Frontier Team Gets Tough

by Paul Kirtley

Ready to go and still very clean. In retrospect, the tongue-in-cheek epithet given to Tough Guy newbies is quite fitting. As a veteran, Henry should have had more sense! Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Ready to go and still very clean. In retrospect, the tongue-in-cheek epithet given to Tough Guy newbies is quite fitting. As a veteran, Henry should have had more sense! Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Hatching a Plan:

One evening last summer, some of us on the Frontier Bushcraft instructional team were sitting around a campfire eating dinner. We were discussing keeping fit and strong over the winter.

As a team we are very busy from March through to October running bushcraft courses in the UK. These are long days, spent largely on our feet and undertaking reasonably physical activities.

For those of us who are involved with Frontier's overseas expeditions, we are making real journeys and this involves a reasonably amount of physical activity.

In the winter, however, we are much quieter, with fewer courses or trips. It's a great opportunity to brush up on skills in areas such as first aid and white water safety and rescue. It's also a time when we are less active overall.

So it was that we were discussing motivation for keeping in shape over the winter. We decided we needed something to work towards, a goal, a motivational target. This had to be something we could prepare for and undertake between October and March.

Henry suggested the Tough Guy challenge, held each year at the end of January. He'd done it before and recommended it. The rest of us, carried along by Henry's enthusiasm, agreed that this is what we should do. Mentions of mud, cold water and obstacles were passed over quickly. Besides, it sounded like the so-called "summer" of 2012 that we were having. How much worse could it be than the mud we had experienced in the woods last May?

If we'd seen the following video before we agreed to sign up for the event, we might not have done. It's a 15km course that starts off cross country and culminates in an obstacle course conceived in a warped mind...

So it came to pass that a group of us decided we would take up this challenge (still not knowing much about it other than it involved running in mud and climbing over stuff).

D-Day:

Fast forward to early on the morning of Sunday 27th January 2013. James, Henry, Matt and I are all stood in clothing that is too tight to be flattering, eating porridge and jam, drinking fresh coffee.

In the previous months, we have trained. We have also found out more about what is involved in Tough Guy.

Some of us are questioning our sanity.

We all blame Henry.

A few hours later we are at the start limbering up, getting ready to go. It's cold, it's very wet underfoot. We are surrounded by a deranged horde of Tough Guy competitors. And then we were off....

Some of what followed over the next few hours is captured in the photos below:

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

The country miles. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

Paul and James descend 'The Tiger'. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

"The Tiger".  Photo: Amanda Quaine.

One of several massive obstacles. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

The 'Zulu Zero Swamp' - an exercise in getting very cold. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

Climbing the 'Behemoth'. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Crossing the 'Behemoth'. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Crossing the 'Behemoth'. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

Henry racing ahead. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

"Battle of the Somme" ditches.  Photo: Amanda Quaine.

"Battle of the Somme" ditches. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

More water... Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

James takes the plunge. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

A deep one! Frontier team make use of their river crossing skills. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

Burning hay-bale jumps. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

Yet another swamp with obstacles. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

A little muddy at the drinks stop. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

More water... Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

The 'Water Tunnel' causes exquisite brain freeze like you've never experienced... Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Getting stuck in the crowds.  Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Getting stuck in the crowds. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

No easy way off this thing. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

The Frontier team's clothing choices proved excellent. By contrast there were countless hypothermia victims amongst the competitors, such as this one being passed by Paul. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

James "The Snarl" Bath gets tough... Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

James and Paul endure 'tyre torture'. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

Frontier Team Do Tough Guy

Survivors: Paul, James, Matt and Henry complete Tough Guy without injury or hypothermia! Photo: Amanda Quaine

Post Mortem:

So, when all is told, are we glad we did it? Yes. Our primary objective was to complete the course without sustaining any serious injuries or suffering hypothermia. Both are significant risks on this event. The paramedics and first aiders were busy all day. Ambulances were needed and an air ambulance made at least one visit to the site.

I'm not stating this to appear macho or make the event seem even tougher. On the contrary, we were aware of the risks and made our own risk assessment. Drawing on our outdoors experience, we each made sure we had suitable clothing. Many people on the event had unsuitable footwear and were sliding around all over the place and taking falls.

We also made a dynamic risk assessment of everything on the day. For any of us - but particularly for James and I who are Course Leaders - to sustain a broken bone or serious soft tissue injury would cause havoc with our upcoming course commitments.

Hence, we were very careful. Gung-ho machismo didn't come into it. Going down backwards off many of the obstacles might be slower but if you get your leg stuck, you are less likely to break or tear something.

Our times were as follows:
  • Henry: 2 hrs 33 mins (655 out of 3,657 finishers);
  • Matt: 2 hrs 53 mins (1,373/3,657);
  • Paul and James: 3 hrs 36 mins (2,641/3,567).

Tough Guy, even if it is a bit mad, has a real sense of camaraderie amongst the competitors. People help each other into and out of ditches, over and under obstacles. It was really good to be a part of this.

It was also an excellent thing to do in building the bonds amongst the Frontier Bushcraft team - not just those of us who took part but also those who came to support us. We all had a great weekend together.

Probably most important for us - given our original reason for signing up for the event - Tough Guy served as a motivational goal that focused our minds on getting fitter over the months beforehand.

All four of us feel fit and ready for the forthcoming UK course season (starting at Easter) as well as motivated to build upon our improved fitness levels.

Now we just need a new challenge to work towards...

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Paul Kirtley is owner and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog as well as for various publications including The Bushcraft Journal and Bushcraft & Survival Skills Magazine.

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Julian Cresswell

MAD, but I’m quite impressed.

Next challenge follow Lewis Moody?

http://www.leicestertigers.com/news/15680.php?#.UQfuysWPW71

Reply

Paul Kirtley

That is a very tough challenge. The cold will be challenging in itself.

Hats off to Lewis!

Reply

Stephen Walker

Wow, most incredible effort from the lads. I was rooting for Matt and James, and by the photos had James right near the front, but never mind, there were nearly 1,000 either behind him or, worse still, did not finish. I reckon you all did really well to finish at all, especially without having injury or frost-nip in places you didn’t want it. Hats off!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Stephen,

I’m glad we all finished in one piece.

I read today that six competitors were taken to hospital and 224 were treated at the scene mostly for hypothermia and muscle injuries.

3,657 was the number of finishers. I understand the number of entrants was 5,000, where it is capped. Apparently it is usual for around a third not to finish.

There are more pictures and details of this year’s event here if you’re interested:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2269110/Tough-Guy-race-2013-Thousands-competitors-burned-bruised-zapped.html

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Elen Sentier

Well done guys, very impressed … and very glad you didn’t hurt yourselves. Good job 🙂

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Elen 🙂

Reply

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