This was an event I’d been looking forwards to ever since I earned my first converted orange headband a year ago. As the weekend neared my excitement grow as this time not only was I taking on a big challenge of attempting 4 laps of the 11.2 mile course but my wife was also taking part in what would be by far the biggest and longest challenge she’s ever faced (baring childbirth of course) and my running group had a 30 strong team all heading to the near by Boughton house location just 12 miles from home.
The plan was to get there early on the Saturday and all run together in the first wave at 8am but a slight delay meant the two of us just missed starting with all the others and had to run in the next wave 20 minutes later.
We started at a good pace among the 200 or so others in our wave and it wasn’t long before we started to catch some of the tail runners from the 8am start. It was a slightly different course to the previous year with plenty of obstacles in different places as well as lots of new additions meaning I never knew what was coming next.
The first big obstacle came just before the 2 mile mark and this was one that nobody could prepare for as it was on the course map as a ‘mystery obstacle’. It involved crawling head first and on your back into an inverted tunnel then pulling yourself up with a rope. As you came out at the top you faced a drop into deep water before a swim back to dry land.
A short run followed before reaching another new obstacle named the birth canal. This was another tight tunnel crawl this time with plastics sheeting above you being pushed down with the weight of water on top of it. There was hardly any breathing room and the pulling your way through was hard work. My wife Becky conquered a big fear of claustrophobia on this one and came out with renewed energy which was demonstrated as she flew across the island hopping obstacle, one that I’d failed on all three of my laps last year and once again hit the water much to her amusement.
The next big obstacle was ‘Balls to the wall’, a high wall climb that required a rope to scale. Heights have never really bothered me and are something I’ve never even thought about until I started doing obstacle course racing and I’ve experienced just how much they affect so many people, Becky being one of those. Again though she didn’t let it beat her and was up and over in no time and passed the 4 mile mark.
As we reached mile 5 Arctic enema awaited. Last year this was simply a skip full of ice with tyres across the middle to duck under for a full head submerge. This year however it had been stepped up several levels and involved climbing up a ladder then flying down a slide for the first of two head submerges then the tyre dunk to follow before clambering out disorientated and freezing cold.
The only option after this if you want to get your body temperature back to normal is to keep on the move. One of the longer running sections followed so we picked up the pace and arrived at the mud mile feeling more normal again as we made our way in and out of the succession of muddy trenches.
Covered from head to toe in dirt another long run followed broken up with the heroes carry (I carried Becky on my back for a couple of hundred meters), Killer Gorilla which was a slalom of hills in woodland and the 12 foot hero walls.
Unscaved and well over half way in we reached the liberator. I’d been looking forwards to this one after seeing it online in American events but in truth it didn’t live up to my expectations. It was an A frame with holes in. U had to pick up two pegs and climb up by sticking the pegs in the holes. This would have been a lot more challenging if the structure was higher and there weren’t any foot grips.
Mile 8 passed and we were back going the other way along the mud mile before a tyre carry then the obstacle that had caused the most hype, King of the swingers. This was a huge scaffold structure that looked as daunting as it did impressive. I climbed the steps and opened the metal gate that lead to a platform, stood on the edge and firmly gripped the trapeze. The aim was to swing out then let go and make a jump to ring a hanging cow bell before plummeting into the water below. I held on a little too long and missed the bell by an inch or two and could not wait to have another go on my next lap.
Mile 9 brought the most technical barbed wire crawl I’ve done as the structure dipped up and down, had two hay bales to clamber over and a water dip to negotiate. After this was my highlight of the entire course, funky monkey. An epic version of monkey bars involving regular bars to start but ones that slanted upwards followed by a moving trapeze then two one meter long swinging horizontal poles all suspended above deep water. I was pretty impressed with myself in clearing this without too many problems as everyone else around me got wet.
I had no time to rest on my laurels though as next up was ‘cry baby’. A 10 meter tunnel crawl filled with what we were told was a version of tear gas! As we crawled in the smoke completely covered the entire area. Vision was totally impaired. A menthol like taste and smell filled the airwaves and it was a massive relief to get out the other end.
