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

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