August 19, 2014
You might want to grab a cup of tea before attempting this post…or maybe something stronger if you have signed up for a Tough Mudder without knowing what it really is (a bit like my mate Natalie), this post is of epic proportions…but there really is no way of shortening it.
Back in about January time it was, my sister in law knowing that I liked running and stuff asked if I fancied joining a team she was putting together to do Tough Mudder. Always one for a new challenge I said “of course” knowing roughly what it was and hoping that it would force me to shift some lbs and focus on my overall fitness for a change instead of just pounding the streets.
I think it was about a month after registering and paying for my place that I actually took a look at what it would entail. I sat there that evening in shock, sick to the stomach at what I had signed up for. This was something for ultra fit people, slim people, people who could carry their own body weight and do extraordinary things…and I can’t say I was that optimistic that I would ever reach that kind of fitness in time.
But I had committed.
I did do some training. From April onwards I stopped focussing on my long distance running and started doing a weekly circuits class, kettlebell work, I even borrowed Insanity (granted I only did 2 sessions of it), but I knew I had to build my cardio fitness and my upper body and it was going ok, I started to notice my upper body changing in shape and my running speed improved too peaking at a 30 minutes and 9 second 5K back in June.
But with 3 weeks to go disaster struck as a marquee fell down on my back at a music festival leaving me unable to twist my shoulder joint, and with a dodgy foot that even made running painful. So I had 3 weeks of rest and if truth be known a spell of feeling sorry for myself eating. I think I was in denial about the fact this was actually going to happen.
The drive to Swindon where we were staying overnight was a slightly tense one, with Natalie and I joking about how unprepared we were. We kind of trained as a group just once but not everyone was there, so I was joining a team where I only really knew a handful of the people but as far as I could make out the rest of the group had been training and if not they had youth or natural boy fitness on their side. *I will explain what I mean by boy fitness later
I won’t bore you with the final preparations, but lets just say they included pizza, beer and not much sleep, and then before you knew it we were running through a field in our kit to join the back of the 9.40 briefing session. I was here, with a team about to take on Tough Mudder, billed as the toughest obstacle course race on the planet…there was a 4 foot wall to get over before the race had even started and did I mention I hate being lifted by other people? Add this to the fact that I am scared of heights, I don’t like tight spaces, or the dark, I have a phobia of spiders, no upper body strength and can’t really jump…what the hell was I doing here?
After 10 minutes of psyching us with “hurrahs” and “hell yeahs” the starting horn blew and we were off.
Oh forgot to say I hate cross country…anything other than running on flat road like surfaces to be frank. The first mile was either on grass, reasonably hard mud, uneven stoney ground oh and uphill. We had agreed to go off slow and pace ourselves, but I was already at the back of our group struggling to keep up.
Obstacle 1 – Glory Blades
Two tall walls (don’t ask me how tall) to climb over, but walls that were at an angle so you couldn’t even use your feet to lever yourself up. I had been fearing this kind of task due to my non-existent upper body strength, but with one persons cupped hand to tread on and a strategic shove on the backside and I was up and over (twice). I actually breathed a sigh of relief…being lifted by others wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. this was where boy fitness comes in to play, you see most boys do things like jump walls, they do it as kids and just never stop doing it. When ever do women think “oh, let me see if I can scale that wall”
And on to do some more running.
Obstacle 2 – Kiss of mud About 20 meters of crawling underneath barred wire. My size put me as a disadvantage as did my boobs. But I managed to find a technique which involved the movement of just one leg and the use of my gloved hands to pull me towards the end of the obstacle. I caught my vest on the barred wire a few times and when I eventually scrambled to my feet I was bleeding from my shoulder but it didn’t hurt, not as much as my belly did which I had basically scrapped along the hard floor for 5 minutes.
By the time we reached the third obstacle I was struggling fitness wise and had gone awfully quiet, the jovialness of earlier on had long disappeared as I tried to conserve energy and keep up with my team. My legs were already hurting too (getting my bike fixed and starting to cycle again this week was not the wisest decision).
Obstacle 3 – Dirty Ballerina
Wow, wow, wow…this is where I really had to face my fear. This challenge involved jumping over 6 ditches. Easy right? Well no, the space between the ditches was huge…like Jonathon Edwards huge, and the hole was deep reminding me a bit of a grave, with no soft landing if you fell in. The trick apparently was to take one big run up and to keep jumping, hence the ballerina title. I stood there watching others do it for far too long. My mate Natalie went with her little legs and managed to make the first jump, so I knew I had to just give it a go. I took four steps back and ran as fast as I could and jumped. I only just made it, leaning forward and falling to my knees so as not to fall back. My group cheered and I felt great, until I realised I had another 5 jumps to make and this time no big run up and now I was getting in other Mudders way too. There was nothing for it I had to jump again, so I did and this time had to give as much as I could so as not to fall in. I made it but only just again landing on my shins as a safety precaution. I think I went into autopilot on the 3rd one and then somehow found myself right on the edge of the obstacle next to one of the event crew, he looked at me and I looked at him and its then I realised my legs were shaking uncontrollably. I knew there and then I couldn’t make the last 3 jumps and I walked around the obstacle slightly defeated. My thinking was if I fell down one of those pits not only would I not be able to get back out, it would bloody hurt and I didn’t want to get injured so early.
