It's been a busy month in the mud and obstacle race world and, although my niggling minor injuries are on their way to being not quite so minor, I decided to spend my Sunday tackling the intimidatingly named Demon Run.
Although I originally scoffed at the race being called "London Demon Run", even though it was based out near Bracknell, I actually managed to get there from my South London flat in around half an hour on early Sunday morning roads. So really it is great option for most Londonites. In terms of terrain, it's well worth going out that little bit further, as it's based in the rugged Swinley Forest. Unless an event got set up in Richmond Park, which is extremely unlikely, there aren't any more central venues that could compete.
After taking a few snaps of the start line, organiser Dave drove me over to a couple of nice features to get some more photos. On the way he was telling me about an interesting couple of days setting up. Apparently in comparison to their inaugural event back in March, the terrain was massively overgrown and setting up the course markings through the first section had taken them the best part of a day. The bracken was up to chest hight in places, and apparently it was filled with an exotic selection of spiders and insects... hopefully the more squeamish runners would be travelling too fast to notice! Dave was thinking that he might rename the September run to "The Jungle Challenge". He also mentioned that there had been a few mishaps with course marking on their first event but they'd put a lot of extra effort in to keep people on course this time around - good to hear!
I managed to capture a few pictures of the 5 mile crew wading along a mucky drainage ditch - a classic obstacle and great to get runners out of their comfort zone. Not only is wading through water an uncomfortable process, but also you need to adjust to running with cold wet legs and sodden trainers for the rest of the race.
After a rather too long warm up run back to the start line, I bumped into a couple of guys who I'd seen at the Nuts Challenge a few weeks before. Richard was clearly super fit and buzzing for the race. At Nuts he'd run 2 laps on the Saturday and 4 laps on the Sunday, which blows my mind! So, although I was keen to do well in this race I knew I may well be out-classed by some!
A fog-horn marked the start off the race and I managed to jostle a good position in the first 100 yards. That turned out to be an important move as we headed straight into the overgrown "jungle" section of the course. A very narrow path had been beaten down by the 5 mile crew, so there was no room for passing. It suited me though, as the leader was keeping up a comfortable pace to follow. It was stressful running for a good 5-10 minutes though. The surroundings were so overgrown and the ground was very uneven. Not only did you have to figure out your path and make last-minute changes in direction, but you also had to keep a watchful eye on the ground. Foot placement was extremely important, if you wanted to keep your ankles intact.
As expected, obstacles were few and far between, but that really allowed runners to get into their stride. When they did come around they did their uncomfortable job of sapping my energy and forcing me to concentrate on my breathing as I attempted to get my pace back together. As well as a couple more water dips, there was an uncomfortable hill slalom, a tangled web of string to fight through, a crawl under cargo net and quite a few ditches to jump in and out of. I reckon they could have got away with adding a couple more things; maybe a fence, wall or some fallen trees to climb over would be good, but that kind of thing may well come in the future.
The general course had quite an interesting feel. It was in a forest that was open to the public so at point you would be running past people out for a nice Sunday stroll. It was nice when they offered their encouragement though. As we ducked off the main path and headed into the hill slalom, I saw a family of Japanese tourists, who were just figuring our that there was a race going on. As we ducked out at the other end of the slalom they were there to meet us with excited cheers. That was massively encouraging and definitely helped to spur me on. I was buzzing so much I completely disregarded the big yellow arrow and started running the wrong way. Thankfully they knew enough English to call me back and send me off in the right direction!
The course markings and marshals were clearly a lot better than the previous event, even though there was still a little room for error in some places. I can imagine it's a very challenging course to mark out because all of the footpaths are open to the public, so wrong directions can't be taped off. I managed to stay on track though, and I'm not the sharpest tool, so they definitely did okay!
As I passed the last mile marker I had very little left in the tank, but I had to keep my pace up. A marshal had told me I was in third place and I had been swapping places several times with the guy who was a only a short distance behind me. I knew he wanted to beat me, but I just had to hold him off for a little while longer. I had lost the grace in my running and the spring in my step, every footstep slammed heavily into the ground and jarred my aching legs. That last mile felt like four but eventually I saw an unnatural white colour on the horizon through the tree, at first I wasn't sure what it was but then I could see it was a van, which meant I was approaching civilisation and the finish line was only a couple off hundred yards away. I glanced behind and my pursuer had fallen back.
All I could imagine as I approached the line was how I was going to collapse on the other side of it. But as I crossed, Dave (the organiser) handed me my bronze trophy and an awesome medal and my spirits picked up instantly. The first and second place runners were there to congratulate me (unsurprisingly Richard had won in a blistering 1hr 9mins) and I turned to watch my nemesis cross the line - it had been an awesome tussle.
So, there we have it, another event experienced. I had a great time and really enjoyed a proper runners race. It's still a young event and I've got no doubt that it will continue to get stronger and stronger. It's definitely worth checking out and, considering everyone gets a t-shirt and a great medal, it really is a bargain! There are events coming up in South Wales, Belfast and Glasgow, if you don't fancy making your way to "London". Check out their site here.
I've got a full gallery of photos on Facebook here. Check 'em out and if you spot yourself get tagging!