Tough Guy: I finally get it

It’s midnight, and I’ve just taken some Night Nurse. This could be nonsense or it could be utterly profound, but most likely it will sit somewhere in the middle.

I’ve been fighting off the beginnings of some kind of Evil Virus (possibly just a cold) this week, and it’s come at a time where I really didn’t need it. Alas, it is here and I have to just cope with it because neither hell nor high water (and there’ll be a lot of that) will stop me from running Tough Guy the Original tomorrow.

If I’m honest, I’m not really sure that I had fully gotten the point of Tough Guy until about three hours ago, sitting in a hotel restaurant with some lovely people that I had only just met this evening, plus another pal or two. We ate, had a laugh and shot the shit about all things OCR, naturally touching on the subject of Tough Guy, and what the race means to people.

I’ve never run a Winter Tough Guy. I always felt as though I could never comment on it, because, ‘You weren’t there man’. I’ve run April Tough Guy, and it was a hard slog for a 10.5k race, but I don’t doubt that WTG is a different ball game. I do know from April that the course just keeps coming at you, and when you think you’re on the home straight, it twists, turns and throws something else in your path. I had another taste of it at Mudnificent 7, where it proved to be the only race that really transformed the festive atmosphere into a dark and twisted battleground. But still, it was still just another course, albeit a well-established mixture of athletic challenge and theatre.

Full submersion required, in every sense.

Full submersion required, in every sense.

What I didn’t appreciate until now is just how important this race is to the people that organise it, run it, and to the sport as a whole. It’s an institution, and one I couldn’t quite get my head around until I read this article by my friend, Fran. It is a brilliant article. I edit and proof on OCR Europe, and I have to say that when a 5 page document landed in my inbox, I thought I’d be in for a deep trudge through some words, but in actual fact, it was a damn good story. Passion seeped out between the lines, and I began to get the feeling that Tough Guy was more than just a race, an event or a cross on the calendar. People really feel things about this run. At the risk of sounding utterly stupid, (and I take this risk a lot), Tough Guy is a pilgrimage. Why you’re on that pilgrimage is your own business, and everyone faces different demons along the course, be they mental, physical or emotional, but everyone has some kind of cross to bear. (And some literally carry them).

A course steeped in that much history will have a certain atmosphere to it, but when I went up to the farm to register today, the atmosphere wasn’t electric, as one might expect. It wasn’t buzzing with excitement, or screaming some sort of war chant. In fact, the atmosphere was much like I’d imagine it to be if we were tiptoeing around a sleeping dragon.

Tomorrow, it will awaken, but today, we treat it with the respect it deserves. We conserve our energy, we think about what it means to us, and we prepare mentally and physically to do battle with it. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the brink and back.

I’ve no idea how I will fare tomorrow, but my head is now well and truly in the game. I’m not going for a place, a time, a podium or a pace – I’m going for an experience and aiming for survival. I want to be tested, and I want to succeed. Up until now, I hadn’t realised just how much I want to hit this milestone.

And as I drove to my hotel through the sleepy town centre, I looked around at the people stumbling out of clubs, and meandering home, and I thought to myself that these people have no idea what is going to be achieved here tomorrow. This town, right now, is the epicentre of something quite astonishing, and people are going to be made and broken (and hopefully, put back together again) just a few miles from where we are.

Now, in the comfort of my hotel room, having laid out my clothes ready for tomorrow, I have felt my nervousness melt away into pure excitement, and for the first time in a while, I can’t stop smiling.

Because now, I am part of something.

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