The morning after the event it all seems surreal. Did I really do that? The aches, pains and bruises along with the mud that I keep finding in random places, tell me that yes, I did it. I am a Tough Mudder!
It’s billed as the toughest event on the planet. Not having done anything else like it before I can’t tell you whether or not it really is. I can you without a doubt that it’s the toughest event I’ve ever taken part in. I thought I’d trained well and was feeling reasonable well prepared, but nothing could have completely prepared me for what lay in store for us on the 11.5 mile course.
I was part of a team put together by Julia Buckley, there were 5 of us on the team including two fellow graduates of her fat loss fitness programme. As we arrived on the Tough Mudder site, just outside of Winchester in Hampshire I was feeling excited and nervous about what was to come. The weather was glorious, bright sunshine with a bit of a breeze – perfect conditions really.
We handed in our death waivers, picked up our numbers and tags and dropped off our bags. The atmosphere was fantastic. Hundreds of people, in the main incredibly athletic looking men, waiting to start the course.
Soon it was our turn and we joined the other 10am starters for our warm up. Lots of jumping and shouting before we were released to the starting area. But before we could even enter that area we were faced with a 6 foot wall to get over. To be fair, as a taste of what was to come it was pretty tame. A quick leg up from Simon, one of my team mates and I was over and soon joined by the rest of the team.
Before we could start we had to take the Tough Mudder pledge. This is not a race, it’s a team event and it’s about getting around together, not about getting the fastest time. It’s about pushing yourself and facing your fears, but not being an idiot and putting yourself in danger. Or something along those lines. More shouting and screaming done and we were on our way.
I’m going to give you an obstacle by obstacle account of the race. It will make for quite a long blog post but many people have asked about exactly what’s involved and this is the best way to describe it. Most of the pictures that I’ll use were taken by Tough Mudder official photographers at the London South event, or others.
I’d spent a lot of time in preparation for this event looking at the obstacles we could come up against and thinking about best to train for them. The thing I’d underestimated the most was the cross country running element. The course had plenty of ups and downs and was run on a mixture of grass, mud and gravel/rocky paths. The first half a mile was all up and down the side of a hill running on grass. It got my lungs working and warmed up my legs in time for the first obstacle. Kiss of Mud #1
On the floor, crawling through mud, under barbed wire. Simple. Until you realise that your bum is too high and get your top caught on the barbed wire. Back up, release yourself, get your bum down and keep going. Emerge the other side covered in mud and run on to the next obstacle. Blades of glory
Again relatively straightforward. Two walls, maybe 8 foot tall with inclines down the back side. Another couple of leg ups from team mates, a graceful slide down the back of the wall and these were conquered. Not too difficult, but I’d already started to realise just what a physical challenge this course was going to present. Two obstacles down in under a mile. We ran on to the next.
Now here is where I have to admit to not keeping my own promise to myself. If there was one obstacle that had got me more worked up than any other it was this. Walk the plank. Climb up to the top of a 15ft structure and jump off the top into freezing water below.
I am not good with heights and I can’t remember the last time I jumped into water, even off the side of a swimming pool. I was worried about what leaping into cold water would do to my lungs (I’m asthmatic) and in short I chickened out and chose to bypass this obstacle. I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not even giving it a go but I know that if I’d have got to the top and then not jumped I would have felt even worse.
So I bypassed and watched my amazing team mates jump off the top – they made it look easy. At this point my head starting chatting to me “what are you doing here, you’re not tough enough for this, how many more obstacles are you going to bottle out of?”. I tried to silence it and focus on running up and down the wickedly steep hills and onto the next obstacle. Dirty Ballerina.
8 trenches, about 4 foot across each that we had to leap across. I hesitated massively trying to silence my head which was telling me to find a way around the edge. I watched a woman in front of me try to leap the first trench and come crashing down painfully against the side – not what I needed to see. By this time the boys were all on the other side willing me to make the first jump. I decided that if I chickened out of this one I’d never forgive myself so I did it, jumped the first and then slowly but surely made my way across. I reached the other side unscathed and mentally feeling better. Confidence boosted and my spirits lifted we were onto the next obstacle. The Human Ghecko.
A climbing wall suspended over murky looking water to be traversed horizontally rather than vertically. I surprised myself on this one – having checked out the obstacle before the race I had assumed I’d get halfway across and end up in the water. Having got onto the first hold with some help from Simon I carefully made my way across. This took a lot of concentration, as well as upper body strength but I made my way to the other slide without too much difficulty. It felt good.
We were now at around the 5K mark and had a bit of running to do before we reached the next obstacle. We passed through a water station – there were plenty of these on route all stocked with water and bananas. I knew what was coming next – it’s one of the most talked about Tough Mudder obstacles. Artic Enema.
