I’m not going to lie. I have woken up in the middle of the night, gripped by the sudden, panicked realisation that I signed myself up to take part in Tough Mudder 2015, several times over the last few weeks.
On September 27th, a gorgeous Indian Summer Sunday, the big day had finally arrived and my fellow team members and I travelled to Winchester to tackle the South London event of the gruelling obstacle course series.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for the video!
With scare-mongering stories along the lines of participants ‘blacking out’ after being hit by a 10,000 volt electric shock (in America), the fear of the unknown was probably the worst part of it.
If you’re thinking about signing up for next year’s UK events – registration is now open – and are curious what it’s really like, read on to find out how I felt taking on this incredible fitness challenge.
As I mentioned in previous posts, I genuinely like fast-paced circuit style workouts and Bootcamp classes; although my lifestyle as a journalist often interferes with sticking to a regular routine. Growing up in the countryside, where I spent many years mucking around on farms, I’m also not precious about getting dirty. Climbing over fences, swimming in rivers and scaling steep hills was a big part of my childhood – and therefore doesn’t really faze me.
So when my Mode colleagues and I signed up for Tough Mudder to film the increasingly popular event for our YouTube channel Mode Stories UK, I thought I would probably be fine fitness-wise (and mud-wise) if I stepped up my workouts again. And with four months to go, I was confident I had plenty of time to prepare…
I won’t go into the details of my training here too much, but I got some really helpful tips from the Virgin Active Mudder Maker team and Tough Mudder veterans John Fidoe and Mat Bell, who put my boss (and fellow Tough Mudder legionnaire) Jess and me through our paces about four weeks before the event.
The key advice they gave us was to work on increasing our running distance, leg, arm and core strength. We filmed two Tough Mudder training videos for the Mode Stories UK, which you can watch here and here.
But despite my best intentions, I didn’t exercise nearly as much as I wanted to. In the weeks running up to the big day, I didn’t exactly help my own cause by spending a long weekend on the Isle of Wight partying (and working) at Bestival before going straight into London Fashion Week; an insanely busy time for me. If I’m being realistic, I think on average I managed one half-hour strength or circuit training class and one 45-minute run a week.
Knowing I wasn’t going into Tough Mudder on top form, I decided to take it easy on the day and not knacker myself out by going full pelt at the 29 obstacles. I figured I could, to an extend, ‘play it by ear’ and if I really felt I couldn’t handle a particular challenge I wouldn’t force myself.
Despite my laid-back Tough Mudder strategy, when the big day arrived I was buzzing with anticipation and nervous energy.
Arriving at Winchester’s Matterley Bowl, a picturesque valley surrounded by rolling fields and woodland, the sun was beaming down on us, which immediately made me feel a lot more positive about the challenge ahead. At 9am, the event was already in full swing with pumping music playing, excited teams helping each other to apply face markings (it’s a bit of a Tough Mudder tradition to write your bib number across your forehead) and groups setting off in 20-minute intervals to conquer the course.
By now I couldn’t wait to finally get out there, but I had four major concerns:
1. Arctic Enema 2.0 – a tank filled with ice water that you slide into before diving underneath a row of tires
2. Cry Baby – an enclosed space filled with harmless yet eye-watering ‘tear gas’
3. Electroshock Therapy 2.0 – a zone full of electric wires that emit 10,000 volt shocks
4. Getting cold and tired – which sounds quite mundane compared to the above, but still
Knowing that I was definitely going to get drenched, I chose to wear fast-drying capri leggings and the most comfortable, cushioned trainers I could find, both by Under Armour. With the high, wooden walls we would have to climb over in mind, I thought long-legged bottoms would be better than shorts for protecting me from splinters as well as keeping my dignity. On top, however, Jess pointed out that less fabric would mean less damp and cold material clinging to our skin, so we both wore fast wicking sleeveless vests from H&M. You can see all my Tough Mudder essentials, with links, on Mode.com.
After consulting a map, I realised that my worst fear, Arctic Enema 2.0, awaited us only 1.8 miles into the course. The nervous energy this gave me carried me effortlessly over the first few obstacles until the construction finally loomed on the horizon.
Now, different members of your team might be scared of different obstacles, but this was the biggie for me. Some people have described the water as so cold ‘it takes your breath away’ and that ‘you feel like you have been punched in the stomach’. As I waited in line for my turn, I contemplated tears, I contemplated running away and I certainly contemplated disowning myself for having had the idea to sign us up for this!
This is where team work really comes into play and my colleagues were so sweet and supportive; with Jess offering to go in first so I could see her come out the other side and our mens’ editor David promising to slide in at the same time as me.
Another big shout-out has to go to the kind Tough Mudder volunteers, who were so encouraging that in the end, I simply trusted the fact they would come and fish me out should I be in trouble. And so I took a deep breath and pushed myself into the icy waters…
Remembering Tough Mudder pro John’s advice, I tried to stay calm and keep moving through the ice cube filled tank as fast as I could. Within split seconds, I made the decision to fully commit and duck under the car tires instead of jumping out immediately after resurfacing. Before I knew it, I emerged on the other side and scrambled to get out. For the first few seconds back on dry land, my body was in shock but as soon as I started to warm up I felt more alive – and proud of myself – than ever!
It really is an incredible sense of achievement when you push yourself to overcome your fears and the euphoria made me tackle the next few obstacles with gusto. Of course, some were harder than others and 12 miles – the length of the course – aren’t exactly made easier by uneven terrain and muddy grounds. But I found that by only focussing on each part of the course as it happened – instead of how much further I still had to go or how scary some of the upcoming obstacles were – I managed to keep that all important positive mental attitude.
Another thing that struck me was how helpful the other Tough Mudder legionnaires were. The event is all about team work, but it really extends above and beyond your own group. From helping to lift, push and pull each other up muddy slopes and steep inclines to offering each other leg massages to combat cramps, the community spirit on the day was something else.
I really don’t want to give too much away, because an action-packed Mode Stories UK video of our time at Tough Mudder awaits you at the end of this post – and I realise that if I was to write about every single obstacle this would turn into The NeverEnding Story… So let me finish this post on the note that yes, it’s tough. Yes, it’s scary. But is it worth it? Hell, yeah!
Realising you can overcome your fears, that your body is so much stronger than you think, that your friends are absolutely awesome and that complete strangers will jump in to help you within a heartbeat, is simply amazing.
Jess, for one, loved Tough Mudder so much she declared immediately after receiving ‘five or six’ hits in Electroshock Therapy 2.0 that she ‘would do it again tomorrow if I could.’ Wearing my very own orange Tough Mudder headband and finishers’ t-shirt, I totally got it.
The adrenalin, team spirit and euphoria I felt made it one of the most memorable and happiest days of 2015 for me. It may not be painless, but it certainly is a priceless experience! It’s not called Easy Mudder, after all, is it?
Want to know more? Now watch the video…
For more information and to sign up for the 2016 series head to www.toughmudder.co.uk.