If there's one thing we know about Doug “the Beard” Spence- the face and designer of Dirty Dozen races- it's that this guy doesn't do things by half, in fact, he always gives a little more. Dirty Dozen's obstacles are known to be massive, the distances are often exaggerated. When you sign up for a Dirty Dozen race, you will be getting value for money.
My first ever DD took place on Saturday 15th August at Barleylands Farm in Essex. Through double booking and real life commitments (yes, real life, that weird thing that happens in the five days between races) I hadn't made it to any of the previous races this year, even though Doug had recommended Wales as being their top race for 2015.
Having stayed with my RAW teamers, Ami and Scott “Honey Badger” the previous evening, I fortunately didn't have a long journey to go to get there...however the hours drive proved too much for me and I spent a good forty minutes pestering Ami for a toilet break after consuming too much water in the morning to counteract the apparent side effects that Mountain Fuel has on me of making me thirsty.
Pelting through the registration tent and waving away friendly cries of hello I located the loos in double fast time (if only I could move like that in races), at this point I really wished there had been double the amount of loos, but all was well, and a fast registration with the lovely Faye Caley afterwards saw me ready to to run.
I had signed up for the 18km Dirty Destroyer last year. I had had high goals for 2015, and had a few races where I wanted to really go all out. Unfortunately the year has not gone to plan and I wasn't in a position to be racing, but I was here, and for the first time in months, I was planning on not taking it slowly, and trying to push myself a little more than I was used to.
Being August, and being “down south” I had expected it be hot, even though the weather report stated the weather would be a lot cooler. I arrived at the race in shorts and a vest, but was cold standing there; having seen the water sections of the race I didn't want to risk the shivering cold that overtakes me so often, so I changed to ¾ trousers and put on a base layer.
My plan was to run alone, to push myself, and see where I could take myself without any other support. This lasted for the first 2.5km or so, where I kept on, at a gentle but steady pace finding my stride.
As we ran- and ran, and ran- around dry, baking hot field after another, I started to overheat. The base layer could have been a mistake. I came across my raw teammate Kerrie Fisher, and together we slowed down a touch to catch our breath and cool down. Chatting away to each other we kept plodding, with each corner turned seeing another field stretching ahead of us.
Panting and sweating with my head starting to pound, we came across the first water station, roughly 5km in. Now usually this would be fine, and often I don't drink the water, just use it to wash away the sticky mouth from gels, but on this day these paper cups were like an oasis. The first cup went directly over my head, the second and third I drank. In hindsight, I should have brought my camelbak. I know what I am like, and I deal with the heat as well as I deal with the cold: really really badly. Despite weather reports, it was August, and I should have been prepared for this, but I wasn't, and I paid the price for it for the rest of the day.
Having stripped down and tucked my base layer into my trousers I was slightly more comfortable, and on we continued.
I was surprised by the lack of obstacles in the beginning of the course, we came across four obstacles in the first 6km, but after this point, things did start to pick up.
There have been a few arguments in the days following the race about people moaning about people moaning about people moaning... personally, from my point of view, I don't find field running technically difficult, I tend to always watch where I am going, and I have strong ankles (weirdly) so the chances of me injuring myself are lower. However, it doesn't excite me a lot. I understand on an 18km race we must cover 18km of terrain, and I also understand that the terrain was incredibly flat and the team worked with what they had, but I do feel like maybe there could've been something to jazz it up a little sooner than we got. I am not a huge ran of running, just plain running, some people are and that's great, but I'm not. The course to me felt like very much a runners course, which is fine, just not what I was expecting from a Dirty Dozen.
From about 7.5km in the course picked up, with treks in and out of streams and more varied terrain. The break off for the 6km came just after 8km, where we were treated to another water break..at this point Kerrie was worried about what total distance she would be running that day, although we had already decided to expect and aim for 20km on the 18km.
Having already tackled a nice variety of obstacles: very high slatted walls, sheep dips (these were a blessing!) in and out trenches, monkey bars over water, and a new interesting concept which involved crawling through a dark tunnel before dropping into water, having to fully submerge to pop out the other side, we were treated to the next major obstacle: the carry.
A pile of logs awaited us, picking one up we were told we would have this for the next 3km.
Cleverly the first challenge with the log was a series of water filled trenches. Having chosen a good sized log, I soon lost this amongst the fray and was left with a much heavier, knobbly log, which I continued to haul in and out of the water, and sticky mud. Once of the trenches, your legs were knackered, and the thought of running for 3km with this log was not appealing. Although difficult I really enjoyed the trenches, they were a challenge, they distracted me, made me think, and made me work.
