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Tough Guy Race: Perton, Wolverhampton, England

Tough Guy Race: Perton, Wolverhampton, England

The Macho Masochists

Belly crawl beneath a 12m (40-ft.) pit of barbed wire before climbing a pole to assail a netted tower woven with electrified wire charged enough to knock out a bull. Below is a field of nettles for those unfortunate enough to fall. Then run, leaping across some bales of burning hay before wading chest deep through a freezing mud pond criss-crossed with hidden telegraph poles. You must then creep through 10 dirty narrow sewage pipes, one of which is a dead end. There is not enough room to turn around so you must crawl backwards shouting to your fellow participants right behind you that the way is blocked. Then you must swim through an underground tunnel filled with pitch black muddy water that has only two small air pockets if you run out of breath. If you happen to collapse and drown, other participants must trod over you before emerging to warn a team of scuba divers that a man is down. They have 3 minutes to fish you out before your brain dies from lack of oxygen.

The Tough Guy Race certainly lives up to its title. This 13km (8-mile) sadistic exercise in extreme endurance will test the phobias of the most hardened Rambos. Beforehand, all participants must sign a health risk waiver reassuringly called a “death warrant.” Major sponsors avoid putting their name to the event, terrified they will be liable to “blame and claim.” One year, seven competitors broke their legs, and hundreds suffer regularly from hypothermia. The winner gets no prize and not even a shower at the end. Participants must bathe in filthy troughs of water before drying off and going home to nurse their wounds. Yet this event, held just outside the old industrial city of Wolverhampton, is always oversubscribed and the 4,000 places always filled. Organizers now hold a summer, autumn, and winter edition to satisfy the demand for this exercise in masochistic endurance.

The first event was held in 1987 with 103 participants running the gamut of streams, woodland, and mudhills on a 103-acre farm incongruously titled Mr Mouse Farm for Unfortunates in the townland of Perton. Mr Mouse turns out to be a loquacious ex-marathon runner called Billy Wilson. A pioneer organizer of such famous runs as the London Marathon, Mr. Wilson got bored with the monotonous slog through empty city streets and decided to set up his own off-road gauntlet inspired by World War I trenches, Vietcong tunnels, and Russian prisoner camps. Indeed many of the participants are service men from both Britain and overseas with a fair share of SAS personnel trying their luck. Yet it is a Bristol bricklayer called Vito Graffagnino who has proved the ultimate tough guy, winning this grueling race on three occasions with a record time of 57 minutes. Only 60% of the runners pass the finish line and there is a cutoff time of 5 hours, meaning stragglers are disqualified. Women are also welcome and many have completed this grim obstacle course lovingly titled the “killing fields.” The race requires a high level of teamwork and cooperation with fellow participants pushing each other on through the most terrifying of installations that include a rope bridge that is just that, a thin rope strung between two trees four stories high. Not for the fainthearted. —CO’M

www.toughguy.co.uk.
When to Go: Tough Guy takes place three times a year. Check website for specific dates.
Birmingham (34km/21 miles).
$$ Travelodge Wolverhampton Central, Bankfield House, Wolverhampton ( 44/871/984-6221; www.travelodge.co.uk). $$ Barons Court Hotel, 142 Goldthorn Hill, Blakenhall, Wolverhampton ( 44/1902/34-1751; www.baronscourthotel.viviti.com).

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