| 2014 | 02 | 07 | Tough Guy |

I don't really know where to begin. This is going to be a shamefully long post because I don't think you can do Tough Guy justice without.

Ross and I have a very strict rule about attitude. You have to stay positive. We would hate each other by the end of a course otherwise. In between random conversations and high fiving other competitors, we usually manage to stay quite cheerful and high spirited. Tough Guy challenged that. 

I put my body through complete and utter hell. Dubbed as the most difficult race ever, Tough Guy really lived up to it's name. Yes, a lot of the build up is just hype but that Sunday was honestly my mentally toughest experience. 

My fitness
Since Men's Health I have definitely upped my game. Consistent training since July has left me with a fairly decent level of fitness, but I could have done with more speed. 10 miles is a long way to be dawdling.
Over christmas I hit the gym hard, with 3 hour sessions 3 times a week and runs outside in between. On top of essays and socializing I was wiped out (slightly relieved to head back to uni) but stronger than I've ever been.

This race isn't for the faint hearted.

The day before
I got the train to York from which my mum would drive us to Wolverhampton. We'd made the smart decision to stay the night in a hotel and get me completely carbed up. I was beyond nervous but forced every scrap of food into my tummy that I could. The best bit of the whole experience ;). 

The day itself
Woke up at 6.30. Stretched. Had one protein shake and 2 pints of water.

Dressed, packed bags (that was stressful working out what I'd need) before heading down for the hotel breakfast.

I had:
- 1 bowl of granola with a good helping of berry compote and fruit
- 2 slices of toast with honey and marmite
- a full english 
- some chocolate
- 3 cups of tea and some apple juice

We left at around 9 and drove the short distance to race location. Already it was tipping it down, the rain being driven by a gusty wind.
Stepping out of the car we sank into horrible mud and it really hit me what I was going to do. Tough Guy isn't dubbed the most difficult race for no reason.
Plus, we had a weeks worth of heavy rain to contend with. The ground was nowhere near dry or solid.

The race
There are so many subsections to this. Looking back, it was just one long blur of pain, cold and tears.

I challenge you to find someone else who didn't have a quiet sob to themselves.

To begin with is a 6 mile 'run' - the Country Miles - with an interspersion of obstacles.

The slalom
A succession of hill climbs; hills too steep to run up and too slippery to run down. There are at least 15, but you start to lose track of both time and space - single minded intent on completing each ascent and descent. The ground was so slick by the time we got there it was more a case of climbing human chains and falling over one another on the way down.

After this you 'ran' for a bit (slid, squelched, slipped and fell) before getting into what I can only describe as a swollen stream, which we were moving into. The body shocking, cold, cold water. We were never dry for long after this point. Despite the relative mildness of this January the driving wind drew out any sense of warmth. Cargo nets, wall climbs and crawls featured for the next few kilometers.

Me: Ross - how much fun are we having?
Ross: All the fun.

The river
This was a twisted version of a water obstacle if ever I saw one. A different body of water to the other one, and much deeper. The river was fenced off into sections meaning every time you clambered in, waded across and hauled yourself out - you had to do it again. I cannot emphasize the mental strength required here to get back in and do it again. 20 times. There were no handholds, the bank was slick from the hundreds of other bodies who had done it before  me and once you were in the cold sapped your strength. Relentless.
Ross and I quickly teamed up with three other men and we took it in turns to give leg ups or pull the others out. It was safety in numbers.

It was then another mile of running, climbing, slipping, crawling, and cold water.

The wade 
Marking the beginning of the killing fields, this is often described as one of the first 'knock out' obstacles. It sounds easy - a 150m chest high wade out, a turn and then a wade  back.

It is not easy. Sure, when you first jump in it doesn't seem so bad. Your legs still function and you have all that warmth from the running. 10m in you realise it's all down to you. Every person who completed this had to do it through mental toughness alone. Melodramatic, maybe, but I challenge you to force yourself to do it.
The walk out is hard, but turning around and seeing how far back you have to go is worse. The shorter members of the pack were really struggling and we saw one man being pulled out by officials.
I turned to Ross, his infectious grin slipping from his face, and starting belting out the first song in my head (Gold dust - DJ Fresh, in case you wondered). He joined in, and it visibly lifted the competitors around us. No problem guys.

Numb legs didn't help with the next obstacles. Not at all.
The hurdles became near impossible, and it was here that I crashed my right knee into the wood sending pain through my leg. That slowed me down a tad.

There were two massive A-frames that followed, with your first taste of the electric shocks that send fear through aged competitors. I'll admit, they sting.

The fun bit - the Killing Zone

Running round the corner into your support team is probably one of the best feelings in the world. They gave us such a boost (and some wine gums).

Honestly, this was the last time either I or Ross properly smiled that day.

Those walls don't look too bad, but we probably clambered over 100 of them in total. There's no grip either.

Crawling through tyres with no feeling in your legs or hands is near impossible.

By this point, mud and water just doesn't clock on the radar. What does, however, is sinking up to your knees in boggy sludge and having to haul yourself along.

