An Army of One

I signed up for the “Tough Bloke” challenge mostly because I needed one race that wasn’t just running.   Since I have fully abandoned the goal of being a triathlete while living in Sydney, my only events are running events, and they just aren’t as interesting as a tri.

Cathy, a friend from work, mentioned that I should try the Tough Bloke.  Her description of obstacles, mud pits, and feats of upper body strength sounded like exactly what I’m not good at.  But, it sounded a lot more interesting than running.  I couldn’t get in Cathy’s wave so I signed up on my own, and eventually the day came for the big event.

We’re on a (public) road to nowhere

I left Darlinghurst at 9:50 to arrive in Appin at 1:15, thanks to track work on City Rail and having to take a train to a bus, and then wait for another shuttle bus.  Before my 1:30 wave had started, I thought “this is not worth it”.  I changed into clothes that I could live with never seeing again – quite a motley outfit of some old running tights, old gym shorts, and a couple of long sleeved t-shirts from my company’s most recent trade show.  The long sleeves would turn out to be a terrible decision.  The tights would be a lifesaver – the race website correctly told you to cover your lower legs or risk rope burns.  I saw plenty of carnage for those who didn’t heed the warning.

And we’re off

Every 30 seconds another 8 people start the race.  Almost every one I saw was in teams, wearing similar costumes like yellow tutus or green bandanas or t-shirts for their favorite rugby club.  I walked up to the line alone, and my race was on.  But right away it was clear this is not a race.  This is about finishing.  The first obstacle was four levels of hay bailes that you had to climb over.  I was the last to hit the bailes but then reached the top quickly and jumped off the other side.  Two guys who started with me, who looked like 9 hour Ironman types, took off ahead of me and I never saw them again.   Immediately I began to pass groups who were jogging, or even walking already in the first 3K.

After 3K you hit 7 obstacles.   They were awesome.  My favorite was crawling under barbed wire.  You’ve seen it in every military movie, even GI Jane.  In training, you crawl under barbed wire while someone shoots at you.   Well, no one was shooting at me, but it was awesome.  And muddy.

You balance across logs.  You climb a wall purely by jumping for the top and hauling yourself over.  You push yourself up a cement pipe, scraping your knees.  You crawl though a cement pipe that gets narrower and narrower and you have to submerge your head in the muddy water to exit.  You climb rope ladders.  You run through piles of tires.  You swing on a zip line.  You pop over and duck under barriers.  You traverse a bridge that jostles you with every step.  You shoot down a tube of tires.  You run up and slide down slick boards.

And you run.  And you run.  And you run.

We’re off to meet the devil

Finally you approach the obstacle that you watched from the starting line: Hell’s Gate.  10 meters of rope, and you have to cross to the other side.  The super buff (1 out of 100) go hand over hand.  Everyone else flips on their back and pulls themselves forward.  Those without something covering their lower legs lose big chunks of skin from the rope burns.  I was pretty intimidated by Hell’s Gate, but when it came my turn, I flew over it quickly, mostly using legs to push me forward and regrasping with my hands.  I was so full of adrenaline I went too far and hit the far wall when I dismounted!  But I was done.   Covered with mud, and with a huge smile on my face.

 I still don’t know if I’d consider myself a Tough Bloke, but I finished the course without assistance.  I think I could run it 10 minutes faster if you didn’t have to wait for some obstacles (because others are still going through).
In a lot of ways, the race was a reflection on my athletic life in Sydney – largely done by myself.  Here in perhaps the most social event I’ve ever seen, I was running by myself, pacing myself, pushing myself, and observing everyone else.  In Austin I had T3, and within T3 an even tighter set of friends.  For whatever reason I didn’t bond with my swim team here in Sydney, and work is simply too consuming to let me train with a triathlon team.  So after 18 months, I’m still an army of one.  But that didn’t stop me from having a blast at the Tough Bloke, and it won’t stop me at any other event in the future.

We’re still training

I’m still doing P90X seven days a week, except when I have a race or long run.  So Yesterday marked 23 days straight of exercise every day, for at least an hour.  It seems like a small number compared to the 12 months in 2010.  However, I’m finally in a routine, where it’s on my calendar and I’m sore every day.  Good times.  I don’t want to publish any of the actual P90X “before” pictures, but here’s one that’s funny and could serve as “Why Bryan needs to get tougher.”  In the Bay Area, visiting John, Kathy, and SPL, SPL was demoing his killer bike skills and challenged me to a race.  I was running at about 80% pace staying only a foot or two in front of SPL, yelling “Come on!” back to SPL, and all of a sudden my knees started to lift up – I hadn’t seen a gradual speed bump since I was looking back, and down I went!  I managed to roll and pop back up, but John’s dad captured the mid-roll perfectly.  I love SPL look, which I’m sure was one of surprise seeing Uncle Bryan hit the pavement, but looks like he’s staring me down as he passes me to take the stage victory in the Tour de Neighborhood.

My Fitness First membership also finally ended.  I’ve never dealt with an organization that has such poor customer service.  Over 10 phone calls and emails, and I never received an answer.  If you have any other choice for your gym, pick anything except Fitness First.  My mates at work say Virgin is fantastic, and a lot of the local / non-franchise gyms are excellent.  And they aren’t run by a company that instructs their customer service people not to call you back or answer client emails.   That’s such poor form.  So, avoid Fitness First like the plague.

4 thoughts on “An Army of One

    • Jason, very cool! Just to warn you – the Tough Mudder is 4 times as long as the race that I did. Tough Bloke: 6K, Tough Mudder: 20K. Tough Bloke: 1 hour, Tough Mudder: 4 hours. I haven’t attempted a Tough Mudder yet, but friends have said it’s amazing.

  1. You are awesome! Will pass long your shout out to SPL. ZBL says hi too (probably more like a squawk or snort tho’ 🙂

  2. For whatever reason the pic that I most wanted to see won’t show up! I really want to see the roll and stare 🙂

    Nick (he’s 5 now) is doing his first Tri this weekend! I’ll be sure and send you some pictures.

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