Sunday 15 July 2012

My First Tough Mudder - Scotland 2012

The Official Video

My Story

The alarm went off at 4:00am and myself and Mrs Curle dragged ourselves out of bed, into the car and shot off 140 miles north to the stage for Tough Mudder Scotland 2012. We arrived with plenty of time to get parked up and temporarily go our separate ways to register.

Registration Sign

I was in and I had my number - 50691. Here was my preliminary tough face. Rookie Tough Face

I had over 2 hours to wait for my start time, so we did some mooching around the obstacles that we could find nearby, whilst I psyched myself up.

The Start

After a couple of hours, it was my turn to get into the start penn. In true Mudder spirit you have to jump over a 8 foot wall to get in.

The starting Pen

The MC got us all warmed up, we chanted, we hugged each other and we counted down to the off.

1 - The Braveheart Challenge

This was a hard 1/3 mile up a steep hill, at this point in time we had little idea of what lay just ahead of us. This was the only part of the course that was completed dry and didn’t involve running on/though/in mud.

2 - Kiss of Mud

Quite an apt description all things considered. This obstacle was all about crawling and to make sure you did it correctly, you had lots of barbed wire about 3 inches above your head. Eyes down, crawl & repeat. It was one of the few situations in which you could literally “have your eye out”. The photo below was taken before 2,000 people had passed through it. By the time I got to it, it was a quagmire. Needless to say, from this point on I was covered in mud.

Kiss of Mud

3 - The Arctic Enema

A long industrial skip filled with water and 50-80,000lbs of ice. You climbed up, jumped in and then had to submerge yourself totally to get under the partition that stood between you and the exit. I can’t begin to explain how cold this was. A cold shower doesn’t come close, the water was very, very, very, very cold.

From this point on I was wet and cold and totally pepped. Weirdly, Jo took the below photo of me straight after I’d came out of the Arctic Enema and I have no recollection of it the photo being taken or even seeing her. I think this is my first experience of transient global amnesia.

Me, after submerging my entire body in near freezing water for 10 metres

There was a short muddy 1/2 mile run or so to the next obstacle.

4 - Boa Constrictor

This obstacle was two pipes about 50cm in diameter and each about 8-10m in length. The first one sloped down into a pool of water, leaving about 30cm of pipe to breathe in. You had to climb up the second pipe which was angled out of water. If you don’t like water or small spaces this is not the obstacle for you. The below video is courtesy of bergrl02 and was from Tough Mudder South East UK 2012

Then there was running, uphill, in mud. Deep mud for what felt like an eternity, but what was actually about 3/4 of a mile.

5 - Walk The Plank

A simple concept, climb up a to platform 15ft in the air and jump into a deep lake. Not so easy to do. The water was once again, very cold. After jumping off and swimming 50m to dry land, my testicles went on strike. I’m still negotiating their release a day later. The below video is courtesy of Clagassey and is from Tough Mudder New England. As a side note, we had no nice rope to help us climb up and no nice ramp out of the lake. We did it true Scottish style, hard and tough.

One part of the obstacle that was unique to this particular Tough Mudder was the Scottish Highland Midge. There were hundreds of thousands of them at the water obstacles and we were the all you can eat buffet.

Then there was more running. In mud. Wet.

6 - Kiss Of Mud #2

More mud crawling under barbed wire up a steep slope. I found out that I’m quite good at this and really fast. Yet again, more mud and in case I hadn’t painted the picture clear enough, every part of my body was freezing cold wet and I was caked in a thick layer of mud. Good times.

7 - Cliff Hanger

Imagine a series of steep, muddy never ending slopes interspersed with river walking through slippery moss covered rocks. This was cliff hanger, it was brutal and involved being on all fours like a bear. If you weren’t covered in mud before, then after this you were. Longest 1/4 of a mile of my life, or so I thought. By this point I was not experiencing cramps or pulled muscles and I was getting no jip from my illiotibial band. This was a luxury that was not to last.

8 - Berlin Walls #1

Two 11ft walls to get over. I had to tackle this one alone as sadly there was no one to help me up. Fortunately I managed it and once on top I helped over a few members of some sporting team from Oxford University. After this there was a brutal period of running (about 1.5 miles) in mud that was between 3 inches and 26 inches in depth.

9 - Underwater Tunnels

About 100m swim in a cold lake, battling with monster midges and ducking under a series of barrels. People comfortable with water (like myself) had to help those that were not comfortable in water through this obstacle. It was a hard obstacle for me, but I can only imagine how hard it must have been for someone who was not happy being in a cold dark bottomless lake, let alone swimming underwater in it. Video courtesy of WRMJeep from Tough Mudder Tri-State

Eventually we all emerged, cold and wet and ready for the run to the next obstacle.

10 - Spiders Web.

A 15ft cargo net climb. At this point the net was covered in mud, very slippery and after the swim my hands were quite numb. All in all it made this obstacle really, really hairy. Those that had climbed it did their best to hold the cargo net in place for fellow mudders who were climbing it. Then more uphill running. In mud that felt like it was filled with sharp slate. If I recall correctly I think it was about a mile.

11 - Kiss of Mud #3

A welcome rest to get on all fours and pull myself along by my arms. At this point my illiotibial band on my left knee had flared up and I was in pain. I was just over half way through. The call it “tough mudder” for a reason. I was about to start finding out.

12 - Firewalker

Running through straw that was on fire. It wasn’t the flames in this one that were so off putting - it was the smoke. Definitely glad I held my breath through this one, I wouldn’t have wanted a lung full of the thick hay smoke.

13 - Mud Mile

The only difference between mud mile and the rest of the course was that mud was constantly more than a foot deep and at times was waist height on this obstacle. We all had to help each other in and out of this. Very hard. By this point I was getting insane cramps in my calves and my groin muscles were on fire. At this point everything felt 100 × harder than it should have been.

