Tough Mudder: The one I said I’d never do

Tough Mudder is one of those events I always swore I would never do.  Mostly because the price tag is simply offensive, but also because it’s 10 miles of obstacles…and I am not good at anything that involves upper body strength.   However, it also bugged the hell out of me that it’s the one I had never done.  So I had to do it.

When my work pals decided to get a team together, I found myself parting with my hard earned cash to roll around in the mud collecting bruises.  What else are Bank Holiday weekends for right?

MediaCom Mud Runners: The before photo

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It was an early 5am start to head down to Henley for the London West event but the sun was shining, it was going to be a beautiful day and I was in high spirits.  Our start time was 9:30 and we were ushered into a holding pen with a fairly small group of people for a little warm up and to get down on our knees to make the Tough Mudder pledge.

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The course is 10 miles broken down into two laps.  And it’s hilly.  Like, proper hilly.  In fact, one of the obstacles is Killa Gorilla and is simply running up a very steep hill, and then down again…and repeat.  Bad times.

The obstacles are a mix of having to climb over things of various heights, often involving people lifting you up, running up things, water based challenges and rolling around in the mud (in Devil’s Beard you literally get on the floor and roll down a hill under a net).

My favourites were the water based obstacles:

Block Ness Monster: Jumping into cold, muddy water you have to grab and hold a large rotating block to get over the other side…before moving onto the next block

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Shawshanked: Pulling yourself backwards up a dark tube, you reach the top and have to fall backwards into a water pit below. Loved it!

This isn’t anyone I know but perfectly depicts why I loved the water challenges!

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Cage Crawl: You float under a cage elevated just above water and pull yourself along.  Just don’t freak because there’s no way out until you get to the end!

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Arctic Enema: A simple slide down a tube into an ice bath that takes your breath away.  It doesn’t end there cause you then have to fully immerse yourself again under a beam to get out.  It’s a tad chilly

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My least favourites were the ones with high walls, they had a narrow edge at the top and you were totally reliant on other people to get you up there.  However, Everest was quite fun where you had to run at a curved wall with people at the top to pull you over, and the Pyramid Scheme was also good where you made a human pyramid to get to the top of a high ledge.

The Best Bits

  • The atmosphere and camaraderie.  It was second to none
  • Team spirit – not just from my own team but from every single person out there who worked together to help each other out
  • The water challenges. I loved them all!
  • The photos are free to download…but only if you’re lucky enough to be snapped
  • The hills.  Love to hate ’em…but I know they did my fitness the world of good
  • The pledge
  • Getting a piggy back from Lucy in the ‘Hero Carry’!
  • The weather.  We were so lucky to have such a warm day, I think it would have been miserable being in and out of muddy water in the cold!

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The Worst Bits

  • The big price tag #1: You’re looking at £100 – £140 for the ‘full’ 10 mile version
  • The big price tag #2: It cost me £15 just to park my car in a field. IN A FIELD
  • The big price tag #3: £3 for the bag drop.  Fair enough, it went to charity, but surely TM could have siphoned off some of the entry fee for the charity?!
  • The lack of water stations: Even without the hot weather there weren’t nearly enough stations.  I lost count of the number of people I saw suffering from cramp – this was inevitably down to dehydration
  • Some obstacle duplication: Not the end of the world, but it would have been nice if they were all unique
  • The lack of photographers
  • The climbing / high wall challenges: OK, this is just me because I can’t do them and am totally reliant on people helping me over (sorry guys!)
  • The hills: Did I miss the warning about ALL THE HILLS?!
  • It totes ruins your nails 🙄

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The Ugly bits

  • The scrapes
  • The bruises
  • The DOMs.  I opted for rolling rather than walking the next day
  • …but I wouldn’t expect anything less and I’d have felt cheated if these things hadn’t happened!

MediaCom Mud Runners: The after photo

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It’s fair to say that Tough Mudder exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways.  It’s a lot of fun and it’s totally do-able if you don’t mind some hard graft and getting bashed around in the mud.  Importantly, it genuinely is a really inclusive event that brings out the best in human spirit, everyone is willing to lend a hand…literally.

Is it worth the price tag though?  I’d have to say no…but it’s not far off.  If you love this kind of thing it’s very much worth getting your mates together and having a go.  I mean, no one messes with people wearing this little outfit now do they?!

