Lessons from the mud

Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile mud and obstacle course designed to drag you out of your comfort zone by testing your physical strength, stamina, and mental grit. With no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, it’s not about how fast you can cross the finish line. Rather, it’s a challenge that emphasizes teamwork, camaraderie, and accomplishing something almost as tough as you are.

Tough Mudder has had over 2.5 million participants since it’s inception in 2010, and I have a funny feeling that not many people actually read the paragraph above before signing up. Mainly because if you did, you probably wouldn’t sign up lol, and also, a lot of people sign up because they’re looking for a fun and adventurous activity to do, and as the biggest brand in obstacle courses, someone eventually suggests Tough Mudder. This is where it all begins…

So as you’ve probably guessed, I did tough Mudder on Saturday. Along with a few friends, work colleagues and a twin sister who got the urge to sign up the night before, we took on the 10-12 mile challenge and braced ourselves for an afternoon of mud filled endurance.

The challenge was amazing for many reasons that you can probably guess, it was a test of character and it literally forced you out of your comfort zone and pushed you to your physical and mental limits. That’s all great… BUT. Saturday was a truly humbling experience for me for a completely unexpected reason, let me paint the picture…

We’re in the warm up, and being the over-protective twin brother I am, every other minute I’m looking over to my sister to make sure she’s okay, she seems fine, but because I know her I can tell she’s already starting to feel it. I’m not surprised because she only signed up the night before so she’s had no time to train and get herself into shape, not to mention she’s been out of the gym for almost a year now and isn’t at her optimum fitness levels.

The course begins and me and my sister are jogging side by side, my group of friends and colleagues are in front and beginning to create a little gap, but it’s nothing to worry about just yet as we’ve just started and everyone is pretty much still flocked together. So as we approach a turn in the hills, I look over to my right and I can no longer see my sister, I look behind and I notice that she is walking. So I walk over to her and ask ‘are you okay?’ To which she replies ‘no’. Now in my mind I wanted to scream ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO! WE HAVEN’T EVEN REACHED THE FIRST OBSTACLE AND YOU AREN’T OKAY!” But being the gentleman/motivational speaker/composed Aries that I am, I softly began to encourage her and tell her everything is going to be okay, take the race at your own pace I said.

I eventually managed to coax her into jogging again, so we’re jogging along and more and more people are beginning to go past us, now I’m not really that concerned but I can see on Carla’s face that she’s beginning to notice how far behind we are, so I say ‘don’t worry, remember it’s not a race, just take your time’. (FYI, this calm, composed Carl didn’t stick around for too long, the panic soon revealed itself, just keep reading)

We get to the first obstacle and my team is waiting for us with smiles on their faces. I was relieved to see them, but I look back at Carla who looks quite shaken up and I think to myself ‘she isn’t going to be able to do this’. Nonetheless, we continue the journey through the muddy hills and forests, and as we approach a turn I look up and can no longer see the team insight, I look to my right and Carla isn’t there, she’s stopped and is walking again. I ask if she’s okay and she says she’s got a pain in her chest that keeps coming every time she jogs. I began to panic, here are the things running through my mind:

  • What if Carla overdoes it and hurts herself?
  • What is she collapses?
  • Are my team still waiting for us?
  • What are they thinking?
  • They’ve paid for this, they don’t want to do it at walking pace!
  • I can’t leave my sister… Born together, Die together!
  • But I don’t want to do this at walking pace!

At which point I decided to be ruthless and make a decision on her behalf, the conversation went like this:

Carl – ‘Carla, you can’t do this, at the next obstacle you’re going to tell one of the guides that you’re dropping out, I don’t want you to get hurt’

Carla – ‘No’

Carl – ‘What do you mean no, look how far everyone is, you can’t just walk the whole thing by yourself’

Carla – Yes I can Carl, I paid for this, I am not quitting and I’m going to finish, just run ahead to your team I can do this’

Carl ‘ No, I’m not leaving you out here by yourself, there’s no one around and what happens if you get hurt man. Look, at the next obstacle you’re dropping out’

Carla mumbles under her breath, ‘shutup man’

So once our argument in the middle of the forest with no one else around is done, we continue jogging. And now I am p’d off cause I’m thinking to myself ‘why did I let her do this, why didn’t I tell her it was going to be too tough for her’, ‘this is all my fault I knew she wasn’t fit enough’.

