So finally, after months of preparation, Europe’s Toughest Mudder has come and gone. The event that I had billed as my first major activity of the year did not disappoint in terms of the challenge!
Toughest is one of Tough Mudder’s other formats which is longer than the usual 10 mile event. Starting at midnight and running until 8am, you have to complete as many loops of a 5 mile course as you can. It’s second only to the 24 hour version, World’s Toughest Mudder, which takes place in America each November. The released course map this year showed the potential of 18 obstacles per loop in addition to the 5 miles of running with some event exclusive obstacles along the way.
The map was held back until the Friday to keep everybody in suspense buy I was lost intrigued by the obstacles I hadn’t tried before, Pole Dancer, Irish Table and Operation.
We set off at 7pm on Saturday night for the 2 hour drive to the beautiful Belvoir Castle, the setting for ETM again this year. Check in opened at 9:30pm and was extremely efficient once the queues started moving. We all collected our bibs with allocated runners numbers which were assigned alphabetically – mine was #114. We then headed through to the pit area where each runner was given an area for them to base themselves which equated to a third of a table length. Once in and set down, preparation began. I had been checking the weather all week and it looked like there was a strong chance of rain but with relatively mild temperatures of 9°C forecast. It was raining on arrival and lots of other runners were madly tucking themselves into swimrun or shorty wetsuits. I had no such plan for that kind of warmth, I chose to run in leggings, shorts, a merino wool base layer and my Truesapien lightweight hoodie, a choice made due to the fact I tend to get quite warm whilst running
I prepped my pit crew on the times I was planning for on each lap as well as what I would want when I came in and then made the final checks before heading out to begin. As it was a night time event, the stipulations were that a headtorch and strobe light were needed at all times on course. At 11:45pm, we all made our way out to the start pen…
The usual Tough Mudder pledge had been adapted to account for the fact that this format was competitive. The one line that stuck in my head and emphasised the Tough Mudder values “I understand that this event is a race…but not an excuse to be a selfish jerk.” TM has always been about the teamwork and cameraderie and this was emphasised in the build up to the start. We set off about a minute before midnight according to my watch activity and began the 8 hour onslaught.
Lap 1 & 2 – The sprint lap plan
Knowing that the major obstacles would not be open for the first hour of the event, I had planned on getting onto the second lap before the hour mark arrived. A sea of headtorches set off along the route, lined with green glow sticks to point the way. We moved towards the front end of the hoard to avoid queues at any obstacles we came to. Although it was a sprint lap, some of the simpler obstacles, pitfall, mud mile, kiss of mud and creek crusade were open all night. We ran around all of the other obstacles wondering what time they would be opened up for us to attempt. TMHQ had said there would be a phased opening of them throughout the night so we had no idea what we would meet on each lap.
I hadn’t planned on having a pit stop at the end of lap 1 because I wanted to hit 10 miles quite quickly without many obstacles. Plus I knew that I wouldn’t need anything as I would have run the equivalent of a regular TM. We finished our first lap in 45 minutes and just carried on to start the second. On this lap we ran through a lot of the bigger obstacles and only first had to complete Everest which must have opened just after 1am. Both me and Graham got up first time and then moved on to other obstacle like Kong, which I came off of after the 4th ring. There were penalty loops open for a number of the obstacles that people either fail or choose not to complete. They were all extra running distances apart from the sandbag carry for operation when it finally opened.
I had planned on being back from the first 2 laps in 2 hours and we reached the pit in 1 hour 50 mins for a refuel. I knew this stage was going to be important throughout the night and I had been playing around with nutrition during my longer runs over the winter period. I had settled on sachets of baby food, jelly babies and milky way bars to give me the boost needed and none of these foods had given me any digestive issues. We then headed out for lap 3
Lap 3 – The curse of the ankle is passed on
This third lap had nearly every obstacle open and gave us the opportunity to try Pole Dancer out for the first time, an obstacle I was apprehensive about due to the requirements and the fact my gym routine has fallen short over the past month or so. It was a difficult obstacle but I was really pleased to get through it 2 out of the 3 times I attempted it.
