That Time I…Finished Tough Mudder
I contemplated what the hell I was doing as I sat in the car with the heater on full blast waiting for Craig & Reneé’s train to pull in. At 7:04 am – having driven an hour already – it was grey, drizzly and slightly foggy outside and the cookies I was munching on were doing nothing to lift the cocktail of nerves and questioning of ones life choices.
Today was Sunday – Tough Mudder day.
We met Kate and made our way to the registration booth on the Culden Faw estate, a mass of hilly fields and forests that disappeared off into the distance. All around us was the buzz of the participants – some anxious, some excitedly agitated …and some clearly still drunk from the night before.
For these hardcore people, they had sandwiched a campsite party (aptly named Apres-Mud!) in between two Tough Mudders back to back and were riding off the euphoria while we could only look on and mentally high-five them.
We’d been signed on to the second wave which set off at 9:20am (only the elite are brave -or cocky- enough to sign up to the first wave) so we made our way over to the holding pen while a few event leaders helped us warm up – mostly through laughing rather than physical warm up exercises and before we knew it the soundtrack of Rocky signaled the start of the event.
A 100-strong group of athletes, us included (hmmm, is athletes the right term??) donning various colours of headbands as badges of honour won from previous TM events jossled to make ground as we shrugged off our nerves in those opening few minutes. From that point on the crowds started to thin and spread out.
The first half hour or so was spent climbing ground in the hills (not easy given the rainfall) and climbing over various fences. Then, as we rounded a corner we saw in the distance below the first obstacle – Arctic Enema 2.0 – and we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This was a giant 20ft skip of ice you’re plunged into and hand to swim through.
By this point we were fairly warm from the running and climbing which probably lulled us into a false sense of security. We lined up to climb the metal bars to the top of the slides and Craig went ahead with Renee while I waited back for Kate who was looking dubious to say the least. The problem with these obstacles is, the more you think about them, the more nerve-wracking they become. Thankfully the row of people behind us was building and the last thing you want to do is look wimpy in front of other Mudders!
This was all the push we needed. We looked at each other, glanced one more time at the end of the ice bath and slid in.
I don’t remember the slide.
I don’t remember the splash.
I don’t remember the people around us.
All I remember is the sheer pain of the sub-zero temperatures encasing my body.
I might as well have been naked. There is nothing that can prepare you but survival mode kicks in and every part of your being is focused on getting the fuck outta there. I remember breaking the surface and shouting a few expletives (or trying to, my mouth wasn’t really forming words) and scrambling up the rope netting.
That obstacle kinda set the tone for the rest of the event. We could laugh about it all we wanted but the cold was there to stay – no matter how much running we did. And that coldness was compounded every time another obstacle involving even a foot of water appeared.
Every mile or so there is another devious obstacle, some easy, some just “what the fuck”! There is also a lot of running. Ah, the running. So much running.
There is a stint through the woods that felt like it would never end, and as the ground isn’t stable or hard underfoot you are constantly correcting your balance and skidding around which adds to the demand on your legs so do some training beforehand!
Some of the Obstacles We Faced
Electroshock Therapy – A hurdle through hay bales with open-ended wires dangling down primed to shock you with 10,000 volts when touched. This was the event I was most scared of for some reason – I hate electric shocks – but it really wasn’t too bad. I only got hit 4 times (that I felt – although it probably helps I had a long sleeve base layer on) and each was no more than a pin prick.
King of the Swingers – A swing 10ft above ice cold water with a swim to rope nets at the far side. The idea is you swing far enough to sound the cow bell suspended 15 ft above the water before dropping in to the muddy pool below.
Everest 2.0 – A slippery half pip which requires a sprint to get up as far as you can and grabbing on to a team mate at the top to pull you up the rest of the way. This took most people a few attempts because they weren’t giving themselves a fast enough run up to project them up the surface. Shoe grip here makes or breaks it.
Cry Baby – Here you’re required to crawl through 1.5ft high runs peppered with logs, stones and other obstacles – oh and smoke that stings the eyes, nose and mouth! TBH it’s not as hard as it sounds – while they give warnings to people with breathing problems, it’s nothing more than a mild irritation which disappears within a minute or so of completing the obstacle.
Arctic Enema 2.0 – On reflection, this was the worst obstacle for me. A tube slide sends you shooting into a long skip filled with water and 10 tonnes of ice which you have to duck under a wall and swim to the other site. This was the first major obstacle of the day and seriously shocks your body to the point where I could barely breathe and form words. The cold stayed with me for the whole event …which at least kept me moving and pushing on rather than opting to rest!
Note: They are constantly updating and changing the obstacles and they vary from country to country so check out the official site for more info.
You can get a feel for some of the obstacles in this video we took on our GoPro’s (p.s, I am the skinny one in green with beanie…)
Some Tough Mudder Advice
- Do some “mini tough mudders” first. Lots of charities have jumped on the obstacle course bandwagon and offer similar (albeit more relaxed) events. These give you a chance to practice some of the types of obstacles as well as finding out how your body copes when wet, cold and covered in mud
- Have trainers/runners with good grip. I actually took my brand new ones as my other trainers have no grip left and once I’d put them through the washing machine (in a pilliow case) they were fine but its a risk
- There is a lot of running – 12+ miles to be more precise. While you do have breaks while waiting for obstacles to open up, I recommend being able to comfortably run 5 miles.
What To Wear
- Old trainers, or better still, running shoes – I actually wore my brand new running shoes as I didn’t have anything older that were appropriate and I just chucked them in a pillow case and into the washing machine and they came out fine.
- Base layers/thermals thatdon’t hold water – you need clothing that will dry as quick as possible as you will be getting wet – a lot!
- Any injury supports you’d usually wear – there is a lot of running and drops from heights
- A hat – it’s just easier than washing mud out of your hair!
- A print-out of your TM tickets
- Your parking pass (if applicable)
- Your camping pass (if applicable)
- ID such as a driving licence
- Trainers with good grip (you have no idea how essential this is in the wet mud on some obstacles)
- Energy bars/gel in your pocket – these are essential I found
- GoPro (or similar) if you have one
- A bag with a change of clothes – there are lockers on site at £3 (cash only)
- Over 2 million people have participated in Tough Mudder worldwide
- Each course is around 12.5 miles long, with around 20 obstacles
- Every participant must sign a death waiver (and there has been one fatality in its 5 year history)
- Tough Mudder gets tougher with the fastest competitors invited to do a 24hr, round the clock course in Las Vegas
- Tough Mudder has an “Obstacle Innovation Lab” controlled by ‘Head of Tough’ – ex-SAS Nigel Thomas (often the first person to trial fresh obstacles)
Looking back, completing Tough Mudder was one of those things I am most proud of in terms of pushing my body physically. It really does put a grin on my face when I think back to it even though I wasn’t the case at the time.
There were lots of obstacles designed to get you just shy of the point of giving up. Hills that taunted, slippery mud that just wouldn’t give you a break, logs that got heavier with every step. But for all of that, there was an equal and opposite element. The camaraderie of the team and other participants, the high-tempo dance music coming from random DJ stations, the snack/water stations and their attendants that were never short of encouragement…and of course the glory that comes with finishing.
Are you about to do a Tough Mudder and need some specific advice? If you think I have missed something in this article that would be helpful to other soon-to-be-Mudders let me know in the comments!