We reach the next obstacle, I walk over to one of the guards and I say ‘we’ve got a participant that needs to dropout, she’s not going to be able to handle it’. The guard turns round to Carla and says ‘are you okay?’, to which she replies ‘I’m doing it. I just can’t run all the way’. The fumes start steaming from my head, I look at Carla about to berate her for not listening but she cuts me off and says ‘look, I told you to leave me, I am doing this by myself, go and catch up with your friends’.

Now the anger in me is mixed with emotion, because I have a dilemma. My heart says: stay with your sister and make sure she’s okay; you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if something happens to her. But my head says: you and your team have prepared for this for ages, you’ve got to do the course together, you promised not to leave each other’.

I decided to leave her, I thought to myself ‘maybe she’ll get to like the 4th or 5th obstacle and decide to call it a day. She knows where my bag is and she can go and get the keys and sit in the warm car, there’s food in there too so she’ll be fine’.

So I catch up with the team, we go through a couple minor obstacles until we reach the infamous arctic enema 2.0. Basically a plunge down into 10 tonnes of icy water to which once you’ve dived into it and experienced the shock of your life, you then have to go back in and swim under a bunch of tyres to make it out to the other end.

I dived in with my friend, the look on her face when we came up had me concerned, she looked like she was hyperventilating and had to go off to the side and compose herself to swim under the tyres, I tried to pull her down with me but it wasn’t happening. After we came out my first thought was ‘let me see if I can find Carla and tell her not to do it, because the shock would be too much for her’. I looked around for a while but couldn’t find her, so we continued up the hill.

Half way up my friend turned around and started pointing towards someone coming out of the ice… Was it a bird? Was it a plane? NO! It was bloody Carla! The image of her jogging up the hill with her determined demeanor was one of the best images of the day, she was covered in water and had completed the ice challenge that I thought would be too difficult for her.

Now I’m delighted that she’s still going, we chat for a little while as we jog but then we leave her again. The next 8 miles are full of jogging up hills and slippery, dangerous mud paths, swimming in ice-cold water mixed with mud, climbing through tunnels and under barbed wire as well as monkey bars. Safe to say it was probably one of the most challenging physical experiences I’ve ever had.

We finally make it to the end, feelings of jubilation, relief, pain and overall joy to have completed this amazing obstacle. I walk back to the bag drop to collect my bag, expecting Carla to have already gone through the bag and collected the keys to go and sit in the car. I get to the bag, check in the pocket and find my keys, along with Carla’s phone. I walk to the car, only to find it empty. My first thought was, ‘okay, maybe she’s with the Tough Mudder volunteers or at the medical centre because she didn’t think to go and collect my bag. But no. She isn’t at either of those places, I began to panic a little because I’m now walking around the park and cannot see her, it’s been like 30 minutes since we finished and I still can’t find her.

  •  What if she fell while jogging and there wasn’t anyone around to help her?
  • What if she’s been carried away in an ambulance?
  • What if she’s shivering in a ditch somewhere?

After a few choice words to the woman at the help desk, Carla walks up behind me with a finisher t-shirt in one hand and a finisher head band around her head. I was speechless.

Carl – ‘You Finished!??’

Carla – ‘Well yeah, durrgh’

Carl – ‘But How?’

Carla – ‘I told you I was going to finish man, I told you I could do it!’

What happened on Saturday was one of the most humbling experiences i’ve ever had. I was adamant that I knew what was best for her, I was 100% sure that Carla would not be able to do this and had to drop out. The moral of the story is… Don’t EVER, EVER, EVER let ANYONE limit you!

It could be your parents, your sibling, your partner or even a mentor, do not ever let anyone tell you what you’re capable of. You can achieve anything you want to achieve, it is simply a case of having utter and total belief in yourself, regardless of the circumstance or who is involved, no matter how far behind you are, decide what you want to do and go and do it!

This weekend my sister taught me a very valuable lesson. The limits of other people should not be the limits you have for yourself, run your own race and believe in yourself.

Thank you Carla

Carla Tough Mudder.png