Tough Mudder Scotland 2012: 50 Shades of brown

Journal

Tough Mudder Scotland 2012: 50 Shades of brown

Rob and Cam before the start

The original challenge to attempt Tough Mudder Scotland came from Eoan back in February of this year. I knew at the time that it would be the most difficult physical challenge I’d ever attempted, but I thought it was a great goal to set for the day after I turned 40. By the time Eoan and all the other folk he’d invited had dropped out of the event, it was just me and my mate Campbell who would be facing the challenge.

Although I was training for the Bealach Beag, in the months before Tough Mudder Scotland I watched countless YouTube videos of the events held all around the world. A high percentage of the time I’d see ridiculously fit individuals push themselves through and over an insane collection of obstacles under perfect blue skies complete with relentless sunshine.

It looked fantastic and I couldn’t wait to get off the bike and get on with lifting weights and building up my running legs!

As fortune would have it almost all my training runs were in the dry – maybe the odd shower, but nothing that got me soaked. However, as the wettest summer on record wore on, I knew that in all likelihood my luck would run out. My final training run, a 12k slog from Helensburgh to Rhu and back in a torrential downpour that resulted in water damage to my phone, was a more accurate representation of what my Tough Mudder experience would be.

That week before the event it rained constantly. Demoralised I checked the weather forecast for the area each morning and although only showers were forecast for the day, I knew the course would be a total state with the amount of water that had fallen. I reasoned that once I’d plunged into ice water and slopped through the first stretch of mud it wouldn’t matter how much muddier I got.

My birthday came and went quietly – I went to work as I usually do and was presented with a generous cheque from my colleagues towards my sponsorship efforts. I’d asked for folk to donate rather than getting me some tat for my desk, but I was really impressed by the £80 boost to my total. Like it did when I attempted the Bealach Beag, the weight of sponsorship and expectation made the challenge ahead seem that much more difficult.

So, as much as I fancied a quick pint to celebrate my birthday, after work I jumped on the train to head for Claire & Campbell’s place instead of heading out for drinks. We’d decided it was better for us all to stay the night at their house and head off together in the morning for the early registration call. Our start time was 10 am, but the instructions were to arrive two hours before then, so we’d have to be up really early and I wanted to have a clear head.

The drive down was fine and traffic wasn’t bad at all up until a couple of miles outside of Drumlanrig Castle. That was when the jams started and I started to get nervous about making our start time. We crawled forward in the traffic with other competitors and spectators, all anxious to get parked and get registered in time. We finally got parked around 9 am and by the time we had got our registration packs and left our kit at the bag drop it was after half nine, so it was maybe good advice to aim for arriving two hours before the start – we were cutting it a bit fine!

I’d ordered Cam’ and I a pair of black t-shirts with a greyish Fox logo on the chest. Entering us as Team White Foxx I thought the t-shirts would add a nice touch and, with our names put on the back, would make it easier for us to pick each other up in a crowd. With our numbers pinned on our chests and scrawled on our arms and foreheads, we joined in with the warm-up.

Rob & Cam warming up
Rob & Cam warming up

Doing star jumps and whatnot in a massive crowd of people in lycra and fancy dress to I’m Sexy And I Know It by LMFAO was somewhat hilarious! I was quite enthusiastic about it – even doing the actions to the “wiggle wiggle wiggle” bit before realising that not many people were joining in. The MC encouraged us to shout “Mudder!” each time he said “Tough!” Campbell looked unimpressed.

Yes, I agree it was over the top and a bit ridiculous, but we’d paid £100 each to be there and the girls had paid £10 each just to come and watch us, so I was going to make the most of every moment. 🙂

With the warm-up over the MC told us all to get over to the start area for the 10 AM wave. The girls headed up to there in a straight line, while we had to loop around the back and climb over a “Berlin wall” into the pen they held us all in before they released us. It was on the way there that my enthusiasm might have gotten the better of me. I saw a tent that said “Free Hair Cuts” on it, so I went in to see if there was a queue and there were just a couple of guys getting their heads shaved.

“What sort of haircuts do you do?” I asked the two girls brandishing clippers.

“Mullets or mohawks.” One of them replied.

“Well, I don’t want a mullet.” I said, “That’d look stupid.”

Over to my right I was aware of Claire telling Campbell that we needed to get to the start area and didn’t have time to mess about, but I was in the moment and there was nothing else for it. I sat down, the girl buzzed away with the clippers. When she was done I asked if I could have blue or orange colour on it, but she said there was only black left. I told her to go for it and I emerged from the tent with a black mohawk. First time I’ve ever had one of those – it felt breezy!

