Tough Guy 2013

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January 29, 2013 by hattersleysmith

1,000 kcal of golden syrup porridge, 200 kcal of orange juice, a large cup of tea, a white van, Bingo Players, Raj FM, Gate 3 and Bartle and I were, quite literally, signing our Death Warrants.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact moment I persuaded myself and Bru that signing up for Tough Guy was a good idea, especially seeing as I’d witnessed first-hand the bleeding faces, electrified gasps and hypothermic wrecks through the lens of my video camera last year. Yet one e-mail, Nuffield gym, Christmas dinner, an excitable Twitterfeed (@SmartleToughguy), Maiden Castle gym, snow, 5kg weight vests, Greggs, pull ups, a BMX track, 2 buckets of water, a river dip, food, 2 trains to The South and a sponsorship target later and here we were.

Tough Guy, hailed as ‘The Safest Most Dangerous Event in the World’ is a race designed to replicate the conditions of the First World War in which competitors are faced with an 8 mile assault course of churned up mud, hill slaloms, nets, trenches, hurdles, neck-deep ice-cold water, fire leaps, giant A-frames, ropes, tunnels and electric cables.  Having royally freaked ourselves out over a Facebook video showing the entire course frozen under thick ice, having kitted up, fed up, psyched up, having bored our housemates to death with Tough Guy chat over a month of dinners and having ignored the pleas of our anxious parents, we were as ready as we were ever going to be to take on The Race and, at 9.08am, duly biroed our lives away to the mercy of the Killing Fields, all in the name of raising money for ‘Help for Heroes’ through DUCK.

Tough Guy DUCK Wetsuit, DUCK t-shirt, photos, Chris’ rousing battle-face speech, stretch, Lucozade…


Tough Guy Course 3Disorientated, adrenalin-choked and breathing in lungful after lungful of smoke-bomb we sprinted into the course, narrowly avoiding being trampled in the surge of muscle and fist.

What follows is as accurate an account as I can recall of our journey into the oblivion…

Roasting in our wetsuits, we thumped out what seemed like an extortionately long run; soon stuffing my hat and gloves down my front, foot-after-foot we ran around fields, were filtered over hurdles and were met with a slope of what we could only hope was the hill slalom.  Side-line kids were screaming “It’s called TOUGH GUY for a reason”, thanks for that.  Fell headfirst twice into puddles concealing thigh-deep potholes, drenched already.  Right shin already twinging from training.  Lick of the lips, sweat and dirt, yum.  Glanced left, mistake.  The real hill slalom smacked us in the face round the corner with relentless scrambles and slides, scrambles and slides, an age of knee-shattering buttock-clenching ups and downs, a burst of rain and hail splintering our caked cheeks.

Another run, through mud churned and clotted ankle-deep into Bear Woods.  Finally I clawed back some breathing time from a series of over-and-under giant hurdles and nets, face-to-bum with the too-tall, burly men who had overtaken us a few slaloms ago.  Leaping and bounding through the closest equivalent to an adventure playground we were going to get, heedless of the giant splinters forking from the logs, we clambered over and over and over and out the other side…

Another run.

Now completely coated in mud, we threw ourselves under more nets culminating in slides into thigh-deep ice trenches and out again into the water slalom, the once-again-endless ins and outs of slippery trenches, outstretched hands heaving us up, wallowing like frantic baby hippos about to be mauled by a hungry croc.  Then we were met with our first towering log A-frames…

Tough Guy course 2

Before facing curtains of electric cables dangling to bite (both of us thankfully made a clear run of it)…

Tough Guy Chris

Pocock, our tribal leader bossing the cables.

Army boys hoisted each other up, regiments stick together, HOORAH.  Then, The Ice Lake, a long stretch of sub-zero thigh to shin deep water, swimming with great big wodgy chunks of ice which thwacked our legs as we hauled ourselves through.  At least, we were reminded by the hordes of gasping men surrounding us, we didn’t have “frozen nuts”, “what nuts?”, “I CAN’T FEEL MY BALLS!”.

Tough Guy BrusBruised, exhausted and freezing cold we emerged to be hit with more hurdles (we opted for going under), thick with foot-sucking mud.

From this point on, I can’t actually remember any order to the chaos we’d already launched ourselves into as we stumbled on through the rest of the Killing Fields, Bartle with a beaming grin and I with gritted teeth.  All I know is that the following fragments happened…

Trench followed by line of fire, trench followed by line of fire, trench followed by line of fire, tyre tunnel…

Tough Guy course

Camera in my face.

