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Tough Guy

Are you tough enough for the safest, most dangerous event in the world?

April 6, 2012
By MIKE HUGHES - The Scene , Times Leader

The United States has witnessed an explosion of obstacle courses, mud runs and adventure races, all designed to test the strength, stamina and mental endurance of the competitors who possess the fortitude to toe the starting line.

Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Hell Run, the Spartan Race, these are all names of races staged throughout the country in different locales, each increasing in size and difficulty in effort to outdo the other.

But a short jaunt across the "pond" to merry old England will find the originator of the adventure race.

On a 600-acre farm outside of Wolverhampton, England nestled in the British countryside, you will find Dennis Wilson's 9-mile plus torture course, dubbed simply the "Tough Guy."

Wilson, known and cursed in equalling amounts by Tough Guy competitors as Mr. Mouse, first started putting on Tough Guy in January of 1987.

For the last 25 years, 5,000 competitors sign their name on the line to slog through the mud and muck, traverse up hills, climb through tunnels, jump through fire and even endure electric shock, all for the privilege of being called a tough guy.

It's certainly not for the faint of heart. Injuries are common; bumps, bruises, sprains, strains, and a few broken bones are part of the usual assortment of injuries treated during the course's running.

There's also the hypothermia. That's right folks. This is January in Britain. Warm it is not.

When the front runners from the pack of 5,000 entrants leaps into that first water obstacle, it's not uncommon that they are also breaking through a layer of ice. See the associated picture above for proof. In other words, it's cold.

And before the opening cannon goes of, signaling the start of the race, every participant must sign a "death warrant."

You agree beforehand to absolve the farm and event organizers in the event of any injury or death. And no, it's not in jest.

In 2000, competitor Michael Green collapsed midway through the race and died later in a hospital from a heart attack brought on by hypothermia.

A large mass of medical personnel are on staff in the event of injuries. And despite Wilson's love at the toughness of the course, he's reportedly poured more than $1M into making the course as safe as possible.

But it's danger is part of its appeal.

On the Tough Guy Web site at a phrasing under the course description reads:

"Tough Guy has operated for 25 years and trained over 50,000 in the war against the lethargy that is condemning generations to a nanny state."

It's a statement that rings true for both the participants, and those watching from the side, not quite daring enough to take part.

The race is self described as the "most dangerous taste of mental and physical pain, fear and endurance."

This isn't event for couch-sitting video game commandos or those lacking in some semblance of physical fitness.

The 100 obstacles are designed to squeeze every last ounce of strength and endurance out of the competitors.

There is a reason the course is referred to as the "Killing Fields."

You're cold. You're wet. You're physically and mentally exhausted and most likely bleeding for one of multiple areas of your body. And yet, you press on.

Every person has one fear, whether that be fire, water, tight spaces, heights ... this course tests them all to the max. And then there are the "jellyfish tentacles" course combatants must sprint through, receiving a nice shocking jolt for their efforts.

It's a badge of honor for those that have finished.

But the question remains, are you tough enough for Tough Guy?

Visit the Web site, check out the course description, even catch a few YouTube videos of past races and decide for yourself.

Hughes may be reached online at



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