It's a sunny summer evening in 2012 and I'm enjoying a few drinks with my friends around a barbeque. Most of us will be celebrating our 30th birthdays the following year and the conversation turns to some of our achievements.
One friend recalls the time he completed an Olympic distance triathlon, another reminisces back to the first London marathon he completed. Clearly a game on one-upmanship is about to begin and when it comes to great sporting achievements mine is limited to once going an entire season of five-a-side football undefeated. Fair enough it was only eight games, and one team was so bad we won 26-0 in a 40 minute game, but it still counts - right?
After a few more beverages have been consumed someone mentions Tough Mudder. If you haven't heard of it then here is the spiel straight from their in your face website.
Probably the Toughest Even of the Planet. Tough Mudder events are hardcore 12 mile-long obstacle courses designed by the Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. With the most innovative courses and 700,000 inspiring participants worldwide to date, Tough Mudder is the premier adventure challenge series in the world.
We decide we like the sound of this, especially the camaraderie part, no man left behind and all that. Despite the fact I truly despise running, and am a little concerned at the thought of jumping in ice baths, running through an electric shock field, and generally getting battered, bruised and bloodied for three hours, I decide I'm in. We sign up for the event in May 2013 which will be held in the glamorous surroundings of Kettering.
That decision, all those months ago, suddenly caught up with me in February when I celebrated my 30th birthday. By this stage I had already been training for some time and now was the last opportunity to have an over exuberant night before the serious stuff began.
Cue copious amounts of alcohol and one last chance to eat whatever I wanted - a huge steak and the most calorific dessert on the menu. It felt like my last meal, now I was simply waiting for the prison warden to lead me to my doom and ask if I had any last words.
That might sound a little over dramatic but I would be getting electrocuted while running Tough Mudder.
As this is the first blog of four - the last one will go up after I've [hopefully] completed the race - I thought the best place to start was with my early training sessions and my desire to look the part.
First up I decided I needed to invest in some proper running shoes - I somehow didn't think my favourite old school Nike's could survive pounding the pavements. Fortunately my friends over at ASICS were kind enough to set me up with a gait assessment.
This may mean little to us non-runners, but you ask any serious jogger about whether they over or under pronate and they will know exactly what you're talking about.
There is some real science behind this process as my feet were first put in a 3d scanner in order to measure heel angle, arch height and even foot length. Next up is a steady jog on the treadmill which is filmed and played in slow motion in order to see exactly how each foot lands with every stride.
As it turned out, I severely over pronate, which in laymans terms means I put more pressure on the inner side of my foot. This exerts excessive force in a sideways direction and could result in cuasing stress on the knee and tibia.
Watching the footage back I immediately saw the problem and it was clear I needed some support. The staff at ASICS then recommend the perfect show to solve the issue and you once again get back on the treadmill to witness the difference for yourself.
Now I had the right footwear it was time to get running. The beauty of this race for people like me - who can think of nothing worse than simply chugging along mile after mile - is that the monotony is broken down as you are soon presented with an obstacle to overcome. This means the training must incorporate strength work as well as endurance.
Rather than just heading out for a hour long run, I decided to do some circuit training. The aim was to mix cardio with weights in order that I could successfully lift my own body weight, or crawl through muddy tunnels after running for more than half a mile.
I found the best option was to constantly change my routine so that I never got bored and constantly found new ways of exercising different muscle groups. For the cardio I would try skipping, jumping jacks, high knees. mountain climbers and the dreaded burpees.
If I didn't have weight at hand, then the preparation for the obstacles involved squats, lots of squats, pull ups, tricep dips, lunges, bench jumps and planks.
One circuit would start with a five minute warm up and then last 10 minutes as I mixed two minutes of cardio with one minute of obstacle/strength work. The more circuits the better. Tip: check out the link to the Tough Mudder website for examples of some great exercises.
The first time I completed this circuit I was a quivering, sweating wreck, but I swear it does get easier. Soon your stamina increases and then it's all about pushing yourself and going for that one extra rep.
Of course I couldn't ignore putting in some roadwork as well, so once I week I would go for a five mile run. As I said, I've never been much of a runner, so I would find myself having to stop and walk in order to catch my breath, but the more I trained the less I needed these rest periods.
So that was the start of training, but I also realised diet would play an important role and that's where talking with a nutrionist came in helpful. But that can wait till next week, now it's time for another evening of circuit training. Remember Mudders, go hard or go home.