Here is Part One of my report on Tough Guy 2010 – Year of the Original Hero.
I remembered to carb-load the night before. Orange juice doesn’t go with anything non-breakfast-y FYI
“the only people doing this thing are athletes and nut jobs…” this guy Jurgen from Holland said to me as we sat down to eat lunch on the field the day before the race. “…and I’m not an athlete.”
Yeah, me either. I will say this, however, I was not fully committed to my nut job title the way some were on race day. I saw several Supermans, two Batmans, two Spider-Mans, a couple of nuns, a team of Spartans (who I hung with through most of the race.) I would imagine there would be a shot or two of me running alongside some crazy leather clad Spartans, I will post whatever I can find as soon as the official photos come out.
And then there was the mankini guy.
Several people had worn the mankini in previous races, but most agreed this year was much colder than previous years. Still, the guy walked right up into my personal space as we queued up in our starting gates. I was in the last group to leave, being designated a “late bugger” but in this last group there were also “ghoons” and “dickheads”. Fittingly I think, he was in the dickheads group. I don’t know if he finished the race or not, but I sort of hope he did. As a group mind, we were all in agreement that he was the craziest of the bunch, especially considering we stood waiting for the start for well over twenty minutes, long enough to have the cold hit most people’s feet.
I had forgotten about the “gallows” that I had read about months earlier. If you are caught in a starting group you are not supposed to be in, they take you to the top of the hill where the starters are, and put you in these gallow-like contraptions where you would be loudly shamed by the group. I saw drinks thrown in faces and on heads, pink feathers tossed and stuck to them with what looked like honey. After 5-10 minutes they would be let out, I don’t know if they were allowed to run the race or not. It was a nice distraction while we all tried to keep warm before the start.
The race begins:
The crowd begins to get more excited, and I knew something was about to happen. After several fireworks are set off, something very loud explodes (I found out later they have a starting cannon they shoot off that you can’t see from the back) and the first group heads out, cheering like mad. And faster than we realize, we are off as well.
They get you wet and muddy early and often.
I had this naive notion that the first four miles of the course would be a challenging countryside run on uneven ground. What I didn’t realize was that the organizers do not consider jumping in and out of water filled ditches an “obstacle”. I don’t recall seeing these on any of the maps! One quarter mile in, I start hearing laments and screaming, and look up to find the first ditch approaching way, way too fast. And then suddenly, you’re just in there, in an icy cold, water-filled ditch, scrambling to find an easy enough spot to climb out, maybe there is a rope, maybe not, and people are pushing your butt or legs up to help you. And then once you get up, you turn to the person behind you and offer them a hand, because that’s what the last guy did for you.
After about a half dozen of these, I was soaked well past my waist, but didn’t feel the effects of it until I ran a half mile with no ditches. From this point on, my legs felt like the waterlogged legs of say, one of Jim Henson’s muppets (which are useless even when not waterlogged), and my feet felt like I was klomping around in lumps of ice. Then we hit the slaloms.
These are nightmares for anyone who has done them before. Many claim it’s the worst part of the race. As a rookie, here’s my take:
There were eight total slaloms. A single slalom is one sharp uphill climb followed by an equally steep downhill. By the time I got there, there had been hundreds (likely thousands) of people who had already degraded the terrain, so when it came time to go down a hill, it was so slippery that everyone would slide down the first part on their rear ends until the terrain allowed us to stand up. Each hill required a longer slide than the one before.
By the second one, I was thinking “Hey, this isn’t SO bad.”
By the fourth, I was done. Had it. Finito.
By the sixth, I was convinced everyone was lying, that once we had finished these, there would be eight more when we rounded the corner at the end. I don’t even remember the last two, other than knowing I nearly twisted my ankle badly on the way down one of them. A guy behind me laughed quite a bit at my near-calamity.
Eventually it does end, and it’s more running, onto what is called the “Ghurka Grand National” which is a series of tight nets maybe three feet off the ground that you must go under, where your head is constantly butting up or very near to the butts of your fellow racers as you get as low as you can to avoid being tangled in the net. After that, more jogging until you hit hay rolls that must be vaulted over, as well as more water-filled ditches timed ever so perfectly to make sure that as soon as you can feel your feet, you are robbed of them once again.
Once you feel as though you know the rhythm, you hit the “New Jungle Obstacle” which amounts to one long ditch (naturally, with water that gets deeper as you go) that has many fences breaking the ditch into smaller sections. This was madness and chaos, similar to the earlier ditches with the pushing and pulling of people, only without the pesky running between each ditch. It was literally jump in, push someone up if they were in front of you, try to climb out before someone had to push you, haul someone behind you up, walk three steps, repeat. The water got deeper as you went, and it was just a crazy mess from top to bottom. Here is video of the early leaders actually blazing the path on this obstacle. It’s insane to watch, because they had to break through an inch of ice on each jump. I saw photos of these guys at the finish with their shins cut to ribbons.
Click here if you are unable to see the video.
At this point I am about halfway through the course, and feeling frazzled but still fairly strong.
This is the end of part one of my race report. Part two will be coming shortly.
I don’t know what these sad-sacks are looking so sad for. I was screaming at the water by this point for daring to hurt me so badly.