Junyong Pak: World’s Toughest Mudder 2013 Race Reflections


Sometimes the hunted must cross battlefields among snipers, and oftentimes there is no place to hide so you must walk the line. And just as snipers do, you won’t know that they’re there until you’ve taken a few shots to the gut. 

Such was World’s Toughest Mudder this weekend. The competition was fiercer than ever and unlike in past years, there was zero room for error or hesitation. Halfway into this 24+ hour race it seemed possible for any of perhaps a dozen of us employing various different strategies to claim victory. Mine was to race with my brain the first half, race with my guts the second. It seemed almost reckless the pace that the two leaders–both first timers–went out at and were holding halfway into the race. I had been there before and that story usually does not end well. Though I was not at all concerned at the time I should have been, for Ryan Atkins had steady hands like a veteran Mudder and all the talent necessary to pull it off. By all accounts his execution was near flawless and unwavering. My assault from 30 miles out was futile as he continued to hold me at bay stride for stride with over a lap lead. He diligently squelched any comeback attempt by doing what he did from the start– keeping steady. I let him get way too far ahead as I clumsily struggled with some issues.

Overall I’m very happy and proud of my performance as the event delivered another incredible life experience once again. It seems so cliche and overclaimed but the camaraderie in this event is second to none. We who struggled together were brothers and sisters for a day (or two). And the volunteers… wow, the volunteers. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, giving cold, muddy hugs and high fives in their civilian clothes, cheering at the top of their lungs. My only logical explanation is we were inspiring them to be the best volunteers they could possibly be.

As for effort, I dug deep and put it all out there, no regrets there. 
My only regret and disappointment was in my selection of apparel and all of the massive ensuing failures, and although I’m quite certain it would not have affected final standings it would have been a much closer and more interesting race. Even as I felt as though I had race logistics pretty much dialed in I carried it out with a couple of very critical rookie mistakes. Not having truly gear-tested all of my equipment I gambled on a drysuit thinking it would help avoid the tendinitis and vascular damage I had sustained during last year’s race with an overly constrictive thick wetsuit. In the deep of competition however I found myself struggling to clean off mud-jammed zippers to pee perhaps 2-3 times per lap (can’t pee in a drysuit). Lesson learned: Don’t use a piece of equipment just because you have it and want to use it more than you actually have a need to use it. For this race under these relatively warm conditions you could have worn a single 3/2 mm wetsuit from start to finish. My progression: 3/2 mm short-sleeve > drysuit > adjusting drysuit suspenders > layering under drysuit, overly hot 5/4 mm wetsuit. Might have gotten away with it in other years. Not this year and I’m sure never again as competition gets ever stronger. As for shoes and socks, I think I would have almost been better off barefoot. Last year mud mile was towards the end of the lap and I recall changing socks and cleaning out mud most every lap. This year it was the first obstacle and it wreaked havoc on all of my shoe/sock configurations. Inov-8 X-Talons with low-cut ankle socks that filtered large debris into the sock… it worked ok in the past but what the hell was I thinking? And to experiment with a new pair of the New Balance integrated gaiter shoes and then tolerate the fact it did not drain water at all for the 12 or 13 laps I did because it was at least keeping the larger debris out… such a horrible idea. Would have worked great if I could keep most of the water out too. So if you ever spotted me sitting with my feet in the air that was me trying to squeeze some of the water out.

The course was deceptively challenging. The obstacles seemed overly easy the first lap but they eventually trued up as you found yourself dreading each one getting progressively muddier and more slippery than the last especially after 19 rounds / 418 obstacles. My only other disappointment was that two of the hardest if not hardest obstacles (Funky Monkey (muddy) and Hanging Tough rings (muddy)) had no penalties other than falling into water. I even found myself getting passed by swaths of people falling off Funky Monkey and swimming across. In my opinion this was a major execution fail on TM’s part as the best opportunities to award obstacle capability were squandered. I hate to say it but this was a runner’s course once again, though I don’t think it affected any podium placements. That said I’m proud that I completed the rings all 19 times and believe that push come to shove I could have done every one of my laps in perfect execution (minus the Electric Eel “chicken/egg” trivia question). Otherwise I was pleased with the shorter course layout and event in general. 

Many thanks and congrats to Tough Mudder on what I believe to be another huge successful step for the sport. If you look at the final leaderboard it reads like a true international event. 

Thanks to my sponsors Olight World and OCR Gear for your help and support. Congrats to Ryan for an amazingly well-executed race. Congrats and thanks to my brudder-from-anudder-mudder Olof for accompanying me on yet another adventure and podium finish. A HUGE thanks and infinite hugs to my friends and family and everyone who offered words of support either through the ether or in person along the way (I’m still utterly amazed at how many people can recognize the back of my head at 3am), especially those who helped lend a hand. Hopefully I was able to reciprocate. And of course a very special thanks to Drill Sargent Yvettewho stayed with me round the clock and honestly believed I could still take it back right up until time expired. Sorry if I let anyone down. This one was sort of out of my hands.

Meanwhile I’ll be anxiously awaiting 363 days for another chance to be someone’s hero again…



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