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Being a Warrior is hard

The Warrior Adrenaline Race (WAR):

” A tough 10k run across Dunstable Downs including lots of obstacles, hills and muddy terrain…The obstacles and course are designed by our Ex-Army Physical Training Instructors who used similar courses to get our troops fit!”

When Laura suggested we take part I tried to think of an acceptable reason to politely decline her offer but I really couldn’t think of one.  So I had to say yes.

Obstacle courses require upper body strength, balance, control, co-ordination and a strong core.  I have none of these things.  I am exceptionally bad at obstacle courses…

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We got a team of 4 together and named ourselves Team Holy Moly after Laura exclaimed, ‘Holy moly what have we done?!  It seemed apt.  In a pitiful attempt to prepare for the event we got together for a couple of self run ‘boot camp’ sessions in Green Park (this allowed the Queen to watch us).

We attempted a series of sprints, burpees, planks, push-ups, star jumps, tricep dips, hanging from a tree like a monkey (vital for monkey bar success), making human tunnels and crawling through them (vital skill for avoiding barbed wire in the bum) and running like Phoebe from Friends (vital for laughter and attracting strange looks from tourists).   Try it – I dare you!

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However, I wasn’t convinced our 2 sessions would quite be enough to grant us true Warrior status…

We went up to Leighton Buzzard on the Friday night train with a can of M&S Pina Colada/G&T (very Warrior like) and stayed with Laura’s family who were very hospitable and fed us big plates of pasta and red wine to prepare us.

It was a fairly easy trip to Dunstable Downs in the morning but it was a large open space so very windy and cold!!  At registration they gave us a WAR body sticker/tattoo thing with your wave number on instead of a number, so I stuck it to my cheek. Quite a good idea really – my race number in the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest was ripped off in the early stages of the race!

There was also an army dude with camouflage face paints making everyone look like Warriors so we got into the spirit of things.

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Team Holy Moly got involved with the warm up and at 10.30 our wave set off.  We started running in a zig zag on the grass (the whole course was off road)  before reaching the first obstacle – giant steps.  There were a couple more, including a barbed wire crawl, run up a hill with a weighted bergen and a ladder thing before a stretch of running.

There was actually more running than I had anticipated, I think it was because the obstacles were grouped together rather than spaced evenly but it definitely seemed like more than Survival of the Fittest.  I didn’t mind though, even the hills, the running was the bit I could actually do!

Ladder Thing…

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For the next obstacle you had to pull yourself up a steep slope with a rope, get over the top and climb down the other side. Simple? Maybe for most people but my foot slipped, I went splat and had to be yanked up by the army dude.  Everyone gave me a cheer when I reached the top though!

There was a stretch of running with a log (for some reason I picked a big one?!), a spider web thing which hurt if you got pinged by it, some balance challenges and tunnels as well as some fairly steep hills to run up.  When we reached the Monkey Bars I was relieved to see another army dude helping people across.  I definitely would have fallen off by myself – turns out hanging from trees isn’t the best preparation after all…who knew?

Barbed Wire Crawl…

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When we got towards the end of the running we got to the bigger obstacles and, as this was near the finish area, lots of spectators!  One of these involved climbing some scaffolding (no problem) and jumping off onto a big crash mat 5 meters below (problem).

Not sure what happened but I was up there for several minutes before jumping off – jumping off and kneeing myself in the face upon landing after ignoring instructions (well, I didn’t actually ignore them, my body just didn’t do what I told it so it wasn’t my fault)

Zip Wire…(I don’t know who this is but it’s the only picture I could find!)

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Team Holy Moly waited for me so, with bruised face, we went off to the firemans pole (which I skipped like a loser and now wish I hadn’t), zip wire (so much fun), freezing cold dip tank (which involved ducking under logs 3 times, brrrr), a slide on a big mat (weeeeeeee), some more crawling and paintball!!

Paintball wasn’t on the list of obstacles so I’m guessing this was the unspecified ‘new obstacle’ – they gave me a helmet and I sprinted across the danger zone narrowly avoiding getting hit.  Unfortunately Laura and Helen both took a paintball to the leg and ended up with lumpy bruises – ouch.

