It’s midday on Sunday in May, and several dishevelled Mudstaclites are hobbling out of a campsite in the picturesque grounds of Burghley House. One is limping, carrying a muddied yellow flag, another, a crumpled paddling pool, one awkwardly manoeuvres a lopsided wheelbarrow; all are in various states of blurry contentment. A lady wanders over and asks, “What’s happening here?”
“Oh,” the bearded one replies, “It was an obstacle race”.
But it wasn’t. It was so much more than that. We just had a Dirty Weekend.
Rat Race Dirty Weekend, in its fourth year, is the biggest, longest and arguably most funnerest [Yes, I said it] single-lap* obstacle race in the world. It combines athletic endeavour with a music festival headed by Reverend and the Makers and Dave Pearce. Food, friends, family and muddy frolics, where 20 miles and 200 obstacles are conquered, and infinite laughs are to be had.
*Unless you’re attempting the two lap ‘Double Mucker’ which is only for very special people.
The build-up and excitement came to a head on Friday when registration and the campsites opened. On a practical note, the long trek from the car park to the campsite is notoriously long, and should not be attempted without having had a proper think about how to carry all of your kit for the whole weekend. This year, the weather was absolutely beautiful, which made for a leisurely registration process, although I must advise thoroughly checking that all of your bands (camping, party and racing) plus shirt, timing chip and cable ties are acquired, because things can and do get missed.
Not long after tents were assembled and ciders quaffed, Friday night entertainment began with a record attempting three legged race, which, while in the name of fun, was still totally dominated by Mudstacle’s dedicated team of totally unserious athletes. The many, varied food stands were taken full advantage of, and the rather reasonable bar was also frequented.
Retiring to the campsite, the reality of having to run 20 miles the next day set in. This was a daunting prospect for me, as I had never run that far before. Whilst I knew it was going to involve a lot of japes, I had real concerns over my ability to get through it all. My fears were unfounded, however, as this race, intimidating as it may seem, really is for everyone. It’s achievable, because it can be raced, jogged or walked. From serious racers, to those there for the challenge and experience, to total newcomers – there was something for everyone to get worried and excited over in equal measure.
I won’t labour the ins and outs, overs and unders, through and acrosses of the race itself, because we’ve rather conveniently cobbled together videos of the frontrunners and the lap of japes from the Mudstacle, BMF and Dutch Mud Men wave (both coming soon). You’ll notice some familiar favourites in zones inspired by some of Rat Race’s other offerings, such as River Rat Race and Survival of the Fittest, as well as the Burghley’s resident obstacles, some new designs, upgrades and skyscrapers like the towering container mountain at the finish. Highlights include the superbly designed Ewok Village, the relentless (yet refreshing) Water Wipeout section and a rather magnificent cargo net climb over the river. What you may not appreciate is just how much RUNNING there is, but that’s par for the course on a 20 miler. It’s not a challenge to be sniffed at, and as one runner so middle-classedly put it, “This is SOOOO much easier on a horse.”
As usual, friendly faces were out on course, providing leg ups, sweets and encouragement, and the refreshment stations offered plenty of water and much needed snacks. Given the weather, it would have been nice to have a stop a little earlier in the course, but that’s a small complaint.
What I’m not sure can be conveyed accurately in a race review, is just how much something that has been designed to test you and break you down can simultaneously build you up; the atmosphere, the camaraderie and the sheer joy of this event is palpable in every moment from the second you park your car until the second you stuff your slighty damp tent back into the boot. Whether you’re in it to win it, for Facebook bragging rights, or just to hang out with your mates, it’s a challenge that every obstacle racer should face at least once, or twice, or basically every year forever. That’s not to say it isn’t without it’s issues – there’s still the odd log jam at some of the larger obstacles, and there’s still some uninspiring running around fields, but there was nothing about this race that could truly dampen your spirits.
Massive congratulations must go out to the winners of the race, James Appleton and Freya Martin, who put in astonishing performances that were exciting to watch. Another ‘performance’ which was interesting to watch was the after hours antics of a certain BMF teammate, but that’s another story altogether.
And so, as the cruel reality of normal life sets in, we can but reflect on RRDW, relive the glory through videos, and try to get on with the daily grind as best we can. The scrapes will heal, the bruises will fade, but we’ve yet to find a cure for the Dirty Weekend blues. We hear the only thing to alleviate the symptoms is to get booked up for next year, and get caught up in the Rat Race all over again.