About 5,000 runners braved bitter cold, mud, fire and exhaustion in the annual Tough Guy event in the English midlands on Sunday (February 1).

Claimed to be the toughest race in the world, most of the entrants seemed not to be taking it too seriously with many crossing the starting line in fancy dress.

Waiting for them along the 14km course were huge wooden barricades, rope walks, deep and icy water, fire barriers and several metres spent face down in thick mud squirming under strings of barbed wire.

First held in 1987, the event was started by a former soldier inspired by army assault courses of the type endured by military recruits.

Over the years the gruelling marathon has attracted increasing numbers of masochists from around the world and this year 37 countries were represented, each competitor having to sign a waiver reading: "It's my own silly fault for being here".

The winner was Briton Jonathan Albon who completed the torture course in one hour 36 minutes 47 seconds, about three minutes ahead of his nearest rival, compatriot Conor Hancock.

Shivering with cold, Albon could barely speak about his victory before being dragged away for a check-up by medics, who issued medals, hot drinks and thermal blankets to ward off any possible cases of hypothermia.

And judging by the faces of the finishers, it all looked worthwhile.