To complete the latest extreme endurance challenge, you need to be one Tough Mudder
I DO not whine. Kids whine. I overcome all fears. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I never leave a Mudder behind. Hoo-ra!
I'm on my knees, hand on heart, reciting the Tough Mudder pledge. And I'd be able to hear my heart pounding in terror if wasn't for the pumping ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and the Mudders' rallying cry of “Hoo-ra” echoing in my ears. I have no idea what I've signed up for. Neither have the large majority of the 9,000 people gathered around me. All we know is that we will test our fitness and fears, our strength, stamina and true grit to their absolute limits. And if the worst comes to the worst, we've signed a death waiver.
Established in the US, Tough Mudder gathered pace in Canada and Australia, and now it has come to the UK. Billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet", it is 12 miles of mud with 25 sadistic, army-devised obstacles to break up the monotony. US Marine Corps participants have said it is even tougher than their basic training. Only 78 per cent of participants even finish the course. But it is not a race – the event is not timed. Nor is it about winning. It is purely the taking part that counts. That, and the helping each other out and over and through one of the most challenging events any of us will ever do. As a bonus, it has also raised $2.5 million for armed forces charities.
Within two minutes of the starting flare, we're up against the first hurdle – an ice-cold river, followed by a steep, muddy bank on the other side. Which would be tough enough to climb, but the rows of barbed wire just eight inches from the ground mean we're on our bellies crawling, elbows scratching against rocks, feet sliding against the sludge, getting a mouthful of dirt with every slippery inch. This is called Kiss of Mud.
There follows, in quick succession, Arctic Enema (that's a skip filled with ice cubes and muddy water, in which you must duck under a wide plank and come out the other end, gasping for air); the Hay Bale Pyramid (climb to the top, scramble down the other side, acrophobics need not apply); Devil's Beard (crawl under cargo nets in more mud); and Boa Constrictor (a series of narrow pipes filled with – yu-huh – muddy water).
Throughout, camaraderie is key. Fellow Mudders pull you out from above, or give a helping shove from below. Which is just as well. Because I defy anyone to get over the Berlin Walls alone– 12ft-high and made of wood, there is just one foothold, about three feet up, then you rely on a big strong man to give you a leg up. Another balanced on the top then grabs you, heaves you over, and you're left to half-slither, half-jump down the other side.
There's the Mud Mile, an energy-sapping series of trenches that seems to go on for ever, each climb out of the sludge steeper and more slippery than the last; the Log Bog Jog (first climb, then crawl under increasingly challenging log obstacles), and Fire Walker, in which you run through a swamp surrounded by 4ft-high flames and choking diesel fumes.
In between, there are long stretches of run, often through mud (hoo-ra!), and a couple of obstacles that are there just for the fun of it (slide down a hill covered in polythene, through a bubble bath, then climb up the other side).
Then, just as you fear they can't throw anything worse at you (though you know in your heart the worst is still to come), there follows first Twinkle Toes (walking 6ft above a river on a narrow log bridge), Funky Monkey (monkey bars over the river, which not only spin round but are greased) and Walk the Plank (a tricky climb and a leap from a 15ft platform into the freezing river). But, hey, it washes the mud off.
Everest is the toughest test of teamwork: only with the help of those at the peak, screaming encouragement and reaching out to grab you, could anyone conquer this mud-covered quarter-pipe. Most of us simply run at it again and again, getting ever weaker as we just miss outstretched fingertips and slide back to the bottom in humiliation.
Finally, having survived all this, shivering and dripping with mud and ice-cold water, the end is in sight. But first, Electroshock Therapy, a field of live wires sending out 1,000 volts of electricity at your arms, legs, shoulders, as you sprint for the finish line.
Why would anyone put themselves through this? Not, surely, for the orange headband thrust on your head as proof that you are among the 400,000 people who will have successfully completed a Tough Mudder somewhere on the planet this year. Nor for the souvenir Under Armour T-shirt. I doubt even the free beer is incentive enough (though I can't imagine anything tasting sweeter).
We do it for the challenge. For the fun of it. For the adrenalin rush that just won't go away even several days later. For the way a memory sparks a smile and a shake of the head in disbelief. I did that? Fellow Mudders, I salute you. Now, bring on Scotland.
• Train – you’re expected to be able to complete 15 to 25 push-ups in a row, six pull-ups and be able to swim 50 yards without stopping. It also helps (though is not essential) if you’re a strong runner.
• You can skip obstacles if you want to. But you won’t want to.
• Wear your oldest, scruffiest trainers – you will want to throw them out as soon as you cross the finish line. And tie the laces tight or you’re likely to lose them in the mud.
• No spikes, golf shoes, rugby shoes allowed – you will end up injuring someone, and that doesn’t exactly fit in with the team spirit ethos.
• Wear some good, tight-fitting Under Armour under your kit – more than once I nearly lost my shorts and was so thankful for the extra, skin-sucking covering.
• Accept help when it’s offered, and offer it back in return.
• Enjoy every minute.
• And stick around for the after-party.
Tough Mudder Scotland is at Drumlanrig Castle and Country Estate, Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, 14-15 July, from £80 (www.toughmudder.co.uk)
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