it seems so long ago that i agreed to join a tough mudder team. the last 6 months have marked so many milestones, heralded in so many changes from the “old me”, that it really seems as though a lifetime has passed by. metaphorically, it has.
when i look back at that post, it was fairly prophetic. particularly the closing line “if i can completely turn around a lifetime of hating running, a lifetime of believing that any form of running was beyond me, then surely the same principles can be applied to a 21km obstacle course designed by the sas, right?”
because that’s pretty much how it panned out
once the marathon was done and dusted, a million and one things seemed to shift, rearrange. my world changed, my perspectives changed. my attitudes and approaches to challenges, issues and life-in-general, all changed dramatically.
and as the date with “tough mudder” started to loom large, two things happened; firstly i grew increasingly nervous, but secondly i knew how i was going to approach the day. one step at a time, taking everything as it was presented to me.
unless something happened on the day to convince me otherwise, i was going to try everything (even though i knew that things like monkey bars were still physically beyond me – I simply don’t have the correct upper-body-strength-to-weight ratio).
and so it came around. october 26th 2013
apart from watching (far too many) youtube videos the night before, i pretty much applied my usual event routine to “tough mudder”.
pasta for dinner the night before, not too late, so it wasn’t laying heavily on the stomach overnight. i must admit, i did forget to carb-load in the week, and i did wind up regretting that a little.
i also regretted not thinking about what to wear earlier than the eve of the race, and of course, all the cheap compression leggings and long-sleeve moisture-wicking tops (to give a bit of knee and elbow protection) were sold out across the entire Perth metro area (based on my sample of 3 Kmart stores)
in any case, the obligatory-race-kit-pic was posted to the facebook page…
having gone to bed early (as per usual) i was awake just after 2. i wasn’t being picked up until 5:30am, and our start time wasn’t until 9:20am, but i followed the usual routine of breakfast, shower, relaxing, checking i had everything packed and getting into my gear.
i tried to keep myself busy, trying to keep calm and not worry too much about monkey bars, 10,000 volts of electricity, ice baths and so on. mostly it worked, and eventually it was time to grab my bag, head out the door and walk up the road to where i was going to be picked up.
no turning back now
our team “middleaged mofos” comprised of 9 middle-aged blokes and beth, the token female. at the start of it all, i only knew the mate who had invited me to join, but i’d met most of the others at a recent training run in King’s Park.
i was being picked up by two of my team-mates, Todd and Marty, and we were meeting everyone else at the venue (a farm out in the middle of nowhere, north-east of Perth).
my lift arrived, i hopped in, exchanged greetings and we were off.
the journey to the venue was uneventful, we chatted, joked about what we might expect from the day, noticed the unusually high volume of traffic on this particular road at this time of morning, and turned off the main road onto a gravel road around 6:50am
the gravel road seemed to go on for ages, and every now and then there was a glimpse of route markers, distance markers and so on. the event day nerves and excitement finally started to fully kick in.
and then we were there, being ushered to a parking spot, getting out and heading to registration…
registration queues were based on surnames – I got lucky, my surname fell into a name grouping that had a queue of 2 people. first time i’ve ever been grateful for my surname being so high up the alphabet 🙂
participant waiver declaration and photo id were checked, i was handed my race packet, and ushered through to get my forehead and arm marked with my bib number (this enabled identification of body parts should anything go seriously awry)
i secured the race number to my rashy, met up with a few other team-mates and the nerves really started to kick in. this sh*t was getting real!
gathering nervously at base camp
this is where things really started to get real. we walked through the main entrance, headed through to the meetup area and the full team finally came together for the first time.
i don’t know about the others, but at times i really was thinking “what the hell have i done?”. this alternated with “bring it on!”
a very strange experience compared to the usual race day nervous excitement.
start waves were being called up in turn. bag check-in was done. some of the team drank coffee. i was sticking to my usual rule of not drinking any water an hour before race start.
