Andy Parry at Tough Guy

This weekend we sent our Northern Correspondent Andy Parry (pictured above) into battle at Winter Tough Guy 2014... let's hope he made it back in one piece...

We're going to need a bigger plaster!

Fact1: Tough Guy is traditionally on the last Sunday of January.
Fact 2: My hockey team's Christmas curry and beer night is always on the last Saturday of January.

Waking up at 7am with a belly full of last night's splendid (if a little over salted) Nepalese Curry, and fuzzy head from equally splendid Nepalese 'Gurhka' beer, wasn't the greatest start to the day.

Parts of my body in pain:

Head - Self inflicted.
Guts - Self inflicted.

Tough Guy Fire
Above Photo: Glynne J Pritchard  / Leading Beard Photo: Epic Action Imagery

I had the foresight to pack up my gear the day before, so it was an easy morning of feeding, dressing and leaving, to face the 90 minute drive to Tough Guy headquarters, where I met up with my sister in law and the 60+ strong team from Durham University.

Once on site I was grinning from ear to ear to be at the place where British obstacle course racing began. I had done Tough Guy and Nettle Warrior a fair few years ago, but this was before I was obsessed by obstacle racing and running. The car park was filling up nicely and I wandered off to find the university team. I did have to take a slight detour to sort out some discomfort.

Parts of my body in pain:

Head - Self inflicted.
Guts - Self inflicted.

I met up with the team, got myself registered and then headed back to my car to get ready to race, pop a couple of ibuprofen and eat more snacks.

Parts of my body in pain:

Head - Self inflicted.
Guts - Self inflicted.

Tough Guy Start line
Photo: Glynne J Pritchard

It was pretty close to the start time and the runners were all put into their various pens ready for the cannon. Suddenly there was a surge of movement in my pen and I went with the crowd and somehow we were at the top of the hill. I'm not sure this should have happened but it seemed pretty chaotic. There was a re-muster about halfway down the hill and then huge calls of "Yohimbi" and the surge of bodies started.

I knew from memory and several tips from veterans of Tough Guy that your need to "go all out from the start" so as soon as we were moving I tracked to outside edge and sprinted as hard as I could, dodging smoke grenades, other runners and hapless photographers trying to protect their camera from the wave of freshly released runners at full tilt. I must have passed a thousand runners in the first kilometre, before slowing the pace when we hit the set of hurdles. With people vaulting over and ducking under the large trees, it was pretty messy. I managed to take an elbow to the temple from an enthusiastic runner from the Netherlands, and almost got pushed into the water by a slipping Brit with road running shoes on.

Parts of my body in pain:

Head - Elbowed by fellow runner.
Lungs - Burning from hard sprinting.
Leg muscles - Aching from hard sprinting.
Head - Self inflicted.
Guts - Self inflicted.

Andy Parry running

After the first handful of hurdles and water ditches, it was on to some more serious trail running. This was great, as I love to run and the crowds were thinning out to almost single file now. The course took a beautiful narrow path on the edge of some woods, over very soft, uneven ground. The joy of the trail run was brutally halted by the hills. A series of twenty (ish) short, sharp, steep climbs and descents. Some of the climbs were too steep to run and I had to resort to crawling on hands and feet to get more purchase. Each climb left my hands cramped and sore and each downhill section was a terrifying, yet hilarious, combination of running, sliding and falling.

The following run through 'Big Bear Wood' was beautiful and filled with cargo net crawls, giant A-frames, brambles and two of the most cheerful and excitable marshals who just shouted the first words that came to their head. "BEARD!" followed by "Oooo Oooo TUTU. We love TUTUs", I wasn't wearing a tutu but the guy behind me was. It was challenging and fun through the woods, with a new obstacle every few metres to climb or crawl past.

Photo right: Glynne J Pritchard

Parts of my body in pain:

Lungs - Burning from hills and running.
Leg muscles - Aching from hills and running.
Fingers and Hands - Cramping and sore from crawling the hills.
Head - Elbowed by fellow runner.
Head - Self inflicted.
Guts - Self inflicted.

Barb wire Tough Guy
Photo: Glynne J Pritchard

Once out of the woods it was time to hit the water, with about 20 crossings of a waist high canal, with two to four foot drops on both sides. It was soul destroying leaping into ice cold water and then dragging yourself out the other side, only to repeat it again and again and again. Once out of the mind-and-feet numbing crossings, there were a series of cargo net crawls. The ground here was a painful combination of sandy mud and small sharp stones. Crawling and dragging your way through these nets was agonising. At the end of each crawl was a muddy pool to painfully highlight each and every minor scratch and graze by filling them with muddy water. Then a log wall climb marked the entry to Killing Fields.

The crowds were out in force to greet you into the Killing Fields and the giant Behemoth of a cargo netted tree trunk A-frame. A few friendly comments about my beard were all I needed to add spring to my step and start the mighty climb up and over the biggest obstacle I have ever seen! Oh! The Behemoth has a twin brother, up and over again. Before running off to more high walls and a monster cargo net climb, combined with a double rope traverses. I chose a very slack rope and I was only just tall enough to keep hold of the rope above and keep my feet on the rope below. I was pretty much taking all the weight in my shoulders. This is an amazing obstacle. Terrifying, challenging and beautiful to behold.

