Logistics for Tough Guy

I just completed Tough Guy 2014 in Wolverhampton, England. Several friends have expressed an interest in doing the 2015 or 2016 race, so I am offering the following advice. I stumbled around England, occasionally wondering if I was even going to be able to find my way there and back to the airport. This information should make your trip smoother than mine.

I flew into London Heathrow airport. All terminals have a connection to the Underground (what us Americans would call the London subway system). Take the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square (pronounced like the name Lester), then take the Northern Line to Euston. Go up the stairs to the surface-level train station and you can catch a train to Wolverhampton from there and take a cab to your hotel and/or the race venue.

tubemap

I stayed at the Mount Hotel (http://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/mountcountryhouse.en-us.html?sid=c6493172d7ca8265055bcfc90d6911d2;dcid=1;srfid=f0ea2c73a04d7a89129816aca246a94d7b123fc9X11) and booked the room through Booking.com so that I could pay in US currency and not get the foreign exchange fees from my bank. I made sure to keep my booking printout with me, so I could just show it to the cabbie and he would know where to go.

I highly recommend this hotel, they were awesome. Comfortable room, WiFi, close to the venue, and enough Tough Guys stay there that the staff knows the event. They were also great about arranging a cab to pick me up when I needed it.

The UK uses different electrical fittings than the US. Pay the extra money for a quality adapter. This is what was required to get the cheap adapter I had to stay connected:

Adapter

Finances:

Room was about $100 US per night. Trains from the airport to Wolverhampton and back totaled 116 pounds. Cab fare from train station to hotel, to venue, back to hotel, and back to train station came to around 40 pounds.

Food costs about the same number of pounds as you would expect to pay in dollars back home. So, in short, plan on double your normal food budget while in country.

Be advised that the British do not mark roads nearly as clearly as Americans are used to. If you plan on checking out anything on your own, bring a GPS that does not rely on cell phone signal.

And lastly, this needs said: DO NOT underestimate this race. It is completely conquerable, not impossible, but be aware that it is a mean course. It will knock you to your knees if you give it the chance. Invest in good cold-weather gear that can stand getting wet, and train in the cold as much as you can.

The obstacles, while awesome, do not require the same level of strength as many Spartan Race obstacles, but the conditions and the amount of time you will spend in cold water require MUCH more grit.

And THIS is what you will have to sign at the starting line:

Image

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The DNF Files Vol. 1: Tecumseh Trails Marathon 2013/14

When I was first planning out events for the 2013 year, I threw in a trail marathon to end the year in style.

It was cancelled due to snow emergency and rescheduled in early 2014. While this caused a few problems, as any rescheduling will, it was the best arrangement that could be made to fix it.

The week prior to the race included 16″ of snowfall that then melted off in the days immediately prior to the event, making for some interesting trail conditions. Also due to weather and travel concerns, the route was changed from a simple point-to-point to a hybrid route of 4 miles out, circle a 6-mile loop three times, and 4 miles back. The effects of 400 people treading over soft, water-logged ground three times would make the trail conditions even more interesting.

Made it to the venue on race day, got checked in, and chatted with the other competitors at the start line. Once again missed the starting signal, but when the rest of the herd moves, you go with them.

The first mile was uneventful, then we came to the first stream crossing, swollen by the melting snow. Two lines formed, one trying to find a route around and the other rock-hopping (across ice-sheeted rocks) to get directly across. I took the direct route and was able to spider-scramble from rock to rock and to the far bank. I then turned back to help the next few people behind me before moving on.

Trails got more deeply ground into the ground, to the point that rather than looking for course markers you just followed the furrow of torn-up mud. It soon became clear that trying to keep my feet dry was going to be a beyond futile effort.Sucking mud, wide stream crossings. I stopped to help the few runners behind me over the first few crossings, but when we got to crossings that not even I could do anything but splash through, there was no further point.

We reached the park trail barrier that marked the end of the first 4 miles and the start of the repeating loop. Course officials look at you a bit odd when you go over things they intended for you to go around, but no one objected. The terrain got noticeably steeper, including a brutal hill that I came to think of as The Reaper, the only place on the course where I had to stop and catch my breath. It honestly reminded me of Mont St. Marie, where the Ottawa Beast was held.

After The Reaper, terrain was technical but not all that bad. Walk the uphills, shuffle the downhills. The deeper the mud got, the harder and less stable those downhills got.

Second loop: The Reaper with torn-up slick mud as my running surface slowed me down even more. Wherever possible we all ended up running next to the trail rather than on it to try to find some sort of traction. It was not uncommon to go mid-calf deep in the mud and require some effort to get your feet back out.

I started cramping badly this loop, and I think other racers heard me explaining to my appendages, “No, you are MY body, you will do my f***ing bidding, You will keep working!”

I was able to find salt for the cramps and ibuprofen for the pain at the next aide station, then back to the task at hand.

I asked the course volunteers for the time at the end of this loop, and found that it was 2:21. I would need to complete the third loop and a little more to get to the checkpoint by 4:30 to avoid getting pulled from the course. OK, possible but pushing it pretty hard.

Third loop: Oh. Dear. Lord. 

