TOUGH Guy The Original…
There is only one race in Obstacle Racing that can be classed as ‘Legend’ and that’s Tough Guy the Original. Tales, upon tales have been told of this brutal race. The race is 30 years old and this years race was billed as the last one, so I had to take the chance to complete my one and only Tough Guy. I had signed up for Tough Guy before it was announced that it was the last one and as it was my first I was in the ‘wetnecks’ pen to start. I had toyed with the idea of paying the £190 to race front squat and see what I could achieve, but with travel and accommodation, I couldn’t quite justify it. Although after learning the legend himself Jon Albon was running it and completing the race for myself, it’s a choice I have some regret over. Anyhoo….
There was a different vibe in the Event Village of Tough Guy. It’s hard to explain. It’s a very earthy and random/makeshift place, but very endearing. You got the feeling that everyone had a reason to be there. A pilgrimage, a rites of passage, a love for the Tough Guy, a test of their limits. The legend of Tough Guy is so dreaded, that you could hear the nervous laughter of many a runner, which was coupled with looks of dread of what was to come, all hidden behind a sense of carless abandon and fighting spirit. The atmosphere is definitely something I will always remember.
There was some chaos to begin with. The numbers of participants were vast, and as such registration struggled and the race wasn’t starting on time, which is fine, not the first or last race that will happen at. Once in my allocated area with all the other wetnecks at the back….and quite far at the back of them too, there was some muffled announcing, which you just couldn’t hear. Partly because of crowd noise, but mainly due to rubbish sound. The Ghost squad getting the crowd going was, however, awesome. I could hear the main dude even more than the announcer with a mic. It certainly got the heart pounding and got you ready to go. When we got the nod, we made our way over the big start hill and a minute or so later we were finally allowed to get on our way. And on our way we all went… at a snail’s pace walk. The crowd of runners was so massive, and we were so far at the back, that you just couldn’t get running. After about 3 mins of this, I said ‘f’ck it’ and legged it off down the edge of the crowd. The next 2 to 3 km was about cutting past as many people as possible, probably running at a pace faster than I normally would set off at, but I was running well. The hay bales helped thin out the crowd more as I was able to leap them quicker than most.
The first part of the race is ‘The Country Miles’. This is almost a race in itself. Around 10km and containing more obstacles than some other races have altogether, it’s a hard and exciting run. The hill slaloms are steep and tough, and started sorting out the stronger runners. They seemed to go on forever. In to the woods was great fun, going under cargo nets (lots of cargo nets), over many log hurdles and barriers, I managed to pick up more pace here and push on. But then there were more slaloms, but through water and up embankments. The water was cold, which was welcomed at first as I was beginning to overheat slightly. But by number 5 my legs were numb, I couldn’t feel my toes, and just when I finished and got running again, I got hit with yet more water, and then more water, there just seemed to be water everywhere. This is where I feel the mental battles began. Constantly trying to keep positive thoughts and keep focused gets tough when you worry about not being able to feel your toes or legs… but continue on you do.
And then it’s time for the killing fields. Already cold and numb, nothing quite prepares you for this gruelling, relentless, punishing part of the race. This is when Tough Guy starts to throw the punches. The killing fields are only around 4-5 km, but it feels so much further. Monster High A frames with some electric fields in between greet you as you enter the killing fields, and that’s just the easy stuff. You hardly get to start running again before being faced with another mental and physical challenge. Each obstacle completed was just a mini victory. You stop focusing on how well you will finish the race, but more on surviving the race. Mound after mound of dirt to climb. So much water to wade through. It was gruelling in there. And of course you then have full submersions of water to come. Which I am so happy I survived, although my calf started to cramp taking on the first full underwater submersion. But the shock of the water is so over powering I just wanted to get moving. A quick stretch and I was off again, a wave of adrenaline hitting me and kicking me on. Walking the plank and jumping in the water battered me with cold again. A big shout and angry growl kept the adrenaline high, and a wave of heat came across me, knowing that the main cold water was done, I knew I could handle anything after those two dunks. But legs were growing weary, cramping in muscles becoming a real pain in the ass and still so many obstacles to go. Many a quick stop and stretch and move again, was happening often. There was a group of us now heading hard and fast to the end point, all gliding over the obstacles with a spring our tails, all shouting and motivating each other along as the last stretch was insight. Up the last hill and over the finishing line… Ecstatic and exhausted. I have to thank a guy whom kept me going at various points of the race. We had a good laugh and finished the race together. But with my only concern to get changed and warm again, I never caught his name!
