Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tough Guy in Review

On a frigid, flurrying January day, I was being a supportive girlfriend, which also meant I got to play at being an events photographer, and following my boyfriend and his friend as they slogged through Tough Guy, an epic obstacle course race near Wolverhampton, England.  The ground was quite muddy, but I got to wear boots and a coat and hat and gloves and stay out of the water, so I was enjoying myself as I took photos of the guys.  They, however, were sopping wet and muddy climbing through trenches and tunnels and over rope obstacles and steep hills and fences and logs for about three hours.  And by the time they finished, just barely outside the throes of hypothermia, I had for some reason decided that I wanted to do this too.  What fun!

Tough Guy is the granddaddy of obstacle course races.  It's been taking place for almost two decades, long before the current rage of obstacle racing.  There are two main events: Tough Guy, which takes place in January, and Nettle Warrior, which is essentially the same course but happens in July instead.  Warmer, but nettle-ier.  In my opinion, Tough Guy obstacles are quite a bit more daunting than those encountered in Tough Mudder and Spartan Race and the like, because they are permanent fixtures.  The charity that coordinates the race owns the property upon which it is run, so the obstacles do not have to be put up in just a couple days for a single weekend's racing and then removed again.  This allows them to build some scary stuff!  I still have a vivid memory of being halfway up one of the rope ladders (so approximately 20 feet or so up in the air) when my arms gave out.  For a couple panicked minutes, I had to hang there, suspended in mid-air, looping my arms through the ladder so I wouldn't fall off, until I could cobble together enough strength to finish the climb to the top.  (Of course then I had to come down the other side ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

I obviously missed my chance to participate in Tough Guy (January), but my boyfriend was crazy enough to want another go at the course, so we rallied a few friends and returned for Nettle Warrior (July)!  It was a very chilly summer day, unfortunately, but we survived all the water obstacles.  We ran up steep hills, and then back down them, and up again, repeatedly.  We climbed through mud trenches, hurdled logs and fences, scaled 40-foot rope obstacles, shimmied along single ropes slung over pits of muddy water, jumped off planks, paddled make-shift rafts with impromptu teams of fellow racers, toted logs, and belly-crawled through dark, damp tunnels and nose-deep mud under barbed wire.  It took about three hours to finally cross the finish, and I was so very proud of myself for what I had just survived and accomplished.  I was bruised, cut, muddy, and welted from the stinging nettles.  I was utterly exhausted.  I had never done anything like that race in my entire life, at least up until that time .... I've a few more under my belt at this point.  But Tough Guy set the standard so high that no other race has been able to beat, let alone match, that initial experience.  I found it to be the most challenging obstacle race I have ever done.  Correspondingly, it was also the most satisfactory finish!  :D

Favorite Runs: Newmarket

I love England.  Especially my one-time home in the gorgeous town of Newmarket.  It's a fairly small place, halfway between two much more "happening" towns (Bury St Edmund's and Cambridge), but it's a place where the equine population probably equals or possibly outnumbers the human population.  Therefore, it's my kind of town.  In all seriousness, I chose to live there because of the horses.  A traffic jam meant I got to ogle for a few minutes while dozens of sleek, muscled, spirited horses pranced across the road in front of my car.  Every sidewalk intended for people is paralleled by a horse walk for the Thoroughbreds.  I woke up every morning to the clip-clop of hooves as the strings of Thoroughbreds passed my house on their way to the various training fields that ring the town.

Those training courses also offer fantastic running opportunities!  Miles and miles of sand and dirt and grass tracks on all sides of Newmarket.  Hills and flats, open fields and shortcuts through stands of windbreak trees, huge training establishments and small farms, mares and foals curiously watching from their pastures ... it was heaven!  I can see the hedgerows in my mind as I type this, and I wish I had some photos I could post.  If you're lucky enough to live in the area, or just to travel through, take a break and go for a run with the horses!  (Well not actually with them, no people on the horse courses during morning workouts .... but the afternoon is yours!)  There are endless opportunities for changing scenery and terrain to keep you entertained while you log some serious mileage.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Roatan Paradise

When it's been snowing on and off for five months and the temperature has not been above 40 F in that same period, it is time for a vacation to remember what it feels like to be WARM.  So take that, Winter ... I escaped to Roatan, Honduras!

I had never heard of this beautiful little island until a friend's aunt relocated there for the winter and invited us to visit.  We didn't even think about that offer ... immediate YES!  Plane tickets first, planning later.

Roatan is amazing.  I know that one big reason it was a fantastic trip was because we had "local" guides who already knew their way around, so we didn't suffer through the usual bumbling trial and error of trying to scope out the lay of the land and figure out the good places to eat and hang out and snorkel and all of that.  Not only has my friend's aunt already been there for a month or so, but she has met an amazing group of expats who have lived there for a year or more, so we were in good hands!