14,000 take on the Tough Mudder challenge

Competitors tackle the mud in a Tough Mudder in London. Picture: Complimentary
Competitors tackle the mud in a Tough Mudder in London. Picture: Complimentary
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As the woman responsible for running the Tough Mudder events in Britain, I’m a little disappointed to learn that Sarah Harvey hasn’t even taken part in one. Yet.

I can say this a little smugly as I am a veteran of two but she’s quick to point out that this situation will be remedied very soon.

“I’ve been working at all our events so far, but we have a team from Tough Mudder UK competing at Manchester in October,” she says. “I’m actually beginning to feel a bit nervous now.”

But before that, as many as 14,000 people will be descending on Dalkeith Country Park this weekend to dive into ice, run through live electric cables, dash across fire and walk the plank. And, since this is called Tough Mudder, there will be plenty of mud too.

“The venue is really sizeable – it’s going to be our second largest event,” says Harvey, UK vice president of the event that combines a half marathon with a military-style assault course. The brainchild of two Britons, it began in 2010 in the United States and is now in its second year in the UK. “We had three events in the UK last year and there was a phenomenal response,” says Harvey, “so we are doing six events this year. We always knew Scotland would be good for two reasons. One, Scots love to get involved in the outdoors and are very tough people. Second was the sheer quantity of beautiful venues we could find. A Tough Mudder venue needs to be at least 350 acres. We look for a mixture of countryside: lovely open fields, forests, hills, natural water features to make a really exciting course, and that’s exactly what Scotland has to offer.

“Also, there is the wonderful light in Scotland in the summertime. We always have this post-event party at the end. People stick around, have food, have something to drink and we want to make sure it’s nice and light so everyone can enjoy the outdoors.”

The event attracts everyone from corporate, ordinarily office-bound suits to serving military personnel, and the Scottish event will be no different. “We have a group of people coming from Help the Heroes,” says Harvey, the charity partner of Tough Mudder.

“It has an organisation within it called A Band of Brothers and A Band of Sisters – former personnel who have been injured in some way and who are looking to give back to the facilities which helped in their rehabilitation. We have a large number of people running from both of those in Scotland.”

Only around 20 per cent will be from Scotland, another 60 per cent from the rest of the UK, while a growing number of visitors are part of Tough Mudder tourism. “We’ve seen about 20 per cent travelling over from Europe and the US who are really attracted to the local area and want to do a Tough Mudder while they’re there,” says Harvey. “In Scotland there will be a lot of Scandinavians and a lot from France.”

But with the many challenges already out there – from the Spartan race and Total Warrior to Survival of the Fittest, Rat Race and many, many more, what makes this one (which costs a hefty £85 to enter, though early birds get a discount of £35) so special?

“The two things that set it apart are the challenging nature, but also the fun. We have a unique balance of the two. It’s not a race, it’s something you do as part of a team. Some people time it on their watches but we really encourage people to compete with a team. Most of our obstacles are too difficult to complete by yourself anyway; you need to have your friends around for the physical challenge. But more important than that, there’s always going to be one obstacle that you find challenging for whatever reason psychologically.

“A good friend did our event and she was absolutely terrified of cold. We have this one obstacle called Arctic Enema where you basically jump into a skip full of ice and you have to swim under a barrier. You are completely submerged.

“She was terrified. The only reason she was able to complete it was she had her friends around her and her teammates who encouraged her to get in and pulled her out at the other end. So the camaraderie of the whole event is I think what really makes it unique.”

So, for Harvey, what is that one obstacle that gives her the shivers? “I have to say it’s the electricity. I have run through the Electric Shock Therapy twice and the first time it was fine, the second time I was down on the floor twitching, it was awful.”

But, hey, don’t let that put you off.

Tough Mudder is at Dalkeith Country Park, www.toughmudder.co.uk