Indian Mud Run - The Authentic Masterpiece
The hardest obstacle course race in America. The most innovative obstacles in the sport. Hubie Cushman - the evil genius of obstacle engineering.
As a seasoned obstacle course racer, I’m no stranger to both Obstacle Course Racing World Championships and North American Championships. I’ve seen the floating walls and I’ve heard stories of this elusive race called Indian Mud Run. The rumors had been swirling about obstacle innovation and course difficulty; the name Hubie Cushman was built up to be a living legend in the sport of Obstacle Course Racing. After falling in love with Mandatory Obstacle Completion racing through OCRWC and NorAM, I knew I couldn’t continue to make excuses; Indian Mud Run quickly became the only obstacle race on my bucket list.
In preparation for race day, I had devised a topic in my head to ensure that I could blog about Indian Mud Run, but still make it applicable to all race brands and OCR athletes alike. I was planning to talk about overcoming fears and taking to new obstacles without hesitation, and truth be told, that is exactly what I did with Indian Mud Run, but something greater happened when I took the course in Coshocton, Ohio. Not only did I fly down waterslides terrified of the air time or the deep water; not only did I grip the monkey bars and the Indian heads knowing full well my skin was not going to stay on my hands; not only did I run head first into the tightest of crawl tubes without even a thought to my claustrophobia. On that race course, I put aside my fears of judgment, and my fears of failure, and was met with the strongest sense of support and community ever felt in an obstacle course race.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to quickly talk about what Indian Mud Run is. Indian Mud Run started in 2011 by Hubie Cushman to benefit the Coshocton Parks department. All money raised by registration goes directly to the park. Instead of giving out monetary prizes, Hubie contacts Native American tribes to award authentic American Indian trophies to winners. On the Saturday immediately following Father’s Day every year, the city of Coshocton comes together in support of Hubie and the parks department. I have never witnessed a stronger showing of community support for a city.
When I arrived in Coshocton on June 21st, I immediately went to Lake Park for packet pick up. I grabbed my race bib and timing chip, my t-shirt, and my drawstring bag. For those who could make it Friday night, all obstacles were open to test out and play around on prior to the race, including the newest Force5 obstacle, Gibbons. I had heard horror stories of this obstacle so naturally, I headed straight there. I tried and tried to swing across, even making it as far as the last rung before the thickness of the bar got the best of me. After multiple attempts, a woman came over and offered me a pro-tip; grab the Gibbons with 2 hands as you swing through, holding the other dowel in 3 fingers. I instantly had the obstacle down, but noticed that my hands were swollen from over-gripping the bars. I knew I had to tend to them immediately if I wanted a shot at obstacle completion the next day.
Heading into race day, I had a plan. I know I am not a runner, but I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to keep my band. At Indian Mud Run, competitors are allowed to re-try obstacles as many times as they need to, but have the option to fail up to 5 obstacles and still podium. They have a 4 and a half hour time cutoff before disqualification. As an Obstacle Specialist, I cared more about obstacle completion than about my finishing time. My plan was to take my time on the technical terrain, particularly because of my history for ankle injuries, and I was going to go all in on obstacles. I was committed to running Pro because I would rather be held off of a podium with my band, than have an excuse to fail obstacles but potentially still stand on a podium in the age group rankings. Band or Bust.
Saturday, June 22nd came and the race nerves were real. I stepped up to that start, and as Coach Pain started in on his pre-race motivation, I closed my eyes and just embraced the moment. I was focused and I was ready.
Off we went - I held back out of the gait, knowing I couldn’t run with the group. I took to the terrain conservatively as the rest of the pack disappeared in front of me. As we winded through the forestry, I could hear the Nuclear Ninja Rings in the distance. I knew it was the first real skill obstacle, and I have it mastered.
As I cleared the trees and ran up to the Nuclear Ninja Rings, I came back upon the pack. I have this. There were 5 Pro women trying and trying on the rings to no avail. Many of them went on to give up their band and run back into the woods. I grabbed my rings and I got started. With my hands still swollen from the night before, and the heat and humidity causing more moisture than ideal, I cut my swing down and I focused on my grip. I swung up each peg, matching one ring to the next on each height. I made it to the top, I made it back down. I hooked my first ring on that final rung and I knew I was just about done. I hung onto that last hook as I fumbled with the second ring for a few attempts. My momentum was gone and I wanted that last ring to rebuild enough momentum to reach the final structure, but in an instant, moisture got the best of my grip and I slipped off. I was a second from the end. The volunteers and spectators cheered me on, telling me how close I was, knowing I was going to reach the end. Try after try, the moisture of my hands wore me down. I was distraught, but I wasn’t giving up.
