With two races under my belt for the winter Mudstacle league, it was decided along with Scott (Honey Badger) that RockSolid in Exeter in March and the Suffering in April would be two excellent chances to pick up a few more points to count towards my third scoring race of the season. I didn’t have high hopes on RockSolid, as I knew that there would be a strong contingent there and competition would be high, but I was still looking forward to racing, and giving it my best shot.
The morning of the race we traveled from Bristol where we had been staying with Scott. As we got closer to the event, I started feeling off. My throat had started feeling sore the day before, and I had left my mum at home with a chest infection: having always had problems with my throat and chest I started to worry that I was coming down with something, and the thought of a wet and cold 15km was sounding less and less appealing. I floated the idea of not racing that day, forfeiting the opportunity to achieve points, and racing on the Sunday, as I was going to be staying overnight anyway.
Arriving at the event I was feeling inexplicably overly emotional (I blame it on being tired). Heading to the registration manned by Muddy Race - which was flawless – I was directed to a chap who sorted everything out for me with no fuss and no worry. Even though I had made my decision and sorted everything out, I was still umming and aahhing about not running, on the one hand thinking I didn’t want to miss out on points and that a good race would perk me up, and on the other hand knowing that the competition would be tough and I wasn’t going to be picking much up even on a good day, and being scared of making myself ill, which would make work a nightmare (as I work for my family).
I was left outside the start pen, wrapped up in my DryRobe on bag watch duty as I watched the warm up: when I say warm up, I mean as the fun runners obediently did as they were told, and the elite runners, stood at the start line, gossiping and yawning…
After an energetic and enthusiastic start, I set off around the event village in an unfamiliar position: having the time to stop and chat, and spectate. Stopping and talking to everyone, from the people engraving medals and the chap in the coffee van, to Carl from OR Magazine, I began to feel a little more chipper, and made my way down to the Mudstacle Gladiator section, where a barrage of friendly faces was waiting. Treating myself to a brief nap a top a hay bale (the first of many that day) before the first of the front-runners began to arrive.
Having been briefed and warned by Pete Rees (who was fearing the backlash from over zealous gladiating) to allow the front-runners to come through in their order, and under no circumstance to trip or hit anyone, we watched as the first runners approached the “obstacle”. I loved having the chance to watch as the runners came through, speculating on who would come in which position, and waiting for those I was supporting: it made me realise that the fun of the sport is not only in the racing, but in all aspects.
Once the front-runners had made their way through with little obstruction, we were able to see the “gladiators” step it up a notch and begin to give the runners a bit more work to do. From several hours of watching I gleaned the following tips on how to beat the Mudstacle Gladiators, and rules of engagement:
1. They will be as nice to you as you are to them (as pointed out several times by James Ruckley). Those who came barraging in aiming for body shots and (yes this actually happened) attacking the gentleman’s areas of two of the volunteers: do not expect an easy ride.
2. Speed equals falling over. The faster you run, the harder you will fall. 3. Do not be that person who gets mad when you fall over, it’s fun, it’s all light hearted: Calling the girl who was your downfall a b*tch just makes you look silly (and it’s pretty mean spirited).
4. Crawling is a good and humorous way to pass, but if you are a man and of a sturdy build, do expect the Mudstacle boys to ride you like a horse…
5. Ladies, it’s not plain sailing for you either, many are subject to the Mudstacle speed dating approach: don’t be scared, they don’t get to meet girls all that often, they don’t realise that “do you come here often?” is not that beguiling whilst pinning you with a pugil stick.
6. Do not underestimate the small girl at the back: often she is the most lethal of all. 7. Have fun, that’s what you are here for!
As the day drew to a close, I had heard mixed reviews about the event: whilst the course had been deemed to be excellent (although in parts a little odd: for example the sack race up and down a hill), there were several major issues. These started earlier in the day with niggles such as a £5 car parking fee, for which you needed exact money, leading to long queues to get in (nobody likes paying for parking, especially on an already expensive race). To more serious issues such as poor numbers of marshals provided meaning front-runners who were competing were left assisting each other.
