Tough Mudder: my experience of pain, tenacity and determination

Written by Sport

‘Tough Mudder’. Two words which, when I signed up to take part in back in September 2018, I didn’t really think too much of. The first word, ‘tough’, whisked up imagery of people crawling on the floor for dear life, screaming “Why did I sign up for this?”, and ‘Mudder’ was self-explanatory; I was going to get muddy. But for the last 10 months of my life I kept on saying to myself, “It can’t be that tough; thousands of people go to each event all year round”, and “What’s a little bit of mud?”.

I can, however, confirm after completing the event this last Sunday, that all my attempts at blinding myself from reality just left me innocent for the pain that I exposed myself to for four hours, eight miles and 28 obstacles.

My thought behind buying a ticket was that it would be a good opportunity for me to get fitter and lose a bit of weight. Clocking in at 6’1’’ and a weight a bit too high for me to share, who could think of a better tactic to get me to the gym and out and about? And I did. I signed up for a gym, started going into Leazes Park and tried to prepare myself for something which I thought was miles away.

“I just couldn’t find my flow”
However, I just couldn’t find my flow. Everyone reading this knows that at university the combination of assignments, coursework and going into town isn’t a perfect equation for a healthy lifestyle. I found myself lazy with my diet, reluctant to go to the gym and, as every day went by, inept to the fact I would be taking part in one of the most difficult assault courses in the country.

So when July 28th came and I found myself waking up at 6am to get to Skipton for my 10:30am start, you could only imagine how I felt. I found myself pacing back and forth, telling myself I was nervous in an excited way, whereas in reality it was fear. In the car, I found myself looking at the Sat Nav and counting down every eight miles, thinking “we’ve just travelled one Tough Mudder”, until I realised that eight miles is actually an insane number to think about running, or at least it is to people who lie on their bed for five hours a day watching Netflix and coming up with an excuse to not go to the gym.

“However, all my fear turned into adrenaline when I found myself in a crowd waiting to be released onto the course.”

However, all my fear turned into adrenaline when I found myself in a crowd waiting to be released onto the course. It’s a bit like when you’re worried about an exam, but when you sit down and open the paper you kind of forget where you are and just get into your zone. I was surrounded by around 100 strangers and three of my best mates, and was being led by a ‘motivational speaker’, who had us rolling in the mud, taking an oath to ‘Never leave anyone behind’, and to remember ‘Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge’. It didn’t bode well for me that I felt a tiny bit tired after the warm up.

“It didn’t bode well for me that I felt a tiny bit tired after the warm up”

But before I could even comprehend what was happening, the motivator began to count down from 10, and I had begun.

Image: Joanne Moorcroft

The first obstacle we came across, the ‘Hero Walls’, was a light reminder that a portion of the money I paid towards my ticket was donated to Help For Heroes. It revolved around three walls of 8ft, 9ft and 10ft. No matter how much I tried to picture the 10ft wall before I arrived, I couldn’t prepare for how tall it actually was. Instinctively, I said, “I don’t think I can do this one”. Imagine that mentality. Instantly thinking you couldn’t complete an obstacle, and not even attempting it. Safe to say, my mates instantly said “no chance, you can do it”, and I did. With a little bit of teamwork and some elbow grease, I grabbed onto my mates hand whilst getting a lift up from behind, and wrapped my leg around the wall. Then one small drop down and it was over, the first obstacle complete. A couple claps on each other’s backs and we were back on the road (only 7.7 more miles to go).

Image: Corbykop on YouTube

A couple of minor obstacles, mainly consisting of climbing up mountains of mud on our hands and knees, and we’d reached probably the more notorious obstacle of the event, the ‘Arctic Enema’. The obstacle consisted of sliding down a 10ft tube into a tub of ice cold water, with 10,000lb of ice, and then throwing your body underwater, swimming under a log laid across the water, and climbing out on the other side. No amount of preparation can prepare you for how breathtaking the water is, and I’m sure if you stood next to the obstacle for the duration of the run, you’d see everyone from couch potatoes to big-time athletes screaming after they’re released from the water.

“Afterwards they showed me photos of the cuts I had all over my arms and legs”

A mile later we approached the seventh obstacle on my Tough Mudder journey: the ‘Kiss of Mud’. This obstacle entailed crawling on your front around rocks and puddles of mud, whilst keeping your face on the floor to avoid the barbed wire layered just above. I was lucky enough to have family and friends spectating from the side line to cheer me on, and unlucky as afterwards they showed me photos of the cuts I had all over my arms and legs. However, it was worth it for their words of encouragement, and with that I had completed that obstacle.