Pronouncing the trenches a real “obstacle course racers obstacle” myself and Kerrie attempted to run with our logs. We didn't get far. Too short to carry across your shoulders and back of neck with both arms, too long to carry cross body, natural, knobbly and heavy, these logs made our next 3km a bit more of a challenge, which although hard, was greatly appreciated.
My biggest challenge was to stop the log banging my head when we ran, which added to my already intense headache, but still try to carry it in the most efficient way, which for me was on my shoulder.
With our logs we took on a barbed wire crawl, a very high wall (where we left them to the side) and a cargo net, before completing the 3km circuit and depositing our logs to continue onwards.
On our circuit we had been running near a girl who we now identified as our “mark” i.e., we would always stay just behind or ahead of, and our challenge was to finish ahead of her. Unfortunately it seems she had also marked us, and so what followed for the remaining 6km was a game of cat and mouse.
From this point on our pace reduced dramatically as the knee pain that had started at Dirty Weekend and has plagued me since, kicked in with a vengeance, brief periods of jogging mixed in with limps and moans accompanied us round the next section of running.
After tackling some waist high hurdles, four inverted walls (thank god for my training day with Doug back in February!) and a strange but very cool wasteland section, with a climb up a shipping container that was much harder than it looked, we soon came across a stream that we had encountered earlier in the day, this time passing through it in the opposite way to head back towards the event village. The cool water seemed to soothe my knee however the minute I exited the water the pain was at times unbearable. Once it had warmed up again I was able to job gently.
Now bearing in mind how hot I had been all day, and that I had been soaking my wrag and wearing it wet around my head, when we saw the water obstacles I was for once happy to see them.
We waded into the water, and were pleasantly surprised by how warm it was, like swimming on a warm day (which strangely, is exactly what was happening), we swam across to the first water obstacles. Instructed by Kerrie to dunk, take a breath, dunk...our object was to get through these as fast as possible as we had lost our mark on the playing field before the cargo net so were keen to make up more distance between us.
After the sheep dips a shirt swim brought us to a floating pontoon to clamber aboard and dart across, another swim and we were at one of Doug's famous walls, this time made trickier by the fact that this was also floating in the water. Getting onto the pontoon was difficult, and as I hooked my leg on top my calf cramped up. A swift hand from the life guard and I was safely deposited onto the floating raft. Briefly stretching I made it up and over the water, before plopping back into the water for our final swim.
Immediately on the the bank was the dreading Irish table. Thank god for my training with Michael Cohen a few weeks previously or I would have no idea what to do with this. With firm but quiet encouragement from Kerrie I made it over, jumping down carefully over the other side.
Through another stream, my knee was really starting to hurt but we were on the home stretch. Kerrie had identified another two women ahead of us that she wanted to beat and so continued to encourage me. Over an A frame, and another Irish table (which Rick, our RAW team captain helped me with, as by this point I was pretty useless). Kerrie ran towards the finish, maybe only 70m aways, just behind a ten foot wall, and told me that I had to run, and she would actually shout at me if I didn't!
I ran as best as I could until the pain in my knee stopped me, and then I saw the lovely Kim at the sidelines cheering me on. Realising how many people were around I did my best to keep running, made it to the ten foot wall, up and over as Doug taught me, and landed on the other side ready for my Doug hug.
Whilst some of the course I found to be really innovative with the use of obstacles, I think the crew struggled with the terrain, and unfortunately had little to work with; obviously had it been hilly I would've ended up even more tired and probably in more pain, but if the option had been there it would've made a welcome break to the flat running.
As it was, they worked with what they had, I think maybe if the first section had been broken up a little more with obstacles (whilst also avoiding queues) it could've kept me more excited in the beginning.
On the flip side, there were no bottlenecks or queues anywhere, the marshals were out in force and I saw lots or ambulances dotted about, meaning had I had an injury I would never have been far from help. The obstacles were a good mix of classics that you would expect from any good race, Doug's specials such as the inverted walls, and newer ideas such as the floating wall. I think everyone is always trying to be bigger and better, but I love to see innovation which takes ideas off sideways: rather than just making them bigger, making them different. We have high walls, so we can't make them higher... let's float them, then you have the stability issues to deal with, the hauling yourself out of water, the cramp from the swimming; just adding a whole new aspect to what was once a wall.
Parking was free, registration was quick and easy, and plenty of photographers around the course meant great free pictures for all, and don't forget the Doug Hug every finisher gets at the end of each race, I love that the RD can take time out to greet and congratulate everyone personally.
The feel of the day was awesome, RAW had their own tent, a little basecamp which makes everything more pleasant, and Stuart Amory was MCing the day from the start line, keeping the atmosphere buzzing and alive all day long.