After approximately 20 minutes and countless reattempts, I was discouraged. The 30-34 men started coming through and I stepped aside to let them fly through. As they were coming through, I witnessed a male Age Group racer reach the last hook and swing through to the ground. He took off running without passing the final support structure. As the volunteers called him back, he disputed the ruling. Historically at Indian Mud Run, you do not need to cross the final structure bar, you just have to hook the last ring with stability. This is exactly what I did on my first attempt. As a volunteer ran to get clarification, myself and the age group racer waited. Hubie drove up and confirmed the ruling. I had just spent 20 minutes, depleting my energy and wearing away my hands, for an obstacle I completed on attempt number one. I took off running.
Running through the woods, scaling various rock walls, jumping over tree stumps, my game plan did not change, I just knew that I now had to preserve my grip and save my hands. It was inevitable now that they were going to rip.
The next skill obstacle on the course was the Gibbons. Perfect. I have this mastered. First attempt, I overshot the third rung, but didn’t want to waste my energy hanging and re-shooting. I dropped off and immediately restarted. Bam. Fifth rung hit perfectly and I was off again.
From then on, the race was smooth sailing for the next hour. I chicken winged every obstacle I could. The Red Rig, the Weaver, the Tyrolean Traverse over water all went smoothly as I wrapped my elbows and used my legs. My hands were safe.
I passed the water stop after Tyro knowing what’s coming next; I’ve been warned. We have a large wall and on the other side is the 40 foot monkey bars. The rules at the start of the race made a point to say you can only use your hands. I have to do this…
I walked up to the monkey bars and looked at my hands. This was about to be bad. I watched a few racers go and knew what needed to happen. I could only afford to try this once; I had to travel sideways and two-hand my way across. With my lateral momentum powering me through, I made it across and instantly fell into the water. The pain was real. My left hand was completely ripped. I need to put it out of my mind and keep moving forward.
Coming out of the woods from the Monkey Bars, I was 3 hours in and it dawned on me; I only have 9 obstacles between me and that finish. I had reached that final gauntlet. First up, Indian “Skull” Valley. This was the only obstacle I feared.
As I climbed up to the starting structure, my hands stung. I have completed skull valley countless of times and I know that you need your pinch grip, you cannot fake your way through this. With no calluses left on my left hand though, I was going to have to endure the pain and any swing will make the hands worse.
Spectators cheered, and a fellow racer handed me his glove; I gave it a try. I instantly fell. My grip was fine, but without calluses, my skin was too raw put full pressure on it. The tears started to stream down my face. I do not give up. I will keep my band.
As I’m there crying, Heidi Williams sees me and offers to help. She pulls out tape and with the help of a few other finished racers, we taped up my left hand and I hopped back onto the structure for another attempt. There was instant relief. I climbed my way across the rig and I reached the second to last skull from the end. My momentum still wasn’t there, but my grip was holding up. As I transitioned to the final skull, my right hand gave way leaving all of my calluses on top of the Indian Skull. I cried out. It wasn’t the pain, although it was the most excruciating sensation of my life; it was my immense fear of failure. I had that rig beat but my always reliable hands had another agenda.
Wallowing is not in my nature. I stood back up, and saw two of my best friends approaching the rig. Jacob comforted me, while reassuring me that I can do it. Brian instructed me to show him how it’s done. Heidi taped up my right hand and I looked at my watch. I was now 4 hours in. I knew I had one more attempt left before I had to make the tough decision of giving up. I hopped back onto the rig, I swung my way across the first set of skulls and landed on the ropes. I sat on those ropes, meticulously maneuvering my way across without fatiguing my grip. I reached the ladder and I rested. The blood rushed back into my claws and I visualized. This wasn’t going to be an easy task, but I know what I needed to do. I stood up and I reached for that first Indian Skull. I reached around and I made it to the second Indian Skull. As my hand came around to go for the third, my fingers slipped out from the top of the skull. The tears started again. I now had to decide if I was going to sprint my way through the course and finish as a pro, but without a full completion, or be disqualified and still potentially lose my band. I took off sobbing.
