Tough Mudder 2017

So I only found out I was doing Tough Mudder on Thursday last week. I was fortunately gifted a place to be part of the Trek Team, the official Tough Mudder sponsors, and was able to invite a friend along with me.

I knew it was probably a slim chance any of my non-running friends would be interested and a lot of my running friends were running a race on Sunday. It would also be a bit mad to be up for running a 10-12 mile serious obstacle race at such short notice. It was also in Henley On Thames which isn’t that close. However one of my work friends, George, had done Tough Mudder before, is quite into fitness and is a bit mental ūüėȬ†I offered him the place and after a few minutes of deciding he was up for it. Apparently he “had no plans so why not!”. He also lives in Reading so was literally en route to it. Very handy indeed!

The Trek Team was in the 11am wave so we needed to get there for 10am to pick up our t-shirts and meet our team etc. So I had a rather leisurely morning of waking up just before 8am, eating breakfast and leaving at 8.30am (no Alfie¬†to walk as he’s at my parent’s house ready for me house sitting this week while their on holiday).It was very easy to find Culden Faw, where the event was taking place, and parking was easy peasy. The morning was lovely and sunny, though it was quite nippy in the wind. We arrived, had a quick toilet stop (no queue! Crazy!) and then headed to the Trek stand. They had two stands giving out taster samples to people and selling the different bars, so we had a little try of the different flavours. I’m a big fan of the oat banana bar and have used that before as a pre-race breakfast when pushed for time/amenities. But I hadn’t tried the others so it was like a bit like a buffet.There were some very tasty cocoa coconut bars which were basically like chocolate covered coconut-tasting flapjacks. Very nice.

After a sampling frenzy, we then popped on our super cool Trek t-shirts and met our fellow teammates and another couple of teams who were doing the half Tough Mudder. Everyone was so friendly and lovely. Though I was nervous, I felt far more at ease.

George on my left and two of the girls from the half team

I was especially nervous about the water obstacles. I hate being cold and my past experience with obstacle races has been fairly cold and unpleasant. It was a lot warmer today but the wind was still chilly. I decided to keep my long-sleeved base layer on under the top.

From the Trek team Instagram stories

We got some very VIP treatment by going to the front of the queue to get into the start entrance and being right at the front of the stage where a guy with a mike was getting everyone hyped for the warm-up. The idea was so we could be filmed and photo’ed for the event.

We did a fun little competition which involved the Trek Team choosing the most crazy-looking runner (it was a toss up between a guy in a full bright yellow suit and a guy wearing a psychedelic full body flare outfit), followed by a good dynamic warm-up to get us all going.

The vibe was so different to a regular race. It was all about camaraderie and having fun. We had to say out-loud a set of rules that said we wouldn’t leave anyone behind and we’d help where we could. The guy with the microphone really got everyone going, it was a fantastic atmosphere. Moments before we headed off I decided to¬†not wear my long sleeved top and had a mad 30 seconds before the race started whipping it off and putting my t-shirt back on. Luckily one of the Trek guys was there to look after my unwanted top (so handy).

And then we were off. It was all very relaxed and jovial. Lots of whooping and laughter. It started off with some quite steep uphill running on some trails. We tried to keep together as a group and motivate each other on, though at times George and I kept our momentum going up the hills and the waited at the top to cheer the others up.

Photo credit: Emma Timmis

There were regular obstacles that I’m familiar with, such as climbing over walls and pulling yourself over things which warmed us up nicely. And then there was the one I was most dreading. The Arctic Enema… you basically climbed up to a tube which you slid down straight into a huge skip-like container full of water and ice cubs. Oh my god it was cold. The shock when you hit the water really did take your breath away. You then had to swim under a wooden beam to get to the other side. There were marshals on the outside who kept you moving and checked you were OK, which was good because there was obviously a real danger of panicking or staying in for too long. Getting out of the water I was just numb. George shouted at me “breathe Anna!” as I tried to get my breath back.

