31 Miles of Joy: Local quintet racks up the miles in Tougher Mudder event

Louie Souza and Nate Frasier each had done 25 miles by themselves in separate previous 12-hour Tougher Mudder events, but when they joined forces this weekend, they were able to go beyond that plateau.

Souza, Frasier and fellow Columbus resident Sarah Hashman completed five 10K laps through water, mud and obstacles at Ceraland, totaling 31 miles in just under 11 hours.

“It definitely feels like we just got done running those 31 miles,” Souza said. “I’m feeling every one of them. But we were encouraging each other, which was awesome. I did 25 in Chicago last year, so these guys carried me to do better this year. It’s much better running with someone that you know.”

The Tougher Mudder, a qualifier for the World’s Toughest Mudder 24-hour race later this year, began with about 600 competitors at 8 p.m. Saturday and ended at 8 a.m. Sunday. Souza finished his fifth lap at about 6:55 a.m., and Frasier and Hashman came in at 6:59 a.m.

“It went better than I was anticipating,” Frasier said. “We all went a little longer than we were planning. All three of us running together was the boost that we all needed. We were all talking along the way, talking about what was hurting, and we just kept going.”

Frasier had completed 25 miles in a Tougher Mudder in Las Vegas. Hashman more than doubled her previous best of 14 miles and did more than 100 obstacles.

“There is no way I could have made it without our team,” Hashman said. “We pushed each other, worked through the obstacles together, pitted together and embraced the suck together. It was an awesome experience.”

Souza doesn’t think the race could have gone much better for him.

“It was almost a perfect race in terms nutrition being on point, training being exactly where I needed it to be and no injuries,” Souza said. “I’m very happy with my race. The best training was the experience of doing races like this before. Having that knowledge and having those failures and those injuries coming out of those races kind of helps you through a race like this.”

Two other Columbus residents completed three laps for an 18.6-mile journey. Kate Bordenkecher, who did the Spartan Beast with Hashman last year, had knee surgery following that event and still is recovering from that.

“I had some knee problems coming off of the Indy mini back in May, so with any orthoscopic surgery, things get tweaked really easily,” Bordenkecher said. “So I was really worried about my knee the whole race. So I jogged and walked the first six miles, and then for the second and third laps, I just walked. I didn’t push it, and my knee actually feels really good.”

Meanwhile, Gabe Ocasio, a former Columbus cross-country and track standout and collegiate runner who won last year’s Tough Mudder 5K at Ceraland, set out to earn the green bib that went to the winner of the first 10K “sprint lap.” He stayed with the leader for about a half-mile before dropping back to conserve energy.

“I tried to go for the win on that sprint lap to get the green bib,” Ocasio said. “I didn’t get that, but after that, it was just seeing what I could do. I was down to go seven-minute pace, but anything under that, I wasn’t going to burn my matches that early. I rolled my ankle on that first lap, too. It was a learning experience.”

Ocasio had been feeling ill the previous couple of days. He spent most of Thursday and part of Friday in bed.

“I got sick a couple of days ago, so the plan changed a little bit,” Ocasio said. “I was cramping up in multiple spots, and my chest was ill from whatever 24-hour bug I caught. But I wouln’t have missed this unless I was literally dying.

“My body was not near where it needed to be to do something this big, so I called it at about six hours,” he added. “It was a little disappointing, but it’s OK. Life doesn’t always go as planned. You go to plan B, C, D and E and go on with no regrets. It was fun. I learned a ton.”

The event didn’t go without its mishaps for some of the local quintet. Frasier injured his hand on the “Hang Tight” obstale, where competitors jump, grab a handle, swing and hit a cowbell over water.

“The guys gave me a hard time for not hitting the cowbell hard enough the first time through, so the second time, I really wanted to prove a point, and I swung and sliced the side of my hand open,” Frasier said.

Hashman and Bordenkecher were battling through nagging injuries.

“I was coming off of an inner thigh injury, so the most I’ve been able to run recently is four miles,” Hashman said. “I was able to get over 30 today, so I’m pretty proud of that. I did not complete all of the obstacles, but I completed the obstacles that I’ve been training on, so that’s what was important.”

“It was very muddy and lots of water hazards, a lot of crawling, inverted crawling, top crawling, crawling under a cage,” Bordenkecher added. “I remember thinking, ‘This is going to feel terrible on my knee.’ The trails were really good, but a lot of these trails at night are dark woods, so if you don’t have your one headlight on the ground, you cannot see anything. We all had backup lights and backup batteries incase our headlights went out.”

The local quintet have been training for Tough Mudder and Tougher Mudder events at Frasier’s MVP facility. On Saturdays, they start with a run, come back to MVP and do push-ups, pull-ups, dead lifts and squats, then go back out for more running and going through that cycle.

“We’re kind of mixing in what we would be doing, climbing ladders, doing pullups,” Frasier said. “We know something is going to hurt. We actually train ourselves that we push through that hurt as we’re going on regular Saturdays. It gets you mindset better so when you’re out here and it does start, you’ve been there before.”

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Souza added. “It doesn’t happen in one season. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of sweat, but it pays off when you have a race in your hometown.”

The locals were happy to be able to compete in such a big event in that hometown.

“I liked it better here than I did in Vegas because the spectators were able to get to the other obstacles,” Frasier said. “They could come cheer you on. Our friends were there. Our wives were there, and they cheered us on, and it really helps to have someone in your corner while you’re pushing through a little bit of hell.”