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Tough Mudder Tips

I ran my Tough Mudder in the following…

  • Adidas Climacool Fitted Jersey (team uniform).
  • UnderArmour ColdGear long-sleeve top underneath.
  • Brooks quick-drying Running Shorts.
  • UnderArmour ColdGear leggings underneath.
  • A pair of lightweight Nike Dri-fit fingerless workout gloves.
  • Dri-fit socks.
  • New Balance Cross Country Racing flats.

UA ColdGear: I had read mixed suggestions about UnderArmour ColdGear, because it’s slightly more absorbent than some other fast-drying fabrics, but I really believe this UA gear kept me warm(ish) as long as possible. The fact is, you will be very cold at some parts of the race, regardless of what you wear. However, my ColdGear dried very quickly and kept me considerably warmer (perhaps “not freezing” is a better description) in the earlier part of the race.

Racing flats: My flats were so lightweight, the water essentially added no weight to them. I highly recommend wearing the lightest (while still supportive) shoes you own. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re running with bricks strapped to your feet for 12+ miles.

Dri-fit Gloves: Gloves were helpful for one big reason, and one smaller reason. The smaller reason is that it will help save your hands when climbing over walls. They do not, I repeat, do not help on the monkey bars. I read this in many places before my race and it was true. Some bars are greased up and even expensive gloves will not combat that. The big reason the gloves were helpful was warmth! Even wearing wet gloves, my hands were incredibly warmer than when I took them off for certain obstacles. Your hands are a crucial part of many obstacles, take care of them and keep them warm!

All other items: No complaints about my other gear. As a general rule, wear as little cotton as possible, preferably NONE AT ALL. Cotton is super-absorbent and will be the death of you on this course.
OBSTACLES:

Any obstacle that requires crawling/running in mud: Place your arms and/or legs down gently. There are often large rocks and boulders that will hurt if you aren’t careful.

Arctic Enema: I would say train with cold showers (as I did), but it didn’t help all that much. What it did help was to teach me that even if your breathing is out of control (which it will be during this obstacle), that you’re okay and just need a few seconds to catch it. I saw some people trying to climb out the sides or over the wall into the barbed wire. DO NOT panic like this. Jump in, catch your breath for a moment, dip under the wall, and get out fast. You’ll be fine. Also, make sure the person ahead of you is almost getting out when you jump in (some people got stuck in the tank because a person ahead of them was struggling to climb out).

Death March: Most people I saw walked this obstacle, so don’t feel ashamed if you have to take a break. I mixed running with walking, as long uphill stretches can destroy your calves and it was too early in the race to risk this.

Hold Your Wood: First, pick a reasonably-sized log. Don’t try to prove something by taking a huge one. Keep alternating shoulders and different grips to work different muscles and avoid exhaustion.

Everest: Spend a few minutes watching others run up. You’ll probably have to do this anyway as you wait your turn. Watching can help you find a good path with enough traction to get you up without a brutal fall. Certain parts of the quarterpipe will be more slippery than others, so it’s worth the wait to find that sweet spot. Then make eye contact with someone up top, and run for your life.

Electric Eel: This was a mystery obstacle for my race. The wires were just spread out enough that you could crawl very carefully in between them (if it’s a windy day, it’s a lost cause). By the end, however, the wires were too low, and I got shocked. My friend, however, didn’t. So it is possible to escape unscathed! Just crawl carefully and deliberately and you’ll manage. While the shock can be painful, it should be the least of your concerns in this race.

Monkey Bars and Rings: Get in a rhythm and hold on tight! If you have the grip strength, you can make it across, even on greased bars. Get a grip strengthener and use it whenever you’re sitting on the couch or watching TV. It’ll be pay dividends in your ability to cross these obstacles dryly. Also, only take one bar at a time, don’t alternate hands like you would at the playground. For the rings, I saw someone insert their entire arms in the rings up to their shoulders which seems like it would be better if your grip is exhausted. On the swing, they would slide their arm in the ring and remain suspended, holding onto both rings in their armpits until they were ready to move on.

