I’m living in a madhouse. My teenage son, still recovering from smashing his collar-bone in three places, has gone and signed up to do an event called Tough Guy. It’s billed as one of the hardest events a body can endure, takes place near Wolverhampton in freezing January and consists of a cross-country run followed by an assault course through concrete tunnels, muddy ditches and burning bales of hay.
As if that isn’t enough to strike fear in my heart, my husband has just agreed to do the Tour de Trigs, a gruelling 24-hour orienteering hike through the wilds of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. It’s held every December and most years only a third of the competitors complete the top-secret 50-mile route.
My husband’s done it four times already and always swears that’s it, he’ll never attempt it again. He and his two team-mates start the big day in high spirits, with a slap-up breakfast and a quick kit-check. Head torches, bandages, blister plasters and hearty picnics are flung into rucksacks amid jokes about the horror that lies ahead – but they stick to their guns nonetheless. As long as they keep eating high-energy bars and drinking strong black coffee, the walk is mostly fine till nightfall. Then the rot sets in. One year my husband felt so sick he had to quit halfway. Another year he trudged on through howling wind and rain, unable to speak or map-read. At one point he got in such a muddle at one point that he led the team up and down the same hill three times.
The morning after the night before a weary-looking walker stumbles up our garden path in a confused state. His face is bright red, pummelled for hours on end by the elements, he’s covered in mud from head to toe and is carrying his walking boots because the blisters on his feet are so raw. As he staggers through the front door, dropping his rucksack, first-aid kit, fluorescent armbands and great clods of earth everywhere, there’s just one thing on his mind.
“I’m never doing it again,” he splutters. “Never. Ever. Do you hear me? Never.”
Except time’s a great healer and a year’s a long time. When his friend Tim rings to suggest that with all their Tour de Trigs experience the trio might stand a chance of winning a prize this year, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “Great idea,” he replies in a flash.