It was in the state of near-perfect physical fitness but questionable mental stability in which most triallists find themselves during Lent term that we signed up for ‘Tough Guy’, an event that promises to stretch the contestants’ physical and psychological limits in ways involving mud, barbed wire and nettles rather than boats and dark blue blades. Having subsequently lapsed our training somewhat in favour of
pursuits such as sitting exams and drinking Pimm’s it was with a degree of trepidation that ‘Team CUWBC’ gathered in a field outside Wolverhampton on the morning of July 30th – each of us clutching a race number and a ‘Death Warrant’ accepting full responsibility in the event of our untimely demise on the obstacle course known as the ‘Killing Fields’. Nobody was sure what to expect. The website www.toughguy.co.uk spoke of climbing, swimming, crawling and jumping but also of death,
permanent disfigurement and Weil’s disease. Our unease was in no way relieved by the realisation that most of the people around us were not female University students who might not look out of place in a fibreglass rowing boat on the Thames, but hulking tanned men with large muscles bulging from their semi-naked hairy torsos.
We didn’t have long to stand around feeling intimidated though as before we knew it the gun went and we were off on the ‘warm-up’ run called ‘the Country Miles’. In retrospect, the Country Miles is a good time to get ahead as the aforementioned hulking men are largely rather slow and unfit. The main limit to your progress for the majority of the five or so miles cross-country is not your own speed and fitness but
the speed and fitness of those blocking your path (or rather lack thereof); with a little determination though it is possible to dodge and weave your way towards the front of the runners, especially if you are not too concerned about nettles and brambles or their effects on delicate leg-skin. The Country Miles soon gives way to the ‘Slalom’ which is easily the most physically challenging part of ‘Tough Guy’. It consists of a steep hillside which one runs up and down what feels like
nine hundred times but is probably only about ten. By half-way through you are blinded by sweat, seeing grey spots and wondering whether you are going to be able to continue and if you’ll ever regain sight in your left eye after some oaf whacked a branch into it on the second lap; by the end of it you are incapable of coherent thought and can do little more than gasp, groan and glance around for a suitable bush in which to empty your stomach should the need become pressing.
It is almost a relief when the mud begins. The ‘Killing Fields’ (the main part of Tough Guy – the obstacle course around which one runs twice) has mud as one of its main themes, in increasingly large, deep and smelly quantities. Any reservations about getting a bit mucky are quickly destroyed, and there is something rather liberating about completely abandoning the initial desire to stay dry and protect your trainers, and just throwing yourself headlong into a revolting waist-deep pool filled with hay and duckweed. It must be said that in all honesty getting dirtier than you have possibly ever been in your life is probably one of the more appealing parts of the event.
Mud, though a bit off-putting (especially when it’s inside your
underwear, up your nose and drying onto the surface of your teeth) does not actually cause physical harm. Barbed wire, on the other hand, does – as do sharp rocks and spiky thistles, which were all combined in an obstacle called the ‘Stalag Escape’ in which one crawls under rusty barbed wire for 30m or so, made harder by the fact that the tender flesh on your knees and forearms is torn to pieces by the sharp rocks underfoot (/hand/knee). Don’t expect to be wearing a pretty skirt very soon after Tough Guy; by the time you reach the second lap of the ‘Vietcong Tunnels’ (concrete sewage pipes to wriggle through, also too narrow for actual crawling) you are happily grating the skin off your shoulder blades by going backwards just to save the bleeding mess that used to be a pair of knees from further damage.
There are plenty more obstacles to get over/through (22 in total, or 44 if you count both laps), including increasingly high wooden walls to climb, a massive hay-stack with rope ladders covering it (and if you’re lucky a man in a thong climbing up right ahead of you), fires to run over (you’re so mud-soaked at this stage that you probably wouldn’t catch fire even if they dunked you in petrol first), hills to run up and suspended ropes to walk across. It turns out that for completing Tough Guy we need not have worried, light nimbleness will get you much further than muscle and mass. This was clearly demonstrated by Jimmy whose 60 kg frame crossed the finish line in THIRD PLACE, despite having set off far behind the ‘front squad’ and hence having had to overtake thousands of people. Team CUWBC in fact did amazingly – Lilie came in fifth out of all the women (or ‘tough girls’) and our total time was almost an hour faster than the second-fastest women’s team
So, the verdict on Tough Guy? The word used most was ‘AMAZING’, closely followed by ‘AWESOME’ [closely followed by ‘Oh My God. None of my limbs are in a functioning state. Just as well I wasn’t planning on doing any walking/eating/moving for the next week or so then’ -Ed] It is not often that one as an adult gets to throw all caution to the wind and regress to a primal competitive desire to get ahead of the people around you regardless of the cost to health, cleanliness or social
etiquette. Plans are currently underway for starting up Varsity Tough Guy for next year. We cannot recommend it strongly enough, bring on Tough Guy 2007 and here’s to beating Oxford while we’re at it!
Team CUWBC 2006