This year was the Year of the Lion Heart…which is just about the only thing that got me to the end. It wasn’t fitness and it certainly wasn’t preparation – it was nothing but grim, visceral determination and a lifetime’s worth of being-an-idiot rolled into one.
You see, although there were a variety of weird and wonderful costumes through the event, the vast majority of people were clad in very sensible clothing, warm, water-resistant and lightweight. I, by contrast, had thermal underwear…beneath a t-shirt and a pair of swimming shorts.
Sounds funny, right? It wasn’t. Or rather, it was a little funny for the first hour or so. After that, it became…well…just look at the pictures.
Having signed up late, I was in the last group to start – the Dickheads, we were called. Within 10 minutes, I was waste-high in ice water, scrambling my way in and out of steep, muddy trenches. Miles of steeple-chase followed, involving climbing over and sliding under enormous logs. Yes, it was exhausting, but it was genuine fun. Cold, but fun.
As the course progressed, it got physically harder and harder. The “slalom”, as it was innocently called, was nothing short of gruelling. It involved storming up 45 degree mud hills, then stumbling back down – somewhere in the region of eight times. Alas, it was such a challenge that hundreds of people bottlenecked each run, making for a grim wait at the bottom of each hill.
Then it was back to the mud, in a big way. Time and time again, we dropped into trenches of mud and, by a combination of brute force and helpful people, scrambled our way back out again. By the time I was a third of the way through, I couldn’t see for mud. Still, it was fun.
Half way through, I was crawling underground through narrow pipes and a nest of cattle-shocking electric wires, shivering uncontrollably both from cold and the electricity. After that, I climbed to the highest point of the course and screamed my pain to the Gods. Then there were cargo nets, fire pits, tyre crawls and enormous hills of mud.
Moments after, I was totally submerged again – head and all. This time, there was still ice floating in the water. This was the first time a course paramedic told me I should get out – something that would happen half a dozen more times over the next few miles.
After scrambling out of the water, where a cadet tied my shoelace for me (I couldn’t feel my hands), I started scaling the cargo nets again. A brief dry interval later, I leapt back into the water -this time off a plank, suspended above the lake. It took just about all my remaining strength to swim ashore.
Then it was back to the race. By this point, however, hypothermia had set in. Shivering uncontrollably, I couldn’t run – I could hardly breathe! Luckily, the next obstacles didn’t involve running or climbing… They involved swinging across rivers of ice water, using a series of ropes.
Although I found this quite easy, nobody else seemed to. As a result, the queues for the obstacles started building up and I was left standing about, waiting and freezing. Devoid of blood and run into the ground, that was when my legs cramped up and I fell to the ground.
At that point, I should have listened to the paramedics. Men shouldn’t be grey and blue. Unfortunately, I am not a man prone to bouts of sense. So I got up. Just.
By this point, I couldn’t run. So I walked. Time and time again my battered trainers got stuck in the mud, as I battled my way through a tyre-run that seem never-ending. With every quivering step, my legs would twitch and buckle, throwing me back down as often as carrying me forwards. Soon, the only course of action was to crawl my way through the mud, until the cramp subsided and I could regain my footing.
Luckily, the next obstacle involved just that – crawling on my stomach beneath a blanket of razor-wire. Never has such bliss been found in such bizarre circumstances.
The next part of the course, if it existed, is absent from my memory. I remember mud and I remember pain – that is all. Oh, and I remember one thought; “No more water. I’m not getting back in the water.”
My next memory is of Debbie, standing at the top of a hill of mud, urging me on. I knew I was near to the end – the course marshals kept telling me so. I knew I had done it and I just had to cling on. When I saw the last obstacle, however, I felt a despair like I’ve never known.
Water. Fucking water. Neck high, ice cold water.
Don’t get me wrong, it was just cold water. Not exactly a minefield. By that point, however, I’d been enduring hypothermia for the best part of an hour. It was mild hypothermia, admittedly, but that’s of little comfort when faced with an icy lake.
Jumping into that water may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
When Debbie found me, I was in the capable hands of the paramedics. They had dragged me out of the queue for hot chocolate, stripped me off, wrapped me in insulation and held me under a shower, whilst I groaned and tripped out. The only thing worse than enduring hypothermia, it turns out, is coming out the other side.
So that was it. That was my Tough Guy experience. I have no doubt that, with more training and preparation, it wouldn’t have been the ordeal that it was. Yet, even if I had sprinted the whole way around, I’d have still had to queue for the obstacles, soaked and frozen in my silly choice of attire.
Whatever the cause, it was bloody horrible. I’d like to say I loved every moment but, honestly, I was a breath away from quitting for mile after mile. But I didn’t…and that makes me a Tough Guy. Forever.
Here are some pictures. You can find the official list of chaos here.