Here is Part Two of my report on Tough Guy 2010 – Year of the Original Hero.
I’m number 6532. Not at all looking happy to be there.
I was thrilled when I hit the first major obstacle, the “Tiger”. To me it meant that I was at least halfway done with the course, and I was now doing the tasks that I had researched the most about. As monstrous a structure as the Tiger is, when you finally reach it, you just put your head down and climb up the thing like a slanted ladder. It’s not until you reach the top that you realize you are three or four flights of stairs up in the air, which was a little shocking, but then once you are over the top of the first of two A-Frame structures, your head is down once again and you are simply doing the same thing you did before but in reverse. I successfully navigated through the electrically charged dangly bits in between structures and scaled the second a-frame without incident.
The next hurdle was a set of three walls of increasing height called the Colditz Walls, and was the most deceptively problematic obstacle in the course, because by the time I reached it, the queue of people to get up was up to several dozen people, maybe more than a hundred people for all I knew. I came to a dead stop with everyone else and waited my turn to grab a rope and climb the first wall. once over the first wall, back to back people greeted me and more waiting was done. We were all quite wet by this point, and I knew that stopping while this cold and wet was not at all what anyone wanted to be doing. It gave time for muscles to stiffen up, but surprisingly, I didn’t get as cold as I expected to get, I think because the collective body temperatures in such a huddled space created some warmth. While waiting for my chance to climb the next two walls, I watched what I assumed to be the captain of a team of men, feeding each man part of a chocolate bar he had on him.
I don’t even want to know where he kept that thing before that point.
I also caught a whiff in the air of what I knew for a fact was whisky, and turned to see two men taking pulls from a silver flask one had brought. And I don’t care where they stowed that, I thought it was pretty genius.
A massive structure that was an absolute blast to navigate over, The Behemoth mostly consisted of climbing the structure and traversing across a series of ropes. I thought I had done quite well through this obstacle as I reached the end, then one of the Spartans who I had been keeping up with yelled something in a booming voice to the crowd and vaulted over the wooden exit that I was about to crawl under. At the time, it was really more amazing to watch than it was humbling, I promise.
This bit is easily the most impressive to see in photos, consisting of flaming bales of hay that, in theory, one would jump over in order to reach the watery ditch on the other side (there are two of these fire/water hurdles in sequence). As you can see by the photo, this makes for very dramatic imagery. The reality however, is that when one is a somewhat-less-than-elite-level athlete like myself, you get a lot of people standing around the fire before proceeding so they can warm their frozen extremities. I was a good sport though, jumping through the flames that some others were walking around. It seemed only right. I viewed this part of the course as a rite of passage for the race (and also secretly hoped an official race photographer would snap a photo for posterity). There is also a floating block of… maybe hay, that is meant as a temptation to people who want to avoid the water, you just have to be able to leap about six or seven feet to reach it, something I was not about to try. I did see someone make the leap, but there was no real way to get to the other side, it was a longer jump with much less space to get a running start, so that guy was getting wet for sure either way (this is where I make the “nyah nyah” face as I trudge through each long trench like the rest of the group). This obstacle butted up against the next one, the Tyre Crawl, which I came into with a specific plan for that actually went very well. Being a little thicker around, I was worried I would have a nightmare time shimmying through the small “tyre” pipe, but by starting on my back, I basically moved worm-like through, and made it to the other side really quickly.
I don’t remember Dead Leg Swamp particularly well, other than there was one point where I said out loud “This is why I wore combat boots” because there were muddy bits where the mud reached almost to my knees. If I had trainers on, they would have come off my feet for sure.
This was actually a little unsettling. I didn’t know how long the cement tunnels would be when I crawled into the almost pitch black opening. I still don’t, really. I know that after some shimmying, the four or so pipes dumped out to a middle area still underground where people got to choose new openings to new pipes to finish in. There was an air opening above our heads in this cave-like area where two young women, maybe military cadets, were cheering people on and apologizing for not having any more jelly babies to give out to tired racers. The last part of the tunnel is up a steeper incline with even less room to move, so it was a real slog using the toes and elbows to get to the end.
