World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was more than I could have imagined. It was my 5th attempt at this grueling 24 hour race and I was excited for the new venue and a new experience. Leading up to the race, I continued to monitor the weather and decided to bring a dancing plethora of wetsuits and layers. Four days before the race, my shorty wetsuit and cap were stolen from the house we shipped it to in Atlanta, causing me to scramble and purchase an Orca swim-run suit. Desperate times called for desperate measures and I broke my rule about peeing in my wetsuit before race day.
The day before the race I claimed my pit spot right next to the finish line and right next to Trevor Cichosz. We joined our spots with a tarp underneath so we could keep our things dry. After checking in, I tried to get out of there as soon as possible. The rain continued to downpour on the venue, muddying the course and setting up a very difficult 24 hours. After some food and a quick interview, I tried to go back to my house and relax. My nerves began to build up for the 24 hours of unknown but thankfully I had Lindsay Webster reason me into a better place. After that, my nerves were much more tame. I’m not really sure what I was thinking, but I decided that some delicious baby back ribs at Ruby Tuesday would be my dinner the night before the race. I’ve never been to Ruby Tuesday or eaten ribs before a race, but I guess it was a whole heck of a lot better than Waffle House.
Speaking of nutrition, that is something that I had pretty dialed in for this race. After 3 Toughest Mudders, some ultramarathons, and a bunch of long days out in the Colorado mountains, I had a good idea what would work. I was lucky enough to receive a care package from GU Energy Labs, filled with my favorites: Chai Latte, Birthday Cake, and French Toast gels. I consistently had 1-2 gels per lap which I supplemented with RX Bars and GU Stroop Waffles. As the night went on, I turned into my odd-craving, pregnant-eating self. I ate PayDay, Snickers, and M&M candy bars, bananas, and most importantly, some homemade chocolate chip pumpkin bread made by my friend Allison Foster! As the race got colder, I began to drink warm chicken broth, hot chocolate, and would pour hot water on my hands to warm them up from the icy cold conditions. Anyways, onto the race!
The next morning I met my crew at the venue and finished setting up my pit area. This year, I was lucky to have my parents, my cousin Ashley, and my best friend Robert crew for me. It was the largest support crew I had ever had and I could feel their love and support from the beginning. I gauged the temperatures at the beginning and decided to wear a windbreaker right from the start. This was definitely a race that really came down to preparation and gear.
Basic Gear List:
- Merrell All Out Crush 2s
- Swiftwick America Socks
- Second Skin Compression Pants
- Second Skin Compression Shirt
- Merrell Torrent Windbreaker
- Orca RS1 Swim Run Wetsuit
- Orca Cap
- Xterra Vector Tri-suit
- Merrell Fallon Jacket
- Black Diamond Storm
- Ultimate Direction Race Belt
- Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT Pack
Finally the gun went off and we were off. I spent most of the first two laps with Trevor and Rea. Living close to Rea and her husband, Bun, has been such a blessing since I moved to Colorado. They are so supportive and help push me to be a better person. They are the type of positive people that have really helped me throughout the past year.
The first few laps were smooth and I enjoyed running alongside other competitors, knowing that we wouldn’t get too much time running side by side. After the one hour sprint lap, obstacles opened on a rolling basis. After the first few laps, most of the obstacles were open and I was loving the course. There was an incredible blend of fun and challenging obstacles. Obstacles like The Gauntlet tested so many different facets and was probably my favorite obstacle, at least while I had feeling in my hands. Other obstacles like Black Widow were so much fun to tackle every lap but were not as difficult to complete.
Early on, the cold made me nervous and I decided to put on my swim run suit after only 20 miles. I knew it was so early to make the change, but didn’t want to risk getting too cold. Trevor decided to stay out for another lap and pick up a lead on me. Looking back on it, it probably would have been nice to run an extra lap without a wetsuit, but I didn’t want to get too cold.
A few hours later, I tracked down Trevor again. I didn’t really know what place we were in, but I figured we were near the front. I was feeling good. I could feel the air getting colder as the night went on and knew that I would need to put on a thicker wetsuit. I told my friend Robert to take my 5/3mm Xterra Full Wetsuit and cut the material above the knee. He looked at me like I was out of my mind and while that was probably true, I was very certain about this decision. As the night continued, the temperatures began to fall. Ice covered the ground and the obstacles, making even the simplest obstacles much more challenging. My fingers continued to burn from the ice and went numb after the wind continued to cut into my wet hands. I started to take the electrical route when it opened, conserving my strength for later on in the race. It was during these later hours that Trevor passed me and mentioned that I didn’t look very good. He told me to try to warm up. I was cold, my muscles continued to fatigue, and felt terrible. Seeing him pull away effortlessly was demoralizing.