The most serious of all was the totally incorrect course marking which meant that many people who were competing for the top spot and Mudstacle points took the wrong path, which meant they were disqualified from gaining points or a position in the rankings on the distance which they had paid for. For many people, although they had fun on the course did not get what they set out to achieve, and for some, driving from London, or the North of England, paying travel, accommodation and a hefty race fee, this is not really excusable.
A very pleasant evening was spent in Bristol with Scott and one of my oldest friends Jane, before heading back to Escot Park the next morning. Meeting Christie Wright, James Ruckley, Tom Nash, and Olivia & Rosanna Kuit for breakfast I quickly realised that we were heading for a mischievous and fun filled day. Myself and Christie had been cooking up a plan for customised shorts, playing on the long standing friendly rivalry between Mudstacle and Muddy Race which she revealed to the Mudstacle boys that morning to much bemused disgruntlement.
Arriving at the Sunday event was much easier, but this was probably due to the earlier arrival time and smaller attendance on this day. At registration, the Muddy Race volunteers were again incredibly helpful, sorting out my changed race pack quickly and pleasantly. Dilly-dallying around, I only just made it to the start pen in time; my mind still wasn’t really in the game. As guilty as the other racers the day before me, I attempted some half hearted hip flexor stretches, before we lined up ready to run. As we set off James sprinted down the hill, swiftly followed by Tom, and then myself and Christie. I am not sure why I sprinted off as I certainly don’t have the stamina for this on a normal day, let alone a weekend where the majority of the day before had been spent finding soft places to nap (somehow sleeping through the majority of the rowdy behavior, much to Ruckleys disbelief).
Stumbling over the hay bales, one lady shouted, “she already looks knackered and she’s only just started!” Damn...I thought I was getting away with it! Trying to keep up with Christie and Nash, clad in layers of neoprene and merino (we all know how cold I get), I was quickly a hot, panting mess.
We crossed a road where Christie discarded one of her layers, before continuing into a more wooded area with mud and hills a plenty. Christies long legs and Toms powerful muscles stood them both in good stead as I trundled behind them on the hills, but kudos to them, they encouraged me, giving me tips and an offered hand, and stayed with me even though I was slowing them down.
After roughly 1.5km Toms knee- which he had injured the day before- started to give him pain and he decided that he had to run on ahead to finish faster. I encouraged Christie to continue without me, but she decided to stay and run the course with me. This was a new experience for both of us. She later told me that she has never run a full race with anyone before, and I myself have never run alongside another girl, especially an elite. Seeing her in action, leaping over logs and hay bales was an eye opener, and gave me a good insight into how far I still have to go. (Although I still maintain that she has a great advantage with her extra 5” of height, which I’m pretty sure is all leg based!).
Coming to the first lot of water obstacles, we were cheered enthusiastically by the crowd who informed us that we were the first ladies through. Tentatively stepping on the floating pontoons, we quickly were in sync, leaping across them, before clambering up the sloped wall. We had already discussed how I was not fond of water, and stated that running in the first wave competitively, it was totally unacceptable to skip any obstacle. Looking down at the water I made a decision, I held my nose, let go of the wall and slid all the way down, with an almighty splash and scream!
Wading through the water we came to an inflatable tube floating on top, with a marshal telling us we had to duck under it. “Under??” “Yes!” “Like, under under??” “Yes!” I felt around the tube and was dismayed to find that not only was it very thick, but it also had a section added which made it quite deep.
Nothing for it but to go for it. Holding my nose yet again I ducked my head under and before I knew it I popped out the other side. Unfortunately I panicked slightly and could not regulate my breathing, but with Christie on hand, she very quickly calmed me down, and we were able to continue.
