I'm going to say it: Anyone who claims global warming doesn't exist is just wrong. It's 10am on April 18th, I am 2km into a race, with sweat dripping down my face. Red cheeked and begging for a water obstacle: me, the girl who is always cold and can't stand water.
Despite the timing, no this isn't a General Election manifesto, although from the sea of yellow, black, green, and blue before me, it's not hard to see that the modern obstacle course racer chooses their team more carefully than their political party allegiances.
Let's rewind... “Dawn Breaks, the monster wakes”, the day saw me start with a 6.30am rise in order to get to Cornbury Park to set up for our day on the Mudstacle stand. Arriving early and meeting all the other stand holders, seeing the course and the area before we were flooded with competitors was a totally new experience for me, and certainly made me feel more at ease than my usual dash to the start line with 5 minutes to spare.
I had no idea what to expect on this course, but was very kindly offered the first wave by Tom so that I would have a better chance of getting a good finish. Although he did keep reminding people that I had to race like hell so I could get back in time for him to run early enough. (His actual words to me: “If there's ever a race to puke at, today's the day” Thanks Nash!)
I lined up for the warm up with Toby Hermitage, another Mudstacle runner, and we duly followed the instructions, feeling relieved that I had a friend when a partner was required. “Ok!” the MC announced “Jump on your partners back! And down...and through the legs...and up again!” we were instructed to do this four or five times before being asked to swap positions. From my 5'5” vantage point I looked at Toby, all 6' something. I'm not going to lie, I was tempted to see if I could piggyback him, but he quickly quashed that idea.
After crawling through some tyres, we waited in the start pen for our countdown, me panicking as I worked out how to use my brand new Garmin that I had only collected that morning, and driving Toby crazy with my what ifs and hows...
We were counted down from five and we were off. Unlike the races in my early days where I would place myself at the back of the pack, nowadays I unashamedly start right at the front: after missing the 15km Rock Solid and with The Suffering in Cheshire being cancelled, this was my last chance for a 3rd race to collect Mudstacle points, I was not taking any chances.
With a few men ahead of me, and a woman alongside the race was go...down a hill and then straight back up a very steep incline, followed by a few hurdles to climb over. Despite my training having been slack since a bad race at Rocksolid, I was surprised by how I already felt heavy and tired, literally 500m in. My question was answered after a few minutes as I had to stop, clutching my stomach in pain: a surprise, early and unwelcome visitor from every woman’s least favourite relative. I was annoyingly overtaken by two women (places I never picked up again) as I took a minute to pull myself together. As always in this sport, there are always people to help you, as a man overtook me, he stopped to ask “are you ok?”...I imagine seeing a woman grimacing and clutching her stomach is never a good sign, and I'm sure he was very relieved with my answer of “Yes fine! Thanks!”
Despite taking what felt like a minute or two, but was probably a lot less, I hadn't lost too many places and I set off again with renewed vigour and determined to not give up.
Scrambling over low walls and pelting it downhill it was here that the heat hit me, reaching a dusty dry road did nothing to help me, and I was soon dry mouthed and wiping the sweat from my brow. I had chosen to wear exactly what I had for the Beast in October: capris, compression guards, compression top and Mudstacle top. I quickly remembered why October is my favourite month to race in, realising that summer season was bearing down upon us earlier than expected.
After a short sandbag carry, and an obstacle interestingly named “The Toilet Seat” where you hauled yourself up through a hole above your head, I rounded a corner to see skips full of and being filled with ice. Never have I been happier to see cold, icy water. Dunking myself in, my face was a picture of pleasure as I slowly waded through the ice. A few obstacles were grouped together- I later found out when talking with Simon (the Race Director) that whilst the land is excellent for hills, it has so little flat ground that finding areas to put the big obstacles on can be difficult.
Whilst running I was conscious of being in third female position, and was battling with a woman just behind me, who took the upper hand on another hill. Under the cargo nets and through the mud I caught up with her where she was stuck, and was losing her shoes. Together with a male racer we hauled her out, and the two of us stuck together for the next few kilometres.
A lot of racers have fears: heights, claustrophobia, mine is water. As we approached a large clear pond with barrels floating on top I knew what was coming. Luckily with the weather being warm, the cold water was not as terrifying as it had been at Tough Guy, and thanks to Christie and Kim, I was practised in counting my breathing to stop the panic when the cold hits the high part of your chest.
As I was adjusting myself, I realised that my new friend was having a harder time of it than I was. “I can't breathe I can't breath!” she panicked. “Count, count slowly...1..2..3..4” I instructed her as we stood throat deep in the water. “I can't do it, I can't go under the water” “We'll do it together, you can do it” I said, as I looked her in the eye “you're at the front of the pack, you cannot skip obstacles!” I held out my hand and she grabbed it... “On the count of three..?” A swift dunk under the icy water, that heavy kick you feel when trying to swim in shoes, and we popped out the other side. She stared at me with panic and dragged herself over to the kayak. I coerced her into doing the second dunk, and before we knew it, we were hauling ourselves onto the grassy bank, being warmed by the sun. I explained to her as we ran how I had missed the lollipop heads at Tough Guy and had regretted it ever since, how every water obstacle was a challenge I had to do, and how it was never as bad afterwards as you think it will be before (though I still maintain that the lollipop heads are possibly the most sadistic obstacle in the OCR world, one day I will overcome them!)
