Published On: Fri, Jul 20th, 2012

Mud, Miles and Marks – Tough Mudder arrives in the UK

Hard-Copy’s own Ali Craig puts himself through “the toughest event on the planet”, damn near killing himself in the process, for your entertainment…

 

“It’s not a race.” The ethos of this event is repeated again and again. “It’s not a race – it’s about finishing, it’s about teamwork”. Just as well it’s not a race as, for the hyper-competitive like myself, you are going to need to accept this isn’t going to be your classic 20K. No personal bests here. If I’m honest I had no idea what to expect. The promo materials for the event are more about selling it than giving you any training tips. The best idea is just to train hard and hope you make it through.

For those of you not familiar with Tough Mudder, it describes itself as a: “10-12 mile endurance event obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.” It is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet” and regularly attracts 15-20,000 participants over a weekend. What this really amounts to is you running through the woods and looking like a muddy douchebag while some cameraman snaps you and then asks for £15.99 for the privilege. The funny thing is it was totally worth it.

What I managed to pull, from all the promo hype, was that:

a) You are signing a Death Waiver, which seems to be 30% legal disclaimer and 70% Tough Mudder making it seem like you might die. Which, yes, is a possibility, but they’ve really juiced that for all it was worth.

b) 78% is quoted as the average success rate of participants finishing the 12-15 mile course, which is littered with up to 30 obstacles. People are going to quit or get injured and just not turn up. Not a promo tool, a very real statistic.

c) Be prepared to pay, a lot. Not only is this event expensive but also there are as many hidden costs as there are obstacles: Parking, photos, spectators… (God forbid you want a burger).

My race was held in Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries on Sunday the 15th July. Much to the shock of organisers and participants alike, there was no rain when we took our starting position. The morning had a real feeling of ‘just turn up and play it from there’, which really surprised me considering the amount of cash that had been pumped into the event. The scene was incredible: costumes, tents, body paint, nervous first-timers. It could easily have been a Blink 182 gig.

As the start time drew closer the atmosphere was electric. Even the horribly cheesy ‘Mr. Motivator’ sound-alike chanting, “When I say Tough, you say Mudder” couldn’t ruin the feeling of anticipation in the air.

The next two and a half hours were easily some of the most difficult, but fun, that I’d ever spent. The running, 12 miles in our case, was surprisingly the hardest part as – although I’m no stranger to long-distance running – willing your muscles to do as you tell them after wading through chest-high mud, swimming in shoes, inhaling smoke and being electrocuted will make them rather uncooperative.

Some of the highlights were obstacles such as:

Walk the Plank – a climb up a wooden board at an angle before jumping off into a lake, before swimming back to shore.

Electric Eel – a wooden frame about a meter off the ground with electrodes dangling from it and tarpaulin carpeting the ground beneath. The object is to shimmy through the structure while being blasted by an industrial strength hose and try to avoid being hit with an electric current that feels as though someone just punched you in the stomach.

Arctic Enema – Personally, this was the hardest trial of the day. As if a Scottish summer isn’t cold enough this challenge will have you dive into a tank of ice cubes, laced with newly chipped off frost from a huge block of ice, and swim under a barrier. What? “Just be fast” you say? Try finding your way under the barrier when the ice is so thick you have no idea what way is up. Fortunately, I now never have to wonder what drowning in the north Atlantic feels like.

Everest – Maybe the best known of the Tough Mudder challenges, this involves traversing a half pipe which is caked with a day and a half’s worth of mud. An example of one of these ‘that looks easy’ kind of things – until you try it while exhausted, muddy and moist.  This does seem, however, to be the challenge where your fellow competitors show the team spirit that the event co-ordinators are always banging on about and, once you pull yourself over that lip there is almost no better feeling.

 

The finishing line was just beyond the obstacle known as Electro-Shock Therapy, where all you have to do to finish the race (and be crowned with your ceremonial orange Tough Mudder head-band) is run through a grid with 10,000 volt live wires hanging down. By the time you cross the line, regardless of what events you have done before, you have never earned that race day t-shirt more.

Leaving the race site, beer in hand and with a blanket round my shoulders to ward off hypothermia, I had this weird sensation of bliss. There are few things in life that you can encounter and know there’s not much worse left to encounter, but this is one of them. Despite my wallet being empty, and my trainers being an absolute write-off, it was an experience well worth having.

Would I do it again? I’m signing up right now.


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