September 21, 2017
I may not be fast, I may not be all that strong…but boy am I tough that’s for sure, tough and I guess a little stupid.
About two months ago I was approached by Tough Mudder to ask if I would like to take part in one of their events as part of a new initiative for women #mudderwomen, oh and I could bring a friend.
My sister has been getting more and more interested in doing things like this with me so I asked if she was up for it and she was, so I said yes. I did have some reservations though as I did a Tough Mudder full back in 2014 (you can read the full horror story here) and it and it almost killed me, OK slight exaggeration but it did trigger every single fear I have…fear of being slow, fear of letting people down, fear of being lifted, fear of heights, fear of falling, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of bugs…god I could go on. And it left my body wrecked for about 2 months afterwards.
I learned a lot about myself from doing it the first time round, but I swore I would never do it again….but come on you have heard me say that before about marathons right?
But this time would be different. I do CrossFit now, I have more upper body strength. I’d be better prepared mentally, know what was coming so to speak. Plus this one was a half Tough Mudder not a full one, so half the mileage and half the obstacles. Of course I could do it.
So my sister and I turned up on a sunny Saturday afternoon for a training day where we would meet all of the other ambassadors, I was still recovering from my 42 mile ultra marathon so was a bit worried about making a fool of myself in front of all these super fit bloggers. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others but its so difficult not to in these situations…I’m sure everyone thought my sister was the fitness person rather than me, simply because of her smaller frame.
Anyway we had a blast at the training day…and over lunch we discussed what we would do in the 6 weeks left we had to train.
Now I do CrossFit 2-3 times a week, but my sister does very little, so we organised some circuit sessions in her local park, and she promised me she would do stuff off her own back…she didn’t. But she was up for giving it a go either way…she is a bit nuts like me in this way. However the night before she had a bit of a family crisis and she couldn’t make it at all.
I wasn’t angry with her but I was gutted that I would be doing it alone.
I posted in the ambassadors Whatsapp group about my fears around not knowing anyone, and a lovely PR lady Harriet responded,
There are no strangers at Tough Mudder, just friends you haven’t met yet
And with that I headed to the pick up point for what was sure to be a memorable day, one way or another.
We dumped our stuff in the media tent and made our way to the start line, there was little time for nerves, and before we knew it we were warming up, rolling around on the ground, hugging strangers and repeating the Tough Mudder pledge,
– I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge
– I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time
– I don’t whine – Kids whine
– I help my fellow Mudders complete the course
– I overcome all fears
And then we were off.
We had said we would pace ourselves and stick together, but in the first few minutes I realised that I was going to struggle to keep pace with the rest of the group. I am slow. My legs were sore from a CrossFit session and a 6 mile run earlier that week. The route was muddy, uneven, uphill. I couldn’t run any faster and thats when all of my insecurities started to come into play.
I don’t care about being slow or coming last when I am on my own, but when I am in a team I hate to think I am stopping someone from challenging themselves or making people wait for me. I also had to be mindful that I am due to run a half marathon at EuroDisney Paris with a team of women from my community, I couldn’t afford to get injured.
The first obstacle was pretty simple…a couple of massive hay bails to scale, and besides getting my foot a little stuck it was all good.
The next obstacle was Kiss of Mud, which pretty much is what it says on the tin. Crawl on the floor under some pretty scary barbed wire, with a couple of mud filled trenches for good measure. My boobs and arse put me at a massive disadvantage with this one, meaning I had to take it inch by inch to ensure I didn’t take clumps of hair from my head, or rip my leggings…I saw plenty of bare arses as a result later in the race.
I think this was the obstacle that we started to relax and enjoy it a bit more.
The course was supposed to be around 6 miles, but it felt like a lot more than that.
The Berlin Walls was up next. Two vertical wooden walls that we had to scale. We had already done a mini one of these earlier on with an overhang…I managed it by climbing on the supporting frame, and being hoisted up by some random people. But I knew these taller upright ones would prove more of a problem for me. I had been carrying a wrist injury on my right arm. Nothing serious but painful enough to not want to have to rely on my own strength to stop me falling off an almost 10 foot tall wall.
So my strategy for this was to help everyone else up. I knew the best way was to squat against the wall and let the other women climb on me like a ladder. So using my clasped hands I would help them up onto the wall and then they would use my shoulders for leverage to get over the top. I really enjoyed this obstacle. It felt great to be able to help and support my team, to be the strong one, the one with the strength to get them over.
Log Carry, this was probably my least favourite obstacle, mainly because there was a bit of a queue and we all started to get a bit cold. It was simple really. As a team of 5 or 6 you had to lift a really heavy log and work as a team to manoeuvre it through a castle structure to the next team. It wasn’t very far, but it took communication and concentration not to drop it or crash into someone else. It was bloody heavy….and as one of the tallest in the group I’m sure my shoulders took an uneven share of the weight.
Mile of Mud was next. Now I had thoroughly enjoyed this last year…it was hilariously funny. Climb up muddy hills, slide down them and repeat. But for some reason the hills were not that muddy or slippy, instead they felt gritty, and as I slid down the first one I grazed my palms and my arse as I slid down. So instead of simply going for it, I had to concentrate and navigate them carefully as to not hurt myself. I slid down one of them quite spectacularly and ended up submerged in the mud, much to the laughter of my team as I emerged with a muddy grin.
