It’s 10am on an overcast Saturday and I’m being shepherded into a warm-up pen with a bunch of fellow mudders – now, in essence, my new teammates. A Mr Motivator-type character takes to the stage in front of us, helpfully demonstrating star jumps, while a 2007 alt-rock playlist laces the muggy Scottish air.
Ten minutes later, we’re in a secondary holding area in front of the start line. After a few more rehearsed motivational lines, we’re instructed to ‘take a knee’, place our hands on our hearts, and recite the Tough Mudder declaration.
As a Tough Mudder I pledge that...
- I understand Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge
- I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time
- I do not whine - kids whine
- I help my fellow mudder complete the course
- I overcome all fears
At this point, I’m pretty pumped. ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (that song from 2001: A Space Odyssey) starts rumbling through the speakers, smoke bombs are spewing orange dust from either side of the start line, a shared wave of excitement runs through the crowd and it really does feel like the beginning of something great.
Finally a cannon sounds - marking the start of our adventure. As we depart we’re reminded that this is the real deal, confirmed with a reassuring high five from the imposter Mr Motivator.
The long slog
10.8 miles, 26 obstacles and an estimated 480,000 litres of mud separate me from the finish line, which seems like a really long way – farther than I’ve ever run, even without the obstacles and mud. Within the first two miles I’m set to face five different obstacles, each of which is supposedly worse than the last.
My sadistic friends from Sony are waiting at Obstacle 3, which Tough Mudder has joyfully dubbed Arctic Enema 2.0. It requires mudders to submerge themselves in a sub-zero bath of brown water before carrying on with the rest of the run. It’s as much fun as is sounds.
A little way down the road, about halfway through Mile 3, I’m met by something equally as horrifying called Birth Canal. The obstacle is made up of a small tunnel, about 3ft wide and 15ft in length, built underneath a PVC sheet with water pooled on top. Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Wrong.
It turns out a body of water this size is quite heavy – so heavy in fact that I can barely move myself along underneath it. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this one to those who suffer with claustrophobia.
I can’t push myself up onto all fours, so the only option is to army crawl along the rocky ground, dragging my legs behind me, inching towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
As I near the exit, two pairs of arms drag me out of the crushing weight and into the world once more. ‘Birth Canal’ is suddenly a very pertinent title.
There will be mud
It’s Mile 7 and things are getting a bit hairy. We’ve just had to lug giant slices of tree around a lake, and now I’m in front of what appears to be the world’s messiest rave. A couple of abandoned Jeeps are parked haphazardly up opposite embankments, alongside five muddy trenches gradually filling with rising water, which is spilling out of a corrugated pipe.
Fellow runners cheer me on as I plunge into the murky waters, while others extend helping hands in ascending the sloppy slopes. Everyone is in this mud bath together, and that’s a very comforting thought.
Thankfully the sun is beating down on the course now, and as Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ fades into fruition over the PA, everything seems quite amazing. I know that camaraderie is meant to be a big part of the event, but I never thought it would be as prominent as it has been so far.
As I near the beginning of Mile 10, I know the finish line is near – I can practically taste that victory cider - but three obstacles remain and they all sound pretty daunting. Everest 2.0 is up first and it’s essentially a giant quarterpipe – the kind skateboarders like hurling themselves off, but with a curved lip. The plan here is to sprint towards the incline, and hope some selfless soul at the top is strong enough to pull me up. Thankfully there is, and now I do the same for the next mudder. No problem, but teamwork is paramount.
Next we’ve got King Of The Swingers, which I only know about because I had a peek on YouTube before I got here. You have to throw yourself off a platform, grip a weighted swing, and propel yourself towards a bell, which hangs about ten feet away. “Only 9% of mudders ring that bell”, I hear over the tannoy, “let’s have the next six up!”
I’m standing on the edge of a platform 30ft up, and I’m immediately aware that it isn’t as it looked in the videos. There’s a 3.5m-deep pool below me, and the swing I have to grab is a lot lower than I expected – it’s in line with my waist - meaning I’m not going to get the momentum I thought I would from a nice high leap.
I’m saddened to tell you that I crashed into the water alongside five other mudders, while my hanging cowbell remained as still and silent as it was when I arrived. Major sadface.
The final hurdle
I can see the finish line. It’s right there - about 50 yards in front of me. As I look on I see some of the muddied faces that supported me over the past ten miles – they’re all revelling in the celebration of their accomplishments.
The only thing that stands between them and me is a cage of hanging electric wires, which I’ve got to run through. Electroshock Therapy 2.0, as it’s called, is renowned as the crown jewel of any Tough Mudder course, and apparently it’s now carrying a higher voltage than ever before.
As I career through the wires, I hold an arm in front of my face to shield my eyes. I know where the hay bales are that I have to avoid, and I’m about halfway through before I get the first shock on my leg. It’s not enough to knock me off my feet, but it’s not far off. If you’re stupid enough to have ever touched an electric fence, it’s a bit like that - sharp, short yet exhilarating. A few more bites and I’m through.
Relief, pride and satisfaction are just a few of the feelings that wash over me. Strangers slap my back, offer me water, adorn me with a headband and push a bottle of cider in my chest. The gathered crowd applauds as I stumble towards the nearest available patch of grass to collapse upon and thus concludes my Tough Mudder debut.
Oh, and the Sony Xperia Z3+ I took round the course? Absolutely fine. There’s a bit of mud lodged in the headphone port, but nothing a little TLC won’t sort out.
I’d recommend Tough Mudder to anyone – an amazing experience, and one I won’t soon forget.