“I have an idea” Joel Hicks, of Always With A Smile said to me, one dark evening way back in February...
Now any of you who know, or have heard of Joel know that his mind works in a very special way, an “idea” can range from the sublime (and I'm sure he'll forgive me for saying this...) to the ridiculous: this is what makes “Always With A Smile” so special. However, hearing this words means one thing, something interesting is going to happen!
“Tell me” I responded (Anxiously? Excitedly? Maybe a little bit of both). “I want to do a joint project, Mud Is My Make Up and Always With A Smile, let's get a team of ladies together, some girls who haven't raced before, maybe I can ask some of the models [he is after all a photographer in his other life] and let's take them round the course at Nuclear in aid of Blesma. We'll start with everyone looking gorgeous and made up, and by the end every one will be covered in mud and having had completed the course”
The second the words were said I was hooked. I love introducing newbies to the sport, I am constantly encouraging people I know to get involved and to give it a go, so to be able to combine an event with AWAS, to raise money for an awesome charity, and to get ladies involved in a race sounded like an ideal situation.
The months flew by in a whirl of recruiting, fundraising, promotion, and costume design. Invariably there were hiccups along the way, and I've learnt a lot about taking part in events with other people. What I must say here is, if I had respect for Joel before, this has tripled. Whilst I struggled to keep track of the ladies we had for this event and keep my eye on the ball with the tasks I was assigned, this was for one event. Joel can be doing two or three events every week, and does all the organising and post production himself. This is a huge task and he does it week in week out with no financial gain to himself whatsoever.
With last minute substitutions and recruits, we finally had our AWAS/MIMM battalion of ladies, ready to tackle the infamous course at Nuclear races.
This would be my first experience of Nuclear, so I had no idea what to expect. I had been due to run the Spartan Stadium Sprint in the morning and travel over to Nuclear to complete the race with our team, but after my illness at Rat Race Dirty Weekend I decided to give myself a break and do just the one race that day.
I arrived in good time and set up camp (figuratively at least) at the Blesma tent with the lovely Laura who had been overseeing our efforts. One by one the ladies arrived and we all finally go to meet in person, after months of excited chat and plan making. As costumes were handed out and make up applied, the excitement was palpable. A last minute entrance from Joel completed the team (he had himself rushed over from Allianz Park) and we were ready to go!
We were briefed before we set off as to the AWAS ethos: mainly help each other out, we run as a team, and we leave no man behind...oh and most important: we never take the short cut, that means straight through the deepest muddiest parts of the whole course!
We set off, splashing and squealing through the mud, within minutes we were covered in thick sticky mud, -some of the best I've seen since Nuts to be honest. A gentle jog was interspersed with walks as the team found their footing.
In my short OCR career I have quickly found that the best courses by far, are those that are permanent, such as Tough Guy, Nuts and Nuclear. These courses don't have limitations of borrowed land and transport, they can work on their obstacles and make them better and better each time. Of course with races such as Spartan you get a different race every time (in distance, terrain and layout, even if the obstacles are the same), but this can make it hard to know how you have improved. Every different event has its own benefits for the way it is run, but in terms of having an obstacle intense, meticulously planned course, the permanent races will always come out on top.
We were not disappointed, coming across standard obstacles such as walls, to then newer and more innovative sections such as the water section, with balance beams and jumps. What is incredible to see when working in a group is how every member supports each other through their own fears, experience helps, but something kicks in with people when they see someone struggling that makes them say “let me help you”.
Not long before we reached the zip-wire, Christie asked me how far we had been going, we had done just over 3km in under an hour “cool!” she said “so we will have this down in about two hours or so!” What we didn't realise was that the course was about to become very obstacle heavy!
One of the members of our team, Hatti, had already run the 12km race in the morning, being a tiny (albeit tough!) little thing, she was starting to feel the effects of this, and we noticed at this point how very cold she was.
Myself and Christie decided to head off towards the Death Slide area where we knew Pete & Co. of Mudstacle would be, to try to warm her up. Luckily with a few minutes we had a foil blanket, a dry robe, and she was safely warming up near the BBQ.
Around this area are some of the best obstacles I have ever seen at a race...the zip wire was brilliant, although I was so concerned with keeping my feet out of the water that I didn't brake, and ended up using my head against the mud bank, with a loud crash....(top tip: brake) This was followed by an easy water crossing, a floating pontoon covered in a cargo net. Easy until a rubber duckie emerged and the fight was on as to who would get to it first! In we dived and splashed across the water, overly competitive to get the duck to win a medal holder, but also having tons of fun splashing about being silly.
The Death Slide, considered to be many peoples favourite obstacle caused some scare amongst our team, but everyone faced up to their fears and slid down and splashed with aplomb!
Our time had slowed considerably, and myself, Laura “Mak Attack” Makinson, and Christie were starting to get cold, so we said we would run on to the next obstacle and meet the team there.
