Tough

I completed the Yorkshire Tough Mudder 2013 on Saturday with my girlfriend and a friend I’ve known since school. We have spent months in training, trying to build our cardio and strength up to the point that we could complete the challenge, giving up alcohol and eating pizza in the process.

Tough Mudder is marketed in an embarrassing, macho way. There’s plenty of reasons why I could have quite easily not taken part but I’m really glad I did.

I spend a great deal of time in my life seeking comfort, avoiding unnecessary suffering and pain. But, there’s something gloriously primitive about running through fields and forest and mud, jumping and crawling, leaping into freezing cold water and progressing towards a goal. It’s so rare to have to face our elemental fears – injury or death through falling, being in confined space, freezing,  drowning, electric shocks – that when you spend an afternoon having no choice but to face them (or feel ashamed), it’s liberating and life-affirming.

The biggest challenge in the afternoon for me was ‘Arctic Enema’ – jumping into a skip filled with muddy water and ice cubes, and having to go underneath a board in the middle. As soon as I landed in the water, the shock of the temperature made me gasp and I ended up swallowing some horrible water and fighting for breath. But we made it out the other side, alive and relatively fine once we started running again. For my friend, the biggest fear was ‘Walk the Plank’ for my girlfriend it was the ‘Berlin Walls’.

The discipline of regular training is something quite new to me as well and I think that it’s really important. Last year, I had knee surgery on a torn meniscus and it was the limitations this created for me last year which convinced me I should do Tough Mudder. If I hadn’t had that injury I would never have gotten this fit and I wouldn’t have experienced Tough Mudder this weekend. I lost just over a stone through eating the right things and working hard and I also started to really enjoy using my body to get stronger and more fit. I wish I had considered getting fitter sooner.

The main thing that I got out of Tough Mudder was the feeling of camaraderie – we all shared a goal, each of us faced a fear that we might not have managed alone and together we helped each other through. It was a genuinely joyous moment as we crossed the finish line together, but throughout the race we had big grins on our faces. I think it was the joy of knowing we’re alive.

Toughness is seen as a positive male characteristic. As a not-Alpha male, it’s easy to feel intimidated by all the massive people around you and the marketing and all the extra stuff. It’s not really about being tough, or getting muddy or drinking Strongbow.

Do Tough Mudder, or a similar event, but do it for the shared experience, to feel alive and to face your fears.

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First

Having struggled for some time with feelings of inadequacy around my ability to be a man, I find myself strangely heartened to repeatedly hear that masculinity is in crisis. It’s an idea that the British press has grabbed hold of and continues to run with. Unfortunately, the consequences of this crisis are pretty terrible for men and the people who know men.
In typical fashion, we don’t tend to talk about our experience of being men and so I have started this blog in order to try to articulate some of my experiences. I have lots of opinions and I’d like to hear from other men so that we can understand each other, understand how to explain ourselves to others and ultimately attempt to find some sort of way out of aforementioned crisis.
Struggles I have faced:

  • Anger – anger is a human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It can be harnessed to positive effect but it can also be extremely devastating. These feelings can lead to domestic violence, family annihilation and suicide. Not all men will go to those extremes but my sudden losses of temper frighten me.
  • Money – the old model of masculinity has men as breadwinners, providing for their families. This is an ancient idea, harking back to the image of man as strong ‘hunter-gatherer’. My generation has struggled with student and consumer debt for some time and in certain fields, thanks to positive changes in the workplace, we can no longer expect to have as great a slice of the collective wealth, power and status. I find it hard being caught in-between the expectation to be a provider and the understanding that I should not expect to be one.
  • Love – sexual politics is complicated and we receive mixed messages. Men need to be romantic, but they also need to have a bastard element (if they want to be attractive). We need to be ourselves but we need to be better. We need to be amazing at DIY and incredible lovers. We need to be there for our kids and do more housework, but we also feel the urge to provide for them.
  • Communication – if there’s one thing that ties together all of these issues, for me it’s about communication. I frequently find it hard to tell people exactly what and how I feel, who I am and who I want to become. I think that an inability to communicate clearly leads to many of the struggles and issues that men face.
  • Appearance – men aren’t supposed to care about their appearance but they’re also supposed to look like Rambo / Arnie / Ryans Gosling and Reynolds. It’s confusing. I’ve found myself worrying about my appearance and odour from time to time. I’ve recently lost weight and found myself preparing for a mud race. More about this next week.
  • Faith – I grew up in the Church of England and have gone through Evangelical and Liberal phases, settling on an uncomfortable agnosticism that recognises many of the positive aspects of organised religion. I studied Religious and Theological studies at University, so it’s likely that some of these themes will come out in this blog.
  • Friendship – I have a good number of friendships with other guys, but few of them are deep and involved. This I’d attribute to difficulties around communication on the whole, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. I’d like to explore the nature of male friendship.
  • Role Models – who are the people that we should look up to in these times? Let’s try and find some role models that aren’t Chuck Norris cartoon archetypes and celebrate men who are doing it right.

It suffices to say that being a man in the early 21st century is confusing. I’m going to do my best to share some of my experiences, I hope that you will join in too.