Held on 1st August 2015 this was a fantastic idea: a showcase of 7 different brands of races, each hosting 1km (or thereabouts) to show off and entice people to try their races.
After several changes to the line up, we were presented with the final 7, three never before held races with much to prove: the so far unheard of Aztec Warrior, the natural coursing and enigmatic Bigfoot Challenge, and the hotly anticipated Bear Grylls Survival race. We were also presented with Airfield Anarchy, who have hosted a few events but are still not big on the scene, Reaper, whose home turf the race was being held on, and then two golden oldies, mavericks and legends of OCR, Ram Run, and the Godfather, Tough Guy.
Mixed in with this we had a wonderful village filled with stalls and tents, from shops selling kit, to teams and races. For anyone trying to introduce anyone into OCR, this was the event for them.
Online we have already seen debates raging over gimmicks, health and safety and other aspects of these races, but as always, I can talk only from my point of view, and give only my opinions.
First wave 10am, introduced by the legend that is Mr Mouse, the head honcho of Tough Guy, with the rousing speech played from the video that always gives me chills, “The Legend of Mr Mouse”.
Section 1: Aztec Warrior
The race began slowly with a long run a round a field, understandably to break up the runners before we hit any obstacles, to avoid bottlenecks and queuing. Unfortunately as soon as we approached the first (small) obstacles, we were already standing still, a few low hurdles and an under wall, followed by a short balance beam. So far there was little happening. Up and down some not very steep slaloms we hit the next obstacle, and lots of queuing.
“Meat or Veg” the stewards announced, directing people to different sides of a crawl through tunnel. Then I saw the sign “Warning, contains real body parts” and saw inside the tunnel two sections not divided, side by side, one filled with mature potatoes, one filled with meat. Yes meat.
Mince meat, lungs, shoulder…god knows what else. I took the veg side and stayed away from it, confused as to what the purpose of filling a tunnel with meat is.
On the other side, ten meters away was the next obstacle: I can only presume that the people who organized this event have never attended or run a race before. Exiting a tunnel of meat into what was essentially a holding pen whilst people slowly made their way across a painted and so very slippery traverse wall. This created huge bottles necks, and meant that I was surrounded by people who stank of offal. Without sounding like a pansy, and please don’t tell me to “Man up”, I have a really strong sense of smell, and to be perfectly honest, it was horrible.
Aside from not including the meat, a solution to this, bearing in mind they were now running out of space would have been to separate these two as much as possible, and also to place the wall before the tunnels as this was the slower obstacle and people queuing wouldn’t be smelling, and also taking meat covered hands and shoes onto the wall.
A short run followed the wall, and 2.4km in, we finished the Aztec Warrior section with little clue as to the branding of the race or what a future event may hold.
Having attended “Mudfest” only a few weeks previously I was aware of some of Airfield Anarchy’s obstacles, and they didn’t disappoint: welcoming us into their section with their giant water slide.
One of the race directors was welcoming people, getting them riled up and involved, and sending us of on the slide. Despite having completed it several times between us at AA weekend, myself and Olivia Kuit were feeling the nerves and decided to go down hand in hand…unfortunately this didn’t work out too well as I set off first, pulling Oli behind, as we ended up in the slightly the wrong direction landing on top of each other in the water.
Airfield Anarchy made good use of the natural terrain and obstacles left by the Reaper, whose home ground we were on, and had brought their own version of their finisher rig. Planks suspended on strapping meant more balance was needed than usual, ladder monkey bars followed by rings. Unfortunately I couldn’t reach the rings as they were higher than the bars, and so dropped down, being at a considerable height though, this was a scary prospect for Oli who was running with a fractured shin.
The final challenge was two underwater dunks under planks; the water being so muddy I couldn’t see a thing when I got out but luckily the marshal on hand was prepared with tissues and wiped our eyes for us.
Ending this section Airfield Anarchy had pulled out the big guns and showed up they knew how to lay out a course making the most use of what was on offer.
Upon entering the Tough Guy section we were immediately transported to another world.
Somehow the woodland seemed darker and more intimidating. Smoke clouds drifted and we were welcomed by Tough Guys own Ghost Squad [the mysterious painted tattooed clan who appear as if from nowhere to assist those in need before evaporating as fast as they appeared]: drumming rhythmically, creating a foreboding and intense atmosphere. I had met Ed (Gamester) the first drummer at Winter Tough Guy 2015 where he had pulled me from the thigh deep mud before vanishing, and was pleased to see him here welcoming us in.
Stopping for a dance on the balance beams (yes, I was Baby from Dirty Dancing…no, no one wanted to be my Johnny) I had to rush on before my team got too far ahead.
With Mr Mouse grandly overseeing proceedings we were directed to collect a giant 40kg crucifixe as carried by the Jesus Warriors: a small group of even crazier racers who take on this additional challenge each year.
Looping round a short circuit, the wooden cross digging into my bony shoulder, I deposited my cross, before shaking the hand of Mr Mouse and carrying on.
To be perfectly honest, Tough Guy could’ve ended there. Making use of other factors rather than just the obstacles, they created an intense environment perfectly representative of their actual races. However, being Tough Guy, they of course did not, what followed was the interrogation chamber and lollipop heads: I loved that they had brought their signs with them: that unmistakable TG font, all of it taking me back to January 32nd 2015.
