“There is nothing as sweet as a comeback, when you are down and out, about to lose and out of time.”
– Anne Lamott
Like many new and experienced mudders, I listen to Will Hicks’ “World’s Toughest Mudder” Podcast. This year on Will’s “You’re So Smart” segments, he talked about a competition to predict the Top 3 Male and Top 3 Female WTM athletes. He said every year there is a participant who surprises the community, “a bracket-buster,” and I remember thinking “I wonder if that will happen this year?” I knew the conditions would be a little rough, so maybe there would be a shakeup. I am a sucker for the dark horse, come from behind, how did he/she do it stories, and I couldn’t help but secretly hope for one at WTM 18.
Where I Was Last Year
Exactly one year before I finished this year’s race, I was sitting at home with my mini-shaker bottle and my favorite Tougher Mudder headband-wrapped coffee cup “studying” for my nursing school final exam and watching the live WTM 2017 feed. I feverishly messaged my nursing school/Tough Mudder bestie, Shannon, about all things World’s Toughest Mudder, while simultaneously taking notes on what gear everyone was wearing, what the pit crews were doing/what they were feeding the athletes, and what the heck kind of strategy competitors were using to make it through a 24-hour obstacle course race.
I watched Rea win the sprint lap and ultimately win her first WTM.
I watched Ryan Atkins destroy yet another race with 110 miles, and I watched and cried as Deanna Blegg shared her incredible life story.
Most importantly, I watched the WTM community crush “The Last Dance in the Desert” as they pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits… and you know what?? It motivated the hell out of me! When race coverage concluded on November 12, 2017, my journey to World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 officially began.
Advice is Free
When I was younger, a piece of advice my dad gave me was to ask questions, listen to the answers, and ALWAYS listen to advice, because it’s one of the few things in life that’s free. This simple lesson was my secret weapon while preparing for WTM 2018, and I used the advice I had gained from watching WTM 2017 and OCR pros like Rea Kolbl, Ali Tai, and Lindsey Webster to create a plan for the year. My goal was to do at least one race a month while slowly increasing my monthly mileage goals. I started with two half-marathons and a full marathon. My first big race of the year was Toughest South in May. While I completed 25 miles and achieved “Contender” status, it was not pretty. I ate a full Subway sandwich before the race (DO NOT do this…), had to visit “the pits” at least 3 times to make up for this mistake, and forgot to bring the only form of hydration, Pedialyte, I was planning on using. Oh… and I was still not good at running. As a result of this experience, I gave myself some free advice and learned 2 things: 1) I need to run more and 2) I need to figure out the whole diet thing. Motivated by the “butt whooping” Toughest South laid on me, I started seeking out all the “free advice” I could get. I asked everyone I met about everything from nutrition and hydration to training, mental preparation, and the correct technique to use when applying GurneyGoo (HINT: put it EVERYWHERE… or as one fellow mudder put it to me: take a bath in it!). Using some of these lessons, I ran my first 50-mile Ultramarathon in June. Around this time, I discovered Will Hicks’ World’s Toughest Podcast and listened to his episodes over and over again. I paid special attention to these episodes:
(YOU HAVE to check these out!)
By July, I had improved enough in my strategy and training to successfully complete my first triple lap Tough Mudder, and in August I attempted my first Spartan Race and finished first in my age group! Needless to say, I was ecstatic! In September, I used the advice of Ken Roberts and an endurance racing friend to perfect my carb-load before completing my second Ultramarathon. In October, I competed in my second Spartan Race and finished first out of all females competing in the non-elite category, and I got my first taste of obstacle course racing in the frigid cold. One month later, on November 11, 2018, the lessons I learned in this final race would help me more than I could have possibly imagined.
Slow and Steady…
Coming into this race, my reach goal was to get 75 Miles and earn the infamous Silver Bib. Unlike many athletes in the OCR community, I do not come from a running background, and I have never run WTM or a 24hr endurance race. My plan for WTM was to run at the pace I had trained (which if you haven’t already heard is slow and steady ☺) and walk the hills. To achieve this goal, I knew my pit stops needed to be short. With the help of my pit crew, I was able to do all my pit stops in the quick pit area and kept them to around 5-7 minutes. The one exception to this trend was when I put on my wetsuit around 6:00PM, which took about 20-25 minutes including walking to my pit area and returning to the starting line. I wore my wetsuit for the next 20 hours, so this was the one and only time I left the course.
I stuck to my planned running strategy until lap 10, then I started to slow down a lot. It was around 4:30AM and, because I was walking more, the cold was really kicking in. I told my pit crew that I was starting to struggle and, when they asked me what I needed, I said I just needed to keep going. On lap 11, it was still dark. My body was literally freezing, and for the first time I had tears in my eyes. I was truly cold from head to toe, and as I walked up the starting hill alone in the darkness with motivation fading, I felt, as I believe many mudders did that night, as if the frigid cold may eventually freeze my soul. In that moment, a poem that helped me endure military basic training, and many other tough times in my life, showed up to help me once again. The name of this poem is Invictus, by William Ernest Henley… and as I gazed at my fellow mudders’ distant headlamps and slogged through the ice and mud, I repeated the poem’s final line out loud over and over:
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
The Unexpected/Accidental Contender
As I walked up to the finish line to complete 60 miles, all I could think about was changing into dry clothes, eating some warm food, and completing my first WTM experience by attempting at least one more lap. However, everything changed when I looked up and saw my boyfriend, Travis, holding a leader bib. Paralyzed, my jaw literally dropped, and as my brain struggled to comprehend what my eyes were seeing, I found myself standing motionless in the middle of the lane. My mom and Travis, started yelling at me to move, and as I ran toward them, I was shocked to find a pit gate blocking my path. As I stared confused at the gate in front of me, my mom and Travis told me to quit fooling around and use the open part of the fence! They told me that they asked the booth how I was doing, and the staff was shocked to tell them that they thought I was currently in 3rd. They said according to the limited info they had, the 4th place girl was very close behind.
