Health & Fitness,  Lifestyle

Tough Mudder: Conquering fears, mounting Everest and earning the orange

I want to wear this headband everywhere.
I want to wear this headband everywhere.

I survived Tough Mudder. I. Survived. Tough. Mudder.

Also, somewhere, Hell hath frozen over and pigs are flying. But, yes, I am officially a proud orange-head-band-wearing Tough Mudder.

And, yes, it’s been two weeks. So in some circles this could be considered ‘old news’ but, Whoa.

No, seriously. Whoa.

I mean, how do I even begin to describe the feeling that comes from crossing the Finish line after 17 kms of hamstring-havoc-wreaking mountainous climbs and descents peppered with 24 obstacles that test not only your physical limits but your mental resilience? Well, it looks a little like this:

Crossing the finish line with my husband: priceless
Crossing the finish line with my husband: priceless

Let’s put this into perspective. Exercise and I have a love/hate relationship. Love when it’s over; hate the ‘doing’ of it. However, if my kids ask: exerciseisgoodforyourhealth so stopcomplaining.

I have never been the athletic type; I get easily winded despite my attempts to train my body otherwise even after recently taking up running. All through school I loathed gym class, feeling awkward and out of place. I never played a team sport and though I dabbled in an extra-curricular activity here and there, none stuck.

And then there was that one time in grade ten when we went orienteering at a local park. I’m pretty sure I had ‘LOSER’ ‘PANIC’ written across my forehead after getting lost, missing half of the check-in stations and, yes, coming in last. I may have actually kissed the ground after emerging into a familiar clearing, such was my relief. And, by the way, who even does orienteering? I mean, is having a sense of direction even a life skill?? That’s what GPS, or my husband, is for.

Holding my wood and NOT getting lost
Holding my wood and NOT getting lost

Fast forward twenty-odd years and suddenly I decide Tough Mudder is a good idea. Because of, you know, all my training and physical prowess. No, but seriously, how in Hell did I find myself in the middle of not one, but two, muddy obstacle course runs this summer?

And who was I to think I could do Tough Mudder anyhow? Just because my husband and friends had done it and I reallyreallyreally wanted that orange headband and accompanying bragging rights?

The second after we registered I felt nauseous. When I saw photos of Tough Mudder events pop up on my Facebook feed I would get queasy. And then there were the ‘helpful’ emails from the Tough Mudder crew full of reminders and thoughtful information like the course map: puke-worthy.

Nonetheless, somewhere in between the nerves and planning my outfit (dude! you’ve got to wear bright colors if you want to stand out in pictures!) I managed to do some *cough* training in order to feel *cough* prepared. I was already running three times a week (yay, me!). And then I hired a personal trainer.

No, really.

Two weeks before.

Now some naysayers (like my husband) might call that pointless. But I figured it was better than his training regimen which was…ummm…

[insert sound of crickets chirping]

Here’s the thing: I felt that, even though this was a last-ditch attempt at getting into fighting form (and I know better than to think four sessions will do this) it calmed. me. down. I felt like I had taken control by doing something to increase my odds of succeeding. Also, I worked out the kinks and ridiculous muscle soreness in week one. And though I was afraid after week two that I would still have residual soreness come Event Day, I actually felt pretty good. I drank lots of water in the days leading up to it, ate well and anointed my joints with muscle cream. And while I emerged at the Finish battered and bruised, I recovered pretty quickly.

Heading up to the Start line

The morning of Tough Mudder I was a bundle of nerves. But once I climbed that first wall to get to the Start corral, it was ON.

Let me be clear, Tough Mudder is very much a team-oriented challenge; and it is a challenge, not a race, as one of the signs on the course reminded us–it is not a timed event. Another sign reminded us not to whine and yet another pointed us in the direction of a Tim Horton’s. I appreciated the humor. I also appreciated the kilometer markers. And the water stations, especially the ones with snacks. And the volunteers. Tough Mudder has awesome volunteers.

Up and down the Mud Mile
Up and down the Mud Mile

No matter how daunting, I attempted every one of the obstacles and if I couldn’t complete a challenge (which was pretty much every one requiring upper body strength) it just meant I got wet.

A lot wet.

But with the amount of mud in special places, a good dunking here and there was welcome. It also didn’t hurt that we were blessed with spectacular weather conditions considering the weekends before and after were horrid.

Among the obstacles I completed, the hardest for me were Walk the Plank, Arctic Enema and Everest.

Walk the Plank was my nemesis. This was the obstacle I most feared though, physically, it was one of the least difficult. It was a total mind game. It involved stepping off a 15-foot-high platform into a 12-foot-deep pit of muddy water, hence the look of panic on my face.

Saying a little prayer before walking the plank

Arctic Enema was basically brain freeze times 1000. Try jumping into chest-deep ice water à la Polar Dip, which, in and of itself, sucks the air out of you, then having to submerge yourself under a wooden barrier, miscalculating, as I did, and bonking your head, doing it again and coming out the other side. Utterly frozen.

Arctic brain freeze
Arctic brain freeze

And then there was Everest where I quite literally put myself in the hands of others. This was a greased-up 1/4 pike wall that there was nowayinHell I was going to get over. I actually said,

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

And yet it did. This beauty was the second-to-last obstacle and involved more praying. Running full tilt at the wall, you’ve got to launch yourself up and hope to Hell those already on the top platform can grab your flailing arms and pull you up as there is nothing else to hold onto. Sadly, my first attempt ended in my having to let go as I was poorly positioned and was dangling awkwardly. The second attempt was harder. I didn’t think I had it in me to run and jump high enough again, all the while concentrating on flailing-hand placement. But somehow, other hands grabbed me, and eventually I was able to raise one cramped leg enough that a third (or fourth?) guy were able to haul me up and over. Totally epic.

At that point, running through Electroshock Therapy to get to the Finish seemed like a cakewalk.

Finish line straight ahead
Finish line straight ahead

So happy to have shared this experience with my husband and friends, Laura and Brian, who were amazing team mates. Now I can cross this off my list of goals for 2013!

Warm and dry
Warm and dry


Erica writes with humour and heart about family, #fit40s and living life in the carpool lane. Part-time banker by day and Netflix-addicted-cake-decorator by night, Erica's in-between time is spent dreaming up ways to ruin her kids' lives. Obviously.


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