The rigorous training
“You’ll be right” I said back in January, trying to convince wary friends, family and random passersby to join me in a Tough Mudder race in May.
“You’ve got five months to train” I said, when they pointed out a Tough Mudder has 22 obstacles disturbingly called things like ‘Arctic Enema’, ‘Electric Eel’ and the matter-of-fact ‘Underwater Tunnels’.
“It’s not really that long”, I pleaded – covering the word ‘miles’ after I spoke the number 12 with a subtle hacking cough.
And, against all odds – with the promise of regular training sessions — I found my recruits. Then London weather happened.
To be fair — we tried. Weekly fitness was organised in Clapham Common on Sunday afternoons with our excellent trainer Michael McCormick, and the initial couple of sessions proved promising when he trained us so hard I could only walk like the Tinman the next day.
But, then there was the day it snowed in spring, that long weekend where we all jetted off to various points of Europe, the one where ‘Norovirus’ mysteriously befell us all at the same time — not to mention various visiting friends and relatives.
Oh, and of course the Sunday I overindulged at High Tea at the Savoy, and could only lie sprawled facedown on my rug whilst miniature cakes battled finger sandwiches in my stomach in a manner akin to William Wallace in the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Never mind, I thought the night before the weekend of 4-5 May, there was at least one aspect of the training schedule I could perform with aplomb — carboloading. Who needs the recommended schedule of 4-5 training sessions a week and nights spent doing pull-ups on my doorframe when I can just eat two giant bowls of pasta whilst trying to locate Boughton House in the Midlands on a Google Map?
The flying start
Challenge one — getting to Tough Mudder, fail.
Turns out one should not just randomly pick any one of 14 pins Google Maps gives you for Boughton House in Kettering as it will inevitably take you on a 45 minute detour to Northhampton through albeit very pretty English countryside, and a Starbucks truckstop. And that is 45 minutes of extra time you don’t need to spend doing maths calculations like 12 miles = 19.312128 kilometres, and if TM estimates 2.25-4 hours to finish the course will that translate to 5, or 6, hours spent face down in mud?
Photo: Tough Mudder
Then we arrive at Boughton House, and the Tough Mudder entrance fee almost seems worth it just for a glimpse at this incredible estate. Pemberley? It’s got nothing on what surely must be an 80 bedroom, 17 dining room, 3 indoor swimming pool, helicopter pad hosting country manor. And they’re about to let 14,000 people tear around their grounds covered in mud, while bemused sheep look on from manicured fields.
Rain, hail or shine
Bags stowed in the holding area, wristbands located, participant numbers scrawled across foreheads (‘is this so they can identify our bodies?’ one group member asks), and we’re off. And — wait — is that, hail?
Turns out 22 obstacles is not just enough for the big guy upstairs and the sky itself becomes the 23rd obstacle. An obstacle that shifts and varies throughout the course — battering us with winds as we ‘Walk the Plank’ across shifting platforms on a river at Mile 2, showering us with rain as we slip and slide up and down the peaks and troughs of ‘Mud Mile’ at Mile 6, and baking us with sun as we cart oversized logs in a pointless circle in ‘Hold Your Wood’ at Mile 7.
Between Miles 6 and 7 is when I start to realise — actually, I’m having fun. Jumping off a high platform, rockclimbing across a watery pit, crawling through tunnels, climbing over log walls and leaping across deep trenches — I can do this, I’m invincible, I am superwoman, I can … ooof fall down. At least at this point there’s a banana and water station (one of many). Too bad my hands are so covered in mud, and I’m completely physically exhausted, that all I can do is stand there mouth gaping like a fish whilst the helpful volunteer peels off the skin and shoves it in my mouth.
Photo: Tough Mudder
Mile 10, and I just want it all to end. Every muscle aches, I have mud in my eyelashes, ears, and nose. I just want to jump on the backs of one of the many golfcarts the Tough Mudder people have lying in wait to ferry those who might not be able to keep going, and ride it back to the heaving finish area. I can hear the thumping music, the cheers of the spectators, and sizzle of that burger that I know is going to taste like no food I have tasted, ever. I barely register the electric shocks of the dangling wires of the last obstacle ‘Electroshock Therapy’ and I’m there — cider in hand, bright orange headband displayed proudly and thankful for the great teammates who helped me get through it.
It is the “ultimate test of fitness, stamina, mental strength and camaraderie”. Fitness — yes, and in the three days I can’t walk for afterwards, I wish again and again that I had had some. However, more than that it is truly a test of what you can do, what you’re capable of, and what you might be crazy enough to sign up for again — should you be able to convince some more passersby to join in the insanity.