This structure was close to the start of the race, almost the highest point on the farm, and overlooked the entire race area. This was lost on me though, I was busy climbing over rope netting, then I chose to not traverse the pond using shaky looking ropes, rather, I climbed down the structure and went through the icy pond. There were two ways one could go on this netted structure, one was clearly the more tough route, but I was so worn out that I went with the crowd who were, for the most part, happy to go the easier way. I do sort of wish I had gone the tougher path. It looked more fun for sure. I also need to say that at this point, I am seeing people visibly trembling from the cold, with no ability to control it or stop it from happening. This worried me, because I actually felt pretty okay. My feet and legs were terrible, but my body felt like it was holding up well, but what I thought at the time was “Oh crap, does that mean I am PAST the “I feel cold” stage and am into hypothermia? Aren’t you supposed to stop feeling cold just before it gets really bad?” But I kept on going, not realizing I didn’t really know what cold felt like yet.
After just enough jogging to get the blood pumping again, we came to the Water Tunnel, something I had been dreading. After wading into neck deep water, you come to a series of three logs that are meant to be gone under in succession. The logs are held together with planks that also held photographers and volunteers, who were there specifically to cheer people on and encourage them to keep going, something they seemed very effective at doing.
The feeling of going neck deep in freezing water sort of surprised me. It instantly chilled me to the bone as I got further in, but I guess adrenaline kicked fully into gear, because I moved with complete urgency of purpose, swimming when I thought it would get me through faster. I found I was growling at some point, I am not sure when that started, but I felt angry at the water for being such a bastard, hurting me so. HOW DARE YOU, WATER. As if feeling guilty about doing the less tough version of the obstacle before, I opted not to go to the nearest part of the tunnel, but rather waded over to the farthest one. I was very concerned going in that there would be a queue of people waiting and freezing while people struggled to make it through, but when I got there there was just one older man who had gone under the first log but seemed to be struggling to find the willpower to get through the next two. I think I shouted something encouraging to him, and the volunteers were pressuring him to continue because I was coming in behind him. He gave this horrified look back at me before plunging in once again. I was not wasting time at this point, so I immediately grabbed the log and shot under and back up as fast as I could.
I don’t quite know how to describe the sensation of being fully submerged, even for part of a second, in freezing water. For one thing, it truly and utterly wakes your entire body up. I watched a video before the race where someone was midway through this obstacle and was apparently asked how he felt. His response was “I feel happy. Because I am alive.” This is actually fairly accurate, at least in retrospect. If I was angry with the water for being cold before, I was FURIOUS at it when I submerged, and even more furious at the poor trembling older guy who was trying to brave the last log as I started screaming “YOU CAN DO IT! GO GO GOOOOO!” which apparently was enough to send him into panic and finish. I continued the next two as fast as possible, getting slightly colder with each dip, and swam furiously to the other side of the pond. I remember seeing people on the other side who did not look wet, and I was very very angry with these people as I continued to growl at the water. Someone helped me out of the water, and I took a couple of steps, and realized I didn’t have any idea what was going on or where I was meant to be going. I felt like I had brought the pond up out of the water with me. I kept taking steps though, and fantastically, my three tech layers and hat started doing what they were there to do, taking any warmth I had left and keeping it from escaping. I had the sense throughout the race to know that stopping would be the end of me, so I took more steps, thinking to myself “Ok, you can walk, can you at least pretend to jog?” and then I was doing the weakest slow-motion jog ever, then “Ok you can fake jog, why not move a little faster?” and then I was jogging again. Some people were not as lucky, there were those silver emergency blankets on a few who warmed up by another fire that had been made, but I trudged past.
This is the end of part 2. Part 3 will be posted on Wednesday. To tide you over, I give you:
Click here if you are unable to see the video