A mile of running with a last dip in water followed before we hit Everest. A huge ramp which is near on impossible to scale alone. Luckily the spirit of this event meant there were always plenty of willing fellow Mudders waiting at the top to help others up. Myself and Becky, to her credit, made it up first time.
Just under a mile remained and by now Becky was ecstatic as the realisation that she was actually going to complete the course set in.
With the finish in sight Electroshock therapy reared it’s ugly head but being a Mudder legionnaire (those who had ran 2 or more events) I took up my privilege of bypassing it, as did Becky and instead took on another new obstacle I’d been thoroughly looking forwards to ‘Dead ringer’. A upside down V shaped metal structure standing 7 feet above the ground with pegs poking out. We had to collect two rings each and hook them on the pegs to gain forward motion while keeping a constant rhythm. This was tough on the arms and required as much technique as it did upper body strength. I was happy to make it across first time then head for the finish line.
I’d got round in one piece but more importantly my wife had done too. We’d finished in a very respectable time of just over 2 and a half hours too. This was a massive achievement for her and I was very proud. A couple of photos and a quick kiss and I was off again for another lap, this time on my own.
This time I lead it out. Feeling good I completed the first couple of miles in under 15 minutes before hitting a queue at the ‘mystery obstacle’. This would be a sign of things to come for this lap so I pushed the running sections hard and used the queuing time to recover. As I’d already done them once I used the bypass lanes at the birth canal and cry baby as the queues were just too big but I did everything else completing it fully. Much to my delight that included the island hopping (finally) and King of the swingers where ringing the bell came at a price as my entire right side slapped the water hard. It was worth it though!
I finished well under 2 hours, collected my yellow 4-6 headband and headed home after a great days work.
The following morning I was back again. This time the first wave was at the later start time of 9am which meant I made it without a rush. I was running with two team mates, Stephen and Jon. Both quite experienced obstacle course racers but neither had done a Tough Mudder before so anticipation was high.
As we got going my legs felt fine but my upper body was very tight. This was nothing I hadn’t felt and got through before but my left arm had a different pain. One I’d woken up with but was getting worse rather than better as I tried to stretch it out.
As each obstacle came I did my best to use my bad arm as little as possible and kept it straight while running. I knew I’d be ok the majority of the way round but as I got towards to end a lot more grip was required which would be the real test.
I fell in the water once more on the island hopping but cleared everything else without fair, then came King of the swingers again. I held on tight and swung out for the bell. I leg go in good time but just missed. This time however I managed to land in the water feet first. I truth I probably missed the bell because I was thinking about my landing a little too much but the most important thing was my arm had withstood the pressure and wasn’t any worse.
The biggest test of all still lied ahead though in the form of Funky Monkey. This was my favourite obstacle and one I was proud of completing on both attempts the previous day. I did not want to be hitting that water, especially not in front of my two team mates who I also coach. I let them go first and they both fell in which put my mindset at ease a little but I was still determined to get across. I moved through the monkey bars without a problem, successfully made the transition to the trapeze then on to the horizontal poles. I felt strong. I was working less on speed and more on technique which seemed to be helped and to my relief I made to across to complete a creditable hatrick.
This gave me some renewed hope but I could feel the problem hadn’t gone away and as I’d almost made up my mind that I wasn’t going to risk doing another lap Stephen fell on Everest and pulled his hamstring. He was struggling to walk let along run meaning a slow last mile just to make sure he could finish.
We still made it in just under 2 and a half hours and somehow I still managed to complete Dead Ringer for a third time but the finally wave of the day was just about to go. I could have just made it but aired on the side of caution with my biggest challenge of the year, Endure 24 less that two weeks away.
It had still been an awesome weekends running with some great people and completing 34 miles of tough obstacle course. The real positive was that my legs felt great. I’ll have to wait to get that pink 7-9 headband for now. But will be aiming for four laps again next year to take me to 10 Tough Mudders earning me the rare 10 x black band.