The coldest week of winter weather had hit the country, snow had fallen, water had turned to ice but the frost was glistening across the ‘killing fields’ of Mr Mouse’s farm for unfortunates in the village of Perton as the sun had come out, just as it always does on this day- Tough Guy day. The organisers call it an act of god. Nobody knows if there is any truth in that but something all of the four thousand race participants were about to find out was that it wasn’t going to stop things from getting dangerously cold.
I had ran this annual event for the first time in 2014 and it had lived up to it’s reputation of being one of the worlds toughest one day survive ordeals. I had said I wouldn’t be back. I said once was enough and for the best part of a year I had stuck to my word but as race day neared I found myself sending off the entry form and running through freezing cold water on a regular basis in preparation for another punishment.
I don’t really know what it was that convinced me to go back for more. Maybe I had waited long enough that I had forgotten the pain I went through, maybe it was my competitiveness or stubbornness to shirk a challenge. In all honesty I think it was a combination of all of those things. I fully believed that the experience of having already completing the course and a full year of training and racing behind me would give me an advantage.
I had prepared very well. I was feeling great in my training runs. I’d won every obstacle course race I’d done since the world championships. I was on top form. I’d invested in some good kit that I had tested and was sure would keep me warm enough and I was confident in my race plan. I knew the competition was very strong, the strongest it’s ever been apparently but my aim remained to improve on my 29th place finish from last year.
I left home in good time, had eaten well and felt that everything was on my side. That was until I got within 2 miles of race HQ. Then a traffic jam meant a much later than planned arrival and a rush to get through registration and get my kit on to make it to the start line before the cannon blasted. I’d had very little warm up, something I always swear by before racing and a very important part of my race plan.
The first few miles of the race are predominantly running. A section of the course I should revel in. Over the past couple of years I have improved on obstacles but running will always be my strongest point. I felt terribly sluggish. My legs had the feeling they normally do towards the end of a hard race, not the beginning. The plan had been to go out hard, play to my strengths and build as much of a gap as I could on as many of the field as possible before the obstacle heavy second half of the course began.
I was trying to push but my tank felt empty as I arrived at the first of the hills. I was then overtaken by the leasing lady which didn’t help matters but as I moved back on too a flatter section and ran past the course creator and legend himself Mr Mouse, much to my surprise, a spectator told me that I was in 14th place. It did cross my mind that he may have said 40th place but I was then greeted by the welcome sight if my parents who confirmed I was indeed well inside the top 20. I began to think that not going through my normal warm up routine had only affected me mentally and I was performing better physically than I thought but then I reached the dreaded hill slalom and my original worries were confirmed.
I had little energy to push up the hills and as much as I tried to let my legs go on the down hill accents I was losing places rapidly.
I kept telling myself that eventually I would get going and once away from the hills I finally started to feel myself. I regained a few places in the wooded section that followed. A part of the course with a series of cargo net crawls that I previously found the worse bit yet this time I was finally gaining some momentum.
Next came the first of the water obstacles. A relentless succession of climbs in and out of a freezing cold river. This was the first real test for the kit I had chosen to wear and it withstood the temperatures well. I had gained a few more places and was feeling ready to enter the infamous killing fields.
I tackled each and every one of the huge obstacles without any failures but they really sapped away the very little energy I had making the short running sections in between a plod that lost me more places.
Much to my relief the water in the long out and back wade was much shallower than 12 months previous and the dangling electric shock tentacle in the torture chamber weren’t on but nothing was going to make the sequence of 5 full water submerges any easier. All you can do is get in, get it done and get out as quickly as possible then hope your clothing choice pays off and your brain stays switched on for long enough to carry you through to the finish. Thankfully mine did.
As I got closer to the end I actually began to feel more my normal self for the first time in the race. The warm barn and hot tea normally can’t come soon enough but shockingly I didn’t want the race to end. I knew I hadn’t done myself and my current fitness levels justice, I wasn’t in the early stages of hypothermia as is common in this event and I wasn’t feeling the punishing torture I felt I should have been by this point. I did manage to put these emotions to good use by gaining several places in the final stages to overtake a group of Germans I’d been battling with for the past couple of miles but where as a year earlier I was saying “never again” this time I was gutted that I’m going to have to wait so long to give it another shot.
I didn’t know where I had finished but an ejected guess was around the 40 mark. I had to wait until later on in the evening when the results were published online to receive the news that I had placed 51st. As much as survival and course completion definitely outweighs finishing position in this event I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed and that result didn’t sit right with me for some reason. Several days later I received an email advising me that there had been a fault in the chip timing system and an updated top 50 list had been published. I scanned hopefully down the list and to my great relief saw my name in 36th position. I then watched the finish line video to confirm this result. That felt much better.
Then a couple of weeks later I recieved another email entitled ‘final top 50 results’ this time explaining in detail the reasons for the faults and explaining that several of the original list had been given time penalties meaning my position had moved up again. I had now been given 31st place.
Having now completed the course twice in winter and once in spring I feel the competitor in me is definitely ready to have a real good crack at an improvement on my highest finishing position next year but however good preparation is it means nothing unless you get it right on the day.
Tough Guy, I will be back.