I came, I saw, I am: Tough Guy

Mark Twain gets it. He said, “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, and nobody wants to read.”

I can apply this very apt quote to many things in my life, for example, I want to *have seen* certain classic horror movies, but I don’t want to watch them. This quote applies itself beautifully to another classic: Tough Guy, The Original. It is a race we want to *have done*, but the actual process of completing it? Not so much.

As is usual after a big event, it has taken me a few days to figure out how I felt about Tough Guy. It’s not the sort of race where, as soon as you cross the finish line, you declare, ‘That was SO fun’, like you might at Nuclear, for instance.

There are many words that come to mind when I think of the course; atmospheric, exhilarating, challenging, relentless, brutal. Fun doesn’t really feature in there until you’re at home, wrapped in a Slanket, and reminiscing about charging through the killing fields, throwing yourself over ‘The Tiger’ and hearing the spectators cheer for you as you manage a rope traverse without plunging into the lake below you.

It’s also taken me three days to decide whether it’s something I want to subject myself to again.

As I mentioned in my last, Night Nurse fuelled, and seemingly existential entry, the atmosphere at Tough Guy isn’t jubilant; rather reverent and tense. This remained the case on the morning of the race. Almost everyone was discussing the weather, which had gone from biting cold to almost balmy in the space of two hours, leaving neoprene devotees sweating into their suits, and frantically trying to rearrange layers.

I stuck with what I had, choosing to don my sleeveless shorty after any nervous toilet stops had been completed. I wasn’t going to take any chances with the cold winds that whip around the site on even the sunniest of days, and knew I wouldn’t be running fast enough to overheat.

The Course

Nerves aside, the start line was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my short racing life. In the first 500m of the race, the tentative, wobbly stampede had me smiling from ear to ear, whooping along with the thousands of others who had momentarily forgotten the mammoth task ahead of them. It was amazing. What was also amazing is that my team of Holly, Izzie, Jodi, Claire and myself managed to find each other as we turned into the Gurkha Grand National. Simple as this obstacle appears, it takes it out of all but the fiercest competitors.

Ambling through the first few twists and turns of the course was fairly uneventful – I focused mainly on trying to maintain a steady pace, knowing that I wasn’t pushing for a time or place, rather the privilege of simply living through the experience. Keeping moving was important, as nobody wanted to get cold, but equally, we didn’t want to be separated so early on in the race, so we bobbed to the sidelines to catch up with one another periodically. It was pretty obvious that Izzie was ready to make this race her bitch, and with Jodi injured, we did well to stick close.

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Photo By Jacky Hazleton, abject BEAUTY by us

Slaloms loomed, and whilst the first four or so weren’t that bad, I came to the crushing realisation that there were many more to come. Honestly, in the second lot of slaloms, I had a lot of vivid fantasies about skipping a couple of down-and-ups, as many people were doing. Alas, the need to complete every part of the course was thankfully greater than my desire to keep my legs intact, and I ploughed on, very slowly, taking care to catch people who were wearing flat-soled trainers as they skidded into and past me on the inclines. I take my hat off to anyone who managed to complete TG in road shoes – I bet you won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

Just as I thought I might die, I started doing maths in my head, calculating my progress in the slaloms, and giving myself out-loud pep talks. Sorry to everyone surrounding me at that point.

After what was effectively the World’s worst trail run, we trotted into my comfort zone – muddy trenches. Jumping in and out of water over muddy banks? This I can do. Helping, and in turn being helped by everyone around you? Absolute best part of the whole thing. For some reason I have started doing Serena Williams style grunts as I haul myself out of sticky situations, again, I feel the need to apologise to whoever was subjected to that.

Now starting to get into the swing of it, thoughts turned to the woods and to the killing fields. The somewhat innocuous obstacles of the Bear Woods aren’t really that difficult, but do start to sap you as you start to amble back towards the spectator areas. Stopping briefly for a cuddle from basically whoever would touch me, I romped away with Izzie, totally pumped for what I knew would be the highlight of the course; The Killing Fields.

I LOVE heights. I LOVE climbing up and jumping off stuff. I love doing stupid things, and I LOVE disengaging the worry section of my brain and just taking the plunge. This is why the behemoths don’t bother me. Izzie and I stormed through the section, she, ultimately much faster, seeing how far she could push herself, and me, basically just seeing if I could keep up with her. It passed in a blur, and had it not been for Rosanna’s photographs, I don’t think I’d really remember all of it!

