Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challange: Pure pain party

Each week Rachel Grunwell tries out a different exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell is trained by Pua Magasiva. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel Grunwell is trained by Pua Magasiva. Photo / Michael Craig

Tough Mudder training

What is it? About 5000 Kiwis have signed up for this hardcore, military-style, 20km obstacle course. It started overseas in 2010 as the brainchild of a former terrorism specialist in the British Special Forces, the idea being his Harvard Business School project. It's an event, not a race, so leave your competitive crazy streak behind.

It's about reaching the finish line, not the finish time, and it's for the camaraderie.

What's needed? Mongrel grit. Decent fitness.

The experience: When asked to a training session to help readers prepare for New Zealand's first Tough Mudder, I considered hiding under my desk. But I harden up and say, heck, sign me up. The offer to train with the event's ambassador, Pua Magasiva, who plays buff nurse Vinnie Kruse on Shortland Street, didn't sway me. Honest. So I meet Pua outside the Shorty St studios for the workout and ask: "How crazy will this get?" He replies: "I'm gonna push you hard - and build it up." Then giggles.

I wince and say, "I see," then ask, "What do you tell people who think this event is kind of crazy?"

He says: "It's better to be crazy with other people than by yourself."

It will be tough, but fun, he promises.

Rachel Grunwell is put through a Tough Mudder training routine. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel Grunwell is put through a Tough Mudder training routine. Photo / Michael Craig

The Tough Mudder obstacle course is kept a secret. But participants are warned there may be ice-baths, walking a plank, swimming through ditches or under cages with only inches to breathe, climbing insanely high, slippery walls, crawling through small, dark tunnels, scaling dizzy heights - even electrocution. And all over 20km.

So how do you train for this pain party?

Pua recommends strength work, pull-ups, rope-climbs, stair-runs. And expect climbing, crawling and shoving. "It's an anaerobic workout with an aerobic component." Cross-fitters and circuit trainers might do well but pure weightlifters may struggle.

Pua hints that the running part should be used as "recovery" even though it will feel like aerobic stress. He wants people to help their mates. And he'll be there to make sure that last person pulls through.

So Pua gives me a taste of how to prepare: running hard for several minutes, hard-out drills such as star-jumps, push-ups and repeatedly hauling my weight over a concrete wall. The session is intense, but when I want to stop, Pua spurs me on and, being a mate, gives me a nudge over a concrete wall.

Rachel is put through a training routine by Pua Magasiva. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel is put through a training routine by Pua Magasiva. Photo / Michael Craig

I'm beat and bruised, but when we reach the end and high-five it's a feel-good adrenalin rush. Or delirium, perhaps.

Meanwhile, I ask Pua, 34, what his fitness secrets are. He's a regular boxer and circuit trainer - and runs around after daughter Jasmine, aged 3. "Being fit is a lifestyle. It makes me happy," he says.

He went through "a bit of depression" in 2007 and was "hitting alcohol and getting angry at the world". He credits his wife Kourtney for pulling him out of these trenches and urging him to get a personal trainer's qualification "and it turned my life around". It also led to being the Tough Mudder ambassador. He loves events like this one because it spurs people to get fit and happier.

How much? Final entry $209.

Worth it? You'll get grubby, tired and swear a lot. Be prepared for people to call you crazy. But that's part of the appeal, right?

Try it: April 26 and 27, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Waikato, toughmudder.com.au

Rating: 9.5/10

Rachel wears: adidas: Seven-Eighth tights $140; Graphic tank $95, Techfit moulded bra $45, www.adidas.co.nz

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