When young pastry chef Alissa Jeub from Melbourne went online one morning and signed up for a strange mud-themed adventure challenge set against the backdrop of a Phillip Island racetrack, little did she realise the stir she would cause. Having randomly selected a team from the challenge’s website, her chosen team – a group of Tasmanian Crossfitters from Team Crossfit 42South – wondered who this person was, why she would join their team … and more importantly, were her pastries paleo?
Armed only with a background in bike-riding, and a craving to make some cracks in her comfort zone walls, she joined a team of people she didn’t know, from a far away southern city, to complete the first ever Australian Tough Mudder Challenge. What Alissa did took courage, and her actions set the tone for the entire event.
Back in Hobart, the team was being finalised and plans were beginning to take shape. Important questions were being asked, and decisions made (Would teal and black team singlets suit everyone’s colouring? Should they have an inbuilt bra? Would Nick C let the girls straighten his hair if we fed him enough post-race VB?).
All team members quietly stepped up their training, with the blue-innova8s of a few of “non-runners” spied scurrying along Sandy Bay Road … and secret “second” home WOD sessions remaining scandalously unlogged on the 42South feed.
As the big day grew closer, team members took to scaring each via frequent by Facebook sharing of Tough Mudder videos . Montages featured bulked-up Bear-Grylls look-alikes close to tears as they scraped their scratched torsos off the ground… after crawling through yet another electrically-charged-barbed-wired-icy-mud-filled-obstacle.
It soon became clear to our Fearless Leader and coach Drummond and his wife Alli (uber gymnast and motivational coach extraordinaire) that it was time to step in and help whip our team into shape.
In a foolproof move to calm everyone down, Drum set up a five hour challenge involving relaxing obstacles such as hauling 20-40kg cargo packs up steep Hobart streets, carrying large logs for kilometres (including across the bridge) and practising treading water until your face was as red as a Crossfitter’s post-Fran paws.
This was followed by a gymnastics challenge carefully designed by Alli and Drum to help us practise dumping our dignity, as fellow teammates hauled, pushed and shoved each other over obstacles clutching or pushing any available body part.
It was during these challenges that the courage of particular team members began to emerge. As a new Crossfitter who had never previously run more than two kilometres at a stretch, Meghan W blew everyone away by completing over 17 kilometres and over half a dozen obstacles during the practise challenge, smiling bravely throughout the entire day. Teammate Tania M – admired as a strong and determined Crossfitter – conquered her fear of heights by completing the spider web gymnastics challenge. Both challenges not only helped us identify our own physical strengths and weaknesses, but also served as a reminder that none of us could complete this Mudder alone. Over the coming weeks we contemplated our own personal answer to the question Drummond posed at each challenge: “What kind of team member do you want to be?”
As our team captain Sarah R worked tirelessly to tie-up the loose ends involved in transporting, accommodating and feeding 13 increasingly hyperactive team members, it dawned on us all that the week of the event had arrived.
As dawn broke on a crisp Hobart Friday, we were finally hurtling through the skies over Bass Strait to face what is touted as the “probably the Toughest Event on the Planet”.
Having hurdled the first unplanned obstacles of a flight delay, the discovery that our hire cars apparently did not exist (attempts to create an “air-van” driven by Tan in the empty car space failed to impress car park security), we were on the freeway to Phillip Island being serenaded Adele-style by a Scottish Warrior Princess (formerly known as Lindsey).
As we reached the Island, a “reccie” of the course allowed us just enough time for a sneak peak of some of the obstacles, before we were herded off a paddock by local workmen on tractors. So it was off for dinner, essential floatie-buying and sleep for those who could.
The next morning, the hired house was eerily quiet as Lindsey and I quietly cracked twenty-four eggs, chopped a field of mushrooms and carved cakes of butter for the Team Breakfast. As the team gathered, the nervous energy in the room was exceeded only by the coffee-fuelled woohooing of our wonderful team captain Sarah R.
