I've never been the biggest fan of camping, to be perfectly honest. I will do it, but I've never quite understood the theory of doing it for fun. My first ever camping experience ended after one night, where the rest of the holiday was spent safely ensconced in a comfortable house with a cosy bed.
Since the early days I have spent more time in a canvas abode, but this has only ever been for a purpose, for example, Glastonbury.
Lately, I have had several camping weekends, as the rise of “Mudfests” has become apparent. Ranging from the raucous Dirty Weekend, to the more serene campfire scene of the Nuclear afterparty, overnight stays with the rest of the OCR Family are becoming a more regular occurrence.
Airfield Anarchy: a weekend long three race epic with bands, stalls, and camping has long been on my calendar as an event to not miss this summer.
Taking place at Newark Showground, this two day event boasted a 5km, 10km, and 10 mile race, interspersed with music and..oh yes, camping...
Waking up on Saturday morning at 6.36am in my borrowed tent, to the sound of rain hammering down above me I was not feeling in the highest of spirits...over the loudspeaker came a booming voice. “to all those who are wet and cold! Come to the volunteer area, we have brews on. Unless your name is James Ruckley...” Suddenly I perked up, any day that starts with a brew is a good one, especially when damp and chilly. This weekend could have the makings of something quite fun if this is the way the organisers were playing it!
After being suitably caffeined up, I began the tricky business of pre race prep in a tent. Mixing my mountain fuel breakfast with cold water and gulping it down, I was surprised by how delicious it still was. With my knee taped (after the disaster at Nuclear) and the first of my race clothes donned, we made our way over to the start line.
In the typical cocky manner, we ignored the warm up (taken by Rob Edmond from Urban Attack; sorry Rob!), and instead were distracted by one of the nearby vendors- inov-8- and decided to see what wares they had on offer.
Starting at the back of the pack, the race began. Myself (RAW), Laura Try, Gemma Bloomfield (Muddy Kit) Hayley & Craig Forest (Team Ram), Tom Nash (Mudstacle), and Carl Wibberley (OR Magazine) set off, with Joel Hicks of Aways With A Smile not far behind dressed as Biggles, complete with windswept scarf and cardboard plane.
It was obvious from the outset that we were going to be taking the 5km -the first of the three races of the weekend- very easily. Not long after a bout of silliness from Nash where he tore his compression layer we entered the first of the fields, where from this point we could see the front runners on the opposite side. I think a few of the group found it odd to not be racing, and as Laura Try sprinted off, we thought she had abandoned us to claim glory. Not so! She returned victorious, complete with a yellow cone. “TEAM CONE!” she shouted! I had not yet had the pleasure of running with Laura, but I quickly realised why she had the reputation for being a lot of fun. (sorry, I just read that back...yes that sounds odd to any non-OCR people. Yes I just equated fun with a cone...we need to get out more...)
The weather was slightly downcast, but not freezing, however full kit was required, including base layers and full length compression. After the circuit of the field, we were hit by the first tranche of obstacles, coming at us thick and fast. These ranged from the more basic tarpaulin crawls and bungee cord webs, to firemans poles and dreaded lollipop heads (although being June, despite it being cold and wet, these were not comparable to the original and worst at Tough Guy).
Over uneven terrain, those unprepared and in road trainers struggled with: even some of the group in inov-8s struggled on the very steep, sideways muddy run we had for a brief period. The 5km somehow felt quite long: in fact each other distance we covered we managed in a shorter time each time (although this isn't bragging, we were taking it easy on each course and having fun!)
Picking up more items along the way “team rock! I got wood...you got wood?” we clambered over obstacles as a team, passing the items around, until we were left with our cone, lovingly christened M.O.R.C. (Mudstacle Obstacle Race Cone). Towards the end of the race we course we were hit again by the big boy obstacles, giant hay bales climbs, balance beams, a very scary slatted wall (quite tricky with short legs!) followed by the main event, the water slide.
This slide involved you climbing up a very steep inflatable wall with the aid of a rope and net, at the top there was a narrow platform, from which you could stare into the abyss that was a near vertical slide, elegantly kicking out at the bottom, designed to cruelly deposit you in the water with an almighty splash.
Myself and Hayley decided to tackle the slide hand in hand and we sped off, landing bottom first on the bottom of the pool. I really rather wanted to go again!
Trotting on, team cone tackled a section of trenches, before the last field run. Someone commented that a lot of elements seemed to have been taken from Tough Guy: the high climbs, the tunnels, the trenches, the lollipop heads: I can only say that this is a good thing!
We decided to dawdle less and get a jog on as we came back through the first field that led us on the home stretch, however, after only a few paces I realised that my knee was not letting me go anywhere. I slowed down and was very pleasantly surprised by how quickly the whole team stopped to check if I was ok.
Over and under some high and low beams, we were nearing the end. Until Craig took a diversion... “Team Tree?” he asked.. “Team Tree!” we shouted, dislodging a fallen branch, placing MORC on the end, we picked up our new team mate and trotted to the final obstacles. Firstly, the 8 foot wall. Already laughing, here I stopped walking, using the wall as support as I laughed until tears were coming down my face. This crazy bunch of wonderful weirdos had made my day. Discussing how to manouvre this hefty (and branch laden) hunk of tree over the wall. Working together, we got the tree to the top, and then over the wall (and yes, we all climbed the wall as well).
Under a cargo truck (tree was too big to fit) we were on the home stretch, the last of the obstacles, consisting of a large structure comprising climbs, hang tough, a cargo net, more climbs, lollipop heads, and finally a slide into a giant foam pit.