talking of the start… we discovered at this point that you had to climb two wooden walls to get to the start chute!
i mentioned that i probably wouldn’t be able to climb them unaided, and the necessary leg-up strategy was put in place.
and then the moment arrived
“9:20 wave, please move forward”
holy sh*t. this was it.
i was nervous. in all honesty i was trying to enjoy the moment, but the worry was there.
before we were released to the pre-start obtacles, and entry to the start chute proper, we were given some fun warm-up routines to do. mostly to start building up excitement more than any actual warm-up value.
it worked, i stopped thinking about the pain that awaited me, and suddenly we were told to head to the walls.
each wall was tackled the same way; an efficient leg-up from todd, a clumsy scramble over the top and a short drop on the other side.
now we were packed into a start area, hundreds of first-time “mudders” and a handful of repeat offenders. the “warm-up guy” (Simon I think was his name) did an excellent job.
joking, pointing out that we would feel pain, letting us know about on-course first-aid, advising that you could and should skip any obstacle you weren’t able to tackle. building up the atmosphere, getting the mudders chanting, even a cheesy “aussie aussie aussie”. Eminem, Lose Yourself, started blasting out, building up, getting people psyched. High-5s exchanged, atmosphere building, nerves jangling, adrenaline pumping.
OFF WE WENT!!!!
a rather pleasant cross-country run
it all started with the calm-before-the-sh*t-storm.
a relaxed run across relatively smooth terrain.
ah, what was all the fuss about eh? this was fun!
the team stuck together, conversations were had with various people as we ran. nerves had gone. it was game on, and from this point onwards i stopped thinking about what was ahead. i started existing entirely in the current moment, not worrying about anything until it was stood there, in my face, challenging, daring and trying to scare me.
it didn’t take long before we hit the first of the obstacles… now i’ll be honest here and tell you that most of the run is a bit of a blur, and if i gave a blow-by-blow account of every obstacle then this blog entry will take you 3 hours to read…
rather than do that, here’s the highlights…
there was lots of it. crawling face down in kiss of mud, running through pits of mud, climbing through muddy water-filled trenches and over mud mounds. there was certainly plenty of mud to warrant the “mudder” component of the name!
and i didn’t hesitate. there was no point in being precious about it, no point trying to avoid it. once you got muddy the first time, it was done and further mud didn’t really matter!
i did get a shoe full of stones and sand with one mud/water obstacle, and had to stop, remove the shoe, empty out the gravel and put the shoe back on. some residual sand then slowly wore away at the skin causing a blister.
it got to the point that water obstacles were welcomed. they cooled you down, cleaned you off, were strangely pleasant and relaxing.
cage crawl for example – I laid on my back, reached up to the metal grill and pulled myself down the tunnel. it was peaceful just floating there. calming even.
arctic enema. no hesitation, straight in. it didn’t even feel too bad. then i dived under the barrier and came up the other side. which was where the vast majority of the ice was.
sh*t that was cold! i struggled to climb out. i started to feel very very cold. one of my team-mates gave me a leg-up and i was out.
it took about 10 minutes of running before the cold wore off, but that 10 minutes was strangely pleasant. all aches were numbed, body temperature reduced, and sweating had stopped.
the other water highlight for me was “walk the plank”. we climbed up onto a platform and then had to jump off, then fall a considerable distance into a pool of water below. i loved it. it also knocked the wind out of me and i really struggled to run afterwards!
i had built the two electricity-based obstacles into something of a monster in my head.
all the talk of 10,000 volts. youtube videos showing people being zapped hard, collapsing halfway through the electroshock therapy obstacle. i was prepared to skip electroshock therapy and electric eel.
on the day i simply walked up to them, and got on with it.
electric eel – pulling yourself along in water, face down, keeping head and body down. cables dangling above you, delivering electrical shocks whenever contact was made. i picked up a few, the first took me by surprise. the last one felt like a dull blow with a heavy object between my shoulder blades.