Not only had the footfalls of those ahead of me cut a trench in the ground and driven the groundwater above the surface, but that water was actually flowing, 6″ to a foot deep in many places. We had literally carved out a streambed with our feet.

The going was much slower, much more tiring with the additional mud to get my feet through. Reached the end of the third loop to check the time: 4:27. Dammit. Don’t think I’m making the checkpoint.

I made the best time I could getting the next mile or so to where I would turn toward the final 4 miles to the finish line, and sure enough an official stopped me, informed me I had missed the time hack, and pointed me toward the most direct path back to the start line.

About half a mile later, a truck carrying another DNF stopped to give me a lift the rest of the way. The cutoff had been 4:30; at 4:49 I was at the finish line explaining to the record keepers that the two of us had missed the cutoff. That damn close, 22 miles in.

I realized that the time spent helping others on the course would have swung the balance just enough to get me ahead of the cutoff, but that is the one thing that I would do the same, even knowing the result. There was nothing that last 4 miles would teach me that the previous 22 hadn’t already.

Things to learn from this to kick the course’s ass next year:

Carry pain meds and S caps. Had never needed them before this, but dealing with the cramping more quickly (and doing it on the move rather than stationary at an aide station) might have made a difference.

Too much of my running, for the sake of convenience, has been on paved trails near my apartment. Too flat and too solid to prepare me for a run like this. I need to get back to running on ungodly-steep dirt trails, particularly in foul weather.

Long Lonely Road: The Huff 50K 2013

I signed up for this race when the idea of ultramarathons first popped into my head. Local race, months away, plenty of time to train, and a chance to see where I stand before committing to the longer races planned for next year.

It never for a moment seemed odd that someone who hates running should sign up to run 31 miles.

3 weeks before race day I was in a panic. My running progress had absolutely fallen apart. I couldn’t seem to keep any sort of pace, and my ankles kept giving out around 16 miles.

I went back to basics, started doing MAF runs and aqua jogging, and somehow things came together. A week and a half before race day I managed to keep a steady pace without walking breaks for 5 miles, something I had never been able to do before. Faith in my abilities restored, just in time.

And the truly odd thing was that I found I was enjoying it, where I had always before simply tolerated it.

Arrived at the course, every preparation I could think of made. Lined up at the start line, joking with teammates, and we realized that the starting horn had sounded and we had not heard it. “Umm, every body else is going… I guess we go!”

The weather was much better than expected, but the cold air did slow a few of us down at the start. I at least managed to make it out of sight of the starting line before taking a walking break.

The first few miles was much like any of the trail or road races I have run, setting a pace, joking with others as you pass each other, etc. About mile 9 the difference with runs of this length became apparent: with so much course to be spread over, there are some long lonely stretches of trail with no others in sight, and nothing to keep pace with.

Aide stations at this race are famous for the quality and quantity of food. Always hit the caramel turtles at mile 4. I soon found that while I was much slower than many of the competitors, I didn’t stop nearly as long at aide stations, so we ended up passing back and forth every few miles.

The first loop was not bad. Trail conditions were good, my spirits were up, and I was still in the class of distance that I am used to. I stopped at the bag drop to re-apply body glide and change footwear, then back out for another 25 clicks.

It had gotten warmer, enough so that the trails thawed, and the runners before me had tracked through to stir it into a slick mess. I was also realizing that trail races will send you up hills that a road race would never even consider.

By mile 22 I could feel that my feet were blistering badly. Somewhere around mile 27 I felt a sharp pain that I thought was a blister breaking. I would find out later that that was the moment my toenail detached. Do your best, keep moving, and offer a smile and encouragement to others you see. Not much else you can do at that point.

I remember passing one of the one-loop runners (running half the distance I was going for) and giving a shout of encouragement. She yelled back, “I’m just doing one loop. YOU are AMAZING!” I smiled and replied, “But you are running it, I’m just hobbling!”

Some of the last of my teammates caught up to me just as I was starting to doubt if I could carry on. They encouraged me on and I got to the final stretch to the finish line about 100 yards behind them.

That last stretch showed me why I will always truly love my fellow athletes. Yes, they cheer for the winner. But there is no describing how they cheer for the newbie who can barely make it.

I was doing all I could to shuffle along, and moving at a pace about equal to an unhurried walk. The pain had to have been visible in my face. As I came past the last screen of trees and the cheers from the sidelines started, I found it in me to move a little faster, and a bit faster yet when I turned the corner into the last straightaway to the finish.

As soon as I was through the timing mats, I had to drop to a knee to regroup. The course official, obviously concerned, walked over, shook my hand and congratulated me on my finish.

It turned out that they had under-estimated how many would finish and were out of medals, but took our info and will send them to us when more are made. The group I had finished with formed up for a finish-line picture.

HUFF finish

While not the same type of difficult as a Spartan Beast or a Goruck, it is difficult for me to not call this one of the toughest things I have done. I think one of my teammates summed it up best:

“You know, I was excited about this race. Hated it a lot while doing it. I seriously need a walker for the next couple of days. And…. All my friends and I can talk about is doing it again next year!”