We knew the name of the next obstacle and we had just witnessed its results as the folk on the opposite side of the field went in behind some trees clean and emerged covered head to toe in mud, so we knew we were about to get stuck in – literally.
Obstacle 4 – Mud Mile
When we turned the corner and saw what we were about to do it reminded me of a war film, when you take a few moments to take in the horrific scenes unfolding. There were 7 or 8 big mud pits with huge hills between them to scale, the only problem being the mud and the bodies and in my case my inability to pull myself up was a disaster waiting to happen. But in all honesty this had to be my favourite obstacle. The atmosphere was electric with people shouting orders at each other and screaming “I’m cooommmminnng” as they slid into the pit knocking everyone over like skittles. My first feeble attempt at climbing resulted in me sliding straight down, so Giles from my team yelled “Give me your hand” but I dragged him back down into the mud too. (I can laugh now but at the time I was mortified). This was problem solving at its best. Our team were just getting stuck in helping anyone who needed help. I saw my mate Nat repeatedly slide down the same hill and get back up with a huge grin to try it all over again. On the 2nd hill two strapping lads grabbed my hands as my feet scrambled around trying to find some grip I screamed “I’m gonna fall” to which one of them looked dead into my eyes and said “I’ve got ya, and you’re coming over one way or another” to which I did, I was thrown like a rag doll (yes all 16 stone of me) over the hill and went face first down into the deepest swamp of mud. As I came up gasping for air, and slightly deaf I could just about see the look of pure horror mixed with laughter on my teams face. It was at that point I decided this was not an obstacle to race through so when I managed to get up the next hill I stayed there for a while and helped get other people over, my weight actually working in my favour as I got a lot of the smaller lighter mudders up and over. I think we must have been at this obstacle for 30 minutes at least, but Mud Mile didn’t stop after the mud pits…the next three quarters of a mile were a muddy mess too, knee deep in places. It was hilarious watching people trying to run through it at full pelt whilst others negotiated it more cautiously. Which ever way you tried it was hard work, mentally and physically.
Can I just point out we had only done about 3 miles by this point, and although I was having fun I really did have concerns about finishing, simply because I was already exhausted.
Obstacle 5 – Hero Carry
Natalie and I had already discussed this and I figured I could easily carry her in a fireman carry lift, but as we reached the starting point someone else had already grabbed her so I was partnered up with two of the young lads from my team, we figured that Josh was the lightest so we carried him until we reached the switch point and then it was my turn to be carried (I just hated this). The two lads gave it their best shot, but I couldn’t grip their shoulders and after a few steps they dropped me and we went back to carrying Josh.
Last night when we were all at the hotel I said that I figured it would be a bit like childbirth, leave your dignity at the start line and just make it happen one way or another…and it was exactly like that. There was no room for embarrassment or shame or over thinking things, you just had to get the job done.
I was really lagging behind now and felt like I was holding the team back, we must have been on the move for like 80 minutes, so the water station and energy bar supplies were very welcome. But I feared whatever had just been consumed quite possibly could have come back up again very soon.
Obstacle 6 – Arctic Enima
This was the obstacle that split the team in earlier discussions. I knew I could do this one as it was a grin and bear it one rather than a strength or agility one. Besides I had a whole heap of insulation to keep me warm. So what was it. Ok. So we had to climb up some stairs and get into a skip full of water and get out the other side, but the skip was also filled with ice (being topped up continuously all day), to make things just a little tougher there was wooden plank across the middle with car tyres hooped along it, you had to dunk under to get to the other side. I sat on the side with my feet in and it didn’t feel that cold, but as my body submerged I had never felt anything like this in my life. It was like being stabbed by drawing pins all over your body while being crushed by a steam roller. I got as far as the tyres and then forgot what I had to do. The crew guy shouted “go under” to which I screamed back “HOW” and he simply repeated himself “go under”, I knew if I stayed in any longer I would be in trouble (my mate Nat was already being dragged out as she couldn’t breath), I went under and for a moment wasnt sure if I would emerge at all. As I kicked my feet to get out the pain was excruciating and as I pulled myself out of the skip I gasped and was truly so shocked by what I had just experienced…it was really traumatic. For ages afterwards you could feel your heart really giving it some as it worked hard to pump blood around to warm you up.
