This was the first of a long list of challenges I have planned for 2014 (along with as many ‘normal’ races as I can fit in along the way). It was one that I’ve always wanted to do as Tough Guy is where this amazing sport of OCR, that has transformed my life both as a runner and a coach, all started. If it wasn’t for Bill Wilson, a.k.a. Mr Mouse, being crazy enough to put on the very first event way back in 1987 it may not even exist. Tough Guy is set on a permanent course in Perton, Wolverhampton so it was a regular journey for myself and my dad who was coming to support me as always. We parked up and I went through registration in what was the smoothest of operations (which was amazing considering the amount of people attending – 3003 competitors). The start and finish was based around the notorious Killing Fields obstacle course, a 25 obstacle filled area which is deep in mud and water surrounded by hundreds of photographers and spectators. Standing at the start line what struck me most while waiting for the cannon to be blasted to signify the off was the amount of different languages I could hear being spoken around me, This event had a real international feel to it. After a few moments of waiting, mainly for the likes of ITN camera men to get out of the way and watching the marshals set off blue smoke grenades almost within touching distance of us, we were off. The majority of the early running is obstacle free, and it needs to be due to the sheer volume of competitors in what is a mass start, but it was not long before I arrived at the Slalom. This, in my opinion, is the first of five obstacles on the course that sets Tough Guy apart from any other Obstacle Race, providing what I will describe as the ‘Five Types of Torture’. image The event challenges not only your physical abilities in the most demanding of ways but also your mental strength, in what I can only describe as a sadistic nature – something which I think the founder Mr Mouse is very proud of. Torture Type 1 The Slalom is a succession of hill climbs; hills that are too steep to run up and too slippery to run down. They are set out in a format involving at least fifteen climbs up and down before being lead to think that you’re at the end, only to have to then go back and do much of it all over again. I began to question my sanity already. After this comes the water. The body shocking cold, cold water. After the first dunk I was never far away from the next one for the remainder of the course. It may be quite mild as far as January’s go but on the day there was a chilling wind and rain was lashing down throughout. Torture Type 2 After several kilometres completed of the Country Miles, a brutal cross country running course, I met the second major torture. The next task was to climb in and out of a river around 20 times. image The river had been fenced off into sections meaning every time I clambered in and waded through the freezing cold water to the other side, I then had to use pretty much all the upper body strength I could muster to pull myself up a vertical bank.This wasn’t a structured obstacle, it had no grip what-so-ever which made it extra hard. Once you got out, you would get straight back in and repeat the process a good 20 morale sapping times. It was completely relentless torture. I had made it I thought. I had reached the Killing Fields in one kinda piece, but I was far from near the finish at this point. Torture Type 3 Next was a simple river wade. But this had a Tough Guy twist. A 150m chest high wade out, a turn and then the same all the way back. It involved no physical strength or fitness, just pure mental toughness in what was the coldest water I’ve ever experienced. Knowing you were heading all that way out only to have to turn and then come back again gave it a real degradation feel. image By the time I had finished the feeling of both my legs had gone. Clearly the next obstacles were strategically placed. What would have normally been a simple bit of running and hurdling, became yet another case of mind over matter. My legs were completely numb as I attempted the first raised tree trunk hurdle which resulting in me crashing my right knee pretty hard against the wood causing quite a nasty cut. Had I not been so numb at the time I’m sure this would have hurt a lot more and although it did slow me down for a while I was soon able to forget about it and push on. Torture Type 4 Up next was the part of the course I was dreading most, the aptly named Torture Chamber. This is a dark, underground wooden cabin no more than 3 feet in height which requires you to crawl from one side to the other whilst being electrocuted from dangling dagger like tentacles. Even as I entered the chamber, the screams and shouting from the grown men inside were very apparent. It doesn’t matter what language they may have been talking, I knew exactly what they meant! image Although my usual method in obstacle course racing is to attack everything I’m greeted with in the fastest possible way, I approached this one with great apprehension. The plan was to get through in a way that involved being electrocuted as little as possible. I think I managed it, having only got shocked 4 times and without shouting or screaming once, which I was quite pleased with. However, before I was able to get the hell out of there, there were two very tightly enclosed tunnel crawls to negotiate. I’m pretty slim and I found these a very tight squeeze so I’m not sure how those of a larger frame managed it but, with all the strength I had left in my fingers and arms, I pulled myself out into daylight and I was away. I knew there wasn’t a great deal left to go at this point which galvanised me to really start pushing with everything I had left in order to get to the finishing barn and get warm. I had, however, completely forgotten about the 5th type of torture that I still had to get through. Torture Type 5 This is an obstacle that Mr Mouse calls Lollypop Heads. The reason for this is because he likens the feeling you get to that of the one you get in your head when you eat a lolly pop too quickly known by many as brain freeze. It involved yet another ice cold water wade but this time being almost shoulder deep isn’t enough. There are a succession of planks laying across the muddy water in which I have to fully submerge my head under. Not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR times. It was then a wade back out before almost straight away being faced with another very high climb. Before I could even contemplate this climb I had to get my bearings back though, as I was completely disorientated. I recollect that it was at this point in the race that I was continually asking myself the question of ‘why?’ out loud in a raised voice. (This question would be answered at the finish line). Then followed more obstacles, all of an extremely physically demanding nature, including a ‘walk the plank’ jump which resulted in yet another full body and head submerge in very deep water, a crawl under electrical wires which meant a further two shocks for me and two very tricky rope traverses above – yes, you guessed it – more freezing water. Each obstacle was interspersed with short running spells on terrain that would having been challenging enough without the rain causing it to be particularly cut up, boggy and energy sapping. These were areas where I seemed to be picking people off all the time though and I found myself quite high up the field as I came to the final obstacle. image The Road To Finish The final obstacle was a high slide, around 15m in length, which in any other race would have been a fun way to finish, but this isn’t any other race, this is Tough Guy and this slide had yet more electrical tentacles hanging down to give you one last reminder of exactly what it was you had just been though. image Down one side then back up the other and I was across the finish line. I was colder than I had been in my entire life but I was officially a Tough Guy finisher! With my medal hung around my neck a sense of great pride came over me, one much greater than that I’ve ever experienced after finishing any other event. With this pride came the answer to why I had just put my body through almost everything it could possible take for the past 1 hour, 47 minutes and 54 seconds. 3,503 people entered this years Tough Guy. 3,003 turned up and 2228 finished. I came in at 29th place. This event isn’t about how long it takes you to get round the 15km course or where you finish though. It is exactly what it’s described as on the entry form: ‘The world’s safest, most dangerous one day survival ordeal’.