You had to climb. If I had just woken up this would have been easy, but lifting any limb higher than it wanted to be was difficult by this point. Ross was struggling more with the cold than I, his response changed to 'enough, Sophie, we are having enough'.

The rope was hard. Dead arms and numb hands led to people falling off and hurting themselves. Thankfully Ross and I made it across and down the other side. After this was more water, crawling and climbing. Never ending I'm afraid.

The torture chamber
I had been dreading this.

A dark, underground space no more than 3 foot in height, requiring you to crawl from one side to the other whilst being electrocuted and then squeezing yourself into a tunnel with no sign of light at the other end. You could hear grown men screaming and shouting. terrifying in the pitch black.

I got shocked three times. That's quite impressive, but it hurts. It really hurts your already tired and cold body and completely takes away any shred of mental push you had. The mud was thick and in your face, the tentacles felt like people were grabbing at your feet and you couldn't see a thing.
When Ross and I got to the tunnel I was ready to throw in the towel. He convinced me to follow him and talked  me through the whole time. I'm not massive, but even so  there wasn't much room at all (remember the nightmares I'd been having). The panic did set in about halfway through, my head was scraping the top and the progress was painfully slow.

we were beyond exhausted

We'd forgotten about this
I know I sound very melodramatic - but the course is designed to test every ounce of your will.
They exhaust you on the run, get you cold and wet before pushing you around an assault course that would test you on a good day.

And then they go too far.

I'd read about this bit. I'd practiced getting cold, I'd practiced mentally staying calm, but nothing could prepare me for the reality.

You  have to slide into a smallish lake up to your shoulders. You have to wade quite far out before ducking under a succession of planks laying across the water. Full submersion. I managed the first one fine, and we began wading towards the other 4.

I was fine, honestly. And then I lost my footing. I couldn't see Ross and I couldn't focus. I have never been that cold or scared before and had a full blown panic attack. I know it sounds truly pathetic, but I couldn't do anything but scream I wanted out. A lovely official grabbed me - pulling me onto safe ground. Then I started sobbing. That kind of cold does that to you.

Ross managed all of the dunks. But when I was re-united with him one thing was clear. We were  both in a bad way, and getting worse. He had thrown his gloves in the water during a spate of delirium and I was still in shock. Looking at the men and women hauling themselves along - we weren't the only ones. The pace of the pack dropped significantly here.

After that ordeal, it stopped being fun. I'm going to  be honest, we both considered stepping over the barriers and calling it a day. Because he'd been in the water a lot longer than me, Ross was cold, and it was affecting his everything. He'd lost coordination, wasn't talking much and had a vicious shiver.

I ventured the question 'how much fun are we having' but was just met with a long hard stare. That's when you know Ross is cold. He never looks even remotely cross.

I can't really remember the last bit of the race. All I know is that every step was hard and my body hated me. We climbed, crawled, jogged, and jumped. Then did it again.

There was barbed wire, more electric tentacles and a never ending series of logs and nets.

Then we could see it. The finish line. The beautiful place where they had our medals and hot chocolate. My legs hurt, my chest hurt, I couldn't breathe or see properly and my feet felt a million miles away. I think I punched Ross's shoulder and he flashed me a brief, but definitely there smile -  knowing we were 100m away from the end of it all was euphoric.

Problem was it was up a hill. Following another wade. I couldn't really feel the water at this point, and everyone was moving at a snails pace anyway.

Walking up to where our proud parents waited was one of the most surreal experiences. They were all close to tears. I had no energy left to cry.

We had done it.

If you wanted a photo that summed up how we felt, look no further. Exhausted.

Post race we weren't 'released' until our hands were cleaned and we'd had a large hot chocolate. To  be quite honest, we were in much better condition than a lot of others. Most were receiving medical attention and utterly unable to stand.

You leave your dignity at the door when you agree to compete in a race where hypothermia is pretty much guaranteed. Because we'd stopped moving, Ross and I started to deteriorate pretty quickly and that was slightly alarming. Our mums rushed to pull off the layers and layers of lycra, fighting with mud and non-responsive limbs. We didn't care that we were both being stripped to our underwear in a room filled with hundreds of people - just that the cold was in our bones and we needed to get warm.

I passed out in the car on the way home.

What we learnt.
What didn't we?

I think to start with I'm going to say 3503 people entered this years Tough Guy. 3003 turned up and 2228 finished. 775 people DNF. Now, that's a stat. 1 in every 4 that pulled out.

The course is doable, but only just. We had a slow enough time that I shan't bore you with it - but we still have the medals hanging round our necks. We are tough guys.

Cold. I have never realised how dangerous being that cold could be. Until you've been neck deep multiple times in freezing lake water, don't say otherwise.

There's a place in your brain that you hide when you  hurt. I've now been there. It's quiet, calm but a long way away from consciousness. I don't plan on going back for a while.

Having a good level of fitness was important, but as was preparation, food and a small dose of determination. The hardest aspect of Tough Guy - they don't stop - you complete one hurdle and they throw five more at you.

I'm not even going to pretend this is the end. 4 days later, we got our entries in for Tough Mudder and Rat Race Dirty Weekend. Maybe see you there?