Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tough Guys Are Awesome

When I think of the English Countryside I think of putting on my barbour and boots and strolling with my dog through a landscape that looks something like this.
Perhaps I would stop every now and then to enjoy the vista, recite some pastoral poetry of William Wordsworth and maybe pick some wildflowers. Of course this is because I am not a Tough Guy.

But two of my colleagues are and here is their tale of the event.

It was… experience…. to say the least. The day started with temps in the mid 20s and sporadic snow flurries. At race time it had not changed much. About a quarter of the way into the race the sun came out everything warmed up and the race really became enjoyable and relaxing. If only it could have stayed that way even for just an hour longer. Sadly, the sun and warmer temperatures proved to be short lived. After about 30 min. of sun (just enough to build up a good sweat) the clouds took over, the wind started blowing hard across the open field, the temperature dropped significantly and a light snow began to fall. A. and I met up on the course and began running it together using each other to negotiate the obstacles and get through the water courses.

When I say it was cold, it really really was, to the point of actually being painful and debilitating. But the water obstacles were so painful that we had to stop at certain points to regain some feeling in the legs and feet and let the pain subside a bit before completing the obstacle. In the end, we came to a place where a decision had to be made. In the last leg of the race with about 90% of the course completed we faced three of the hardest water obstacles. The first was a jump into a chest deep pond that led to a football field length low crawl under barbed wire in watery ankle deep mud. The second was a chest deep ditch of water about the length of a football field with three of logs across it at differing intervals that finished with a 10ft wide platform. All of this required the Tough Guy to swim under each log, with the final swim under the width of the platform. The final obstacle required you to climb a rope net up a 12 ft tower, jump into the lake below and swims for the edge. After this, the rest of the course was a run and non-water obstacles to the finish.

At the start of this final leg, A. expressed concern with hypothermia and our ability to make it. Undaunted, I told him, “let’s take it one obstacle at a time.” It was at this point that I realized that you can only will yourself so far. As we moved forward to the first water obstacle, I was stopped by an increasingly intense cramping in my mid and lower back and legs. My back muscles, gluts and thighs were cramped to the point that it hurt to take deep breaths or fully extend the legs. It was at this point that I realized that I was worse off than I realized or was willing to admit. When A. saw the first of the water obstacles he had the common sense to realize the race was over. By the time he got back to me, the hypothermia had really taken hold and I had begun to uncontrollably shake all over. A. was better off than I at that point but not that far behind me. When we called the race, I had the fleeting thought that I could make it on my own. Thankfully my body would not allow what my mind wanted. We stepped off the course, collected our gear and went back to the hotel. Quitting and the walk back to our gear and the car was the most painful of all.

To say I was angry, disappointed and mad that I had failed to reach the finish is and understatement, as I am sure A. would agree. Glad we did it, glad we took the chance, glad we got so far under such bad weather but heartbroken to have had to quit so close to the end. The race ended with 40 people requiring ambulatory care and an unknown number of walking wounded (people who realized their limits and left the course as A. and I did). However, there were many who mustered the strength and spirit to prevail and I hold them all in great awe. I know there were some naysayers who argued that this was not worth it or there were better ways to have fun. While I fully admit it was extremely painful, hard and challenging, it was worth trying and a great experience.

Looking back we were lucky the race ran when it did. The night of the race and all the next day most of England was covered in one of the worst snow falls in almost two decades. Some areas received more than 2 feet of snow and Wolverhampton (where the race was run) got at least 6+ inches. I cannot say that I would do this every year, but I feel I will go back, more ready and fit, and complete what was left unfinished in England . When I do, I hope A. will join me again (I can already hear A. saying NO *&%$#%^& WAY) and that one or two of you might find the challenge worth it. I did carry a waterproof camera with me during the run so I will forward on pictures to you for your enjoyment when I get them (FYI, I snapped a couple of guys wearing nothing but the green Borat thong during the race and other insane behavior). Thanks for your well wishes and support.

Congratulations to D. and A.
Seriously, you guys are awesome!
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