Mud runners: our Tough Mudder experience

WITH wavering fingers, I hit send on the email.

“You don’t even like getting your hands dirty,” a friend had reminded me.

And with that, my Tough Mudder journey began — problem was, it was in earnest.

You see, the date on that fateful email was January 4. 

The treacherous event? January 19.

I had considered this muddy madness once before, but I’d never actually sent that email.

For the uninitiated, Tough Mudder is an obstacle course, designed by SAS troops, covering roughly 20 kilometres.

There’s mud, lots of it. It’s thick, it’s smelly and it can swallow a sneaker whole.

There’s icy water. It’s deep and it cracks you like an unexpected backhander. 

Then there’s towering walls, barbed wire, electric shocks — 10,000 volts per zap.

Hold up.

The Mud Mile, Arctic Enema, Boa Constrictor, Berlin Walls and the Dirty Ballerina are just a few of the squirm-inducers between you and a safety-orange headband, an icy can of VB and some pretty decent bragging rights.

“Tough Mudder requires team work, and a sense of humour,” says Guy Livingstone, who co-founded the fitness phenomenon with pal Will Dean in 

2010.

“You’re not going to get the fastest time, the super marathon runner can’t just blast off on his own in chase of the gold medal.

“The obstacles require teamwork to get through, they’re brutal but also fun. You get wet, you get muddy and you get tired.”

Last year, Tough Mudder conducted 35 events worldwide. It’s a smash in the US, Canada, Britain, Germany and Australia with half a million people taking part in 2012. 

This year, already 50 events have been booked, including Aussie challenges in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and the Sunshine Coast.

More importantly, the events have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Legacy and similar charities across the globe.

I like to think I keep pretty fit. I gym it most days, combined with some cross-training and boxing.

I’m no “Mona” Moneghetti, but I ain’t the Mona Lisa either. 

I’m certainly active enough — throw in being a dad of three kids four and under.

The lolly addiction, however, had to go.

So, while underprepared by Mudder standards — at 193cm, monkey bar training was proving difficult in the Border’s kiddie playgrounds — I was ready to give it a crack.

I had my team: “Mudd, Sweat and Beers”. 

A team is imperative when tackling a challenge such as Tough Mudder.

We were a motley crew of eight with varying fitness levels, the same strong focus and matching t-shirts.

We ranged in age from 20s, to later-30s (yours truly) to our fearless GoPro cameraman and one-time TM veteran, David, at a frisky 49.

Our mantra: “We start together, we finish together.”

Inspiring, eh?

Our training sessions sought to replicate some of the obstacles we would face at Phillip Island — sans mud unfortunately. 

We leapt back and forth over park fences, scaled cricket nets, dangled from soccer cross-bars and belted up a half-pipe at an Albury skatepark.

We were ready.

In a combination of excitement and nerves we made our way to the expansive island,

Breakfast, obviously, is a must. With about four hours of gruelling exercise ahead you’ve gotta fuel up. 

Bananas, protein shakes, toast and a hearty carb-laden meal the night before were checked off the list.

Based at the MotoGP circuit, the place was abuzz. 

You’d swear the bank of Portaloos adjacent to the car park were the day’s first obstacle, such is the workout they were being given.

There were masses of fit folk. Really fit folk. We gazed long and far, scanning the horizon for an average joe. 

Instead, I spotted a group of muscular Asian kids who had seemingly forgotten their shirts. 

Rookie error, boys.

Once registered, which included signing a death waiver (!), we were branded with our competitor number. It was pinned to our chest, wrapped around our wrists, scrawled across our foreheads and down our arms.

We added some warpaint for full effect. In reality, pink and blue zinc cream.

It was just before 8am, but the starting area boasted a carnival-type atmosphere. 

There was a keg-throwing contest. Various sponsors hawked free samples. 

More protein? Don’t mind if I do.

The “mounting yard”, from where each wave of Tough Mudder wannabes set off, featured its own mini Berlin Wall to climb, just to get you in the mood.

Once inside, the event MC revved us up. He signalled the DJ who obliged with AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap) and Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger.

Adrenaline. Officially. Flowing.

Down on one knee, right hand raised high, we took the Tough Mudder pledge.

- I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge.

- I put teamwork and camaraderie ahead of my course time.

- I do not whine — kids whine.

- I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.

- I overcome all fears.

And in a cloud of orange smoke — we were off.

As we nervously shuffled along the bitumen of the MotoGP racetrack, careful not to expend too much early energy, a fellow competitor dressed simply in a pair of white boardshorts caught my eye.

