Going until the bitter end. A ‘memoire’ from Christian Scherf
It took me some days to digest what I just lived and accomplished; the whole experience was beyond any expectation. Now I have besides my memories I can talk about, beautiful pictures for me to share with the world…-
On my vacation trip to visit relatives and friends in Germany, I decided to take the first stop in England. The reason: I needed to go where the sport that we all love and practice so intensively was BORN and originated. Yes, the –so called- mecca of OCR: Tough Guy® – The Original; taking place on January 29 close to Wolverhampton in England.
For those you don’t know, Billy Wilson was better known as Mr. Mouse, created on his 600-acre (2.42 square km) farm a brutal 15 km (9-mile) course exactly 30 years ago on 1987. Many of the present days OCR people were not even born back then and have surely no clue abut this race. Inspired by his military background and his eccentric personality, Mr. Mouse’s brutal race is known for being of the hardest and most terrifying race in the World.
But why is it so hard? Because of the Winter Cold temperatures, the icy cold water, more than 200 obstacles filled with mud without end and a DNF rate of more than 1/3 among other bizarre mental and physical challenges. If you haven’t watched Scott Keneally’s OCR documentary titled “Rise Of The Sufferfests” check it out and get a sneak at this clip from the great film where he talks about the race, Mr. Mouse and his experience:
The full film is available here: http://riseofthesufferfests.com/shop
Held traditionally every last Sunday of January this year marked the very last Tough Guy®. Mr. Mouse will continue to do OCR events on his farm but not another Tough Guy®, focusing all efforts on fundraising events now. Detailed info on its official site: http://www.toughguy.co.uk/
His purpose achieved by leaving a legacy behind that surely will stand for decades in the name of this sport. So knowing all of this I knew that one day I’d have to check it out. Since my beginning in this sports back in 2013, I found out about this race but was completely terrified about it. Living in Mexico doesn’t make it easier to travel this far to finish maybe not.
But quicker than expected that day would come for me when I found out that January the 29th, 2017 would be the last time this race would be done. Being this my last chance it was no question that being an OCR lover and overall an intense guy; I need to go and do it! It wasn’t an easy decision. Just like Mr. Mouse wanted it to be, I’d have to go and face many fears I have such as Vertigo (fear of heights), claustrophobia and the worst of all, the freezing mind breaking cold water.
Finally one of my best friends in OCR André Schmidt convinced me to come and join his crazy German friends on the trip. I swear I was pretty scared the days before and of course couldn’t sleep the night before. For my luck the race didn’t start until about 11:30 am that Sunday.
We were more than 1 hour in the car waiting to arrive because the traffic was so intense. More than 5,500 people were expected to show up. Much more than the previous years where the attendance averaged about 3,000 people. Positive was that we were on the farm the previous day to check out the course, get our registration done and of course talk to the mastermind and father of this sport, Mr. Mouse.
Once I stood ready at the starting line, I was relieved and knew I was only hours away from crossing the desired finished line. Divided into blocks people depending on how they acquired their entry, were standing more in the front or more to the back. There are no waves and once the canon shots the signal; all go off at the same time.
I was lucky enough to be with the ‘Front Squad’ people, the so-called firsts in line to go off. But behind we had a fierce amount of runners ready to tackle the course. Known faces at the starting line where: Jonathan Albon who won the race, James Appleton, (2nd) Conor Hancock (3rd), all from UK and Charles Franzke from Germany.
The atmosphere was beautiful and like a crazy festivity. Did I mention the flags from more than 40 countries waving around the venue? People from many places all over the world came to this race. Bigger than a World Cup inclusively.
The Ghost Squad (some devoted fit and well know Tough Guy® supporters, painted all over their body looking like real warriors) were animating, making music and cheering. They had drums, speakers, artificial fireworks, and flares. Mr. Mouse was there, some horses, militaries, spectators and tons of other people to witness the last ever start of this historic race. I know, completely mind blowing!
Once we were off it was a call for a personal battle, everyone screaming and just madness. Colored flares all over the ground letting you not only see but also not breathe properly; hundreds of people cheering us on at the sides and a crazy, wet & muddy path welcomed us to the dreaded 15K course.