Saying all that, it was actually good fun. It was definitely a tough experience but I felt like a superhero afterwards. I was also glad it was one of the first obstacles as it stopped me worrying about it and gave me time to get warm again. I was more than happy to run up the steep hill in effort to get warm again. It didn’t take long thankfully!

Another wet obstacle, called the Block Ness Monster, involved jumping into muddy water and pushing and pulling these huge rotating barriers.

From the Tough Mudder Facebook page

Like most of the obstacles in the race, it involved team work. And not just from your own team but from everyone around. In order to get over the barrier a number of people had to push or pull in order to rotate it. It was good fun but the water was cold and muddy (well, to be expected!).

Some of my favourite obstacles were the ones that didn’t involve water but still involved needing to have help from others to do it. You could not have done it on your own. The Human Pyramid is an example of this, where you literally had to climb on someone’s shoulders and then reach for someone’s hands above you in order to get up.

From the Tough Mudder Facebook page

Made all the more tricky by being wet and slippy with mud! Because of course there was mud on route – churned up especially for us it seemed.

Along the route were hydration stations with Lucozade and water, as well as fuel stations full of chunks of Trek bars for us to scoff. It did make me slightly chuckle seeing these huge containers and people grabbing handfuls with their muddy hands… It reminded me of what Maria had said about the worry of people not washing their hands before sampling tasters when it was in a communal box. Though at some aid stations they had marshals handing them out with gloved hands. Though to be honest, I’m not actually that bothered, all part of strengthening the immune system ūüėČ

I could talk about all the different obstacles but I won’t keep droning on. Each one was tough in it’s own way, whether the shock of cold submerging water, pulling yourself up and over something, crawling through mud and dark narrow pipes, running up steep hills, carrying logs, carrying¬†each other

The one final mention will be the truly AWFUL electric shock obstacle, which you had to run through. We got to it and I was like “I’m just going to go for it, get it over and done with.” I mean, how bad would it be? I was expecting little zaps as the hanging cables hit me (like a perverse jungle of live wires). But OHHH NO. These were full on, straight to the bone jolts of pain. No pun intended here, but it genuinely shocked me the amount of pain it inflicted. To the point that I fell fully over onto the churned up mud.In the end, the course was around 11 miles and took us around 2:45-3 hours (I forgot to stop my Garmin as we crossed the finish line – it was¬†that unimportant). As you can see the miles took a long time to get through.This was mainly due to having to wait for obstacles, doing the obstacles and then the sheer elevation. And not running the whole thing – it’s really not about the running as you can probably tell.

But we finished and survived! Never had a cider tasted so good as that first sip when we were handed it, after picking up our finisher’s t-shirt, headband and Trek goodies of course.
Most of our team weren’t quite as muddy as me due to my last minute mud faceplant, but I wore my mud with pride!George did amazingly. He was like a Duracell bunny the entire race, boosting people along with fun banter and encouragement, even if they weren’t on our team. On some obstacles we practically had to pull him away from constantly helping people as we could have been there forever otherwise. I was glad he came along.
He’s also very similar to me in his love for food so after we showered off (an ordeal in itself: peeling off my layers in the middle of a communal “shower” area and then¬†hosing yourself down using freezing water to get as much mud off as possible) and got changed we headed sharpish to the food area. By this point (3.30pm?) I was getting seriously hangry…The food truck selection was top notch, though I was devastated to see they’d run out of sweet potato fries with pulled pork on top. Instead I went for a falafel wrap (VERY tasty and jam packed full), followed by a pot of pulled pork, stuffing and crackling.So so good and definitely what I needed! I was somewhat jealous of George’s manwich, though he graciously gave me a black pudding sausage (the sandwich contained sausages, pulled pork, crackling and apple sauce).The Trek guys were fantastic. Both our team and the actual Trek people were so nice, supportive and fun. We got lots of freebies to take home with us as well which was the icing on the cake!Tough Mudder¬†was hard, but it wasn’t impossible. I’d fully recommend it to anyone who can run at least 10k, purely because I think you have to have some level of endurance to be able to do it. Though there’s¬†no pressure to run the entire thing or do all the obstacles (you can skip any of them), it’s just a great experience and a way to have fun with friends.

