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Jim prepares to tackle world’s toughest race

Echuca’s Jim Avard has busy training for the World’s Toughest Mudder event in New Jersey next week.

GEORDIE COWAN November 9, 2012 4:01am

Jim Avard and his son Jett.


A 24-hour continuous race in 1°C to 5°C, with a chance of snow, a series of intense physical challenges and an attrition rate which sees only 10 per cent of competitors finish.

That is what Echuca paramedic Jim Avard will face when he takes part in the World’s Toughest Mudder in Englishtown, New Jersey, in the US, next weekend.

‘‘Apart from the physical aspect of the course, the mental side will be the hardest beast of all,’’ he said.

‘‘Sleep deprivation and physically tired are a nasty combination.

‘‘Lack of sleep has been part of my working life. Working shift work for 20 years (nursing and ambulance) and having kids helps, as all parents know.

‘‘But not giving up will be my greatest challenge.

‘‘There I will be drawing on my family, kids, friends and foes for inspiration.’’

The 44-year-old qualified for the event after finishing in the top 5 per cent of competitors at the Phillip Island Tough Mudder in March.

Despite a group from Echuca attending the event, Avard said he wanted to go by himself and ‘‘have a real crack at it’’.

He realised quite that early his running ability would help him get through the course quickly, but it was the camaraderie which really appealed to him.

‘‘Everyone was helping out everyone,’’ he said.

‘‘If somebody couldn’t get over an obstacle — and some of them were difficult — if you were either short, tall or just had no upper-body strength, there’s always people there to help you up.’’

Avard, who grew up in Colbinabbin, said the Tough Mudder experience offered him a different sort of challenge after spending the past 30 years exercising constantly.

‘‘I’ve gone through lots of different sports, like running, kayaking, football, cricket, tennis, all the normal sorts of stuff,’’ he said.

‘‘And then running, long-distance running, then trail running and then the Tough Mudder came up, just because I like the general fitness side of things.

‘‘I’ve never been particularly good at anything, just average at everything.’’

Avard said he found the Phillip Island competition relatively easy, with many of his training sessions ‘‘harder than the actual event’’, but the experience was memorable.

‘‘The huge PR machine that Tough Mudder creates, the people (who come to it) are drawn to those sorts of events and they get caught up in the hype,’’ he said.

‘‘Every shape and form of crazy person was out there and normal people who wouldn’t normally do that.

‘‘It was good fun, but once the bell went off, the people were running, some in bare feet — they thought they could run 20km in bare feet across rocks and gravel.’’

The varying aspects of Tough Mudder means training has been an ever-changing experience.

Never doing the same session two days in a row, he has taken to running through the bush.

‘‘You’ve got to watch where you step,’’ he said.

‘‘There might be logs, there might be trees you have to go under or over.

‘‘I try to make my runs interesting — the scenic (trail) is a great run, but once you’ve done it a million times, it’s pretty dull.

‘‘Whatever my body feels like. I listen to my body more than my head.’’

But he will have to listen to his head on the course, as a huge amount of mental strength will be needed to complete the event.

‘‘My aim for the event is to complete the 24 hours,’’ Avard said.

‘‘Physically I know I can do it, but mentally...

‘‘This will be something that is cold, in America, away from friends and family.

‘‘The mental aspect of not quitting will be the hardest thing.

‘‘You go into some fairly deep places in your own mind when you’re doing stuff like that.

‘‘You spend a lot of time by yourself.’’

Reinforcing his self-belief throughout the experience would be vital, knowing he had the ability to keep going, Avard said.

‘‘It’s surprising what your body can do and your head will tell you not to do, but you know that your body can do,’’ he said.

‘‘Your mind’s often a lot weaker than your body is.

‘‘It’s empowering in some ways.’’

In last year’s event, more than 900 people started and only 109 finished.

Two-thirds of the field had left after the first lap, mainly due to hypothermia, broken bones and strains, while the winner completed seven laps (about 140km and 154 obstacles) to win.

Avard said he would ‘buddy up’ with a few people during the event, because ‘‘you can’t go around the course by yourself’’ and the event would retain its core of teamwork, despite being a competition.

Tough Mudder supports the Wounded Warrior Project for injured military personal and Avard is supporting Australia’s equivalent, Soldier On.

Soldier On supports Australian servicemen and women who have been wounded, physically or psychologically in contemporary conflicts.

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