When I caught up with Campbell he said I was mental and, as I couldn’t really see exactly what the girl had done to my hair, I couldn’t really argue. We climbed over the Berlin wall (where I tweaked my right pectoral!) and joined the crowd. This, as my friend Patrick would say, was where the rubber met the road.

Rob and Cam at the start of Tough Mudder Scotland
Rob and Cam at the start of Tough Mudder Scotland

While we waited on 10 am rolling around an MC was saying encouraging things and an event photographer was taking pictures in the crowd. We got talking to a few folk around us – most people looked as nervous as I felt by this point. Some folk around us looked very fit indeed, while others looked less fit than I felt. It didn’t really matter at this point – there was no turning back.

When the air horn went to start us all off the front of the crowd surged away with a cheer. Being at the back we had to wait a little bit before we could get going, then did our best to rush enthusiastically over the start line – I raised my arms for effect so that Fliss could get a good mood shot.

The first kilometre was just running along at the tail of the pack whilst folk to the side in highland dress swung swords in a menacing way and shouted encouraging things at the crowd in general. This wasn’t so tough, really, although the course would turn steeply uphill for a couple of hundred yards and that left us a bit winded.

Soon we were at the first proper obstacle, one where you had to crawl along muddy ground underneath rows of barbed wire. Campbell went through this in no time without getting any mud on his number. I, on the other hand, was smeared all the way down my front when I got back to my feet. Clearly, I lacked technique and already I was regretting not going to the local “boot camp” workouts as part of my preparation.

Cam emerges from the Arctic Enema
Cam emerges from the Arctic Enema

Still, nothing could have prepared me for the next obstacle – the Arctic Enema. A plunge into the iced water where you had to submerge yourself to get under a beam, then quickly haul yourself back out at the other side before the freezing temperature cramped up your muscles.

The families had walked up to see us go through this, so I got a kiss and a high five from Elisha before I went in. I didn’t really see Campbell go under because there were folk in the way, but from the pictures, I can tell our reactions were similar. It was breathtakingly cold – so much so that I had to take a few attempts to breathe in before plunging into the ice and under the beam. Having your head under water that cold just sets off so many panic reflexes – as soon as I was up on the other side I just thrashed forward to try and get out quickly.

Me emerging from the plunge into the Arctic Enema
Me emerging from the plunge into the Arctic Enema

Boom! It definitely felt like we were taking part in Tough Mudder after that – it was brutal, but it was great to get one of the obstacles that concerned me checked off the list. We said goodbye to the families and pressed on quickly to try and get the temperature back into our bodies. It was probably one and a half kilometres before I felt like I’d warmed back up.

I wanted the obstacles to come thick and fast, but it turned out they were clustered together, so for a long while it was mostly just running along muddy trails, which I was a bit disappointed about.

Once in the thick of the woods, it was hard to keep your bearings, so it was good to see the first water/aid stop if only to help gauge our progress. I had a couple of cups of water, but after seeing Campbell’s reaction to the free energy gel they were handing out I decided to pass on that!

Right after the water/aid stop, the next obstacle was the Boa Constrictor. This was another one on the list that made me apprehensive, but the pipes weren’t nearly as narrow as I thought they’d be and didn’t really go deep into the water either, so that was a piece of cake.

This Glaswegian bloke had been part of our group and he’d wait to help people all the time – properly getting into the spirit of the event. He helped haul me out of the second, upward sloping Boa Constrictor pipe, which was quite difficult to get out of because you’re so slimy with mud by that point. Realising this, I stopped to pull Campbell out before we headed on.

Rob & Cam scaling a Berlin Wall
Rob & Cam scaling a Berlin Wall

We’d see the Glaswegian bloke again a few times as the event wore on. He was ridiculously fit and helped get us over the second set of Berlin Walls at the second water/aid stop. I dropped an electrolyte tablet into my cup of water to try and help fend off the cramp, and then we paused for a minute or two to see our families where they’d gathered at the top of the hill.

I ran down the steep bank and managed to keep my feet to the bottom, but Campbell went for the undignified bum slide all the way down. His technique looked more fun than mine, to be fair.

At the foot of the hill, we went through some trees, through a river, up a muddy bank, and off again on another long slog on a muddy trail. I think we lost touch with the Glaswegian guy at this point, which was a shame because he was a good man to have around.

It was odd that no matter how fast we seemed to go or how long we took going over an obstacle, we’d always seem to be with the same people. Mostly it was a dozen or so folk from Liverpool who were a great laugh and we all helped each other along at different points during the day.

