Tough Guy winter 2007, year of the oirish toiger: beyond pain, beyond glory. (UPDATE: short video now available)
Are you a tough guy?
The morning of the race I woke up around 7.30am for a last decent breakfast and ready to walk to warm up.
I walked with my bag for around an hour before getting to the place. The distance didn't seem so big the day before, when Andrew drove me.
I met with my team, the "Aye Up Jeff"'s people, in the camping area and in the parking zone. It was full of Germans by the way, and a detachment of the German army was taking part as well. You know you're going to have fun in a race where Deutsch people take part!
Everyone was there, ready for the competition: Gemma, Erik, Jeff, Julian, Andy, Ian, Oli, Rebecca, Matt and Jill.
Someone weeks ago had the brilliant idea of buying some flowery swimming hats for multiple purposes: quickly recognized members of the team and keep our heads warm in the cold water. I don't care how gay those flowery hats looked; they probably helped me in my performance more than anything else!
The race had a late start (around 11.00), with groups divided by the experience/money paid (a lot goes to charity, more money paid means you'll start in the front squad team). So we started around 15-20 minutes after the top group.
As soon as the race started, the feeling was similar to the start of every marathon I've run in my life: smiles, jokes, a lot of happy shouting shared by the runners. I knew that anyway soon everything would turn into the sweet silence (with some swearing) of pain.
After maybe 8 miles of off track running, I lost contact with my group.
You see, there are two different ways of facing this monster: you're either take it easy and just finish (but prolong the pain by queuing, wet, cold and miserable, to cross the obstacles) or you decide it for the "fuck it" way.
Since I'm too much of a competitor, I decided to face the Tough Guy the professional way: run to win it. You may never know how many people could die in front of you.
I realized that my chance of winning were quite low since our group started behind maybe 2000 people. But I didn't care, I wanted to do it as quickly as possible, so I started accelerating in the country miles .
Then, it was time to face the killing fields, and their obstacles.
Some of them were quite easy. Climbing the rope structures wasn't that difficult, as long as you didn't have to queue behind 400 people and freeze your ass while waiting.
I was expecting the tyre crawl , the barbwire crossing (Stalag Escape) and the Vietcong tunnels to be longer, but their length was enough to leave scratches all over my legs. I didn't realize the amount of cuts on knees and shins until 3 days later!
The most difficult obstacles were definitely all those with some water in it. It was just a surprise to land in muddy, frozen water that would leave you with a numb sensation, especially in the crotch area. Like in the Dragon Pools
I'm sure many penises shrunk so much that they needed special treatment after the end of the race!
The harder combination was probably at mid-race: colditz walls (to climb with a rope and jump on the other side), followed by the behemoth , a tricky rope structure, and by firey holes , a combination of hay on fire followed by pool of hay and mud, similar to quicksand and quite deep.
I had trouble walking out of it and I heard scary stories of people who never did.
Another killer obstacles were the underwater tunnels , where you had to pass under a wooden bridge, with your head completely covered by the icy water. I've seen pictures of people getting pulled off the structure half dead.
But my special mention goes to the plank, the new obstacle introduced in this edition: a quick climb followed by a walk on plank and a dive in the freezing water, 5 meters below.
I've done it so quickly because all I wanted was to end the race in a good position, but next to me, on the other planks, people just stopped, scared of the impact.
After some more obstacles (you can read about it on the official website), and 2 hours and 13 minutes, my race was over, and a dirty and huge medal was swinging around my neck.
Never in my life had a cup of hot chocolate tasted so good.
I think I probably drunk something like 10 cups before feeling finally full. Without any change of clothes (I left everything in a car) I waited for the rest of my team to arrive. They did, and only one dropped from the race, after a leg injury.
I was wondering how Gemma could complete the race with water holes and muddy quick sands deeper than 5'8".
I heard she almost drowned few times, but was quickly saved by Erik, who, by the way, arrived at the finish line still completely shell shocked.
All the smiles and the jokes were gone, hypothermia quickly kicked in for many participants and I think I've never seen so many miserable faces rocking front and back trying to understand what just happened.
The different layers of my clothing help me stay decently warm, but I need to thank Jeff & co for the essential help provided me afterwards.
With soups, warm packs and chocolate, I was saved from a quick shock to the system.
This was the final list of our team:
OLAF OLGIATI 2:13:10
JEFF FIDLER 2:59:53
JULIAN WOODWARD 3:05:02
ANDREW STRIPP 3:05:34
IAN DUGDALE 3:06:04
JILL DUGDALE 3:06:04
OLIVER SINCLAIR 3:33:33
REBECCA RACE 3:33:34
ERIK HAGEN 3:33:36
GEMMA HAGEN 3:33:39
MATT BOYCE DNF
After the race, we spent our last hours eating like pigs in a local pub, all still quite smelly and dirty. Fortunately many of the people eating in the same pub finished the race as well. I ate bacon, steak, my first pint of beer in 28 days and an awful cheesecake that made my miss the last bus.
I took the train and I was 3 hours later at home, with my medal still covered in mud (and manure).
I was smelly, my beard still had pieces of mud and frozen saliva, but yet I managed to smile all my way back to London.
I ran the Tough Guy, and I survived. I'm a hard mofo.