Becky Rendell's smiling face is a familiar sight at OCRs up and down the country. Representing Nuclear Phoenix OCR, she is also a formidable competitor, regularly appearing on the podium. As Tough Mudder hosted their first event of the season, we were delighted to hear her thoughts on the changes 2019 has brought to the big orange machine...

Obstacle course racers, we need to talk. It’s about your old friend Tough Mudder… Spoiler: there was an obstacle no one completed!

For some, Tough Mudder has left a sour taste in their mouth. Whether it’s the dizzying entry/spectator/parking fees, too much cold water/electric shocks (optional), not enough focus on competition or the fact that it took months to pay out the prize money for the Tougher (competitive timed) waves, along with other vendors. I expect people weren’t exactly ecstatic. But as they say, new year, new you so I was willing to give them another shot. I have always enjoyed the Tougher Mudder event and did eventually receive my prize money at the end of 2018. Plus, who of us can really say no to well marketed BIG new obstacles?

It didn’t exactly start well though, with Tough Mudder announcing the removal of prize money for all events in 2019 (including World’s Toughest Mudder) and TMX being a no-go; we said goodbye to big names such as Rea Kobl and Ryan Atkins from the start sheet – but don’t worry, you can still work out with Hunter… Plus, now the focus is back on being #TougherTogether and that should invite many of you from the community to remember why you started or what makes this sport so special. But I’m not here to talk about politics. I just want to play on obstacles and run my little heart out. So I went back to Culden Faw Estate near Henley-on-Thames to check out the new look TM in early May. This will be a brain dump of my thoughts throughout the event…

Mud Mile still lives up to its name

With arguably the largest scale event village I have come across in OCR, even arriving at 7 am is exciting, or maybe I’m just keen. Possibly incomparable to later waves, we were registered immediately and received our Tougher wave bibs that include a timing chip and highlight to other participants that you are racing – I like to add my name to the back of the bib as all the other runners and marshals are super supportive. A warm up, bag drop donation and off to the start line with I’m guessing around 100 bib-wearers. The car park is close (don’t pay for the premium upgrade if in Tougher as you’re the first there anyway) at this venue so you could probably leave your kit in the car but I knew it would be wet and cold and having the change of clothes one step closer can make all the difference to your post-race spirits, and your ability to keep your finish line drink in its container without fear of shivering so violently that it spills. Anyway, there is a short group warm up, (it is fun, no you don’t have to do it). I’m pretty sure the TM pledge has also been updated this year, but still: “losers whine”. Then you’re off to the sound of ACDC and into the woods.

Like any well-thought out OCR it started with a longer running section to break up the field. Next we were faced with three Hero Walls (12 foot – they have a ledge so they are doable on your own) and then onto Overtired, which had been upgraded to include a water trough at the bottom, higher walls, tyres on the top as well as a rope to help you over – a fun interesting challenge. Up and down a few beautiful wooded hills before heading towards the start for a quick run up Everest. Now this had three difficulty options – naturally I tried the hardest one – but soon downgraded as it was wet and placed uphill. Tougher participants are not forced to complete the harder ‘level up’ lanes, so this can be a little confusing especially when people have various ‘tac-tics’ when racing, ahem - the men ahead of me not taking the level-up lanes. Back uphill and under a long Devil’s Beard net crawl and onto the Kiss of Mud (still have the forearm bruises) that also had a narrower level-up lane. An old favourite – Blockness Monster was next, (nothing new here other than the Snickers sponsorship), then a quick sandbag carry in the woods and a few crawls through the tubes. Now this is where things started getting exciting…

Cage crawl; already a bit of a nasty one where you have to swim below the cage but the level up lane here was NEXT LEVEL, and not in a skill based way. You’ve probably seen this one advertised – basically a clear hard plastic sheet about a meter long on the water surface, forcing you to go under the muddy water before popping up (whilst still under the cage). Even I didn’t fancy this one! Last year we saw TM test the Spread Eagle obstacle and this made its return this year with its parallel slacklines (that you’re not allowed to walk on, much to my dismay - although I’m probably the only one that thinks that). These can be completed pretty quickly on your shins and hands with your ankle wrapped round and elbows locked – use your legs! The trails round here were beautiful and soon we got a sighting of the brand new Leap of Faith obstacle. Perhaps not supersized like (everything) in America this was a fun little jump over water to a swinging net that had a secure frame that made it easier. Traverse around the side and get your timing on point to swing a leg over the descending pole and slide down feet first. Round the corner and more slacklines and another new obstacle: Black Widow! I was excited for this one – a crisscross of slacklines (including ones for your hands) over water and although not too challenging it certainly slowed you down.

