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Posts Tagged ‘Tough Mudder’

If this is a mid-life crisis, I’m quite enjoying it.

I took part in my first Obstacle Course Race (OCR) in 2013, as a group of colleagues ran the Tough Mudder event. I surprised myself by how much I liked it, so did it again last year, but a combination of TM’s openly-relentless commercialism and injuring my foot just 3 miles into the 12 mile run left me somewhat deflated.

So I pledged to renew my enthusiasm and entered a ‘smaller’ event (there are tons to choose from all over the UK), which had received excellent reviews, and looked quite a lot like Tough Mudder, but without quite so much running, and lots more obstacles. I tried to corral a team of colleagues, but through a toxic combination of inertia, personal circumstances, illness and plain laziness I arrived at the RockSolid Race just outside Exeter last weekend, running solo…

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015

That’s what I’m going for…

Nobody does #rocksolidrace alone…

I was more than a bit nervous beforehand, as I struggle on obstacles like Monkey Bars and the 8-foot walls. But the RSR team have a great social media style which is a million miles away from the testosterone-fuelled corporate behemoth of Tough Mudder (more of which later). This event is friendly, it seems organised for its runners.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Twitter

And of course they’re right. Around the course people help each other (like in TM) over things and through things. At every 6/8-foot wall around the course, the volunteer marshals were brilliant, all chipping in to give people a boost up. The final wall came about 3/4 of the way through, so everyone is knackered when they reach it, but the lady manning the obstacle (surely no more than 5’3″ herself) cried

No one walks around my wall…!

…and insisted on giving a boost to anyone and everyone who needed it, no matter what their size.

The clue’s in the name…

If I wanted to run 12 miles around a muddy wood, I could do that quite easily close to home. But I don’t, I want obstacles, and the 10km RSR course included 38 obstacles, which I Reckon is a great ratio. I was running on the 2nd day of the event, meaning there’s a lot more mud. 1,200 people have churned up the tracks already, so what was simply a steep hill on Saturday becomes a treacherous slide on Sunday. And I love it that way. The RSR obstacles are a brilliant mix of natural terrain, ‘created’ terrain and man-made monsters.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Course Map

OK, so this is really small. What it should label is MUD, HILLS, COLD WATER, and STUFF TO CLIMB OVER or THROUGH

There were huge piles of hay bales, tyres or logs, walls and A-Frames, tunnels, cargo nets, logs to carry, and a cruelly-twisted uphill sack race, cunning in its simplicity but agony on the legs.

#bemoremud

Best of all, there was a lot of mud and a lot of water. Our first taste (literally) of the former came early in the race (#6 on the map above, innocuously titled “River Run”). I’d assume this meant splashing through a stream, or something. When I reached the bank there was carnage. To reach the stream we had to cross a small ‘pool’, maybe 4m wide, but the ‘pool’ was in fact a sticky swamp, full of waist-deep, thick, sucking mud. How my trainers stayed on I’m not sure. This is probably the closest to drowning in quicksand I hope to experience. I ended slithering across the surface like a worm, until I got hauled out by someone standing on firmer ground. Later we crawled through muddy pools where the water was thick with mud and weeds, and it did not smell pretty.

It’s March and I’m running knee-deep up a river, but at least the water is clean…!

Did I mention how cold the water is in March? Blimey. I was grateful for the chance to run between obstacles to get my circulation going. The course had most of the mud in the first half, and most of the ‘cleaner’ water later, but there was a lot of this too. Crossing a lake via huge unstable ‘stepping stones’, wading through chest-deep water, a skip full of ice-chips, more (clean) streams to run and crawl through, a fantastic slide into another lake, followed instantly by a 12-foot leap into the other side of the same lake. It was relentless but brilliant.

Rocksolidrace Exeter 2015

Bruised but not broken at the finish…

By muddy runners for muddy runners…

I Reckon RockSolidRace is a far better event than Tough Mudder. It has more, and more varied obstacles. It doesn’t have some kind of overweaning adolescent need to promote its Toughness or Bigness or Whatever three times a day. It feels closer and smaller (because it is), but best of all, is the feeling while you’re there, at the event, that the race is organised by runners for the people taking part. A few comparisons…

