It’s pitch black, cold, and wet. You’re crawling on your hands and knees through the muddy water. Then your back scrapes the top of the tunnel and you’re forced down onto your belly. Grit and rock grind into your knees and hands. The smallness and darkness begin to close in, twinges of panic ripple through you, but you force it down, force yourself to keep crawling. There’s no other way out.
“This is a nightmare, right?” you ask yourself. “Wake up! Oh, God! WHY CAN’T I WAKE UP?!?”
No, you fool. You signed up for the Royal Marines 10k Commando Challenge. That’s why you’re stuck in this frigid, Godforsaken mud tunnel. Oh, and by the way, you ran like 3km (up hills!) before you even got to that first horrible tunnel, so you’re already exhausted and want to die. And you’ve waded through waist-high (chest high if you’re short) freezing water to get here. I forgot to mention that it’s early October in England. And guess what? There are going to be, like, 29 more cold, dark tunnels to crawl through.
Right about now, you’re wondering how it is you got here. You get a little metaphysical. “Why?” You ask the mud-drenched back of a team-mate. “Why did we drive like 3.5 hours to camp on the hard, cold ground (in October!!), wake up, and run and crawl through a 10km Marine assault course? I’m not a Marine. I work in an office. Why didn’t I sign up for pilates? That’s what office people do, right?”
Your team-mate isn’t listening to you. Their face is a mud-streaked mask of horror. You’ve reached the Sheep Dip.
You lower yourself into shoulder-high frigid water. Two dark holes are flanked by Marines, who are coaching your team-mates on what to do. You hear them, but it doesn’t really clock because you are so cold, your thoughts are freezing to the sides of your skull. You numbly follow, then the Marine tells you to — wait, that can’t be right.
They want you to duck your head under water, float through a concrete tunnel of 7 feet, where someone will pull you out by your arms.
“WHAT?” There are no time for questions. You’re pushed through, all senses are gone, time is meaningless, you’re submerged in concrete underwater hell. “This is it,” you think. “This is the end.”
Then someone does pull you out, you’re breathing panicked gulps of sweet air, and jump back down onto the ground to run through a few more tunnels.
Then back over all those hills again.
1 hour and 34 minutes later, you find yourself shivering in a makeshift tent, clutching a plastic cup full of lager, surrounded by dirty, jolly team-mates.
You may not be a Royal Marine. But for just a moment, you feel like one.
And for some of us, just a moment is good enough!