Friday night at Burghley House, for the Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2015: Following the excitement of over 1000 runners in their undies, and ready to gear up for the big race the next day, most of the campsite headed to bed early: filled with promises from the Dutch Mud Men that tomorrow “No one sleeps!”
I have camped several times, but never for a race, so I was unsure about how I would fare...Luckily the OCR crowd are a fair bit quieter than your general festival campers and a peaceful night was had, despite it being below 5 degrees and I was absolutely freezing.
One of the best things about camping is that you wake up early (even more so when someone who can't sleep decides to do the rounds of the tents at 5.30am rousing everyone like an excited child on Christmas day). This does mean though, that you don't have the usual “Oh but my bed is so warm and comfy, I don't want to get wet and cold” dilemma.
After waking up from a restless nights sleep, the first thing I realised was that what had been a mild sore throat the night before, was now a raw swollen throat, and major ear-ache. There was only one thing for it, seek the advise of the wise...Facebook. I knew that I would regret not running, but I was also concerned about making myself ill. The resounding answer came back to “Fran the F up” and get on with it. (Of course some kinder answers appeared but it was kind of too late by then...)
Quickly dressing in my race gear, I found my DryRobe and refused to leave its warm cocoon until forced to much later on. I had come prepared and had been planning on getting through this race purely on sugar (as sleep and real energy are at an all time low) and so escaped my tent, milkshake, peanut butter sandwich, and PB clif bar in hand to go explore before we headed to the start line.
As we entered the marquee which housed the start and finish line the sky was an ominous shade of grey, and I was starting to worry about my decision to take part in the race, but it was too late to back out now...
Geared up by a cramped warm up and pounding music, we were counted down to begin the epic journey that is Rat Race Dirty Weekend.
Pouring through the overhead start line, a flood of yellow and orange emerged blinking into the newly appeared sun, with cheers, waving flags and smoke bombs choking us out: the Dutch Mud Men/Mudstacle Wave 2 had begun.
Within a matter of minutes we had reached the first obstacles: stacks of hay bales to get ourselves over. I was already swelteringly hot by this point, and seeing Karina at the bottom spectating I decided in all my wisdom, to remove a layer and pass it to her for safe keeping.
I had pre-warned the Mudstacle crew that I would be running slowly that day to not aggravate my throat, and so for a short while, I was playing a game of catch up, allowing them to run on ahead until we would get to an obstacle such as empty car which they had filled with yellow smoke and were crawling over like a colony of little yellow ants.
Around this point I found Toby who I had first met at Monster race a few weeks previously, and as the gang of Mudstaclites headed off in to the distance, I settled in to be Toby’s running partner for the day as we seemed to be comfortably on each others level.
The weather was gorgeous, and with a few slight hills and no major obstacles yet hit, I was rather enjoying myself. To be honest, there is quite a marked difference in my mind from the beginning of the race, to the middle and the end...
After some inflatable obstacles and a small amount of water we made our way to the first of the wooded sections, myself and Toby chatting away as we made our way over walls, through nettles, and under cargo nets, we soon caught up the boys in yellow at the sandbag carry who had left us some miles back.
I must be honest, having booked only a few weeks ago, and having been more concerned with pants and pizza upon my arrival, I was not aware of the design and thoroughness of this course. All I knew was that It was 20 miles, filled with 200 Obstacles. Having heard legend of the Rat Race company, who host events such as Man Vs Mountain and Mens health survival of the fittest, I probably should have realised that this would not be the usual event of runs with obstacles thrown in between.
Each area was cleverly themed, from “Construction zone” with cone carries and mounds of sharp hardcore and rubble to climb over, to "River Rat", which as it sounds, involved copious amounts of water.
Courtesy of RatRace
Due to running slowly, we were bound to hit some traffic, and the first of this was not long after mile 4 and the first water station, already muddy and soon to get soaking wet in the water cages. Being short on sleep, a little ill and quite a lot of a pansy when it comes to the cold, as soon as I got wet, I was freezing. Waiting for our turn to climb the high walls left me standing around, and even wrapping myself in the yellow flag did little to help me (although I did look pretty epic to be honest!)