So that was it, done, completed, finished, with no more Tough Guys to come. What did I think of it? Simply put, it was Epic. It was Brutal. It was punishing. It was everything it promised to be. I had to dig to a level of mental strength I hadn’t yet gone to, and that’s what I have been searching for from Obstacle racing from the get go.
A lot of people felt the race repetitive and while I have to agree, I felt that this was part of what made it so gruelling, so challenging, so ‘Tough’. I felt for every soul I watched passing through the finish line after me. Being out there longer than I was must have been hard, and many were still smiling. I heard there was a lot of queuing at obstacles too. I was lucky enough to get away from the crowds on the running part that I did not come across any of that, so hats off to those who persevered and tolerated this and pushed on.
With it being the last one I am so happy I got a chance to run it. To me it was everything I was expecting and more. A true challenge I will never forget.
This January I had two big winter races on my calendar Mactuff and Tough Guy The original. This is my thoughts and personal experiences of these races.
Mactuff (formerly known as McTough Guy) was a race I had set my goals on for most of 2016. I ran the first one in January 2016, placing 6th. , which I was ecstatic about. It was my first taste of winter Obstacle racing, and I felt my team and I prepared wonderfully for it. The race was great, challenging terrain, some good obstacles, cold Scottish weather and a beast of a sandbag carry (a mile and a half up hill). So naturally we signed up for the following year to come. Adding Tough Guy the Original while we were at it.
I trained hard over 2016 for obstacle racing, and it was paying off. I managed to pick up 3 first places, and finished respectfully in many other races. But I really wanted to do well in MacTuff, so focused my training on this and on Tough Guy.
The couple of months running up to Mactuff, my training was going really well. Doing runs with the sandbag, much more hill running and generally increased my mileage. My left knee started to play up a matter of weeks before the race. As most of us do, I pushed through the pain and continued on with my training. It wasn’t hampering my performance or stopping me improving, but it was hurting like a bitch for longer and longer afterwards! A bad case of runner’s knee! Two weeks before the event I only managed one run. The week of the event I then get the bloody cold. That was all I needed. So morale was low.
The day of the race I was not feeling good about how I would do. Initially aiming for a top 10 finish, I was now thinking top 20-50. Head was burst and knee was still recovering from a measly mile walk the night before.
Arriving at Mactuff it was already busy. There was a great atmosphere around the Knockhill Event Area, and meeting up with my M.K. Fitness team helped relax my nerves. An easy registration process and it was time to get ready. I was in two minds whether to wear a neoprene layer for this race as I knew there would be at least some cold water included. It was a cold day, with a deep layer of fog, but I opted to go without, a choice I am glad I made.
Lining up at start line the atmosphere was starting to ramp up. It was taking a wee while to get things moving though. An entertaining warm up and amazing Scottish Pipe Band (the drummer was right at me on start line, and it really got my heart rate and adrenaline up) did help in keeping the spirits high though, and it was at least dramatically quicker than last year at getting going. A quick ‘3,2,1’ from RD Alex Potter, and away we went.
My starts are what usually set me in good stead in races, but for this one I chose to be a little bit more conservative and sat back in fourth. Cutting left to take on the American Football team was a good bit of fun, and a little feint left to one, helped me slip in to second place. After here it was a little messy, with only verbal instruction at the start to go on, a few of us up front had no real clue where we were going, relying on onlookers pointing. It was like this for most of the first part of the race at the track, but once off of the track it was a lot better marked and easier to follow. Heading up the race track and cutting off I was sitting around 3-4. It was quite tight up at the front for the first few Km.