The banter helped keep our spirits up, too, as some of the stretches of running were proving hard going. Campbell was having trouble with his calves cramping up, which was something I’d worried about myself because I’d had it happen whilst training, but on the day it didn’t affect me.

Emerging from the woods, the next big obstacle lay before us – the platform jump into a lake. This was pretty high and I did not like the look of it one bit. Campbell said straight away that he was skipping it and would wait for me off to the side, but I felt obligated to attempt every obstacle considering the amount of sponsorship money I’d raised.

As I stood in the queue I got talking to the guys around me, including the American guy who’d been behind me in line at the head shaving tent. That was when Campbell appeared beside me again, saying he was getting eaten alive by the insects anyway, so he might as well jump in the lake!

I managed to slip and fall climbing up to the platform, which was much harder than it looked due to all the mud that had accumulated. Once at the top a couple of folk in front of us were planning on jumping together and it took ten to twenty seconds for them to pluck up the courage. Once they were gone we moved to the edge of the platform – it looked a long way down, so I figured we should get it over with before the nerves took hold.

As we stood there I said to Campbell “What’s the plan? Are we going to…” and he was gone.

Okay, so we’re not jumping in together!

I waited until he’d resurfaced and had swum clear before I gingerly stepped off the platform. Everyone we spoke to about that platform jump said they’d planned to jump in, push off the bottom, then swim to the side. None of us had hit the bottom, even those that said they’d tried to tombstone in to get as deep as possible, so Big Mudder (as the event organisers collectively called themselves) had obviously dug out the lake pretty deep to ensure that we didn’t.

I had some trouble swimming to the side of the lake to get out, and saw a girl who’d started beside us having a bit of a panic attack and needing help from the safety team. The trouble was that it was so deep that every time you thought you should be able to put a foot down there was nothing there – I could see people all around me doing the same and struggling to keep their heads up.

We were about 100 yards from the next obstacle – lines of barrels across another lake that you had to go under one after the other. Campbell did skip this one because he didn’t think his calf muscles would take the cold. He was right to – it was freezing and after two sets of barrels you couldn’t touch the bottom anymore, so it was a case of pushing yourself under water and swimming as hard as you could to get under the barrels. I hadn’t thought much of this obstacle when I saw video footage of it, but it was a lot more challenging than it looked.

After that it was yet another slog through the woods before the next obstacle of note, the spider’s web – essentially a giant cargo net that you had to go up and over. The trouble with it was, it wasn’t big enough and it had created a really bad bottleneck in the event. The queue was twenty odd people wide, fifteen people deep and the last thing you wanted to be doing when you were cold and wet was to be standing around. Campbell forced his way to the front and was up and over it a couple of minutes before I even started, but it didn’t take me long to join him for what we expected was going to be another slog of a run.

It turned out that the obstacles were coming a bit faster now, though. Another barbed wire crawl, followed by a run through a corridor of hay bales that were on fire, before one of the hardest obstacles of the day – the Mile of Mud. It was essentially mounds of clay-like earth, each followed by a plunge into the waist height (or deeper) trench that the earth had come from. I tweaked my ankle trying to jump clean over the first trench and I felt it burning with pain as I went over the mound that followed.

Campbell had got ahead of me, so I didn’t really see what happened when he suddenly disappeared under the silty brown water. A man in front of him turned and hauled him back to the surface. Man, he was just completely covered in mud. Apparently, his calf had cramped up on him and he just went down into the deep part of the trench with no way of supporting his weight. Pretty scary. Campbell skipped the rest of the Mile of Mud while I soldiered on to the end. I knew I was lucky not to have done worse damage to my ankle, so made my mind up to play it safer from that point on.

After that, there was yet more running, followed by a cool obstacle called Trench Warfare, which looked and smelled like it had been a lot more exciting earlier in the day when they’d clearly been letting off smoke grenades to lend it some atmosphere. That done, there was a bit of a run before an obstacle where we had to go under and over sets of barriers, followed by “Hold your wood” – essentially carrying a log around a lake.

The final long run of the afternoon brought us down to the last of the Berlin Walls – this set of walls was much higher than those we’d tackled beforehand and rather than try to get over them, Campbell opted to save his strength and helped me and others get up and over instead. I fell like a ton of bricks from the last one – I’d tried to lower myself down, but the top was so slippy with mud that I just lost my grip and fell. Luckily nobody was below me!