Parts of my body in pain:

Lungs - Burning from hills and running.
Leg muscles - Aching from hills and running.
Fingers and Hands - Cramping and sore from crawling the hills.
Soul - Destroyed from repetitive dunking.
Legs - Scratched and grazed from crawling through stones.
Shoulders - Aching from hanging from ropes.
Head - Elbowed by fellow runner
Head - Self inflicted
Guts - Self inflicted

Rope crossing
Photo: Epic Action Imagery

Next was more water dunking, crawling through tyres and then a brutal wade through chest high water. The worst thing about this obstacle was seeing the pain on the faces of the other runners wading back on the other side of the lake's central reservation. This was the longest 10 minutes of my life. Once out of the water, it was hard to get the feeling back into my legs and feet. The course became quite a blur at this point and I can't remember the sequence of obstacles, probably due to mild hypothermia and the way the course repeats sections and crosses paths so often. But the parts I remember clearly were the warming fires to run around, a fantastic run through a narrow path littered with tyres and planks; passing close to the event village with a huge climbing frame and hand-over-hand descent over the water. Then the single most toughest and petrifying obstacle I've ever faced.

Jamie dropping

I lower myself into the chest high waters and dunk under a log fixed on the water's surface. I didn't swear, I didn't curse, I just made loud noises similar to a horse with a cough. A second dunk had a similar outcome. I can't remember getting out of the water but I do remember getting back in again and looking at the impending series of dunks ahead. My whole body dreading the upcoming onslaught. I was greeted by a lovely white haired lady who beckoned me over to her dunking queue. I now believe she is the wicked witch from the Snow White fairy tale! I dunked and came up making horse-flu noises, trapped in the knowledge I needed three more dunks to get free and escape. The second dunk was worse. The pain of my head freezing was agonising. The white witch smiled encouragement and cooed 'half way lovey'. ARRGHH I dunked the third and forth gaps in rapid succession to get it over with and found myself out of my depth in the water and struggling to swim. When I did make it to shore I was shaking uncontrollably and in agonizing pain through my head and neck. Luckily the pain didn't last long and I shook the water off like a long haired dog. A photographer introduced himself, a splendid chap who was on the look out for me to take photos for Mudstacle. This gave me enough time to compose myself ready for the rest of the Killing Fields.

Photo right: Epic Action Imagery

I've never quit a race, but today after the dunking I just wanted the race to end so that I could get dry, warm and have a nice cup of tea. But after a couple of 'Yohimbes' I was running the heat back into my body. The obstacles over water now had extra terror built in. I would pretty much do anything to keep my head above water. I can't remember much of the obstacles from here on in, until I reached the final pond, where I waded through and up the slide. Luckily the slide was dry, so when descending you didn't splash back into the water. A final climb and it was all over and done with. I pumped my fist, grabbed my medal and headed off to the hot chocolate tables.

muddy running
Photo: Glynne J Pritchard

I stood dazed and confused in the large barn shaking, staring at my hot chocolate, waiting for my hand to stop shaking violently so I could take a sip. I was spotted by a St. Johns Ambulance woman who kindly directed me to the warm showers. The warm water sobered me up before I grabbed my coat from the changing area, rushing off to the car to put the heaters on full and get out of the cold clothes.

This was TOUGH, this is the toughest event I've done, maybe the obstacles are a little repetitive but this is a battle of attrition not one of elegance.

Parts of my body in pain:

Wrist - Burning - Spilt hot chocolate all over it.
Jaw - Aching from the clenching.
Throat - Raw from all the horse coughing noises.
Forehead - Grazed (probably from a cargo net crawl)
Head - Ice cream headache.
Hamstring - Spasms from electric shock on the final water slide.
Lungs - Burning from hills and running.
Pride - Severely dented after I chickened out of the 'walk the plank' obstacle
Leg muscles - Aching from hills and running.
Fingers and Hands - Cramping and sore from crawling the hills.
Soul - Destroyed from repetitive dunking.
Legs - Scratched and grazed from crawling through stones.
Shoulders - Aching from hanging from ropes.
Head - Elbowed by fellow runner
Head - Self inflicted
Guts - Self inflicted

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Great review Andy
    It was my first tough guy and was not anything like I was expecting
    The reviews and comments people make do not prepare you for it, climbing up a 7m cargo net at a 90 degree angle with no safety equipment and you can’t feel your hands and feet, or jumping off a 2m high plank into what you already know is freezing cold water
    Good luck to anyone who does it, your all mental
    Ps:-see you there next year!!

  2. It was my first tough guy and nothing prepair you for this challenge
    It’s not an event you can take lightly if you do then you’ve had It
    Loved every minute though and you know when you get that medal at the end you’ve earned it

    Already signed up for next year so being it on

  3. One definitely on my list to do once. I just wish they’d sort out the organisation and set up some sensible waves. I’ve seen a lot of comments around the web about how chaotic it all is. Strange considering they’ve been doing this for longer than anyone.

  4. Great write up and glad you enjoyed it. Just so you know the two big A frames you first come to in the killing fields are called The Tiger not the Behemoth. See you there next time!!

  5. Awesome review and amazing photos! Well done, amazing achievement, be proud 🙂 You rock Bearded Runner!

  6. Great review Andy! I recall seeing you a few times. That’s me in the photo race number 455 – that’s the first picture I have managed to find of me from the weekend!

  7. Great review, you nailed it. I paid for V.I.P parking and it was the best single move i did that day…from hot showers to my 4×4 meters in seconds, so so so cold haha.

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