A Tough Mudder event of five kilometres starts with a single step. Or something like that, anyway.
Disclosure: We were gifted tickets for this event, without obligation to provide promotional coverage. All opinions in this post are my own.
To paraphrase from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
If you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with a run up Everest, the obstacle at the end of Tough Mudder?
That’s kind of how I felt last Saturday morning: tired, bloodied and bruised as I craned my neck to survey the final obstacle of the Tough Mudder 5K Urban course on London’s Clapham Common.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a journey that started not five kilometres but a year ago.
Friday 12th October 2018
The date is etched in my memory. It was the day I decided it was time to do something drastic to improve my health.
It had been over eight years since I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. During that time, I had made – and abandoned – several efforts to improve my lifestyle. But on that Friday morning, something clicked. At long last, I was going to do something about it.
And so that’s what I did. Like Thanos, I snapped my fingers and half of me disappeared overnight. Well, almost.
Sunday 6th January 2019
Three months and nearly 20 pounds later, I went for my first run, courtesy of the Couch to 5K programme, with the aim of completing a Parkrun in April before our holiday to Disney World. Doing just eight one-minute intervals nearly killed me. But my running odyssey had begun.
Wednesday 27th March
My blogging friend Donna mentioned she had been approached by a sponsor to enter a team for a Tough Mudder event. With my first Parkrun ten days away and keen to set myself a goal for later in the year, I immediately volunteered.
I’m a bit of a sucker like that.
Saturday 5th October, 9:20am
Reality’s a bitch.
As our team of four – Donna, Natalie and Lauren – lined up for the start, we were all a little worried. We’re also at vastly different fitness levels. Nat ran the London marathon this year. Donna and Lauren, while not unfit, aren’t really runners. I’m somewhere in the middle (but 50 pounds lighter than I was). The distance was a concern for some of us. Upper-body strength was a worry for us all. Most of all, though, we didn’t want to let ourselves or each other down. We’d made a commitment and, even if we couldn’t all complete every obstacle, we were going to support each other and get around as a team.
Someone said something suitably cliched such as “start with a smile, finish with a smile”. I’m pretty sure it was me. I’m also pretty sure I didn’t completely believe it.
But off we went anyway.
First obstacle: tick. Second obstacle: tick. We scaled a two-storey-high A-frame cargo net (Next Level), slithered on all fours under a series of water-filled canvas troughs (Tight Squeeze) and traversed a wall with only a series of 1½-inch-wide hand and foot-holds to cling on to (The Whopper – you can work out for yourself which fast food chain sponsored that).
Five kilometres and 80 minutes later, we arrived at the 13th and final obstacle: the appropriately named Everest.
Saturday 5th October, 10:50am
At 15 feet (4.6 metres) high, the summit of Tough Mudder’s Everest is 29,014 feet lower than that of its Himalayan namesake. But, standing at the foot of the half-pipe, it might as well have been 15,000 feet tall.
Unlucky 13? Not if we had anything to do with it. We’d made it this far. We weren’t going to fail now.
Nat went first. She made it high enough to grab the ledge and, with a helping hand from a runner on another team, scrambled over the top.
One up, three to go. Me next.
I’d been hoping to complete the obstacle without help. With fresh, lactic acid-free legs, I’m confident I could have done it. But my foot slipped on the greasy surface, robbing me of speed. And, as I stretched, my hand fell six inches short of the top. I had to concede defeat to gravity and return to the bottom.
There was just one thought in my mind.
I can do this. I will do this.
The second time was better. I didn’t slip and I could feel the extra power in my legs. My right hand found the ledge, then the left. My feet scrabbled for purchase. A helping hand gave me that last little boost I needed and I rolled over on to the summit.
My initial reaction was disappointment.
Damn it, I needed help.
My second reaction was elation.
I’ve finished Tough Mudder!
My work wasn’t quite done yet. Lauren needed a couple of attempts before we could pull her over the top. And finally a weary Donna, with us screaming encouragement down at her – You’re not going to let this beat you! We’ve got you! – scrambled up and over too.
We’d done it. Four runners. All 13 obstacles. Tick, tick, tick (with bells on).
We hung back to help the next few people over and then headed to the finish line. Huge smiles, high-fives.
Anyone who has ever completed any kind of endurance event will know what the exhilaration feels like. That huge sense of achievement that comes from knowing you have done more than you thought you were capable of. Those few minutes of unfettered joy before the tidal wave of adrenaline subsides and you realise how much your body hurts. It’s magical. You want to be able to bottle it up and keep it forever.
We were all surprised by how much fun we’d had. And then someone – probably me again – suggested we should do this again next year. In the adrenaline rush of the moment, of course we all said yes. But time will tell. I have a sneaking suspicion we will.
Tuesday 8th October
Three days later, I’m recovering nicely. My legs are still a little sore but the cuts and bruises – I like to think of them as physical badges of honour – are healing nicely. I did a light session at the gym yesterday. And my enthusiasm for coming back for more next year remains undimmed. Masochist.
I’ve already pencilled in two possible dates for next year. I’d definitely like to step up to a muddy 5K event and would be interested in doing the longer ‘classic’ version. But that’s probably a step too far for us as a team. And it’s the team that matters to me more than anything. We wouldn’t have finished this event without each other’s support; we’ll finish the next one together too.
On an individual level, my analytical brain has dissected my performance and identified key areas of improvement. I’ve even sketched out a three-month training plan already.
Before the event, I genuinely thought Tough Mudder would be one of those once-and-done, tick-off-the-list type experiences. Instead, I found I enjoyed it so much that it might just become an annual event.
But next time I’m definitely going to climb Everest solo. Edmund Hillary ain’t got nothing on me.
About Tough Mudder
Obstacle course events are increasingly popular, and with good reason. They provide a great incentive to get fit and finishing one brings a huge sense of achievement.
Tough Mudder is one of a number of companies that organise events such as this all over the country.
They start with 1½km Lidl Mudder events for kids.
5km editions such as the one we did are an ideal introduction that are pitched at just the right level for novices. They’re difficult enough to be challenging but not so difficult that a remotely fit person can’t walk-run around the course and complete the obstacles with help from teammates and even complete strangers. (Helping fellow participants is a key element of the Tough Mudder ethos, and we both received and offered lots of willing assistance on our way round.)
Then, for the more serious fitness junkies who think of marathons as a gentle jog in the park, the ‘classic’ (13-16km) and ‘Toughest Mudder’ (12 hours through the night) versions offer the ultimate challenge. Virtually all events are untimed – most Tough Mudders are challenges, not races.
The obstacles require a combination of basic fitness, upper and lower body and core strength. But you’re never alone and others will always happily provide that extra little boost when you really need it. The sense of camaraderie that runs through all participants – we’re in this together – is as satisfying as it is helpful.
And the sense of achievement that comes from finishing the event is huge. I was expecting that we would have to bypass at least two or three obstacles but we found a way to get all four of us through all 13 tests. Many weren’t as difficult as we had expected. Some required one or more us to conquer personal fears. But when you’re part of a team, you find a way.
I’ve felt like I’m walking on air since Saturday. (While, at the same time, my legs feel like they’ve been filled with concrete.) I’ve worn my Tough Mudder finisher’s t-shirt to the gym with pride. And I’m looking forward to whatever challenge I set myself up for next. That might be another Tough Mudder, or something completely different.
That’s the big thing for me. Completing a Tough Mudder isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning.
You can read my teammates’ thoughts on their Tough Mudder experience below: