1. Free Running – Obstacle Racing

Date: 20 November 2022
Tough Guy & Nettle Warrior OCR

What are Free Running sports exactly?


Free running is a way of expression by interacting with various obstacles and environments. Free running may include flipping and spinning. These movements are usually adopted from other sports, such as gymnastics, tricking or breakdancing. Free runners can create their own moves, flows and lines in different landscapes. It is all about becoming creative in an objective environment. Practitioners of free running usually do parkour as well. Free running is often associated with parkour by adding acrobatic and stylish moves, showcasing the art of movement. Free running was founded by Sebastien Foucan, who discussed the subject in Jump London in 2003.

Foucan developed free running as a more inclusive form of parkour. Parkour’s efficient military-style obstacle course training lends itself to the martial art as a means of weapons avoidance and efficiently closing a distance from an opponent. Free running is derived from parkour, but it emphasizes not efficiency but artistry, allowing room for fancy flips and stylistic acrobatics.


Obstacle Course Racing /Running



What is Obstacle Racing Exactly?

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is a sport in which a competitor, travelling on foot, must overcome various physical challenges in the form of obstacles. Races vary from mostly obstacles to track races to urban and cross-country events.

In cross-country events, mud and trail runs are often combined and the races are designed to result in mental and physical collapse. Obstacles may include climbing over walls, carrying heavy objects, traversing bodies of water, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping through fire. Many obstacles are similar to those used in military training, while others are unique to obstacle racing and are employed throughout the course to test endurance, strength, speed and, dexterity.

Races vary in distance and difficulty, often combining trail running, road running, and cross-country running. With race venues typically in sports stadiums, ski resorts, cities and parks, organizers encourage athletes of all types to participate.


Tough Guy Challenge:


Tough Guy Challenge



Its widely thought that Tough Guy OCR, was the first race held in 1987. The race has been running continuously since its inception and continues to attract contemporary and professional athletes.

In 2011, approximately one million people registered to participate in obstacle racing events in the United States (US), 4.5 million in 2015, 5.6 million in 2016 and over 6 million in 2017. Globally the number of participants is thought to be 20 million.

Tough Guy claims to be the first official and toughest obstacle course race in the world. The race is held twice a year in winter and summer. The winter event requires competitors to compete in near-freezing temperatures and contend with ice and snow.

Tough Guy claims to be the world’s most demanding one-day survival ordeal.

First staged in 1987, the Tough Guy Challenge is held on a 600-acre (2.42 square km) farm in Perton, Staffordshire, near Wolverhampton, England, and is organized by Billy Wilson (using the pseudonym “Mr. Mouse”). It has been described as “the toughest race in the world”, with up to one-third of the starters failing to finish in a typical year.

After 27 staging of the winter event, Wilson still claimed nobody had ever finished the course according to his extremely demanding rules. The race, and its summer equivalent, has suffered two fatalities during its history.

Taking place at the end of January, often in freezing winter conditions, the Tough Guy race is staged over a course of over 9 miles (2016 about 15 kilometers). It consists of a cross-country run including many (2016 was nine) 50-metre slalom runs up and down a hill, over 6 feet deep mud and water-filled ditches, log jumps, followed by an assault course.

Claimed to be tougher than any other publicly accessible worldwide, featuring over 25 obstacles through, under and over freezing water pools, over fire pits, rope bridges, nets and so on. The organizers claim that running the course involves risking barbed wire, cuts, scrapes, burns, dehydration, hypothermia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, electric shocks, sprains, twists, joint dislocation and broken bones.

Although the course is adjusted each year, its features have included a 40-foot (12.2 meters) crawl through flooded tunnels, balancing planks across a fire pit, and a half-mile wade through chest-deep muddy water. There are many high timber towers to climb with the Brandenburg gate at 50 feet being the highest. Marshals, dressed as warriors, fire amphibious tank gun blanks and let off exploding flares and smoke bombs over the heads of competitors as they crawl under a 70-metre section of barbed wire. Until 2000, some runners took part in the event carrying heavy wooden crucifixes.

Entrants have to be 16 or older. The event regularly attracts fields of up to 5,000 competitors, in various countries around the world.

Before taking part, entrants must sign a “death warrant”, which acknowledges the many risks and dangers, and which the organizers claim absolves them of any legal liability in the case of injury. First aid is provided by 2 Doctors, Paramedics, Nurses, 60 First Aiders St. John Ambulance.

2017 was the last official Tough Guy

Over a year’s hiatus following the 2017 race, with three events held during this period on the traditional Tough Guy course under the “Mr Mouse Events” nomer, albeit with altered routes and distances. The winter “Mudathon” in February 2018 was filmed and later broadcast on BBC Two as part of the corporation’s Sports Relief scheduling, and followed four celebrities on their journey to train and attempt to complete the “Tough Guy” course.

Tough Guy HQ later announced it would be returning to its roots and has since restarted its Nettle Warrior and Tough Guy Original races under the original format and names, which it continues to hold annually.

Tough Guy is the nightmare of being chased by a herd of stallions. Your only escape route is a mighty and revered obstacle course. Built from trees, 15 meters high with Tarzan ropes swinging. No hats and no hookups. Just pure, organic grip strength from your cold and wet hands. Belly flop beneath razor wire, the stallions still snorting at your heels, matching your every step. Look deep into the flames before diving through them straight into shoe-sucking mud. Then something wakes you, or does it? Were the stallions just a nightmare? No time to look back, the narrow tunnels beckon. You bravely enter to discover they’re filled with murky water. You can’t see. You can’t breathe. What chance of survival? Grope around and grab that rope. Pull yourself lungs bursting, into the light! You see the sun, or is it just another cruel mirage? You are faced with a wall climb, as high as a mountain. No visibility again. Is that smoke, mist or cloud? How do you get down? Take the netting or dive into the freezing lake. You suddenly realize that the sound of stallions behind is fading.





Nettle Warrior is the SUMMER VERSION of Tough Guy, first staged in 1998, and is normally run at the end of July. Though the course is essentially the same as Tough Guy, there are notable differences. Nettle Warrior involves two laps of an area the organizers have called “The Killing Fields”, a log carry and some rafting as part of “The Lake” obstacle.

Nettle Warrior, an endurance event in Perton, Staffordshire. Like the original, which takes place in January, Nettle Warrior involves a grueling cross-country run and assault course. Unlike Tough Guy, competitors don’t have to deal with sub-zero temperatures. To compensate, they go twice around the assault course instead of once, spend more time submerged in muddy water, and tackle 7ft stinging nettles. Suffice to say, it’s no walk in the park.

The organizers conjure an aura of terror in the build-up: the race is billed as the “most dangerous test of mental and physical pain, fear and endurance” in the world. Death Warrants have to be signed before competing. Inundated with warnings about hypothermia, tetanus and ‘flesh rippers’, an emailed tales of past participants’ terrible injuries. The scare tactics work.

The macho nature of the event is also hyped up. Officials write your race numbers on foreheads in marker pen. On successful completion of the race, Tough Guys are permitted to shout “Yohimbé”, which apparently translates as “My dick’s bigger than yours”.

Women are vastly outnumbered by men and tend to be accompanied by solicitous male partners.

Comments from a women competitor:

In the moments before the cannon fired to start the race, I was overcome with a kind of grim resignation. The start is staggered, and as a ‘wetneck’ (first-timer), I was at the back of the pack. When I finally crossed the starting line, I half-ran, half-slid down the steep slope and set off through what resembled a minefield (they were actually flares, but created a convincingly smoky warzone effect).

As a very reluctant jogger, I had dreaded the cross-country run more than anything else, so I was probably one the few competitors to actively welcome the pits filled with muddy water that greeted us almost immediately. Anything to break up the run. When I emerged, soaking wet and caked in filth, and ran on feeling twice as heavy as usual, I did rethink my enthusiasm somewhat. But with more than 2,500 runners the trail ahead quickly filled up, and soon there were more bottlenecks than clear runs, allowing plenty of chances for a breather.

This quickly emerged as a theme: get wet and muddy; queue for a bit; run when you get the chance. Luckily, the weather was kind – overcast but warm. In January, it must be a different story. As previous competitors had warned me, it’s nearly impossible to get ahead of the pack and finish in a fast time unless you start near the front. For most, though, the challenge is merely to complete the event, not to try to win it. As the founder, Billy Wilson (aka Mr Mouse), said on Sunday: “It’s not a race, it’s an event – it’s for people to come and challenge the Tough Guy course. Everybody here is a winner.”

The slaloms, a punishing series of hill runs, are infamous in Tough Guy circles, so I was relieved to run up and down them with ease … or so I thought. In actual fact, they were just the warm-up hills. I defy anyone to tackle the real slaloms with anything approaching ease. Imagine a sheer hillside. Now picture yourself climbing up and running down it, again … and again … and again. I think there were around a dozen slaloms in all, though it’s hard to be sure – by the end I was a little delirious.

The rest of the run was a breeze in comparison: crawling under nets and jumping over giant hay bales were nothing next to those hills. That is, until we reached the mud slaloms. Similar to the hill slaloms, these involved sliding down a muddy bank into a pond full of filth, clambering out again – with great difficulty if, like me, you’re somewhat vertically challenged – moving down the bank, and repeating. And repeating. And repeating. It was at this point that the utter pointlessness of the whole endeavour hit home to everyone, and people reacted in one of two ways. They either embraced the futility, as I did, or doggedly ploughed on – or they cheated. In fact, from this moment onwards the cheating – mainly skipping obstacles – was rife.

On a more positive note, this was also the point that the legendary Tough Guy spirit was revealed and everyone started helping everyone else, offering leg-ups out of ponds or holding out a helping hand from the bank. The whole race was notable for its camaraderie and cheerful, ‘we’re all mugs together’ atmosphere.

Slaloms over and nearly two hours in, I finally hit the assault course. Obstacles came thick and fast: the Colditz Walls, the Behemoth, the Dead Leg Swamp, the Stalag Escape. The indoor climbing training I had done came into its own as I tackled the intimidatingly named A-frames, cargo nets and rope crossings. The only hairy moment came when a particularly tall man chose the same roped route as me, stretching the two ropes so far apart that I almost lost my grip and fell headlong into the waiting nettles.

My favourite obstacle was, contrary to its disturbing name, the Death Plunge. This involved walking the plank, plunging into the lake below, and swimming to shore – tremendous fun. The obstacle I had most feared, the Underwater Tunnels, had been replaced this year with some simple log ducking, which was both a relief and a let-down.

I was thankful for my small stature on several occasions. The aforementioned Torture Tunnels were agony for the legions of large, muscular men dragging themselves on their bellies through a very confined space, but relatively easy for anyone who could fit through on their hands and knees (I even managed to avoid the electric shocks). Ditto the crawls through tyres and under barbed wire.

A lake-based log carry and a rafting challenge are unique to the summer event. Some competitors were shivering thanks to the prolonged immersion in the cold water, but I’d taken up kayaking as part of my training and become accustomed to it, which was a big help.

On my second circuit of the assault course, the runners thinned dramatically, leading me to conclude that either a) a lot of people had dropped out, b) a lot of people had skipped the second lap, or c) I was very slow. I think it was probably a combination of all three.

I didn’t have much time to worry about it as I slogged my way towards the end, leaping up and over the Anaconda as I went. There was just time for one more crippling hill climb, one more slide in the mud, and one more soaking in filth before I rounded the corner and made a break for the finish line. The relief was immense, but so was the sense of achievement. Yohimbé!


Please note: I do not take any responsibility for an accident, disability, death, public liability, third party, medical costs, destruction of property, damages to self or others, destruction of all equipment, disability, personal liability, general liability, self-harm, suicide, harm to livestock, harm to animals, harm to children and intentional bodily harm, for using any of the listed products and suppliers. Please consult with the manufacturers and instructors, when buying the equipment that is suitable for you.

If you wish to learn more about this sport and its history, just pop me a mail and I will send the information to you: info@tanyasworldofsports.co.za

When you are ready to take on those mounts, Please take a moment and bow to people that are disabled, that cannot take part in such sports.

My views, comments and content are strictly of my own opinion and research and are not governed or influenced by any marketing of companies or brands. It is of my own free will to mention companies and brands that supply sporting equipment pertaining to the sport in the discussion.