Tough Guy 2015
Tough Guy. The hardest race in the world?
Where do I start on an event like Tough Guy?
I am sat here, 24 hours after standing at the start line of the safest most dangerous event in the world, I have a slight mind blank of what's happened over the last day (which could make this post slightly more random than usual). I still can't feel my fingers and toes on my left side, i'm sore as hell, and I'm trying to get my head around what actually went on.
I'm just going to jump straight in.
Race day dawned, we all met for breakfast and pre TG chat at the hotel. I was nervous and could barely eat, Kim had a score to settle, Rick was setting himself a big challenge by going topless, Scott & Jamie had high hopes of good placings. Everyone was nervous, but excited.
At Mr Mouse's Farm for the Unfortunates, we lined up behind metal fencing penned in with the Gween Teams and Wobblemuckers, eagerly awaiting the 11ish start time. Shouting, chanting and rattling. The atmosphere was intense and incredible, unlike any other event I have ever attended.
As our gate was opened the crowd surged forward, a few un OCR like elbows shoved me out of the way, and although some people after complained about racers pushing women aside, I'm going to be honest, if i'm taking part in an event like TG, I certainly don't expect to be mollycoddled and treated like a “girl”. If someone is in that state of mind to push people out of their way, which I know myself and the racers I know wouldn't do, then let them do it without discretion.
I began the long run through the killing fields and I discovered incredibly quickly that I had made a huge error on footwear. Although I had tried my kit out in the river and mud before hand, I had not factored in this clay like sticky mud that we had at Tough Guy. Within seconds of the mud starting, my feet were like lead weights. The X-talon 200, for all their plus points are not light weight and easily drainable shoes, and adding merino socks into the mix was a recipe for disaster.
As we rounded the corner on kilometre 3 we were passed across the field by Jonathan Albon on kilometre 5. So far ahead of the pack that it wasn't possible to see who was behind him for a good while. It's not hard to see why this man is the world champion, and why he continues to dominate in the field, striding out as if on a Sunday jog, a 4x4 alongside him filming [and it wasn't going slowly.] As we all shouted “Go Jon!” he gallantly waved in acknowledgement and continued to beast Tough Guy, eventually winning in 1 hour 36 minutes and 47 seconds. More than this, he even received the accolade of being the only person to ever complete the event in the manner in which it is intended.
At this point I was beginning to feel a little warm, we seemed to be in a dip, with no wind, and had not yet got wet (just muddy feet). Despite this, my feet were still freezing and I was not looking forward to the remaining few hours. Climbing over a few low walls, and tackling the first of the hills slowed the pack down a little, but these were gentle warm ups.
A few trenches of nettle and spike filled muddy water and another kilometre or so of running led us to the slaloms, the first area of the race which I had not been looking to.
Stretched over a distance of roughly 1.5km, we trailed up and down the steep inclines a total of 8 times. Beginning this section running, the crowd soon slowed to a walk by the third incline. They steadily got steeper at the top, requiring pushes and hoists over rocks and large trees. As the pack trailed up and down, chants of “OGGIE OGGIE OGGIE...OY OY OY” could be heard across the hill, lifting the spirits and the atmosphere of the general uphill trudge.
A brief run to warm up and a quick intake of sports bean and we soon reached Bears wood, a series of climbs and crawls under cargo nets, to get us muddy and slowed down. At this point the first twinges of cramp started in my calves, especially over the final climb where the gap was just too far to reach with my legs.
Kilometre 10 brought us closer to the killing fields, and this is where the cold really began with the Gurkha Grand National. Several longer wades were quickly followed by roughly 10 dips and climbs, in and out of the cold water and up the muddy clay bank. It was at this point that the supporters began to appear, and it was great to have people cheering you on and encouraging you just as you were beginning to take the hit of the cold.
An hour and 35 minutes in brought us to the official entrance of the killing fields, the Tiger. I had been told by several people that the amount of time you spend running, the same will be spent on the killing fields. The thought of another hour and a half of heavy legs and numb hands weighed heavy on my mind, but I pushed it aside and continued onwards.
Despite having little feeling in my extremities I had no issue with the Tiger. I don't have any fear of heights, and we were early enough in so that my legs were not too tired to climb quickly. The pictures I have seen of myself since do not say this, but at this point, I was reasonably happy! Had the obstacle not been so busy I would've managed this one a lot faster, but this is something everyone has to contend with.
Heading back away from the killing fields we were lead to an area already tackled at the beginning of the course: but this time it was twice as long, with two 100m metre muddy wet wades thrown in. This section required us to clamber over a series of hurdles, just too high for me to comfortably climb over, followed by a steep short descent into a very muddy ditch and out of the other side. The first descent saw me land in thick stick mud up to mid thigh, and face plant forward as I totally lost control. I was hoisted out by a long haired, face painted, bare chested racer, who I later found out was Ed Gamester, leader of the Ghost Squad. For him, I was very grateful.
