I got down on my knees, closed my eyes and inhaled what only seemed like a life-size tub of Vicks Vapo-Rub. Never in my life had I ever screamed so much profanity as I wriggled my way through the tightest and muddiest of tunnels. I tried so hard to keep my mouth shut and hold my breath, ‘anything’ I thought, to keep the immense amount of menthol vapour that was blasted in my face from winning over me. And that, was just one of twenty-nine staggering obstacles I overcame during my Tough Mudder experience.
I’m one of those ‘on and off’ types when it comes to hitting the gym. My twenty pounds a month subscription doesn’t often show much return, but I refuse to give it up – I need it to keep me going emotionally. When I’m there, I’m good. I feel strong. I feel empowered.
I was working in Corporate Communications for a company that went on to sponsor Mini Mudder, the kids’ version of Tough Mudder in the Summer of 2015. My colleague managed to secure free tickets (normally up to £90) for a set number of us to take part. When I was initially asked if I wanted volunteer I laughed and said ‘yeah sure’ without even thinking about it. Then came the day that I discovered my name was down on the official list. ‘Crap’, I thought, ‘I’m not fit enough for this!’ But anyone who knows me well enough knows two things about me; I’m always up for a crazy challenge and I love defying the stereotype of a Muslim woman. And I was the only Muslim here, I had to do this for my women.
I won’t lie and say I worked my backside off to prepare for the challenge. Ramadan was soon approaching and straight after I was heading off on a holiday to Barcelona. Upon my return I had four weeks to attempt any sort of exercise that might help me prepare my body for what was to come. I went to the gym three to four times a week and even tried Regiment Fitness – a resistance building exercise in a park, with a number of people I’d never met before in my life.
It was time
With my team of thirteen colleagues I was fully charged and embraced the excitement and thrill of what I didn’t know was to come. Let me tell you this now, no matter how much you prepare physically for Tough Mudder, nothing will prepare you emotionally and I was oblivious to the emotional challenges I was going to face.
That day I ran (and walked), okay and I slumped, twelve miles. I swam through mud and muddied water. I tried to jog while carrying a tyre on my shoulder. I climbed over stacks of hay, a flat wall with no grips and even climbed over a pyramid of my colleagues. As I struggled to catch my breath while striving on, my supportive team never left my side. We stuck together, we were in it together. It wasn’t a competition, we weren’t competing for time. We struggled and thrived together as a team and that was the best part about it.
What I’ll never forget about my Tough Mudder experience
Two words – Arctic Enema. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into (literally) as I jumped into a massive skip of ICE COLD water. I should’ve anticipated the temperature when I saw the Tough Mudder reps throwing in bags full of ice, but with a big smile on my face I jumped in and that was it. My now former colleagues would probably laugh if they read this but if ever in my life I thought I was going to die, this was it. There’s no way to describe how the freezing temperature hit my body as I sunk right down to the bottom of the pool and stopped breathing. The ice cold water sent a shock to my system and I lost all control and all senses for a few seconds. I very quickly thought, ‘I need to get out, I just need to get out’. So I pushed myself back up through the icy water until I could see some sky through my blurred vision. I gasped for breath and swam a little before my colleagues who were on the other side, reached out their arms to pull me out.
Remember when I said nothing can prepare you emotionally for Tough Mudder? This was that moment. I burst into tears. My lovely colleague Kathy looked me up and down before she rubbed my back to warm me up and hugged me as I sobbed. Her exact words; ‘is it because you’re exposed?’ She understood. In the process of all the rigorous trawling, climbing and swimming, my leggings had ripped and my two piece lycra headscarf kept coming off. Not only was my skin and hair becoming exposed but I was now freezing and wondering ‘why in the Lord’s name did I volunteer to do this?’ But that wasn’t going to stop me, nothing was going to stop me. The worst was over as I ran on to my next obstacle and left behind the traumatising Arctic Enema.
My colleague Raj kindly gave me his shorts (which he was wearing over his leggings), to wear over my now barely there leggings. The good that came out of running and rolling around in mud was that whatever flesh might’ve been exposed was soon covered up by mud and stayed that way.
After the Arctic Enema I knew I could take on anything. I ploughed on and on and on. Then came ‘King of the Swingers’. ‘Oh s***’ I thought as I looked down at the height from which I was about to jump. ‘King of the Swingers’ required me to jump out into the air, grab on to a metal bar and swing before letting go, falling fifteen feet into a pool of water which I then had to swim to the other end of. ‘No way!’ I thought as turned around and began walking back to join those of my colleagues who had chosen to opt out. But something took over me at that point. I still don’t quite know what it was, but whatever it was made me turn back around. I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was about to do. I stood at the edge of the board in awe at my decision and stopped thinking. I just leapt out and grabbed that bar. I couldn’t swing it, but I did it. I let go and fell fifteen feet into the pool and then swam. I swam desperately trying to resist the pull from the mud that was gathered at the bottom of my leggings and in my Air Max’s, all the way to the other end of the pool. ‘I frigging did it!’ I’ll never be able to explain how happy I was in that moment and how relieved I was that I didn’t quit – not once.
After that the rest of the obstacles seemed like a breeze even though I was physically drained.
I remember jogging along with the Director of Innovation, Jon as I cracked a massive smile for the official Tough Mudder photographer. I told Jon in between short breaths, ‘that’s their diversity box ticked off’. I laughed, I cried, I panted and I was almost hysterical at one point. I hated it but I loved it. It was the worst and the best feeling in the world all at the same time.
As we approached the last two obstacles I started to feel proud. I could see the finish line and I was smiling so wide. I couldn’t believe I’d completed the entire course. I was even more proud knowing I’d completed some obstacles that others who were fitter than me had opted out of.
It took almost four and a half hours but I’ll never be able to explain how overjoyed I was as I strategically ran through the Electric Shock Therapy wires, towards the glorious finish line. I got my Tough Mudder Champion headband and I was proud.
Using baby wipes I scraped as much mud as I could off of my skin after I struggled to remove what was left of my wet and mud-filled clothes. Those clothes were not going home with me and neither were those Air Max’s. I did however forget I was wearing Raj’s shorts which he later reminded me of – but it was too late!
I grabbed some fat greasy chips from a nearby food truck to relieve me of my unbelievable starvation and shivered during the entire one and a half hour journey home. After taking a hot shower I discovered blotches of black and blue all over my body. My big toe was bruised for almost two months following my Tough Mudder experience and my body ached for days. But I didn’t regret doing it then and I never have since. Tough Mudder is still to date my biggest physical achievement. It was scary, it was intense, it was immensely challenging and emotional but by far one of the best decisions of my life. Completing Tough Mudder changed me. I realised I was capable of doing anything that I put my mind to and that the only thing to ever stop me from achieving this ‘anything’ would be me.
I’m ever so proud to be a Muslim woman and I believe it’s important for us to reach for our goals, whatever they may be. We should never anyone dictate to us because we know we are empowered. We are capable of achieving so much more than what the media, society and our communities tell us.