Here is Part Three of my report on Tough Guy 2010 – Year of the Original Hero.
Below is a video taken by a crazy racer who strapped a camera to his head. It covers pretty much what I cover in parts 2 and 3, and by the look of the state of the track, it looks like he was among the earlier group of finishers. I think anyone considering doing the race HAS to see this video. If you can’t see the video, click here.
I barely remember going up this thing, but I remember coming down the amazingly long blue and green net that is placed up high on the other side, and was happy to climb a little extra to reach it, because it meant I was able to avoid the pond below entirely. I was in no shape at that point to get wet again. When I stepped off of the netting onto dry land, I was extremely proud of myself, happily jogging back around the pond towards whatever the next hurdle was they wanted to throw at me. The race organizers are sneaky bastards though, because you don’t see what the next one is right away, so I was not at all prepared mentally when I came up to…
The Death Plunge
This thing really just snuck up on me. I rounded the corner of the pond and there it was. There are a series of planks of varying widths and lengths along this structure, all of which are meant to be jumped into the next pond. It’s maybe an eight foot drop into five feet of water. I was thankful there was a queue of people already lined up, as it gave me a moment or two to consider what I was about to do and decide which plank I ought to try. People were struggling with their balance on all of them (I saw one guy fall into the water halfway across), but I opted to go on a long, thin plank to give myself a few less feet that I would not have to swim once I was in the water.
While not the most gifted athlete by any means, I am happy to say I have a pretty great sense of balance, and still wasn’t trembling at this point. What that meant is that I was across that beam WAY faster than I expected to be, and had to decide on my entry. I had bragged endlessly to people before the race that I was going to cannonball into the water, but the reality is that once you are in that position, the notion of showing off is far, far less of a priority. Still, I hoped that a photographer would catch me pointing up in the air with both hands before I jumped weakly into the water. What the photographer actually caught though, was this:
Ah well. So much for hoping. When my head emerged from the water, I immediately went back to the whole growling at the water thing I had been doing before, while swimming as fast as possible towards the other side. I saw people taking a footbridge around this obstacle and recall wanting to throw them into the water and wring their necks. Once I could set foot on what was waist-deep water, I heard one guy yell out “My bollocks!” Yeah, no kidding buddy. At least you can feel yours. A volunteer we passed at this point shouted to us “Ten minutes, and those medals will be around your necks!”
Holy crap, that made me move.
On the way to Dragon Pool, I passed under a structure that no one else was going over. On looking at the map, this looks like Dan’s Deceiver and in retrospect, I probably should have gone over it despite everyone else skipping it. You should note in this video, even this guy who was much closer to the front of the race, skips it as well, as does everyone his camera picks up, so I don’t know if we were meant to skip it or not. Either way, I feel a bit guilty. As I made my way up this structure, I overheard a walkie talkie go off, the voice on the other side saying “We have a water situation. In twenty minutes, we will not have any water left.” which amused me only because I knew I had less than twenty minutes to go before I would be finished. The Dragon Pool is a nice sized pond with the longest ropes of the race draped across for us to use in the crossing. I had a feeling this one would be a nightmare, as the ropes are loose, and make for extreme movements back and forth, as if the rope had a mind of it’s own, trying to shake you off of it. No one looked like they had an easy time of it, but some were troopers and trudged along slowly, looking like they would make it. I went straight to a far rope where there were the fewest people trying to make it across, and actually made it a little more than halfway before enough people came up behind me that I was being thrown left and right like crazy. Rather than sap what I had left for upper body strength, I decided to drop into the pond and use the bottom rope to pull myself quickly the rest of the way. Apparently I was on to something, because I saw at least two people drop in after me and do the same thing. Others I had seen before this had dropped in and just walked across, it made no sense to me not to use what was on hand to help move me along.
After navigating Somme Surprise, a pool with a zig-zaggy path of beams to navigate over (which I did with no problems, thank you great balance o’ mine), I arrived at the obstacle I was looking forward to the least. Stalag Escape is small, just three small trenches filled with water, with a net of barbed wire overhead you are meant to crawl under commando-style. I had not given this part of the race any thought until I saw it the day before at registration, where I saw almost a foot of water covered in at least two inches of ice, which made me deathly afraid of the potential pain I might be in for in this stage of the race. Maybe it was the fact that I knew I was near the end, but more likely it was because more than two thousand people had warmed that water up by the time I got there, but I trudged through Stalag Escape like a rock star. There was no more ice, and the water didn’t feel that cold. When I stood up, I felt invincible. You could feel that everyone was aware the end was coming.
This is another part of the race that is probably more hazardous for the more elite level athletes. I navigated this tire littered part of the race safely, if a bit slowly, the end within reach.
This is a series of cement pipes draped across the trail that were maybe four feet tall that one needed to get over to continue. I wish I had video of me doing this one, because it would have been hilarious to see a heavier set guy basically jump chest and stomach first onto each one of these, followed by throwing my legs over to one side and sliding off on the other side. I was really just going for results and not form on this one.
The final stretch is an uphill jog, another pool to wade through and then grabbing a rope to ascend a steep hill located near the start of the race. Once you are at the top, you slide back down the other side (I nearly took out some poor girl who had gone ahead of me) and proceed the last thirty meters or so to the finish. I finished at a good run with a time of 3:29 (three and a half hours) which is not that impressive, but actually faster than I expected. There were many cadets at the finish armed with space blankets and medals. There were yellow and red straps for the medals, and not knowing if there was a difference, I headed to a guy holding a red one (It seemed tougher than yellow to my addled brain). FINISHED!
I then headed into the chaos that was the Horse Showers, a large barn where everyone had placed their belongings on pegs, and at the end of the race, also had volunteers giving out coffee, tea and hot chocolate with biscuits (cookies, for American readers). There was also a series of warmish showers on constantly. After pounding a coffee and a cookie, I waded under a showerhead to get come of the mud off of me. The water was up to my ankles, there were space blankets and coffee cups strewn everywhere, and there were people in various stages of disrobe throughout. It would have been a little revolting if I wasn’t dealing with the simultaneous feelings of elation at having finished, coupled with the cold finally creeping into my bones and making me tremble. I wasn’t the worst off in that regard though. I had seen several people who simply couldn’t hold their hot drinks steadily, seemingly unaware of the fact that the drink was spilling all over their hands. One guy actually poured the drink all over his hands on purpose, which I felt was a horrible waste of good tea.
There is more to this story, like the fact that my jacket fell in the mud and I forgot to bring dry pants so I basically looked like a homeless person as I rode the train back to my hostel in Birmingham, but this is pretty much the important bits of the race. I thought for such a large event, it was extremely well organized, the volunteers there worked their tales off, there was not a rude person in the bunch that I ran into, everyone was extremely supportive and cheered us on just when we (or at least when I) needed to hear it most.
My gear did it’s job amazingly well, though my boots essentially fell apart between the end of the race and my return home. The tech layers kept the heat in, and the hat wasn’t to hot when I was heated, and kept my head warm when I was cold. If I had to do it over I would probably do the exact same thing.
As far as recovery, I found that my body was basically fine three days later. I never ran hard enough to really do damage to any joints (though I wailed my right knee on a rock while wading through some water), and I would say for sure that the ten miles I ran took alot more out of me physically than Tough Guy. Mentally however, it wasn’t even close. Putting one foot in front of the other is alot harder than you would think when your legs feel dead and you feel completely wiped out. I feel humbled and fortunate to have taken part in this race, and proud I finished it at all, let alone faster than I had expected to. I don’t know if I will do Tough Guy again, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I probably will.