We trudged through the shallow water up and back down, I veered off to the side and began to get stuck in the thigh high mud. Dragging my legs out, I felt like giving up and just sat down in the sludge- cold, wet, tired and miserable. A man passed to the right of me and I held my hand out which was ignored. Thankfully the person behind him saw I needed help and kept me company until I could carry on.
Although there are always those that for whatever reason, are not able or willing to help, what I love about this sport is just this. You hold out a hand, and someone takes it. You stop with cramp, and someone stops to rub your legs, or give you a hug when you're cold, feed you sports beans or gels. For a competitive event, the level of camaraderie is immense.
As we made our way back over the hurdles towards the killings fields I was complaining heavily about the weight of my legs. The mud weighing down my shoes, the cold, and the numb feet, plus being tired. I'm not sure what happened but someone popped up on the side of the trenches with a giant gasping fish, looking for deep water to re home him in after finding him in the muddy stretch. Was this the start of hallucinations, or did this really happen?
Things began to get a little muddled here, I remember a lot of the obstacles but not so much the order in which they came. I was so cold, and scared of what was coming up ahead. My running was more like a waddle as my hips started to ache, and I struggled to lift my feet and control which direction they went in due to the cold. In all honesty, the obstacles themselves were not that hard, doing this event in the summer would not be a huge challenge. Doing this event at the end of January is hell. The cold is what it is all about.
The obstacles at Tough Guy are not impossible, they are not difficult in the same way that some of the other races obstacles are. Tough Guy plays on your fears: Water, heights, electricity, claustrophobia, and on top of that, the numbing cold. This is the difficulty.
Flexibility has gone, your hands and feet are totally numb. Climbing over an obstacle requires blind faith and a little stupidity. Throwing your legs over a log 40ft in air and clinging on with fingers that don't feel when someone has trodden on them. Climbing backwards down a cargo net which is swinging freely, when you can't see where your feet are going, and you have no idea where they are as you can't feel anything.
The confusion that comes from the intense cold makes you begin to question your decisions. I've always been badly affected by the cold, and as you can tell, it really got to me on this last weekend of January.
The obstacles that followed included, heights, water and electricity. Heights and electricity did not bother me in the slightest, but the thought of the water had me on the verge of tears.
Forgive me now as I describe what followed in a probably random order, apologies if anything is missed, the memory is thankfully somewhat blurry.
After a few walls to scramble over we were hit by the behemoth. Again, this wasn't a struggle for me mentally, even the traverse ropes which I had been worried about were not a problem: my only issue arising when a tall man followed very close behind me, meaning I was fully stretched trying to hold onto the rope, but it wasn't so tall that a fall onto the cargo nets below would have been scary.
Again trudging through thick sticky mud, we soon approached a thin tunnel made of tyres. I briefly panicked, and then made my way through them: first claustrophobic challenge completed.
Now the obstacles began to get serious. We were treated to another climb approaching the torture chamber, again not too high, but busy and very very slow. I feel we wasted a lot of time on this obstacle waiting, which isn't a huge problem as I was just looking for a finish, but it did mean that the more we waited straddled atop the cargo net, the colder we were getting.
It was climbing down from here that the effect of the cold started to show. Unable to see where I was putting my feet, I slipped and fell a short distance, luckily being caught by a chap at the bottom who gave me a push up to get my footing again. I am so glad he was there as I ended up lowering myself down by my arms only (I have no idea how I still had the strength) and when my left foot hit the ground, I realised that I had left my right foot somewhere around waist height, stuck in the cargo net (like I say, no feeling in them whatsoever). With little grace or elegance I hoisted my foot out, but had I fallen and not been caught (in true OCR style) I could have been facing a rather nasty injury.
This was swiftly followed by the torture chamber, I didn't care what we were facing, I was just glad to be getting out of the wind. The torture chamber did not provide the screams that we had been promised, but I did get one or two shocks in there: has Mr Mouse gone soft on us?
However, the Vietcong tunnels at the end of the tunnels sparked an element of fear in me, and I had to take a few moments before I could enter them. Luckily, being small I was able to crawl through the first tunnel on my hands and knees, but the second tunnel kinked upwards and got narrower, which left me panicking slightly as I couldn't move, too confused and cold to think about lowering myself to my arms. Sense kicked in before full blown panic did and I slithered to the end of the tunnel, to be greeted by a very welcome jelly baby being popped in my mouth by a marshal.(Followed by a second when I pronounced my love for her).
I think there may have been some water, but the next thing I remember is being on top of the skywalk, shivering violently, nearly in tears at the thought of the lollipop heads approaching. (in case you haven't noticed, I have serious water issues, any advice on how to overcome this would be greatly appreciated!)
David, a member of Raw, started talking to me, I'm pretty sure I just stared at him, and when I made it to the bottom he was stood with a marshall waiting for me. As much as I wasn't looking forward to the water, there was no way I was getting pulled at this point!
