Nigel Thomas, Chief Training Officer For Tough Mudder, Talks Strength And Arctic Enemas

You just wouldn't mess with Nigel Thomas.

First, he's the brains behind the obstacles for what is considered one of the hardest endurance events - Tough Mudder, and one of these obstacles includes something called an Arctic Enema.

Second, he's ex Special Forces, the training for which is no walk in the park. Unless the park was hilly, filled with obstacles and you're carrying a ten-tonne backpack.

As part of our Men special, we caught up with him (cowering safely behind our desks) to find out about his diet and training regime, as well as why endurance challenges are becoming the done thing.

Okay, Tough Mudder looks terrifying. In your opinion, what are some of the reasons guys sign up to do it?

There definitely seems to be a growing trend towards taking fitness outside of the gym and Tough Mudder is completely different from anything you will ever experience as a way to challenge yourself. Taking it back to the basics by being outdoors, climbing, jumping, swimming and running as a way to prove to yourself stronger mentally and physically is definitely the appeal – as well as the bragging rights of course.

While it is a test of endurance, Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge where by people complete obstacles together therefore perfect for team bonding as there seems to be a greater sense of personal achievement when completed together – something in it for everyone.

What does some of the training involve in Special Forces?

I served with UK SF. The training involves carrying lots of weight in back packs, walking the hills developing stamina and endurance but most of all developing the strength of mind to go beyond what we tell ourselves is enough.

What is your day to day like in terms of diet and exercise?

Most days I behave myself and eat well and don’t over indulge on alcohol (friends would tell you differently) I usually start with a pint of water as soon as I get out of bed then a bowl of whole wheat porridge with full cream milk (fresh from the farm wherever possible) with bananas, strawberries or the like.

I eat fruit as a mid-morning snack and then for lunch a jacket potato with tuna, cheese or similar. Sometimes it’s a salad, sometimes it is homemade soup, curry, bolognaise, chicken dinner or whatever I fancy that has the right carbs and protein.

I only eat small portions and I do not have salad dressing etc with my food, wasted calories (save those for the wine). In the afternoon I will snack on fruit, nuts and drink water, herbal tea, tea, coffee but all in moderation.

For my evening meal it may be fish, chicken, steak with rice, potatoes, vegetables etc. I am not strict and boring with my diet and I will maintain a steady weight, but keep an eye on my body in the mirror (no I am not chocolate) and adapt my eating habit according to my belt holes.

Have you ever trained someone so hard they've thrown up?

But of course. This does happen on a regular basis, but only if the person taking part is working him or herself hard enough.

How do you devise the obstacles so they make grown men cry like little girls?

We tend to sit around a table and start throwing ideas in to the mix. It usually starts with mud, water and a 50 foot greased wall that is electrified and a team of paintball enthusiasts ready to ambush the participants as they cross over the top of the wall.

From here we come back down to reality, have a beer and come up with obstacles and then the hard part is the naming of those obstacles.

We design obstacles that test individuals varying strengths and weaknesses to make you earn that coveted headband and pint at the end. I have seen a few tears shed at the joy and sense of achievement our Mudders feel having completed our obstacles.

Have you seen any people really lose their shit in the event?

I have seen loads of people get frustrated with themselves for not having the balls to get in to the cold water of Arctic Enema or run through Electroshock treatment, but never seen them lose their shit.

Mind you with all the mud around the course this could be happening on a regular basis and we never know it. Tough Mudder is very much a mental challenge as much as a physical one, which is why it is so popular because no one said it was easy! In my opinion fear is good – it helps you to prepare and overcome a challenge.

What are the top mistakes that first-timers make, and what advice would you give in terms of preparation?

Usually a lack of training through over confidence and setting off from the start far too quickly and burning out. Preparation as with everything in life is crucial. Continuity in training is a must and a good steady build up to the event, but this will obviously depend on the base fitness level to start with.

Enjoy and have fun whilst training and don’t just stick to running. Get stuck in to the circuits that are available on the Tough Mudder website, they work but only if you are prepared to put yourself through them.

What would someone get out of completing Tough Mudder in terms of personal development?

Plenty. Teamwork, camaraderie, sense of achievement and most of all a huge smile and an inner pride feeling that they have just completed “probably the toughest event in the world”.

How would you describe yourself as a trainer?

Quiet, calm, compassionate, understanding, thoughtful, innovative, inspirational and sometimes just downright horrible.

Is it really built guys who do Tough Mudder or people from all backgrounds and builds?

All backgrounds take part in a Tough Mudder event. The well-built guys like to show off their muscles, but unless they have been training for endurance they are going to suffer. It is not all about strength and size you know.

What I like about our course is that you can see the nerves and tension at the start from many of the participants before they set off. Some people are really gung ho and hyped up to take on the challenge, but after the halfway mark you see the nervous ones pulling through and getting stronger whilst the gun ho people are cramping up, struggling getting over the obstacles and needing more help than they had perhaps anticipated and talked about in the pub the night before.

That’s what I love about our events, you never know how the participants are going to respond and they may think they know themselves at the start, but along the route they find out more about themselves as they push themselves outside of their usual comfort zone. Pushing your boundaries is what develops the mind.

There are eight Tough Mudder events taking place up and down the UK in 2014. To sign up to take part or for further information visit