I spent most of the night cold, tired, and in a bad mental state. I wanted to quit and questioned why I was even out there. I told myself I wouldn’t be coming back to this race, that it wasn’t worth it. I knew Trevor was increasing his lead every lap and is known for closing races strong. I lost hope and wanted to quit. Even in the midst of this, I kept moving. One foot in front of the other. I reminded myself of all of the hard work I put into training and knew that if I didn’t leave everything, and I mean everything out there, then I wouldn’t be satisfied. I thought back to the conversation I had with Trevor before the race, about pushing each other the entire race and I knew I couldn’t give up. It is a weird feeling to describe, because while I was competing against Trevor, he was pulling me forward. If we could push to 100 miles, it would be worth it.
So I reset my focus. At this point, I thought first place was off of the table. I was still going to push, but for the 100 miles. With a new focus, I continued to problem solve. I switched into my thicker wetsuit and decided to use my only Golden Carabiner during the night. This allowed me to run almost a full lap without having to get wet, while wearing my new wetsuit. I warmed up and this provided the little boost that I needed before sunrise.
The later miles brought the sunrise and promise of some warmth. As I looked around, I could see the frost glistening on the ground and couldn’t believe the conditions I had weathered overnight. Even more meaningful, symbolic, and simply awesome was the soothing sound of bagpipes meeting the morning sun. A WTM serenade by Jon Copper is more than enough to get me going. At this point, there was no quit in my mind. It was all focused on getting those 100 miles. I knew I was still on pace and just had to stay consistent, thinking I had second place locked in.
As many of you know, TMHQ was having trouble with their timing system. Looking back at it, this error probably played to my advantage. Going into the pits around mile 80, I was confident I had 2nd place locked in. However, my crew informed me that Jesse Bruce just left the pits and was ahead of me. “WTF!!!” screamed throughout my head as I hadn’t seen Jesse all day. “Did he use the Gold Carabineer route and pass me?” I thought. Let’s just say that thinking I was in third lit a fire under me and I continued to charge forward. I passed Jesse about a mile into the loop and never looked back. Come to find out my next loop around that Jesse was in fact a lap behind me and I had lapped him. I definitely pushed hard from 80-90 and needed to regroup.
Going out for lap 19, I was about 40 minutes back from Trevor, further solidifying my belief that I would finish 2nd but get 100 miles. I even took some extra time on that loop to peel off my clothes, dump my pack on the side of the course, and take care of business in the woods. I apologize to the poor people who were confused after seeing a windbreaker, some bibs, and my hydration pack on the side of the trail, only to meet my eyes as I squatted behind a tree. Now came the big challenge: getting all of my gear back on, especially since this wetsuit was a back zip. Thankfully, like a miracle from heaven, Anne Clifford came walking up. She was more than happy to help get my gear back on and asked how I was doing. I remember her saying she was on her last lap and for me to go get it! She expected me to lap her as I had another lap to run. I didn’t think that was going to happen, but it was nice to see her belief in me. I powered through the rest of that lap and continued to get encouragement from my crew around Mud Mile. They told me to push and I continued to grind.
I came into the pits for the final time. I was told Trevor was 20 minutes ahead of me and was looking rough. All I could think of was, “Making up 4 minutes per mile against Trevor Cichosz? Yeah right, that guy knows how to close.” Regardless, I knew this was my last lap and I was going to give every damn ounce of energy I had. I felt like I was red lining the entire lap, although I’m sure was pace was pathetic. I remember saying, “Last time, I promise!” as I came up to Twin Peaks (I was later informed by the volunteer that I looked like death). The camera crews started to really swarm but I figured they were just trying to make some content for TV, making the race seem closer than it actually was. I crawled up The Stacks and was so fatigued at the top that I had to take a second to catch my breath. I was worried that I was so tired that I would pass out after hitting the water. I collected myself and took the plunge. The warmth gave me some hope that I could complete Funky Monkey. I made it to the last bar and couldn’t make the final transition, falling in epic fashion into the water (I am sure this is going to be on CBS for all to see…lol). I was irritated at my mistake and put my head down. “It’s time to grind,” I thought to myself. I continued to run, hike, and hobble through the next few miles, taking the electric route.
I found myself at Operation with my best friend Robert ready to give me an update. I handed off my ring from the obstacle and then he said it. “Kris, you are 5 minutes and 20 seconds behind him. He finished this obstacle 5 minutes and 20 seconds ago. You need to push. GO!”
