Tough Mudder running: Getting Out Of My Head, Part One

This is going to be the first part of a two-part post – the next post on this topic is going to be coming in August sometime…

I did a Tough Mudder run on the weekend with a friend. I like to think he was persuaded to undertake such activity due to our longstanding friendship, his trust in me and his own desire to try new challenges and get a little fitter. In reality I’d have to admit that I may have prodded a glass or two of wine in his direction in the rosy cosy glow of Christmas cheer and slid the website under his nose when I saw a moment of weakness. Still, it all paid off and for better or for worse, I had found myself a companion for Tough Mudder London West, the first in the 2015 UK season and my 5th Mudder. As I’m now, according to my friends, a fanatic, and, according to my work colleagues (two of which I press-ganged into action for my 3rd TM) a bit of a weirdo for wanting to not only do this kind of thing, but do it more than once, its becoming increasingly difficult to find running companions…

However, this doesn’t matter because of the nature of the TM run; team work is essential, the camaraderie on the course is exceptional, and one’s run time is secondary to the task of pulling/ pushing/ lifting other runners over/ under/ through various obstacles, a certain amount of neck deep mud (no, really) and other similarly inviting terrain.


For those of you unfamiliar with Tough Mudder runs, here’s the lowdown….

It’s a 11-12 mile cross-country obstacle course, with the unifying theme of mud. The obstacles are designed to promote cooperation – some aren’t possible to complete without relying on others. The competitive thread running through many cross country running events is swapped in favour of teamwork and, as mentioned before, a great sense of camaraderie. Overall the accent is on fun-with-a-dose-of-endurance, rather than elite performance. There’s about 20-25 obstacles over the duration of the course. These involve jumping off stuff into stuff, high walls, barbed wire, deep water, submerging oneself in ice, mild electric shock, crawling, tunneling and mud. Lots and lots of mud. I tend to finish the course in around 2:30 – 2:45 – I’m a bit of a plodder. The courses are set all over the world – Tough Mudder is a worldwide movement.

At various points in the course it splits and Mudder Legion – participants who have previously completed an event- get to do a slightly different route, usually involving a different obstacle or task.

The course ends at the same place it started – a base camp with an atmosphere more akin to an outdoor festival than an endurance event. There’s music, food, stalls and various sponsors selling their wares. As one crosses the finish line, a team of Mudder Marshalls greet you, giving you the famous orange head band, some water, a finisher’s t shirt and, the crowning glory, a pint of cider. Despite not personally liking cider, after 12 miles of mud, it remains one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. Similarly to the different coloured belts given for grades in martial arts, Mudder Legion will also collect an additional headband of a different colour which signals the number of events they’ve completed. Everyone covets the black band received at 10+ events… I’m getting there.

What I enjoy most about the Tough Mudder events is that they awaken the body. Even as a seasoned cross-country runner (I run in the hills at least twice a week) and an experienced Tough Mudder runner, I find that the viscerality of the experience is beautifully extreme. One is shocked (quite literally at a couple of points on the course) into a different state of being, wherein one experientially grasps an embodied frame of reference far removed from the everyday. For instance, one can’t really learn about, understand or cognitively prepare for sliding into a neck deep bath of ice, having to then navigate several barriers that require the participant to submerge themselves (this obstacle is lovingly titled the Arctic Enema) – one only learns in the doing – It’s a reawakening, a test of mental stamina and resilience and an utterly absorbing connection to physical sensation through intense physical experience – embodied poetry and hums in the extreme. I find this is a welcome antidote to the relatively disconnected physicality of the digitally blended everyday.

Actually, pausing there to speculate for a moment, I think that’s why such events (there is a proliferation of similar endurance events across the UK and beyond) are gaining popularity. They are an equal and opposite reaction to the life lived by our digital selves; they are sensorially connected, visceral and embodied in the extreme, championing physical cooperation.

Perhaps they are also a reminder that we are fundamentally corporeal beings. Our bodies are the interface through which our consciousness encounters and creates our world as we need to have it appear for us. As Damasio pointed out, central to our existence is the embodied feeling of what happens…

So basically, I’m hooked. I’m doing number 6 in August and possibly number 7 in September. For those with similarly whetted appetites, or conversely, as a cautionary tale told by pictures, here’s a slide show of my Tough Mudders to date…I’ll be adding to it.

Next time, however, I’m taking a chilli-cam. Part Two of the blogpost on this subject is going to give you a 1st person video perspective…

See you next week.


Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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