One of my all-time favourites, Funky Monkey, was next and the whole thing had been revamped but maintained those fabulous spinning wheels. This also had a level up lane that the marshals told me none of the men had tried/completed yet, as if there was any doubt I was gonna give this a go. I’ll describe the level up lane because it was a little tricky: a few vertical scaffold poles with foot pegs to traverse across before climbing a rope up to the horizontal spinning wheel (difficult to gain turning momentum) then on to the big vertical wheel and on to a horizontal pole – all was going well then I felt my stomach falling as surprisingly the pole pivoted down and I clung on and hastily moved along the monkey bars to finish, phew! The penalty for the Tougher runners remains just a running loop but these were well enforced. Entrapment was a crawl under electric wires (optional) then downhill to hydrophobia – the coldest one so far with head-under-water-tube induced brain freeze, complete with sneaky photographer. From here you could see the village and I knew the map in my head so knew I needed to get my hands and warm dry for The Gauntlet and THE WHOPPER. I had not seen these in detail until now, and they weren't as complex as I had imagined but did consist of three back-to-back obstacles: 1) incline balance beam; 2) rings to pole traverse; 3) hands only ledge. Now this is where it gets really interesting: that final ledge was pretty long, particularly at this stage of the race. I looked at the level-up lane and decided I didn’t fancy failing it so opted for the ledge – nice juicy hand holds, completed. On the other side however was the Whopper, consisting of climbing holds (hands only) but not your usual OCR juggy ones, rather, slope-y, finger-y ones with not many options – TOUGH! Rumour has it that over the entire weekend ONE person completed the Whopper – but did it really happen if nobody saw? I even went back after the race and had a go, but nope. I challenge you obstacles course racers to complete The Whopper in your next Tough Mudder race. A nice touch here was a photo opportunity for those that did complete it (oops) complete with pyrotechnics, courtesy of Burger King (save your appropriate sponsorship discussion for another time). And what’s the opposite of flame grilled, oh yeah – Arctic Enema. I can confirm, still freezing. At least we had Killa Gorilla hills to run up after rather than Kong Infinity like last year. The water wasn’t over yet though, as Augustus Gloop made a return for 2019, complete with a slightly more difficult level-up lane, although the water wasn’t too hard.

I think I can see my house from up there.

Those in the Tougher wave completed a sandbag carry instead of the new partner obstacle: Texas Hold Em’ then it was over the final hill towards the finish area. Pyramid scheme was the same as last year – you can use the rope in Tougher but this does look more fun when you get to clamber up each other. Finally, it was hard to miss Mudderhorn. I don’t know why I underestimated TM, but for some reason I didn’t expect an obstacle of this size in the UK, perhaps just WTM. Blimey it was BIG. We had to climb a rope wall to get on to the giant (30 ft?!) cargo net (covered with safety net for if you fell backwards). This was pretty epic and although not challenging your skills it was certainly an obstacle and I expect many people faced their fear of heights square in the horns that day. As I came over the top they announced me as first lady and I could feel the crowd watching (now with a stand of bleachers) as I came into Electro Shock therapy. Yep, I got zapped, started to fall over the middle hurdle… styled it out with a forward roll, then ran back under the Mudderhorn and over the finish line to collect my headbands and new Tougher MEDAL. Woohoo!

~ 1 h 20 m, 14 km, 360 m elevation, 25 obstacles, and all awesome.   

All smiles at taking the win

The production team were on it; as soon as the first three men and women had finished they did the presentation, complete with gold silver and bronze Tougher Mudder medals and photo opportunities. We got warm, explored the buzzing event village before switching gears to Spartan Race brain, aka: carries.

This year you can complete the Tough Mudder classic course (8-10 miles, 25 obstacles, plus Tougher Wave available for £15 upgrade) or the 5 km course. All I can say is, give it a chance, you may even love it.

You can follow Becky on Instagram at @therunnerbeanuk

[Photographs courtesy of Tough mudder]

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