Spartan Super. 13k+ course, we were told afterwards it was actually nearer 17k!
There is something deeply satisfying about collecting a medal at the end of a race when you haven’t placed first. You’re still a winner, no matter when you finish. As soon as you drag yourself over that finish line, whether you’re first or last, you are a winner.
The camaraderie and bubbling excitement, the jittery nervousness on the way to the event whilst wondering what on earth you’ve signed yourself up for, the men in tutus at the starting line – the thrills of participating in an obstacle course race (OCR) are endless.
But it hasn’t always been this way. I’d wanted to do Tough Mudder for 2 years running. The first year I’d not met anyone who wanted to brave it with me. The second year, a friend enrolled last minute but I hadn’t trained, so I didn’t sign up. I finally signed up this year but had to defer due to injury.
I signed up for Spartan Sprint, my first race, after meeting a group of fellow gym goers who were up for the challenge. Safety in numbers. For someone who got out of breath after running half a kilometre, the thought of doing a 5K OCR terrified me. Visuals of bulky, sword wielding men bellowing war cries à la 300 came to mind. Am I fit enough? Strong enough? Brave enough?
A little background on my fitness; I have no “background”. I don’t think my Kitty Kat 6 gymnastics badge from childhood counts. Being told we had to do the dreaded 1500m run in PE made me want to feign illness.
I am not a cardio bunny. I don’t enjoy pounding treadmills. I like Olympic Lifting. I am a pole dancer. I’m working on front levers, handstands, planches and love calisthenics. Common theme here; any type of metal bar I can swing off, climb up, balance on or lift above my head… I’m game. It wasn’t clambering over logs or wading through mud that struck fear into me. I can make like a hippo and wallow until my hearts content. But the running? Yikes. That was until I’d completed my first 5k Spartan, medal in hand, bursting with pride.
I did find the running difficult, I ain’t gon’ lie but being with a team helped immensely. Surrounding yourself with people who tell you you can do it, help overpower your own negative thoughts. I made a core group of friends that day, many of whom were strangers beforehand.
Before the initial high of that first race had even worn off, I signed up for the next. This was a biggun that would require some training. Running 5k once on a treadmill and relying on my strength from aerial fitness wasn’t training. I basically blagged the Sprint but Spartan Super, the next race up from Spartan Sprint, was 17km long. Loooooooong. Just running that normally without any obstacles is a fair distance.
To do this race, I had to learn to run. Not just learnt to do it but learn to love it so I wanted to keep at it. I needed to commit myself to the achey calves, the burning lungs and the initial snail pace. As they say, pain is temporary, victory is forever.
I found Spartan Super hard and very challenging but again, it was amazing. Cold, tired, bruised but buzzing, I couldn’t wait to do another race. That was in September last year, marking the end of the OCR season for me. There are races up until November but as a freelancer I stick to the races where the weather is marginally more likely to be a little more forgiving, to minimise my chances of getting ill and not being able to work.
My most recent race and the one that kicked off this years OCR season was Toughest. Again, incredible. I tripped over a lot, got mud in my eye, fell off obstacles and had to do penalties but I just kept on going. Walked when I had too, no shame in that. It was 8K, so more than half the distance shorter than Spartan Super but the obstacles were demanding. Grappling over logs and failing to scale muddy walls, I was never short of a nudge to assist in getting me over obstacles I struggled with. Hands of strangers held outstretched, this is what it’s all about. Community, teamwork and togetherness.
Breathlessly pacing up a hill, all I could think was how much of a good time I was having. My friend had run ahead but I met new people along the way, bonding over our tiredness and questioning our sanity after doing this for fun. The view from the top of the hill made
it all worth while.
Why do I keep going back for more mud?
The excitement, the challenge, to have something to train for and push my fitness limits. The friends I’ve made along the way, the overwhelming joy on completing something you know you’ve worked hard for, to conquer fears and embrace my strengths. I own the rope climb, I destroy the traverse rings. Monkey bars? I’m King Kong! But I embrace my inner tortoise, allowing the hares to run forth, strongly dislike heights and resemble a cat in water.
Pondering over whether a mud run is for you? Here are a few tips to get you motivated.
- Find a group to do it with to motivate and encourage each other. Although not essential, it helps if you’re at similar fitness levels or have someone to run with throughout the race. If you don’t know anyone who’s going, post on the social media page of the race you’re interested in to see if any other lone wolves are looking to join a pack. There are probably tons of people out there who are having the same doubts doing it solo.
- Invest in proper gym kit. I’ve seen people take part in races in their finest Flyknits. Get a pair of trail running shoes and don’t wear your sparkling white trainers because… mud. If you’re having to jump into an ice bath the last thing you want to think about is whether your shoes will get ruined (hint: they will). And DO NOT WEAR COTTON. You will regret this. It does not dry quickly. Stick to proper sportswear with wicking qualities.
- Train, train, train! Going headlong into a half marathon race when secretly you know you should probably be doing the 5K, could mean you’re less likely to enjoy the experience – be honest about your fitness level to get the most from the race. Most OCRs provide free online training guides to get you up to speed (pun intended).
- Enjoy! These races are meant to be fun and they really are. As long as you put the work in to train safely and don’t mind getting down and dirty you’ll have an incredible time and become part of a wonderful community.
Have you done any mud runs? What’s you’re favourite OCR?
Disclaimer: This blog is for information purposes only. I am not a qualified fitness professional and write solely based on my own experiences. This post is not a substitute for fitness or medical advice. Please consult your Doctor before undertaking any new exercise regime.