I’m not a natural born runner and I’m sure not one of the hundreds of thousands of people signing up by choice to do a mud obstacle race. I am, however, dating one of those fanatics and when he decided his 30th birthday party was going to be running a Tough Mudder… I gritted my teeth and signed up too.
As a fitness instructor I can work out for a good 3-4 hours at a time if needed but at 12 miles, Tough Mudder is a half marathon, largely on the inevitably eponymously muddy terrain, with what feels like the odd obstacle thrown in. There are in fact around 23 of the things, but they can feel a god-awful long way apart over that distance. The obstacles are all based on British Special Forces obstacle training and are therefore designed to test people against typical fears (fire, ice, electricity, heights, water) as well as strength, agility and skill.
Ras and Ian last did the London Tough Mudder and admitted the Midlands Kettering course had considerably more mud. Not only that, but apparently feature mud: cow shit mud. Sheep shit mud. Sewerage mud. People-piss warm muddy water? Really doesn’t bear thinking about.
That all said: Tough Mudder is one of the more accessible of the endurance mud races around. It is not even technically a race, in that, unusually, it is untimed, and the key focus is on getting around as a team rather than getting the fastest time. Most people do turn up as a team, with shirts and costumes (between cakings of mud, The Dirty Thirty were intermittently visible in our bright yellow shirts) and treat it as a rather extreme day’s entertainment.
To my shame, my ‘training’ mainly consisted of 10-15 minute post-class runs, two to three times a week, for about…oooo…two weeks. My Trilogy bootcampers probably run 10-15 minutes a morning three times a week and could frankly run my socks off (running not being a main feature of the indoor studio and cycling classes I get my exercise through!) and indeed, it was in the running that The Dirty Thirty discovered Tough Mudder to be perhaps a little tougher than we were. Running on mud is particularly challenging for the hip flexors because of all the extra stabilisation required compared to, for instance, running on a dry safe path.
So…there was some walking. Later, quite a lot of walking. But there were also dollops of camaraderie, silliness and the odd drama (falling from 12 foot walls is not recommended but thankfully Jess remained unbroken).
The first obstacle on our Kettering Midlands course was a pair of giant walls – which the boys in the team hung around at to leg a bunch of other people over, probably knackering themselves a bit early in the day, but it was Very Chivalrous and absolutely in the spirit of the event.
The third obstacle was my nemesis: the Artic Enema, aka A Freaking Ice Bath. I jumped in and out of the Copenhagen harbor a few times over Christmas but there wasn’t any actual ice in it.
Now I won’t lie – I’d been threatening to skip the Enema, but at the time, as I suspected, it seemed the teamly thing to do to just jump in, go under the stupid tyres and hope not to go into shock.
Was it awful?
FUCK, YES IT WAS.
It was exactly as awful as… jumping into a full immersion ice bath. And not just any ice bath, but a manky, muddy, full immersion ice bath full of screaming people.
I thought putting the Enema so early in the race was poor sportsmanship from the event organisers, but actually, we arrived hot from the early running, and shot out ready to run again so shook the goosebumps off surprisingly quickly. I was a lot colder later in the event when we were too tired to run but had to keep going back into water and out into an unforgiving wind.
So: I survived my greatest fear and was all woooohoooo for a time – until I started fretting about the Electric Eel. I’ve bounced off more than my fair share of electric fences in my time and just didn’t see the appeal of being voluntarily electrocuted. So: hands up, I boycotted that one on the grounds of ‘I’m not paying £100 for this sort of shit.’
The rest of the Dirty Thirty were much more macho than me about it – and then in a cruel twist to them, I think I was the only one who didn’t get electrocuted in the final Electro Shock Therapy run for the finish line (MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA).
The rest of the obstacles blur. I made it through everything except the monkey rings, where I grabbed one, just grabbed the second one, didn’t commit and was left hanging until, squealing and cursing, I had to drop into the water and get wet again. Jessica and Shanice swung straight through that one like gymnasts while I waded my way across feeling the Sads.
The Island Hopping was actually surprisingly fun (I leapt like a frog from one to the next, feet wide and hands down – highly inelegant but effective). I really did freak out a bit on Walk the Plank, a sheer drop that looked too high by far. Ras and I were up together and while he gamely jumped on the required countdown, I dithered precious seconds and could frankly have benefitted from a shove. The water impact burst my bum bag, which was the end of our gels (potentially a blessing, to our taste buds at least). Making something of a comeback, I scaled Everest (a steep quarter pipe) on the first try – thanks to some helping hands at the top who caught and pulled me over.
In the weeks before the event, I was not-so-quietly anxious about getting an injury which would then prevent – or greatly handicap – my teaching for a period afterwards. No teaching, no income, no eating. Now I’ve been pain free from plantar fasciitis since October and am very keen to stay that way, and the week before Tough Mudder I limped into my physio with a dodgy left ankle, stiff back and locked right shoulder. I started the race still with the ankle still under par.
…I can only assume it was the ice bath, frequent dips into cold water and last hour and a half of chattering teeth that stripped every bit of lingering inflammation from my body, because I came out of Tough Mudder in better shape than I went in.
I’d long before booked a pre-emptive massage for two days after and sheepishly walked into Cherie’s treatment room in basically the best shape I’ve been in for years.
The rest of the team are already talking about the next event, and Ras and Ian are going as far as to consider doing a Double Tough Mudder (running it both the Saturday and Sunday). I am… not so enthusiastic for a return visit.
On the long list of very fun awesome things I get to do in my life, four hours of muddy, teeth chattering, electricity and ice-ridden running/walking isn’t particularly high up there. It was certainly a tick off the old bucket list though and I’m glad I was roped into joining the Dirty Thirty – and am thoroughly enjoying the new lease of life my body has experienced in the weeks since. Not sure I’m game to risk it as annual physical therapy mind you…
…oh, and of course it was Ras’ birthday party, which I womanned up enough to share with him. We took him out for drinks the next day, limping around London (and I mean holding the stair handrail limping), just to be a bit more civilised as well.
And, you know… it was little romantic.
I mean an eeentsy weeency bit.