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Training people to get back to basics with fire and ice

by Paul Hayward
Tuesday 19th May 2015
Tags  Tough Mudder   |   Tough Mudder London West   |   Paul Hayward   |   OCR

Race report: Obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward reports from Tough Mudder London West - May 2-3, 2015

Tough Mudder - May 2-3, 2015

Photos © Tough Mudder

On May 2-3, 2015 Tough Mudder returned to the 'brutal hills' of Henley, as described by many and witnessed by me last year (HERE), to begin their season amid much controversy. The beginning of 2015 had witnessed a lot of excitement for 'Tough Mudder redefined' with the promise of new, exciting obstacles that had led to Saturday's event being sold out, with 13,000 competitors taking part.

In the run up to the event this excitement was overshadowed by 'T-shirtgate'; whereby shirt sponsor Under Armour pulled out from sponsoring the finisher’s T-shirt and a decision was made by Tough Mudder to not offer a finisher’s T-shirt. This led to widespread outrage from many quarters that made Tough Mudder reconsider their decision and reintroduce finisher’s shirts just in time for 'London West'.

Coupled with it being their fifth birthday, London West was a big day for Tough Mudder.

The beauty about Tough Mudder, which is a gripe of some, is that a lot of people have not heard of 'obstacle course racing' (OCR) but yet know all about Tough Mudder, due to tales of electrocution and orange headbands. This is a testament to their success in OCR and just how big they are getting is easy to see when you arrive in the race village.

I have seen some big race villages but each year Tough Mudder seems to get larger and larger and is on a par with some big running races or triathlons. This year the village was no exception and provided new obstacles to try out, such as 'Ring of Fire' which required you to slide down a firemans’ pole through a hoop on fire into some water, as well as 'mini mudders' for children. Coupled with the chance to walk freely to a number of the larger obstacles on the course and more catering options than Westfield, it was apparent that Tough Mudder meant business from the start.

Watching the warm up, where 500 people are linked with arms around each other jumping up and down shouting “hoorah”, you cannot help but be mesmerized. Although Tough Mudder has the Legionnaires, 'Mudders' that take on numerous events with heroics, such as numerous laps on a day, or drinking tea at the top of Everest (to be covered in the future further), the majority of competitors are first timers and it is something to see this many people jumping in unison, smiling but hesitant before being released through smoke bombs and deafening music into the race.

2015 promised to be special and the first new obstacle that awaited Mudders was the infamous 'Arctic Enigma', a full submersion into a skip of ice that chilled you to the spine, but this time it had been redesigned and labelled “2.0”. Mudders were now treated to a slide into a crate of ice cold water topped with ice cubes before being asked to fully submerge and go under the wall. With the inclusion of the slide there was no opportunity to gently lower yourself into the ice or prepare; it was simply all or nothing.

Tough Mudder - May 2-3, 2015

Photos © Tough Mudder

Shortly after followed a new crawling obstacle aptly entitled 'Birth Canal', where Mudders were expected to crawl under a large man made bath full of water from one end to the other. This obstacle does not sound daunting or even exciting, yet strangely it was exceptional. As you progressed through the “canal” the weight of the water forced you onto your stomach and in doing so completely restricted your ability to progress. Had it not been for the frame to the obstacle providing bars to pull yourself through - I would have been trapped as I simply could not move.

'Cry Baby' was the new obstacle that had caught the headlines and had caused outrage with the inclusion of tear gas within it. Tough Mudder was (and is) built by former United Kingdom Special Forces and it seemed natural that such an obstacle should feature. On crawling through a small tent, with various beams restricting your path, it felt like you were being attacked by a very strong dose of Vick’s Vapour Rub and not something used on the battlefield. This being said, a lot of the spectators complained about their eyes after spending time waiting for family or friends to make it to the obstacle!

After wiping the tears from their faces Mudders faced the huge and highly anticipated 'King of the Swingers'; where Mudders were expected to climb to the top of the man-made rig and swing off of it on a silver pole, with handles, and use the momentum to jump and hit the bell before descending into a huge deep lagoon. This obstacle provided both fear, due to the height of the obstacle and the descent into the water, as well as fun in the attempt to hit the bell at the same moment. Most Mudders failed, jumping too late or missing the bell, but those that succeeded were met with rapturous applause and the sweet sound of a bell ring.

Fan favourites Funky Monkey and Everest both received revisions and were relabelled 2.0, with Funky Monkey offering a glimpse of its World’s Toughest Mudder bigger brother through a row of monkey bars, followed by a swing onto a long pole to climb down. This obstacle took every ounce of a Mudder’s strength and the switch from monkey bars to the pole was enough to confuse many and fall into the water.

Everest 2.0 stood taller than ever guarding the route to the finish line, with pre-race rumours of water rushing down it in a play to one of the sponsors Volvic - it was sounding scarier than ever, but fortunately it was occupied by heroes in the form of Legionnaires. These Mudders tirelessly helped and grabbed Mudders attempting to make it up Everest for long parts of the day.

The quest for an orange headband cannot be underestimated and the ranks of the Mudders continue to grow. Tough Mudder seem to be able, without fear or following the format of other OCRs, to provide an experience that has first time Mudders and Legionnaires laughing and crying at the same time. It has the unique ability to pull people together, from offices to mothers’ groups, and step outside of their comfort zone with pride and joy.

Tough Mudder will always cause controversy, from the finishers’ t-shirts to the cost of going to the event. This event was no different with criticism of the course being only 10 miles and the bag drop causing chaos. But Tough Mudder continue to deliver a fantastic obstacle course race that offers an experience that is tough to beat. With prices pitched at £55 for London West next year, if you want an orange headband like your colleagues, friends or the random chap at your local parkrun, now is the time to sign up.

Tough Mudder - May 2-3, 2015

Photos © Tough Mudder

More information on Tough Mudder can be found here: toughmudder.co.uk


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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