Courtesy of RatRace
When running in a large group, you get slower and slower with each person added, and so myself and Toby decided to run on ahead so that I could try to warm up a little.
Over my last few races I have had constantly different experiences, from racing alone, to making friends on the course, to running with a large group. But the constant factor is always the support you receive from those around you.
After battling through the construction zone, I had begun to really suffer with the cold, and I decided to head off on my own to get some speed up and get warm. I also found, as much as I enjoy running with others that on that day I did not have the mental capacity to be running in a large group.
Heading off into the fields which thankfully provided little wind and some sun, I was facing a mental struggle as well as the cold.
Knowing that I could make myself ill from this race, I was worried, but also having been going through some crap lately, my head was elsewhere. Earlier in the week I had been given some very good advice from a very special person and I kept repeating this to myself.
“Do not give in, and do your best to carry on, and be sure that at the end of the day you can perform as well as ever and that you do not need anything. You are the best! Life is a bit of a obstacle race, how you run it and at what speed is up
Grateful to be alone for a period, I was fine until I reached the next water crossing, unable to see how deep it was, and for how long we would be submerged, I stood at the waters edge and couldn't help a few tears falling. I had no plan, but I didn't want to get even colder than I already was.
A familiar face appeared beside me as Leanne Machin Emberton (of the RPCC Warriors) arrived next to me. After realising I wasn't very happy, she took my hand and helped me across the water, talking to me, encouraging me, and helping me along.
Not long after this section we reached the area that I think was most peoples downfall. After being directed to put on a life jacket I knew we were in for a long swim.
Like something from a movie, as we rounded the corner to the water, the sky darkened. Ahead of us was a large lake with floating pontoons every 25 metres or so, to climb on and jump off. The wind was whipping across the water churning it up, and with people jumping in every few seconds, your face was constantly getting submerged.
Courtesy of RatRace
I luckily am a good swimmer, I don't have problems with swimming, I have problems with the cold and the effects of the cold, which is fortunate as we had quite a distance to cross. With Leanne helping me, and Phil (Mudstacle) keeping an eye on me, we slowly but surely crossed the water, neither of us particularly happy, but doing our best.
The following obstacle (after the insult of being drenched by a fireman’s hose after exiting the water) was the jump, the one for people scared of heights. I had been quite looking forward to this as I have no fear of heights. I am however, am rather dense sometimes and had not taken into account what would have come previously.
Absolutely shaking with cold, I had no idea what to do, I really really did not want to go in that water again. There was two options for jumping, the lower or the higher one, the higher having quite a queue as people were taking their time. As I stood trying to hide from wind inside the tower Tom Nash came up to me. “Are you alright?” he said “you're not alright are you? Just go to the lower one, jump and keep running. Get warm”.
Courtesy of RatRace
Climbing up to the lower ramp, I watched as Toby took his jump, and stood at the edge waiting for my turn. I found I couldn't do it. Approaching the edge I couldn't make myself jump, although the longer I stood there the colder I got, for some reason I couldn't do it.
Courtesy of RatRace
I looked around until I saw Toby waiting on the other side of the water, he looked and me, and made a clear signal that he was watching me and it would be ok. Holding my nose, I jumped in (somehow still managed to swallow a ton of water), kicking my way to the edge, Toby helped me out and we carried on.
Failing the hang tough miserably we approached the water slide, which I downright refused to do. Stood next to me was a woman whose lips were turning blue, and I think the marshals were getting worried by the amount of cold that was being felt by the racers.
We ran on, me trying to warm up, but finding by body just wouldn't move, eventually making it into the woods, where I hope there would be respite from the wind, but no such luck. Add into this the element of shade and lots of people were in trouble.
