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The road to Vegas – Part 2

Phil Snowden made the bold decision to leave the army and fulfil his personal ambition of setting up his own fitness business, the M.E.T.A Personal Training Studio in Kent. Inspired by Snowden’s training preparation in his first FitPro blog entry, The Road to Vegas – Part 1,  Olivia Hubbard asked him what happened in Vegas.

Forget the stag – Vegas means serious endurance

“Tough Mudder is generally a 12-13-mile course with around 25 obstacles en route,” begins Snowden as he reflects on his Vegas experience. “The obstacles vary from crawling, jumping and scrambling to getting electrocuted!”

Olivia Hubbard: So, Phil, why Vegas?

Phil Snowden: It being my 30th birthday this year, I wanted to mark it by doing something memorable, so I signed up for an MMA fight (which got cancelled a couple of weeks before) and, while training for that, I signed up for the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM), a 24-hour Tough Mudder in Las Vegas. That’s got to be memorable, right? Also, a week before that, I took a risky challenge by entering a BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) competition, which thankfully I didn’t get injured in (although some poor guy had his arm snapped, which made me feel slightly anxious). I did, however, bring home the silver!

OH: How did you encourage the troops for the Vegas Tough Mudder?

PS: I managed to convince three others to join me for the WTM: Ross (my business partner), Adam (a PT and also turning 30 this year) and Andy (a client and friend). The three months from booking the event to actually flying out went really quickly and, to be honest, the long-distance running training was starting to get tedious too. We got as much kit as we could fly over with but had to buy more in Vegas, for example, a tent and, of course, food provisions. With all this preparation, we weren’t prepared for the change in weather conditions: a -7°C wind chill and up to 50mph winds!

OH: Tell us about how you all felt on the eve of the Mudder. 

PS: The day before the WTM we had to sign in and pitch our homes – our comfortable tents to soothe us in the aftermath. We were all actually quite excited; we flexed limbs and sensed the apparent tension in the Vegas air. Competitors were actually getting quite serious around us. Any utterance was of self-encouragement, as it appeared that no one was really talking. I found it quite funny, much to my business partner Ross’s irritation.

Pre Vegas Mudder preparation

Pre-Vegas Mudder preparation

 

That evening we took it easy, which was extremely hard to do on a Friday evening in Las Vegas, especially when you’re watching everyone on their way out. But we were there for a reason: we had a goal to achieve. We were on the outside, the circus of activity evoking clichéd memories of a night at the casino. We didn’t want to lose the chips – we were playing the game to win, just minus the roulette.

I’d like to say I got a good night’s sleep but, in reality, I was obviously quite anxious and slightly nervous.

OH: What was the camaraderie like on the day itself?

PS: At the start of the Tough Mudder, they always get you hyped up with a rousing speech about how special and inspirational the man/woman next to you is and how the event is about camaraderie before glory. Being out in America, you could guarantee it was going to be something special – and man, they didn’t disappoint!

Boom! 10am and we’re off, among 1,200 others – it was a bit bundled at the start during the first lap but, after the second and third, people started spreading out and then I realised I still had another 21 hours to go.

OH: Take us through the obstacles you had to overcome.
PS: Soggy bottom is a 20-30-metre slog through mud which is about knee height, just to break you in gently before you then reach … tight fit …

At around 1,600ft (the highest point of the course) is a 10m duck under a tightly pulled down cargo net also draped over three rows of tractor tyres, actually tricky in the dark at 4am. Catch your breath quickly before you hit the … mud mile and the walls … 

This is not a hard one but a traipse through waist-high muddy water after a descent down the mountain brings you onto three high walls. The first is 3m-ish at an angle, the second is vertical at about 4m and the third is about 5m with a slippery rope. Now you’re ready to test your strength in … weigh too tough …

Here you had to pick a bucket and, under instruction, fill it with one of three selected contents (sand, gravel or water) at three selected weights (which changed on each lap) and get them weighed in after carrying the bucket for part of the course. If it wasn’t within 5lbs of the selected weight, then you had to start again – which sucked on the third attempt at about 1am. Then, with a splash of colour, you get crawling in the … birth canal …

This is a 10m crawl under tarpaulin weighed down with luminous pink liquid. No, not done yet – you have to hope you like water for you’re about to tackle the …underwater tunnels (day) or Statue of Liberty (night) …

This was our first time in the Las Vegas lake; during the day we had to go underwater under a series of floating barrels. During night hours, we had to swim one-handed while holding a lit torch for about 40-50m. Enjoy that view when you complete … Everest …

