Training Diary for Tough Guy by Mark Bagnall

In previous months to signing up to Tough Guy (TG) I had been doing some road running on sporadic occasions and decided, like we all do, I needed that next fitness goal/challenge.

I had heard about this event from my time working in health clubs and chatting to members who had completed the ‘ordeal’ as they put it. So I decided to sign me and my mate up, who had wanted to do it for years (apparently!). So in June we signed up for tough guy for January 2013! And after a meal out one night we roped in some other ‘team’ members!

The plan

Having looked at the event in more detail with the distance to be covered (15k) and the obstacles and ordeals that needed to be faced and overcome, I decided the way forward was to build up to running the distance then add in some conditioning work for combining strength and endurance.

From this we then entered the Birmingham half Marathon in October 2012 and then a similar event to TG, called Tough Mudder for November 2012. Reasoning behind this was I can cover the half marathon distance i know my basic endurance has been built, then to transfer this to off road running for a similar distance (12 miles) for Tough Mudder adding in the upper body conditioning work after experiencing the similar demands for TG.

My next stage of planning was to consider the environments in which to train, road running for the half marathon was a no brainer! Looking around my local town I discovered a disused quarry, old army assault course, a ‘trim’ track (a filed with various equipment like monkey bars etc.) canals, rivers, flood plains and an old shooting range – all ideal environments for the challenge in hand!

So I set my self some goals – to complete the B’ham half marathon in 2 hours (those who know me can see I am not designed to run long distances!) to be able to complete Tough Mudder on November the 16th, and to survive TG on January 27th 2013!


I would use my regular classes to build/maintain my muscular endurance throughout my 6 month training period. I download an app to my smart phone so I could monitor my time and distances for my runs and started training. I have never been a fan of completing distances in a set time, so I set my aim for 2-3 continuous runs on week days of 30 – 60 minutes (work permitting) at a comfortable pace to my basic endurance for weeks 1-4. Then at a weekend I targeted a LSD training run to include hills for 60+minutes. The 1st of these made me physically sick and DOMs was unbelievable! Following this I introduced some temp training runs to my week day schedule after week 4 in order to drop my training time. I would typically do 20 minutes after a class to test my endurance, keeping the LSD run at the weekends. I also incorporated one gym session per week (upper body only) consisting of a basic 2 set principle with a rep range of 15 to total failure. Training was going well and I was seeing results. Training with my mate really helped me on sluggish days, and having an app where we could a see what each other was doing from the team was a motivational tool (or male ego if you wish!).

Some runs were through forest trails and canal tow paths and through a quarry, so not to lose sight of TG and Tough Mudder. These included jumping to canals (to start to embrace the coldness of TG and then being able to run). The wet summer really helped as we ran through floods and mud. On discovering the shooting range sand banks we added in hill runs up and down the sand banks 5 times to start then built this up to 10 to really push the lactic acid build up, then continued on a run. In the weeks leading up to the half, I was primarily back on the roads completing good long times with a decent distance covered. The week prior I completed the full distance on a treadmill as a comfortable pace to see if I could compete the distance. The week before steady runs just to keep me ticking over before having 3 days total rest from running. The plan worked as I achieved the half marathon goal with 4 minutes to spare. Great sense of achievement felt.

Tough Mudder training started after a week of active rest of just classes. I decided to keep a good run at the weekend off road as much as possible now and a tempo run once per week, and focus on MSE gym and outdoor sessions. Drop sets, pre fatigue and super setting were my methods of resistance work on traditional gym session days after completing what seemed like tedious amount of time simple setting. Other session included combination moves (linking a chain exercises together i.e. press up – squat thrust- burpees- clean – shoulder press- squats), then moving on to more functional moves using TRX, bodyweight and kettle bells and moves that you may typically see in cross fit. I started to see the gym as a ‘playground’ adapting principles and methods.

In preparation for the cold water to be experienced, I introduced cold baths (ice baths included) and showers, and when the weather was turning to avoid wearing ‘under gear’ when running. Canal dips and river crossing were becoming more frequent, along with regularly using the old army assault course. Even though the final two days before Tough Mudder was not ideal, it we completed, an amazing time was had and I loved what we had achieved. My only concern wasn’t the pain felt by the electric shocks but the freezing wind whilst wet and the ice cold water that was experienced (the obstacle ‘artic enema’ takes your breath away along with the drop into ice cold water along with the dipping under barrels in the river, imagine brain freeze but 20 times worse!). Eight weeks now till TG!!!

From this I know knew I could handle the distance for and had an idea what to expect on the ‘killing fields’ for TG. I kept the same principles for resistance training to mixing it up with a variety of moves in different and kept up the running (both indoors and outdoors). I under took fartlek training for the majority of CV, not just speed but hills and sand banks along with stopping and starting, as we had to queue at some events in Tough Mudder. A typical basic run now consisted of 2-5 minutes at a high intensity then a walk for 1 minute (sometimes longer).

Tough Guy

The week before TG there was a good covering of snow; the last run consisted of crawls through the snow, a river dip, sand bank runs incorporated over the full distance (15K). The final 7 days was aimed at just keeping simple movements with basic principles in the gym and cardio combined lasting no more than 45 minutes in the total and avoiding being ill and getting injured. Sunday morning, the 27th of January arrived. The snow had melted but it was bitterly cold, this day had seemed so far of when I signed up in June 2012.

Then I was ready for the experience of TG…….AMAZING! On the way through I experienced all sorts, the readiness to up, the extreme cold. I swore never ever again.

After the event on the Monday morning I felt empty. I had achieved all 3 of my goals…so me and the ‘team’ have recruited more members to tackle the what else is out there… 5 months and counting till the next one and 8 months till TG (again!)

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Author – Mark Bagnall, Lifetime Tutor 

Mark specialises in group studio cycling and personal training and teaches at our Birmingham venue and across the North. Find out more on Mark's page.

For information about booking onto one of Lifetime’s courses please call 0870 120 1207.



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