electroshock therapy – basically a run through some dangling cables, running over some thoughtfully placed haybales along the way (just to make sure you didn’t get a completely clear run through).
same net result, a few zaps, fairly easily dealt with. a big one that sent a dull pain down the left-hand side of my back, down into the internal organs.
bloody well did them both though – yay me!
climbing & carrying
there were two obstacles involving carrying stuff. one was a warrior carry where a team mate carried you half the distance, then you swapped. Tom (92kg) carried me (112kg) on his back and I then gave him a fireman’s lift for the second half. easy.
the log carry was awful – Tom and I paired up to carry a large log. the weight was fine, it was just impossible to find a comfortable position. the rough surface of the log was painful on the shoulder bones. we made it all the way around the loop though.
climbing a stack of hay bales was relatively easy, as was a cargo net. any time we faced a wooden barrier (blades of glory, berlin wall, just the tip) i was grateful for the team effort giving me a leg-up, so i could scramble over the top and then lower myself down the other side.
berlin walls was a lot taller than i expected. falling down the other side was a bit painful on the shoulders because you had to let yourself drop in two stages. it was too far to just jump down from the top. the first phase was painful on the shoulders!
monkey bars was a fail for me. as was just the tip and “twinkle toes”. in all 3 i made a start and then simply jumped in the water and swam across. monkey bars and just the tip i made no progress. with twinkle toes i did manage half a dozen steps across the beam before i lost my balance.
the “climb” at the end with “Everest” went surprisingly well. I thought there was no way my legs could muster a sprint up the quarter pipe. but they did. twice! on both occasions my hands connected with those of my team mates at the top. but it was too much to ask, lifting 112kg up over and i slid back down twice. i walked around.
this was the bit that held no fear for me. i’ve run a marathon, i’ve run 2 half marathons, i run 4 or 5 times every week.
and that running experience got me through the course, yes we stopped at every water station, yes i walked some of the latter stages of the course, but mostly i simply held to my own pace, dug in and let my running legs do their thing.
the difference with this course was the terrain. i was ever-mindful of rocks, tree roots, branches… there was no way I was going to roll an ankle and put all my other running goals at risk.
there were many steep inclines to go up and down too. we ran in places that a four wheel drive, even an army tank, would struggle with.
even with a bit of running experience under my belt, it was tough. and the obstacles and terrain sapped energy along the way too.
running with layers of mud on your shoes was also a challenge, as was the rubbing inside the left shoe as the blister was slowly formed.
overall though, i used all the mental and physical skills learned to date and applied them effectively. short steps, taking it easy up and down the inclines, holding my pace, digging deep, and even finishing strong with the sprints up “everest” and through the electroshock therapy obstacle!
there were even long stretches of running in pretty bushland, and with open scenery that made the whole thing an absolute joy. I would love to run that course again without obstacles and simply breathe in the natural beauty. i have a feeling i’m going to enjoy a spot of trail running. just as well really if i’m going to run across Australia in 2015!
at the end of the race i was happy to be able to tick it off the list, but with a view of never doing one again. today i am already thinking that another one could be a future possibility!
it was fun, it was an awesome experience, the team i ran with was the best bunch I could have wished for – we stuck to the Tough Mudder creed of “no mudder left behind”, we started together and we finished together.
my approach held fast throughout. fear never stood a chance at any obstacle, i simply stepped up and gave it a crack. water, climbing, holding on tight or electricity – whatever it was i didn’t worry about it until it was there in front of me and then i just did it.
as i write this today i am pleasantly surprised at how well my body has taken it.
I am aching in more places than i would usually for a run, but legs are no worse than they were after the half marathon really – just the light bruising and scratching that add to that.
my body is is so much better condition than it was 2 years ago. I have felt worse than this after digging sand in the garden before I did something to fix up my health!
I’m really quite impressed to be honest. I’ve spent a lot of time recently going on about how much I have changed internally and mentally, but this was a real benchmark of how much I’ve changed physically too.