Have you done a race like this before?

Would you ever do Tough Mudder?

What obstacle would most scare you?

**Full Disclaimer: I was given a free entry (with a friend) to the Tough Mudder event as well as free Trek goodies in exchange for posting on social media and writing a recap. All opinions and posts are my own honest ones.**

XRunner Wild Mud Run recap

So this weekend I was back up in Bristol again. As standard procedure, I stayed with Kate and Jamie and they cooked me another very tasty meal of make-your-own burritos.

I’m only just realising how much I enjoy Mexican (or at least, Tex-Mex) food. Tortillas, turkey mince, refried beans, guacamole, rice and salad… heavenly. I brought pudding. I was aiming for healthy without fruit, but that fell flat as I gave up and just went for lemon meringue pie with lemon meringue ice cream (yes, this is an actual thing).Biscuit flavoured ice cream (biscuit!!) with lemon curd¬†and meringue pieces. I mean, you¬†might have thought that that was a bit too much lemon meringue in one bowl but you’d be wrong.

So we were nicely fuelled for our next day’s adventure, the X-Runner Wild Mud Run 10k. Now this obviously isn’t great for marathon training but it¬†is great for general fun and happiness. We were in the 11.30am wave (200-400 runners set off in half an hour waves) and had to be there an hour before. This meant leaving at about 8am as it was just north of Birmingham. The team consisted of Kate, Jay, Jay’s friend Alex, the lovely Katherine (who has done a lot of parkruns and the escape room with us), Kate’s sister Becky and me.Parking was easy (and ¬£5) and it was a short walk down to the race village. As we got closer and closer we could see a lake and lots of obstacles. We also saw people who had already finished the race from earlier waves trudging past us, soaked and muddy. *Gulp*We picked up our numbers (not a bib, but a wristband – bibs apparently wouldn’t survive), our t-shirts (which we’d be wearing to run in – something I’d never do for a running race but strangely acceptable for an obstacle race) and signed a disclaimer. Then we wrote our numbers on our forehead.This was advised so that the photographers could identify us easily. Plus it made us look bad ass. Sort of. The race village had lots of food trucks (ahh the smell of food you can’t eat…), a bag drop and fire pits. Let me tell you, more races need fire pits. It was fairly chilly that morning and standing next to a fire pit while we were waiting to go to our wave was AMAZING.Then we were off. We weren’t aiming for a time, we just wanted fun. Obstacle races are never about finish times really because you want to “enjoy” them and there’s always a little wait for each obstacle anyway. There’s also a camaraderie element where everyone helps each other, roots people on and you wait for your team mates (or they wait for you). It’s just a fun thing to do and the running is far down the list of what it’s actually about.

The first few obstacles were things like hay bales and climbing over walls, which were good fun. Then we had to run up a bloody big hill which really separated the people in the wave. The beginning was probably where most of the running happened, from running up hills to running through¬†trees, fields and woodlands. After a few minutes of running you’d hit another obstacle.

One thing that concerned me was the organiser’s stress of DO NOT DRINK THE WATER or get it in your mouth. This was due to bacteria within the water that could potentially make you ill. So every time we came near a water section or splashed through large puddles I held my mouth firmly closed.

The first water experience wasn’t too bad as we were quite warm by this point. It was up to your bum (quite a shock to the nether regions I must say!). We had to duck under barbed wire which was good fun and not that difficult.This was just as we were coming out of the water. I was feeling all happy and chippy. Barely a speck of mud on me!

A few more obstacles, a couple more stretches of running and then we hit some trenches of very muddy water. It was tough because you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet and I consequently ended up falling down a hole within the water so I was quickly up to my chest¬†in water. My friends laughed and I found it very funny, though shockingly cold. Little did we know what was to come.

