So I did a Tough Mudder last weekend! For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is described as “seriously gruelling” and “probably the toughest event on the planet” – a 12 mile hill, mud and obstacle course designed to drag you out of your comfort zone by testing your physical strength and stamina, and your mental determination and resilience. There have been over 200 events over 6 countries and the event was founded by a British former anti-terrorism agent (surprise, surprise). I just read a random stat that there are over 10,000 Tough Mudder tattoos, testament to it being both a badge of honour to be celebrated with pride and to its cult status among aficionados. I’m going to share a few of my thoughts on it, tell you why you should try one and give you a few training and course tips.
The run part is self-explanatory. You aren’t running in mud for the most part but rather (at least in the case of the London West course) in beautiful English countryside. The course was fairly hilly (positive thinking: great HIIT) but the atmosphere is so fun, especially if you have good team-mates. To the extent we were tired, banter with boys got us up the hills no problem. The obstacles are a mixture of hilarious, challenging and utterly terrifying. The names will give you some idea:
King of the swings
Kiss of mud
Balls to the wall
The obstacles fall into four main categories: very muddy stuff, climbing walls/monkey bars, horrible cold water stuff and avoiding hazards. I don’t want to spoil any surprises because I think every single one of you should do one and see for yourself but I will simply share a few thoughts about scaling walls, running/crawling through mud/tunnels and jumping into icy water. I absolutely loved the very muddy ones. That was my thing. The legitimised chance to basically roll around in mud was (slightly worryingly) extremely enjoyable. I have never been in waist height squelchy mud. Why oh why have I been on this planet 35 years and not experienced this joy? I will do another Tough Mudder just for that. The cold water ones were the worst for me, somewhat unexpectedly because I am a total water-baby; it was the temperature. The Arctic Enema, where you shoot down a near-vertical slide into ice cold (ice FILLED – and they are constantly pouring more ice in just to keep it that way – how kind) cold water which completely submerges you, is one of the most horrible experiences imaginable. The physical shock of plunging into water that cold is really not fun – you feel like you can’t breathe. My thoughts for all of about three seconds were: “OK best case scenario I have hypothermia, if I’m not currently having a shock induced coronary and nightmare/dreaming this thing. WTF am I doing this?” But then thirty seconds later, you have scrambled out the iceberg-infested water, are hugging your team-mates and feel totally f***ing hardcore invincible, albeit slightly whimpering from being wet and a little cold for the next few miles of the run.
Many of the obstacles require team-work, as you form human pyramids to get over walls or carry a tree trunk sized log between a group and over a wall. We realised we were probably net takers in the life of Tough Mudder. Being (ex-)wives and mothers, this was a nice feeling. Big, tough, kind men were willing to basically carry us over some of the walls and catch us at the top of the ones we had to scale by running at, and we weren’t able to be so useful in return. Oh, also, confession time: we were barely holding the log. The men we carefully chose to team with as we approached that obstacle were so tall that by necessity they unfortunately carried most of its weight. The hazard I was most apprehensive about was the Electroshock therapy. I HATE that feeling of static. I need not have feared this at all – in fact, I didn’t get a single zap. It just proved to me that I do have balance and coordination when it really matters to me and I am concentrating properly. Bambi-on-ice/newborn foal (just some of the names Jonny has called me in past PT sessions) was like a human ninja avoiding every single live wire like her life depended on it. I felt like a total badass.
Why? An ode to resilience
You might be thinking: life is hard enough without going out of your way looking for hazards. Why on earth do a Tough Mudder (or any obstacle course or endurance activity)? But that is exactly the point. I really truly believe the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. These obstacle courses push you past mental and physical barriers, thus increasing mental and physical stamina, and that can translate back into your life. I think any fitness challenges make you feel mentally more robust as well as physically: maybe if I can handle Tough Mudder, I can handle all the everyday life crap that (like any human), I have to deal with on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Life is demanding and unpredictable; it doesn’t always turn out as you planned in all sorts of ways. Any extra help I can get on the resilience front: bring it on.
Resilience is such an important life skill. I think this is why I am eternally grateful for Scottish boarding school and fearless ex-pat parents. For any child raised in plush surroundings and fully staffed homes, especially one who started modelling as a teen (*cash/high life), how could enforced 6am campus perimeter runs, Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award activities (including carrying all your food and shelter on your back around mountains for three days), spending time with orphanage children in third world countries, counting vitamin pills for factory workers in Jakarta or white-water rafting in Central America not be a good idea? When the going gets tough, as it always does in everyone’s life at some point, you’ve got to be tough enough to handle it.
Completing a Tough Mudder is a controlled and safe way to increase your physical and mental stamina while having fun. More than 2.5m people have earned the coveted orange headband and helped raise well over £5m for Help for Heroes (UK) and Wounded Warriors (US/Canada), charities that give practical and direct support to wounded, injured and sick soldiers/armed forces personnel. Amazing. Add to that the feeling of post-course completion euphoria, a kind of endorphin rush combined with pride, a sense of achievement, a reinforced belief in the human spirit, the value of teamwork and the purpose of community, well, we are talking a serious dopamine hit.
How to prepare
I did absolutely no dedicated preparation except going to a single Mudder Maker class at Virgin Active gym. In fact, it was the invitation to the press launch of this that sparked my interest. It was four weeks ago and since then, I just continued my usual fitness regime which is fairly variable. On average, 4-5 hours/week split between weights/HIIT/running/pilates/whatever I get invited to that sounds interesting and fits with my schedule. The Mudder Maker class was really tough (and I am used to tough HIIT-based classes and very fit). Give it a go if you like a challenge – it was varied and probably as great a calorie burner and total body workout that you can get in a very short space of time.