Can I just say here…writing about how much I struggled on the running parts of this event will just get boring so I will simply say this. It was hard. It was uphill. It was uneven. It was ludicrously muddy. I was at the back. I walked. I twisted my ankles. I ran when I could. I wish I could have ran more. I couldn’t.
Obstacle 7 – Pyramid Scheme
This was my ABSOULOTE WORST obstacle. So remember how I said I hated being carried? Well imagine having to literally climb over people to get to the top of a platform, and the bottom person having to take not only my weight but the two people above him who were also trying to lift me up. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it, and I would happily have positioned myself at the bottom of the pyramid and taken the load, but I also knew I had to get up one way or another so I just follower the instructions of the guys at the bottom and stood on their hands, shoulders, knees until I was three people high. The problem was I couldn’t get any leverage to get any higher and the people at the top just couldn’t quite reach. I feared I would fall but was unable to do anything for myself, even think. But I followed instructions and did as I was told and it wasn’t long before I was climbing down the other side.
It was at this point I started running ahead of my team to try and limit the amount of time they had to wait for me. It didn’t make much of a difference because I was running at a snails pace, and they seemed to have heaps more in the tank.
Obstacle 8 – Killa Gorilla
I have no recollection of what this was, none whatsoever!!!
Obstacle 9 – Trench Warfare
So lets get on our knees and crawl through a pitch black trench, unable to see what you were putting your hands on or where you were going. I become super aware of everything, every sound, the smell, any movement of dirt…at one point I could have sworn there was a mouse or something…and then I started thinking about bugs, spiders specifically and my crawl became a little faster.
I am getting a bit panicky even writing this right now (seriously). Ok. So this obstacle was a huge wall which you needed to climb up using the rope provided. Me do a rope climb. I couldn’t do this when I was a 6 year old child in the school gym, but I figured I would give it a go. I realised the rope thing was not going to happen early on, but I did discover some small ledges which I could climb up like a ladder, so with relative ease I go to the top, once there though I realised how high up I was and the likelihood of me getting over unaided was very slim, so team member Giles came to my rescue helping me over and that was when the wobbly legs started again and as I attempted my using the ledge method again I slipped and had to hold onto the rope with all my might to save me from falling to my death…well thats how it felt at the time. A fear of heights is no joke, I still feel sick at the memory of that obstacle
Obstacle 11 – Quagmire
When was the last time you played wheelbarrow with someone? In our heads, me and Natalie thought this would be relatively easy in reality neither one of us could hold our own body weight long enough to actually move any distance. But that was ok. Because even walking this obstacle was an obstacle in itself as we walked (or tried to) through the boggiest 200 meters EVER!! With every step I nearly lost my shoe and had to put my hand down more than once to prevent going headfirst into the mud. At one point Natalie got her foot so stuck that a guy had to actually dig her out. If you had a weak bladder this would be the moment to wet yourself as you saw people struggling to stay on their feet.
Obstacle 12 – Ha Ha Ditch
This involved getting in and out of a series of trenches, much like the ones that featured in Dirty Ballerina. These were not nice because they had hard surfaces so hurt so scramble up and down, who was I kidding…I could get down by myself but I relied on my team to pull me out, landing on my shins each time, which by now were very sore.
By this point I was like a zombie. I was doing as I was told and continuing to move forward towards the end, but my ability to push myself or gee myself up was long gone. I was doing everything I could simple to keep my team in sight, running downhill sections and powerwalking to the best of my ability otherwise. An energy gel with caffeine gave me a bit of a boost and I did have a 4-5 minutes burst of running.
Obstacle 13 – Cage Crawl
Another water based obstacle. Lay on your back, look up at the sky and use the cage above you to pull yourself along. Only problem being if you went to fast or moved too much the water came over your face and there was no way of standing up or clearing your face. You also couldn’t see where you was going and I did have a slight panic attach about half way through. The fact your ears are submerged didn’t help either, the eerie silence leaving far too much room for the voices in my head.
I think it was shortly after this one that I said to Natalie “I am not sure if I am actually going to be able to finish this”
Obstacle 14 – Funky Monkey
I was always going to fail at this one. Monkey bars with an incline carrying 16 stone of bodyweight, I don’t think so. But I gave it a go managing to touch two rungs of the ladders before falling into the murky cold water. About half of my team managed it and the rest plunged in just like me, which made me feel a little better.
Obstacle 15 – Hold your Wood
Grab a log, any log and walk for about half a mile with it on your shoulder. I chose the smallest I could find and it still weighed a ton. So much so that when I got to the half way point I almost knocked myself out as I tried to switch sides. The sun was out at this point and I had a while to take in the surroundings, aside from these strange muddy people carrying logs it was very picturesque.
