So balls to the wall was one of the Tough Mudder obstacles which took me by surprise in a bad way.
I had practiced for it extensively prior to scaling it on my first Tough Mudder race by working on my grip, seeing the pictures on the main website and not thinking of this challenge as being a big deal.
After all, how difficult could it be to climb a wall when you also have a rope with knots to help you? Not difficult at all consider I climb the rope pretty well as it is.
Then the race came around and this is what really happened:
But what I didn’t consider was what would happen if on the day of the race that same obstacle would end up being covered in extremely slippery dirt such that even grabbing onto the wall or trying to use your feet for support only made it more likely you’d slip and break something.
That person climbing on the wall is my uncle. He has awesome grip and if you can tell, he’s not having an easy time with this obstacle either.
And even though neither of us fell (thankfully) my strength really didn’t help me at all here either. On the day of the race, there was a lot of rain and by the time my team and I reached this challenge, there were already enough people who were also wet that went through it that the rope and wall were already slippery enough and with more constant rain and more wet contestants going through it, there was no chance this challenge would be dry enough to complete easily.
The more I tried to get a firm grip and pull myself up, the more quickly I would slip. I dare say this challenge was even harder than the Spartan Race rope climb.
I ended up having to request help from people to lift me up so I could at least reach one of the few knots to get to the top. At least by holding onto a knot, I could maintain a certain height level to maybe reach the top. Thankfully though, there were people at the top who were lending a hand, literally, and I managed to grab hold.
I reached the top but continued to be extremely cautious because of the slipperiness being a constant risk and also because going down the wall on the other end was pretty much structured the same way I came up.
To my recollection, about 90% of all the people who were on this obstacle needed help like I did and many of them looked to be in great shape, but again, that slipperiness cancelled out the strength aspect.
Because of that 1 factor, I learned that to pass this obstacle and be safe about it, you needed a few things:
5 ways to beat balls to the wall:
1) If it’s a dry day when you do the race, you’re fortunate. Then your grip and strength will really be enough to get you to the top.
2) Don’t rely on a dry day to save you. Be prepared to handle this and every other obstacle as though they are in their worst condition possible. In the case of balls to the wall, when you reach this obstacle and it’s your turn to climb, make sure to do a test jump to see if you can grab and hold onto the rope.
Do not attempt to jump onto the wall and grab the rope and start climbing it without knowing how slippery it is or how good your grip is. This can lead to falls and injuries and it becomes more and more dangerous the higher up you go.
3) Apparently some gloves do help with the slipperiness. I did this challenge without gloves and it was almost impossible for me. However, I also had purchased footballs gloves with a rubber palm and tested it on a few metal bars before the race.
Turns out, as long as the challenges where they’re climbing (metal poles, ropes, wood), you will have an excellent grip. But if it’s wet, oh boy, put them away and use your hands.
However, there’s different types of gloves available. My uncle who was also with me and one of the people who boosted me up when my turn came used regular gloves that people use for things like handball, lifting weights, ect… and apparently they actually gave him a better grip.
So do I recommend gloves for this challenge? Well what I do recommend is that you try out a few different ones that you currently have and when you reach this obstacle to first test the grip you have with the gloves on and then off and see which one is more comfortable, then go ahead with the version that gives you a better grip.
4) Use the knots as checkpoints and go slow, very slow. That’s how it worked for me. Climbing that thing in one effort was impossible with the slipperiness so I had to grab onto a knot, pull my body up to it then use that level to reach the next one.
When you reach the top, you’re not done yet. You have to get your legs over before attempting to go back down or help others. Consider that the wall can also be very slippery and dangerous so go very slow to make sure you have an excellent foothold and aren’t slipping at all.
When I reached the top, it took me about a minute to slowly pull myself up and over before I attempted to finish the obstacle. This was because every little motion I made had me feeling as though I was about to fall.
5) Request help from others at the bottom and from the top. Tough Mudder is all about help. If you really see that the obstacle is giving you a hard time, ask for help, whether it be the people who are with you or strangers. Most of the help I got was from strangers and they really helped me with preventing major injuries. Obviously pay it back by also helping them or others when you finish the obstacle.
Apply these cautious approaches to all the obstacles!
Balls to the wall wasn’t the only look alike obstacle or one that was slippery for me, there were a bunch and you should use these safety tips, especially when it’s raining. If it is, your obstacles are going to become a lot more dangerous and difficult, but it doesn’t mean you can’t beat them. Always focus on being prepared!
And another thing. Though I usually recommend good mud run shoes like these, they didn’t really help me here because the wooden wall was wet, which made is extremely slippery for just about any shoe.