Tuesday, 28 October 2014

RACE RUNDOWN: Tough Mudder (London South)

Saturday 24th October, 6.30am. My alarm is buzzing and I am hauling myself out of bed ready to take on a challenge that was going to test my mind, determination, grit and almighty strength. I was about to take on Tough Mudder.

The event itself has caught my eye a few times, especially when I have seen friends take part and post their finishing, mud riddled snaps on Facebook. But then I have gone onto the website, analysed the obstacles, um'd and ah'd, seen the price and ruled it out completely. The event is £125. Not your average race entry and I have come across many people who have been put off by this hefty fee.

However, is it really worth every penny? Well when I was offered a place with a friend in a team, I thought this was the perfect time to test my true strength and fitness whilst also reviewing an event I have always been curious about.

I got the place a month beforehand so I really didn't have long to train but I honestly felt with my level of fitness, I could get round, albeit if it was a bit slower than intended. I run, swim and cycle every week and this, I thought, would give me a good basic level of strength and endurance. I also spent one evening faffing around with my partner's weights, pulling them left, right and centre, up and down until my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

So, as you can see training was very minimal. But I still felt confident I would complete the 12 mile muddy trail course with 20 obstacles. When travelling down to Winchester, we were all discussing tactics, remembering of course that the main thing was to enjoy it. By the time we arrived, we were keen to get going! 
We decided to go for a later wave of 11am as we were travelling from London and we were wondering how 'muddified' the course would be after so many people had already taken part. Even walking to the Tough Mudder village, we passed so many runners out on the course and we could even see several obstacles on the horizon across the fields that laid ahead.

We didn't hang around too long in the village. Grabbing our numbers and signing our waivers (which basically outlines that the course can cause death - wonderful) we dumped our stuff in the media tent and headed out to the start. My team mate lent me a pair of ultra thin Nike shorts which are incredibly lightweight, meaning they don't carry any additional weight from mud/water and I also opted to wear an old pair of trainers and top that I was ready to sacrifice for good. 
Heading to the start line, we were feeling SO nervous. There was a lot of hype and before we could even cross the line we had to head to the warm up pen where a couple of big, buff army dudes yelled at us during many drills. Then we had to jump over a practice wall which was in front of the starting pen. Ironically, I bashed me knee really hard as I jumped up to hurl myself over. This was the cause of my biggest bruise I have succumbed too. 

After shouting a pledge with all our fellow Tough Mudders ('I promise to help others, motivate and cheers fellow Mudders etc...') the horn sounded and we were off!

We unfortunately didn't have a GoPro with us and looking on the event Facebook Page, there isn't one picture of any of us (this makes me really sad). So I have featured below some snaps from my favourite/most challenging obstacles which are taken by official Tough Mudder photographer Kirsten Holst.


Walk The Plank
I LOVED this obstacle. It was the second one we faced and it really made me feel like I was doing Tough Mudder. Standing at twelve feet high you climb up to have a second to peer over the edge before you are counted down to jump into a pit of ice cold water. This definitely woke me and up but the feeling when dropping down was like being on a roller coaster. It was brilliant!

Mud Mile
More like 100m than a mile but still good fun. I did sneakily dodge the bog pits and I also witnessed my team mate almost lose a trainer. In all, this obstacle was a good giggle and definitely got us caked in mud!

Pyramid Scheme
OK, this has to be my favourite of them all! At around mile eight, this obstacle involved team work and communication. A curved wall with no way to run up it, the aim is to form a human pyramid to get yourself up to the top. We stayed on this one for ages, as it took a while to get everyone up but we also hung back at the top to help pull people up. This is where I definitely felt the team spirit of all involved. Everyone helped one another and no one was left behind.


Kiss of Mud
I blame this obstacle for all the scratches up my legs! Around 25m long, a foot high and covered in barbed wire, the aim is to lay on your front and drag yourself through. I found this very low meaning you literally had to lay as flat as a pancake and scrape your body across the muddy gravel. I practically came out with burns across my legs at the other end!

