded “Or, well.. I’m glad that I’m happy of course!”

and I smiled my way to the last obstacles, Operation and Pyramid Scheme 2.0, crossing the finish line as the winner, but most importantly as a proud girl of my performance and attitude throughout the race.

 

Champagne Showers

My only goal for ETM last year was simple “smile through the rain”. This year I was still able to do that, truly enjoying every second of the race, while running a strong race with a great result to follow.

Even though I was on the contender list and people I know rooted for me, I didn’t dare to count on taking the win, so passing the finish line as the Europe’s Toughest Mudder champion was a very special and emotional experience, and I once again pushed my perceived limits to what I can do.

 

I finished Europes Toughest Mudder as the female champion, running 9 laps, for a total of 45 miles in a finish time of 08:10:21, running equal mileage to the top 4 guys, placing me at 5th overall.

Live a life that makes you feel alive

Being so happy on course and loving taking on these challenges is what means something for me. I didn’t even want to think about the money or the chance to win when I got there, I wanted to forget all about it, as it’s not why I started this journey. I want to become the best I can be, challenge myself to find and push my limits, and I want it to be what I do for a living, but I don’t want to be dependent on the money in a way that I let it control what I do or feel.

I’ll keep being that crazy girl who believes there’s no limits to what she can do, and I’m out on a mission to let everyone else see that in themselves too – I never want that to change, as I get more competitive in the sport, as I’m actually not a very competitive person. What I want is for everyone to be the best version of themselves in the area of their passion.

Life is not about money, status or success, it’s about living a life that makes you feel alive. That’s exactly what I strive for with everything I do.

 

Race Buddies from Denmark <3

These long endurance events really make me feel alive in the most beautiful way where every layer is slowly peeled off and you’re left with your raw authentic self, and you truly get to experience who you really are and what it’s like to be a human being. Doing these type of events holds so much more meaning to me than just the competitive aspect.

 

Also, this sport allows me to meet so many new and amazing people, and the community is unlike anything else. I’m beyond grateful to be a part of it, and I’m continuously blown away by how powerful, supportive and strong this community is. Thank you all. ❤

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3 Responses to “Europe’s Toughest Mudder 2018

  • Amazing read champ!! You really did ‘smash it!!’ Also best smiler on the night 😉

  • Ruben Evensen
    1 year ago

    Hold da op!

    Læste kun “The Mental Aspect” og “Live a life that makes you feel alive”

    … Fællede sgu en tåre begge steder.

    Fantastisk mindset og outlook på livet!

    Igen, stolt af dig søs. Du bliver bare ved i samme retning!

    – Ruben

    • Ulrikke Evensen
      1 year ago

      Det er planen! 😀 Er glad for at du kunne lide det!

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