The foam was awesome, but word of warning! I automatically treated this stuff like water, but you have no idea how deep you are in and it doesn't come off your face when you get out! A quick panic and cough, and we were ready to cross the line as team Tree/Cone, where the lovely Victoria presented us with our medals.
Of course being responsible citizens we took tree back to his natural habitat...
The plan for the afternoon was to take on the 10km race, the second of the three part Epic, where all three medals clip together to make one, well, epic medal!
As I limped off, my knee in pain I wondered how I would manage it. Despite seriously wanting all three medals, I made the call to not join in with the 10km, and hope that by the next day, my knee would be feeling better enough to take part in the 10 mile.
Waving the troupe off, my place being taken by Ruckley (I mean, he's a passable substitute but....) I wondered what to do with myself for the next few hours. The rain was still coming down, which was an awful shame, as one of the highlights of this event was the festival feel. Unfortunately with bad weather people were huddled under covers, rather than being out enjoying the music.
After limping around the areas I took the executive decision to take a nap...when in doubt, nap. I lasted roughly twenty minutes before I felt the tent starting to leak on me. Oh damn. Packing up my clothes and making everything safe took me until the first of the racers finished, greeting James on his way to clean up he told me he had left them behind, and wasn't sure when the rest of team would come in.
Being three races around one course, it is interesting to see how they changed it to adapt over a short period, Tom Nash said: “I thought that the 10km was a good addition at AA, the extra 5km was fun and had varied terrain (even though it was very flat, they made good use of the land around them) with a few extra obstacles thrown in before coming back onto the end of the 5km course. Could have had maybe a few more obstacles but the tyre section was a good addition.”
Once everyone was clean and dry we left the site in the hunt for food (and a chair and roof, and dryness), and on our return it was decided that the only way to prepare for the evenings merriments was by, once again, napping...
By the time the evening rolled around, and the rain had barely stopped, a lot of people had left, which meant the atmosphere was not what it could have been. This was a real shame, if I think of other events such as Rocksolid, where just by the sunshine the weekend had had an amazing, relaxed feel about it. This is not something that could be planned for, although the organisers had had the foresight to place the main act, Toploader inside, in the event of rain. Here we got to dance, chat, enjoy the drinks they had on offer, and generally chill out after a busy day.
Making our way back to the tent we realised that the rain had caused us several problems, with flooded tents, wet gear, and lots of people, we were suddenly left with one tent, and 8 people... taking the saviour which is my dryrobe, I abandoned ship to sleep in the car...
Needless to say I slept terribly (as did everyone else!) and was a wee bit grumpy come morning....
Sundays 10 miler was planned as being the Mudstacle outing, with the group donning yellow. I was in limbo for most of the morning. My knee was still playing up, and I was worried about getting cold on a long course. I made the decision that should it brighten up, I would run, and then if I had to walk, I wouldn't be so cold... the weather stayed resolutely damp and grey until half an hour before the race time. With birds starting to cheep I had no choice but to stick with the plan. Totally unprepared, unfed and not dressed, I quickly guzzled my breakfast fuel and mixed up the pre race mountain fuel drink, throwing on my kit I was ready to run just in the nick of time. Accompanied by MORC we made our way to the start line yet again.
The race started in the same way as the 5km, before branching off to cover a ten mile course. As with most longer races, this addition was less obstacle heavy, and involved more running. I can imagine it is very difficult to extend a course for three distances over the space of a weekend, you don't want to have obstacles that only get used once, as after all, they are very expensive, but you also need enough in the extended races to keep it fun.
Whilst there were some good additions, such as tyre carries, ditches, walls, and balance beams, a lot of the course was made up of flat field running, or in my cash, field limping. I managed a pathetic wobbly limp around the course, but I slowed the team up no end.
We also came across a stretch of monkey bars constructed from scaffolding, these were quite wet and slippy and had a raised section towards the end. As we lined up to take a go one of the marshalls informed of that only one woman had completed the monkey bars that day. To which Hayley forest promptly completed all bars, barely breaking a sweat. I used my usual wet-and-slippy monkey bar technique by using my feet, but I got across, so lets make that three women by the time we left!
Crossing obstacles we were often greeted by “Hey! It's the cone people!” MORC was becoming quite the OCR personality...
Towards the end of the course the weather turned, and the solid stanch, of shoulders up, fists clenched took hold and the cold kicked in. Luckily we didn't have too far to go.
We once again finished as a team, with MORC collecting the last of his (hers?) three medals...I can't believe that cone took more medals home than I did!
Due to the weather being still grey and cold, most of us headed off home not long after the last race, which is a shame, however with most people cold and sleep deprived, I can't blame them!
It is a shame that the weather was not at its best for the weekend, but this did not distract from what is the main event for me, and that is the races. One of things I was surprised by was how unprepared people were. I spoke to several people on the Saturday and a few on the Sunday who did not have enough kit and were racing in wet gear, I always over pack anyway, but knowing my body, there is no way I could be comfortable starting off in wet kit.
Personally I enjoyed the 5km a lot more than the 10miler. I did find the fields began to get repetitive, but then again, we were also travelling very slowly (thanks to me!). The 5km was jam packed with obstacles and varied terrain, and if you were racing, it would be a very exciting and challenging race. Taking this on as a group, it was great fun with lots of challenges.
What I hadn't realised before the event and was pleased to learn, that along with RAF cadets volunteering as marshals on the course, all profits from the event were donated to the RAF Benevolent fund.
With free race photos from the awesome AWOL, this event pretty much covered all bases in looking after the racers and giving them their moneys worth.
There is no doubt that I will be back next year, and I'll get all three of those medals if it kills me! (and show that damn cone what for!)