Tough Guy Challenge. The Pioneer Mud Run That Started it All.

As much as I know about mud runs, one question that I wondered about from time to time was where this whole idea of obstacle course racing came from and the answer is Tough Guy Challenge.

Even though one can draw the conclusion that is originated from military type courses that became more mainstream, after watching the documentary called Rise of The Sufferfests, I discovered it may have actually originated from a man named Mr.Mouse who designed the Tough Guy challenge course, which may arguably by the most difficult (and original) OCR.

At a usual length of about 12 kilometers (around 9-10) miles, the race is always held in the same place: Perton Staffordshire, which is located in England. If you can’t make it there and want to do an OCR, here’s a list of other types around the world.

Ever since the first race took place in 1987, LONG before Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race became mainstream OCR’s, the Tough Guy challenge existed and Mr. Mouse, originally known as Billy Wilson was the man behind the idea.

He kept this race and it’s location to himself, didn’t really market it well (it didn’t even seem like he wanted to), and just opened it to anyone who would come, which originally started with locals, which today has grown to 1,000’s of competitors worldwide, even though the popularity of this race is much higher.

Though there is a limit to the amount of competitors who can participate which I believe is 2,500 people per race, there is a long line of people wanting to challenge themselves.

What sort of obstacles are inside the Tough Guy challenge?

Honestly, if you’ve done any sort of OCR, the challenges you will see here aren’t that different, you will get dirty, muddy and wet and the obstacles themselves will stem from going into muddy waters, to climbing ladders, net like props, swinging and climbing ropes, among other things.

What I think makes this challenge so popular is a few things:

1) The fact that Rise of The Sufferfest mentioned it which brought more attention to it.

2) The “raw” element of this OCR. Things aren’t “professionally” made in this race, Mr. Mouse made a lot of these obstacles and courses on his own so when you people go through the props and challenges, it feels less professional and more natural in that the objects and obstacles used fit the surrounding environment, which is raw.

3) This event takes place usually during the cold seasons in that location, which makes the possibility of issues like hypothermia more likely. There have been people, including the man who made the documentary about this place that I talked about earlier that went through this course and really had a difficult time recovering after the race due to the cold.

Though hot showers are provided, the fact that people in openly cold weather go through freezing water and other raw like obstacles really can take it’s toll on you and that sort of challenge is what is probably most appealing to OCR participants, as well as the masochism that goes with it.

As someone who has done quite a few of these OCR’s, the idea of going through Tough Guy sounds very challenging and appealing. I have always had the belief that a lot of the mud runs I’ve done were done with too much safety in mind and appealed to a general audience in how easy they were (except the Spartan Race, that was actually VERY difficult).

And when I hear about one man creating what turns out to be an OCR race before this topic even became popular and how it’s still considered to be one of the most difficult of it’s kind, its attractive to me to try it. 

Now going back real quick to the documentary, there is this belief that the whole OCR industry took off with Tough Mudder and that race’s creator was believed to have taken the idea created by Mr.Mouse and apply it to his own business. I did say in my review of this documentary that some people believe the idea was stolen, however, I would have to disagree as many inventions these days, including OCR’s are just existing ideas being taken and evolved.

If nothing else, Tough Mudder brought to the world the idea of racing through mud and if anything, the attention that race got led people to seek other challenges which gave rise to the Spartan Race and right back around to this original OCR. I would even guess that the popularity of Tough Guy itself rose with the rise of popularity with the mainstream OCR’s that exist today. 

Who should do this OCR?

Without a doubt, this challenge is something that experienced competitors should do. People who have completed things like the Spartan Beast at least and who are used to cold weather, freezing water and being able to handle the muggy, cold environment.

After seeing what people are like after they finish the race (or don’t finish it), this is NOT an OCR that anyone can do, you should not participate in this thing unless you are physically and mentally prepared because it absolutely WILL challenge you.

Now if you are someone who feels ready to take on Tough Guy, know that if you wear proper clothing, that you will minimize the issue of hypothermia when you go and you should get used to the cold environment by taking cold showers leading up to the event to help the body become more used to the cold.

At the same time, know that when you go through this course that the likelihood of cramps and injuries may be very likely due to the constricting cold affecting your muscle’s elasticity and that if you wear one of more of the clothes I recommend you do, that it will keep your body warmer and reduce that risk.

Never the less, be prepared to stop and stretch often to avoid the cramp issue from potentially hindering your motion and risking your odds of finishing the race safely. Remember, I did say that a lot of people don’t make it through this race and experience things like hypothermia.

While the race is certainly attractive to active OCR competitors, know that it will require that you travel to that location, be prepared to face the cold (and obstacles) and be able to handle all of that. Keep these things in mind if you decide to do Tough Guy and again, know that it is without a doubt one of the most difficult and fun races you’ll ever do!