By the time we arrived at the event site, the paddocks were filled with a palette of swirling neon costumes, and a gallery of equally colourful characters. It was all mohawks, mankinis and controlled mayhem as teams from across the country and around the world lined up to be registered, branded with permanent marker on the head, and well, let’s be honest… to check each other out.
Our boys decided now was the time to become men. And in order to do this, all agreed they needed to “mohawk-it-up”.
To give you all a taste of being in our team at this point, our motivational pep-talk-style conversation tended to go something like this:
Jak: “It’s just like falls”
Tania: “It’s so not like falls Jak.”
Nic J to Sarah C: “Do you have any hairspray? Row’s mohawk is better than mine”
Sarah R: “Woohoo”
Lindsey: “There better be mud, if there’s no mud, I’m going to make my own mud.”
As our start time crept closer, we revised strategy. One: Everyone was to pair up with a “buddy” and look out for them. Two: for all of us assess each obstacle against our abilities: we all wanted to finish.
Before we knew it we were clambering over the first wall to the start line, and being swept up in some serious atmosphere in a mosh pit with 600-odd other fired up individuals reciting the Tough Mudder pledge. In summary the pledge says: This is a challenge not a competition. Help your fellow Mudders.
And with that, a tidal wave of cheering, slapping, yelling Tough Mudders poured over the starting line to Obstacle One.
Brave teammates Alice and Julie, followed closely by Lindsey and Jo wove through the crowds setting a steady, but impressive pace. As this leading group of our team became specs of teal and black in the distance, we wished them awesome vibes, and were confident that one way or another they would blitz this Mudder, and make our team proud.
A funny thing happened with the rest of the team members out on the field during the first stretch of running. The well-planned buddy system – effective for about 200 metres – simply became a group buddy system. An unspoken, unanimous decision was made to let those in our group who were most fatigued at any given time set the pace between obstacles.
As the first obstacles – “Berlin Walls” of increasing heights – emerged like a series of scary mirages on the landscape, our boys, assisted by the special powers only a newly-shorn mohawk can provide, began to show their true colours. Although all three were more than likely capable of smashing the course with the best of the burly Bear-Grylls clones, not only did they clamber the walls to assist the rest of us over, but quickly made a habit of helping other competitors.
Somewhere between obstacles, the first sliding patch of mud was discovered. Nick J decided this was where Rowan and our team mascot – a blow-up swan reverently named Flotatio – should be baptised. The ceremonial significance of this dunking was not to be underestimated, as it was somewhere after this point Rowan’s true team-playing character was revealed. After the dumping, he emerged from the mud looking unaffected, like a dark Masai Warrior with Flotatio in place of a sword. His own eyes filled with mud, our warrior now had to rely on his all-seeing third eye (also known as the Go Pro camera strapped to his head). The two Nicks had their turn, mutating into chocolate-covered Avatars as they continued to lead our group to the next stage.
As we approached the next obstacle – a man-made cliff jump into an icy damn – I faced my own fear; that of a six-foot tall girl with previous bad experience of diving into water that could possibly be too shallow, and result not only in bad hair but possibly broken body bits. But as I watched several sculpted, tattooed giants fling themselves somersault-style into the icy depths, this fear quickly disappeared. Go-Pro-Ro’s suggestion to make a splash as a team turned this suicide-style challenge into a scream(in a fun way). Rowan and Flotatio remained in the water to assist a fellow Crossfitter , who, despite not previously being unable to swim, had decided that today was the day she should learn.
The obstacle countdown began, and acts of camaraderie and courage were everywhere. In negotiating low under a barbed wire “Electric Eel”, random hands and feet were offered to uncertain crawlers; hesitators at the top of possibly the longest, slipperiest slide in the southern hemisphere received a friendly shove to encourage their often head-first descent. Strangers offered body-heating hugs after a dunk in the “Arctic Enema” and those achieving a tally of more than three or four butter-greased monkey bars positioned over yet another ice cold lake were cheered like heroes (we are proud to report Nick C completed the whole run and Nick J all but did the same, and I believe our girls Lindsey, Alice and Julie tallied an impressive few too).