As we finished the final hill, we found ourself in the muddiest part of the course, where mates mud wrestled each other and threw mud bombs at each other, whilst others danced to the pumping house music coming out of the Orange Jeep parked strategically near by….and then guess what? It started to rain and we all lifted our arms to the sky. This was the highlight I think…a real moment of pure joy and exhilaration.
But no time for fun and games, we still had more to come.
The mile of mud wasn’t quite over, it went on for ages…well a mile at least. There was muddy mud, clay like mud, surface level mud, and mud that was seriously 2 foot deep. You can’t help but have fun in this stuff, despite it sucking your energy, and causing you to squeal like a Justin Beiber fan every few steps. At the end of this mile was an obstacle where you had to work in pairs and lift each other. I picked up one of my team mates Marjan in a fire mans carry and managed to carry her about 3 quarters of the way, she passed on lifting me…I don’t blame her.
My all time favourite obstacle had to be the Block Ness Monster. So you submerged yourself into chest deep water and made your way to a rotating block. The idea was to grab onto the edge of the block and hold on for dear life as it rotates, only problem is if too many people hold on it rotates in the wrong direction and you fall off. It relies on people on the other side helping to weight it down in the right way, and communication to ensure not everyone tries to go all at once.
It took a few attempts, but I was really proud of my upper body strength to hold on. All of those ring rows and knees to chest moves on the CrossFit rig have paid off… I can remember not being able to hang for more than 2 or 3 seconds when I first joined.
I also loved how once the momentum took you, you simply had to dive into the water head first. I loved this obstacle I really did.
Then onwards and upwards, quite literally with Everest 2.0. Now this obstacle I completely avoided in 2014. I knew there was no chance of ever getting close so I walked round it. This year I figured I would at least give it a go. I took hold of the rope and walked up as far as I could, but it was nowhere near the top and I simply knew I wouldn’t have the strength to pull myself up. I am proud of myself for giving it a go, and even prouder of myself for not feeling embarrassed about not being able to do it…there were loads of people in the same boat.
Up next was Birth Canal a small enclosed tunnel with a roof of water crushing down on you. Difficult to describe but I can see how people could get freaked out or feel claustrophobic. I was in and out as fast as I could move, even if it did play havoc on my hands and knees.
And then some more running. The last bit seemed to go on forever, and took us across a real spectator area where one woman shouted out to me,
You are an inspiration, a bloody inspiration,
which chocked me up.
And then I was looking at the final obstacle between me and a pint of Cider.
THE WORST OBSTACLE OF ALL
Now let me explain. I hate being carried. I hate knowing that someone else is having to carry my weight quite literally on their shoulders. And this is exactly what this. A triangle shaped structure where you have to use random human beings as a ladder. I stood for a while considering opting out of this one. I had hated it in 2014 and knew this year would be no different…in fact it was worse.
I looked into the eyes of the guy at the bottom to see if there was any sign that he would prefer me not to start making the ascent. He waved for me to make a start and I checked just to be sure,
Are you serious? I’m really heavy
“Come on” he said, and I started to clamber over him, towards the man standing on his shoulders. And this is where I become a bit unstuck. I couldn’t get a grip on the wooden panels which were slippery so was left in this situation where I was just clinging to the side of the second man, with little to no strength to pull myself up. If it wasn’t so embarrassing it would have been laughable…I felt like just hugging the guy, sliding back down and having done with it. But everyone was cheering and giving me instructions.
A Tough Mudder camera man had climbed up just before me and was perching on a little ledge about half way up. He was my only hope. He stretched out his hand and I was able to pull myself up, using the guy below me’s shoulders as leverage. I was only half way up. And I had nobody to climb on. As I reached up towards the 4 or 5 folk above me, I was short about a foot or so…so mr camera man came to the rescue again and he pushed my feet up…as an even bigger team above grabbed my arms and together pulled me over.
I was elated…but embarrassed as hell. But I had done it. As undignified as it was. I was up. And I could see the finish line in the distance.
We made our way the final 500 meters or so together as a group and then across the finish line.
It was over.
We collected our Tough Mudder headband, t-shirt and cider and I could breathe a sigh of relief, I’d completed it without any major dramas.
The Mudder Women team had been a great support, we each had our strengths and we supported each other, never leaving anyone behind, which felt incredibly powerful. However, I still think these events are better done with your mates, and folks at a similar fitness level to yourself.
I think the Tough Mudder half is a wonderful event, the distance is just right for folks like me who do train, have some fitness, some strength, plenty of endurance and a whole heap of heart. It is a great option for those of us just not ready for the Tough Mudder full, which really does take some doing.
It was a brilliant event and I am really glad I did it.
Perhaps I will go for a full distance one next year, with some good training behind me. Perhaps I’ll even get my sister to do it with me…if its the full she will have to train.
My recovery has been pretty good. Other than a heap of tiny nicks and cuts on my hands, some grazes on my shins, and various finger shaped bruises in odd places, I think I came out pretty unscathed. My wrist is playing up a bit more than before…so think I’m going to have to get it looked at.
I was back at CrossFit last night, just 40 hours after finishing. And I had a corker of a session. Kettlebell Swing, Box Jump Overs, Air Bike, Skipping, Wall Balls, 200 meter runs, and sit ups, and all done with a smile. Being able to recover like that is another reminder than my body is stronger than I think it is.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Tough Mudder, Our Parks, Merrell, Lucozade, Trek and everyone else who has supported us on this journey. It was a brilliant experience, reminding me that I am tougher than I think, and that sometimes being part of a team teaches you more about yourself than going it alone.