Take an industrial skip, fill it full of ice and water and suspend a plank of wood halfway across so that people have to completely submerge themselves to get to the other side. As I lowered myself into the skip I knew it was going to be cold. But nothing could have prepared me for exactly how cold it was. I’m sorry, but unless you have experienced this you can have no idea. The water was deep and my lungs felt like they were being crushed. I panicked. I couldn’t breathe. I clung to the side trying to catch my breath and ready myself to duck under.
But the panic didn’t subside. I muttered something about being asthmatic and struggling to breathe to the marshal who was standing at the side and before I knew it I was being lifted out of the skip. My entire body was tingling – I have never experienced anything like it. It shocked me and had shaken me up quite a lot – I had never envisaged not being able to complete this obstacle. Reunited with my team mates who were looking equally shell shocked we started running again towards the next obstacle. Kiss of Mud #2 this time under smoking tanks.
Same drill as before. On the floor on your belly through smoking mud under the tank and out the other side, under some more barbed wire. It was dark and unpleasant under the tank but a relatively easy obstacle, given what we’d just encountered. Once out from under the tanks it was a short run across the field to obstacle 8 Boa Constrictor.
Into a pipe that’s heading down into some water, across the water and then back up another pipe. Easy enough. Except there’s nothing to get any purchase on in the pipes. And this is where the Tough Mudder spirit really came in. I was pushed into the first pipe by a complete stranger. I managed to make my way down to the bottom and out into the water and up into the second pipe. And then I got stuck. I was wriggling around but not getting anywhere so ended up holding onto Julia’s ankles while the person behind me pushed me up the tunnel and someone else pulled Julia out at the other end with me following close behind. Team work!
Out the other side we head off up a long hill to the next obstacle. Funky Monkey aka monkey bars.
I knew from my training that I wasn’t going to be able to do this one. The best I had managed was to dangle off the bar for a while, so after grabbing hold of the first bar to test it out I was soon in the water swimming to the other side. Hats off to the boys in our team who made it least part of the way across before dropping into the water. That one was a toughie.
Soaking wet again we were off across country, past another water and banana station and on towards Mud Mile. This wasn’t actually a mile of mud, rather a section of course with mounds of increasingly high and muddy mud. The first couple of mounds were relatively straight forward to get over. But from there on in they became slippery and the sections in between each mound full of water. This obstacle was fun, if very very dirty. I emerged the other side pretty covered in mud, not quite as bad as these two however!
From there it was up (another) hill towards Log Carry. As the advert says, this one does what it says on the tin. Pick a log from a pile, put it on your shoulder and carry it through a path through a wood. Relatively straight forward but not as easy as it sounds when your shoes are full of mud and you’re 6 miles in to a gruelling obstacle course.
Log carry done, log deposited back on the pile and we were off, up another hill towards the next obstacle. Fire Walker. Now in my research this obstacle looked OK. Running through an area which had fire either side of it. Not pleasant and a bit smoky but nothing too bad. Except that this year Tough Mudder had upped the ante. We were not running through fire but jumping over it, into a pool of water. I stopped in my tracks.
My head was off again – what if I slipped and ended up in the fire? How deep was the water on the other side? What if I didn’t jump high enough? Then the most brilliant thing happened. One of the marshals saw me hesitating, came up to me and started answering all my questions, encouraging me to do it and reassuring me. He asked my name and then talked me through my jump, counting me down to my run up and leap. And somehow, before my head could talk me out of it I was running towards the fire, leaping into the air and landing in the water below. I felt amazing.
I stopped to thank the marshal – you were brilliant whoever you were – took in what I had just done, re-grouped with the rest of the team and headed off again. More cross country running, up and down some incredibly steep hills before we found ourselves at obstacle 14 Island Hopping. This looked like something out of Total Wipeout. Blocks floating on water, the aim to run or jump across them to the other side.
I could see how this one was going to end and decided to cut out the middle man, jumped into the water and waded across. Some of my team mates managed this without getting wet – once again – hats off!
By this point my legs were starting to feel quite tired and I could feel a bit of cramp coming on in my calves. I didn’t think too much of it but tried to stretch them out a bit as we ran/walked towards the next obstacle. Trench Warfare.
This was pretty straight forward, pick a trench, crawl into it, crawl to the other side. I followed Julia into a trench, she went in feet first and I decided to try that too to give my knees a rest. Turned out to be a good move and we had soon shuffled our way through and out the other side. Obstacle 15 done – we were on the home stretch.
The next obstacle was the first of two involving electricity. The Electric Eel was near the top of my worry list coming into the event. I don’t like getting static shocks and these promised to be much worse so as we arrived at the obstacle I was feeling very anxious. But watching other people ahead of us go through it, it didn’t look so bad.