  • I booked this 3 months in advance, paying £46. To enter the TM August event today would cost me £95 + £7 booking fee.
  • RSR charges £5 for carparking, while TM charges £10 (or even more in 2015)
  • The car park at RSR is a couple of minutes from the event, unlike my 2 experiences at TM where we were at least 15 minutes away
  • Bag drop is just £1 with staff on hand to supervise and secure your belongings, carkeys etc. TM cost £3 and felt much more like a free-for-all
  • Spectators can see RSR for free and many seemed to bring their own picnics. This year at TM spectators have to pay £10 each (+ booking fee), or £20 if you turn up on the day, and last year were actively discouraged from bringing their own food
  • RSR offers free hot showers and decent changing facilities. This is a complete God-send…
  • One of RSR’s sponsors, Tideford Organics, gave out delicious free soup for all the runners afterwards. Other food was available for less than £7…
  • The bar stocked ale, lager and cider (unlike TM which was restricted to sponsors’ brands) and cost £2-3.50 , not £5 for an alcoholic ginger beer.
  • I like the finishing token better…
RockSolidRace dogtags

Better than an orange headband…

TM seems to have examined every opportunity, every moment to charge money/generate revenue, and gone ahead. I’m sure this makes them very successful, but I Reckon it doesn’t make for a great experience. Last time left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth, and not just from the mud.

I loved my first RockSolid Race, and I really hope to be back next year. If you’re thinking of giving Obstacle Course racing a go, definitely consider this one. In fact, if you only want to try one event, definitely go Rock Solid.

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I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
I put team work and camaraderie before my course time.
I do not whine…
…Kids whine.
I help my fellow mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.

A little before 8.40am on Saturday 21st September, I was on one knee with 8 work colleagues and over a hundred strangers as we recited this pledge, hand on heart.

I’d been awake for nearly 4 hours already, driven 80 miles to the edge of the Brecon Beacons, and was about to start Tough Mudder: 12 miles of hilly trail runs and brutal obstacles. I signed up with these work colleagues over 6 months ago, but now it was real.

tough mudder uk south west 2013 course map

Of course, this doesn’t show the hills…

The weather couldn’t have been kinder, really. Not cold, but not too bright and sunny either. The opening 20 minutes or so was a gentle jog around the beautiful Glanusk Estate near Abergavenny, better than your average Saturday morning run, and more fun too. We haad laughed at the team in flesh-coloured skinsuits and mankinis, and were following three guys in silvery wigs and ‘old-lady’ cardigans and dresses. Then we hit the first obstacle, “Kiss of Mud”, which wasn’t as muddy as I’d expected. Over the Glory Blades next, and then we approached the fabled, infamous Arctic Enema.

What I remember about this:

  • The water didn’t look anything like the website videos. It looked like a container of filthy ice.
  • It was bastard cold.
  • The water didn’t just look filthy. It smelled filthy and tasted filthy.
  • I wish I’d shut my mouth more tightly.
  • I jumped out within a few seconds, so while I was bastard cold afterwards, it wasn’t the Hellish experience I’d been fearing.
arctic enema tough mudder uk south west 2013

My warface after Arctic Enema. IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?!

Then the hills started: we climbed up steadily for what seemed like ages, pausing only briefly to swing across wade through the water beneath the monkey bars obstacle and then to carry a massive hunk of tree a few hundred metres around a muddy loop of trail. I had long feared the monkey bars, fully expecting not to make it very far across. I started well, getting a few rungs out, until a teammate behind cried out “Yes Chris!”, at which point I promptly lost my grip and fell into the murky water.

Soon it was getting properly muddy. The Mud Mile did exactly what it said on the tin, with often knee-deep ‘puddles’ of thick, sloppy mud, and deep ruts that were slippery underfoot. As the trail turned steeply downhill, we weren’t sure whether running, skiing or sliding was the best tactic. Whatever, I tried to remember my school climbing holidays in Snowdonia, running down the scree slopes, and I had a blast…

UK Tough Mudder South West 2013

One hour in and still smiling…!

Electric Eel required us to crawl through muddy water underneath a host of electric cables. Hero Carry saw us carry team-mates along the trail for 100m, and Dirty Ballerina witnessed the lightest footwork over deep ditches this side of, er, anywhere…

I was the Old Man of the team, but I was loving it, able to keep up a steady pace running, and just going for it at the obstacles. I was psyched to complete the Human Gecko climbing wall, and was at the front of our group as we approached the Hero Walls, imposing 10 foot high monoliths that dared you to be afraid of them; and I was afraid. I had my only panic-moment of the event, as I stared up at them, frozen. Then some massive guy of solid muscle offered me a leg up and practically threw me over the barrier, which seemed to lift the doubt from me, and I scrambled over the second wall (yes, there was another wall behind the first one!) without help.

