Way back when I was ‘just a runner’ one of the first things that brought my attention to obstacle course racing (OCR) was an event called World’s Toughest Mudder. Held in America it is a 24 hour OCR. Almost immediately it went on my ever growing bucket list. I’ve not got round to doing it yet, mainly because of the travelling distance so when I found out there was to be a new event called Europe’s Toughest Mudder consisting of 8 over night hours of OCR and it was going to be held in England I saw this as the next best thing and signed up straight away.
Six months later race day (or should I say night?) had finally arrived. In that period of time I’d only ran one OCR but I felt all the endurance training I’d done for both Paris and London marathons would stand me in good stead. Setting targets for this race was very difficult, firstly because I’d never really done anything like it and secondly because Tough Mudder only released the course map a couple of days before hand at which point we learned it would be one 5 mile lap with 20 obstacles.
Starting at midnight on the Saturday and finishing at 8am on Sunday with lots on water obstacle and rain predicted the pre race talk was dominated by what wetsuit people would wear. I made the decision not to wear one at all and while warming up with a light run around the event village I was pleased I’d gone with that choice. It was a mild evening and I was sure there would be a lot more racers suffering from overheating than any kind of hypothermia.
The first lap was called a ‘sprint lap’ and designed to spread out the large field of nearly a thousand runner. It was described as ‘obstacle free’ but it didn’t take long to realise this certainly wasn’t the case as within the first mile we’d got very wet, very muddy and only bypassed one of the first five obstacles. It seemed like we were doing the all of the less technical and smaller obstacle but missing the larger, show piece ones.
I completely lap one in just over 40 minutes and continued straight on for another. As I approached all the bigger obstacles I was again waved passed by the friendly marshals. I settled into what I felt was a good steady pace and was really enjoying running in the dark with my head torch and the lights at the obstacles guiding me. The course was really well marked and there were lots of volunteers and safety staff throughout meaning there was never any danger of going the wrong way or feeling uneasy.
I clocked in my second lap at just under 50 minutes and then took a quick stop in the pits which I’d scheduled to do every 10 miles. When I went back out, for the first time I felt cold. I’d made the mistake of standing still in my wet clothes but I didn’t let this bother me and in fact it encouraged me to move faster to generate some heat. I was warmed back up well before I got to any of the wet obstacles with more and more now opening up including Arctic Enema which involves a full submerge in a skip full of iced water. This one was freezing and there was not avoiding it. I knew all I could do was get in, do it and get out as quickest as possible then run at a good speed to warm back up.
The technical obstacles were now all open and I was enjoying giving them all a go and I was managing to complete them with no problems as many others around me were failing and having to take the penalty running loops.
One thing that really surprised me was how early on I was lapping people but this was a big help as it meant I nearly always had company and help on the obstacle that required teamwork. Lap three was done in just over an hour and I continued on.
We were told obstacles would open and close gradually throughout but it seemed that everything was now open and it would remain that way for the duration. This meant I got to have a go on some of the ones I’d really been looking forwards to, in particular King of the Swingers, Hangtime which involved jumping from a platform some 30 feet in the air to grab a trapeze bar suspended above water followed by a rope tradition then a traverse down a wire to dry land. This was clearly the hardest obstacle of the lot so nailing it on my first attempt was a real boost. Unfortunately I did slip off it twice later in the night meaning not only did I get very wet and have to swim to get out I also faced the penalty run costing time and adding distance.
Other obstacles I loved were Funky Monkey the Revolution which started off with incline monkey bars followed but three spinning wheels all moving in different directions and Kong with was hanging rings suspended at a great hight. Much to my pleasure I managed to complete both on every single lap.
Even though I’d had to complete more obstacles on lap four I was only slightly slower in 1 hour 8 minutes and this time on my scheduled stop to refuel I made sure I stayed warm. I wrapped up in my trusty Dryrobe and before going back out decided to have a change of clothes on my top half to keep the core warm. I put on my thermal base layer but apart from that went like for like with my RunFlex compression top and tech t-shirt and my Toughest gloves. My bottom half remained the same with my Running shorts, RunFlex compression shorts and calf sleeves, Darn Tough socks with water proof socks over the top and the VJ Sport Irocks on my feet.
I was now just over half way through the race and had covered 20 miles feeling really good. After this 20 minute pit stop I felt even better and knocked out a slightly quicker lap than the previous one. Keeping to my plan I kept going on lap 6 now in daylight. Knowing I’d ran though the night and come out the other side in tact was really motivating and help me push through to the finish.
Again I stopped after another ten miles to take some food and drink on board. 30 miles in I was really happy and doing some maths I knew only one more lap was possible. What I had loved about this event was that I was only really racing against myself and I was running freely with no real expectations, just enjoying it and seeing what I could do. Up until round the half way point I hadn’t even thought about what position I was in. It turned out I had been hovering around the top 10 for most of the night. I knew another lap would push me up a bit more but at the same time I had no added pressure of having to chase a time.
Unlike the last part of many of the endurance challenges I’d done in the past where I’ve been dead on my feet and praying for it to be over, I was still enjoying almost every moment of the race. The course was great. I’d been running on it continuously for nearly eight hours yet I genuinely enjoyed doing every obstacle baring Birth Canal which was two consecutive tunnel crawls in a horribly tight space being weighed down by a sheet of water.
I ran up the hills, in fact I ran every single part of every single lap. I can’t say I enjoyed actually doing Artic Enema but I did enjoy the refreshing, revitalising feeling I got when running away from it each time and I even liked doing Operation which involved posting a long pole with a hook on the end through a small hole in a wall to hook a hanging band then retrieve it and if your pole touched the sides at any time you’d get an electric shock. I liked that there was an element of skill involved unlike other electrical obstacles I’ve faced in races meaning if you stayed steady and held your nerve you wouldn’t be hit. I managed to my great relief to avoid being shocked throughout.
Lap seven was my slowest but not by much and I still felt good as I crossed the finish line for the final time. I’d clocked up 35 miles and come home in 7th position overall and 2nd Brit behind the winner and triple world champion Jon Albon. I was really pleased with my nights work. This was a brilliant event that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.