I had wanted to go to Mud Monsters since the announcement of their first event in 2015, as I remembered the venue from the maiden Pukka Races World War Run in 2014. I had a great time that day; my second OCR, and my first encounter with Mudstacle. Mud Monsters is a 4x4 off-road course by day, which means they know mud; evidenced by their win in the ‘Best For Mud’ category at the 2015 Mudstacle awards. In this, their sophomore year, would the venue and RD have any new surprises in store?
I arrived fairly early and registered without issue, getting my pack containing timing chip, wave wristband, and stick-on race number (no chance of a safety pin related injury before I even got to the start line). There were other early arrivals in and around the event village; Marshals on quad bikes zipping about on last minute errands; and crowds already gathering by both the coffee and crepe stalls (perfect prep for what was to come). There was also a double decker Routemaster bus with a picket fence and café tables serving as the bar, a nice touch and change from the usual beer tent. A mobile pizza oven and burger stall completed the food and drink offerings. There were showers to the far end which, though cold and lacking a little power, managed to get the worst of the mud off the finishers.
I ran the 10k in the 11:15 wave, so I would be going out to play after a few waves had run the course and got the famous mud ready for me. There were also 5k and 20k options available, the latter being two laps of the 10k course. PT Emz from Bootcamp Revolution brought her usual brand of high-energy enthusiasm to the warm up, and then we were checked through the gate into the starting area.
50 yards in came a sharp left turn and a section with three sets of silage bales. These are always a bit trickier than the standard hay bales; a bit higher, and slippery due to the plastic cover. I felt these were perhaps a little too close to the start line and created a slight bottleneck (and a few feet to the face!).
After this there was a turn to the right and our first chance to experience one of the many types of mud on offer here at Mud Monsters; the grey, watery variety. This was also the first venture into the woodland trails that make up a good portion of the course. It was fantastic running - weaving in and out, over and under trees and branches, all the while keeping an eye on footing, due to the ever-changing texture underfoot. The course markings here were clear and obvious with red and white tape on both sides ensuring you kept on the right track. In this section of the course the obstacles ranged from cargo net crawls through thick, wet, clay-like mud; large wooden ladders which had become a little slippery with mud; tyre walls; and an A-frame over a river bed that we would be seeing a lot more of later on. None of the obstacles in this section were overly taxing but combined with the accumulating layers of mud they proved more of a challenge than you would normally expect.
A change of scenery followed, leading out into the bright sunshine and towards a soaped up waterslide; always fun and a chance to shed some of the mud weight picked up during our time in the woods. We then came to one of Mud Monsters’ shiny new black and green obstacles; one which is fast becoming a staple of the UK scene after making its debut last year; The Weaver! Mud Monsters’ version is solid and well-built, with the perfect gap between rungs to allow you to manoeuvre your way through. They understand that it’s not an obstacle for everyone and can be intimidating and confusing for those new to the sport. So, they have installed a 6ft ladder wall next to it, so that instead of simply bypassing an obstacle people still had something to do. After a quick cage crawl we reached the split point for the 5k and 10k distances, which was well marshalled and signposted to avoid any confusion.
Darting right onto the 10k loop I was greeted by a fence post carry. Not heavy, but the size and length made it awkward, especially the tunnel crawl whilst carrying it. On heading back into another wooded area we really got to see and experience more types of mud than I have seen before; brown smooth mud the texture of melted chocolate; thick sticky grey mud; slippy clay-like mud which even mudclaws and talons struggled for purchase on. These were just the appetiser though, as the Muddy Abyss really lives up to its name; dark, black, grainy, lumpy, thick and smelly. Mud that, once you set foot in it, did not want to let you leave its dark muddy depths. It made me think of the Swamps of sadness swallowing Artax in ‘A Never Ending Story’. I think many shoes went the same way as that horse today. I would have liked to see a Marshal at this point, as the Abyss did seem to go on for what felt like 3-400 metres. As I was slogging / crawling / grabbing anything nearby to pull myself through, there were a number of people getting stuck and struggling. I of course did my Mudstacle duty and tried to help where I could, without being swallowed whole! Exiting the Abyss by grabbing onto a winch cable from a Land Rover and pulling yourself up a slick slope, you were free to run once again into the wooded trails.
This section of woodland looped around, went up, came back down, sent you through a spider’s web of bungee cords, over more ladder walls and under more cargo nets; all the while throwing yet more types of mud at you. At least this time you had multiple trips into and out of a river, ranging from ankle to thigh deep, to wash a little of the mud off, but there was always more waiting around the corner. I do feel though that the river was a little over-used in this section, but as one of their listed obstacles is named ‘Get me out of this River’ I think they were aiming for it to be a mentally draining aspect of the course, and it certainly worked in that respect. The tyre-carry in this section, though not one of the longest I have done, was certainly one of the hardest. It wove up and downhill, over a brook and then into a pit of thick, grey, shoe-eating mud up to the top of the thigh. Trying to escape from this and not lose your tyre to the sucking mud was a real challenge.
Winding your way out of the woods, you hit the 9k marker and an obstacle heavy section by the Event Village. This was great for spectators and runners alike with eight obstacles in quick succession, though by this point the distance and terrain had drained the energy of most down to reserve levels. It was a great section though, filled with old favourites; big walls, a cargo net climb, incline / decline monkey bars and another of Mud Monsters’ new obstacles, a bright green set of ninja rings. If you haven’t seen these before, they are a set of bars protruding from a central stem, set at regular intervals which you traverse from one side to the other by using a pair of rings. This was a particularly challenging set. I think the gap between the bars may have been slightly larger than at other events I have done. This was another point at which the RD offered an alternative obstacle for those not confident enough to attempt the rings. On this occasion it was the ‘floating tyres’, a tyre wall with a twist. The first tyres were set 2ft off the ground, meaning you had either be fairly flexible and get a foot or knee up or, have the upper body strength to pull yourself up the first part. I like this approach as it still allows all the runners an obstacle to attempt, although for competitive waves there should probably be a clear indication of which obstacle should be completed.
After exiting the obstacle village there was a last blast through the woods and some more time in the river before hitting the finishing straight with an Irish table and A-frame cargo net, before you were able to collapse over that line and collect your well-deserved medal. Or steel yourself for a second lap to complete the 20k.
The finishers in the Event Village, at least those that hadn’t showered yet, resembled something from a post apocalyptic movie. A thick, dry, cracking, greyish-brown crust formed over the hundreds of shambling bodies. There was one other thing we all shared however; a great big smile from ear to ear. Mud Monsters is FUN. The atmosphere post race in the Village was fantastic, with families and friends staying around enjoying the location, blazing sunshine, food, discussions of the many types of mud they enjoyed and just how they escaped the Abyss.
Mud Monsters is an event that should be on your calendar. The obstacles may not be the most technically challenging out there but that’s not what they are aiming for. They make fantastic use of the terrain at their disposal, balancing technical trails with natural water features and sturdy obstacles. As they own the site we may see more technical obstacles in the future to add to the Ninja Rings and Weaver introduced this weekend. The woods and the mud stole the show today though.
They say Eskimos have 99 words for snow. After today, I think we may need 99 words for mud!
Photos: First and third courtesy of Epic Action Imagery.