You actually don’t need to train too hard to be able to get through the course – you might fall in some shallow water or mud if you can’t do monkey bars. You might have to walk some of the hills if you aren’t super fit. You might need some help from big toughies and Mudder legionnaires over some of the obstacles. But with no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, Tough Mudder is not about how fast you can cross the finish line. Rather, it’s a challenge that emphasizes teamwork, camaraderie, and simply accomplishing something that is arduous.
Don’t be too nervous about the preparation. As fate would have it, I had several events in the 24 hours prior to the race, including my fav jewellery brand De Grisogono’s private dinner at Annabels, a lunch with my parents and some of their friends at Boodles, a meeting at 10 Downing Street, and having to swing by the Be:Fit festival to meet with some brands as well as juggling some activities with my children. I could re-phrase this in fitness terms: my pre event carb loading was chicken pie, wine and cake and a whole load of random tasters of new products at Be:Fit, and my cardio sessions were on dancefloors and bouncing around town. I was absolutely fine for the event and actually, as I crossed the finish line I was thinking I could run for much longer (“like why don’t they do a marathon length Mudder?”). I think that was adrenaline. I spent 15 hours in bed when I got home, getting up only for food, which is completely uncharacteristic but perhaps explained as much by the intensity of the week before as much as the event itself. Everything hurt for 12 hours, and I felt exhausted for about 24 but then I was absolutely fine with zero ongoing aches and pains or lack of energy at all. 24 hours post course I felt amazing! Re-fuelling and rehydrating is absolutely key after this kind of event. I ate a lot that weekend (that part isn’t so completely uncharacteristic).
You need really good trainers that you are happy running in for 12 miles. I am now going to say something about my trainers that you’ll think has been written by the brand and I can assure you my opinion is UNBUYABLE (I’m a dual qualified lawyer for one – my opinion is inaffordable! I was in fact a trade marks specialist, the philosophy of which is consumer confusion. I have always thought that integrity is one thing you cannot afford to lose in life. I am worth nothing as a writer or blogger if I sell out and I never will, at least in such a way as compromises my integrity. Proviso over!). My Adidas Pure Boost shoes have given me back my love of running. This is life changing for me! I had a long standing knee injury from my cross country running teenage years which has niggled for years and precluded me from doing all but essential or occasional running. I have a really high instep and for some reason, the wedge in the pure boosts makes my knee better aligned with my foot and the injury so far has not returned. I truly rate these shoes. Worth trying if you have an instep/arch or knee issue. N.B. Whatever shoes you wear will be absolutely trashed by the end from having been fully submerged in both mud and water (along with the rest of you).
I would recommend full length leggings and lightweight long sleeved top (ideally something like this) which dries fast and can be tied around your waist if you do get hot). Despite the running and sunny weather, I was more cold than hot for most of the day (thanks for that Arctic Enema). There are plenty of people running in shorts or short sleeved vests or tshirts – maybe it is a model thing, we always protect legs and arms from scratches etc. if at all possible. Plus I do have a fairly reptilian temperature gauge, having been mainly raised in hot countries.
Course survival tips
As with everything in life, the most important thing is the people beside you on your journey. Pick the right team-mates. In choosing your fellow mudders, I would put sense of humour and positive attitude as important as level of fitness. We had so much fun. Also, another tip I would give is not to be unnecessarily gung-ho. We skipped one obstacle that involved submergence in seriously cold water for the second time. I don’t feel like I failed. We made a call based on our childrens’ right not to have mothers returning with hypothermia. At that point, we had finally just dried from the f’ing Arctic Enema and I was still covered in goosebumps despite having run a further few miles. It just wasn’t worth it. Know your limits and don’t feel peer pressured into doing anything that your gut tells you isn’t a good idea. That is where injuries happen and there are injuries at Tough Mudders, as there unfortunately are at all such events. There are plenty of reassuring ambulances all around the course which is actually a great reminder to be careful. I wouldn’t recommend doing it if you have any heart trouble, and you should check the website for further details. It is a very well planned event. There are loos, snacks, water and first aid available at many points throughout the course. The philosophy and atmosphere is professional, supportive and fun. You take an oath prior to setting off which emphasises the importance of teamwork. A bottle of ice cold cider is placed in your hands as you cross the finish line (which I did not drink – anyone else remember Strongbow and Diamond White or was that a Scottish teenage thing?!) We were really grateful for our Sw’ell bottles of ice-cold homemade lean green protein shake (lean vanilla protein powder, spinach, kale, avocado, banana, blueberry, chia/flax/hemp seed, maca, spirulina, chorella, wheatgrass, almond milk, ice). And a few sips of champagne. (Since I appear to have mentioned alcohol so many times in one post, I feel like I need to point out the following: hand on heart, I probably drink less than all healthy non-teetotal adults. Truly. 90% of my downtime is reading or writing, sober.)
As soon as my eldest son (8) saw this on the website, I was persona non-grata for not bringing him. Mini Mudder is a 1 mile obstacle course mud run designed specifically for adventure-seeking kids aged between 7-12 and over 1.1m/3.5ft. My boys are very sporty, worryingly fearless (literally dive to catch a cricket ball or score a rugby try) and at least 5% feral when outside so “adventure-seeking” would be a diplomatic description. The course gives kids the chance to work as a team, get muddy, and experience the thrill of adventure. It is featured at all Tough Mudder events in the US, UK and Ireland. Next time. (I will be held to this).
I leave you with the words of legionnaire (multiple mudder) John Thoel in case mine haven’t inspired you enough!
“I run for the feeling of pride knowing that you helped someone overcome a difficult challenge. I run for the teamwork and camaraderie that only Mudders understand and share throughout these events. Tough Mudder is a life changing experience that I hope to continue sharing with new people every day.”
Everything else you need to know? https://toughmudder.co.uk/.