Tough Mudder 2014: London South review
I was perilously under-prepared, but I did have a burning desire to experience something completely new
I’d heard the horror stories and seen plenty of the terrifying photos.
So when I was offered a chance to take part in the 2014 London South Tough Mudder less than a fortnight before the event, my immediate response was a resounding ‘no’.
But thanks to some persuasive friends and my own curiosity, I came round to the idea.
Because of the short notice I was perilously under-prepared, but I did have a burning desire to experience something completely new.
Dubbed “probably the toughest event on the planet”, Tough Mudder is the endurance test that throws everything at its participants.
It has quickly become a worldwide phenomenon. By the end of this year, two million men and women aged 18 and over will have entered one of its events.
We arrived in a muddy Winchester field at around 09:00 along with thousands of other ‘mudders’. The sheer numbers of people was astonishing – and each one was paying around £100 for the privilege. We were told that as many as 15,000 would take part in the 12-mile course on the Saturday.
The average age of participants – made up of around 70 per cent men and 30 per cent women – is 29, and the courses have an overall completion rate of 78 per cent.
After jotting our names on waivers and glancing over underlined phrases including “inherent risks” and “catastrophic injuries”, we dropped off our bags and headed to the start line.
The first ‘wave’ of participants sets off at 07:30, with the rest following every 15 minutes until mid-afternoon.
After a few star jumps and a rousing speech from a Tough Mudder employee who no doubt spends his winters conducting Apres Ski parties in the Alps, we set off through a plume of orange smoke.
I quickly realised that there was no shying away from the running aspect of the event. The course is essentially a half-marathon on relentlessly hilly, muddy paths, with obstacles placed every mile or so.
A couple of wooden walls to climb over got us going before the first of many water-based challenges loomed over the horizon.
The first, Walk the Plank, involved climbing high above a four-metre deep tank of ice-cold water and jumping in. More exhilarating than painful, we climbed out of the water and jogged off with a genuine excitement for what lied ahead.
The team spirit of the event became clear early on. Strangers helping strangers, this wasn’t a race. No competition – we were all in it together and we were all going finish together.
Other obstacles included the dreaded Arctic Enema, a swim through icy water and under a row of tyres, and Electric Eel, a crawl through a pool of shallow mud under dangling cables wired with 10,000 volts of electricity.
My lack of cardio preparation began to sting during the final couple of miles but we powered on as a team.
In typical assault course fashion, the final obstacles were the most brutal. Everest, a run up a greasy quarter-pipe, would have been impossible were it not for the help of my team-mates to drag me up the final few vertical inches and onto the platform.
And Electroshock Therapy, a run through a mud pit of live wires, was cruelly placed before the finish.
I crossed the line drenched, covered in filth and with blue lips.
But the overall sense of achievement far outweighed any of those short-term problems.
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