From that moment on, the last of the obstacles were autopilot. Up and over the Irish Table. Straight up the warped wall. One jump after the next across dragons back. Four J-Hooks up the rope. A giant sprint up the warped wall and a slide into the water. Up the floating slip wall and up the floating cargo net. A tiresome walk uphill to the destroyer and zero hesitation as I climbed up and over. Then one final obstacle; the floating walls. My arms were throbbing and all I wanted was water. I screamed out in sheer agony.
As I climbed my way across the walls, and up the cargo net, what I saw took my breath away. Every friend of mine simultaneously walked out of the tents cheering me on. They had all heard about the ruling mishap at the Nuclear Ninja Rings and they knew what happened at Indian ”Skull” Valley. Everybody was cheering me along as I cried out in pain and agony. I chicken winged across the final bar and I climbed my way down. 4 hours and 29 minutes. I did it.
Coming off the course, I was unsure how to feel. The disappointment was real; I know I can make it across Indian “Skull” Valley. The anger was there; I should not have wasted precious time and energy at Nuclear Ninja Rings. The humility and adoration was there; I have never encountered a course that pushes me to that limit before and I have never experienced such selflessness by my fellow competitors at a race. Tears of joy rushed over me.
I know what it sounds like as you read these words. The Nuclear Ninja Rings cost me the race. Wrong. Did they slow me down? Yes. Did they wear me down? Yes. But that’s the sport of obstacle course racing. Sometimes rule changes are an obstacle in and of themselves. Indian Mud Run changed the rules of the Nuclear Ninja Rings the day of the race to coincide with the rules of the Ninja Rings at OCRWC. This was nobody’s fault, just accidental miscommunication. I just wasn’t prepared.
Indian Mud Run is the most authentic, thought out, and perfectly laid out course of my Obstacle Course Racing career. Between ultra technical terrain, to the right combination of skill obstacles to strength obstacles, to keeping the fun in a race while continuing to beat you down and hammer you with difficulty, Indian Mud Run is everything you want in a race and then some.
Despite the course being the most enjoyable and humbling course in my career, the course itself is not the top reason to run Indian Mud Run. Indian Mud Run renews your sense of community in Obstacle Course Racing.
After the race had ended and I stood around reminiscing with friends, I found myself wanting to stay at the venue for the first time in a long while. The festival experience did not have the music and the games that you’d see at most race venues, but rather it has the camaraderie as you cheer everyone on who is still out on course. I was finally able to meet my long standing instagram friends; I met new friends. I sat and ate dinner with the Steel City Spartans and I had a long conversation with, and subsequently joined, Spartan 4-0. I stayed at Lake Park for 3 hours after finishing my race, but it felt like 5 minutes. Indian Mud Run was a family reunion of family members I never knew I had.
As I rounded up my things, wished my friends safe travels to every corner of the country, and headed to dinner, I stopped to thank Hubie for all of his hard work. We stood there and talked about what Indian Mud Run is and I told him about my experience. He apologized and assured me that I would have had Indian ”Skull” Valley had circumstances been different. There was no need for him to apologize, though. Indian Mud Run achieved the difficulty the sport has been missing and I pushed myself to a new level that I didn’t know I had in me. This was a true obstacle course race, not just a race with obstacles. Hubie has created something special in Coshocton.
Indian Mud Run merchandise featured a shirt that stated “Bucket List Race”. This statement could not be more accurate. Indian Mud Run offers the greatest degree of obstacle innovation, featuring never-before-seen obstacles that will be featured at Obstacle Course Racing World Championships and North American Championship. It features ultra technical of terrain to challenge the most skilled of runners. It brings out the true spirit of camaraderie and community in the sport of obstacle course racing, a characteristic that the sport has long been missing. Indian Mud Run is not just a Bucket List Race; Indian Mud Run is authentic and it is essential that all Obstacle Course Racers experience its beauty.
Registration for Indian Mud Run 2020 is open NOW! Get registered and circle June 27th on the Calendar. You do not want to miss out.
*Photos Courtesy of Indian Mud Run*