Tough Mudder Review

Hi guys, just wanted to check in with you as a wrote about Tough Mudder as one of my goals for 2017.

This is what I wrote in February when publishing that post:

I have possibly bitten off more than I can chew here but I signed up to run this 10-12 mile obstacle assault course with Ben. The website says “You can expect undulating hills, thick mud and a range of mind-bending challenges to test your mental grit.” Yikes! We started (sort of) training in New Zealand and now that we’re back in London we have committed to this in earnest. There is a lot of ab crunches and pull ups (when I can do them) in my future.

Well now it’s done! It’s been a couple of weeks since we ran it and my muscles have recovered but I am still sporting bruises and scratches all over my limbs. Although the bruises have started changing from deep purples to yellow-brown so it’s about the right time to gather my thoughts about the experience. My experience is as a first time mudder-er with reasonable fitness and very little strength.wp-image-775792269Firstly, the “undulating hills” mentioned in the website blurb was, of course, an understatement. The West London course out in Henley-on-Thames was beautiful, and on any other day a casual observer may describe the landscape as undulating. But for a runner, caked in mud, dunked in ice and still on the first mile, they were more like Everest.  All my muscles screamed at me whenever I attempted to run uphill. More than any obstacle, the uphill sections of the course were the biggest challenge for me.IMG-20170506-WA0006IMG-20170507-WA0002Tough Mudder was much more about team work than I realised. Happily for me, someone who can’t lift their own body weight, the majority of obstacles were about coming together as a team to climb a wall, wade through mud pits and scale slippery slopes. I am so grateful to the team for helping make the day so enjoyable. I can’t deny that I was the weakest link on the team but the rest of the guys were patient with me and Ben was a trooper and stuck with me while I battled up the hills to meet the others at the next obstacle. Secretly, I think he was grateful to take it easier with me.

We both did train for the three months leading up to the event but with both of us having a lot going on with work and suffering quite bad colds in the lead up, the training wasn’t what it could have been. I had to take tissues with me around the course! But sickness aside, I do think I was in a much better place than I could have been and mentally I was unapologetic. I knew I had done my best in training and did my best on the day. I fronted up to every hurdle and moved the whole time so I had little stress about being the slowest in the team, something I know I would have stressed about if I hadn’t trained. For me too, going from zero, as in having very little upper body strength, to the kind of condition you would need to be in to complete some of the tasks was unrealistic in three months. But I will keep trying, one day I will be able to complete a press-up.

The other thing that helped me a lot was having great kit, something that I was moaning about beforehand. The event is expensive enough as it is, I really didn’t want to sink any more money into kit for something that I may not even enjoy. But I must say, I had to take back all my moaning.

One of the most important things running in mud and water are your shoes. I’m no expert but I think if you really want to give this a proper go, you need some form of trail running shoe. Simply, a shoe with big ‘lugs’. Lugs are the spiky bits on the bottom of football boots for example. They allow you to run in mud without slipping over and, if they are spread far enough apart, allow the mud fall out rather than cake to the bottom of your shoe. We passed many people on the way shaking grit from their shoes, suffering blisters and slipping around on the running tracks. Of course we were all slipping in the mud pits, but I was grateful to not be slipping around while my team mates ran off ahead.

I got these Asics Gel-Fuji Runnegade for £60 and now far from resenting the cost, I am in awe of them. Firstly, how cool do they look?? Secondly, they did exactly what they needed to re: mud. They made me feel a hell of a lot more secure running downhill. They kept all grit and mud out and managed to keep me comfortable the whole time. Despite being wet in the first mile I never got a blister or even an inkling of one. All this in their first outing as I never managed to take them out of the box to train in them beforehand due to the cold. So I was impressed to say the least. I also wore ‘no blister’ socks that Ben loaned me which could have helped, but really, I like to think it was all the shoes.FB_IMG_1495387682026So there you have it, my review of Tough Mudder. Which really boils down to – get some trail running shoes and try your best to get as fit as possible to make it easier on the day, but whatever your ability it is a team race and in the end is all about having fun.

Have I convinced you to give it a go?

Photo credits to the Tough Mudder professionals and the team. The selfie was all me though.

 

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Italian Spring Road Trip – Amalfi Coast & Naples

So, lets jump in where we left off.. road tripping from Rome to Sorrento. Brace yourself as there are so many photos to get through…

If you missed it, check out part 1 of our Italian Road trip here, Italian Spring Road Trip – Florence, Sienna & Rome.
20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0245The drive from Rome to Sorrento was one of the most eventful in my life. Italian drivers have such an infamous reputation, but up until this point we hadn’t really experienced it. We had been driving the whole week with a GPS that was out of date, so most of the time it was spot on, but every once in a while it would advise that we turn down a road that no longer exists, or tell us to go left at a T-intersection that is now a round-about, things like that. Sometimes  we would miss the correct turn, but it was no worry as the GPS would just re-calculate and we would be on our way again.

While making our way to Sorrento, the GPS took us off the highway that was supposed to take us around the coastal side of Mt Vesuvius and ended up diverting us through Nola. I can’t find much about Nola online, other than the wiki entry stating that it is a town on the outskirts of Naples. Anyway, we drove through the centre of Nola at around 5pm on a Wednesday evening. We drove down the most hectic main street I have ever seen. The road was narrow with barely enough room for two lanes. There were cars darting out from all directions, car doors opening straight out into the road, people everywhere and uncontrolled intersections on every block. Our hearts were in our mouths the whole way.

