The Year of Pain – Event 1 – Tough Guy
Up at 05:30 after a nice early night, four scrambled eggs on toast and I have to say feeling a little nervous. It's minus 1 outside and that is not something I am excited about. Anyway I pulled on my black Spiderman outfit, not exactly a good Spiderman outfit but it is the best description for the little black lycra set I had purchased expressly for this purpose. With a quick look in the mirror I became even more nervous and pulled on some extra shorts and a t-shirt.
06:15 and I was ready to hit the road, heading to Wellingborough to pick up my good friend and today's bag man Clint. We had a very pleasant journey to sunny Wolverhampton, the company was great and the satnav was effective, but it wasn’t really sunny.
09:00 and we are there, thousands of people all wearing little Spiderman outfits and I start to feel better. We park and I open the door, that’s when it hits me, its freezing cold and I become conscious that I never did see Spiderman shivering.
My mind clears and I am reminded of my purpose - I am here early to register for this madness, sign my death warrant and find the start. After a slow meander I notice I am surrounded by giant structures made of wood and ropes everywhere, and water, lots and lots of water. Muddy and frozen but definitely water, and I am quickly back to being afraid, very afraid. We move on and find an interesting looking hut where I need to register, which I promptly do and am given a number 6079, not bad I think and then notice it has "DICKHEAD" written directly above, I briefly question myself and then agree that I am freezing cold, dressed as Spiderman, about to do a serious run through a lot of very cold, brown water. I am a dickhead.
At this point Clint has decided its time to capture me at my best, cold and terrified, so here I am, happy (can you see the aforementioned terrifying structures behind me?).
Time has passed now and it is now 10:30, time to find my starting pen. I head promptly to the pen beautifully signed "DICKHEADS" and am please to find that I am not alone, however the nice man I meet is wearing a wet suit, now I am afraid again as this seems hardly fair, so I offer to swap the wetsuit for a Kit Kat but my new friend declines. As the awkward silence gathers while my new friend starts to understand how serious the proposition was the ice is broken as a fight breaks out. Not a fight in the conventional sense, I neglected to mention earlier that when I was proclaimed DICKHEAD number 6079 I was also handed a little plastic duck, these are now the weapon of choice between DICKHEADS and GOONS. As the free for all ensues with ducks flying everywhere my new friend disappears.
The tension continues to grow until 11:00 when we still do not start, I become concerned as I already can’t feel my toes and they are not even wet. Just as I think about going to hide in the toilets for a couple of hours a cannon blasts and we are off. Believe it or not this is when it starts to get really bad!
Flying down the first straight I start to feel better, I have the wind in my hair, can start to feel my extremities and then I realise I am heading straight for the frozen ditches I saw on my way to register but its too late now, splash in to the first ditch and to my surprise its not that bad… it is way worse than I had ever imagined and I start to feel sick.
I have studied the course and I know where I am supposed to be heading, out in to the fields to split up the pack but oh no, I appear to be heading towards a very steep hill where the route is marked up and down no less than 12 times, I instantly spot the mistake and check with an official who is standing smirking at me but no, my map must have been incorrect. So I hit the hills, quickly at first overtaking countless other dickheads and goons all of whom look equally confused. Past the hills and I am in the clear, making progress and starting to enjoy the run. Then I hear faint splashing sounds, up front I can see a bunch of people all slowing down. I get in to the pack and now I can see a huge trench, filled with freezing cold water, looks like the old in and out, this is on the map so I know what I have to do (quit and go home was my first instinct), take the initiative and lead this rabble through the trenches. Unfortunately the little cry I gave out as I hit the water did not seem to motivate my comrades so I continued without the pack. By cunning coincidence there were more people two trenches in, this was good for my moral as I became aware that others were still alive however now I was waiting nipple deep in freezing water to get through the rest of the trenches (not so good for my morale).