This guy was obviously the epitome of tough — or stupid. Here he was, ready to tackle this unforgiving 20-kilometre course barefoot. Crazy.

I lost him about halfway — or he lost me.

Around a kilometre in and we were met with our first challenge. The VB beer truck didn’t seem too menacing until we climbed inside.

The Kryptonite-green liquid was excruciatingly cold. 

There were actual ice cubes. So that was the Arctic Enema!

If we weren’t awake before that, we were now. And wet. And cold.

That bit in the pledge about whining? Yep, came close. 

With Tough Mudder, you know beforehand what the obstacles are, just not the order in which they are presented.

Pretty soon, it was time to get dirty — the Kiss Of Mud. 

Face down, commando crawling under barbed wire in the thickest, smelliest brown muck you could imagine. And it felt amazing!

So we were filthy. Our sneakers felt like workboots and we ploughed on. We hit the Underwater Tunnels, which involved bobbing underneath floating barrels in yet more chilling water. At least we were clean again.

The Mud Mile proved one of the team’s favourites. This is where the camaraderie really begins to play out. It’s where strangers become friends.

Truth be told, some of our team had met just the once, or not at all, prior to gathering that morning on the island.

But for the four hours on that course, you couldn’t imagine a closer-knit group of people. We were family.

The Mud Mile begins with a “stroll” through waist-deep quicksand-like sludge. It’s here you have visions of finishing the course with just one shoe.

We saw a few Mudders minus a sneaker. 

One moment of mateship struck me as I spotted a bloke donating one of his socks to a shoeless competitor.

Sounds a little icky out of context, but I’m certain the gesture was appreciated.

After the sludge there are about 10 slippery, jagged mud mountains (OK, they are two-metre-tall hills, but roll with me here).

You pull, you push, you work as a team. You help randoms of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels.

You get bruised, battered and literally taste the mud. But Tough Mudders eat mud for breakfast apparently.

My height, and some of my teammates’ lack of, proved advantageous and disadvantageous in equal measures.

While the Dirty Ballerina — leaping across 1.5 metre mud pits — proved a sinch for your correspondent, the Boa Constrictor — a crawl through a series of muddy, watery pipes — seemed a tad on the tight side.

Similarly, scaling the Bale Bonds — towers of hay bales — was another easy kill for the taller members of Mudd, Sweat and Beers. 

At least, due to Victoria’s horrid bushfire conditions, they weren’t set ablaze as is the case with other TM courses.

Atop the Walk The Plank structure, we were all equal —  that is equally freaking out!

But the three-metre-high leap-of-faith into (more) icy water proved exhilarating from a team standpoint. 

Fear overcome. Next.

The Spider’s Web, like the Mud Mile, proved another unforgettable moment. 

With one of our members struggling to scale the suspended cargo net, we threw our vocal support behind her. Soon enough, a chorus of 40 to 50 fellow Mudders were willing our mate over the top.

Needless to say, it was group hug time.

Moments later we came across another group from the Border — the Anytime Fitness crew. We greeted them like old friends, even though some of us hadn’t met before. “Albury represent” was the cry amid embraces as these two groups of proud Border-ites revelled in the occasion.

And while we treasure our Mudd, Sweat and Beers T-shirts, the Anytime crew have a more permanent reminder of their Tough Mudder adventure — matching TM logo tattoos. Dedication to the cause, I say.

Saving some of the best, and toughest, for last, our final few kilometres involved scaling double 3.5-metre Berlin Walls, traversing The Funky Monkey — a monkeybar contraption far less fun than it sounds and, wait for it ... Everest.

This is where the skate-park training came into play. 

The obstacle involved sprinting up an exaggerated half-pipe. By now, it was slippery, muddy and we were exhausted.

A couple of teammates hit the top first go. This was a bonus, there were helping hands for the rest of us.

After another impressive show of teamwork and Mudder spirit we had but one obstacle to face.

Two words had been playing on our minds all day, and here it was — Electroshock Therapy.

It’s a 15-metre sprint-through charged up livewires with a barricade of hay bales at the midway point for extra cruelty factor.

After 20 kilometres, the body was tired, aching and cramping. Mine were poorly timed, a double calf-cramp brought me to a standstill. ZAP and OUCH!

The finish line is the greatest vision. We started together, we finished together.

It’s hard not to get emotional as you cross. 

Tears were certainly welling.

We’d earnt that orange headband, that can of beer and those bragging rights.

So to Ben, Melissa, David, Tamsin, Kris, Daniel and Caz ... who’s up for Sydney in October?

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop