Tag Archives: tough mudder

How Tough Mudder changed my ideas about body confidence

6 Aug

This column has also been featured by The News Hub and can be viewed on their website here.

Battling through the world-renowned mud run gave me more than just cuts and bruises

As a young woman growing up in the 21st century, I’m well aware that the mainstream media is infiltrating my ideas about what the female body should look like. Thirty squats a day and I could achieve the thigh gap. Cut down my calorie consumption to get V-shaped abs. Repeat lunge sets with weights to achieve an instant butt lift. From music videos to Facebook memes to billboards: the modern media is constantly trying to convince me that I’m chasing slightly behind the latest coveted body goal.

Despite the diverse array of body shapes that exist in the world, media firms and advertising agencies are cropping, cutting, highlighting, fixing, shadowing, blurring, streamlining and photo-shopping the hell out of their images to subscribe to the singular Barbie-Doll criterion of the female physique.

Meme by soulpancake.com

Meme by soulpancake.com

I know I should be exercising because it’s healthy, because I enjoy it and because it’s part of making the most of the one and only life I have. But there’s still a part of me that’s guilty of exercising with the intention of chasing those media-induced body goals.

I’ll go to the gym if I can’t fit into my favourite jeans and I’ll only leave once I’ve burned enough calories. One of my most energising workout motivations is knowing I’ll have to wear a bikini on an upcoming holiday and I’ll start a panic-induced gym regime after watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Whether I’m playing netball or running on the treadmill, I’ve always got an ingrained sense in the back of my mind that as long as I’m burning calories, I must be moving in the right direction.

But I recently completed Tough Mudder and have started to gather very different ideas about fitness and the female body.

For those who don’t know very much about Tough Mudder, its creators describe it as ‘Probably one of the toughest events on the planet.’ Valiant participants are let loose on a military-style 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength. The obstacles test common fears such as heights, fire, water, electric shocks and claustrophobia- sometimes separately- and sometimes all at once.

What makes Tough Mudder so gruelling is that it requires a combination of physical strength and mental grit to see participants through to the end. I could never have jumped into a pool of ice and water, pushed myself over the edge of ‘Walk The Plank’ or crawled through a trench of live electric wires if I didn’t have the mettle and courage within to just shut my eyes and go for it. What’s more, I wouldn’t have had the energy or the strength to complete the course if I’d been on an unbearable juice diet.

Not only am I proud to have simply survived Tough Mudder but I’ve come away from the course with a life-affirming realisation about body confidence. Having battled through one of the world’s toughest obstacle courses I’ve realised that body confidence isn’t about what my body looks like, but what my body is capable of. While the media would have me believe that I’m always one step behind achieving the perfect body, Tough Mudder showed me that I already have what it takes to be strong. DSC03520

From now on, when I play netball, go running or hit the gym, I’ll be training with a purpose and a new set of goals. I won’t be thinking about the fastest way that I can slim down and look skinny. I’ll be working towards new ways that I can overcome challenging hurdles and develop my strength. The media are targeting women and girls with relentless propaganda that’s pushing our body ideals down a particular path. Thanks to Tough Mudder, I’ve realised that there’s nothing more empowering than taking over the reigns and going in my own direction.

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Tough Mudder 2014: Vlog, blog & photos from the hardest day of my life

5 Aug

Last weekend I completed Tough Mudder 2014 in Yorkshire, England. I’d spontaneously pledged to attempt one of the world’s most renowned mud runs just two weeks before the big day and I had no idea how gruelling it was going to be. I’d been imagining myself lolloping around Yorkshire’s fields, bounding over inflatable obstacles and feeling the wind rushing through my hair as I mastered gentle physical hurdles. I imagined wrong.

Tough Mudder photo 1

Minneapolis/St. Paul Legionnaires brace themselves for a water landing after being shot off the Fire in the Hole obstacle. Photo by Tough Mudder

For those who don’t know very much about Tough Mudder, its creators describe it as ‘Probably one of the toughest events on the planet.’ Valiant participants are let loose on a military-style 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength. The obstacles test common fears such as heights, fire, water, electric shocks and claustrophobia- sometimes separately- and sometimes all at once.

My boyfriend Dan is a reporter for the Harrogate Advertiser and was asked to attempt Tough Mudder for a two-page spread in the newspaper. Lucky for me, he was given an extra ticket for a companion to accompany him through the course.