Twinkle Toes: Use a ‘T’ foot stance. Your front foot should be facing forward, and your back foot should be perpendicular to your front foot, across the bar. After each step you take with your front foot, close the gap with your back foot. Your arms should be at 45 degree angles downward. When the bar begins to sway a lot, stop moving forward and focus on swaying your legs with the bar until it stabilizes, then continue.

Electroshock Therapy: Do not sprint through this obstacle. If you do and you get shocked, you will faceplant and end up on YouTube. Enter the obstacle at a jogging pace with your head down slightly and arms in front, protecting your face from the wires. It also helps to be wearing long sleeves/leggings because I suspect it reduces the shock somewhat. If you get shocked, just keep moving. If you fall, try to get back up because being continuously shocked in a crawling position makes it more difficult to make forward progress. If you’re standing you can build up more momentum to push you through the rest of the wires.

Good luck and remember to share this experience with people; it’s great to run in small groups!

If you’ve already run a Tough Mudder, please share any tips you have in the comments!

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Tough Mudder 2012 PA #1 – April 29 – Pocono Manor

I have survived! But did I finish? You’ll have to stick around for the 2-3 posts it’ll take to hear the full tale of my Tough Mudder. Then I’ll follow it up with some tips for future Mudders based on my experience. Well, let’s get to it!

My friend and I took the two-and-a-half hour drive to a town near Pocono Manor (the race location) on Saturday morning, checking into our hotel and getting settled before meeting up with the rest of the team (heading in from various other locations) at a nearby outlet mall. After finding a team shirt (we settled on neon green, both for attention and to be easily recognized by our two spectators/photographers), we stopped by a nearby bar/grill to grab dinner together and get to know each other. It was here that we started seeing Mudders who had run the race that morning! This was clutch, and we got a lot of tips from them, including:

  • “Don’t jump in the blue Arctic Enema or your skin will be dyed.” -Half of this team’s members literally had blue skin from the dye used in the water.
  • We were told what the two mystery obstacles were (rings over water and a second electrocution obstacle).
  • We were also given tips regarding staying in motion before you freeze up.
  • And of course, it was emphasized multiple times that it will be the coldest several hours we have ever experienced in our lives.

The cold concerned me the most, as I’m very thin and I was worried about being soaked in ice water for 3 hours in 30 degree weather. I had read many accounts of people being pulled off the course with hypothermia and I figured I was more susceptible than most people because of my frame. On the other hand, I was less concerned about physical injury because I don’t weigh much, which I think makes a slip of my foot less likely to turn into a full-fledged pulled muscle or sprained ankle. As we ate dinner, we all kept checking the big-screen TV behind our table to check the morning’s weather. It seemed every ten minutes, the forecast was grimmer and grimmer until they announced a “freeze warning” overnight and into the morning. It seemed at the time that we would be running in frigid weather, all the more nerve-racking. Nevertheless, I went to bed that night comfortably aware that it was the last time I would feel warm for a long time.

Though I gave myself nearly nine hours to sleep, the previous day’s Mudders in our hotel were partying it up all night, so I only got about six hours of sleep. Even so, I woke up totally at peace with the idea of this Tough Mudder. I checked the weather, which was ever-so-slightly more encouraging than the previous night’s forecast and I was ready. A twenty-minute drive to a parking lot, and another twenty-minute shuttle ride to the race location left us at registration, where we checked our bags (containing a dry change of clothes), pinned on our bibs, tied our laces tighter than they’d ever been before, and stretched a bit. We were also informed that they had extended the course nearly 2.5 miles, making it an almost 14 mile course. This didn’t shake me though, if I could run 11-12 miles, I could handle 14. When we were all ready, we headed to the starting line.

Heats were going off about every 20 minutes, so we just hopped in the next one. We had to climb a wall just to get into the starting zone, which got us in the obstacle mentality. After some rants, cheers, and the National Anthem, we recited the Tough Mudder creed:

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that… 
I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge. 
I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. 
I do not whine – kids whine. 
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course. 
I overcome all fears.