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So pleased and grateful that Rosanna Kuit was there to capture me at my peak

The much-hyped lollipop heads came into view, but having already completely submerged myself for the want of a good photo and some good old fashioned peer pressure from James Appleton at the tyre tunnels, I wasn’t really very daunted by going underwater again. My ‘Don’t Think’ philosophy held, and Izzie and I slammed through them without a second thought. At this point, my life was lit up by the appearance of Laura Try and Matt Talbot on the side-lines, who gave me Haribo and compliments, a reason for being, etc.

Knowing that there wasn’t much to cover distance-wise, I felt pretty elated. But this was Tough Guy, so, I wasn’t surprised to see the course turn AWAY from the finish line, and cruelly wrench us from thoughts of toasty cuddles and hot chocolate. We soldiered through, but I was cruelly struck, for the first time, with cramp. This was rubbish. Not one for rolling around in pain, I just carried on with a tentative walk-run-limp thing. It only really made me want to cut my legs off when I was upside-down rope traversing, so I only really had to grit my teeth through that, and I was home and dry. I had pretty much had enough by this point, and after bumping into a bored looking Olivia Kuit, it seemed that I wasn’t alone. We had to get off this course now. I threw myself into the concrete tunnels, nearly losing a kneecap in the process, but not really caring that much.

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Another RK special – big up to the lady in the crowd that called me ‘Spider Man’ and forced me to ignore the crippling cramp in my calves.

The second event village passed without much ceremony; it was clear that despite the milder weather, some were starting to get slow and stupid in their movements and decisions, so there were a few hairy moments when people started to fall off things, stand on other people’s hands, and sit, uninvited, on my head. But the finish was in sight! With LT and MT at my side, quenching my parched little throat, I was feeling pretty fed up, and made sure Izzie got the position she deserved by forcing her to leave me and run as fast as her antelope legs would carry her.

The last obstacle is a punishing climb up a rubber-matted hill, evil bunting hangs overhead in the form of electrical wire. Grown men flapped and squeaked like seals as they were stung by the cables. But I had had quite enough of this for one day. I’d caught a glimpse of my wonderful friends Kim and Jamie. Kimmy also was my voluntary Dry-Robe mule, so I had quite a lot more motivation to get to her than usual, and ignoring the stinging cables and the ropes to help you up, I just hauled myself up the hill on my knees, staggered in a most undignified way to the finish, and flopped over the haybales into the arms of Christie and LT.

Feeling a bit daft and sleepy at this point, I graciously allowed them to undress me (and untangle my pants, because, I can’t be trusted to put them on myself without getting a whole beach towel stuck in them). Laura showed me her bumcheek parasite, Fred. It was a bonding experience. It was done. And after I stopped feeling sick, I was happy.

The Verdict

Tough Guy, The Original is the ultimate in pushing yourself to any fear-based limits. Whilst I’m not afraid of heights, open water, or dirt, it still managed to push my buttons and make me feel weedy in the face of hill sprints, so it has given me something to work through. Seems my biggest fear is inadequacy. My one criticism of the course is one that I’m sure the organisers are aware of, and that is that some of the obstacles are starting to rot, with one part having to be closed mid race because the structure was bowing. This proves that they are very hot on mid-race safety, but it’s only a matter of time before these obstacles really start showing their age, and they’re in need of some TLC. That aside, this race really is something else. It’s a bizarre parallel universe in which joy and despair are barely separate from one another, and after all my pondering, I know that I’ll end up back on that godforsaken start line next year.

The Kit

Perhaps overkill given the milder weather, but I was not overly hot nor cold. The water provided some relief, but didn’t kill me because of the neoprene. The only question is whether I should go with this combo for NUTS or just opt for a neoprene rash vest.

  • Tribord 2mm Neoprene socks plus Nike Anti-Blister socks
  • Salomon Fellraisers
  • Sub sports cold gear leggings
  • Inov-8 merino baselayer and nike hyperwarm long sleeve layer
  • Gul 3.2mm sleeveless shorty (a bit restrictive on the chest, but very easy to run in, and didn’t shift uncomfortably)
  • O’Neill FLX neoprene gloves
  • O’Neill neoprene beanie and a couple of wrags
  • Mudstacle vest
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