Lured in by promises of Jelly Babies on the other side, we hit the Vietcong Torture Chamber, having been tipped off by my brother to ‘stick to the left’ we crunched ourselves through the tunnel, crowded with men’s screams, just skirting the dangling wooden logs and crippling electric cables, slicing up our knees in the process.  Then wriggling through claustrophobic tunnel after tunnel before…

Plunged ourselves into another lake, cold, up to our chests, stumbled on the side, hands in, cold, scrambled up the bank, hauled ourselves up the ropes, queued, shivering on the boards, another lake…

Another run…

Bartle’s parents cheered us on from the side-lines, Beano bewildered, beans…

Waded deeper and deeper into the horse shoe lake, thank God for the wet suit, profanities, “KEEP GOING TOUGH GIRLS”, sponsorship, brother taking photos…

Tough Guy Brus 2

Pulled over floating log hurdles, deeper and deeper, head plunge one (WOWZER that’s cold), head plunge two (head is about to explode), head plunge three (head has exploded), head plunge four (WhereamI?WhoamI?What’sforbreakfast?).

Tough Guy Lucy

And out onto the bank, climbed straight up an A-frame, head swimming, fingers numb, refusing to grip…

There was some barbed wire in there somewhere…

Another run…

Stumbling through and over tyres, into a rope web, into a water trench, up a bank, round the corner…

Tough Guy Brus 5

Queue, Bartle plunged in beside the bridge, Bartle’s parents shouted to follow, I dived in, paddling through the ice-cold water, feet can’t touch the floor, dogs, I wondered if this was what it was like in the Titanic, blood to heart, staggered up the bank, up the bank, down the slide, sucked in, arms flat, bypassed electric shocks, in water, cold cold cold, Jack and Rose, Jack and Rose, hands on rope, up the bank, stumble out, round the corner, Bartle’s hand, in mine, breathe, breathe, breathe…


Officially Tough (officially mental), we shivered our way through lukewarm showers, cups of cocoa and into layers and layers of fresh clothes with the help of family and the invaluable DUCK helpers.  Jelly beans, chocolate and sandwiches.  Bye bye to Bartle’s parents.  On the coach back to Durham.  Shower and bed.

Tough Guy 2013 was the worst ordeal I have ever put myself through; I have never and hopefully never will be so cold, so exhausted and so bruised.  However, the spirit of comradery, of resilience and energy and passion, of a common struggle against the elements, the organisers and our own stupidity at signing up reigned supreme throughout the entire event, pulling together people from across the world in a raw attempt to prove what their bodies could do in the face of extreme conditions.

I must, at this point, shower gratitude on a number of incredibly special people…

Christopher Pocock, for his constant determination, advice and awesome organisation tekkers, without which none of the DUCK lot would have had the opportunity to be so crazy and to the whole support team, the lifeline who made the whole event slicker, warmer and more human.

Diane and Andrew Bartle for the incredible Last Supper, bed and breakfast and continued support and concern before, throughout and after the entire race and to my mummy, daddy and sister for their love, chocolate, hat, post-race congratulations and for being in my mind, rolling their eyes and thinking “typical”, the whole way round.

Playerlayer for providing some incredible Lycras to complete the race in.

Pip Jones, our greatest fan, for favouriting our tweets and Crème Eggs.

Willy Dick, my brother, for luck, top tips, shoving a camera in our faces and getting me warm at the end.

And to all the incredibly generous people who sponsored us before and after the race, you gave us something to get to the end for, we cannot thank you enough.

Tough Guy was a test, of physical, yet mostly psychological strength AND WE BLOODY MADE IT.

Tough Guy Brus 3

I say ‘we’ because ‘I’ probably wouldn’t have made it without the person I’ve saved until last to thank, my beyond incredible Bru.  Despite having recently dreamt that she had punched me in the face mid-course, her chivvying, smiles, humour, shouts and heaves from the moment we started training in Durham to the moment we crossed the finish line kept me pushing for the end, kept me going.  In addition to being an achievement, it’s been a bonding experience for both of us, a day neither of us shall ever forget.  And in typical Bru fashion (“THAT WAS THE BEST DAY OF LIFE!”) she wants to go back next year.  I, however, will not be joining/hindering her.  I’ve proven I can push my body through those barriers of pain and exhaustion, I’ve proven I can scale nets and swim through freezing cold water, I’ve proven I’m Tough.

Tough Guy Brus 4

If you want to track our progress from girls to machines and the aftermath on Twitter please follow us:


If you think we’re crazy, or are even a weensy bit impressed, we’d be incredibly grateful if you could sponsor us to raise our total for ‘Help for Heroes’:

Alternatively, if you think you’re up to the challenge for 2014, take a look at the official website:

“If a man [or woman] achieves victory over this body, who in the world can exercise power over him [or her]? He [or she] who rules himself [or herself] rules over the whole world”
Vinoba Bhave [point made].

Photos courtesy of Krystina Warrington (DUCK watermark) and Will Smith.


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