Out of the trenches and running again, through a forest, along some muddy pathways, over stuff, under stuff, starting to warm up again. I make the fatal mistake and think to myself, Tough Guy, this is not so bad… and bang, bogs, about what seems like a mile long, filled with the bodies of the fallen and the dead (these were probably people just going slower than me). I press on through the bog but I have lost all feeling in my hands. The further the bog goes on, the less I think I am going to make the end. Slowly the end comes in sight, I can see dry land and the first fire pit, this is meant to be a scary sight but actually looks inviting and warm so I race to the fire and stand in a blazing bale of straw. The slight tingling feeling and BBQ smell tell me I should probably move on but this is truly the best thing that’s happened so far today so I take the time to check my watch. To my delight I am an hour and thirty minutes in, so based on my usual pace I am about there, must just be the assault course encouragingly called the killing fields left before I can claim my glorious medal.
As I drag myself away from the fire and turn a corner I realise that my timing is significantly off, although I can now see the killing fields I have some monster obstacles to get across, first up is a big cargo net affair, no problem scampering up there, cross a high wire, no problem, more cargo nets and down a parallel rope slowly over some cold looking water. This is going great until I slip from the rope and land butt first on the bottom rope, this slows me just enough to get some severe rope burns before plunging into some seriously cold water. I drag myself out and run. The running is instinctive now, I can't be far from the end, I am not dead and not about to quit now I have come this far.
It hits me again, I can see some more obstacles I had missed on my earlier assessment, and I have a long way to go with some horrible things to get past. First up is another big rope and climbing thing, over it in a flash and away to the plank, the closer I get to this the worse it looks, small plank, 10 feet up in to another cold, muddy pool. I have no feeling and can't see a reasonable escape, in for a penny…
As I get out of the water I really want to cry, no feeling and the end a long way off, I feel defeated, as there is no obvious escape and the marshals have not deemed my personal crisis bad enough to offer assistance, I continue.
This should be the end; in front of me are the tunnels of terror, again not on my map. All I can hear is screaming, its pitch black but for a few slithers of light. I edge slowly in to the unknown. Bang. I have been punched in the face. I look around and see a guy like me cold, afraid, but laughing. I think I will hit him back! Turned out the guy is called Liam and he has just watched me get electrocuted in the face. This little gem has given Liam the strength to continue. So I pursue him hoping I get to watch him also suffer the electrocution. After me receiving several more jolts I declare that it's no longer funny and I am off (again trapped but off none the less).
God bless Liam, he turns and asks me why I am doing this stupid challenge, I tell him about my mum and the arthritis, he tells me about a little boy who has cancer and is going though radiotherapy. All of a sudden the electrocuted face, rope burns and numb extremities are not so bad, I realise that however unhappy I am at this moment. I am this unhappy for a very good reason!
Out of the tunnels of terror and I am away to the killing fields, how bad can it be? I have faced my demons and at this point know I have about 1 mile of pure hell left. Back though water, full emersion, tunnels, ropes, bridges and more standing nipple deep in freezing water, two laps of this and I get the red ribbon,. With the red ribbon I have cleared the killing fields. Back on to dry land and I remember the map, under barbed wire, though some tires and home.
If you ever have to slither like a snake under barbed wire covered in mud, freezing then good luck. I see Liam slithering ahead of me and decide it would be nice if I could catch Liam and thank him for the inspiration.
As I wiggle and crawl out of the barbed wire I can still see Liam bobbing along ahead so I give chase, though the tires left right left right trip, bloody hell I nearly broke my neck. At this point I decided Liam was a Tougher Guy than me and let him disappear off ahead.
Out of the tires and up the hill, I can remember from registration that I am there; I have made it, 100 yards. But no, what's that? Another pool of freezing water, a steep hill and rope climb.
I am there, it's too late for emotions, and I am not afraid or annoyed. This course is perfectly designed to build you up and then break you. I should have expected this last twist. I jump straight in and head for the finish, after 3 hours and 15 minutes, I am a Tough Guy.
I am near death. I have uncontrolled shakes and am wrapped in a space blanket. I have just shivered my hot chocolate over the guy next to me. I feel horrible. I got the medal but it was hard won. I hope the rest of the challenges are not this extreme and have decided I am never doing this one again
P.S. Its Tuesday after the TG, I still can't straighten my legs; I have to sit down carefully because of the rope burn on my butt. I am going to enter the summer version of Tough Guy – the Nettle Warrior, it just sounds like fun!