This weekend saw another new obstacle race open its account on UK shores - XtremeSTORM at the north west seaside town of Southport. With me being based in the south west, it was quite a trek for me to make it up, but it really looked like this was going to be more than your average obstacle race. It turns out I wasn't wrong!
For me the race was a roller-coaster (literally at times), with a mixture of fun, pain, exhaustion and even shame. Like most other events, XtremeSTORM is billed as the tougher than though, but I've learnt to take those kinds of statements with a pinch of salt. Most events are apparently the toughest but, take it from me, some are considerably harder than others. To be honest though, the way I felt in the aftermath of XtremeSTORM, this one definitely turned out to be tougher than I expected. My body has been stiff and aching for most of this week. Particularly my upper body, which proves that this was an all-round test and not just focused on a fairly long run (18km).
According to the organisers, this event has been two years in the making and I can totally believe that. From the very beginning they had put in that little bit of extra effort. Before even reaching the entrance to the event village, the path was blocked by some haystacks and chest-high wooden walls, to make the queue a little more entertaining. It was a fun, unique and warmed my heart as much as my body - these guys were really trying.
Once inside the village I hooked up with Jamie, a great guy who’s been part of Mudstacle’s community for a while. We chewed the fat about our love of obstacle courses and passed the time until the start of the race. Before we knew it, we were herded into a small, square enclosed pen along with the rest of the first wave runners. An amusing guy (imagine a coked-up angry Keith Chegwin) took hold of the microphone and started to rant on about how miserable our next couple of hours would be, that it would be the toughest experience of our lives, that not all of us would make it through... and maybe something about being eaten by rats. As rally-to-arms rants go, I have to say it was pretty good, I was buzzin’! We also had a warm up from a fitness trainer, which is always good, although it was a little tricky swinging our arms and legs around when we were packed inside a pen!
The countdown started, the front wall of the pen went down and we burst into action. I found myself sprinting off at the front but then realised it was unnecessary because the wave size was small enough to avoid any congestion, plus with 18km of the unknown ahead, I felt like I should conserve energy. So, I got down to a more sustainable pace and tackled an intense section of obstacles. There were a few of the usuals done particularly well - crawling under a very long section of barbed wire, clambering over large stacks of hay bails and a dunking under the water in a skip filled with water. There were also a couple of walls to get over, in the form of metal containers, standing around 8-9 feet tall. Being metal they were extremely slippery which meant that getting any grip with your hands was near on impossible. I needed a considerable amount of help from Jamie and another guy to get my lumbering dead-weight up there! The teamwork aspect was great, but I’d say I’m more of a fan of a wooden wall, where the extra grip makes the task more manageable and feels safer.
There was a neat section that involved clambering over and through three buses, then it was on and towards a very unique twist on an old classic. We’ve all run over tyres and most of us have squeezed through them... but XtremeSTORM have taken the obstacle to a whole new level! I’m not sure whether putting this into words will do this justice, but I’ll try my best. Basically you start off by running over tyres - standard. Then you have to squeeze under a bunch of them, which was harder work than you'd think. With a bit of force the tyres would lift up, but I managed to get my shoulders jammed between a gap. Fun and games...
Then you crawl through a horizontal tunnel tyres, which is never comfortable, especially when you’re 6’6” with shoulders practically as wide as the gap you’re crawling through... this is where something was obviously different - there was no light at the end of the tunnel, only a hay wall. Once I had squeezed to the end I looked up to see a circle of sky through a vertical column of tyres. There was very little space to negotiate the 90 degree bend and at one point I managed to wedge myself diagonally in it with all joints locked out and zero chance of going upwards. After a lot of rearranging I discovered a tactic of getting my ridiculously long and inflexible frame up and out. I pulled myself out the top of the tower of tyres, a little distressing... only to see another column right ahead of me - I had to do the same again in reverse! Not only that, but from my current vantage point I could see that I’d have to repeat it all several times over. Well, I won’t continue to bore you with every little detail, but I found it to be one of the most challenging obstacles I’ve ever faced (and I’ve faced a lot). It was pure twisted genius!
Once I’d dusted myself off and moaned a little to Jamie about the disadvantages of being tall, we ran round the corner to face one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever faced in a race. I literally burst out laughing when I saw a crawl through... wait for it... a pool filled with fish heads and guts. Ha! It was totally mingin’ to crawl through and stunk to high-heaven in the baking sunshine, but what a unique idea. We were only about 10 minutes into the course but these guys had already got me onside. I love to see a bit of innovation. This was brilliant!
Although obstacles were packed into the first part of the run, which was basically a loop around the main event village, they thinned out a lot more for the central part of the run. We headed out of the park and, after clambering over a couple of bits and bods, we started on a tyre carrying section. It’s never comfortable carrying a tyre, but I tried to wedge it close to my body so that I could run without it bouncing around and cutting a ridge into my shoulder. After a few minutes I realised that it was going to be a pretty long carry... after a few more minutes a marshal told us we were halfway around - this was a MASSIVE tyre carry - a mile long apparently! I shifted shoulders, put my head down and tried to thunder through it as quickly as I could. The sooner I finished, the happier my shoulders would be!
