Yesterday I attended the Grim Challenge in Aldershot, a 14km mud run for what was to be my last OCR race of the year: Or should we call this style of race No-CR, as unlike most of the races I partake in, where runners tackle tasks of Herculean might (carrying a 25kg atlas ball up a hill, traversing giant monkey bars over a sludgy pit, or even throwing spears anyone?) this was more focussed on the pure running, and of course, everyones favourite aspect, the mud!
Originally I hadn't intended on doing this race, but was cajoled into attending by Scott, a RAW Obstacle Race Team member (and it would appear, my new event planner) The convincing was made easier by a last minute Groupon deal to run the Sunday race. Perfect!
Now, aside from Urban Attack which was a sprint format, all of my races, from my very first Spartan Sprint back in 2013 (where jet lagged and woefully underprepared I barely scraped through the course), to our triumphant Spartan Trifecta finisher, the Beast in October 2014, where I narrowly missed out on a top 30 Female position, have been run with my Husband, Kevin.
Unfortunately whilst Kevin has many skills he is, shall we say, a tad clumsy. [One could go so far to believe that tearing the ligament in his knee a few weeks before the Super, and then snapping the tendon in his finger a few weeks before the Beast were no accidents. However, seeing as through self administered TuiNa and support he was able to run both races unimpeded we shall not be so cruel].
Due to Kevs latest injury, and being unaware of the format of Grim being largely a run with no carries or climbs, he decided to opt out of racing. This left me with a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to run, I really did, but i'd never run that distance alone. Kevs catch phrase is “You Can Do it” (said in an Arnie accent of course) so we can safely assume that a lot of my successes are down to him pushing me to go faster and further than I would alone. Basically, I had the fear (this was obvious by my morning chant of “But what if I die??”). What happens if I don't think I can carry on? How do I pace myself alone? Who's going to shout at me when I want to stop?
The day of the race dawned, a five am start to drive from South Manchester down to Aldershot, we bundled ourselves and the puppy in the car and off we trundled. Having received my timing chip and bib in the post, I was ready to go, which is fortunate as with several puppy pit stops along the way we were running a bit late.
On arrival, the set up was seamless, the entrance was sign posted, there were no queues to get in. We parked up, and made our way to the racing area with half an hour to spare.
With one large heat of over 1000 people, it would be safe to assume that things would become a bit of a mess, however this couldn't be further from the truth. With no registration to do on the day, there was no queuing, messing about, or waiting around.
Aided by a countdown (“Fifteen minutes to warm up”) we were able to accurately predict when to start lining up. The racers were a mix of Fun runners, seasoned OCR Racers, athletics clubs, and fell runners. After a brief but sufficient warm up we were off. I had placed myself closer to the front of the pack that I normally would to give myself a better chance of a good finish, but still far back enough to avoid getting in anyones way.
As the wave of racers set off, we first encountered a gentle sloping hill. The paths were not too narrow to not allow runners to overtake each other, problems only occurring when runners were not aware of those approaching behind looking for an overtake. The course continued in a similarly undulating vein, broken up by waist high water crossings, cargo nets, and slippy logs. All in all, this was more of a run that an obstacle course (unlike races such as Spartan, Tough Guy, and Tough Mudder which involve various obstacles such as rope climbs, monkey bars, and heavy carries) but in all honesty, I enjoyed the chance to get muddy and cold and keep running, to see what my pace was like, without slowing down for obstacles, and without the uncertainty of people skipping obstacles as so often happens (but we shall save that for another day!)
I have heard a few mentions of mile markers being inaccurate, however, I take these more as a bonus that a given, so it was nice to have the heads up of roughly what distance we were on. It was also particularly nice to have so many spectators able to access the course at points to cheer on and encourage the runners.
The only slight negative I could come up with, is that I found the competitors to be less friendly than the general OCR racer. I have become spoilt, and used to a helping hand if I slip, a friendly conversation, and a leg up if needed. I found more what happened on Sunday was people who were not used to running surrounded by obstacles, which are ultimately dangers that all runners need to be aware of, and to be aware of those around them. I had several trees springing back at me when the runner in front held it back for themselves, heavy muddy cargo nets dropped on me which I struggled to lift, when a quick look behind, and a seconds stop would have helped me greatly on my way. That's not to say I didn't receive any helping hands or nice words, but I suppose the format of the run means that there is little time for waiting around.
The course suited all types of competitors in different ways, whilst the amount of straight running was great for the athletics clubs and runners, the water crossings worked for the OCR racers, who powered through the waist high mud without a second glance. With enough strong competitors to be enough of a challenge for those who wanted to place, the course was also not so difficult that fun runners or those new to racing would struggle too much and be put off.
As we neared the end of the race, despite being warned, I was tricked by thinking the finish was closer than it was, however, as we were blessed with great weather and the majority of the spectators here, I made it to the finish with no issues.
It was a lovely touch to have each runners name announced as they crossed the finishing line, and I was very impressed by the results being posted the very same day, with what I can tell, no errors, with photographs being posted the very next day (although, alas, not free). We were also blessed with male/female changing areas, whilst basic, they existed, which was a huge bonus.
Overall, I was very impressed with the set up on the day, the course was good, but not as challenging as I had led to believe, however the seamless running of the event, the friendliness of the marshals, and the abundance of emergency care available cannot be faulted.
And how did I fare personally? Well, I beat my target time by ten minutes and struggled a lot less than I thought I would (the internal dialogue I had on that race is a story for another day). Unfortunately I missed out on placing in the top twenty women by one second. I can just hear Kevin saying “Every second counts!". Annoyingly...he's right...