On Saturday two Healthy Balance trainers and five clients undertook the Tough Bloke Challenge. The event, open to men and women of all ages, is approximately 6km of hilly trail running broken up with 21 obstacles such as a net climb, a high wall, tunnels, mud pit, rope swinging, monkey bars, balance beams and a rope traverse named Hell’s Gate. Here I share my story of the preparation and the event…
Why oh why?
Originally I chose to undertake the Tough Bloke Challenge for a few reasons: I love a new fitness challenge, I find events a really great goal to keep me improving my fitness, I thought it would be a great opportunity to raise funds for charity and I wanted to focus on improving my strength for a change rather than the running focused events I normally do.
The Wall psychs me out
The more I looked at the Tough Bloke website and studied the obstacles, the more nervous and doubtful I became. ‘The Wall’ was becoming my nemesis, haunting me with doubts. How on earth could I scale a tall, flat wall with no foot holds and only a rope to assist? And if I did scale it, what on earth would happen at the top? How would I get down?! I had to promise myself not to look at the website any more and just focus on preparing for the event.
For 12 weeks I changed my training program to focus on strength and muscular endurance, cutting down my usual high cardiovascular-based exercise week. Sylvia, one of the fabulous HBF trainers, and I set about training ourselves to become ‘Tough Blokes’. My training program included a gradual increase in strength work, but the final month looked much like this…
Mondays – Heavy upper body weights session in the gym
Tuesdays – 5 – 7km tempo run
Wednesdays – Circuit style weights session in gym – Kettlebells, TRX, dumbells, body weight exercises (entire body)
Thursdays – 5km hilly run or spin class
Fridays – Outdoor training in a playground – monkey bars, chins, kettlebells, TRX, body weight exercises (entire body)
Sat & Sun – Rest
Daily – Stretching
What have we gotten ourselves into?
With the training done, feeling well hydrated and fueled, two days of rest and good sleep and it was time for Tough Bloke! After arriving at the event very excited and not too nervous at all, my sense of calm soon faltered when watching the elites coming over the finish line. The event was set up so that the final obstacle Hell’s Gate – a long rope suspended across two scaffolding towers – was right next to the start line and registration. This meant that while Sylvia and I waited our 60 minutes to start, we were entertained and a little horrified by watching the elites hang under the rope like monkeys and move from one tower to the other using their hands and backs of the knees to grip on. A few of the elites really struggled to make it, and a couple fell off onto the air mattresses below, having to attempt it again! Sylvia and I were now quite nervous.
And we’re off!
The first 3km there were no obstacles. We ran on the hilly, rocky surfaces through spectacular bush setting. The surface was challenging on our ankles and the hills kept us puffing. Just as I started to really look forward to seeing an obstacle – here it was… The mud pit! A huge wading pool of thick, cold mud was set up with barbed wired extended over the top so entrants were required to get really flat and immerse ourselves in the mud. We emerged from that first obstacle like creatures from the deep, completely covered and dripping in thick mud. This left us and the trail very slippery but we pushed on, laughing and marvelling at how heavy our shoes and clothes were.
Loving the obstacles, but where was that Wall?
I was loving the short dashes through the brush and how it was never long before another obstacle would surprise us. We dashed along balance beams, traversed along a wire with swinging ropes to help us balance, swung on a rope across a muddy pit, crawled through muddy dark tunnels and so much more. I’m sure I was beaming from ear to ear during every one of those. In the back of my mind I was still wondering where my nemesis was. Where was the Wall and would it be my first failed obstacle?
Comraderie is key
The comraderie on the course was fantastic. Everyone shared strategies for the best way to approach the obstacles, we cheered each other on and there was sometimes a helping hand when we needed it too. I was either too focused on the running, or in complete denial, but when the wall arrived I didn’t even see it and tried to dash past it! My moment to face my nemesis had arrived. The wall certainly was high. I found the rope to have two loops as foot holds, and put my foot in the first but found the second loop to be way too high to step my next foot into. Clinging to the rope I realised the top of the wall was still too high for me to reach. Without the kind Tough Blokes behind us to give our foot a little boost, Sylvia and I would have been unlikely to get over that tall wall. But that was just it, there was always someone there to help out. A quick push under my foot and I reached the next loop so I could pull myself over the wall. Hanging over the wall on my stomach, I looked down to find a ledge only a metre below! Huzzah! I dropped onto the ledge and scaled down the stairs. Nothing could stop me now!
I had not expected this
The Wall was the obstacle I felt the most nervous about, but in the end the toughest obstacle for me was the Net climb. I’m not great with heights, but the up and the down wasn’t a problem, it was the scrambling over the top of the net to get down the other side. I felt precariously perched and my hand wouldn’t let go to allow me to get down the other side! I found myself stuck, clinging like a small animal caught in a torchlight. My right hand just wouldn’t let go. I felt like if I moved I’d slip and plummet metres to the bottom.
A competitor on the nets paused behind me in support, Sylvia cheered me on and gave advice, and I had a good stern talk to myself inside my head. Finally my hand let go and allowed me to get down to the ground. After that everything was a cinch!
The toughest strength challenges
In terms of the strength and fitness needed, the most challenging obstacles were the monkey bars and Hell’s Gate. Sylvia and I had practiced the monkey bars in a local park so we did that without a worry. I recommend practicing this well in advance of the event. As for Hell’s Gate, I have no idea how one would practice it, but I just knew I didn’t want to attempt it twice so I hung on and scrambled. Being squirted in the eyes with a kid’s waterpistol during the Hell’s Gate certainly didn’t help, but one grumpy growl from me and the water pistol stopped, allowing me to finish the challenge without added difficulty. It was a tiring obstacle, but such a rewarding one. I felt so good to complete it on first attempt, and wore the bruises it caused as a little badge of honour.
Sylvia and I certainly didn’t push our pace at all. We were uncertain of how to pace ourselves and how much muscular fatigue we’d be suffering later in the course. Now that we’ve done it, we know we can push ourselves much faster next year and will be aiming to beat 40 mins at least. I didn’t suffer any muscular fatigue, but I did suffer impressive bruises on my knees, skinned elbows and significant bruising on the back of my knees and thighs from the rope at Hell’s Gate. There’s a lot of crawling so I will wear something to protect my knees next year. What you wear is important so I’ll be sharing my tips in a post soon.
We ARE tough enough!
All of us took between 50 and 60 minutes to complete the event and finished elated and relieved. We were all happy to find that we were tough enough and it wasn’t as challenging as we expected. Anyone with a good fitness level will do a great job of this course. Next year we’ll be encouraging many of you to join us and will offer advice and training tips to get you there!
Got any questions or advice regarding this event? Leave your comments below…