Image: Joanne Moorcroft

“At this point, I was extremely tired, barely being able to jog anymore”
A few more obstacles later, such as the ‘Hero Carry’, carrying your mate for a few minutes on your back, the ‘Swamp Stomp’, which is quite literally stomping through a swamp, and the ‘Cliffhanger’, climbing up a steep mountain side, we had reached mile four. At this point, I was extremely tired, barely being able to jog anymore, and often resorting to walking at a swift pace in order to maintain some momentum. This is when one of the main aspects of Tough Mudder came into play: comradery. Many times my mates could’ve left me in the dust, each of them being much fitter than I could comprehend, but they didn’t. The continuing echoes of “come on Tom”, and the more extreme approaches of quite literally running up behind me and pushing me, in an urge to keep me going, was enough to do exactly that, as I made my way through a variety of obstacles.

The ‘Cage Crawl’, which was the next obstacle on the list, showed how ‘Tough Mudder’ doesn’t just mean physical difficulty, but also mental. It consisted of floating on your back within a cage and grasping along with water reaching your ears. It was a test of your mental resilience and determination to not stop swimming whilst faced with a difficult situation, and at least one of my more athletic friends found themself questioning skipping the obstacle instead of going through, eventually being persuaded into doing it. After a few more obstacles, and after surpassing the sixth mile of the run, we came to our next fear-inducing obstacle, ‘Trench Warfare’. This consisted of crawling on your front through an extremely narrow tube, whilst other Mudders passing above stamped on the tubes in an attempt to either encourage or discourage us to continue.

Image: RichardoMedeiros on YouTube

However, even though the trajectory of this article has risen towards a positive ending, I’m afraid to say on the next obstacle I suffered one of the worst pains I could’ve imagined. The ‘Mud Mile’. An obstacle involving climbing over small mud mountains into cold water repeatedly for around 10 minutes. I started off strong, passing the first mountain, but upon lifting myself over the second I was shot with extreme pain running through my right calf. I fell back into the water in what has later been described by my mates as a dramatic motion, screaming in agony, as the other Mudders around me signalled for a medic to attend to me. Linking in to a previous theme I mentioned, comradery, a lady behind me sought to stretch out my leg and massage my calf, whilst I floated towards the side of the obstacle and got seen to. All the while, my mates were encouraging me to stretch out my leg in an attempt to complete the next few obstacles.

At this point, I had gone too far in my run to fathom ending it there. I hobbled up straight, holding on to a mate for balance, and proceeded to continue towards the seventh mile of the run. At this point, my mates had gone a tiny bit ahead, as jogging was out of the question for me whilst I nursed my leg. I took part in some minor obstacles, climbing over smaller mounds of mud, trekking through water, and eventually saw myself on the final stretch of obstacles. Five more and then the course was complete.

“At this point, God knew that I could do with some therapy, but perhaps not the kind which involved running (or for me, crawling) through hanging electricity ridden wires with enough volts to cause me to fall to the ground”

However, upon inspection, my leg was not fit to take part in some of them. I had twisted my calf muscle to the extent it had cramped and I couldn’t put too much weight on it. For the last mile of the course, I hobbled along to the end, but not on my own. I was surrounded by the mates, each one of them consoling me, and I was encouraging them, wanting to see them compete in the final obstacles of the course. They demolished them, whilst I hung around the end of the course waiting for them, and we regrouped with one final obstacle to go, ‘Electroshock Therapy’. At this point, God knew that I could do with some therapy, but perhaps not the kind which involved running (or for me, crawling) through hanging electricity ridden wires with enough volts not to kill but to cause me to fall to the ground. Eventually, we clambered through the final obstacle, and just like we started the course we crossed the finish line, shoulder to shoulder, to the sight of volunteers holding a headband towards us. The headband read, “Tough Mudder Classic”, and it had just been completed. That was the first thing I collected, alongside a t-shirt reading “Tough Mudder 2019 Finisher”, and a can of beer, which after the ordeal I went through was a rather happy sight.

“I have proven to myself that I could complete what I once thought was impossible”
As I’m finishing writing this article I’m questioning why I’m doing so. It’s a good way of promoting the course and encouraging people to take part, and perhaps has a good message for people facing difficulties in their lives. However, I think writing this article is a way to benchmark the next stage of my physical life. I know just how painful it was the first year round, but I never saw that as a weakness. Not when I was dunked into freezing cold water, not when I was lying in a pile of mud with unbearable pain running through my leg, and certainly not when I hobbled along to the finish line. I have proven to myself that I could complete what I once thought was impossible. That is definitely not a sign of weakness, but of growth and resilience, and it was all worth it just for the sense of accomplishment I felt when crossing that finish line.

Image: Nicholas Moorcroft

For anyone reading this, I ask you to question what you think would be impossible, what even comprehending makes you shiver, and do it. I can’t stress enough how much a little determination can go a long way.

Last modified: 10th March 2020

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