It is around this point, at roughly mile 8 that I have heard that most marshals struggled to help people, and many racers began to really suffer. Although there was a good amount of marshals (maybe a few more would have been helpful) the majority of them had been sent out unequipped and unable to help anyone. I know of several who ended up giving their own clothes to racers to ensure they didn't succumb to hypothermia.
I can't tell you how long we were running through the woods for, but I know at one point, I just stopped. I turned around and just said “No”. As I started to walk back (what was I hoping to achieve there?) Toby said to me “Do you really think I'm going to leave you here? Come on, carry on.” We approached a marshall who wrapped me in a foil blanket and allowed me to warm up, trying hard to stop shaking. Toby was in dad mode and told me to eat “I don't want anything” I grumbled (how he put up with me for nearly 24km I'll never know!) taking out his gels he asked me which flavour “Berries please” I sullenly said. He opened it up and gave me no choice but to eat the whole thing. Despite carrying round sports beans, for some reason I had yet to take anything on during the race, which obviously added to my discomfort.
As we got back into a gentle jog he looked at his watch and said “what would you say if I told you that rather than 11miles, you only had 5 left?...You're taking the half mucker route, let's get this finished”.
Still freezing, we met another marshal not far along the course who had a tiny flask of hot drink, which was another added bonus to warm me up.
Obviously the organisers had no idea what the weather would be like on this course, but I do think being prepared for the worst can never hurt. Marshals equipped with blankets and t shirts would've helped a lot of people, and like at RamRun, a tea station serving hot sugary tea after the water station would've made a lot of peoples race experience a lot happier, and a lot less painful.
With the warm drink, sugar, and foil blanket I had begun to perk up considerably, although I was still very cold as we made our way back across to the main land of Burghley House, and another tranche of obstacles.
Up and down hills we trudged carrying buckets, barrels and bags, until we got to the the big boys of the obstacles, the fun ones. The climb overs, the throughs, the crawls and the Monkey bars. The stack of hay bales the size of a house led us in this area, surrounded by spectators. Here I was in my comfort zone, as I can do these kind of obstacles (even if I did have to use the penalty at the monkey bars), taking any free time I had to lie on the grass and soak up any residual heat.
As we took the exit for the half mucker we realised that the distance difference would not be as huge as we first thought (half my backside!) and although we both felt we had the energy to do the full -albeit slowly, not knowing what was coming I was unwilling to get cold again and to risk getting really ill.
We headed off towards the finish line area, ready to face the final obstacles, aptly named “The Big One” [a monstrous mountain of four 8 foot walls, in a pyramid construction].This was followed by “Last Orders”, another three walls for us to scale, but unlike the last we were given a helping hand with hand holds.
Climbing atop the final obstacle and seeing everyone cheering along the finish (especially the lovely Louise and her son Aaron) was something really amazing, and I took a moment here to enjoy this, before making my way down, to cross the finish line with Toby.
Whilst sometimes running alone is nice, running with a friend can be even better. We both really felt like we had achieved something, and we both pushed each other in different ways (although Toby certainly had his work cut out for him with me!)
With the medal hung round our necks, a curly wurly in hand and a free finishers photo, we were done. Vowing to return next year to take on the full mucker.
The rest of the weekend flew by in a blur of music, partying and friends, with the Dutch Mud Men delivering on their promise, until someone shut them down and silence echoed around the site by 3am...
The next morning we all gathered in the fields for a group photo before waving off our friends in Orange, looking forward to seeing them again next year (and yes of course the wave has already been saved for Mudstacle/DMM/BMF!)
As we packed up to leave, the last thing that struck me was the difference in what I was seeing compared to the places I usually camp (that would be music festivals) As I looked around at the spaces left by the DMM, and the already departed Mudstaclites, what could I see? Nothing. Not one thing. Not one piece of litter, no bits of tent or broken tent, nothing...
Whilst I paid the price for my wet and cold jaunt in the following week, I had no regrets about taking part, and I know that next year, hopefully fighting fit, I will be taking on the full mucker and showing it what for!