Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Officially a 'Tough Guy'

On a cold, misty day last month, I geared up in my compression tights and neoprene vest and dragged my fatigued, miserable body around what's generally acknowledged as the most challenging obstacle race course in the UK.

Here's my story...

No, I wasn't raising money for charity. I was there solely for selfish reasons in that I wanted to see how far I could push my body and mind. It actually didn't take very long for me to start questioning those motives!

The Tough Guy Race takes place a stones throw from where I grew up in Perton, Wolverhampton. Growing up I'd heard a lot about the race and witnessed the annual traffic chaos as thousands of hardy participants from all corners of the globe and walks of life descended on a small farm in the Midlands to test their metal.

This year was the 30th anniversary of the event and the last time they plan to organise the race, so this was my final chance to go along and see how tough I really was.

The course was about 15km long and included cross-country running, ridiculously steep hill climbs, fire, icy water and more mud that any human should be expected to wade through. Added to these conditions were dozens of obstacles along the way. I have to say that I have no idea how the head organiser and farm owner, Billy Wilson, gets around the health and safety implications of holding such an event. At every single stage of the race I found myself questioning the safety of the course. The likelihood of injuring yourself looks to far outweigh any chance of getting round in one piece as if the uneven ground, trip hazards, frightening bottlenecking of participants and height of obstacles doesn't get you, the steady onset of hypothermia has every chance of doing so.

The first of many problems we faced was a power cut that threatened to delay the start by 45 minutes. However, after 30 minutes the excitable crowd of what I'm led to believe reached 5,500 this year got tired of waiting and forced their way to the start line. The staggered start times for those leaving in different waves meant nothing to us as we pushed and shoved our way onto the course with everyone leaving at the same time.

5,500 people of varying levels of fitness and ability running in one direction at the same time isn't ideal and I soon found myself queuing for the first obstacle - a series of jumps over large bales of hay. Myself and 2 friends took our time and in the end found ourselves right at the back of the pack. When we decided to pick up the pace we soon began to move through the field, passing what I would estimate to be well over 2,000 people!

The running and hill climbs were absolutely fine and I found myself getting cocky. It was only when we reached the water obstacles did I begin to feel it. The cold showers I'd been taking in preparation for the event had made my tolerance to the cold better than it's ever been but they didn't simulate the conditions of the day at all.

As the obstacles got more challenging due to the sheer frequency of them, the mud also started to play its part. I don't have a photo, so it's hard for me to communicate fully, but one obstacle was basically a series of what must have been 20 or so mounts of mud. These mounts were probably 9 feet high with around a foot of thick mud at the bottom of each. There were people literally stuck and unable to get out themselves. Before the race I'd have told you that in witnessing such a scenario I'd have leapt to the aid of said fallen comrade. However, as I could barely move myself, its was most definitely a 'put yourself first' situation. There was actually a point, later in the race, where I trudged up a hill past some guy who was literally sliding down on his butt grasping his hamstring because of the onset of cramp. 'Keep running' I told myself.

I've painted a fairly grim picture of obstacle racing in this post - I know that. But having said all of the above, I'm still glad I took part and am super proud that I can now call myself a Tough Guy, even if doing so makes me cringe and die a little inside.

Check out my pictures from the day...



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