It’s gone down a storm in America with over 200,000 people taking part in the last two years. Although similar events have caught on in the UK too, would Tough Mudder prove the toughest? We sent Will Robson to the first UK Tough Mudder weekend event, based at the picturesque Boughton estate in Northamptonshire, to find out.
“To ensure I didn’t feign a last minute injury, team mates Tash (triathlete), Dean and Jonathan (rugby players) line up with me to face a cross-country assault course laced with barbed wire, fire, ice, mud and electric shocks. Not that we really knew that then.
Our first Tough Mudder lesson comes when corralled in the start area. We’re asked to drop to one knee for the briefing. It’s not a race; it’s a challenge. It’s about supporting your team mates and not whining.
Clean and Naïve
The idea then is that the team leaves no one behind. It sounds a bit military and it is. The course is designed by British Special Forces (think SAS), and even individual entrants have to rely on others to get over some obstacles.
So clean and naïve, we wait for the start. Has someone spontaneously combusted with excitement? No, it’s a smoke grenade going off to tell us we’re underway.
It dawns on OAG photographer Dickie that he’s going to have to chase after us if he wants the shots. He clatters gallantly after us as we jog across the neatly mown lawns in brilliant sunshine.
But what’s this? Our first obstacle: a stream. We don’t break stride and follow the hordes in up to the waist. It’s brisk. One obstacle every half mile. That’s 24 to go then.
Amongst the fancy dress outfits, one team is carryi
ng a dead/unconscious Conger eel round with them. We aim but fail to keep upwind the whole way round.
Another numbingly cold stream and then our first encounter with the promised mud: an uphill crawl under barbed wire for about 20 metres. On top of the soaking we’ve just had it makes for a good plastering.
It’s early enough in the race (OK, challenge) for one of us to have the energy to throw sloppy mud at Dean.
Skip of Doom
We head down a steep hill to see Dickie, camera poised, alongside a couple of skips. He’s grinning. This must be a good photo opp.
As we spring lightly over the edge of the skip we realise it’s full of water topped with a foot of ice cubes.
Stiff upper-lipped British understatement doesn’t apply. It’s effin’ cold and Dickie’s cunning anticipation captures the ‘raw’ emotion on our faces as we duck under a partition board thoughtfully placed across the middle of the skip of doom.
But we’re doing well. Having started at the back of the pack, we’ve moved through at our steady pace. We’re just not sure what a steady pace is for what lies ahead.
The obstacle keep coming, including 10ft walls, tubes, logs, fire pits and more muddy water-filled trenches.
Deep in the woods we come across a pile of logs. A cheery official demands we choose one to carry round a 200m loop amidst the Bluebells.
As it’s not a race and disqualification is hard to achieve, I face a moral dilemma. While my chosen log is not exactly a piece of kindling, I overtake a guy with the best part of a telegraph pole on his back. I scurry on until the pangs of guilt have eased off.
Dean sustains an injury to his shin, allegedly down to my forcing him from the trail into a rock. But he recalls the Tough Mudder credo of not ‘whining’ and barely mentions it again.
As we head into the last few miles we estimate we’re in the top 25%. Some later starters have sped past but we resist the urge to speed up
Buzzing with adrenalin
We’d heard about Tough Mudder’s signature “electrocution” obstacle just before the finish but we’re ambushed by an earlier one.
It’s a low crawl through electrodes hanging down over wet plastic sheeting – to better conduct the electricity, obviously. We shimmy through to a chorus of very un-Tough Mudder like yelps and squeals.
With the end in sight we approach an ornamental lake spanned by monkey bars to fall off and a 5m platform to leap from.
The penultimate obstacle is the infamous curved wall. Running up the slope and grabbing the top is not as easy as it looks. This is where the team work comes in, even for those not in a team, as Tough Mudders lie on top of the wall and reach down with a helping hand.
We hurtle through the last curtain of electrodes and cross the finish line to win our coveted Orange Tough Mudder headbands. We wear them with pride, for a short while, before downing a beer and wondering how we’ve fared against other Tough Mudders.
It’s not a competition, but Tough Mudder organisers invite the top band of finishers to attend the World’s Toughest Mudder event in New York in January. It’s a 24 hour event with the winner (slightly more of a competition then) doing more circuits of the eight mile course than anyone else.
As we leave, we pass the infamous ”trainer graveyard”. Participants are invited to dump their trashed trainers (although Dean picked up three ‘perfectly serviceable’ pairs). My excellent Patagonia trainers went in the wash and came out good as new.
I’m not sure how many other similar events I’d enter to compare it with, but to finish it at a run you do need to be reasonably fit and durable.
In a post-marathon age, more people are getting into hard core training like Cross fit. Tough Mudder feeds that need for more primal and testing challenge and there’s no doubt it’s a well organised and gruelling event.
Would we do it again?
Maybe. There are events in Scotland and Cheshire in the next few months, and if the US experience is anything to go by, people will get hooked on doing as many TMs as the company can put on. Each event is slightly different and of course you can get lucky with the weather.”