The cheering, laughing (and some crying) continued as we careered along the course: through a “Swamp Stomp”, log carry, rope climbing, underwater pipe maze, swinging rope, potentially spirit destroying “Hell March” up and down a series of undulating hills … all capped off with a nerve-testing run through a wall of smoke.
As fatigue set in, the waiting between obstacles – which more often than not occurred knee-deep in mud – became as much a part of the mental challenge as the obstacles themselves. We employed a number of on-the-spot strategies to combat exhaustion and the risk of flagging morale. These included:
• A mini-challenge to notch up 100 burpees by the end of the Challenge by the Nick C and Nick J (passers by rationalised this with: “I think they’re from Tasmania”)
• A pause by the Sarahs as we stopped to enjoy “the view” (the spectacular carved coastline of Phillip Island was pretty nice to look at too)
• Discussion regarding what a scraper might be used for after the challenge (gratuitous team in-joke)
• Woohooing (guess who)
• Maintaining the safety of team mascot Flotatio by giving various team members responsibility for his welfare at different stages.
• Intermittently re-setting Nick J’s mohawk in place with clay and mud
• Marvelling at Nick C’s magic hair (which remained mud-free for the entire day)
• Contemplating whether Lindsey would take up the challenge to yell dramatically “…but they can’t take our freedom!” at the top of a mist-covered hill along the way.
• If the boys were the team glue, the girls provided the giggles; with Jak, Tania, Meghan and Sarah R remaining positive and cheerful throughout; when one person was looking a little pale, or in pain someone would always step in with a “woohoo”, make a bad joke, or conjure up a distraction, such as impressing other competitors by creating a cleavage “chocolate fountain” using mud.
We were so proud of the determination of one team member who worked through severe muscle cramps (hitting at one stage during a long underground tunnel crawl) to complete nearly every obstacle.
Another Brave Mudder, Alice B, soldiered on to finish the course, ably supported by Julie, Lindsey and Jo, despite incurring a shoulder injury at the final obstacle … and then having to explain to the ambulance officers how to tie her own sling.
And what about Allissa? At the final obstacle – that slippery half pipe that features in all the promos – the American-born pastry chef from Melbourne hurled herself no less than seven times up that treacherous curve … until she eventually landed, seeing stars, at the top, her courage cementing her role as a crucial member of our team. As for the half-pipe, it was determined after our team finished that the obstacle was really too hard for most, and ropes were hung out to assist the next batch of Mudders.
During the negotiation of obstacles, many team members experienced some tough times, and were helped through by others. Many of these are not for me to share in this write-up, but team members may choose to share their stories on their own. Rowan, Nick C and Nick J showed true strength of character as they took on the role of using their strengths to assist those of us “still with the band”.
By the time we reached the final obstacle, the determination built up by our team shielded the sting of the final challenge – a tunnel of electrically charged wires – and we tumbled into the hose-down area clutching our precious Tough Mudder merchandise rewards.
We had done it: every team member finished, and in doing so demonstrated increadible resolve. The laughter and team spirit numbed the pain of our bruised, battered and freezing bodies. We’d have done it all over again.
But the final word on courage goes to the heart of the event.
Unobtrusively scattered around the course were a smattering of signs displaying the torches signifying the event’s sponsor: Legacy. This organisation does extraordinary work to help those who assist the widows and families of those who have served for peace, and those who have been injured performing this duty. We are proud to have supported this organisation. And most importantly, to have done so as a team.
Thank you for an increadible journey. You are all more courageous than you know.
*Some elements of this article may have been slightly exaggerated to allow our team to show off a bit.
A Special Thanks: Team Captain Sarah R did a fantastic job – using her own time and resources – managing time, logistics, and a group of people (whose ages, capabilities and personalities spanned almost every demographic profile possible) to make sure it happened. Thank yous for planning an event on this scale should come from each person in their own way, and I know that this will happen many times over.