14 - Quagmire

So after a long mile haul though sticky, deep mud that caused me to reconsider what cramps really were what could be worse. How about 200m of waist deep clay based quagmire in which you’re alternating between clambering up silty, wet piles of clay & mud and trawling through chest height sludge.

After this the cramps were really intensifying, which combined with the pain in my left illiotibial band, meant that I had to run until I couldn’t and then walk it off.

15 - Trench Warfare

This obstacle was deep in the forest and the run up to it was hard, uneven, very deep mud. The trenches were about two feet high and you had to crawl through more mud, only this time in the dark and to make it more fun the tunnels were filled with thick smoke. This was was horrible mostly because I was cramping up in a small, confined, dark, wet space unable to straighten out until I’d crawled to the end. I wanted to go at full speed, but I could only go as fast as the person in front of me, which was thankfully not too slow.

I eventually emerged in full cramp mode and spent a few minutes on the sideline painfully trying to stretch out the cramps. From this point forward I ran as much as I could and then walked. It felt like 30 seconds run, 30 seconds walk but it was all that I could manage.

Not only was my left knee in serious pain and both calves were cramping but I was also starting to lose my shoes. The mud had engulfed the vecro on my vibrams and they were starting to come off.

16 - Log Jammin’

This was a obstacle in which you ducked under some logs and over others. I’ve always been quite confident in diving over stuff head first and using my balance to do a ‘up and over’ kind of thing. However, every time I landed I almost lost a shoe and there was not enough space to sort it out. I just had to keep on keeping on.

17 - Hold Your Wood

Thankfully this obstacle was a walking obstacle. Pick up heavy log, clean it to your shoulder and run/walk it around the slippery, muddy, banked sides of a lake. I didn’t run this one, I walked it. A sensible choice.

After this there was a long, long, long painful period of walking and running in more very deep mud. Cramps were constant and it really was a case of one step at a time.

18 - Berlin Walls #2

Apparently these were the same as the ones that I’d managed to do without help at the start. However, by this point there was no way I could do such a thing. I teamed up with people, we each helped up two people and then got a bunk up ourselves.

I regret doing something at this point. The guy that gave me a lift up was the last one of our group to help me up. He was a big muscly guy (think Joe Manganiello) and there was no way I could help him over. I should have tried to haul him up, but I didn’t because I thought I’d be unable to. If I had tried to help him, but failed, that would have been fine but I didn’t. I put my own discomfort ahead of the team. This was my only tough mudder fail.

Same height as the first ones, but infinitely harder

At this point I was just over a mile from the finish.

19 - Electric Eel

The first of the electric shock obstacles. The best way to tackle this one was to run and dive full speed at it. If you were lucky you’d only get a couple of 10,000 volt zaps. To make it more fun you were sprayed with water as you were doing it. I backed up, thought about shouting “Leeroy Jenkins” and ran full speed and dived into it. I got zapped twice and I would have got zapped a few more times had I not have aced the full speed dive.

The below photo shows the obstacle, but not me.

The Electric Eel

It was not long after this Jo got her first glimpse of my since I entered the forest two and half hours earlier. By this point I was cramping and I was not alone. Almost everyone I looked at was cramping and an I suspect this was due to the incessant mud. I was half a mile from the finish line and this is what that pure joy (and two weeks of not shaving) on my face looks like.

Joy - half a mile from the end

20 - Funky Monkey

By the time I reached funky monkey I was drained and cramping like never before. All I had to do was climb along a set of monkey bars that rotated, were greased and covered in mud. If I slipped I would go for a swim. I’d like to say that I got halfway but I didn’t. I managed three rungs and then took a dive. The ice cold water felt delicious on my cramping muscles. Very refreshing indeed.

Never going to happen

21 - Everest

A slippery full size quarter pipe to scramble up. As a skateboarder of ten years, I’ve done this hundreds of times , but this time it was not to be. Someone took a bad fall on the obstacle just before I got there and they had to close it whilst the ambulance arrived. The mudder had allegedly sustained a spinal injury — a reminder that this really is a tough event with real consequences. I waited around for about ten minutes, doing star jumps and trying to stay warm. After my ten minute wait they said the ambulance was at least another ten minutes out and obviously their main concern was treatment of the injured mudder.

Jo managed to get some photos of mudders completing it before the unlucky mudder took a tumble.

Everest - pre closure

22 - Electroshock Therapy

The final obstacle and adrenaline kicked in because I was close to the finish line. I knew that the zaps from the electric eel were unpleasant and now I had to run through the same thing, only this time in a foot of mud and navigate a series of hay bails. I got one really nasty zap and two more subtler ones. Here’s me just after my first zap.

Yay, shocked with 10,000 volts


A year of training and I’d done it. I’d survived my first Tough Mudder and been crowned with the badge of honour, the infamous orange headband. Here’s my post-mudder warface

Post mudder warface

Do it again?

Yes. Only this time I know how to train for it.

Is it for You?

That depends. You don’t have to be super fit ( it obviously helps), you just have to have the mental grit to do it. You should certainly be happy in water and almost certainly be happy covered in bacteria laced countryside mud.

Tough Mudder isn’t about finishing times (FWIW it took me three hours) it’s about working as a team and not just the team you arrive with. I turned up alone and was helped by people I’d never met and I also helped people I’d never met.

You could argue that Tough Mudder is cashing on the “weekend warrior” mentality, but so what if it is. It’s hard, if not brutal and getting through it requires working with your fellow mudders, helping people, watching out for those around you, overcoming personal fears and I can’t see a negative way to frame that.

I’ll be doing it again next year and I’d encourage anyone to do the same.

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