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Featured Review: Tough Guy, UK

Andreas of Viking Race in Norway is no stranger to the Spahtens – having moved back to Europe, he was in a position to run Tough Guy in the UK – one of the toughest, and the original obstacle course race out there. He fills us in.



For some reason, I like to write intros to my little reviews here. This race however needs no introduction. But for those of you who are new to the world of OCR, I recommend watching this short intro video:

Actually, everyone should watch that video!


toughguyThe event is held at the same venue every year – South Perton Farm in Wolverhampton, England. My team and I arrived the night before the event and headed over to the farm to pick up our race packets. This was a great idea for two reasons: 1 – there are less people, so you get your stuff immediately, even the event t-shirt. 2 – I got a picture with the man, the myth, the legend – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Willson himself! We also got to meet a couple of the 700 (!!!) volunteers, ask questions about start waves, etc., and we did a quick walk around the area and got to see some of the absolutely gigantic obstacles.

The parking seemed fine to me, but I knew before I left that we’d be taking a taxi so I ignored all the emails on parking. I didn’t hear anything about parking problems – news of that sort usually travel fast at an event in my experience, so either there were no problems, or participants were actually taken to the breaking point that lesser races claim they will take you to, and thus did not care about the troubles of mere mortals – like parking 😉

When we did take a taxi the next day there was a lot of traffic though. Our driver decided to take another route that was actually blocked by police (but I guess taxis were fine to enter), and we got to the venue no problem. I don’t know how long we would’ve needed to wait on the other road, but people left their taxis and just walked the rest. I saw people both run and walk to the venue from our hotel, a distance of probably 2-3 kilometers.

For people who weren’t staying at hotels, there was a huge field just for camping purposes.

The vendors were plenty! There were even burger trucks along the course so spectators could get some food. I was way too cold to stick around for food after the race though. They also sold t-shirts, hoodies, tech wear for the race, all that good stuff. Next time(!) I’ll buy some stuff to show my pride at the office!

* Race Details

I’ve done the Spartan Beast in November rain, but nothing compares to this.

10922481_10153901702870190_4446624739089648415_nI don’t even know where to begin here. Everyone who’s been into this sport for some length of time have heard of this race. I’d heard of it before I got into OCR, long ago. The race always gets some small coverage in Norwegian newspapers. Back then, before OCR was a thing, I’d just blown this race off as something insane people do. Even after getting into OCR, I’d never expect to complete a Tough Guy. I’ve done Tough Mudder, I’ve done the Spartan Beast in November rain, but nothing compares to this. Sure, there’s the Spartan Death Race, World’s Toughest Mudder, etc – but Tough Guy is what we’re used to – a one day event. Completed in 3 hours 30 minutes for my part – hands down the hardest race I’ve done to date.

toughguywaiverTough Guy has been put on since 1987, for reasons different that 99% of other current races. It’s hard to explain, but this race really is the soul of OCR. For me, this is what it’s all about. Tough Guy was not started as a business – it was for people to test themselves.

Ok, I won’t start rambling here. Let’s just say this race had it all:

The race started with a freaking cannon shot! Later there were smoke bombs, gunfire – both single and automatic. Most of the volunteers were army recruits, so they were in their field uniforms, and even they seemed to think we were crazy. It really felt like being part of a huge army exercise. I’ve been to those, with 100s of soldiers, but never 4 000 like here!

The course was 16 kilometers (but advertised as 15k). My goal was to complete it in 2.5 hours – it took me an hour longer than that.

You can take the obstacles you’ve done in other races, and imagine them as being way bigger. Ditches and dirt mounds were deeper and higher. The cargo climbs were monster constructions with names like The Behemoth, The Tiger, The Dragon, etc. We’re talking 10 meters (30-ish feet) tall here, and just as long. You spent good time just completing an obstacle.