As we exited the water I joked to her that this was probably not the usual sight with two ladies at the front of the race, my point being proven very quickly when we went in the wrong direction because we were too busy gossiping…
The ice filled skip followed which strangely was not as hard as I imagined, I didn’t panic and for some reason felt the cold mainly in my knees (no, I don’t know why either…)
Crossing a river we thought we must be nearing the end as our watches were reading 4.3km, however we were lead away from the event village, and back towards more obstacles. The low walls caused us no difficulties after both taking Doug Spence’s master class, both of us practicing the tricks we learnt for soft landings, in preparation for Christies first heat at Ninja Warrior this coming Friday.
Where we struggled the most was on the pyramid wall. Luckily being some of the first few through, there was no mud or water on the wall, which made our job easier. We took it in turns to run up the wall, each attempt bringing us closer to the short rope on the top. On my third go I touched the rope but couldn’t grab it. On my fourth attempt I readied myself. In my head I told myself to float up the wall like a ninja: I hunkered down and sprinted as fast as I could at the wall, not slowing down, until I reached the rope and hauled myself to the top. Christie took her fourth try, and from my vantage point I could see that she had been doing the same as I had and not picking up the speed “Sprint! SPRINT!” I shouted at her, she picked up the pace and reached the rope with ease.
Unfortunately, doing the 5km race meant that we missed some of the bigger obstacles such as the water slide, and were instead directed to an inflated slide, which only served to get me soaking wet with cold, fresh water. From here we headed straight to the sack race, which I found infuriating and left me freezing as I hadn’t had time to warm up from the water slide. Shuffling, hopping and moaning my way to the top of the hill I had an image of the elite front runners the day before tackling this obstacle, and could think that it was nothing but silly. The only way to get to the bottom we found was to roll, starting off sideways, we ended with several inelegant forward rolls, the combination of which (plus the sports beans and too much liquid in the morning) left me feeling somewhat queasy.
We faced a few more walls before approaching the final stretch towards the gladiators (Ruckley and Nash who had raced to the finish in time to greet the first finishers through) approaching them they informed us that they had achieved 1st and 2nd place, and that we were coming in 3rd and 4th. As honorary Mudstacle ladies for the day, they were pretty pleased to have 1,2,3, & 4 coming in yellow (although I was of course racing in my RAW vest).
Having discussed tactics to pass the gladiators we decided that the best course of action was take one on each, unfortunately they had had the same idea, and as we pounced, we were intercepted and picked up…although we can’t complain too much as were very kindly deposited at the top of the hill, with only the climbing wall to overcome before the finish.
Scaling the wall we informed the lady at the top of our numbers before being handed a bottle of water and a medal, somewhat underwhelmingly still in its little baggy.
Whilst I had great fun on the course, and I personally can only judge the 5km, I do not think that the race itself lived up to the hype an expectation that had been built in my head. Although there was a fair turnout on the Saturday, I was disappointed by the lack of familiar faces I saw, although I must say, I was very impressed by the number of women who raced throughout the rest of the day on both Saturday and Sunday.
I spent the remainder of the day at the course, either wandering around or watching the gladiating, luxuriating in the beautiful sunshine that were treated to. I was impressed by the vendors there, several stalls set out for different food and drink options, such as wood fired pizza, which made a change from the usual burgers, the smell of which always turns my stomach after a race.
The facilities were good, with showers and changing for men and women, and a bag drop available on site. The medic tent was easy to find and very helpful, as we found after Tom received a knock to the knee from an over zealous competitor, damaging it even more than it had been previously.
The whole day had a very festivally feel to it, with families and friends sat around enjoying the day, joining in the atmosphere, and I must say, the location was beautiful. Despite the race itself maybe not living up to expectations, and the issues they did have, I personally had one of my best experiences, with the combination of location, good weather, great people and a fantastic atmosphere. Running with Christie was awesome, we were able to achieve a good result whilst still having a great time, and it just proves to me yet again, that the OCR Family really is something else.