We’re pretty ordinary people as far as strength and athleticism goes. We go to the gym when we can, eat relatively healthy and play for local league football and netball teams. Unlike many of the rugby teams and military squads who sign up to TM, neither of us have ever attempted an obstacle course- never mind a military one filled with 500,000 litres of mud. Having undertaken no Mudder-specific training, by the time Friday night rolled around we were pretty nervous about the next day…

When our 7am alarm pierced through our peaceful slumbers on Saturday, getting up and making breakfast felt like going through our morning routine in autopilot. The fear and uncertainty of the tortuous path ahead was bearing down on me like never before. My stomach was doing flips in the car…

An hour later we followed the flashing signs reading “TOUGH MUDDER –>’ and pulled in to what looked like a lush country estate. We found our way to the media tent and pinned our race numbers to our bright orange shirts. After taking a couple of snaps at the entrance, we left our belongings at the bag drop and joined the hordes of people by the stage for a short warm-up.
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One thing that reassured me was the varied demographic of people taking part, from single participants to groups of 20, men and women, young and old, big and small. Before we were all unleashed onto the course, we had to get down on one knee and take ‘The Mudder Pledge’ at the starting line. Placing our hands on our hearts we recited the following lines at the top of our lungs:

“I understand that 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 Mudders complete the course.

I overcome all fears.”

As our final ‘HOO-RAH’ bellowed to the skies, the host wished us luck and announced the start of the race. This is it, I thought. No turning back.
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We soon approached the first major obstacle, the Arctic Enema. I could hear people screaming, ‘THREE…TWO…ONE…GO!’ and as the initial buzz drained from my veins I realised that my most dreaded obstacle was already right in front of me: the ice pool.

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A Mudder emerges from the Arctic Enema Photo by Tough Mudder

Mudders have to climb up to the edge, jump into a cloudy-brown pit of 0°C water and swim underneath a row of tyres that obstruct the exit. As we tentatively climbed up the ladder to the pool’s edge, we could hear Mudders ahead screaming and moaning as their bodies caught up with the drastic temperature change. But it’s not the physical challenge of Arctic Enema that makes it so unbearable- it only lasts 30 seconds- its the mental grit required to plunge yourself into a pool of freezing, muddy water without being able to dip your toe in first.

Having survived the Arctic Enema I felt like I could conquer anything. Good job, too, as 10 more miles of the course lay ahead, including 500,000 litres of mud, 1,735 feet of vertical gain, 24 more obstacles and a 12 foot drop into yet more muddy water.

Halfway through the course, Dan and I had scrambled through industrial pipes, bobbed underneath barbed wire, clambered over walls, swam in mud pits, rolled down hills, lugged chunks of tree trunks across a field and even carried each other across the ‘Hero Carry’. We were feeling pretty tired, but were relying on an intense adrenaline rush that was seeing us through even the toughest of obstacles. I was covered in mud from head to toe and my eyeballs suddenly looked neon-white as I smeared the mud away from my face.


A Mudder scrambles through Electric Eel Photo by Tough Mudder

As we approached ‘Electric Eel’ we could hear the sound of electric currents zapping human skin. This dreaded obstacle features live wires hanging down from a barbed wire frame, ready to send 10,000 volts of electricity into even the most agile victims as they crawl through the mud on their elbows. I made it to the end of the frame and began to think that I’d overcome the odds until I started to haul myself out of the mud and a wire caught my shoulder blades. I unleashed an unstoppable yell to cope with the pain and my body shuddered forward without my permission. I’d learned a valuable lesson about underestimating Tough Mudder- and I learned it the hard way.

We’d come 10 miles and I thought we’d seen it all. We’d been zapped, frozen, and smothered in mud. The muscles in my arms and legs had started to numb. My joints were creaking under the weight of my sodden clothes and all I could think about was which takeaway pizza I was going to reward myself with in a matter of hours…

That is, of course, until I found myself at the edge of the 12ft ‘Walk The Plank’ obstacle and all I could think about was plunging to my imminent death. As I chickened out of the timed jumps over and over again I started to feel a lump forming in my throat. A crowd of spectators was gathering at the water’s edge and fellow Mudders started slapping me on the back and telling me I’d be okay. I looked behind me and saw no way of climbing down the plank frame without causing utter humiliation and regret, so I shut my eyes and shuffled along the platform. Without thinking, I took a huge breath and forced myself over the edge…

Picture shows TM Skipton Photowall Saturday. rossparry.co.uk / Steven Schofield I came to Skipton on Saturday prepared to run the 12-mile course and bypass every obstacle. I emerged feeling battered, bruised and exhausted- yet stronger than ever before.  Tough Mudder isn’t a competition, but a test of each and every individual who takes part. The beauty of it is that this is my Tough Mudder story- and there are millions of Mudder Legionnaires all over the world who have their own unique story to tell.

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