Slithering on your belly through muddy water while trying to avoid wires that are going to shock you is never going to be pleasant. I picked up a fair few shocks on the way across but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined. Most felt no more than a static shock, a couple made my entire body jolt, but thankfully nothing worse than that. It felt good to get out of the other side and to the next water station. One of my most feared obstacles was over and done with.
As we were making our way towards the next obstacle my calves really started to complain. When we arrived at the Hero Carry we were instructed to pair up and carry each other up the hill, stopping at halfway to swap over. Julia thought she’d be able to carry me so I jumped onto her back to see if she could. Bad move. In the act of jumping both my calves went into a very painful spasm, like someone was sticking knives in them. I decided the best thing to do was walk up the hill and try to stretch them off in the process. My team mates paired up and carried each other. I was annoyed – I could easily have done it, but my calves weren’t playing at all.
On towards obstacle 18 the Hero Walls. My calves still weren’t happy and despite stretching and walking they weren’t getting better. I decided to walk around this obstacle for fear of getting stuck on top of a 12 foot wall with cramp in my calves. Totally annoying as I could have definitely have done this one and the thought of not completing obstacles because of cramp had never entered my mind. But in Tough Mudder style I helped my team mates get up and over, before rather dejectedly walking around the outside of the walls.
My cramps were now stopping me from doing anything other than walking. It was totally frustrating but my team mates were brilliant. Simon walking with me and Julia jogging back and forth to keep herself warm. We were soon at the next obstacle. Cage Crawl.
Pick a lane, get into the water, get under the cage, lay back in the water and float and use your arms to drag yourself backwards to the other side. This may actually have been one of my favourites – it gave my legs a rest and while it wasn’t pleasant it was strangely relaxing. Getting out the other side was a different matter – I jumped to pull myself out and set off another round of excruciating cramp in my calves. Nice.
We were now only a mile and a half and two more obstacles from home. I willed my calves to allow me to run for a bit and surprisingly they did – we made our way through some very pretty woodland, past the 10 mile marker and down towards the final two obstacles.
Everest is a one of the trademark Tough Mudder obstacles. Placed towards the end of the course when energy is low, most people need the help of someone else to complete this one. The idea is to run up a half pipe, take a leap of faith at the top in the hope that one of your fellow Mudders will be at the top to reach you and drag you over the edge. In my mental preparation I had imagined that I’d run up, jump but not get close enough to be caught.
My first attempt worked out pretty much the way I had imagined. Except that I managed to touch someone else’s hand. Not enough to get a good grip but it gave me hope that I could do it. My second attempt was more successful, I ran and leapt and was caught by not one, but two complete strangers who held onto my hands and arms while I summoned all my strength to lift myself over the top.
But there was nothing left. I was one pull up away from conquering Everest but try as I might I couldn’t get any purchase on the ramp to push myself up and my grip on the two heroic strangers at the top was failing. I was gutted as I admitted defeat and told them to let go of me. The fall back down the ramp was far from graceful. I had been so close. I knew that a third attempt was pointless and could end up with me injuring myself so I made my way around the ramp. I was disappointed and proud at the same time – I’d done loads better than imagined and was so close to getting over the top but not quite made it.
But we were onto the last obstacle and nearly home.
Electroshock Therapy – electrified wires hanging down over mud to run through. We lined up as a team and charged through it. I came through relatively unscathed – a few shocks which weren’t made any nicer by the ‘helper’ spraying us with water.
But it was over. We had completed the course, everyone was in one piece. We were Tough Mudders. We were given our orange headbands, T-shirts and pint of cider. I don’t drink cider but I can tell you that it has never tasted so good!
I want to say a massive ‘thank you’ to the rest of my team. Pete and Paul – who were brilliant and did amazingly well especially as it was their first ever event. Hats off! Simon, who realised I was struggling and stayed with me the whole way round – the true spirit of Tough Mudder. And of course to Julia – without who I would never have even considered taking part in this. You’ve helped me shed fat and gain the physical fitness to take part and complete an event like this and I can’t thank you enough for that. I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that I did it!
The after party was superb – cider, sun and music made for a festival feel and I was sad to have to leave. Overall the organisation of this event really can’t be faulted. I was really impressed given how many people were taking part. Big thumbs up to the Tough Mudder crew for that.
I am super proud of my orange headband, it’s up there with my VLM 2012 medal in terms of achievements. Will I be back to do it again? Who knows? Right now I need to recover from this one and let my many many bruises heal before I think about it seriously.
But something tells me that I’ll want to go back and show Everest who’s boss, and maybe even jump off that platform. Who knows.