Wolf Run is fast becoming one of the UK's most popular obstacle course races and tends to sell out way in advance. In fact that's the only reason why I haven't checked it out before now - I'm nowhere near organised enough! Anyway, for their recent event I managed to get my lazy butt into gear and book my place in time to join the 5,000 other lucky entrants.
Before the event, all I really knew about Wolf Run was that it was 10km long, it had a few obstacles and there was a fair sized lake swim. It was that lake swim that started to play on my mind towards the end of last week. Most of the events over the last couple of months have been massively affected by freezing conditions. I've found myself crippled by cold on a number of occasions and, each time, I've thought that the weather would be much better at the next event. But this winter won't loosen it's icy grip!
This winter I've got through a lot worse than an icy lake swim in the middle of a 10km run but, in a way, I was relieved to see on Wolf Run's Facebook page that they were considering closing the lake feature for health and safety reasons. It was good that the organisers were taking a responsible stance. As I realised on the day, Wolf Run appeals more to the mass market than some of the crazier tough events, so protecting people from the possibility of hypothermia was a very good stance for them to take.
Come Sunday, the temperatures went up considerably and the sun was actually shining, - what a treat! However the organisers still decided to pull the plug on the larger of the two lake crossings. To be honest, that came as a bit of a relief, as I was feeling fragile following a friend's wedding the day before... I certainly wasn't feeling my "toughest". In fact, I think I'd have seen it as a major achievement to make it around the course without barfing. I had managed to force down a couple litres of water that morning though and I definitely started to feel human as my wave-time approached.
Waves of 100 or so people set off every 10 minutes and in preparation for my heat I joined a fun military-style warm up from some outdoor fitness specialists. It definitely got my blood pumping and I felt ready to pounce off the line; my hung-over head had cleared surprisingly well!
First up was an old obstacle course classic - running through tyres. This one had a bit of a twist though, with the tyres getting progressively bigger. By the end of the section we had moved from regular car tyres to enormous tractor tyres! It was a nice twist and was the first indication that Wolf Run focussed on the quality of their obstacles.
The course had a very farmy feel, with most of the running sections taking routes around the perimeter of ploughed fields. It was comfortable trail running but, after the first field, comfort was pushed out of the window temporarily - we faced a very early and quite significant water obstacle. Ahead of us was the smaller lake crossing that still existed on the course. Even though it was smaller, it was still a good 100m. As I waded out to waist height, I realised that the sun hadn't warmed the water up very much. I also noticed that I'd forgotten to wear my gloves (rookie mistake... or maybe I can blame my hangover), so I tried to keep my hands above the surface rather than using them to propel me along, as I normally would. Within a few seconds my toes started to get that familiar numbness and after a few seconds more my privates started to ache - sorry I try not to make that too graphic, but it really ain't pleasant!
Anyways, that was the water crossing out of the way, so I knew it would be up-hill from that point onwards. Over the next few kilometres there were some classic and well-spaced obstacles. Things like crawling under netting, clambering through tangled ropes, climbing up banks and down into ditches. Although most of the time was spent going around fields there were a couple of hilly woodland sections that spiced things up and tested my sluggish reactions. I took a couple of branches in the face, but miraculously managed to break out of the woodland with both eye-balls in place.
The ground underfoot was mostly quite hard, which forced me to concentrate heavily on the uneven terrain, as it would have been easy to turn an ankle when I was going full speed. There were several slippery muddier sections along the way though, which is always fun!
The highlights all came in the final third of the race. First up was an amazing water slide. It was long, fast and super-slippery! You started out sliding down wet and soapy tarpaulin but people inevitably went flying on for much further in the mud. I haven't seen such a good slide since Total Warrior, it really was a lot of fun and was a great photo opportunity. I actually saw a couple guys run back up the hill to do it again!
Next up came a really nice stacked-log wall climb followed by a fairly high cargo net climb. In both cases they were excellently constructed; there were no half-measures when it came to quality. They both seemed solid and safe, while being high enough to get the pulse racing.
After climbing down from the cargo netting the event village was visible in the distance and, as well as the thumping of music, I could hear the distant sound of cheering from a fair sized crowd. As I approached the final field it was obvious why - the first of the final obstacles was a very muddy ditch. Kids were chanting "JUMP IN... JUMP IN... JUMP IN..." as we approached. The guy ahead of me slipped gently into the mud, to the disappointment of the crowd, so I felt like I had to appease them and went flying in, covering the guy in front with a tidal wave of mud - sorry!
Next up we clambered over and through a clever little vertical maze of hay bails - again, Wolf Run had done a little more than your run-of-the-mill hay bail obstacle. Then it was on to a fair sized wall. At first glance it looked like a serious challenge, but I noticed that there was a rope and slats in the wall to help the assent. The rope was really slippery for my mud covered hands, but it was a fun and achievable challenge for most people.
The last obstacle before the line was a double mud-filled ditch. I jumped straight into the first ditch, but jarred my ankle as it was a little shallower than I expected, so I decided to slip gently into the final ditch - much to the crowd's disappoint - I didn't realise it was the final photo opportunity. Oh well!
As I crossed the line I was handed a top quality technical running shirt, a bottle of water and a cliff bar (the shiz in energy bars). I realised that I hadn't been wearing a chip and they didn't record my number, so I assume there are no times recorded at this event. That make sense, as it definitely seemed to be more about the fun of taking part rather than being competitive.
After the race I had a good walk around the event village and then went around most of the course to take some photos. The event village was excellent, with a really fun family atmosphere. Of course the weather really helped, but there was a really nice fairground vibe, with a great band playing - even though it was one of those occasion where people were a little afraid to get too close to the stage!
As I walked around the course, there were so many people just smiling and messing around. It was super relaxed and people weren't bothered if they spent half of their time walking around chatting and laughing. When it came to the messier obstacles, you'd be more likely to see people rolling around pushing their mate's face in the dirt for a laugh than you would be to see them being in a hurry to get back on their feet and running again. It was a really refreshing contrast in comparison the colder, harsher winter events.
I certainly didn't find this the most challenging event but, being 10km without an overwhelming amount of obstacles, makes it much more accessible and fun. The obstacles themselves were well thought out and were well made and safe. Overridingly though Wolf Run is all about having fun. It's a great first-timers run and is also perfect for the hardened obstacle course racers who want a chilled run amongst a bunch of folk intent on having a good time!
If you took part in Wolf Run or are planning to take place in any other events, come and let us know what you think in the Mudstacle forum here.
If you haven't done it already, make sure you like Mudstacle on Facebook: