To Hell and back, for a crack at the title of toughest nut

This was an event that made television's Gladiators look like a stroll in the park. Richard Smith watched the competitors as they struggled through the Killing Fields, Stalag Escape and the Elephants' Graveyard that make up Tough Guy Sunday.

It was, said one competitor, like going to Hell and back. Before being allowed to take part in the 11th annual Tough Guy Sunday ,each entrant had to sign their own "death warrant" - a disclaimer that said: "It's my own bloody fault for being here."

This was an assault course capable of grievous bodily harm. The 4,000 male and female entrants faced a 40ft underground crawl through the Vietcong tunnels, walking the plank across a fire pit in the Killing Fields and enduring the Bathead Swamp - an 800m walk up a muddy canal, chest deep in water.

Marshals dressed as commandos fired machine-gun blanks and let off thunder flashes and smoke bombs as the mud-caked volunteers scrambled under a 70m section of barbed wire just 18 inches above the ground in the Stalag Escape.

Teamwork was needed to negotiate the Elephants' Graveyard - three seven- foot deep pits which competitors have to jump into before enlisting a friend to help them clamber out.

But nearly everyone agreed that the worse part of their ordeal was diving three times through a freezing water tunnel.

"My legs just cramped up like sticks," said British Aerospace fitter Trevor Bowden, 33, from Stockport. "You are totally submerged and have to dive under two telegraph poles. When I came up I was so cold I thought my head was going to explode."

Standard kit for the race was a thermal vest, Lycra shorts, fell boots and a bobble hat. Most competitors arrived at the finish shivering so uncontrollably that they spilt almost every drop of a cup of tea they were given to warm up. "I trained for this event by jumping into icecold waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons but nothing prepared you for this," said Warwick University student Zig Mortimer, 23.

"I could feel my heart beating in my head after I dived through the underwater bridge. Sheer willpower drives you to keep going through all the pain. It's a very unusual experience.

"Someone got stuck inside the Vietcong tunnels. His shoulders were just too wide to go through and everyone behind was trying to drag him out. My whole body is still shaking now."

Tracey Baxter, 27, a Norwich printer, said: "It was absolutely horrible. Crawling through the tunnels was so claustrophobic it made me cry. I couldn't feel my hands because they were so cold and I think the fire pit was there just to warm you up."

Diane Mort, 38, from Swansea, a legal executive, said: "I've lost all feeling in my right leg. I was reduced to tears at one point - I just couldn't believe I was doing this."

The eight-mile course was built by the event's organiser Billy Wilson on a 600-acre farm near Wolverhampton. Mr Wilson, who runs a rescue centre for horses, said: "We advise people to train for this event by strapping themselves to the bonnet of their car and getting their wives to drive them through the car wash. I have pictures to prove people have tried it.

"What we are doing is testing people to the limits of their endurance and fear of natural things. We are trying to re-create the First World War and Vietnam battlefields to show people what their granddads went through.

"You can imagine the adrenalin rush when they climb over a 320ft-high rope ladder called the Behemoth and see these fire pits. The only way across is over three pathways made up of a nine-inch-wide plank. There ain't nothing like this in the world. You can't get this thrill watching Arnold Sch-warzenegger's stunt man at the cinema.

"Women seem to come out of it less stressed and knackered than the men because their bodies don't collapse so quickly. Four people suffered broken legs last year but we've never had anyone die on the day."

Around 150 people were treated for hypothermia and two taken to hospital, one with a suspected broken thigh.

Margaret Coomby, the St John Ambulance controller, said: "It's been like battlefield conditions here. Some people were too cold to shiver. They couldn't help themselves and they couldn't even walk, so we wrapped them up in blankets and gave them plenty of warm drinks to help them recover."

The winner - for the third successive year - was Aled Rees, 26, from Cardiff, in a record 1hr 35min 47sec. The stragglers took more than five hours but all 2,900 who completed the course received a medal, because if ever there was an event where the taking part was as important as the winning, this was it.

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
News
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years