No joke, the first 3 km’s were faster than expected. Separating from the thousands of people in the back was important but damn, the first 50-90 people were fast. I had no idea what to expect because the first thing I was advised to consider and what I wanted to do is go out there with respect. So it was not a race for me but more a survival thing. I just wanted to reach the finish line without physical issue or injury as it sadly happens with so many others that not finish the race.
After a good amount of trail running in the fields with some obstacles and a crazy uphill and down hill repeats on the muddy trails, it was time to get the feet wet for the first time and taste the cold water temperature. My first reaction: It was colder than I had thought and immediately paralyzed my lower body and especially my mind.
It was a mental shock that just gets you to question many things. If this is only the beginning, what will happen at the end when all the full body water stations come, and the body is more tired than at the beginning? But there was no other option than continue going and from that point on until the end, it was clear that my feet and legs would be wet and cold all the time.
The pain and uncomfortable cold temperature reached quickly to a point where I could hardly feel any of my toes and running felt very hard. I came to a point where I need to focus over 100% to stay as warm as possible and take it with even more respect. As the course continued the mud just got heavier and heavier, and the water became deeper and colder.
Without entering details of each obstacle, I feared some that probably many others would fear too on the last part of the course where the hardest sequence of obstacles come together: The Killing Fields.
These were the obstacles related to some high structures made of wood with sloppy steps down, technical nets or thin moving ropes that needed to be crossed, to dark tunnels or pipes inside the earth. Fear of heights and some terrible claustrophobia. Many suffer from them, so it was scary.
But fighting these obstacles by trying to put all the effort into it and working the mind to pass them was a great feeling and tremendous goal once achieved.
But of course, the mix of cold temperatures and winds are those elements hard to control once you have to submerge yourself into the ice-cold water. One of the hardest parts where the four underwater dives where you had to go from one log underneath to another. The hard part is to resist the suddenly hard pain in your head that comes and stings badly -also known as ‘Cold Shock Response’.
This is one of those parts where many, many racers break and abandon the race due to hypothermia and other cold symptoms. The body just can’t send enough amount of blood to the body (and head) to maintain itself warm enough It’s brutal. I think this is the part where you hear more people screaming at the same time during the race, yelling around in pain and suffer like at no other place.
You can see how frightened it is by seeing every competitor’s eyes creating a deep connection with yourself because you can feel their pain that is a mirror to the pain you are going through as well.
So after these quick horrible minutes, I was determined that this would not break me and fortunately enough I got quick out of the water knowing the finish was closer.
Just some more water obstacles, more mud the last hill climb and after 2 hours and 32 minutes I reached the end of the race feeling good, strong and clear that I could say that I Am a Tough Guy.
I picked up my medal, got a picture done and rushed to the changing barn to wash myself off and get dry, warm clothes. This was such a crucial part as well to not freeze off even after the race.
The medal is a great reward a well. It is simply beautiful, showing Mr. Mouse as a real Mouse with a kilt and a legend that honors its 30th anniversary. It’s one of the hardest medals earned in my four years of OCR.
One of the final highlights, as we all know it, is sharing this experience with the new friends made over the weekend where all share the same passion for this sport. It’s still crazy to believe that so many people from so many places in the world came to honor and worship the birthplace of OCR in a little place in mid-England.
People on the airports wearing their shirts and beanies, sharing their moments and suffer. That’s the beauty of this sport. Thanks again to my German friends who took care of me and made me have an amazing weekend: André, Daniel, Chris, Mike, Stefan, Steffi, Uwe & co. and all from MIT Tough Team Germany!
Special shout out to Francesca Chiorando and James Appleton for giving me some very valuable tips about clothing for the race. The way I dressed up fro the race coming from a warm weather country with hardly any cold temperature training was a crucial point in how the race turned out. As well to Scott Keneally for the support, his film and always kicking ass!
- I placed about 227 out of 5,500-6,000 racers approx. in 2 hours and 32 minutes
- Out of all the countries attended, Germany was the country with more international participants
- The course was longer than normal with added terrain and more new obstacles not seen before. They were 200 approx.
- Neoprene can make a huge difference in cold temperatures (vest, hat and gloves).
Whatever happens, next there will not be another original Tough Guy® lead by Mr. Mouse in its original and most hard version as we’ve all known it for 30 years now. For more audiovisual content check out this small report that the BBC in England did about the race just days ago.