We made it round the corner to be faced by, you guessed it, the lollipop heads.
Somehow he cajoled me into the water, as the first tears started to appear, and me and David together made it across, clinging onto each other. The minute the marshals saw my face they pulled me straight out of the water and deposited me on the bank.
I don't think he realises how much I appreciated his help at that moment in time, as I was seriously struggling. Yes, I feel gutted that I didn't complete the lollipop heads, but i'm going to be working on this a lot, and I know, if I had gone under at that point, there is no way I could've finished the race.
There's been some talk on facebook about people skipping obstacles at Tough Guy. I'm torn on this one, I have pretty strong views on penalty skippers (after being cheated out of a top 30 female place at the Beast by two women who skipped every burpee they could). Obviously I didn't complete the lollipop heads, this leaves me knowing I didn't do everything. I know I cheated myself here, but to be honest, I now view Tough Guy as a totally different event. I wasn't there to win, I wasn't there for placings or timings. I did everything I could, and I overcame an event that was tough as hell. I was competing against myself, not everyone else. I didn't save any time by not doing the obstacle. Say what you like about me not doing it, I know that this is my challenge for next year, and it's what I have to work on.
Following this I remember another high climb, again mentally this wasn't a problem, but for those who had been submerged, it was incredibly difficult. My only issues here were trusting my hands and feet to go in the right direction, and cling on where needed. I also was suffering from very bad calf cramps at this point, so lifting my legs high to climb over a wooden barrier at 40ft was not the easiest thing in the world!
More water followed, with chest high dips followed by long planks to walk. There were ropes and nets above to help us across. I had the bright idea of using both my legs and arms to make my way across the net above me, to avoid more water. This worked fine until the cramp kicked in, I hung there as a marshall came over to me. “are you ok?” “yeah, just got Cramp! Ow! Cramp!” “Drop down” “No. Ouch!” “Drop down.” “No. Ouch. Ok!”
Through the barbed wire and tyres and we were reaching the home stretch (some fire featured somewhere but I'll be damned if I know where or when). We passed people who had not long entered the killing fields, and I felt their pain. I have so much respect for people who spend that amount of time on the course. Both ends of the spectrum inspire me. From the racers who finish in record time, to those who are out there for well over four hours, both of these competitors deserve admiration and praise.
We passed a marshal and I desperately asked “How far to go??”. “The winner did this section in one a half minutes. I'll give you seven” she replied. I looked at my watch. Seven minutes would take us to just under three hours. I was determined to finish in under three hours. Over concrete tunnels we clambered, cramp again taking hold. Through the rack of bungee cord, struggling with motility I threw myself through, face planting again on the other side, as I attempted to disentangle myself from the cord.
So many races I have regretted slowing down, to miss out on a top 20 position by one second at Grim, for example. I understood and appreciated what he was doing, but at this point, my legs would barely make it up the hill walking, let alone running. “Come on Beanie!” (yes that's my other nickname) “I can see the finish line!”. My little legs pumped harder and then we came to more water, before the final slippy ramp to the finish.
“I can't I can't!” I wailed as I started to cry. “I can't go in there!” Kev was having none of it, he pulled me in like a naughty child, and dragged me across by my arm until we made it across. Up the slippy ramp, and we were at the finish line! The heavy brass medal was hung around my neck, and clambering a top a bale of hay as the final insult I was ecstatic! The marshal wrapped me in a blanket and ushered us off for a welcoming cup of tea.
This was my first experience of attending an event with a team, and it made it a totally different one: from a team dinner the night before with RAW and the Dutch Mud Men, to travelling in convoy to the event. The advice, help and kit loans I got from other members of the team made the it a totally different event: there is no way I would've coped without the loan of Kelly's DryRobe.
Here I must also say the biggest thank you in the world to the wonderful Laura Makinson, a great OCR supporter who will be taking part in her first event at the end of the month, with myself, Joel from Always With A Smile, and many other Smilers.
Laura was an amazing support to me, from following me round the course, to being ready and waiting at the end with a hot sugary tea and a warm DryRobe.
There is no way I could've managed without her, as (poor girl) she even had to strip me in the middle of a field as I couldn't bend without getting cramp, or even move my hands, let alone my fingers. Her medical background certainly came in handy as she checked me over, and i'm really really sorry Laura, i'm sure you never intended to be the one to have to do that, but I certainly appreciate it very very much....I owe you one big time!
Tough Guy, despite the ramshackle appearance had one of the best pre and post race set up of any event I have attended. Obviously being a permanent fixture makes this easier for them to do so, but everything just made my life a little bit easier: A blanket on finishing, straight into the barn, hot showers, hot tea, warm indoor changing areas. I had paid extra for a red car park pass, which meant I could leave everything in my car, just a minute away from the start/finish zone. Everything was included, I didn't need any money to leave a bag or get a hot drink at the end. They took us to hell, but they made it pretty comfortable when they brought us back.