How, and why, I survived an Arctic Enema
Last week, after two decades or so of prevarication, I made my will. Tough Mudder does that to a fellow.
If you were watching the telly on Saturday, you might have seen footage of 10,000 or more weekend warriors, SAS pseuds, Bear Grylls wannabes, muscle heads, gym bunnies, fools and otherwise completely normal people taking part in Sydney’s first ever Tough Mudder.
This is my story, or at least the story of a troop of seven 40-somethings who competed to the very best of their limited ability in what is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet”.
Tough Mudder events are described by its organisers as “hardcore 18-20 km obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie”. Some half a million people have already endured them since the first in Pennsylvania in May 2010. More than $3 million has been raised for veterans’ charities, which is a nice thought to consider as you are being electrocuted in the 11th and 21st obstacles.
The first Australian Mudder was held in Phillip Island in March, and I’m told that plenty who competed in Victoria headed north for Saturday and Sunday’s events at the picturesque Glenworth Valley, Peats Ridge. They must have been the knowing types running past me with ease as I ground my way arduously through mud pits and uphill climbs.
So what’s it like? Well, let’s talk about my waterproof, shockproof camera that has survived the Kokoda Track and a 100 kilometre Oxfam Trailwalker. It expired somewhere between the second and third obstacles and despite a night’s drying out has not recovered, so sadly there’s no video of my exertions. Other cameras were seemingly made of sterner stuff and their owners have already posted some great material on Youtube.
So that’s the Tough bit. The Mudder portion is something else again. Never have I seen more heavy, cloying mud, even on the way to Kokoda. The 18th obstacle, the so-called Mud Mile, was poorly named for two reasons: it was probably only two hundred metres of mud pools followed by mud hillocks and then more mud quicksand, and it seemed more like 10 miles. I’m still coughing up black muck.
But it is moments like this where the camaraderie kicks in; you simply will not make it without having someone pull you through the worst. Only God knows how the first person exited.
The same must be said for the penultimate set piece, the “Everest” wall. About five metres high, you run full pelt at a slippery half pipe and just as you start to lose traction and slide, lunge forward and hope that someone lying on top can grab your arms and hoist you over. My team-mates were heroes here, and in most other places where upper body strength was required.
I slipped badly once while carrying a log around a course of more slippery mud, and wrenched my ankle slightly. Others were far less fortunate, as evidenced by the steady stream of ambulances coming and going during the day. But in all honesty, if you are relatively fit, adventurous, open-minded, lucky, don’t mind getting ridiculously dirty and avoid doing things you know are sillier than the organisers intended, you’ll get through. Finishing in a fraction less than four hours and with all team members’ limbs intact is testament to that.
Highlights? Well, the title of this article refers to obstacle number 2, the “Arctic Enema”. Previously known as the “Chernobyl Jacuzzi”, this impediment was formerly a garishly coloured ice cube bath that must be traversed testicle-tighteningly quickly. The organisers have since realised that the addition of countless tonnes of mud from contestants is going to quickly leave flourescent dyed water looking less like a radioactive pond than … well, you get the drift. As a heart-starter, it’s better than any known coffee brand.
Much is made of your being hit by 10,000 volts from wires hanging down on two obstacles, including the very last only metres from the finish. You will be stung, you will suffer and you might even be knocked over. But the amps are low, there’s no residual pain and to be honest watching people being zapped in a non-life threatening way is hilariously funny. Don’t think less of me for saying that – it really is.
Low lights? I’m glad I wasn’t caught in the traffic jams on the way into the Valley. For this I can’t blame the organisers; once at the venue, everything ran like clockwork.
I also started but then chickened out of two obstacles that involved tunnelling in tight dark places. Claustrophobia was one fear I could not defeat on the day.
Will I do it again? No, I don’t think so - the real Mount Everest beckons in two weeks. So is this what a mid-life crisis looks like? Probably, but it’s the best sort, mud and all.
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