Finally there was the big wall and then the finish line.  Team Holy Moly completed the challenge – wet, cold & dirty!

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The Warrior Adrenaline Race was fun!  There’s a 5k or 10k option with people setting off in several waves to help keep congestion on the course to a minimum.  There was about a 5 minute wait at one of the obstacles but the rest were fairly quick moving.  I thought it was quite well organised with all the obstacles manned with at least 1 army dude who were willing to help if needed.

The only complaint I would have is the lack of water – there was 1 water station on the route but there were no drinks at all at the end which I thought was quite poor.  We did get a medal and a t-shirt though.

The only thing that’s worrying me now is what’s next for Team Holy Moly, I have a feeling it’s not over yet…

 

A Date With The Devil…

“Brooks HellRunner offers trail running at its toughest and most enjoyable. 10 -12 miles of challenging off-road running… tough, twisting trails… including the famed Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom!

The Finish will bring redemption… but only to successful HellRunners.

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Shivering uncontrollably, covered in mud, and with my fingers so cold I couldn’t even bend them to untie my shoelaces, I swore I would never ever do HellRunner ever, ever again…

…yesterday I completed the insane course for the 4th time.  I have honestly never been so cold in my life.

It was -6 on a cold November morning in 2010, (that’s 6 whole degrees below freezing) and myself and 3 friends had just run a 10 mile trail race around Longmoor Military Camp.  When I say ran, we scrambled up and down the never ending ‘Hills of Hell’, splashed through the ‘Bog of Doom’ and shuffled through the ‘River Wade’ then, as if that wasn’t tough enough, about a mile towards the end they hit you with energy zapping sand dunes, if you have any energy left of course.

They say a picture paints a thousand words – I genuinely had no idea this was being taken during the River Wade…

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I think I finished in around 2 hours.  I spent the journey home shivering quietly, I just shivered and shivered and I decided I had hated every second of it.  In hindsight I might of even had a mild case of hypothermia, I didn’t even want to eat Percy Pigs!  I had a shower…and I went back to bed.  The next day I could barely move.

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Around 9 months later Kate suggested we enter again…ermm, no, no, absolutely NO.  But it was August, it was a warm sunny day, and it was difficult to remember just how painfully cold I had been.  So I signed up!  The Devil had beat me once, it was time for a re-match.

But as the Summer passed, it got colder, race day got nearer and I started to experience mild to moderate panic as I realised what I had committed to.  I was driving this year so there was no getting out of it.  I decided to go a bit nuts on layering, the the year before I had foolishly worn one top so this time I wore 3, and took a post race flask of hot tea.  It would all be OK…

Luckily when the day came it was about 10 degrees warmer than the year before so we took Laura with us as photographer and headed back to the Bog of Doom.  The increase in temperature made a huge difference (in fact I got too hot) and it was actually fun!

I’m not very confident going down the hills and much better at scrambling up them, a man cheekily said to me ‘you run down hills like a girl!’, I remember thinking, ‘I’m still beating you though aren’t I?!’  It was all in jest so I didn’t mind.  I was much quicker this time and finished in 1 hour 37 and 32nd female, screw you Devil!

Much happier this time!

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When I entered for the 3rd time in 2012 I was supposed to be running with some friends but they all pulled out.  I was running solo!  It was still fun, and much better than the 1st time but it would have been better with some buddies.  It was a gloriously crisp sunny day so conditions were favourable and I really enjoyed it.  I decided it would probably be my last.

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The 2013 event was postponed from November to January this year due to military training but I had no intention of doing it.  On a whim, I entered a Brooks competition and I won!  The prize was VIP entry to Hell Up North, Brooks Cascadia Trail Shoes, some funky capris, a t-shirt and a cosy hoody!

The only problem was that I live in London and the North event is in Chester (about 1 million miles away) and it was just 6 days after the Frankfurt Marathon (I clearly didn’t read the details when I entered).  Even if I did get there it would have been pretty risky so soon after that.  I was gutted.

I emailed the Brooks lady and asked her if I could transfer my entry to the South event (including pictures of previous participation so she could see I was a committed HellRunner!)  To my surprise she said yes and sent me all the goodies!  And so I was entered for a 4th time.