As we came round the corner there were long stretches of mud. A bit like a really muddy cross country route that had been run on several times over, churning up the mud. Running through seemed better as we were less likely to sink to our ankles. But as we got further through the mud we caught up with more and more people and realised why there was a bottleneck.The mud that was up to our ankles was now up to our knees. It was very thick and required a lot of strength to wade through. And as we wading through we got deeper and deeper. It was such a bizarre experience. I’ve never been in so much mud in my life. I was using my hands to comb through it and no longer cared about how muddy I was getting.

What was unnerving the most though was not knowing where to put your feet because some parts were a lot deeper than others. Some people decided not to follow the queue of people and headed out around them only to find themselves up to their chests in the thick mud and getting stuck.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it took like 30 minutes to get across about 15m of mud. It was just impossible. Lots of people had decided to skip the section by going under the course partition to avoid it because it was getting to be a bit ridiculous. I had to use the help of several people around me to pull myself out at times. And often having to use my arms to tug my legs out of the mud to keep moving. You could find yourself panicking a bit because it was rather scary being so stuck in the mud and sinking.

Several people lost trainers. After we finished the mud section (sorry, the¬†swamp section), a girl was stood holding both her trainers (well, what looked like trainers anyway…they were completely coated in mud and looked like two muddy boulders) standing in her socks.

Eventually we made it to the part I was most dreading. The swimming part. This involved going up a ladder to a platform to then slide down into a body of water. I was quite cold by this point as the mud part had taken so long and I had lost the warmth I’d gained from all the exertion bits before. I was really not wanting to do this. But as my team were doing it so I had to man up.That there is the face of someone who has accepted her fate but is not one bit happy.The shock of the water took my breath away as we all slid down together and were fully submerged. And I couldn’t get out fast enough. A few swear words might have been said, I won’t lie.

Getting out of the water I was more numb than cold now. It was quite a strange feeling. But as we got running again I started to get very cold. Our next obstacle were monkey bars across more water. I gave it a good go and think I managed three before my slippery hands gave up on me and I dropped myself into the water. AGAIN.

Then we had to get across some floating yellow square things. It was tricky to balance.Then back into the water again. Enjoyment factor now was slightly lower as the cold was really hitting me. A large hill awaited us and I charged up it as fast as I could to get warm again.

We were then faced with a GIANT slippy slide which was just awesome. I slid down on my tummy all the way down a 50m slide-y mat thing and it was just brilliant.

We then had a few more obstacles to get through. The water had cleaned off most of the mud so that was somewhat of a plus!At this point we were nearing the end of the first lap (5k). I was starting to shake with col. It had taken us almost an hour and a half at this point. The thought of going round again (but this time now soaking wet and cold) wasn’t appealing to me at all.

We had a little team meeting as we ran to the next obstacle and decided to just do the one lap. It would take us probably almost four hours in total otherwise (imaging it would be about two hours for another lap as it had already taken 1:30 hours and we weren’t finished yet). This made me feel a lot better knowing we were almost finished!We climbed over things, jumped over some fire (as you do) and then had the final obstacle: jumping off a tower platform thing into a giant mattress. I was like, “pfft! This is fine”. Until I got up there.In the photo above you can see me turn away basically saying “I can’t do this”. Kate was lovely and gave me lots of encouragement but I was really quite scared. This surprised and annoyed me. The marshals told us we needed to land bum first rather than feet first and I was worried I’d cock up and then injure myself.

After having a word with myself, I went for it (after about four false starts). I screamed all the way down but it was actually good fun and the landing ridiculously soft. I felt really chuffed with myself! I thought I was made of stronger stuff, but this really tested me.

And then we were finished, whew!! Even though we didn’t do the two laps and only did 5k, it was the hardest 5k I’ve ever done. I thought this would be fairly easy – a few hay bales to clamber over, a few muddy bits to get a bit mucky in and la di da. But this was really hard work. The mud swamp was crazy, the hills so steep and the water FREEZING.

But that said, it was bloody good fun! Though I did get very cold at the end I don’t regret doing it and would do it again for definite. It was just a good laugh and a challenging day. I’m disappointed with myself that¬†we didn’t do another lap but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, knowing I had to do the water bit all again.We were given our medals, a hot soup and the foil blankets. I have never been so glad to see foil in my life.

