Friday, 20 February 2009

Tough Guy 2009

On the first of February, I entered the infamous Tough guy race. For those who haven't heard of it, Tough Guy is a bi-annual obstacle/endurance race held in the Midlands of my little Island Grande Bretagne. One event is held in the Summer (this one is called Nettle warrior for obvious reasons) and the other is held in the Winter (Tough Guy).

I was more than a little nervous on the drive into Wolverhampton and during the night before the event. This was partly because I'd foolishly told everyone I knew that I'd be entering the race. I could not fathom the true extent of their mockery should I not finish but I was mainly nervous because I'd not done a days cardiovascular training for it (having taken the place of a friend last minute).

One thing I would say to anyone entering is that there is absolutely no good food on sale anywhere near the farm after 7pm. By good food, I mean something other than the greasy burger and chips that would become my staple for the next day and a half. Correct nutrition is vital in this kind of event so either arrive early and hit a local restaurant or bring a plentiful supply of snacks and M&S picnic items.

Despite this shortcoming, I found the event to be run incredibly well. Several thousand people entered and it took a team of voluntary marshalls and Saint johns ambulance staff to ensure nobody died. They actually had a field hospital!

The race begins as a nice enough run through the "country miles" until you realise that Mr Mouse's (the event owner) definition of a country run is to hit you with eight foot trenches knee deep with frigid, muddy water 1km into the race! After these, we hit some log obstacles and encountered nothing more until we hit the towering "Tiger". The Tiger consists of two forty foot "A" frames punctuated with a series of electric fences carrying a hefty charge! I personally found this to be a bit of a pain as the racers had not separated sufficiently to prevent the exasperating bottleneck.

Fortunately, this was the only bottleneck that I encountered on the course though it distracted me enough so that I was all too unaware of the electric wire swinging behind me. The inevitable shock sent my arm rocketing into another racer who was not amused; not least because I caught him hard on the head.

After another run and copious amounts of mud you hit the Slalom; a series of nine or ten runs up and down the same steep hill. This is where you see people start to drop out. Even the fittest were fast walking by the last one. (It's worth mentioning that my late entry meant that I started in the back-squad referred to endearingly as the "late buggers" and so "the fittest" that I encountered were not nearly as fit as the top blokes from the front squad who had paid extra to be there).

River runs with ever deepening water that hit chest height in no time and nets and fences followed but the real obstacles begin when you finish the main run and hit the killing fields. Rope traverses, ponds, runs through fire, ponds, towering obstacles, and yet more ponds of which one is entered from a twenty foot diving platform are encountered here. This is where the real pain starts..

The most feared of all these obstacles is an underwater tunnel -no more than twenty foot long- in which the only part of your body to remain dry to this point, your head, becomes soaked with near freezing temp water. This was the day it decided to snow. Not just any snow but the worst snow in eighteen years. We emerged from the icy water seeking respite from the pain of the pond only to find that in the -8 degree wind chill, it was warmer in the pond than out.. no problem, we were soon confronted with another.

After twenty three obstacles, the killing fields relinquished the finish straight and a nice hefty brass medal to prove we'd done it. The fun wasn't over yet though, oh no.. I was fortunate to have maintained a good core temperature during the race unlike the many others who were taken to hospital or treated by the medics with hypothermia. However, the end of the run meant a very sudden drop in body temp. The "tepid bath" and "warm showers" as advertised in the leaflet were only several degrees warmer than the icy pools of hell outside and most of us did our best to skirt around it. (This was surprisingly difficult as it blocked the competitors exit from the finish area almost completely).

I stumbled around in a dazed pre-hypothermic stupor looking for my dry, warm clothes in the barn I was assigned to and found I was content -like many others- to sit down next to them growing increasingly cold as I willed them to dress me themselves. An eternity passed and I was dressed, though it took forty more minutes before I could hold a cup of tea without spilling it all over myself from the shivering.

This is a very worthwhile event and the sense of achievement at the end is unrivaled. Sure, it's not the longest run in the world at only nine miles-ish but it makes up for it by packing so much pain into each mile that by the end of it, you feel as if you've run two marathons! It also raises money for several charities including their own Mr Mouse's farm for the unfortunates - both a horse sanctuary and a charity with the aim of giving young offenders a more positive outlook on life. You can raise money for your own charity but must agree to split the money raised with the Tough Guy charities 50-50.

For more details, see the weblinks section of this blog.


  1. nicola malcherOctober 18, 2009

    ahem :P

  2. I am ashamed to have neglected to credit Miss Nicola malcher (above) for the amazing support she gave me when I stumbled into the barn at the end of the race. It was in fact she who undressed, dried and redressed me and i would like to thank her for it here in this review.