After weeks without rain and the hottest, driest summer anyone can remember, the day of the 10-mile Tough Mudder was here... and of course, it was today that the heaven's decided to open and make a field that had almost turned to dust, into a swamp (ok, well maybe not a swamp, but it was certainly no longer dry!). It was Tough Mudder day!
The path ahead of me was already treacherous, the ground underfoot was quickly turning into a quagmire. At times I wasn't sure I'd make it, but I knew I had to, despite the sweat pouring off my forehead and the increased heart rate attempting to punch through my chest, I wasn't going to give up. I was slipping, unsure of where to place my feet next. Every raindrop was making the ground more dangerous and I felt sure this was going to be something that, despite my best efforts, I wasn't going to succeed at. Had it beaten me?
Anyway, I did eventually make it from the car park to the starting area, but that was only the start of the Herculean task ahead, not for us, but for the legend that is Jamie Donnelly.
For the uninitiated, which included us until Jamie first mentioned it, a Tough Mudder is basically 10 miles of running (or walking or crawling) interspersed with 20 horrendous obstacles designed to drag you out of your comfort zone. You might be thinking, "well that doesn't sound too bad", it may be worth pointing out that some of the obstacles have names like Electroshock Therapy, Ladder To Hell, T-Boned (not to be confused with T-Bagging which is apparently something else entirely, and my personal favourite, the Arctic Enema!
There are no podiums, no winners, or clocks to race against, Tough Mudder isn’t about how fast you can cross the finish line. It’s about pushing yourself (or your team and even your fellow Mudders) to discover what you're really made of. It’s about teamwork, camaraderie, and accomplishing something extraordinary. Sounds like one of our SpeakEasy groups!
Speaking of which, we first met Jamie when he came to one of our Middlesbrough SpeakEasy groups last year. He proved to be an incredibly supportive voice for others and I like to think we helped him too at the time. He seemed to like it and he's been a regular ever since. We didn't know then how much impact we would have on his life and his on the work we do.
Unbeknownst to Jamie and to pretty much everyone else (other than my good lady wife), The first few months of the year were an incredibly difficult time for me. A crisis of confidence and the pits of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts left me questioning whether I wanted to keep doing Men Tell Health. Depression, anxiety and PTSD are a heady mix at times. I felt like didn't have the energy, the time, the money or the mental strength to keep it going. It was one of these particular difficult mornings when I woke up, and after checking Twitter's notifications, I saw this.
We'd saved a life. We've actually saved someone from taking their own life, in a town that already has the highest suicide rate in England. It sounds a bit weird to say given that a huge part of what we do is suicide reduction, so it's kind of our job, but when you actually know someone that is here only today, because of the work we do, it's both surreal and incredibly humbling. It stopped me in my tracks and started me up again, all at the same time.
If you follow Jamie on Instagram (you should, he's therealjampottt) you'll have seen that he threw himself into the training for this Tough Mudder with a sense of purpose that was equal parts inspiring and depressing (but mainly inspiring). The man was on it! Day in, day out. I remember thinking one day, as I was sitting on my fat, lazy arse one-day scrolling through my timeline, how amazing he looked. Sheesh. Don't handsome, fit people make you sick ;-)
From the first brainstorm idea of doing a Tough Mudder to Sunday 29th July when it had arrived, all that preparation clearly paid off as. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
We had an early start and we were off to Broughton Hall near Skipton to support him. The rain was coming down, but that hadn't dampened our spirits. It was clear though that a mixture of terrible weather and my inability to accurately work out how long it would take to get there, meant that we may well miss the start. Bugger.