Then we headed to the cold showers (otherwise known as hoses) and showered off as best as we could. The worst part was trying to find my bag. It was not an easy process and their bag drop system needs some serious rethinking. I was on the point of freezing despair when I finally found it.

We trudged back to the car and then had the almost impossible task of getting dried and changed without exposing ourselves to the world. We’d brought towels and a spare set of clothes…the process was not fun. I was so cold. But eventually we were in the car, heating on full and heading for food. Bliss.

We stopped at a services and, with our foreheads still branded and us all looking disgusting and dishevelled, we each grabbed our respective food choice. It was now 3pm and we were all VERY hungry. I went for a foot-long turkey Subway with a Starbucks. Oh that Starbucks tasted SO good. Life was good again.Then we headed home. I was staying the night again with Kate and Jamie and she kindly washed my clothes for me. Though we had to do a bit of hosing down beforehand…And then relax! Obstacle and mud runs are really nothing like road races. Or running races in general. No one cares about time (well,¬†most people don’t) and you run as a group. It’s about having a laugh, getting muddy and helping each other out.It’s also about not underestimating how tough it’s going to be. I thought I was going to be absolutely fine because I can run faster than most of my team. But it’s 100% not about the speed you can run, or how many marathons you’ve done. It’s about grit, mental strength and the ability to keep going despite all your sense being assaulted at once. I was definitely tested and my ego took a beating – something which I think regularly needs to happen!

Have you ever done a mud/obstacle race?

What really challenges you?

If you had to choose what would you rather: be really cold, be really hungry or really tired? I think it’s¬†the cold for me. Though I can become a right moody so and so when I haven’t eaten, I can survive. But a cold Anna is not a happy Anna at all.

Chepstow Stampede 10k (Obstacle Mud Run) and foodie fun

I’ve never done a proper obstacle mud race before and honestly I was fairly nervous.¬†I had signed up to run the Chepstow Stampede 10k¬†with my friends, Kate and Jamie, a while ago and now it was suddenly here.

I drove to Bristol to stay with them on Friday night. Because I’m such an intelligent savvy pro at life (*cough*) I winged it with their address in my sat nav with what I¬†thought¬†it was and then found out later I was actually going to the wrong place. In all fairness I was¬†very close with the address;¬†it was in Bristol at least. I haven’t driven to their house in the dark before is my excuse… It just set me back 15 minutes, whoops. Lesson learnt once again never to trust my own (questionable) intelligence in anything.

We had a delicious chicken salad for dinner. Who even are these friends anymore?? They would laugh at me for eating salad in America and now they’re completely converted! They’re like new people. And then we¬†had an early night ready to get up the next morning to drive to Chepstow. We also picked up Kate’s friend, Katherine, en route who I’d met when we’d all done parkrun together a few times a few months ago.

chepstow-stampedeRandom guy in the right photo at the bib pick-up tent…

It was really fun going to the race and picking up our bibs because the three of them had never done a race before. What was a fairly normal and mundane process for me was new and exciting to Kate, Jamie and Katherine. They’d never had a bib number before, had the usual struggles and gripes about where to pin it and getting it straight… it was just really refreshing to go through the process with them (without sounding ridiculously patronising – we were all new to this once after all!).img_6040That said, I was actually really nervous about this race as it was something I’ve never really done before. I’ve done obstacle courses before but never an actual race. I was really glad it wasn’t raining, though it was very chilly. We’d agreed to run it as a team and help each other where needed. Right, let’s do this.img_6041The race started off on road at the Chepstow Racecourse and on a sharp downhill. The running for me was generally fairly easy as I’m a bit faster normally to the others but it was nice to run with them. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of obstacles but we did know at some point we’d be getting wet, so that weighed heavily on all our minds as the temperature was far from ideal.

The first obstacle was climbing over a wooden wall thing. It had very narrow ‘steps’ to use but it was really slippy. I ambitious threw myself at it and slipped almost immediately. More time and care required! It was quite high up but I just didn’t look down and got over it, literally. Kate was very cautious and nervous because she hates heights but she bossed it like a pro!