There was a brief countdown and we were off! Running into a wooded area, initially on heavily-watered trail of mud and then very quickly off of the trail. Without a trail we had to dodge trees and logs and boulders, fighting the overgrowth while striding carefully enough to avoid injury. The uneven territory made for several runners falling very early in the race, tumbling or rolling their ankles (none seriously that I saw). My team of 9 was for the most part grouped together at this point and we made it through the first portion of the run (only a half mile or so) amidst a bunch of ‘Hoorah’s’! The first obstacle was Kiss of Mud:

This obstacle was simple enough. I crawled very low to the ground (don’t want to get caught on the barbed wire!) on my elbows and knees to get across (some preferred to rest on their stomach between strides, but at this point my core muscles were fresh enough to keep myself slightly off the ground. There were big sharp rocks in the mud that you often didn’t see until you had already put your weight down. Luckily, I was wearing UnderArmour ColdGear top and bottoms, which definitely helped me avoid scrapes (though not bruises). For the most part, as long as I placed my elbows and knees down slowly, I could gauge if there was a rock underneath and reposition if I had to. There were also sprinklers spraying us down, though at this point the water felt refreshing. Once my team got through this obstacle, we continued on, picking up a marked trail which extended what seemed to be about a mile. During the run, however, our team had it’s first incident. With a rolled ankle, our teammate sat on the ground and began massaging the area while we judged whether he needed First Aid or not. While we were waiting, we could see the next obstacle nearby: Arctic Enema, a colored ice bath which runners needed to submerge themselves in to come out on the other side of a wall. It would mark the first time we were to be soaked rather than sprayed with water. Things were about to get real.

Would our teammate continue? How many more would suffer injury? Would the Arctic Enema mark the beginning of the end of me? Find out in Part 2.


How I Stay Productive (while failing to blog)

About a month ago, in light of the recent rise of the popular GTD (Getting Things Done) movement, I carried out a massive overhaul of how I “get things done.” I’ve been pretty intrigued by the idea of becoming a more productive person ever since I knew I wanted to be in graduate school. I had, over time, become fully-aware that the habits that allowed me to coast as an undergraduate would just cause me to sink in grad school (e.g. cramming, partying, slacking, and the list goes on). I also didn’t want to wait until Day 1 of my program to decide to make changes to my work/play ethics (the balance is important)! I subscribed to and began reading productivity blogs like Zen Habits and LifeHack.org and learned of lots of ways to save time, money, and attention (not only in my work, but other ways as well). The following are a few techniques I’ve used or still do use to spare myself a life of procrastination and poor effort.

Pomodoro Technique – This time-management strategy involves working (really working) in 25-minute increments (called “pomodoros”), with 5-minute breaks after each pomodoro. After 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break (~20 minutes). I’ve found that this has really worked best with projects that I know will take several hours (a long paper, for example). Instead of writing a bit, pacing around, and writing a bit more, this technique adds structure to work. With a schedule like this, I’m more committed to do some hardcore work during those 25 minutes, using each 5-minute break as a motivator. There are several free web apps that are designed to time the various phases of the Pomodoro Technique, my favorite is Tomatoi.st.

To-Do List – I always keep 2 To-Do lists (hey, I never said I was a minimalist). I make the 1st list at the end of every day. Before I head to bed, I write down (on a Post-It note) the three most important things that need to be completed the following day. I carry it with me, and until these three things are done, I don’t even look at my 2nd list. The second list contains tasks that are less urgent or need to be completed over a period of time, and it’s constantly changing . Because it’s always being added to or crossed off, I find that online task managers work best for this type of list (GTasks, Remember the Milk, etc). I make the two lists because it highlights my priorities a bit better; rather than picking out three important things among a list of 15 tasks, the three important ones are the only ones I see until they’re complete. When working on multiple big projects, I find that it helps to use a more versatile task list, like Nirvana.