Up over a steep hill, a tyre wall (which caused many problems later in the day I am told) and a few slatted walls, we rounded a corner and came across the monkey bars, placed again over water. According to the marshall, deep water. The bars were already muddy and wet, and my hands were not much better. I started to dry them and then remember what Doug “The Beard” Spence had told me about letting things like that get in the way of tackling an obstacle.
Jumping up I made it two rungs across before quickly realising I would fall, I swiftly turned tail back to the start. “Can I use my legs?” I shouted across to the marshall. “Ermm, sure!?” She replied. There's a first time for everything: I jumped up, and swung my legs up to crawl upside down across the monkey bars: I got a few strange comments, but I made it across. As I made my slow journey I heard a loud splash and realised another lady who I had been keeping my eye on was now in the water and was quickly overtaking me. Despite my effort to stay dry, the next section involved Monsters own Lollipop style heads, which I completed alongside the woman now hot on my heels. I realised that the lady I had been running with was still on the monkey bars, using the same technique as I had, and made the decision to continue on without her.
I'm not sure how I always end up talking to so many people on races, but I seem to always find a new running buddy (this is why I'll never win!) As I ran with the woman who had caught up with me we discussed our training and race history. The Monster race was very much a runner’s course, especially a cross country runners course, with no penalties for failed obstacles: the alternative being making your way through the water, it allowed those who were capable at running a chance to give it a real go. With most of the #OCRfam at Dirty Dozen that day it gave newbies and racers such as myself an opportunity to compete, and hopefully gave a boost to those new to the sport to continue and get involved.
We made our way past the halfway mark, at just over 6km, as I started to feel cramp in my calves earlier than usual. I have always worn 2XU calf guards, but recently invested in compressport as they seem to be very popular: I personally will have to give them a few more trials, but I have a feeling I will be returning to 2XU before long.
As this race was done in laps, we knew what was coming, and as is the way with laps, the second time around always feels shorter than the first. Luckily congestion wasn't too bad from later waves, but I made no bones about running past people and trying to get round them. Down some hills I lost my companion, and before long I found myself at the monkey bars again. Naughtily rushing past a group of people who were dilly-dallying at the middle set of bars I jumped up.
Adopting the same technique I made my way across, quickly finding that my calves were cramping and I was struggling. Taking breaks I hooked my arms and legs over the bars: yes I was racing, but I also wanted to give the obstacles my best attempt. I got to the end of the bars and lowered myself down, the bars were quite high so there was a jump down to the floating platform. I let go and found myself rushing underwater...I'd stupidly totally misjudged the landing and was now several feet under, totally unexpectedly. Kicking up to the surface spluttering and coughing, I berated myself for my foolishness (and anyone who spoke to me in the hour or two after the race can't have helped to have noticed my new, strange voice as my throat was still full of pond gunk).
As I neared the final, very steep hill towards the finish line and the last of the obstacles, a low 5' wall, which with my cramping calves I struggled to make it over, I was caught up by my latest running buddy, who gave me a push over, before powering up over the hill and eventually beating me (and well deserved I say!). A small hoist, and a waterslide (which embarrassingly I lost momentum on half way down: I really have to work on my water slide technique, that's twice now!). I could see the finish line and hoped that Tom at the Mudstacle stand couldn't see how pathetically I was finishing (he could...he has photo evidence, thanks again!) a tricky double row of tyres, and an 8 foot wall and we were crossing the line.
Over the next few hours I continued to check the computers by the finish to see my place which originally started as 4th Female, and 25th overall drop down, although I was happy with my final position of 36th overall (she says as she nervously awaits the Mudstacle league update...it may be a different story after that!)
Manning the tent for the rest of the afternoon as Tom raced (achieving a very impressive 18th overall) I found that I spoke to a lot of people, many of whom were new to the sport, who had loved the course and couldn't wait for their next race.
Whilst I found the race challenging, mainly due to the hills and the heat, taken slowly, it's a perfect introductory race for newbies and those looking to test the water, especially with the 5km option available. The obstacles are fun, but challenging enough to not just breeze through for those who have not run race before, and the terrain is varied and keeps you on your toes constantly. The only area they failed in? Moving the race from May to April for a wetter, muddier course....
Thanks very much to Francesca Chiorando Meredith for being our guest writer. Go and check out her Mud Is My Makeup blog here.
If you'd like to know more about Monster Race visit: www.monsterrace.co.uk
Thanks to Little Photo Company for the pics.