Hitting the sandbag carry was great. I was wearing neoprene gloves, and luckily it was here some of my M.K. team were Marshalling and I gave them my gloves as I was starting to overheat. The sandbag carry was great as it incorporated many different obstacles. Climbing over a container via cargo net, navigating burns and rivers, crawling under cargo nets and running off road made it feel fresh, and I was glad I had trained hard with a sand bag on my back. After this section I was sitting happily in 3rd. Not long after we hit another fresh obstacle, the car pull. I could have sworn the person in the car had their foot on the break as it was a bitch to get moving, but I got it done. Coming to a traverse along a fence and rope climb I was sitting nicely in third still. I’m generally quite strong on climbs and took the lead after managing to get to the first rope and scaling it quickly. I was very surprised. I managed to scale the next inverted wall climb easily enough and maintain a little lead for a while. Coming to the weaver, an obstacle I had never done before, it was tight again, with 3 of us bunched together, including Connor McGourt, so I urged Connor to take on the obstacle first so I could see how it was done. I was trying to learn it fast right behind him. Apart from a near slip, I managed to figure it out quickly and get moving. The rig with go kart tyres on chains was a tricky one. Connor and I were both crossing together, but I slipped and had to repeat the obstacle or face 5 mins on to time. Nailed it. The fog was so thick now, could hardly see 30 metres ahead, so I just focused on my running. My knee was starting to niggle, but energy good.
Flying over the monkey bars with ease and powering well up and down the dreaded slaloms, I felt I was in a groove and was really actually starting to enjoy the course. It was tough and it was taking everything I had to keep at the pace I was, but I was loving it. After a blast through some woods, I was then running around an odd marsh land, which felt like it went on forever. Mounds of uneven ground and moss. It was so hard, tricky to navigate but so genius. It was a case of you had to just keep moving and keep your knees high. Finally getting out of it felt like a relief. I could see the event and race circuit, which gave me a little hope that it was nearly over. But… Nope. Hitting more Slaloms, but with embankment scrambles, I was getting tired. Connor gave me a shout about my position, which gave me a good boost. It was now about hanging on. Then I reached the swim across the pond. An ice cold pit of water (which I found out first-hand the previous year from jumping in it twice on a cold water training day.) I didn’t hesitate and was told I was not to use the rope unless required. So swam away. I was fine to start… but then I could not feel my body. I was just moving hoping that it was doing what I wanted it to do. When I got out I literally thought that was me done… I stood for a second asked to be pointed in the right direction and started bumbling forward up the rocky slope. Literally just dropping down the other side to be faced by 3 monster truck tyre tall walls, and 3 of them. Climbing them was killing me, but it started getting the heat back to my hands and feet. Only to be faced with a water scramble under barbed wire just around the corner. Energy was fading fast. Then I heard a welcoming shout. My name was being shouted by my trusted M.K. Family! That got me moving again. Getting up the last hill scramble was taking everything I had, with Jim of my M.K. team telling me to move my arse, I tried to kick it. Alex was then close by just literally pointing me in the right direction as I was not even looking anymore. As I Hit the home straight the pipe band started, crowd cheered and I came over the line in 2nd place. A 2nd place that meant more to me than any first place I had accomplished thus far! I was so relieved, and so happy!
After crossing the line I started to cool down quickly. Luckily MacTuff had warm showers! It was the best trickle of water ever! It took a while to warm back up but got moving and there was plenty of vendors to get food and drink to get refuelled!
Then it was off to watch and encourage everyone else and see home others from my team, Philip, Ford, Vicki and my wonderful Wife Karen.
MacTuff was a great event. Yes I did well so that could cloud my judgement, but it was a great course and well organised. I had fun. Is there things that could be improved on, of course. More clear course direction at the start and water stations. My wife Karen mentioned congestion at a lot of the obstacles while she was on course, so that will be something I am sure that will tried to be remedied next year. Great race t-shirts and awesome finisher medals. Although a little nit-pick is there was no medal for coming second. I like to work hard for a good place in these races, and I don’t really care for prize money/vouchers or whatever, I’d rather have a medal or a trophy to look back on years down the line.
Anyway, glad that MacTuff improved upon their previous winter event and I will be there battling the elements again next year.
So MacTuff was a race I was focused on doing well in… My next race I just focused on surviving!
My Tough Month(part2: Tough Guy)