A short run down the hill from that and we joined the queue of folk waiting to go under the Electric Eel obstacle. This was like the barbed wire crawls we’d done already, but with electrified wires hanging from the barbed wire. Nobody seemed to want to go through it, but Campbell wasn’t screwing around and just pushed his way to the front and went for it. I saw him take at least three big shocks and it didn’t look pleasant.

He shouted at me to keep my head down for it once he was out of the other side and with that in mind I just threw myself under it, trying to slide as far as possible. I was lucky – I took two or three shocks, but none of them hurt that much. This gave me a false impression of what the big shocks were like, as I’d discover at the final obstacle.

Cam & Rob at the Monkey Bars
Cam & Rob at the Monkey Bars

My quads were starting to cramp up by this point, but about half a kilometre of running later we caught sight of our families waiting by the monkey bars to cheer us on. It was great to see them again, knowing the end was in sight and that soon we’d be going home for dinner and drinks.

I knew I’d struggle with the Monkey Bars due to hurting my shoulder the month before, though, and a single swing on my right arm told me that I wouldn’t be making it over. Campbell suggested I skip it, but I told him I had to try and see how far I could get. I lost my grip when I got to the third rung and splashed down into the murky water below, which was a lot deeper than I’d expected. Campbell got about as far as I did before he ended up swimming too. Onward!

The wait at Everest was rotten – we queued for about 15 minutes I’m sure. Long enough that I was starting to seize up. I really wanted to do well at this obstacle. Almost every week I’m climbing out of the ramps at the skate park and I had a good feeling about it. There certainly is a knack to it – you have to run right at the ramp and use your momentum to force yourself up and over the top.

That’s easier said than done, though – especially when your limbs have endured eleven miles of torture before you get there!

Campbell said to me in the queue that he was having one attempt and if he didn’t make it he was going to skip it. I couldn’t argue with that – some folk were taking hard falls and even those that looked fitter than us were struggling to make it over without a lot of help. Cam’ didn’t make it, but he gave it a damn good try – not bad for a man who’d been fighting cramp all day.

Rob conquering Everest
Rob conquering Everest

When it was my turn I pointed to the guy who was waiting at the top of the ramp with his hand outstretched, who nodded to confirm he was waiting for me. I just took a deep breath and ran as hard as I could at the ramp. As I got near the top I grabbed the guy’s hand and that of the man to his right. For a few seconds, I was caught in a position where I couldn’t quite get my legs over but didn’t want to pivot forward and use my arms in case I slipped down the ramp. In the end, that’s what I had to do – none of us had the arm strength left for me to hang there for any longer.

A bit of pulling and straining later and I was on top of the ramp. Yes! Up at the first attempt!

I stayed at the top and helped two or three more people up and over before climbing down the back of the ramp to join Campbell and the families before we pressed on up the hill to the final obstacle – Electroshock Therapy.

Rob & Cam at Electroshock Therapy
Rob & Cam at Electroshock Therapy

This one had been on my mind since the first time I saw it in a Tough Mudder promotional video. I couldn’t understand why folk were dropping like fainting goats as they ran through it until the commentary explained that some wires have 10kv pulsing through them. That’ll get you after a few hours of exertion.

We paused for photos before going through, with Cam being impatient to get it over with. I wanted to psyche myself up a wee bit first, so let him go as well as a few other guys while I stood there looking through the wires and focussing on making it to the other end.

Finally, I just launched myself at it in the same way I did at the Everest ramp, hoping that should I take any bad shocks the momentum would see me through. This proved to be the case!

Rob going through Electroshock Therapy
Rob going through Electroshock Therapy

Despite using my gloved hands to try and part the wires to make a path for myself I took three or four big ones as the wires came back to meet me. The worst one was the last one, which was a big shock to my left knee that felt like I’d been hit by a hammer – exactly what Campbell had said about the shocks he took going through the Electric Eel.

Oh my goodness it hurt, but once I was out the other side that was it all over. We’d done it. We’d taken on the challenge of Tough Mudder Scotland and survived to tell the tale.

After the promo girls had given us our orange headbands an event photographer asked us to pose enthusiastically, but we were too beat up to do anything but grimace.

A couple of minutes after we were done the clouds above us burst dramatically. I’d wanted to look around at the stalls and see what there was to see, but we were all going to get soaked if we hung around. Cam and I went to the changing tent to get out of the wet and muddy clothes while the families made their way back to the cars.

It had eased off a little bit by the time we were changed and made our slow trudge back to the parking area. There was a quiet feeling of satisfaction at a job well done. I’d raised over £500 for MS Scotland by this point and that was well in excess of my total, so I felt it had all been worth it.

And the strange thing was, I already wanted to come back and give it another try. 🙂