Awesome Brooks kit

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Over the last 2 weeks we’ve had torrential rain in the UK, it pretty much hasn’t stopped and caused some serious flooding.  Combined with post Christmas blues and my desire not to get injured I decided I wasn’t going to run, I was adamant.

By Friday evening I had a sore throat, I knew I was getting ill, and it was still raining but I found myself packing my bag for the morning, just in case.  I didn’t sleep much and woke up with a raging sore throat and even more heavy rain.  But could I really be a DNS on my first race of 2014?  OOooohhhhh!!

I got up, ate my porridge and went through the motions.  It was absolutely pouring with rain and, knowing the course, I really didn’t want to go. But I did.

The rain slashed down the whole way there, to the point where I couldn’t see the road, and I genuinely wondered why I wasn’t still in bed.  Why was I so inconceivably off-my-face mental???  The forecast for Longmoor was 100% chance of rain all morning.  This really would be hell this time.

It was a relief to see other people when I got there, people who were as mental as me. I wasn’t going to be running alone!  I wrapped everything in plastic bags, pulled my hood up and went to the start area.  To be honest it did seem much quieter this year.

Previously I don’t remember getting properly dirty until the Bog of Doom around 6-7 miles in but this year I had mud in my eye after the first 1.5 miles and had already jumped into a waist deep ‘puddle’.  The course, although different from other years (not sure if this was deliberate or due to the weather) was horrendous.  Thick, sludgey, 6 inch deep clay mud type stuff and blocks of water to jump in every few meters.  Whilst I don’t mind this, and it was actually quite fun, it was near on impossible to run for most of it (unless you were willing to risk life & limb which I was not!).  It was slow going, and that made you cold.  There was also a lot more bottlenecking than I remember and some waiting around in places but people were friendly.

The hills come thick and fast and hit you hard. If you’re lucky there’s a tree or branch or barbed fence to desperately cling to as you slip and slide all over the place.  If not you just clamber around the best you can hoping you don’t get wiped out by someone slipping over behind you.  The hills are relentless, nature at it’s worst (or best..?), if you’re not used to them you’re in for a shock!

The Bog of Doom was deeper than usual.  It’s only ever been chest high before, allowing you to wade through with a smile, but this year it was straight up to my neck and a few steps later I couldn’t feel the bottom, I was swimming through the bloody Bog of Doom and my god it was COLD!!

The cold literally took your breath away and I very almost panicked, why wasn’t I moving forwards?!  The atmosphere is fantastic and spectators line either side to cheer you on but the devil is there to spray thick mist over the bog so you can barely see as you move under the arches of fire.  The Bog of Doom lived up to its name.

Coming out of the bog you’re heavy from all the water and numb from the cold, it’s difficult just to get moving again let alone tackle the next mammoth hill which is even more slippy when you’re soaking wet, but you just have to get on with it, there were still 2 miles to go!  The hills seem to get worse after this point, steeper, longer, muddier.  It might be my imagination but I’m sure they save the ‘best’ for last!

Amazingly the rain stopped just before the start and held off for the whole race, except some light spitting.  My new trail shoes proved to be grippy in all the right places and I was glad I had decided to wear them despite the mud.  The hills were steep and I had to learn to trust them on the declines although some were still much more appropriate to slide down on your bum than attempt upright!

I’m not going to lie, it was the toughest year I’ve run it.  Yesterday I finished the 9.7 mile (according to my Garmin) course in 2 hours 45.  That’s well over an hour slower than my best time.  We won’t mention that again!

I’m not sure I really enjoyed it yesterday, I got very cold and I would have preferred it if I could of run a lot more, but I knew what the course would be like after all that rain.  It was as fantastically organised as ever though with extra marshals at the Bog of Doom to help those in difficulty, however I did miss my For Goodness Shakes drink at the end!

I finished my first race of the year and got a new medal and t-shirt…and bragging rights, I definitely earned those!

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HellRunner isn’t an obstacle course like the man-made Tough Mudder, it’s real trail running, in a natural environment, on a military camp, and it’s tough out there.  If you fancy a date with the devil check it out – www.hellrunner.co.uk  they hold 3 events, Hell Up North, Hell in the Middle and Hell Down South.

As for me, I think after 4 dates the devil is dumped!

….although I might change my mind come August…

This years medal and t-shirt are definitely the best!

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