The day the big boys came to play.
Toughest has long been my favourite event. Ever since my first visit to Toughest Ice I have admired their race format of fast lanes and long penalties while their obstacle complexity is second to none. So when they announced they were heading to England big things were to come and thousands flocked to sign up.
The hype for this event has been like no other, only matched in public desperation by the likes of Tough Guy. The release of the event map a month early sent waves rippling through the community with all the talk around the rigs, slides and dragons back. Many grew with excitement while others headed to parkour gyms, free running classes and ninja lessons in a desperate attempt to master techniques they’d never heard of. Myself included.
There was always the risk that with the previous race reviews, the hype and the complexity of obstacles that the event might not be what some expected, it may be too tough or not live up to the dreams of runners. It was something I’d discussed in detail with the ORM team and friends within the sport, I guessed only time would tell.
Skipping forward a few weeks and the Friday before was upon us. Arriving at 9 am on that Friday I was part of a support crew destined to help Ross Edgley climb the height of Everest on the 6m Toughest ropes. A feat he completed with surprising ease, that’s not to suggest there weren’t a few dark places over those 24 hours. Be sure to check out the #WorldsLongestRopeClimb for more on that!
So race morning was upon us and the event village was growing fast. It soon took the shape of one of the most formidable I’d seen even if a little bogy in some places. Hundreds of familiar faces littered registration, burger vans and checked out the obstacles surrounding. A big screen TV showed 2 hours until the elite men started while music blared from media tower in the middle.
Arriving the legendary Toughest commentators Wally and Brian with a new addition to the already infamous team. Behind them what seemed like a small Scandinavian army ready to take over. Athletes from all teams had made the journey with world champions littering the event. MIT Tough Team also had a great turn out and ran their customary wave later in the day with the legendary Latoff Brothers leading the charge!
Registration opened at 9:30 with Swedish precision and the elite males lined up ready for the 10 am start. Wally and Brian gave the course low down before the automated timer started counting down 10-9-8…2-1!! With the digital cannon off they shot! Its common for Toughest to have an obstacle very early on to break up the field and this was no different, a mere 30m from the start line a huge cargo net lay awaiting. Jonathon Albon took his normal start slotting into the middle of the pack while the likes of Ludavig and Conor fought for an early lead. I personally took to a later wave to enjoy the course with the likes of Paul Shanley and Paul Hayward.
Traditionally Toughest create a series of fast, low mud courses but this was in England and they adapted their design to really challenge the tightest of laces. As we started I shot across the cargo net and down towards the first technical obstacle. With the cargo net doing its job I had a play first completing the swing walks easy side before practising the hard side while waiting for Paul-Paul or Pablo and Mr S, a form of satnav upgrade I wish I’d installed earlier.
We jogged on down towards the step up, past an 8ft wall and on towards the traverse walls. Having practised the day before I knew these were going to be tough covered in mud but I was shocked to find the amount of work my core put in as I negotiated across a board of climbing mounts, traversed a scaffolding pole and swung through the second traverse section. Sadly Pablo was unable to complete while Mr S floated across more gracefully than most of the elites would have! It was great to see a legend of the OCR world James Appleton so early on with his camera, a true genius.
On we ran heading back into the event village. Toughest excel in their course design with many loops in and out creating a real spectator friendly environment. The talk soon turned to Mr S exceptional form on the dragons back early in the week and how much he was suffering… A small gathering of nervous people littered the top of the first spine, but shuffling through I was able to jump across, slipping momentarily, before finishing the next 4/5 jumps and hydrating while the others followed. The rest was short lived as we hit the monkey bars, one obstacle I’m disappointed to say I’m yet to achieve the fast lane on.
Disappearing down a hill, nattering with some Swedish legends, we hopped a wall and head out on the second of the loops, a long and technical run wound around the edge of the lakes testing shoes and ankle mobility alike. This incredible trail section lead us to the slide, sadly on this day the slide was closed, something the others will tell you I was glad of! I am not a fan of cold water and it was, in my mind, threatening my completion with Paul-Paul! Taking the penalty we walked up the hill, now I’d love to sit here and say I walked with Paul-Paul, but I think they carried on running long after I stopped! This loop brought an old rival my way, the sternum checker! Now an obstacle I compete with dignity, grace and technique rather than speed and force we were soon continuing up the hill, and by we, I man Paul S and I... They just don’t build obstacles for short people do they Pablo!? Still, ribs intact we all trudged on.
The top of this hill climb brought a hoist, a simple yet irritating obstacle that is never as easy as it should be. Again Mr S. smashed it while Pablo and I struggled with our height and weigh disadvantages! Jogging down, clearing another wall we met the most hated, and most loved woman in OCR right now. Tammy Beckett was one of the best marshals I’ve ever come across, set the instruction of ensuring every tire carry was at arm's length she echoed across the hills, struck fear into my puny shaking arms before feeding me Haribo when I got back. What a marshall! Those haribo were long overdue and lead me back into the event village, ready to tackle the legendary platinum rig.
Normally I like to attempt the fast lanes, but being unable to complete a flying monkey I chose to take the easy lane, I guess when you are not racing there is no rush… Completing the rig I passed through the under overs, crawled and relaxed again waiting for my teammates. 5.5k in team KitBrix-ChiaCharge-Muddy Kit-IceBug-Run247-ORM was going strong, even Mr S had received his second wind!
We headed off down into the technical woodland again, completing the dips walk, Bulgarian bag carry before moving onto the rope climb. Déjà vu. The ropes soon channelled round too the swinging wheels. A new obstacle for Toughest they were awesome. I was a little unsure which was the fast and easy lanes but decided to have a go at both and found them both equally brilliant. While Paul-Paul took the easy lane additional crawl I took a few more attempts and helped coach Liam across as gracefully as you’d expect…
Down into the woods, we had more beautifully technical trails before emerging at the pegboards. Here the sun left us and out cold wet bodies really started affecting us. The mucking around swiftly stopped and we all flew over and crawled as fast as we good. I jogged and jumped while waiting for the others, stuck behind slower crawlers.
We really put the pace down on the way to the ring walk before taking a sharp turn into the quarter pipe. Having been on site the day before I knew tackling this really did depend on grip so I set about drying my shoes on the dry grass. Brian had picked up on my where about’s and soon was hyping me up over the tannoy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous running into a wall, but thankfully my brilliant IceBugs gripped and gripped well, I trotted up the wall with relative ease, soon to be joined by Paul S, but sadly never to be joined by Pablo. Sliding down the finishing pole I collected my medal and joined the queues waiting for that finish line photo. The mood was electric, my body racked with shivers and teeth chattered but I’ve not felt a rush like that for months. What an event.
While brilliant this event wasn’t without its problems. Course sabotaging is sadly becoming the norm in the UKOCR scene with larger races being the victim of jealous rivals. While one obstacle was closed a huge shout out to the build crew and race directors is needed, having pulled an all-nighter they headed out early to fix obstacles, retape the course and ensure the race could go ahead. The overwhelming vibe coming from the community is one of brilliance while a few individuals have fairly shared their opinions of negativity. Personally, the event was a 9/10 from me, almost perfect, the only reason I have to mark it down form 10 is based on the standard of other Toughest events which utilize mountain terrain, frozen lakes or extreme heat, something they didn’t have.
The next Toughest event will kick off in 2 weeks on the 7th May in the beautiful city of Malmo. Flights into Copenhagen are around £50 this late with a short drive and hotels needed its where you’ll find me.