Mark Holloway, a Tough Mudder-Help for Heroes Ambassador, has completed numerous Tough Mudder events and can often be found helping out with volunteer management one day and running multiple laps the next. Mark completed World’s Toughest Mudder 2014 in Las Vegas last month, while raising money for Help for Heroes.
By day Mark is a Colour Serjeant serving in the British Army. He has served in Afghanistan, where he was severely injured in the line of duty, and now spends his time training future Army Officers at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
We caught up with Mark as soon as he was back on UK soil to ask him about his WTM 2014 experience:
Congratulations Mark, you’ve made it out the other side of WTM 2014. Can you tell us what the feeling was like on the morning of race day?
“The race (as WTM is a race AND a challenge) started off like any other; everyone excited and pumped. There was a lot of hype and talk going around about mileage goals etc. I just humoured most of it as I knew what we were about to embark on.”
How was it once you were at the start line?
“The starting speech by Tough Mudders emcee Sean Conville was incredible, so inspirational but also a reality check. I was surrounded by 1200 crazy endurance athletes from around the world, professionals, Ironman champions, all sorts. Not your usual fancy dress fun runners.”
“Two vicious sandstorms, icy cold blasts of wind and temperatures that hit -6 degrees.”
What were the first few miles like out on course?
“The first lap was an obstacle free pace lap. This was so contenders could spread out and avoid congestion on obstacles. Tough Mudder really, really showed us who’s boss this year; with loads of new obstacles and all of them being a lot more physically demanding than anything before. Upper body strength was as important as running and the penalty runs for not completing the obstacles were much tougher. They consisted of dragging a pallet of boulders for 50 metres or running long loops carrying bricks. ”
What else about the course stood out?
“It was like nothing I had ever experienced. The elevation of the course was around 800ft per 5 mile lap. There were so many water obstacles including the unforgettable final obstacle; a 38ft cliff jump. Once the fatigue had set in to your legs it was hard to hold posture on impact and I regularly ended up with my knees smashing me the chest.”
What was the difference when the sun started to go down?
“Throughout the daylight hours the course was fun and enjoyable, then came the night. It was just like I imagine the surface of the moon to be, things changed dramatically. The fatigue of running 8 hours solid combined with two vicious sandstorms, icy cold blasts of wind and temperatures that hit -6 degrees. It was unforgiving. The water obstacles and full submersions made sure that you were constantly wet and with the biting wind, constantly cold. The hills fatigued your legs so much you couldn’t move fast enough to keep warm. I’ve never wanted to throw the towel in so much in all my life, however I had no choice but to keep moving forward. I kept going and when I learnt that 800 of the 1200 competitors had dropped out, it ensured that I wasn’t going to become part of that statistic. I took strength from it.”
How did your equipment hold up and did you stick to your nutrition plan?
“My kit and equipment worked, I swapped footwear a couple times which was definitely one of the best moves I made. My nutrition plan also worked, I only consumed about 10 energy gels and baby food purées throughout. I got most of my fuel from a slice of pizza and a Krispy Kreme doughnut every lap. I took a 14 inch pizza and a dozen doughnuts into the Pit with me. So many people commented and laughed as I walked past them eating pizza and doughnuts but that was just it; I was going past them. For fluids I used packets of drinks powder from the ration packs mixed with Dioralite which were awesome. I went through about 8 litres of that concoction throughout the race.”
So after all your training and preparation, did you achieve what you wanted?
“My training for this event held me in good stead. I was able to run most of the course but decided to walk the hills and any incline as it really blew the legs out. I stopped every lap and had an egg timer set at 5 minutes. This worked really well as it’s so easy to take longer than you need if there is no time pressure.”
“On reflection, I went off at the start a little too quickly, as I knew I would. I was running 9 minute miles and it was comfortable but this initial burst probably stopped me from reaching my 75 mile goal. It was genuinely the hardest physical event I’ve ever experienced but I was able to complete 13 laps of the supercharged World’s Toughest Mudder course and covered a total of 65 miles. I conquered some insane and fun obstacles 264 times and finished 29th in the world. I’ve also passed my target of raising over £2000 for Help for Heroes, so the pain was put to good use.”