Up to this point, I had no idea I was in contention for anything other than a bad case of frostbite, and they said if I wanted to make this happen I needed to pit fast and get going. All of the sudden I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t tired, and nothing hurt. My mom fed me a Nutella-covered waffle while Travis simultaneously poured water into my mouth. Just as I finished swallowing my last bite of “waffle-goo,” Travis threw a couple salt pills in my mouth and told me to “GO GET IT. We love you!” I ran through the starting line without any of the staff even noticing, and I was able to run almost the entire lap (except hills).
When I returned to the pit after completing 65 miles, I was informed that I had improved my time by nearly 30 minutes, and Travis said if I wanted 3rd I needed to be back in time to at least go out for another lap. I chugged some water, ate a snickers, and took off with a mixture of salt pills and Pedialyte streaming down my chin. Again, I was able to run almost the whole lap and found myself standing in front of Travis and my mom at 11:32AM… with no idea how close the 4th place girl was behind me.
What It’s All About
At this point, we literally had no idea what was going on in terms of ranking. Travis, looked me in the eyes and said “Erin, you have 2 hours to get your goal of 75 miles. You’ve worked so hard this whole year. It doesn’t freaking matter what place you get. That was never your goal… and that is not what this experience is all about. Go out there, get 75 Miles, and earn that silver bib.” As I swallowed one final drink of water, I looked up at him and said, “You’re right,” and in less than 3 minutes of total pit time, I again found myself sprinting past the start line. No one even announced my name. A lone cameraman caught up to me and asked me why I didn’t wait on him. In reply, I told him I was getting 75 miles and turned around to continue walking up the starting hill. A minute later, one of the race directors found me and tried to explain what was going on in terms of ranking. Honestly, I was so focused on achieving my 75-mile goal, that all I remember is wondering why he was using Alli Tai and my name in the same sentence. It wasn’t until over half-way through my final lap that someone mentioned to me that I was fighting for 2nd place…
As motivated as I was during that final lap, I had been awake for 36 hours and racing nonstop for 25 of those hours, so I would be lying if I didn’t say it was a push to the finish. On that final lap, I was really worried when I realized I was completely alone on the course. I had no idea how I was going to get through Lumberjacked alone! Fortunately, I ran into an awesome guy, named Whitney Tilson, and in traditional Tough Mudder fashion, we instantly became best friends by helping each other through the obstacles. (Whitney was finishing up 60 miles to win the “Over 50” category for the second time! Check him out! As I came out of the woods at the bottom of the final hill, Travis and my mom met up with me and explained the ranking situation. They said “Erin, how do you feel about second place? If you get to the finish line in the next 30 minutes, it’s yours. There’s an awesome group of guys waiting at Mudderhorn to help people up. See you soon!” I said goodbye to my new best friend and made my way up the hill. There, I was greeted by 4 incredible guys who were literally waiting at Mudderhorn to help the remaining mudders get through the final obstacle. As I threw my hands in the air with tears welling up in my eyes, they cheered me on and let me climb on their legs and shoulders to bolster me to the ropes above. With a knot in my throat, we all shared a final round of thumbs up and shouts of “we made it!”, as I turned my eyes skyward and started to climb. The only thought in my mind was “Don’t fall… don’t fall… don’t fall,” as I made my way down the ropes for the last time. When I landed back on solid ground, I could hear cheers and the M.C. announcing my name. I looked at my watch to make sure I was still on pace to finish before the 1:30PM cut off, and then I took off down the hill. As I rounded the final pond, I felt like I was in a dream, and sometimes I feel like I’m still dreaming. After all, how could the M.C. be announcing MY name… and why would a group of cameramen and women be waiting for me? I was just a mudder doing what mudders do: finishing what we started, and I had finished World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 with 75 miles at around 1:10PM with roughly 20 minutes to spare.
While I’m super proud of how I placed, I am even more proud of getting my goal of 75 Miles, because it reminds me of why I love obstacle course racing so much. It’s not about what place you get, it’s about pushing yourself to and beyond your limits. It’s about doing YOUR best each race and believing that with hard work, a good attitude and a little bit of grit, anything is possible. To all my fellow mudders, while the words of Invictus got me through my darkest hour, they also remind me of each and every one of you who continue to fight both on and off the course every single day. Never forget, we are the masters of our fates, we are the captains of our souls. See you all next year ☺
-Erin “the Womazonian” Rost
Follow me on Instagram @Womazonian
It’s about doing YOUR best each race and believing that with hard work, a good attitude and a little bit of grit, anything is possible.
I want to thank my pit crew consisting of my mom and Travis. Not only was this my first WTM but it was also both of their first experiences at an OCR event. Despite the odds being stacked against us these two superstars stepped up to the plate and really hit a home run ☺.