For Pukka Races' first major event they chose to hold a World War I memorial race on the 100 year anniversary of the Great War. It made perfect sense to me; when you think of that war it instantly conjures up images of mud, trenches, barbed wire & unpredictable terrain – perfect for an OCR!
The venue was a 4x4 off-road track in East Grinstead (not a million miles from Gatwick Airport). As we approached it on a beautiful Sunday morning, I had a nagging apprehension in my head – For any normal OCR you need a bit of mud, but if you’re creating a World War I memorial race you’ll need tonnes of the stuff, yet it hadn't rained in weeks. My concerns were only compounded as we drove on to the parking field, which was a lush green meadow. Were they really going to fall at the first hurdle? (Or do burpees at the first monkey bars as we should say!).
Before long we were off – 450 of us in 2 waves – across the fields and entering the woods, where we were straight into a ditch then over an A-frame log bridge. The woods looked thick and wild, which is often a sign of good terrain, and it wan't long before we reached the first barbed wire crawl through some of the thickest, sludgiest mud I’ve seen in a long time! Both Pete and Andy have written recently about how the more we race OCRs, the more we become aficionados of mud – and this was a beautiful sludge that could only have come from repeatedly churned up clay – the petrol heads in their 4x4s had done us proud! It was the kind of mud that, if you don’t clean it off you soon afterwards, it would harden and stick to you for the rest of the race and add 10kg to your body weight.
Many people were trying to rinse themselves off in a dirty puddle after the crawl but it made no difference and, as we continued running along the next field, large splats flew off us. After a sandbag carry up a hill, we jumped into a stream and followed it around to some denser woodland, where the course became really exciting… They had built a couple of really high slatted ladders to climb up and over. They weren’t necessarily tricky, but I’m sure they would have freaked out anyone with a bad head for heights, as they must have been at least 12’ high. Then there was a high tyre wall before a fantastic series of deep ditches, each with their own variety of different mud/murk/sludge/bog.
The mud was impressive. I mean REALLY impressive. Like I said, the weather had been dry for weeks, yet there we were rolling around in some of the best mud I’ve experienced – especially at a summer event. In my opinion it was an ideal mix because we were regularly thrown through deep muddy patches, but for the long running sections we were back out on the grassy fields, where we could get a decent pace up without sliding around. There were a good amount of gentle hills to spread the crowd out and feel like you’re working… but none that were taxing enough to suck all of your energy out of you.
Other notable obstacles included a wall; maybe 7-8 feet high (I really need to start taking a tape measure with me to races!). It was a height that I would expect to be able to get over unaided in normal circumstances, but I took a run up and jumped to grab the top, but then slipped right back down again as the top was a 4” thick ledge that I simply couldn’t get a strong enough grip onto. The organisers had put climbing holds up one side to help people but they were very thin and slippery so I didn’t find that they made the ascent much easier than just getting a decent boost up from a comrade.
THE obstacle that everybody was talking about both before and after the race was the promised paintball gauntlet. It was one of the only obstacles mentioned in the pre-released marketing and there was a buzz in the event village beforehand: “have you heard they’ll be firing paintballs at us?!” Followed swiftly by “that sounds really dangerous, I hope I don’t get hit”.
I was a little anxious about it and how the H&S aspect of it would work, as I know that paintball guns are notoriously inaccurate, so even if you had the shooters briefed to aim their shots at our feet or above our heads there was no guarantee of them not spinning wildly and taking an eye out, PJ and Duncan style! So, when I came across the clearing and I saw a grinning marshal waving a full-face mask at me, I was relieved… but at the same time a little terrified because this meant that they would be aiming AT us!
The gauntlet was set up as a short loop of a field with the marksmen encamped on the left hand side approx 20m from where we would be running. The loop took us to the right hand side of the field first (i.e. further away from the gunners) then we looped around a bush and had to dash without cover back to the safety of the woods. I figured the snipers would mainly be targeting runners closer to them in the second half of the loop, so I lightly jogged to the bush at the far end, paused to catch my breath then sprinted faster than I ever have done at any event! When I got to the end I looked down and saw that I had been hit on the leg – to be honest I think there was so much adrenaline running through me as I ran for my life, I barely noticed that they had got me.
Looking back, I think was a brilliant obstacle. It goes into the sub-category of painful obstacles - along with electric shocks and running through stinging nettles – and the main thing that these all have in common is that they make you anxious, they get the adrenaline pumping and they provide a psychological obstacle, as well as a physical one. The reason I think that the paintball gauntlet is superior over the other two is that it’s the most tactical of them all. It might be possible to avoid the pain by either running incredibly fast, taking an unpredictable route or perhaps crawling to avoid the fire. It turns it into an exciting challenge.
I’m also fairly sure, that, like other ‘painful’ obstacles, it will very much divide opinion and I expect that there were a few people that were a bit freaked out by the prospect of getting fired at without full body overalls. I just hope that if anyone chose not to do the obstacle that the penalties weren't too severe.
The course finished off with a stunning trail running section – through rivers, under old brick bridges, up banks and through some lovely unspoilt woodland. Then back onto the fields – over a couple of hay bales, then a set of monkey bars before the finish line.
Congratulations to the winning runners: Stuart Parsons for the boys with James Voaden, and Matthew Campbell in 2nd and 3rd . And Fiona Malnice taking the top ladies place followed by Lauren Edwards-Fowle then Kim Donavan.
All in all, this was a brilliant race that I think had something for everyone. The running sections were nice and varied, with superb mud and terrain and a good amount of obstacles – both small and big.
As always, we like to give constructive feedback, so I think the race would have benefited from more marshals (including someone to man the water station). Also, whilst most of the man made obstacles were great, they weren't wide enough to allow enough people through at a time, which resulted in large bottlenecks later in the day. Finally it was advertised as a 5 mile race but most Garmins measured it between 3.7 to 4.1 – I asked the organisers about this and they apologised – saying: “When assessing the course the day before, a section of the route we originally planned to use was deemed unsuitable, we tried to make up the mileage where possible but sadly fell a little short“
For their first major event it showed great potential and I think, with a few minor improvements, this could easily become a must do event for all southern OCR enthusiasts. Here are the scores on the doors:
Length = published 5 miles, actually 4 miles
Hills = 2/5
Mud = 5/5
Water = 3/5
Obst freq = 4/5
Obst magnitude = 3/5
Course Markings = 4/5
Village = 3/5
Atmosphere – 4/5
Toughness = 2/5
Price (1 low / 5 high) = 1/5
Goodies = Cotton T-shirt & great medal
Keep your eyes peeled for Pukka Races’ next event: ‘Only Fools Ride Horses’ in Colchester, Essex. It will be just under 4 miles and take you over a hilly cross country equestrian course. There will be 20 + Horse obstacles as well as extra obstacles and challenges thrown in: Slip ‘n slide, monkey bars, inflatable wrecking ball, sumo suit bashers etc. Sean from Pukka Races says that “It’s low on the mud factor, so great for the mud shy - but what it lacks in mud it makes up for in serious laughs!” Find out more on: www.pukkaraces.co.uk