A big cheer for our driver, Jake, who drove us through there without so much as a nick to the car, despite many occasions where the brakes were slammed on, or a car door was swerved just in time. It was an experience for sure, we knew we were in southern Italy now and it was such a contrast to the wider, more controlled roads of the north.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day6_0199As the sun was setting we pulled into our campsite in Sorrento, this would be our base for the rest of the trip . With with views straight out to Mt Vesuvius from our cabins, we really couldn’t have picked a better site. We saw the mountain in so many different lights. My favourite is the photo above from when we first arrived with the highest peak towering above the clouds.

As well as being surrounded by breathtaking views we found Sorrento a great place to base ourselves and explore Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I thought of Sorrento as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, super beautiful but not quite as busy with tourists as Positano and Amalfi. It was also really central for all the things we wanted to do while in the area.

^^ Exploring Sorrento20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day5_0002

After our long day driving,  we were all rearing to go and do some exploring. We got up early and headed to Mt Vesuvius. It was a little bit underwhelming as the clouds from the day before hung around making the views really hazy and the caldera was not much to look at. It was nice to get a big walk in though and we stayed on our feet in the afternoon heading down into Pompeii.

Having studied Pompeii in school I thought I had a fair idea of what to expect, but the reality was so much grander than I had ever expected. You really were walking through an entire city, which is hard to imagine when you read about it in books. We were there all afternoon and covered a fair amount of ground but still there were areas we didn’t get to.

^^ Being springtime lots of poppies were growing in grasses of the ruins. The contrasts were beautiful and naturally poppies became a feature of our Pompeii photos.

We didn’t take a guide through Pompeii, preferring to follow the map provided at our own pace. But I must admit that I sometimes found myself cheekily tuning into the guides around me for interesting stories and facts about the surroundings. I think if I went again I would opt for a guided tour.

As the weather was supposed to be better the following day, we opted to spend it on the island of Capri. I had completely fallen in love with pictures of the Grotto Azzurra in my Lonely Planet guidebook. The Grotto Azzurra is one of many sea caves dotted around the cliff faces of the island. It’s the most popular as the light entering the cave gives the whole cave an electric blue hue. The entrance to the cave is small, so you can only enter it by small fishing boats manned by locals singing old fishing songs into the eery cave. Unfortunately for us the wind was up during our visit, meaning it was too dangerous to enter the cave. We did have a lovely wander around the island though and lots of Limoncello samples from the tourist shops we passed helped ease disappointment.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0117We finally hit the coast the next day, driving the ‘Green Ribbon’ route from Sorrento to Amalfi stopping at some amazing viewpoints on the way. The drive took about two hours and although there were some crazy hairpin corners and a few occasions where we queued coming into towns or waiting for buses to pass, it was generally quite a peaceful trip. I hate to think what driving around there would be like in high season, because as it was we struggled to park anywhere near the towns.

^^ Seafood cones in Amalfi

^^ More scenic view points along the drive.

Our next stop was Ravello, a little town in the hills above Amalfi. It was pictures from the guidebook that enticed us up here but ironically our camera battery died at this point so I have no views to share. It really is worth the steep drive up here though. We ended up in the Gardens of the Villa Cimbrone. The villa is a very upmarket hotel, far out of our price range but we could afford the gardens which are well worth a look. We were walking through archways of wisteria and well-groomed rose gardens that overlooked stunning cliff tops. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Jake_1360457This is one of Jake’s group shots. We’re standing on what is called The Terrace of Infinity, a natural balcony over the cliff face, opening up endless vistas of sparkling blue waters and the colourful coastal towns below. We tried to have a bit of a snoop around the hotel’s dining areas and pool, too. All I can say is – if I ever win the lotto this will be my first stop. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0239We drove in to Positano as our final stop for the afternoon. It was everything I had hoped it would be, a gorgeous jumble of pink and peach houses cascading down to the sea.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0248

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0273We ambled through the narrow cobbled streets down towards the beach, stopping for ice cream on the way and played cards as the sun set over the hills.

We had an ongoing game of Scala Quaranta, or in English 40 Stairs, going and we played at every opportunity we got. Most nights of our trip were spent on our cabin balconies nibbling on BBQ food and sipping wine, or Montenegro for the boys, while playing Scala Quaranta well into the night.

We didn’t go back to Sorrento for a BBQ that evening though. After calling time on Positano we drove back to the west of Sorrento to try out La Torre, a slow food restaurant run by a local family. Over three courses we got to sample some amazing local delicacies and so much seafood. It was delicious and a great way to finish our time on the coast. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0310The next morning we were on our way to Naples and with heavy hearts saying goodbye to the lovely, romantic coast.

We parked at Naples airport and caught a bus into the city to soak it up for a few hours and of course try some pizza before we flew back to real life in London. The city was overwhelming, narrow streets in the shade of highrise apartments, scooters and cars everywhere and so much poverty.

Even though it was a Sunday morning the streets were alive with people and performers.

Church processions clattered through the town squares ringing bells and bringing brass bands.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day9_0089We sat watching it all unfold while eating some of the best pizza in town from Pizzeria Vesi. It really does taste better in Naples.

Can I go back and do it all again? It’s much harder to write a blog post about a trip that happened over a year ago now, as I struggled to remember a lot of the things we did. But the important parts have stayed in my mind and it has also been so much fun to relive it.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop going to Italy, there is still so much I want to see and explore. First on my list is another attempt to see the Grotto Azzurra of course…

Thanks to Ben and Jake for their photo contributions xx