Both the course and the obstacles were so big you could choose different paths – both on the course and on the obstacles themselves. More than once after climbing down from one of the mega structures we’d look back and regret not taking another route. For instance, you could choose whether to climb down a rope, roll down a huge diagonally suspended cargo net or climb down another vertical cargo net.

It was cold. It was very cold. I was fakkin freezing kehd! …and I’m Norwegian. Born and raised. Served my mandatory army stint – did the winter operations! I love snow! But swimming in England in February is something else.

There was so much mud and water it was crazy. You were wading up to your knees, waist, and even chest and neck several times. The water obstacles were full submersion – and the one you’re thinking about was the worst. It was horrible. They had a raft type structure floating in the middle of one of the small lakes. You had to swim over to it, and then duck under the entire thing by going under 4 huge logs one at a time, and then popping up on the other side. There’s only one strategy to use here – don’t stop, don’t think, and control your breathing. After the last log I guess I was disoriented. At least I’ve never felt like that before. It was just weird. Balance was off – hearing and seeing was weird. My head was pounding. It was cold. It was very cold. I was fakkin freezing kehd! …and I’m Norwegian. Born and raised. Served my mandatory army stint – did the winter operations! I love snow! But swimming in England in February is something else.

Scott Keneally was also there finishing up his, what looks to become awesome, documentary Rise of the Sufferfests. (Might be getting my 15 seconds of fame too! My team and I were interviewed for the film!). After the race he posted this little snippet that was picked up by Gawker. Want to see what hypothermia is like? Check it out!

After that cold water experience it was all about just finishing for me. I started talking to my feet, because I couldn’t feel them at all. Felt like they’d been switched out and replaced with two bricks. My friend was doing some chant to his feet too!

“People reach a point,…and they’re in between worlds – in between life and death – something you can feel in your mind and in your body. We’ve stripped your mind out completely. You’ve taken your body beyond your normal point of endurance. They’re half way over…but we bring them back.” – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson

10885327_10153857830775190_4318177816009414015_nI don’t remember if that water obstacle was before or after the ‘torture chamber’. This chamber was underground. You had to crawl through thick wooden sticks and electric wires hanging from the ceiling. Then crawl through huge concrete pipes that were dug underground. I used my feet to wriggle through – the last pipe was diagonal, so you had to crawl upwards.

The last obstacle was another swim, followed by pulling yourself up a hill by a rope. The finish line was on top of the hill. The finish line!!!

“In seconds, in absolute split seconds, the whole experience of life comes to them – they will find whatever it is they’re searching for.” – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson

After stumbling across and getting our medals (PRIDE!!!!) we followed the herd to get warm tea, hot chocolate and biscuits. I was shivering and shaking so badly the hot chocolate was just spilling out of my cup and on to my hands, and it actually felt good!

There were on site showers, but they were extremely crowded. People were just huddled together under the running water. We decided to just change and head right back to the hotel. I was so cold I struggled for a long time pulling clean and dry socks on my feet – it felt like a work out just putting fresh socks on!

This is what I was thinking right after the race: “OK! I can cross this off my bucket list. I’m never doing this shit again.”

My thoughts at breakfast the next day: “Hmmm…I’m feeling a bit better now. I’m nice and warm, and well fed. I’ve slept, and my legs are actually loosening up a bit. Maaaaaybe….maybe I’ll do this again?”

My thoughts day 2 after the race: We’re actually all signing up to race again on January 31st, 2016!


This race needs to be on every OCR enthusiast’s bucket list. You can’t even compare this event to other OCRs, so here I will steal a quote from another participant:

“If you’re gonna compare a Hanzo sword, you compare it to every other sword ever made… that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo. The same goes for Tough Guy” – Luke Brice

“We’re all covered in mud. We’re all cold. …and we cling together for survival. – That is what makes Tough Guy.” – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson

…and then, there’s this:

And Spartan World Champion, OCR World Champion and 2015 Tough Guy Champion, Jonathan Albon’s blog post on the race:

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