It's around 1 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon and, while most people are about to tuck into a roast dinner or are out washing the car, I'm collapsed half-way over a wooden fence, trying to relieve agonising cramp pains from my inner thigh. At this moment there's no doubt in my mind that The Nuts Challenge is... well... a nuts challenge!
Rewind 24 hours and I was having a whale of a time. I was casually wandering around the Nuts Challenge assault course, taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere and getting very muddy. All without expending too much energy - as I had to prepare for my own challenge the next day.
The Nuts Challenge is run over a 7k obstacle course, with multiple laps available to those who want to increase their challenge. The 7k and 14k take place on the Saturday, whilst the 21k and 28k take place on the Sunday. As expected, the Saturday was a far more popular day. The shorter courses always pull in a bigger crowd on these multi-distance events.
The atmosphere on the Saturday was awesome. I love the feel of these events; everyone is having a great time getting muddy and tackling obstacles, then feeling like they've really achieved something special when they cross the line. As expected, there were a lot of large groups and teams going around together, helping each other out, as well as a lot of people in fancy dress.
My excitement had built massively over the preceding week, seeing pictures that The Nuts Challenge had been posted on Facebook, but to see everything in the flesh sent me to fever pitch, it looked awesome. I had signed up to do 21k on the Sunday and I couldn't wait! However, when I saw the Saturday results, I definitely realised that it was going to be a bigger challenge than I originally thought. Only a very few elite runners were completing one 7k lap in an hour, most taking around 2 hours and a fair few taking over 3 hours! Multiply that kind of challenge by three and I could be in for an exhausting day!
I didn't sleep well that night. Having seen all of the obstacles, I was running through them all in my head, mentally picturing how I was going to tackle them. I worried about niggling injuries and what the weather was going to be like. To be honest that's no different to the night before any other event. Even though I've done tonnes of these kinds of things now, the nerves and excitement still hasn't subsided.
On the morning of the event, the feel of the site was very different to the previous day. There were far fewer people, and those that were there were all clearly a lot more serious about the task in hand. We chatted to a few people who were a little shocked to learn how long each lap could potentially take. I could see the realisation in their faces of some who had signed up for four laps that they may have bitten off a little more than they could chew!
Going into this, you'd be forgiven for thinking "how bad can 21k or even 28k really be?" As far as I was concerned, Tough Guy Nettle Warrior had to be the toughest event of the summer. Even though it's a little shorter, clocking up 19k, its enormous and brutal assault course surely had to put it out of reach of other events. Certainly Tough Mudder's 20k didn't come close to Tough Guy on the toughness scale. So, surely Nuts would pale in comparison as well... surely... ? Well, I've got news for you, toughen up if you want to take on more than a couple laps of the Nuts Challenge. Less than half of the people who signed up for three or four lapse actually finished!
I would say I found three laps of Nuts Challenge as hard as Tough Guy Nettle Warrior (in fact it may even have scraped it), so four laps is pretty insane. In fact I'm going to stick my neck out and award the Nuts Challenge Mudstacle's unofficial title of "Toughest Event of the Summer 2012". I'm sure Mr Mouse would be ripping his hair out reading this and will be sadistically planning how to torture his Tough Guy participants even more! But you know what? What I really liked about Nuts is that it was tough without gimmicks. It was a long, hard, challenging assault course. It didn't need electrocution or the likes to make it tough, it just wore you out good and proper!
So... I've realised I've talked a lot about this event without actually talking about the course itself, although I'm sure you can gather a fair amount from the pictures I've dotted around. Basically, from the Nuts Challenge assault course you can expect 7km of very regularly spaced obstacles. In fact it makes it feel like a lot more than 7km per lap (if I were to blindly hazard a guess, I would say it feels like 9km). There are a lot of instances where you jump in and climb out of rivers, mostly on very steep muddy banks that are close head hight. These are often followed by several long sections of the course where you have to run caked in heavy mud before you get the chance to wash yourself off in a water obstacle.
The Nuts course is filled with permanent obstacles and that's what really sets it apart from Spartan, Tough Mudder and many of the other races that can only set up temporary features. There's a section in the middle with a winning sequence of closely spaced obstacles: cargo net, pole slide, rope swing, crawl under barbed wire, log balance, tyre wall climb, over wall, under wall, jump through tire and roped wall climb! If that doesn't get your heart racing and your lungs pumping nothing will!
There are loads of other built-up wooden features to climb over, under and through, but I'm starting to realise this blog is growing out of control... you'll just have to go and see them for yourselves. On top of the wooden obstacles there are several nicely angled cargo net climbs, loads of fences and walls to vault over and many many muddy swamps to wade through, hill slaloms, water slides, tyre carries, a disorientating wander through a Vietnam village (which was awesome)... the list just goes on!
There were a couple of really unique river crossings just before the finish line. The first was a series of floating wooden platforms to balance on and make your way over. It's an achievable obstacle but involved a few leaps of faith to get between some of the bigger gaps - it was a lot of fun and totally unique. The next crossing was over a series of inflatable ringos. Now, you might think that that looks like a lot of fun, but I've learnt from Survival off the Fittest that inflatable objects should be feared and respected! crawling over them was literally exhausting and was an extremely tough job to balance on.
After two laps I was knocked for six. I knew I had it in me to finish my third but wasn't expecting to be as tired as I was. The combination of cold water and exertion had brought on sever cramps in most of my major muscles. For a long section, every time I lifted my leg, my inner thigh tightened into a crippling cramp.I really regretted not forcing a banana down between laps. Although I felt I put down some respectable times in the first two laps, I slowed down a lot for the third... all the while dreading that last section of ringos! But as I crossed the line I felt real, genuine relief! I had made it... if a little broken.
Within an hour my exhaustion turned to excitement. I was so pumped! For me this was up there with the best events I've ever taken part in. On the way out one of the organisers asked me if I'd be back in March, without hesitation my answer was an excited "YES!"... although whether I upgrade to four laps will remain to be seen. (BTW I did on to run four laps in March, which was a crazy experience, read all about it here)
Thank you Nuts Challenged, you have stoked my love of obstacle events again!
Stay up to date with all of the latest event news and reviews by liking Mudstacle on Facebook. For more photos from the day, check out the Facebook album here (and tag yourselves in). If you want to know more about The Nuts Challenge, check out their site here.