This was a 15m-high halfpipe (what you’d see in a skate park) and it was all about power and momentum. Into the early hours, this got very demanding – well, everything did really but, when my legs were fried, this took it out of them that little bit more. Next you get technical with … the grapple, penalty lap and abseil …

The grapple was more about skill – basically having to lasso a ball on the end of rope, up a 15m edge, onto a target. I didn’t manage this once; in fact, I gave up and took the penalty lap every time, which you may think is a cop out but this involved going over, under and through three walls, followed by a steep gravelly hill and another ¼-mile run that didn’t get added to the total mileage! The abseil was exactly that – not too challenging but made harder with wet gloves! Next, can you shift your weight through the … pipes? …

There were a couple of these dotted over the course. Here you had to drag yourself on your back through a tunnel using a rope. I was really surprised by how much it took it out of my lats and biceps, while scratching the s**t out of my back! Team tactics indeed if you get past … the liberator …

 

Tough Mudder, Vegas, Phil Snowden

Phil Snowden makes a jump in Vegas

 

Clever one, this one – and big for the upper body. You had two pegs that you alternately had to place in holes in a wall in order to pull yourself to the top. Once at the top, you’d post the pegs through a little post box for the next person. Now, for the inner traveller in you, you’d best get … island hopping …

This involved huge floating blocks tightly covered in a net so, when you stepped on one, the surface would move and you’d find yourself unbalanced for the next step. I constantly fell on my back, which made it really hard to get to my feet. Get jumping for the … hump chuck …

It’s back into the lake for another swim. On the other side was a slippery ramp, which had a bracket to step onto from which you had to jump up to another and pull yourself up. This one required assistance for most people – on my last lap I had to take the penalty lap, which I thought was an extra bit of swimming. It wasn’t – it was followed by another added run: doh! You’re in Vegas, so of course … this could hurt and the gamble …

Another high climbing obstacle, which when the wind really kicked in in the early hours they half closed because it was probably too dangerous. After that was the gamble: a game of chance and plenty of praying. Here you had to roll a dice and whether or not you rolled a certain number meant you either had a free pass or you got your ass electrocuted on a sprint through some charged dangling cables! I always took the punishment route – an uphill leopard crawl under barbed wire – after watching someone get hit and land on his face in muddy water: no thank you! (Funny, no one wanted to go in and help him out.) Then you’re the king of the … swingers …

This was fun: you had to jump and grab a handle, swing across and hit a bell, and fall into water. You miss: you go for an extra penalty lap run. Get building when you complete the … grabbin shaft/breeze block carry penalty lap …

This was tricky for the upper body and some technique was involved too. Firstly, there was a set of incline monkey bars, followed by a transition onto another swing where you had to grab a scaffolding pole, which ran downwards to the other side of the water. Last lap, I went in and had to do the penalty lap with a breeze block – cheers! You’re then crawling again in the … sewer pipe …

This was a leopard crawl under barbed wire, followed by a pipe on an incline, which you’d pull yourself up using the rope inside until you got to the top and fell backwards into the water below. I hated this one and, for some reason, I just couldn’t warm up after it on my last lap at about 8am. Get ready and jump off … the cliff …

Man-o-man, this was high – 38ft in fact. Andy was really worried about this one from when he first found out about it a couple of weeks before. We all did the first one together for support and, when I got to the edge, even I was like “oh my” (or probably something a little more offensive than that!). On one of the landings, I’m sure I cut my hand open on impact as we hit the water so hard.

After climbing a cargo net, it was just a jog to the finish! That was pretty much 5 miles (unless you did all the penalty runs, which took it up to 6.2 miles). We did start to film the course with an action camera but, unfortunately, when Ross hit the water from the cliff, it bust out of his hand into the lake below. However, someone else on the course managed to film the action here:

OH: Sounds crazy! Sum up the experience for us.

PS: All in all, it certainly was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done without a doubt. After getting shin splints by about 8pm, every step was agony. With the wind and the drop in temperature, it cut right through me. On my last lap, I couldn’t even talk I was shaking so hard. Adam had to rescue me and warm me up with foil blankets and a donated sleeping bag.

I felt bad that I couldn’t do another lap and swore blind I’d never do it again – stupid bloody Tough Mudder!

When the stats started coming in the next day though, out of 1,200 participants, 800 didn’t finish and decided to call it a day. Only 50 managed to do over 50 miles and they received a celebratory bib. I didn’t get one as I only managed 45 miles.

But next year I’ll be better prepared and I’ll smash 75 miles (if my wife lets me!). Viva Las Vegas!

To read The Road to Vegas Part 1, click here.