The ice water is a shock to the system; muscles scream in protest, and an involuntary gasp escapes my lips as the shakes begin. I watch as my team mate’s pink bandana disappears under the murky water in front of me and then I’m alone. I feel the length of the wood that separates me from my friends, dry land, and warmth. I take a deep breath and plunge under. An icy chunk brushes past my cheek and then hands grab my shoulders, arms, and legs, hauling me out of the water. This is Tough Mudder.
I must admit that it’s my fault that four friends and myself are at the start line of Whistler’s first Tough Mudder event. We’d been watching the rugby world cup and there had been a few beers. Inspired by the athleticism I jumped online and brought up the race page for something Google was telling me I just had to do – Tough Mudder was coming to Whistler. I asked my fired up friends if they’d be interested in an “obstacle style race”, and in their merriment they trusted my innocent smile. Conscripted onto Team Chick Legs they were now facing a 20-kilometre run peppered with 22 obstacles set by the British Special Forces.
All of us have done some adventure racing before, but as the date crept closer and the press drew attention to the finer details of the course, like the 10,000 volt electric cables, greased monkey bars, and ice cold lake water we were all wondering what the hell we’d, or I’d, been thinking. The answer to that isn’t a definitive one. I wanted to know if we could do it. That when push came to shove (literally), could we, as a group of friends, complete the hair raising tasks and come out smiling? I’m not a glutton for punishment, nor am I what I would consider “extreme”, but this race somehow appealed to the side of me that wanted to say – Veni, vidi, vici / I came, I saw, I conquered (and I didn’t run for the hills).
To even get to the start line you had to scale a wall. As I teetered on my belly before sliding (aka falling) down the other side I thought, this is going to be fun and giggled like a child. Sure, they pit this race as the “toughest on the planet”, but really it’s just the chance to get back on the playground again with the mud, the slides, your mates and um, some electric shock therapy? We were in the first wave of people at 8am and after a rousing pep talk with a lot of “Ooorahing” we were up off the hill and into the wilds of the Callaghan Valley. The crowd was a motley crew, from the Mohawk toting, to Lulu bottom huggers, from half naked men with perfect six packs to the folk who looked like they’d downed one the night before – this race certainly speaks to the masses.
Our first obstacle was a 12-foot wooden wall. My husband, Darren Boyd, quickly threw his wiry body up and over in a “How did he do that?” move, and then Steve McCloskey and Daniel Irvine manhandled both myself and Maja Ronneberger over with Darren breaking our fall. The manhandling had been discussed ahead of time to save embarrassment, in other words, the boys could grab anything they needed to in order to get us over those obstacles – true friendship. There were sections of just “slogging it” between tasks, shoes heavy with water and mud it was hard to see the mile markers going past so slowly. I’d never thought I’d say it but the upcoming “spiders web” of cargo nets looked inviting because it meant I could stop running. There was an incredible amount of snow on the ground; packed down by thousands of feet it was treacherously slippery. However it did make for great ice slides and as we approached the top of one chute we simply accepted we were in for another cold dunk.
The sense of camaraderie that events like this generate hit home when we got to the quarter pipe leap of faith, aptly named “Everest”. There were four burly looking guys at the top simply waiting to help the next team up. Dan took a run and got up making it look easy, and then I was next. I sprinted as hard as I could towards the wall and as it curved, I looked into the eyes of a complete stranger as I leapt forward throwing my hands up. He caught me. This is Tough Mudder.
“When will I ever have the chance to do this again?” Said Steve as he launched dubious smelling mud at Maja’s just before she disappeared up to her waist into a hidden bog. He hit the nail, and Maja, on the head. Tough Mudder is an experience, not a race, a chance to do something completely out of the ordinary, to get completely covered in mud, to test yourself, and your friends. Our knees and elbows were rubbed raw and mud covered every orifice as we rounded the corner and were faced with the greased monkey bars. As a child they had been my favourite playground activity, but unfortunately my strength to body weight ratio has changed considerably and not for the better. Maja made it three bars before dropping into the water below. I was on my fifth when I realized I was just making my inevitable fall a longer drop, and with the crowd cheering I let go.
The last obstacle before the end was the “Electric Shock Therapy”. Dangling wires carrying 10,000 volts looked like a sea of man-of-war jellyfish. One caught the left side of my face as we ran through, but it was the one that hit my calf muscle, rendering it dead, that nearly sent me flying. Then we were under the finished banner and it was all over. We had completed the challenge in less than three hours, still friends, still smiling, and still in tact.