When I first told people that I was training outdoors (bootcamp/circuit style) 5-6 days a week, a lot of them thought I was mad. When I then told them that I was training for “Tough Mudder”; a 12 mile obstacle course designed by the Special Forces, nearly ALL of them thought I was mad.
I had 5 months to ready myself for ice baths, 10,000 volt electric shocks, 12ft Berlin walls, muddy underground trenches, incline monkey bars, and a back crawl through a cage full of water… alongside writing my research proposal and submitting it for an ethics review.
Amazingly, after a few weeks of manic rushing around to fit in training, work, and some sort of social life, my schedule started to come together nicely. Intense exercise was a good way to re-energise and de-stress after a long day of sitting at a computer worrying about funding interpreters in my research…and sitting at a computer was a rather nice break from all of that exercise!
I started to get up for early-morning pre-breakfast runs (my mother has probably just had a heart-attack reading this…not only was I always rather difficult to drag out of bed in the morning, but the word “run” had never previously entered my vocabulary – especially not when used in the same sentence as “morning”!) I found that getting up and exercising before a shower and breakfast was the perfect way to get me up and ready to work. I felt more awake, more energised, and it prevented the otherwise inevitable repeated pressing of the “snooze” alarm on my phone.
About three months before the event I got rushed to hospital with Glandular Fever, and a temperature of 39.8*C (my mum later expressed that she “thought 40*C meant you were dead”). I took 2 weeks off work and 3 weeks off training. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with either. Despite my temperature dropping and the aches and pains easing, I had a distinct lack of energy. Walking downstairs for water felt like an hour of outdoor circuits, and half an hour’s work in bed felt like a full day in the office. Most people I knew came to believe at least one of two things would happen:
1) I would have to back out of Tough Mudder
2) I would have to take an interruption of study from my PhD
Luckily, the ridiculous level of resilience passed down through my Nan shone through – and neither of these had to occur. Both training and work re-commenced, and although slightly bitter about being behind in both, I powered on. A month later my housemates and I moved into a flat which can only be described as inhabitable, and appallingly managed. Six weeks of confrontation and angry letters commenced; almost resulting in a legal battle between ourselves and the letting agents (those who shall not be named!).
So how did it all end, you’re wondering? (…or not, if you know me at all; for some reason I always manage to get myself into ridiculous situations, and somehow come through it all laughing). I completed Tough Mudder in 3hrs 30mins (the electric shocks were way worse than I could have imagined!) and I have just finished my Research Proposal, ready to be submitted to ethics. I have escaped the “Flat of Mould”, and have managed to avoid homelessness (so far!). I have had an extremely positive and exciting 12 month review, and I am ready to take on the world again.
It would be a massive cliché to turn the Tough Mudder course into a metaphor for my PhD journey, but I’m going to do it anyway. I genuinely think it fits perfectly – and it helps calm me down when the workload looms over me like a 12ft Berlin Wall (sorry – couldn’t resist!). “Obstacles” will shock you; trip you; cover you in mud. They’ll come in all shapes and sizes, and you’ll be deceived by their appearance – under or over-estimating the ease in which you will overcome them. But your PhD, just like the slogan of Tough Mudder, is a challenge, not a race (which could almost be a direct quote from Dr Featherstone herself!). Don’t measure yourself by the speed/ability of others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help; some of the fittest, warrior-looking men at Tough Mudder couldn’t complete all of the obstacles without a leg-up from their mates. As long as you eventually overcome the obstacles, whether it be Ethical approval, funding, personal issues or the dreaded “writer’s block”, you will get round that course. You may have a few bruises and scratches to show for it (my legs were purple for a good few weeks after Tough Mudder), but you will also have an overwhelming sense of achievement and pride.