My best friend Lizzie and I are known for making spontaneous, often silly decisions. Normally, those decisions lead to random, fun holidays in exotic locations, but this time, it led to booking an overnight 8 hour race. And not just any old race, a Tough Mudder race.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with what Tough Mudder is, you can check it out here: https://toughmudder.co.uk. It’s essentially a 12 mile run in the mud, with varying obstacles that see you crawl under barbed wire, dive into ice baths, crawl through tunnels and swing from monkey bars into muddy waters.
We completed one last summer and loved it, so thought why not challenge ourselves further and sign up to an 8 hour overnight Tough Mudder race for the following year. We hadn’t done too much training for the normal Tough Mudder so figured if we made a workout plan for this one we would be OK.
I’ll admit I’m not very organised or good at sticking to plans so the pretty excel document that listed how we would train or rest every day for six months lasted approximately a week before I ditched it.
Instead, I signed up to a company called ClassPass that operate in most major cities whereby you pay a set amount and (used to) receive unlimited access to classes all around your chosen city. It was perfect for me as I’m notoriously lazy at self motivating myself to exercise – especially at 6am on a cold, dark, rainy winter morning – I need a no nonsense instructor that will push me further than I am willing to push myself.
I tried sprint classes ( which I wouldn’t recommend first thing in the morning unless your plans for the rest of the day include going back to work), weights classes, endurance classes, bootcamps and my favourite – spin classes. Soon I was upping the frequency and doing back to back classes several times a week, which instead of finding a chore, I strangely enjoyed. I think it was knowing that I was training for something so ridiculous that kept me going and I thrived off feeling stronger and fitter every time I went back to a class.
May came around quicker than I would have liked and a week before the race I found myself in Decathlon trying to comprehend why I had signed up to this race in the first place. We filled our basket with head torches, strobe lights, windproof jackets, 1000 mile socks, ear protectors and what felt like ten tons of energy gels and protein bars.
I woke up on the day of the race feeling motivated and ready, despite the niggling thought that I hadn’t prepared enough, I was excited to finally get the race out of the way. But as we got closer to Nottingham and the evening started to descend, I was slowly filled with a rising sense of dread.
As Lizzie’s brother waved us off as he drove away from Belvoir Castle, leaving us alone, in a dark field, surrounded by groups of 30-40 year old men, the panic started to set in. We made our way to the drop zone – a tent where the participants could keep their change of clothes, foods and whichever unfortunate soul they had convinced to come and support them overnight.
We had turned up in floral leggings and thin, windproof jackets and as we unpacked our energy gels, Lucozades and Mars bars we looked around the tent and felt very out of our depth. Firstly, we were 2 of about 10 women, secondly, around 90% of the people there were wearing wetsuits, swimming caps and goggles – we had definitely not received that memo.
At the start line, it’s custom for a motivator to give a pep talk to the group before the race starts, but as we couldn’t see anything but complete darkness past the start line, the talk actually made us cry. By this point I had worked myself into such a state I thought I was going to be met by a three headed dragon on the other side of the start line, so when instead I was met by a mud slide, I was pleasantly surprised.
The first lap was a ‘sprint lap’, they only opened 10 of the easiest obstacles and the aim was to complete it as fast as possible. We finished it in good time and felt pumped for the second lap, not realising we had been lulled into a false sense of security with the minimal amount of obstacles we had to complete.
Which meant the second lap was HELL. The reason I had enjoyed the original Tough Mudder so much was because you were constantly surrounded by other mudders who would keep you motivated, help you complete obstacles and generally keep the morale high. What we hadn’t realised until we had started the race (albeit probably a bit naively) was that the people competing in this race were very different to the last. Here, it was every man for himself, as everyone tried to finish with the bet time and number of miles. What resulted for us, was many failed attempts at completing obstacles by ourselves and running in complete silence, in the dark, the rain and the cold. It reached a point where the only thought in my head was WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING.
My lowest point was during an obstacle called the Blockness Monster, where you have to swim in deep, freezing water to a block and with the help of other mudders, grip the block and haul yourself over the top of it. However, as noone was around to help, Lizzie and I were stuck in neck deep icy water for what felt like hours. When we eventually completed it, it took all my strength not to cry and keep going, only to be met by the Arcitc Enema obstacle next – a slide that plunges you into a bath of ice.
Normally when I sign up to something I do it for a reason, to challenge myself, or to prove a point that I can accomplish something. But I signed up to this race in a moment of stupidity that I regretted almost as soon as I had finished paying for it. My drive to complete the race and stay motivated had completely gone and I lost any form of enjoyment in completing the race.
The immense cold that seized most of my limbs was what got to me the most during the race, the guys running in wetsuits instead were overheating and I realised then our very rooky error.
What I realised as we neared the end of the 8 hours of hell was that we had gone about our training in the wrong way. We had focused on building our stamina (which granted is needed to an extent) by running long distances and doing back to back classes, but really we should have dedicated time to running in the dark, swimming in cold lakes, and most importantly: training with a wetsuit.
It took a few days for us to feel any form of accomplishment for the race, we were in such a daze the morning it finished.
I learnt a few things after that race:
- Our bodies can be pushed much further than we can imagine. We didn’t sleep for 36 hours and felt fine.
- The power of the mind and visualisation – are so strong that you can achieve anything you want if you master those skills.
- Set goals that are important to you – completing an 8 hour overnight race wasn’t something I had always wanted to do, infact it was probably bottom of my list of physical challenges. I have a stronger desire to complete a marathon or a triathlon or an open water swim. Make sure the goals you set yourself are relevant to YOU and you only, and you’re much more likely to work harder at them and feel a greater sense of accomplishment when you do complete them.