Tough Guy could be crying for his mum

There is running marathons, there is triathlon challenges culminating in the Iron Man and then there are the races for the crazies.

Karen Hindle

Tough guy could be crying for his mum

There is running marathons, there is triathlon challenges culminating in the Iron Man and then there are the races for the crazies. Karen Hindle talks to a man who is optimistic about his impending doom at the hands of the Tough Guy

James Mwayi has turned 40. There is no longer a Porsche parked in the drive of his Suffolk home (all part of a sorry story) and his wife thinks he is showing the classic signs of a man going through something of a midlife crisis if his latest antics are anything to go by.

The general manager of organic juice company James White is swapping his warm, safe office, in Ashbocking, for the altogether more challenging environment of the South Staffordshire countryside to take part in the annual “cra-zies'” race known as the Tough Guy challenge.

Forget a triathlon with your straightforward cross country run, your swim in icy waters and your never-ending bike ride, the Tough Guy is all about raw guts, determination, mental and physical ability - and the ability to admit you want your mum.

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Billed as the original and toughest test anywhere in the world this has everything - fire walking, sub zero lakes, mud that will see you sliding down sheer banks as you try and run, oh yes, and electrical prods with twice the power needed to stop a bull - but only after you have got nice and wet so it will hurt more. And that is just the easy part.

When your knees are week, your hands are so cold they can't grip anything and you are literally freezing with hypothermia a real threat, there are concrete tunnels to crawl through and walls made of rope to climb up and down.

It is uncertain how long the course is, suffice to say mountaineers do not judge a climb by how many miles it is, but how long it takes.

Organisers say this will take you about double the time of your normal 10-mile run. Although last year's winner, James Appleton did it in 1.39 hours.

Mr Appleton is clearly a member of an alien species, because, you see, in this race, you have mud slides, freezing water, sheer log walls to climb over, rope obstacles to negotiate loose barrels to run over and a sheer hill to run up not once or twice but 10 times.

It all sounds rather nasty and you have to wonder why anyone would take part.

“I just wanted a new challenge and the risk that goes with this one,” says James simply.

He already feels accomplished in the field of regular road running having been out with the Stowmarket Striders, the town's running club, and he considers himself reasonably fit. He likes his challenges tough but he likes them to come with a sense of humour. And boy do you have to have a sense of humour with this one.

“This is raw,” says James clutching his fists and laughing. “This is about being macho when you have finished… if you finish.” I'm guessing that James is not a raw machismo kind of guy. But apply for the Tough Guy he did, even paying �175 for the privilege, and he is now in training and has benefited from the big freeze.

To get into the swing of things he has taken to increasing his gym work and running in the freezing waist deep lake that is Alton Water. He has also been upsetting the neighbours and delighting his family all at the same time with his training antics.

“I have been rolling around in the snow and my wife Joanne and my two girls, Philippa and Eleanor, have been hosing me down with very cold water while I stand outside with not a lot on.

“People ask me why am I doing it. I say 'why not?' When it is over I will be able to look back and say I have done it…I think it is watching too much TV actually.”

James has torn himself away from programmes such as Ninja Warriors and Richard Hammond's soft version Total Wipeout, and got on with his training and taking part in a similar event in December.

“I did the Grim, which is slightly lightweight compared to the Tough Guy. It was in Aldershot and is like a kind of army assault course. It was mostly running and I thought I could do that, but it was tough. Half way round I did wish my mum was there.”

He added: “I thought I was prepared but I wasn't. I went into it thinking it was a walk in the park - but it wasn't. I was still going round but I thought: 'I can't do this any more where is my mum.'

“It completely drains you; water didn't do anything for me. I can easily run eight miles without taking any water but it is the energy you need. Running normally is fine but this is cross country terrain and I didn't really appreci-ate how hard that would be on my energy levels.

“I am better prepared this time. I am going to have those energy pouches and have a bag with some jelly babies and things like that to keep me going in the final stages - that's if I am not stretchered off and taken to hospital.” More laughing only a little less reassured this time.