Next up we headed over to the beach - the part I had been dreading, as running on sand can be exhausting. Thankfully though the sand was wet and densely packed, which actually made it perfectly comfortable. Slightly less comforting was the enormous expanse of sand ahead of us. I knew that we would be taking a square route on the beach but, looking across the sands I could just about make out dots on the horizon where the turn points would be. This was a massive circuit. It was great for me - running is my strength so I got into a comfortable stride. After a while it started to feel endless and a touch of despair started to creep in. I’ve just mapped it out and it was nearly a 7km stretch of constant sand running. That’s full on! The end was punctuated by crossing underneath the pier, with loads of supportive cheers from the crowds that were starting to gather. Being such a beautiful warm day there were tonnes of people just having a nice day down the seaside. Watch us punish ourselves was an added extra to their already entertaining day!
Anyway, at the end of the pier I climbed up a sizable cargo net and then ran back along the decking of the pier itself and headed towards Southport’s marina, for the first of many lake crossings. Over the course of the sand run I was told by a couple of local guys that XtremeSTORM had invested a lot in cleaning up the marina to make it a more pleasurable crossing (again - great for the organisers to go the extra mile) but they also said that there were always a lot of swans around and that the floor of lake was likely to be a build up of 100 years of crap... it was a nice thought as I slipped into the waist high water and felt my feet sink into ankle-high sticky muck. I definitely hadn’t felt a lake bottom like that before, but I tried not to think too much about it as I waded across!
After a short hop along the road we then ran a 500m circuit of some dunes whilst carrying a hefty sand bag, clambering over a few barriers along the way. It was hard work, but thankfully these were top-quality sand bags with hand holds that made it pretty comfortable to carry over shoulders (again - quality - these guys were investing a hell of a lot on this course!)
After another sizable lake crossing we found ourselves on “hell island”, which apparently is mostly inhabited by rats. I kept my eye out, but didn’t spot any unfortunately. Anyway, vegetation was pretty dense and it was quite uncomfortable to scramble through a narrow beaten-down route. I turned a corner and faced the most intimidating obstacle I could ever face. There was a massive wall, I’m guessing around 10-15 feet tall that leant back towards us. There were three dangling ropes to make an otherwise insurmountable obstacle possible. Wall climbing and rope-climbing are my worst obstacles, I am literally rubbish at both. I hoped that a combination of the two might make life slightly easier. I was wrong, this was brutally hard! I had a decent first attempt - holding on to the rope and walking vertically up the wall Batman-style. I reckon I got over halfway but then made a failed lung for the top and fell to the crash mat below. Already I was exhausted. I had several more attempts doing the same thing, but none of them as good as my first. I waited and watched some people fail and some people just about make it over and I refused to be defeated. I tried different techniques - attempting to climb the rope without using the wall, but I just couldn’t get to grips with it and after around 10 serious attempts I had lost every bit of strength I had and had to face facts... I had been defeated. I was gutted. I’m incredibly ashamed to admit it, but I had to walk around the obstacle.
I was on such a high until hell island, but I had now sunk into the depths of shame and disappointment... I REALLY don’t like being defeated. Whatever happened now I really didn’t feel like I could compete for a place or even walk away from the race know that I had equaled the challenge. XtremeSTORM had won. Sad times indeed.
A little deflated I waded across several water crossings and forced a smile out to the crowds of people who were still cheering us on. My mood definitely improved when I found myself trotting into Southport’s Pleasure Land theme park. I was directed through crowds of revelers, going about their business and towards a helter-skelter - brilliant! So I climbed up to the top of spiral stairs where I faced a TV camera. I think I might have said “Hi Mum” before heading down the slide. As I jumped out the end full of joy, I turned around to see that the camera man had followed me down. I really hope that gets on Channel 4!
Next up I clambered over a netted structure and then headed into a wooden fun-house. It was dark inside and I fumbled around a maze of corridors trying to find a way out. I turned a corner and found myself in a hall of mirrors - this was getting more and more brilliantly unique! There was another cameraman in there, so I chuckled and mumbled some nonsense to him on the way out.
After running around the streets and along the sea wall some more, I ran back into the main event village in the park. Crowds cheered and the commentator was calling out people’s names and encouraging them over the last series of obstacles. First up was a monstrous slippery slope with a rope dangling down to help on the way up. I knew I was capable of this one, so ran up and made a dive for the rope. I just about got a grasp on it first time and dragged myself up on my belly. It was really hard getting up at the top of the slope as there was no ridge to grab hold of and my hands were slippery, but I just about managed it with a helping hand from a marshal. I then jumped into a pool of water and climbed up another wooden structure and all that was left was a short run towards the finish line. Happy days! I had made it through.
All in all I found this race pretty tough! 18km is a considerable distance and with a lot of significant obstacles, I was properly knackered and was reduced to a plod by the end of the race. Of course I was defeated, so hats off to the organisers for that. It didn’t make me feel good about myself, but it’s given me something to work on, so that I don’t get beaten by the same obstacle in the future! Although I've talked a lot about the park and beach, this is actually quite an urban event, with a fair amount or tarmac time. Instead of winding around a small area, like some events, you actually feel like you cover a big expanse here. You really do get to see the whole of Southport en-route! It makes it a challenge to marshal and quite often I had to check with passers-by to make sure I was running the right way. It's fine though, I didn't ever really stray off route.
I can’t fault the effort that the organisers put in, they were a quality act, I just hope that they got enough people taking part to make it worth their while. With the amount of TV cameras around there will hopefully be a fair amount of TV and press coverage to help these guys grow bigger and better. I 100% recommend checking out their next event - you won’t have seen anything like it before.
If you've got anything to say about XtremeSTORM or have any questions about other events, go check out the Mudstacle Forum.