Just The Tip
I had to use this picture. I apologise for whoever this is but I really feel for you. I had exactly the same problem when faced with this obstacle - height. Standing at a mini 5"3, when I came to this part of the course, I knew I was in for a challenge. After being lifted up to hang myself on the wall, I could barely touch the thin ledge with my tip toes. When it came to the gaps I had no hope in stretching my leg across to the next ledge. I was no where near reaching them so had to rely on my upper body strength to swing myself across (a bit like a monkey). By the time I reached the middle ledge, my arms were burning in agony I decided to hop in the murky water below as I knew I wouldn't reach the other end. 

Cage Crawl
In the lead up to the day, I had decided I was going to skip this obstacle. I have a huge fear of water after a surfing incident but I have an even bigger fear of being caged in it! This obstacle is definitely all about mind over matter. By the time I reached it, I was near the end and I had done every single obstacle so far and was more determined than ever to overcome my fear. I was very wary getting into the freezing water as the first thing you have to do is lie back and float. The water fills your ears so all you can hear is your breathing. Then it is all about speed as you crawl backwards through the water, looking up through the cage to the sky. I felt like it went on forever but by the time I reached the end, it definitely wasn't as bad as I had imagined. Still though, not something I'll be volunteering myself to do again.

Arctic Enema
If there is one thing I will take away and remember forever from Tough Mudder, it is the sheer pain I felt from this obstacle. A shipping container full of ice, this is another part of the course where you have to go in not even thinking about it. Hopping into the tank, your body immediately goes numb, yet you have to wade through the pool of ice and under a rack of tyres. Submerging your head under the icy water gives you sudden brain freeze and when you drag your body out the other end, pain ripples through your muscles and joints the second you land back on the grass. I remember wailing in pain but also laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it. After walking around in circles for a minute or so, the pain eventually subsided and I was able to proceed with the running.


This is a really relevant point to make. I remember discussing Tough Mudder with a couple of people who have taken part before and one point I raised concern about was running for 12 miles across muddy terrain. I was reassured that the amount of obatacles helps you to avoid the fact you are running almost a half marathon across endless fields. I can tell you now, one thing about Tough Mudder that hurts IS the running. Holy moley, I felt like I was running forever through mud and up and down endless steep hills (and I mean super steep!). At times, the gaps between obstacles seemed to go on ages and for me tiredness kicked in around the seven mile mark. 

Don't get me wrong, I am able to run 12 miles. But on road surface and without a shed load of hills. Put me on cross country terrain and I'm screwed. I can openly admit that. So for anyone out there there who is looking to take part in Tough Mudder, make sure you train lots for the running as much as the obstacles. Looking back at this mistake of mine, it really would be worth it!

Reflecting on the whole day though, it's fair to say I had a bloody good time. Never have I, or probably will I experience anything like Tough Mudder again. I waded through ice cubes, got electrocuted, carried a huge log, crawled through a cage of water and ran up a half pipe. Not your average Saturday.

By the time I crossed the finish line and my Tough Mudder headband was placed on my head, I really felt like I had been crowned a Tough Mudder champion!
Now back to the question - is it really worth the money? I've decided that is in fact a difficult one to answer. For me, an individual that takes parts in events and races regularly, paying £125 is ridiculous. Especially when there is no medal at the end! That said though, looking back at all the people I met on the course, they had entered Tough Mudder for many reasons. To set themselves a challenge, to help with weight loss, to be a part of a team, I could go on. The thing is, what I have realised is that no matter what the price is, Tough Mudder gives people the feeling of commitment. It makes you feel strong, focussed, driven and well, tough! For all the feeling and emotions you have when you cross that finish line and you are handed your complimentary pint of beer, the price of the event is long forgotten and what you are left with are a bucket load of bloody good memories!

Will I be returning? In all honestly, no. I like exercise that is clean and tidy but I can't deny the fun I had.

For more information on Tough Mudder, visit the UK website HERE

Lipstick Runner.

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