Tough Guy (established 1987) is the original OCR and takes place on a farm near Wolverhampton, England. The event is organized every year by Mr. Mouse and is run near the end of January (mine was Feb. 1 or January 32nd depending on who you ask). This event is the real deal being 15km, obstacle heavy, and freezing cold. Do not underestimate it!
All that said, Tough Guy is the Mecca of OCR and every racer should make a trip to this event.
How I got there
I first heard about this event in 2012 shortly before I did my first Tough Mudder in Colorado. A friend told me about it and challenged me to do it with him. Well as time passed by he forgot about the challenge, but I didn’t.
I signed up January of 2015 while I was in France snowboarding. I figured that if I ran 10k a few times a week up in the snowy Alps I would be more than prepared for the cold of the UK (I was wrong).
Since I signed up so late, running in the first relay cost around $250! So I looked at the 2nd and 3rd relays that were progressively cheaper. Finding that they only left about 3 – 4 minutes apart I figured I could sign up for the cheaper 3rd relay and make up the 7 minute time deficit by sprinting (haha funny me, so confident in myself).
So I bought my ticket for the Dickhead relay which cost about $150 and I started running after I finished snowboarding. I ran on a snowy path in Tignes, France that circled the lake and had a set of monkey bars in the playground. I would run laps around the lake while cranking out 10-20 pull-ups and a set across the monkey bars each lap.
When I left France I went to Sweden for 12 days and ran a local park while using the hotel gym for pull-ups, dips, farmer’s walks, and kettle bell swings. The local park was 8 miles round trip on relatively flat surface, but there was cold water nearby so I could jump in to train for the cold.
Once I returned to the UK I jumped on a train in London and took a $15 2-hour ride north to Wolverhampton, where I slept. The race was only a 10-minute taxi ride away with a fixed price so I decided to sleep where the bars were (gotta have that pre-race drink).
The race didn’t start until 11:07 for me so I slept in, drank some powerade, ate some fruit and protein bars, and took a taxi to the race.
I wore an UA cold gear long sleeve top with a UA short sleeve over the top, full leg running tights, cotton socks, and my New Balance Minimus shoes.
When I got to the race it was freezing already because of the wind chill, and I hadn’t even gotten wet yet. After I checked in, I walked around to check out the “permanent” obstacle, and spent the next hour jogging in place (to stay warm) until the race started.
*There was a guy running the race in a mankini, frickin crazy, but awesome.
A little about the race
The race is about 15 km and starts with a 10km cross-country run where the only thing that gets wet is your legs. This is unfortunate (but awesome and clever) because you cannot suit up in warm clothes for the last 5 km where you are constantly wet. If you do throw on a wetsuit (which is frowned upon) you will be very hot during the run.
The last 5km is known as the killing fields and is full of big obstacles including plenty of nets, ropes, monkey bars, balance beams, and swimming. This is also where all the spectators are and man is there a lot! I felt like a celebrity running through there….a cold wet miserable celebrity.
The starting line is on top of a hill and the first relay starts there. The second relay is behind them, and the 3rd and 4th are inside a chain linked fence locked behind a gate in the back. This is where I started, with all the animals!
I immediately worked my way up to the gate so I could get a head start when it was opened. Remember: I wanted to pass 2,000 people and finish in the top 10.
As soon as the first relay was sent off, the second relay followed in suit about 2-4 minutes after. Then we were stuck waiting…..and all the people started shouting and rocking the gate to get it open. I loved it. The UK crowd is the best. Such enthusiasm.
Once the gate dropped we ran up the hill then down the other side to start the race. I used my Suunto Ambit 2 to track the race and started out running a 5:45 mile pace, until I hit the muddy ups and downs with climb over obstacles.
The whole cross-country run is pretty unrelenting. You are constantly jumping over logs or crawling under nets. They’re serious when they say there are 200+ obstacles. They’re small but tedious. This killed my pace because I couldn’t fall into a rhythm and I was constantly running in the thick brush on the side of the trail trying to pass 2,000 people to finish in a good place.
About halfway through the cross-country run we hit the slalom, a portion of the course where you repeatedly run up and down a 30+ meter hill. I think we did it about 10 times. This was killer on the legs and after about the 3rd time up I resorted to bear crawling and power walking the uphills. They were pretty steep.
After the slalom we had another cross country run until we hit a section similar to the slalom, but this time we had to continuously cross a stream with an embankment over and over again. This was very taxing because the water was knee deep with a muddy bottom and the embankment was chest high. I paused here often to help the people behind me, keeping with the Tough Mudder spirit.
Once we were done crisscrossing the stream we headed into a wooded section full of more net crawl unders and log climb overs. They had simulated machine gun fire here as well.
Next came the killing fields. You know you are here when you see the crowds of people and giant wooden obstacles in front of you (you’re almost done, but it gets worse).
First up was a high net crawl with a rope traverse on top followed by a net descent. I found it easiest to roll down the nets instead of trying to crawl down.
Then there was a long crawl under with small logs hanging from the ceiling, followed by a tire crawl through with a drop into the water.
There were several chances to get completely wet in chest deep swimming sections. Followed by more nets to climb and more ropes to traverse.
The WORST section was a series of 3 plunges underwater to swim beneath some logs. The water was so cold I couldn’t breathe when I got out. I actually stopped and took a knee when I reached dry land again, AND the best part is that the monkey bars follow immediately after. The bars are fat and require a false grip (thumb over bar) to stay on.
After that we had more running and swimming until we jumped over fire and walked a plank to submerge our heads underwater again. Same brain freeze followed, I couldn’t get used to it.
The last 2 difficult sections were walking across floating platforms while using ropes to swing across, and crawling uphill on a slippery tarp with electric wires hanging over your head.
Swinging from the platforms required considerable upper body strength and the slippery uphill crawl was just shocking. There was a rope to make it easier, but I am still shocked that I made it.
I’ll stop now.
Anyway, the race ended very abruptly. You run up a small hill, turn a corner, run into a barn, and next thing you know someone slaps a medal on you, gives you a blanket, and takes your picture.
Next thing I did was run to my bag in bag check, ripped off my clothes, put on dry ones, and sit and shiver until someone saved me.
I finished 31st with a time of 2:01, but my suunto said I finished in 1:55. Guess that accounts for my time deficit. Not my best race. I could have done better.
Now I have run plenty of Tough Mudders (5), which happen to be longer than this race, but I have never been more dazed from such a short run. This is the toughest 15km race I have ever run. What makes it hard?
The never ending jumping, climbing, crawling, and swimming
In the end (once I was warm), I was very pleased with the event. I have become accustomed to Tough Mudders and other Obstacle races which are set up every weekend. This one is unique because it is permanent, the obstacles do not move, so they just continue to improve and add more every year. I would compare it to a real life military course, where the obstacles are not few and far between, but appear every 30-50 meters. The point is to not let you get comfortable, but to keep you in pain.
It’s a great course. If I could run one course to train for the WTM in 2015, this would be it.
If you want to finish in a good position, run the first relay. No matter how fast you think you are you will always be held up trying to pass people on trail trails and lines during obstacles.
Do cold water training. I looked it up, and you can adapt to cold water if you immerse yourself in it. Try 15 minutes a day in an ice bath, I won’t, but you should.