Long-term Goal Tracking -Every now and then I read or hear of something, and I think “I’d really like to do that one day.” A week later, the thought is lost in the abyss that is my memory (no, seriously, my memory is awful). Luckily, goal-tracking tools like 43things.com allow you to record these goals as you think of them, and you can look back on them to remind yourself of the trip to New Zealand you’re working so hard for, or the skydiving outing. Though I’ve used 43things, I find that because there’s no pressure to complete the goals, I do less to move towards them. For 2011, I made the switch to 101in365.com, which forces you to list 101 goals (however small or large) and gives you 365 days to complete them. Some examples from my list include memorizing a poem, paying off one of my student loans, and changing my own oil (you can see the rest of my list here). The time constraint makes me more excited about pursuing and completing these goals. Number 101 on my list? “Make another 101in365 list.”

Saving Money – While these do not quite help me pay off my loans, every little bit helps.

  • Pay for gas in cash. Gas stations, unless explicitly stating otherwise, often tack several cents onto the price of gas for credit card charges. Around me, the average is +10 cents, but I’ve seen as high as +12-15 cents. So when you complain about gas being $4.20 a gallon as you swipe your credit card, you could actually be paying between $4.30 and $4.35 per gallon. That certainly adds up over time! And don’t be fooled by rewards points, those 50 or so rewards points per tank amount to literally just $0.50 in most rewards programs (even 1% cashback doesn’t balance out the extra that you pay).
  • Use coupons. But only for things you needed anyway. I’ve saved a load of money using coupons properly (for example stacking manufacturer and store coupons). Research some serious coupon strategies (it may be worth it for you). If you’d rather watch couponing in action, turn the TV to TLC, they made a show out of it (“Extreme Couponing”).
  • Downgrade to a cheaper cable package. Nowadays, an internet-enabled computer can get virtually any TV show or movie, and with the right hook-up it can be connected directly to your TV. You’ll have all you need to see your shows, and you’ll never miss the channels you never watched anyway. Additionally, if it results in less TV-watching, well, I don’t need to explain how that’ll help your productivity and save you money.
How do you stay productive?

The Job Search (Pt.5) – eHow = More $$$

I love my job as a teaching assistant. It’s extremely challenging but unbelievably rewarding. Serving developmentally-disabled students is ideal experience for my future goals, and I haven’t felt so natural in a job for a long time. I honestly don’t believe there is a better way I could be spending the interim between undergraduate and graduate school. However, I have previously mentioned that the job does not pay much. As this is really my best opportunity to save money for my graduate expenses, I really needed an additional source of income (however small).

Naturally I went looking for online options, particularly because I had coincidentally read several blog posts in recent weeks on the topic. For example Amanda‘s guest post at The Smart College Grad and a Lifehacker.com article. I am extremely skeptical of anything that promises lots of cash for simple online work (as I believe I should be). But I did read in various articles that “content farm” work like writing for eHow.com can be worth it if you write effectively and efficiently. I’ve been a fan of writing since my high school days, so I thought I’d give it a shot. After tweaking my resume a bit to highlight my professional writing experience (which is virtually nonexistent) and spending fifteen minutes quickly creating a “tutorial” style writing sample, I applied for a writer position. Just days later I was accepted and got right to work.

There are two ways to make money through eHow: fixed fee or revenue share. Fixed fee typically pays $15 an article, which many argue is not enough. Revenue share is based on ads and traffic. Though I’ve read revenue share is a better long-term investment, I’m looking for quick cash, even if it just covers my gas expenses! Here is my experience thus far:

As of today (been a writer for eHow for one week) I have written six articles. Three have been approved and published (and yes, I have legitimately been paid for them), the other three are pending an editor’s review. So far, none of the six articles have taken me more than one hour. In my opinion, considering the $15 I make for 45-60 minutes of my time, the fixed fee seems like an alright deal. If anything, it is a better use of my time on the computer. Perhaps motivating above all is my general thirst for knowledge; which really seals the deal for me. I can get paid to spend an hour learning how to do something and then writing about it? How could I speak against such a proposition? As long as I choose articles that I know will not consume multiple hours of my time, this will continue to be an efficient way to make a few extra bucks when I get home from work. For a future broke grad student, every little bit helps!