From there it was a flat course to the finish, but still 6 obstacles to negotiate, including a crossing of the River Usk and the Boa Constrictor tunnels, which summed up for me the whole event. As I crawled out of the narrow tube, the guy behind me was a(nother) muscle-bound hunk, with biceps that looked as big as my thigh. But he was getting stuck: he was too muscly for the tube, and couldn’t squirm his way out. I took his (massive) hand and tried not to cry out as his grip crushed mine, but pulled him to the end of the tube, from where he jumped out, slapped me on the shoulder and beamed “Thanks mate!”

uk tough mudder south west 2013

Three more obstacles, perhaps the most dramatic… By the time we reached Walk The Plank, a 15-20 foot high platform from which we had to leap into water, with less than a mile of running to the finish, the sun was out. We were knackered but mostly elated. This had been more fun than we expected. Everest is effectively a massive half-pipe structure we had to run up, leap for the top and haul ourselves up. And as a final twisted joke, the dash for the line and the fabled Tough Mudder headbands is through Electroshock Therapy.

tough mudder uk south west 2013 walk the plank

Can I go around again?!

tough mudder uk south west 2013 electroshock therapy

Ow. Ow. Ouch. OWWW.

I loved doing Tough Mudder. I loved finishing  Tough Mudder. I loved the challenge, the adrenaline rushes, the fatigue and determination, the realisation that my training was worth it, that An Old Man can do this shit. I loved sense of humour all the way around the course, the collective spirit of everyone taking part, that we were part of something.

tough mudder uk south west 2013

The Real Mudders.
We came, we saw, we got proper muddy.

I can’t wait to do another one. And next time, I bloody will make it across the monkey bars.

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I normally title my blog posts with song lyrics or quotes, a hangover from my diary-writing youth. Today I’ve taken liberties with a terrific line from The Usual Suspects. Sorry to everyone involved.

About 6 months ago I signed up to take part in the UK Tough Mudder South West event. Back then it seemed quite a long way off, a faintly ridiculous commitment with a few colleagues that could be kept firmly at the back of my mind. I started doing slightly different exercises at the gym, and even went along to a Bootcamp class, but that was that.

Three more sleeps…

It’s very real right now. On Saturday morning, while you good readers are sleeping (or whatever in your own time zones!), I will leave the house at 05.15am to pick up my colleague and drive to the Brecon Beacons in Wales, for an 08.40am start time. Just shy of 12 miles of trails, 500m of elevation to climb, and 18 obstacles await us.

Uk Tough Mudder South West Course 2013

Those zigzags in the top left corner of the map, between Mile 6 & 8, that’s pretty much straight up and straight down a very steep hillside, gaining & falling a couple of hundred metres each time in not very far. The blobs are obstacles, which include mud, very cold water, barbed wire, mud, monkey bars, 12-foot walls, mud, tunnels filled with muddy water, electric shock and mud.

The closer we’ve got to Saturday 21st September 2013, the more this has risen in our ‘watercooler conversations’. One person fell off his bike and hurt his knee quite badly, another strained a calf muscle playing football. Nerves?

Think of the Charity

But we’re doing this for a greater cause, not just for our own masochistic pleasure. Our nominated company charity this year is the National Autistic Society, a choice inspired by another colleague whose young daughter has autism. Our employer, The Real Adventure, will match every pound we raise up to £1,500. So any donations we get have a double whammy feel-good effect.

At the risk of getting worthy, there are countless good reasons to support this cause. Here are just a few…

  • Autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism – that’s more than 1 in 100, and virtually double the number of people registered blind or partially sighted. If you include their families, autism touches the lives of 2.7 million people every day.
  • Autism doesn’t just affect children. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism.
  • Over 40% of children with autism have been bullied at school. and over 50% of children with autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them. One in five children with autism has been excluded from school, many more than once.
  • Nearly two-thirds of adults with autism in England do not have enough support to meet their needs, and at least one in three adults with autism are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support.
  • Only 15% of adults with autism in the UK are in full-time paid employment.

The NAS works to create a better society for people with autism and their families. These people deserve our support. You can help by donating to our team, to help us around the course and through the mud, at www.justgiving.com/TheRealMudders.

Thankyou.

But because I know most of you have no idea what Tough Mudder actually is…

…and the infamous Arctic Enema. Surely this deserves a donation…!

It’s like eating icecream and getting punched in the balls at the same time…

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