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.