The Tough Guy Challenge has been staged near Wolverhampton annually since 1986 and regularly attracts 6,000 entrants.
By Conor Hogan
People come from over 20 countries to compete in The Tough Guy Challenge. It claims to be the toughest race in the world, and all the competitors are forced to sign a waiver that reads: â€œI promise not to make any claim against the organisers for bone damage, bloodletting, bruising, amnesia, delirium, hypoÂthermia, rigor mortis or even straw in my cup of tea.â€
The event takes place in January, and the conditions are often perishing. In 2001, over 700 people developed hypothermia. Last year, nearly 600 people suffered from it, including the winner James Appleton. That is not the only danger, however.
In one event, there was seven leg breaks, while broken necks are fairly common. In the 24 years of its existence, there have been two fatalities â€“ experienced runner Michael Green, 44, died in 2000 after having a massive heart-attack, while seven years later, in the summer version, a man in his 30s collapsed and died.
The event is organised by Billy Wilson, an eccentric ex-Guards officer in the British Army, who competed in the 1981 London marathon dressed as a pantomime horse. He started the event 24 years ago to raise money for the Tettenhall Horse Sanctuary, and the Tough Guy Challenge typically raises close to Â£170,000 every year.
He designed the obstacle course himself on his farm, and it covers an area of around 12km. He adjusts it every day, though generally it involves the competitor scrambling through a half-mile of muddy water, crossing planks over a fire pit, a 40-foot crawl through underground passageways filled with water, and a crawl underneath barbed wire.
Watch out for the horrible leg break at 4:13
The stages have very interesting names, such as the Vietcong Tunnels (tunnels created out of concrete pipes), Colditz Walls (three climbing walls that get increasingly higher), the Stalag Escape (a crawl through mud under barbed wire) and the Jesus Bridge (a bridge made of barrels).
People used to compete carrying crucifixes on the Jesus Bridge, in honour of the man Wilson calls the â€˜original tough guy.â€™ This was abandoned after the year 2000, however, when Green died.
â€œItâ€™s probably only about six miles long, but the course is so punishing it feels like so much more,â€ one competitor, Jason WestÂmoorland, told the Daily Telegraph. â€œIâ€™ve run marathons all over the world including the London marathon 11 times and nothing compares with the endurance of this competition.â€
Despite the waiver Wilson makes people sign, he is very conscious of safety and has spent over Â£1million making it as safe as possible. â€œYou canâ€™t see the safety precautions until you need them but they are there,â€ Westmoorland said. â€œHe even employs divers to stay underwater in the tunnels and lakes to help anyone who gets stuck or has a panic attack.â€
The winning time is usually in or around the one hour and 20 minute mark. Despite its reputation, two-thirds of competitors generally complete the course, some as young as 16, though according to Wilson, practically no one has yet completed it to his exact specifications.
There is also a summer event called the â€˜Nettle Warriorâ€™ which includes two laps of an area the organizers have tastefully named, â€˜the Killing Fields.â€™
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