It's just after 1pm on Saturday afternoon and I am arm in arm with three of my friends as we walk across the Tough Mudder finish line. There are huge smiles on our faces but our bodies are battered and bruised, our muscles are crying out for mercy and we are shaking life leafs from the bitterly cold rain and hail.
We have crawled, jogged, sprinted and generally inched our way through nearly 12 miles of muddy terrain that was only broken up by 22 brutal obstacles that challenged you both physically and mentally. In general, it was hell, yet here we are at the finish line and for some reason we are ecstatic. It is not just a sense of relief that it is finally over, more a feeling of achievement. For we can proudly proclaim we are Tough Mudders.
As soon as we crossed that magical imaginary line we were greeted with hundreds of smiling faces who had already completed the course. There were no words needed, just a subtle nod. Together we had all been through the same experience and by the end of Sunday afternoon there would be 14,000 people proudly regaling friends with tales of their worst obstacles.
For our troubles we got an orange headband and a free pint of cider, but there was so much more. Throughout the course we felt a sense of camaraderie as you were helped over 12 foot walls or pulled out of dark, watery tunnels. This event would be near impossible without the support of teammates and other participants. They drag you, both physically and mentally, across the course and you celebrate together as one.
In my last blog I spoke of my trepidation at coming face to face with the obstacle named the Artic Enema. This giant ice bath is your welcome to the course, and what a severe greeting it gives you. Fortunately you have no time to think; you line up as a group of three and are told to jump, and you do it. The freezing temperature is a huge shock to the system but you are soon submerging yourself under the barbed wire and crawling out the other side.
One of my fellow teammates, who had previously been almost silent as the nerves took hold of him, could not restrain himself as he jumped up and down shouting 'let's do this'. He sprinted off to the next obstacle and was still shaking, as much from adrenaline as the cold spreading through his body, as he emerged from crawling in the mud with scrapes over his hands and knees.
These early obstacles are where the spectators can watch friends and family and they provide some spectacular imagery. Coming out of the ice, crawling under barbed wire, jumping off a five metre platform into murky waters; all of these produce a face filled with fear and excitement.
It is the middle section of the course that takes its toll. A near eight mile slog through rough, muddy terrain that saps the strength from your body. You are constantly in and out of water as you overcome obstacles such as the Human Gecko, Underwater Tunnels and the Boa Contrictor - check the attached link with a better look at all of these. Perhaps the worst of all is the electric eel that sees you slide along the ground while being zapped with 10,000 volts. One friend is hit on the head and even blacks out before resuming his hard slog.
Somehow we all get through this tough section of the course and, after overcoming Fire Walker and two Mud Miles, we reach the nine mile marker. All of a sudden you are back in the open plains and you hear the chants of support from the sidelines. You get an urge to run faster and climb harder, but at this stage the body is struggling to respond.
Still we persevere and after helping each other conquer the Hero Walls there are just a few challenges remaining. Another slow jog gets us to the penultimate obstacle - Everest. A quarter-pipe that has been doused in water and olive oil just to make it that little bit harder. On the summit people laying on their stomachs hold out their hands and urge you on. With cramp in both legs and with tiredness hitting, you have to summon every inch of strength to sprint to the top.
Fortunately I make it on my first attempt, one of my team takes five attempts before finally grasping a strangers hand and hauling himself over, and the pain is almost over. There is just one more to go and it's time for another hit of electricity. One by one we run through Electroshock Therapy but at this stage we are used used to the punishment we breeze straight through.
We've done it. We slowly walk over the finish line and can relax. It has taken us nearly four hours to complete this monstrous course but it has all been worth it.
The evening is spent talking to fellow participants as we recount our toughest obstacle and discuss doing it again next year. The pain is only temporary and by Sunday evening I am raring to sign up once again. Having never previously run more than five miles this was a special achievement and I would encourage everyone to give it a go.
Just one piece of advice, don't wear a loose fitting t-shirt. I could cope with sore calves and cut elbows, but bleeding nipples are not fun.
One of the members of my team was raising money for Community Meeting Point which helps break social isolation for people with mental health issues in Harpenden. More info is available on their website: www.cmph.org.uk.