The first mile flew by. It was crazy how quickly it was going, despite having to wait a good few times for obstacles as there gets to be a bit of a build up while you wait for people. I don’t have a huge amount of obstacle racing experience but I think if you’re expecting to get really good times it will be hard because, from speaking to other people who’ve done similar races, you usually do have to wait a bit. But you can use that time to see (and judge!) other people’s strategies for getting over…and what not to do!

There were lots of obstacles in each mile, things like hay bales to climb over, tunnels to wriggle through, more walls to get over and tires to climb through – things like that basically. Nothing too difficult but also not easy per se, especially after you’ve been running. One of my favourites was climbing up a steep muddy wall using a rope. That was good fun. For each obstacle you didn’t have to do it and normally there was an easier option to choose from as well.

On the last mile there was the dreaded full body submerging into cold muddy water. There were a load of logs held above a stretch of water and you had to crawl under them, your head just above the water, to get through. It was FREEZING. But you just got in there and got it done. The more you think about it the worse it’ll be.

I got out the other side in shock of just how cold it was. It was that weird feeling that I knew I was cold but I hadn’t registered it yet as my body¬†numb. It was only after we continued to run and the wind whipped at us that we¬†really felt it. But we survived! We had to run up that bastard hill that we ran down at the start and crossed the finish line holding hands feeling like warriors.10k-stampedeWe did it in 1:44:33. We were aiming for sub 2 hours so that was perfect. Actually we think it would have been closer to 1.5 hours had we not had to wait so much (1.5 hours was our A Goal ;-)).¬†It was such a fun race. It didn’t feel like any race I’ve done before. I certainly wouldn’t do it on my own – I¬†think the appeal of these races are that you do them with friends and help each other, rather than try and get a speedy time. I didn’t care that I was running (and walking at times) a lot slower than I normally would. It was just such a fun experience.img_6045You weren’t¬†just getting through the miles: you never knew what was coming round the corner, what massive hill would turn up next or crazy obstacle you’d have to get past. The race flew by! I fully recommend it – and for someone who hates being cold and wet, that is good praise indeed! I’m grateful it wasn’t raining though as the course had the potential to get¬†very muddy so we weren’t quite as dirty as we could have been!img_6051

Just a few tips that I thought I’d share¬†for an obstacle/mud run:

  • Don’t go with a time ambition.
  • Wear trail shoes that you don’t really care about.
  • Wear running clothes you’re not bothered about ruining but equally if you’re doing the race in colder temperatures, wear long sleeves and leggings but nothing that if it gets wet will really weigh you down.
  • Possibly wear gloves with grips – I found my hands got very cold and torn around a bit on the obstacles.
  • Bring a towel and a spare set of clothes.

img_6053

  • Bring bin bags to either sit on in the car or put your clothes into afterwards.
  • Help anyone and everyone; there’s such a camaraderie feeling between everyone, whether you know them or not.

img_6054After we’d all had lovely hot showers we headed out for the real prize: FOOD. We went to Spitfire in Bristol which I’ve been to before. Katherine ordered a steak but the rest of us ordered the St. Louis ribs. When I ordered the waiter said, “This is usually shared between two people – it’s quite a lot of food” and Kate was like, “you don’t know Jamie and Anna”. We ordered some chicken wings to share as well. I won’t lie, our stomachs were doing the talking.img_6056We were all in heaven. The ribs were delicious. Up there with the best. The chicken wings were good too.img_6063Jamie and me had no issues polishing off our ribs, though we were defeated by the wings.

Despite being very full we decided to head to a gelato cafe for some pudding. Ooof. I decided to not go quite as decadent as I could have been and had three scoops: Mint Aero, Toffee Crisp and Malteaser. Delicious!img_6065

Then I needed a nap…but I had to drive home. It was a fantastic weekend of the best kind: running and food ūüėČ

What’s your favourite ice cream flavours?

What would be your worst obstacle?

Have you ever done a mud race before?