So much so, that despite it being August 1st, despite it not being freezing, I still faltered when we reached the Lollipop heads, my nemesis from winter. Hesitating for several minutes I was encouraged by my friends, but specifically Ami whose quiet determination and belief always makes me want to improve.
Again the water was so clay like I could barely see afterwards, but we were soon on our way, having been thoroughly treated to the Tough Guy experience.
Another new race, yet to have put on an event, Bigfoot was one to be showing us what they can do. I must say, we were not disappointed. Making use of the terrain, and well placed, and very simple- but just slightly too difficult obstacles; Bigfoot showed us that you do not need anything flashy to test you. With obstacles made mainly of rope we were asked to traverse up and then down, many people struggling on this, I myself got quite bad cramp trying to hold grip.
The next obstacle was a tightrope (with a rope above to hold) strung between trees, the difficulty arising in navigating your way around the trees, followed soon afterwards by a wall to clamber over. Being just slightly too high, with gaps jut too narrow to fit your feet in, this was a tricky little number.
Our final obstacle was a marine style slide on ropes suspended over a not that low dip, again requiring strength and concentration.
These obstacles were not flashy, they were not over the top, but they were well thought out, using what the land had given them rather than barging through what was there.
Tricky and requiring careful concentration, I think anyone attending the inaugural event in September will not be disappointed.
Typical to their actual event Ram Run showcased some good technical running, which we all enjoyed, and which to be honest I needed as the shivering had set in for me before Bigfoot!
Obstacles here included a short rope climb onto a platform, although the rope was wet it was not a problem to climb as I was not tired as we were going slowly, but it hung around metal poles which got in the way. A strange traverse followed which involved stepping into loops, catching the next as it swung wildly in front, luckily here I Had Joel Hicks of Always With A Smile on hand, dressed in his 5th costume of the day, as Mr Ram.
Leaping over silage bales we headed back into the woods, and a construction of scaffold and cargo net, which to my surprise and intense frustration, I could not get over. As I took the easy route, the RD, Iain Exeter leant over to me “ What’s your name?” “Francesca” “Francesca What?” “Chiorando…”. Taking his microphone he announced:
“Francesca Chiorando is pissed off. Try harder next time girl!”
Chuckling to myself we headed into the next section.
I have never run a reaper, although I know many of my Raw teammates have enjoyed them. Being the home ground means they had an advantage to show us what for.
We were greeted by another slide, shorter, but Oli and myself still screamed like little girls going down it, followed by the leap of faith. The idea of throwing yourself at a cargo net in the air is pretty scary for the brain, but having seen Ami do it seconds before me I took the leap…and it was fine. Being guided by the marshals at the end of the cargo net on how to roly poly off was helpful, and less scary then trying to make sure your feet don’t get stuck.
The big guns were out next, with a tall steep wall to climb: on these obstacles it is not the climb that is most difficult, but the final step, getting your leg over the top. Here Ami struggled, but she announced “I will NOT let this beat me” and went back at it again and again until she had beat it, despite losing the skin on her knees and acquiring many bruises in the process.
A wall and what we christened the smokey disco tunnel (which I reckon could’ve benefited from some music) saw us to the end of the Reaper section.
The final part of Mud7 and we were treated to an example of the Bear Grylls survival race: so hotly anticipated that they had a lot to prove. I’m not sure what the survival aspect of the race is, unless it was navigating around a poorly marked course, but feedback from the team have said that they are keeping certain elements under their hats for now.
A late joiner to the line up, they did not have long to prepare, and with limited woodland, which is where, everyone’s favourite sections were they working with what they had.
We were chivvied along by cheerful marshals and Military volunteers, through a few hundred meters of woodland and hurdles, before approaching some bog standard, Spartan recycled obstacles.
We were advised that on the monkey bars our feet were not allowed to touch the ground, if they did, we would have to take two ammo boxes and complete a circuit: a penalty I highly approve of.
I asked the military marshal whether our feet were allowed to touch the bars, he seemed a little confused but said yes, and I took to my usual technique when I am tired of crawling upside down, using hands and feet. A girl who had fallen off did complain, “Well anyone could do it like that!”... Well yes my love, they could...but you didn’t did you?
As I waited for those in our team who had taken the penalty I lay on the warm grass and tried to soak up the sun before the swim, which I was dreading. Thankfully it was right at the end so I would be able to warm up immediately after.
Clambering over an A frame we headed off to the lake. The wade/swim was broken up by a small island with a cargo net, before reaching the finish line. The BG Survival race may have done more harm than good with their example, but their feedback was sound: keeping some key aspects a secret, being late to the game, and not wanting to take health and safety risks at their first event. However, what was most notable about this section was the lack of the presence of the Race Director, in fact, this was the only section where the Race Director was not welcoming people, and this did not go unnoticed.
Clocking in at an even 10km we got more for our money than we bargained for. Running early in the day congestion had not been too much of problem for me, but I know that others had been pulled out due to the cold, due to the many water dips and queuing, however, this was always going to be an obstacle heavy race, so unless numbers were reduced or waves spread throughout the day, it would not be easy to fix this.
This was an incredible event, the expo was a lovely idea, although to be pernickety I do think the stalls could’ve had a little more space between them to avoid so much congestion, and a few more signs wouldn’t go amiss as I did get lost on the Friday night, however, there is nothing else I could say that could be improved upon. Seamlessly organized, which can’t be easy with 7 race brands, many exhibitors, and camping on top. I sincerely hope it happens again next year, and I am sure directors will be clambering over themselves to be featured.