Sunday, 5 May 2013

Tough Mudder - Event Review

Yesterday I took part in Tough Mudder (London North). If you're not familiar with what this event entails then take a look at the website for a full understanding, but in essence it's a 10-12 mile route containing around 25 obstacles and a lot of mud which you're encouraged to complete as part of a team in return for a head band, t-shirt, pint and bragging rights. There are several held across the UK during the year and entry costs between £50 and £120 depending on how far in advance you sign up and whether you go for Saturday or Sunday. The event yesterday was held at Boughton House and Estate in Kettering, Northamptonshire, was about 11.5 miles long and contained 22 obstacles.

I'd opted to travel up on the morning by car with my mum and dad, rather than stay over the night before as my start times wasn't until 11am and I didn't really have a team to speak of (my old boss had talked me into it and although we had the same start time we hadn't made any arrangements to run together). If you travel by train there's a shuttle bus to take you to and from the station but if you travel by car and there's less than 4 of you in the vehicle be prepared to stump up an extra £10 to park. The other cost you may encounter is that of spectator tickets. If you are organised and register online before the day you'll pay £10 per person (plus booking fees) otherwise it's £20 each on the day.

The event was well signposted from the main roads and the car park was big, well manned and well organised with row numbers. It was about a half mile walk to the "base area" where both spectators and participants collect packs and wrist bands. Toilets were plentiful and I didn't have to queue. There was a shower and change area as well as the usual bag drop. The base area also featured a bar, food outlets, a merchandise tent and lots of games to keep spectators and kids entertained.

The map that came in the race pack set out not only the course but routes that spectators could take to see various obstacles as well as the estimated time it would take participants to get there. Spectators could see maybe a third of obstacles which wasn't bad.

Participants are set off in waves of around 100 every 20 minutes, which may explain why queues never really built up anywhere. The vast majority of entrants are male so there's a lot of testosterone around, but fancy dress is encouraged so you'll see some pretty funny sights too (ballerinas, hot dogs, gladiators).You're summoned to a warm up where you get to bond with your fellow Mudders and then it's a climb over a wall to the start line where an MC (with boundless enthusiasm) tells you the rules and regulations (help your fellow Mudder), leads you in the Tough Mudder pledge and gets you psyched up for the start. You are assured that there is no shame in opting out of any obstacles and if you have any metal in your body you should avoid those involving electricity (there are two).

A group of male entrants in "fancy dress"...
The course terrain is a mix of fields and woodland, with a fair few hills. Obstacles are fairly well spread out but the first, Ice Enema, comes after a half a mile and gets you nicely cold and wet straight away. From then on it's a relentless mix of crawling in mud, submergence in water, climbing, scrambling and cross country running. I thought it was a good mix, although some are only really manageable if you're in a team or have some helpful Mudders nearby. The distance is made manageable by virtue of having to pause at each obstacle, usually for less than 5 minutes but in some cases it was around 10. Another reason for the staggered start times. It was during these times that you run the risk of getting really cold.

There were 5 water stations on the course where you could take a cup and help yourself from the water towers set up, which helped to reduce litter and crowds. At at least two of these were bananas for the taking. All the way around the course are signs telling you what's coming up, how far you've come and a confusing mix of slogans such as "My grandmother just passed you" and "Take a rest if you're feeling unwell". There were also a number of speakers pumping out music around the course, and photographers at strategic points.

After obstacle number 2... cold, wet and muddy and still 11 miles to go.
On finishing the event you get your headband, a pint of Strongbow, a technical t-shirt (in an impressive array of sizes for men and women) and a foil blanket. You can then choose to enjoy the base area a while or just head home to nurse the cuts, bruises and sprains. Although people are coming through fairly constantly the finish area didn't feel all that crowded as you have plenty of space to spread into.

I thought the event was really well organised. An awful lot goes into the design, preparation and running of the event so I can understand the hefty sign up fee to an extent but thought that charging for spectators and parking was a bit cheeky. I did feel as though I was being fleeced at every turn.

I would really recommend getting a team together. I ended up tagging along with a group for a which made it a lot easier at the start but beware that if you're in a big group you will spend a lot of time standing around, waiting to regroup and getting cold. We had rain and hail yesterday so I ended up splitting away from the group just because I needed to keep moving. But everyone does help each other out and it's totally possible to do this alone; you'll just need a bit more mental toughness (or a swig from your hip flask before setting off - ahem).

These events are not timed; the focus is on the challenge, not as a race, so if you're interested in times, make sure you or someone else takes not of the time you cross the finish line. On the subject of th finish line, as I have metal plates in my jaw I avoided the last obstacle which was electricity based, which meant my finish felt something of an anti-climax... maybe something to think about for course designs next year?

On a personal note I found it exactly as hellish as I'd anticipated. I am not adverse to muddy runs, or that sort of distance but I have discovered I don't really enjoy the obstacle aspect, certainly not on my own. Some I simply could not attempt as I didn't have a team or any spare people around at the time (Hero Carry) and some I didn't have the mental or physical ability to complete (Everest and Walk the Plank). I probably skipped a quarter of the obstacles, but loved the mud miles and the plain running. I passed lots of people who were cramping up, clearly not used to running that far, and in those instances I felt pretty fit. I finished in 3 hours 15 minutes (which I understand is quite respectable) with more mud in my shoes than I have ever had, a LOT of bruises and grazes and a smile, but absolutely no desire to do anything like this again. I think I'll stick to my Brutal's and Grim's thank you.


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