Have you ever made money online? What did you do?

Job Search series: Part 1 – Part 2 Part 3 – Part 4 Part 5


The Dying Art of the Garage Sale.

It occurred to me this past weekend, as I sifted through the disaster zone that is my closet, that garage sales are rapidly becoming not only inefficient but inconvenient. In an age of Amazon, eBay, and craigslist, I would never consider holding a garage sale. There is a place on the internet for the sale of nearly everything. Not only can things be listed from the comfort of your own home, but often you simply mail out the sale item. The ease of this process is undeniable, and for some people it has made the hassle of organizing a garage sale a waste of time.

Another factor working against the garage sale is the potential value of the items. In my experience, things at garage sales sell for seriously marked down prices (a matter of cents for books, perhaps dollars for larger items). For example, a book that might sell for 25 or 50 cents at a garage sale can be sold for $2, $5, or more. That’s quite an increase in profit! There are exceptions of course (many ‘Used’ books go for just 1 cent on Amazon), but a used book in perfect condition (I tend to take very good care of my books) can be sold as ‘New.’ Textbooks, in my experience, have also sold for at the very least 200% the buy-back price of school and local bookstores. Larger items (like the $70  hockey skates I just bought for $20) can be sold on your local craigslist for higher prices than would be purchased at a garage sale. They can also be sold on eBay, which has even greater potential for a higher sale price (but often includes a shipping cost).

I’ve made several hundred dollars using online sites to sell personal items and books. It has been an additional source of revenue for me over the years, and while it doesn’t inflate my bank account much, any extra money helps! I also recently read this post by Amanda over at Grad Meets World about adding additional streams of revenue to your income. In the same  day I came across this post at Lifehacker. Check it out and maybe you’ll get rich just a little bit quicker!

No longer is the garage sale a necessary way to sell things for profit. You heard it here first, I am officially abandoning it for the online marketplace! You are dead to me, garage sale.

Anyone else sell things online? What do you like/dislike about garage sales?


How to Bomb an Interview (in 3 easy steps)!

I spent the weekend in Buffalo, NY on my 2nd graduate program interview. I am confident it went well, though that is no guarantee of acceptance. After a very positive experience at this program, it got me thinking about my first interview for a grad school (which was just a week before this past one). It also became glaringly obvious how awful I did. This is no exaggeration. It was horrendous. I’m a very personable individual, and I’m also very confident in my ability to communicate my strengths, weaknesses, and any other information about myself. I was wonderful at this; perhaps a bit too wonderful. In retrospect, I spent very little time being friendly (or even smiling for that matter) because I was so preoccupied with portraying myself as a professional and work-oriented person. Following the interview, I realized how little the ‘real’ me actually participated in the conversation. I was interviewing for what I thought they wanted, not who I really was. As I said, this occurred to me shortly after the interview, and became really apparent after my Buffalo interview, during which I was committed to stop this “acting job.”

Regardless of the outcome, I have looked at that first interview as both a wake-up call and a learning experience. I believe it took these mistakes in round one to be successful in round two. But to help those of you out there who would prefer never to make a mistake at all, or perhaps to make the worst mistakes in the books, I present to you three easy steps to bombing your first interview:

1. Don’t even think about smiling.

By not smiling, you communicate to your interviewer that you’re neither friendly nor interested. This is the first, and perhaps one of the most important steps to bombing your interview. Employers want to see a mature yet personable individual. While they often take their power to hire extremely seriously, a program is usually looking for someone with a bit of spunk too. Someone who can smile has an immediate advantage. If you’re looking to bomb, this is an advantage you’re not interested in. So keep your happy thoughts and positive verbalizations to yourself. They won’t do you any good for this cause. [Bonus points for a frown.]