I have previously suffered with my ankles being quite weak, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gone over on them, fracturing both of them in the past. Last year I think I went over on one of them at every event so I had worked hard to build up some strength by running a lot more. It has worked well (so far!) and it meant that I went through the whole night without issue. Graham unfortunately went over on his left ankle on lap 2 and numerous times on lap 3. When we got back in he tried to get a support on it so that he could head out again but had to take the unfortunate decision to call time on his night at that point. I took on some nutrition and then headed out again for my first solo lap of the night.
Lap 4 – EST surprise
As you ran through the start line on the course, Electroshock therapy was on display in all of its glory, for the previous laps we ran around it (in part due to it not being on the course map) however at the start of lap 4, a photographer was ready to catch the moment you were forced through the surprise obstacle! A sneaky move on TMHQs behalf but clever none the less. This lap was much more challenging than the others had been because it started to feel like my game plan was going to need to be changed. I had initially planned for 6 laps to hit 30 miles but midway round this lap I was forced to a walk due to some digestive issues. It was frustrating as I hadn’t changed anything I was eating from my routine throughout my training. Maybe it was the fact I wasn’t used to running at this time of night and probably hadn’t replicated the stress on your body that obstacles would also put, but I was slowed to a walk/run mix for the second half of the lap. I knew that this change of pace would have ruled out the 6th lap but I had left myself plenty of time to complete my fifth without busting a gut.
Lap 5 – 25 miles & satisfaction
TMHQ introduced the competitive side to their business model with the draw of prize money for the elites. For the average Joe, they gave them incentives of rewards for reaching certain milestones throughout the event. Reaching 25 miles got you a badge and 30 allowed you to be eligible for prize money if you were to compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder in America later this year. I knew that I wouldn’t be heading over there for that, so the motivation to get that badge was the driving force to me heading out again. The situation hadn’t improved so I effectively walked my final lap, jogging when I could. My legs and arms felt absolutely fine and I could have got round quicker if I didn’t have the gut problem. By this point the sun was rising and the course took on a whole different perspective. Actually being able to see the terrain that was coming was a lot less stressful and it allowed me to see the sheer volume of sheep that had been grazing on the fields around us throughout the night. Apparently they had been quite noisy but I was so focused on what was coming that I wasn’t paying attention to sounds around me. I failed a couple more obstacles on this final lap, coming off of Pole Dancer towards the end due to a slip and another penalty on Funky Monkey added a bit of extra distance to my lap. The course was really cut up by this point and Graham would have found his footing harder to keep with his weakened ankle. Coming to the end of this lap, the final obstacle was finally open. Operation was exactly like the old board game except, rather than a light and buzzer going off when you hit the metal, you got electrocuted! To complete this obstacle, you had to pick up a metal pole, stand in a puddle of water and hook a wristband off of a hook. The pole needed to be thread through a metal hole which was electrified, I supported the pole in my armpit to add some stability and got hold of the wristband pretty quickly, however it got stuck…a bit of manouvering was needed and I took a hit of the 10,000 volts for a second or two. The wristband was mine (as well as a great shot by the photographer) and I was off to finish my final lap.
The finish and final thoughts
It felt great crossing the line knowing that I was finished. I really enjoyed the whole night and will definitely be doing another one again. We all had to wait until 8am before collecting our finishers headbands, t shirts and patches. In that hour I got changed straight away, shivering set in almost instantly when I relaxed so I knew I needed to do that quickly. I also took on lots of fluids and food to stock back up again and put some nice warm layers on.
My pit crew were absolutely amazing and gave me some great support after each lap to keep me going. I felt really good once I finished and will definitely look into introducing some more stress situations on my training runs (obstacles etc). I will also multilap quite a lot at all of the TM events over the course of the year, this will give me the chance to practice on the obstacles I struggled with too.
I would highly recommend Europe’s Toughest to anyone wanting a new OCR challenge and loved every moment of the night.