“There is a high risk of injury,” and just to prove this he shows me footage on line of a man who has come a crop-per on one of the legs and his knee cap is facing in an altogether unhealthy direction.

“Women do this race as well, you know, and they fare better than the men. They have a better mental attitude. They can take pain so much better than we can. We get a little sniffle and we think we are dying. Women just get on with it, focus and head down.

“When you do it for the first time you are a wet neck. You have to sign your death warrant, well everyone has to, before you can race. It is a disclaimer to say you are fit enough to do it and you do it at your own risk, that sort of thing. I think for some men who apply for this it is all about being macho and pub talk probably. This is not the type of challenge which will see you doing high-tech training with high tech equipment. You can see from the pictures a lot of people who do this go out to have a lot of fun.

“There is a great camaraderie with these things because you are a group of people doing the same thing. Although I am going on my own I know I will have a little chat with people as we are running and then you will probably never see them again. You help each other through the tunnels and things like that so it will be good.”

Who is he trying to convince? Me or him?

Highlights of the Tough Guy course

The slalom is a series of tight twisting zigzags not unlike the skiing slalom event. But unlike skiing you repeatedly run up and

down the hillside. Organisers say: “ The fittest amongst you may be able to run up the first couple, but by the last one even the elite will be faltering.”

The Tiger consists of two massive 40ft A-frames that competitors must clamber up and run down. Between the two is the 'Sting in the Tail' a series of electric fences primed and charged with twice the power required to stun a bull. Traditionally this is the first obstacle you get after the long run.

Colditz is a series of three progressively higher walls, 2m, 3m and 4m high, it takes a subtle combination of rope and leg work is

certain to wear even the fittest competitor down.

The Behemoth is a series of four towers over a bed of killer nettles. The first task facing you is shimmying up a telegraph pole to the top of the first tower.

The Firey Holes are a number of ditches of varying depths “filled with the finest spring water, interspersed with raging fires. We have floating islands in the ditches to give the illusion you can cross the ditches without getting wet. So either hurl yourself at the island, leap desperately for the other side or plunge into the murky depths cover-ing you in flame retardant mud.”

“Then the fire walk, a chance to bask in the glow of a warming fire, just go for it - run straight through! If you feel you leg hair getting singed just keep on running until you fall into the next muddy ditch.”

Tyre Crawl is what it says it is until the end when you are spat out into muddy baths or dense thickets of nettles.

The Swamp

“We spend weeks making the legendary Tough Guy mud, using muck, spring water and a couple of secret ingredi-ents to get just the right consistency. Attempting to pick a 'clean line' though the swamp is impossible so just give in to the inevitable and take the direct centre passage. The trick is to keep moving. Should the legs go, get some passing fitter gazelle legs to pull you along before you sink in too far - we lost a tractor in here back in 1999.”

The Vietcong Tunnels

Inspired by the horrors of that conflict these tunnels are a series of 'used' sewer pipes that worm their way through the hillside. There is a choice of diameter but choose carefully as there is at least one dead end. You could be stuck in here for hours, no way forward and 10 Tough Guys blocking your passage back.

Viagra Falls

A hillside covered in rubber with the Fire Brigade Young Firefighters learning to hold powerful hoses of water washing you down the slide into a pond.

The Underwater Tunnels

These have bee voted the most dreaded obstacle five years running. The approach to the tunnel is wading through chest deep water. As a concession you can drop in the water halfway round the river in the winter, but in the sum-mer you've got to do the full 200m. The river has a series of acclimatisation dunks as your route is blocked by telegraph poles.

Stalag Escape is based on the infamous Stalag 17 Prisoner of War Camp this obstacle consists of a twisted, tangled web of barbed wire strewn across your path. The only way to pass is to lay face down in the mud and belly crawl the 40ft under it to (comparative) safety at the other side. “Don't look up.”

The Hill is the last obstacle, a scramble up a slippery muddy hill which feels like a mountain.

The Finish - a heroic sprint to the finish.

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