Behold! The worlds longest monkey bars! What we were faced with was 119m of course, high monkey bars to make our way across. Anyone who completed the official distance would win a Nuclear DryRobe (two people managed this that weekend), but in order to avoid the penalty of the in and out trenches you had to cover roughly 20m.
Myself and Christie both managed this, and whilst waiting for the rest of the team to catch up, we decided to punish ourselves and go back for more (nothing like some monkey bar practice!)
Unwilling to leave the team, but getting increasingly cold, we decided to start jogging back and forth, adding an additional 3km to our overall distance! By this point another hour had passed and we had technically covered only 800m or so of the race course. We had lost two girls who had run on ahead and we were unsure as to what to do.
We decided again to carry on to the next obstacle to warm up a little and then wait for them there, but we soon headed into the woods which became increasingly cooler.
I had noticed as I was running that I was getting a pain in my knee, particularly going downhill, and I asked to stop and walk for a while. I desperately wanted to stretch my legs out and get running, but with every step it was starting to hurt a little more. We waited for a while in a patch of sunlight, and then we made a decision. Despite having been told the rules of AWAS that we must all stick together, we were getting cold, and unwilling to get ill (and this was despite wearing a shortie wetsuit underneath my costume!) We spoke to Joel and he was ok with us carrying on, and he would stay with the remainder of the group.
What I loved about taking the course slowly was that I was able to try obstacles more than once (if no one was around) such as the hang tough rings, which I have never had a go on before, and to be able to take my time on things such as the incline monkey bars. I found when running at a slower pace, the strength I have is so much greater, and it constantly reminds me what I need to work on is my running.
Eventually I had to tell Christie to go without me as my knee was hurting too much, and from this point, myself and Laura took a pleasant stroll onwards to the end of the course.
Let me say here, I am aware of how lucky I am in life, I have no issues with my lungs, I have no physical disabilities. Aside from getting tired or cold, really I never have any huge issues to overcome. At this point, where my knee was hurting so much that I was struggling to walk I truly appreciated my body and all it is capable of. It is fitting then, that this race was run for Blesma, a charity who support limbless veterans: people who have served their country, who from being fully able bodied and capable are now having to come to terms with a disability. It was so infuriating to not just go, to not just be able to make my body do it. I think having experiences like that are good, as it helps you to understand, even on the tiniest scale, that we are more fortunate than so many people in the world, to use it and to take advantage of what you have.
As we neared the end of the course, spectators started to appear, cheering people on and in some cases, berating me for my limp (I'm sorry! I can't help it!)
We were treated to a few final big obstacles such as the fireman’s pole and the warped wall (I must say, I love the warped walls, I love running full pelt at them as this is pretty much the only skill I have- yes my knee allowed me to sprint strangely)
By this point we had caught up with Francesca and Anna Bella, and as we scrambled over the last few obstacles, we headed towards the finish line, crossing it hand in hand.
After a free finishers photograph, obligatory bling and a quick rinse in a muddy tub we walked out to see...tea! Hot sugary tea, I don't know about you, but give me this over a free beer any day!
The course itself was incredible, I cannot wait to run it again, and I'm so excited to be there in November for the UK Championships. These guys have really got it down well, it was great from start to finish. The quality and expanse of obstacles was top notch, with some totally different ideas, and some of the stickiest mud I've ever encountered.
Running with Joel and Always With A Smile is always a pleasure, and it was brilliant to be able to introduce new women into the sport, I'm pleased to say we have a few new addicts!
As for Blesma, well as a team we managed to raise £1500 which we are incredibly happy with, and we hope we have also raised more awareness for their cause.
I'm hugely proud of every single one of the ladies who took part, who pushed themselves past their comfort point, who never gave up, and who never stopped smiling. Thank you for making this an awesome project.
I asked the girls what they thought of their first race, I'm pleased to see I've acheived my goal of getting newbies involved and addicted...
What do you mean I'm a pusher! ;)
well my first experience of an OCR was amazing it has made me look at my fitness in a different light and gave me a boost the support of the whole team was fantastic and I couldn't wished for a better one I will definitely be doing more.
Nuclear Rush was a great introduction into OCRs, I'm hooked!
Hatti Alice Crisp
I got carried around the course, not just literally on the shoulders of Joel but by the laughter, enthusiasm and friendship that exuded from all of the girls involved! I had so much fun and am so so glad that I put myself through it! It was a great cause and couldn't have represented it with a better bunch of people, bring on the next one!!
I had a blast as a newbie ... it has definitely sparked my competitive side and loved every minute of the run I'll deffo be up for more as wanting to gain more medals and have more mud baths!
Had a great first Mud Run !! So proud I completed the course . Looking forward to more Mud playing . Bring it on !!