Obstacle 16 – Boa Constrictor
Crawl into a tube about an inch wider than I am and make your way about 100 meters (ok maybe that is a slight exaggeration). I started on my front trying to get leverage with my trainers, no such luck, my hands couldn’t grip on to anything either, so I switched onto my back and wiggled my way towards the light. I was greeted by a guy and Natalie who between them helped me out headfirst and backwards…lets just say it wasn’t pretty…and this was a spectator area too.
Obstacle 17 – Hero Walls
So up until now I had managed most of the obstacles without inflicting any great injuries on myself so I guess it was only a matter of time until something went wrong. This obstacle should have been easy, as it was quite similar to obstacles we had already done. A huge wall, well two huge walls that you have to get over. So with a well positioned knee to stand on and some shoving to get me up, but the problem was when I swiveled over and saw the drop the other side, and as I tried to lower myself down to give me the shortest distance to fall. This didn’t happen and I simply crashed my face against the wall and fell on my left foot and then to the floor. My team mates rushed over to see if I was ok, but it was one of those ones where I didn’t know if I was OK or not, my lip was throbbing, as was my left ankle…but I hadn’t broken anything. I passed on the 2nd wall and instead helped a whole heap of women on their way down so that they wouldn’t make the same mistake as me.
Running with a twisted ankle was not nice, but by this point I hurt all over anyway.
Obstacle 18 – Sewer Rat
So like Boa Constructor…just add water!!
Obstacle 19 – Walk the Plank
A 12ft climb, followed by a 12 foot drop into water, followed by a 40 foot swim. Easy!! No, not easy but doable. The fear hits you the moment you start climbing, because nobody wants to climb back down. I tried not to think about it, I tried to not watch others jumping, I defo tried not to look down. There was a lady in front of me that was having problems and bottled it just before it was my turn, and then I heard 1-2-3 and I just ran and jumped. Under any other circumstances the fear you feel in the pit of your stomach would stop you doing these mad things, but the tribe mentality of Tough Mudder and your fatigue/desire to finish drives you on. The splash into the water took my breath away and I inhaled water so struggled to get out unaided, but at least it was over.
As we run the last mile…yes we were at mile 10…I knew what was coming next.
Obstacle 20 – Everest
This was the one obstacle I kept looking at on YouTube to try and crack the technique, but even if my training had gone to plan I still knew I would struggle with this…so I made a decision. I was going to purposefully avoid this one. Yes I felt like a quitter but I did not have the energy to talk myself out of the quitting. I stood and watched my team do their thing, some of the fittest members of the team struggled and others just flew. It seriously was a leap of faith…but if truth be known sprinting, jumping and relying on a stranger to catch and hold my body was a leap too far.
As I climbed over the bunting and walked around the obstacle I could have cried, what an anticlimax…I didn’t really need to tell my team…I think they kinda understood why I did it, or if not they just didn’t notice.
And then there was one….
One final obstacle…and our team were split into two groups to attempt it.
Electroshock Therapy is a final dash with a few hay bales to jump over, plus a forest full of over hanging wires to electrocute you as you go…yes elecricute you.
The first group went screaming and flinching as the shocks got you, one of our team Simon (my brother in law who only decided in the hotel the night before to join the team) got shocked and literally somersaulted over the hay bale and across the finish line. It was a perfect comedy moment to finish off our day.
I’m not sure what happened with the guys in my group I was too focussed on getting across the last few yards to notice what they were up to. I got shocked 4 or 5 times, the last one causing me to shout the F word like REALLY, REALLY loud.
It was over…I hadn’t died, I hadn’t cried…I had survived.
We had all survived, all 14 of us many of us only meeting for the first time a few hours before we had bonded over mud and extreme circumstances and all in the name of an amazing charity SUDEP who raise awareness of sudden deaths caused by epilepsy, a charity very close to some of the guys in our team.
I will be blogging a little more about this cause later this week…but while our journey is fresh in your mind please take a few moments to show your support. Please do not switch off now and think I am talking about other people, The Beast Mode on Team have raised over £1,200 so far through their Tough Mudder Challenge, but SUDEP are trying to raise a whole heap more than that, £165,000 in fact by March 2015.
If you are in the UK the easiest way to donate is to text SUDE01£2 to 70070 to donate just £2. If all of my followers did that today over £20,000 would be raised in one go…so why not do something awesome today. You can also donate via our teams justgiving page
Tough Mudder was THE most difficult thing I have ever done, but it just goes to show that you can do anything you set your mind to if you have the right people around you, are willing to face your fears and never give up trying.