I think there is something to be said about having people on your crew that can fill different roles. It helps to have the captain of the group who can coordinate everyone’s roles. A gear master who knows your gear and equipment intimately and can help make a gear change at the drop of a dime. Someone who has some background in OCR or at least racing and can help with splits and strategy. And finally, someone who can keep you motivated. That’s why I wanted Robert here for this race, to cut through my BS (and no, that does not stand for Bachelor’s of Science) and keep me going.
Now, 98.5 miles into the race, I actually believed I had a chance to win. I put my head down and gave everything I had. If I had to go full Azar (passing out while racing for first place), I would. I felt the support of my fellow mudders who told me he was right ahead. I could hear the announcer on the loudspeaker, saying Trevor and I were only 400 yards apart. I looked up and didn’t see a leader bib down the row of Lumberjacked. I figured they were just trying to hype up some finish line drama. Some incredible mudders helped me through that obstacle as it took everything I had to get through it. I continued to push and climbed to the top of Happy Ending and looked down. There he was. I could see his leader bib finishing Kiss of Mud, 200 meters ahead. I recklessly jumped down Happy Ending and sprinted to Kiss of Mud, barely slowing down as I transitioned to a roll under the barbed wire. I stood up, dizzy and determined. Less than one mile left and only one obstacle to go.
I began to run up the muddy hill, sliding down a little with every push forward. I continued to push as my legs screamed back at me. I wouldn’t let them stop me now. I didn’t know how far ahead he was but as I turned a corner he was right there, 10 meters away. He was walking and didn’t look too hot from behind as he limped forward. It looked like he tried to run but quickly resorted to a walk. Here was my chance. I knew something had to be wrong since I made up 20 minutes up on him in one lap, but was also ready to race if he wanted to. My mind was racing and I didn’t even know what to think or say. As I came up behind him I put my hand on his back and asked if he was okay. He looked dazed and confused. He initially said, “Yeah, I’m okay,” only to be followed with, “No, I’m not.” As I continued to run by I could tell he had nothing left in the tank. What he said next is something I will never forget.
“I am so proud of you man. GO TAKE IT!”
Those are the words of a true champion.
I still get chills just thinking about it.
I continued to run with my head down, powering up the final climb and skittishly running down the final steep descent. I crested out of the forest and could see the final obstacle, Mudderhorn. I powered up the gradual incline like a man possessed, Robert yelling in my ear to keep my head down and run. I was met at Mudderhorn by the selfless mudders who spent hours and hours helping people up. These are the unsung heroes of the race. The people who sacrifice their entire race to help others and help other people achieve their goals. I am truly grateful for everyone who gave a helping hand out on the course, it did not go unnoticed.
I continued up the climb with so much focus. I wasn’t going to fall off this thing and ruin my race. Near the top I was met with the one and only Anne Clifford! I had pushed hard enough to lap her just like she predicted. She helped me navigate the netting and mentioned how proud she was of me, then proceeded to be the loving and loud mouthed person she is, telling everyone to get out of the way (oh Anne). I was so tired but couldn’t help but appreciate the little boost at the end. I made it down and knew that this was my race! I sprinted down to the finish chute and looked back, knowing that I had the race locked.
I took my time down the finishing chute, lined with people cheering me on. I couldn’t believe it. I was about to be crowned the World’s Toughest Mudder. I remember thinking that title was only for the legends like Ryan Atkins and Amelia Boone, but there I was coming up to the finish line. What I can only describe as being fueled by pure joy, I thought that the limbo would be an appropriate way to cap off this insane race. I did the limbo, pumped my fist, and fell to my knees, quickly surrounded by my crew and loved ones.
There I was, champion of World’s Toughest Mudder, simply in shock. To be honest, I’m still in shock. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did, and I am so grateful.
After a minute of celebration, I couldn’t help but look for Trevor. I patiently waited, anxious for him to show up at the starting chute. This is the guy who pushed me to be my very best. He pushed me to a place I didn’t think I could go. This is the guy who a few minutes ago told me he was proud of me as I passed him. He deserved a champion’s finish. When I saw him in the distance I knew the best way I could honor him. Trevor always finishes WTM with an American Flag but didn’t have one this year. I ran down the chute to meet him, congratulate him, and give him the American Flag so he could finish the right way. As I watched him finish I was so proud of the battle we had and reminded myself how lucky I was. Not only was he an awesome competitor, but an amazing friend.
He crossed the line with the American Flag draped over his head. We did what we came to do: get the elusive 100 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder. I was never so proud to finish a race alongside of someone. There we were, the 2016 and 2018 WTM Champions; our hands and heads held high, in the closest finish in WTM history.