Jamie had arrived on time, which is always a bonus. He sent me a picture of himself, fully regaled in his Men Tell kit. Clearly, all that work in the gym in preparation had been worth it. If he hadn't trained, it would have looked a bit obvious in the skin-tight kit we got for him. White? For a Tough Mudder? Sure, why not ;-)
After negotiating the genuinely tricky walk from the car park over the mud, in the rain, we made it. Jamie's start time had originally been 9:00 am but it had been fluctuating all morning; first to 8:30, then back to 9:00, then 9:15. There was a hope that we hadn't missed him starting. Obviously, he wouldn't have his phone on him, so it wasn't' like I could ring him en-route! I positioned myself around the group that was the 9:15 starters. The Tough Mudder team were doing a great job of getting everyone warmed up, but I still couldn't see him. I was taking photos anyway on the hope that he was there somewhere. Ever the hopeful.
I checked the next group once they'd departed. I couldn't see him there either. Now either I'd missed him or my eyesight isn't up to much. Either one of those things could be true. Note to self - next time get luminous outfits!
If I couldn't see him start, I was determined to see him finish. My family and I tried to find ways to amuse ourselves in the cold, and the wind, and the rain. It's harder than you might think when you're in the middle of North Yorkshire and unwilling to pay £8.50 for a burger.
I positioned myself in a spot that was guaranteed to see people as they reached the finishing line. I was stood there for about 3 hours. I told you I was determined! Incidentally, I don't know his name, but the guy doing the MCing for Tough Mudder was brilliant. He kept us entertained all morning. I'm sure he uses all the same jokes at every event, but it didn't sound like it. #ToughMudderMCOnLoveIsland
Without knowing what time he started, it was tricky to know what time he'd finish. How long does it take to run 10 miles in the mud and rain whilst also working your way around 20 terrifying obstacles? I mean, me personally, probably about 45 minutes, but that's just us. ;-)
Eventually, people started to reach the finish line. That makes it sound like there was a neat taped line to cross like in the Olympics. It wasn't like that at a Tough Mudder.
To get to the finish line, there were two more obstacles to get across; Everest and Pyramid Scheme 2.0! One an almost vertical wall to run up (don't forget the added rain) and then a tank of freezing cold water and an inclined bank to negotiate.
About 3 hours from his start time, Jamie came into view. I'd optimistically been looking for someone decked in white. Yes I know, I'm an idiot.
Coincidentally, we ended up meeting Jamie's girlfriend Alexis, so it was nice to have someone else shouting for our man as he approached the end.
Jamie eventually arrived with his brothers in tow like a brown, wet dream (but not THAT kind of dream). He had clearly been through it, but still had the integrity to help others (standard). He actually looked like he could go round again, but resisted the urge.
He crossed the line with his brothers and a smile on his face. He'd done it. We didn't have any doubt about it, but it was an incredible sight to see.
With the obligatory photo opportunities taken, we decided to leave them to come back down to Earth in the comfort of their family unit. It was a genuinely humbling experience to see the human spirit conquer something that wouldn't even be attempted for many (us included).
If you ever needed proof that mental illness epitomised SickNotWeak, it was standing here, right in front of us. Not just Jamie, but the hundreds of people doing it, some for their own satisfaction, some for charity, some just because they could. Not all with mental ill-health obviously, but all sizes and shapes, all ages, all genders, all covered in water and mud, but all shining through the pain, the discomfort and the blisters to show exactly what they were made of. Legends all.
A HUGE thank you naturally goes to Jamie himself, not just for putting himself through an incredibly arduous, mentally and physically punishing regime (including all his pre-Mudder training), but for raising some much-needed funds for us. Thank you, of course, also goes to everyone who donated to Jamie's funding page. The money is vital to the work we do and trust us, we'll spend it wisely and never take it for granted. Thank you.
You can follow Jamie on Twitter where he's @therealjampottt. Depending on when you read this, there may be still time to donate to his JustGiving page. He also has his own blog over at therealjampottt.wordpress.com where he shares his thoughts on a whole range of topics (including mental health). Jamie is also part of a really quite wonderful band called 'Be Quiet. Shout Loud' who are also on Twitter as @bqsl
We're thinking about doing a Team Men Tell Tough Mudder next year..... want to be part it? Let us know.