When one arrives at Tough Guy HQ the first thing you are instructed to do is sign your Death Warrant. The place is daunting, but atmospheric, with a striking contrast between the huge obstacles dominating the skyline, and the docile horses in the sanctuary. One of the first people I met was Mr Mouse himself, who was insisting that the following day, the day of the event, would be like a Spring day.
I had completed Tough Mudder, a Spartan Race and Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest without any problems, but was aware that Tough Guy is reputably the toughest obstacle race in the UK. In 2010 over 600 competitors were treated for hypothermia.
In my last obstacle race I finished in the sixteenth centile, so although finishing Tough Guy without injury was important, I was really hoping for a top fifteen per cent finish. I was impressed with the course, it felt completely natural, there was a huge volume of people, yet no bottlenecks. Perfect. I was running hard, and overtaking at every opportunity.
Then came the water obstacles, and more water, and more water. After around six of the nine miles, I noticed that people started asking me if I was okay. I was numb with cold and had slowed right down. A friend, Amy, recognised me and gave me a hug as she went past. I needed it.
I was shivering, and slightly delirious, but determined to finish. I was still undaunted by the obstacles, dangling on a rope high in the air, or crawling in an underground chamber dodging electric wires. I didn’t want to slow down as I’d get colder, yet I couldn’t speed up as I was almost in a trance, and I knew it was dangerous. I couldn’t stop yet I couldn’t move, I couldn’t quit yet I couldn’t go on. Although I was only half aware that I was delirious, I was fully aware that this was the toughest thing that I’d ever done. I continued, pausing intermittently to shiver.
Marshals would ask if I was okay, and I always said I was fine. Then eventually one guy had a serious word, and said that I could do the next obstacle, but he would meet me on the other side to check on me. I stood there for a second, in a haze, not even sure where the obstacle was. A young trainee medic girl boldly intervened, and said “no, he’s not doing that, he’s coming with me, now”.
She took me into what felt like a military field hospital, a tent. There were several others in there too. She sat me by the fire, wrapped me in blankets, cut my shoelaces, took off my shoes, helped me remove most of my clothes, fed me plenty of hot chocolate, some tea and crisps and rubbed my back and arms continuously. It felt good, the only frustration was that I wanted to thank her, but somehow I couldn’t speak, nor could I even hold a cup, she had to feed me hot chocolate. All I could do was shiver uncontrollably. Eventually I recovered enough to hold my own drink and chat. I asked if I had hypothermia, she replied “not the worst sort, but still a very bad case of hypothermia”. She nodded towards another victim who was taken out in a stretcher by ambulance men, as if that could have been me. I was eventually deemed well enough to be put in a shuttle bus with other victims and taken up to the showers. When the doors opened, I was relieved to see that my medic, Emma, had followed us there so I could thank her and say goodbye. It’s funny how attached one becomes to people in such circumstances.
That evening I enjoyed a three course meal in the hotel and told my tale to the waitress, who after dinner made a huge free jug of hot chocolate for me to take up into my hotel room.
I heard that people were in tears at the finish, I was even told that people were in tears back at the hotel. Tough Guy is tough. I may have missed out on a medal, but got the T-shirt and learnt a valuable lesson: I seem to be susceptible to hypothermia.
Like this? Watch third place James Appleton struggle with hypothermia on video here