2. Don’t prepare.

The prospect of improvising your way through an interview sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Even if your people-skills are the best in your league, this is another great way to turn an interview into a disaster. If you wanted to ace the interview, you’d do your research on the program or workplace and prepare solid responses to typical questions. But since you’re looking to bomb, use it as an opportunity to work on your acting; pretend you know what the program does, and try even harder to explain why you’re wasting their time.

3. Appear disheveled.

If the company and/or program was worth being a part of, they’d accept you no matter what you dressed or appeared like! Professional attire is for the sucker, right? Wrong. Pat yourself on the back for being a fool (if that’s what you’re going for). Your attempt to stick it to the man will most likely assist in your journey towards the big ‘bomb.’ Employers want to see someone who takes themselves and the interview opportunity seriously. To them, your initial behavior during this interview is a direct reflection of both your attitude about your work and your maturity. By not showering for a week, waking up, throwing on sweats, and hopping in your car to the interview, you’re sure to screw up big time!

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to bombing your interview. The rest will come naturally if you’re foolish enough to follow the first three steps! Good luck, and never forget to stick it to the man (if you want to live in your mother’s basement for the next decade or two)!


Anatomy of a College Grad’s Night Table

Unpacking from college after graduation has been quite a feat. Suddenly, things that I could temporarily store away over the summer or winter now either need to find a place in my cozy bedroom or be thrown out (*gasp*). I am currently on Day 2 of rummaging through my college life and there is still plenty to get through. My drawers are packed with things that are far from necessary. To my surprise, it’s not the clothes which have been a struggle, but all the other things which are difficult to make the keep-or-toss decision about; the printer, the hundreds of loose papers/documents/receipts I’ve accumulated, my intrusively-large projection TV, etc.. In all of the chaos that is this unpacking process, some items in particular have proved themselves valuable enough to make their way to my night stand- the last place I see at night and the first place I see in the morning. And so, for you, I break down the anatomy of this college graduate’s night stand:

 
Anatomy of a College Grad's Night Table

1. Graduation Mementos. Don’t let yourself forget about your accomplishment in graduating! Surround yourself with things that serve as reminder of your achievement, at least for a while. Leave out some cards to flick through if you’re ever feeling down about how things are going for you post-graduation. Hang your tassel in your room or car. Frame some photos of your graduation day and place them around your bedroom and house. Be proud!

2. Professional Magazine/Journal. For graduates of the social sciences, along with many other fields, it is important to keep up on your professional happenings! Especially for those who seek entry into graduate programs, it’s vital to stay on top of research and current event in your area of study. Join any professional organizations (in my case, the American Psychological Association) to boost your awareness of your field and your resume.

3. Career Tools & Resources. In my case, it’s a CD pack for improving your interview and vital conversational skills. There are also countless resources on the web and in books for building your speaking and presentation skills. Such knowledge can help you in several ways, whether you’re pursuing a job, graduate school, or otherwise using skills of persuasion. If you know how to present yourself in the best light possible, there are no limits to your potential in your professional interactions.

4. Book. Read, read, and read some more. Not only may you have more time to do it while you’re searching for a job, but it keeps your mind running. You know that saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it?” Well, you probably won’t forget how to read, but unless you continue to stimulate your mind, chances are you’ll begin to perform other mental processes more slowly. So pick up a book for pleasure and keep ’em coming! I recommend the best-selling author Augusten Burroughs.

5. iPod. Enough said.

6. Puzzle. While reading may cover more verbal skills, you may want to stimulate your mind in other ways while you’re out of school. For example, you can start doing a daily Sudoku in your local newspaper or at WebSudoku.com. My Rubik’s Cube was a challenge to solve, and now it’s an increasingly-difficult challenge to decrease my solve time. Puzzles like this, which are renewable or ever-changing are ideal because they constantly test your mind’s ability to adapt.

7. Brain Stress Ball. A simple reminder that, even in tough times, you are gifted with a brain that pushed you through college. No matter where you are headed, or how long it will take to get there, you have the power to achieve your dreams.

 

BONUS: For a look at what this night table looked like on Day 1 of unpacking, check out this photo.