This weekend saw Back 2 the Trenches returned bigger and better than ever. For this review we enlisted the help of a true obstacle racing expert, the man behind the Obstacle Trainer i-Phone and Android app, Mr Tim Lovett. We'll be putting the new version of Tim's app through its paces in the next week but, in the mean time, we'll leave you with his experiences at BTTT...
I'm a veteran of Back 2 The Trenches, having taken part in both the inaugural 10km event in March and their follow up 10km in June. However "The Big Push" had me chomping at the bit to get back to the Priory Events ground in Surrey and see what this growing mud run brand could really do. The reason for this was two-fold: Firstly the race organisers had gained permission to have a road closed, which normally separated the two halves of Priory Events, so there would be access to brand new terrain, including a deep lake, more monstrous hills and a chance to run sections of the 4x4 course. Secondly, there were three options of distance - 6, 12 and 18km - making it suitable for all abilities. The pre-race information and directions to the event were as well organised as we've come to expect from BTTT, the only difference being that the start line was set on the "new" grounds, so there was a 10 minute walk to the registration area, bag drop and start line. To get us started, check out this video run through of the course:
I ran with my team of 12 runners all from different backgrounds, fitness levels and OCR experience. One of my resounding memories of the Back 2 The Trenches mud runs is just how team friendly they are, encouraging camaraderie and great laughs whilst remaining a good challenge. Lining up in the first of four waves amongst 250 runners we were treated to the signature BTTT warm up, getting everyone ready for the race and in the spirit of things. It was surprisingly warm for mid-October, but lashing it down with rain. Everyone had a grin from ear to ear though and there was a great atmosphere.
Tim and his crew (left)
We set off in the first wave dead on 10am and straight into some killer hills. Weaving up and down several times over wet, slippery grass. We veered off and onto some farm trails, heading further up into Priory Events' grounds. A sharp turn down into a wooded section provided logs to jump over, saplings to avoid and our first taste of mud. Heading back uphill we were treated to the first of the obstacles - a farm trailer to vault up-and-over, a tyre run and some barbed wire crawls in the territory normally reserved for 4x4 driving. The mud was very thick and I was very happy to be running in my new Inov-8 X-Talons, as some runners were already beginning to really struggle.
We soon moved on to a knee-high water crossing, which we were instructed to crawl through or face penalty exercises. Despite the warm air temperature for mid-October, this was a good reminder that winter is coming as the water was nippy to say the least! We moved on to more thick mud and barbed wire crawls and then onto the first of two new lakes. We entered the lake via a small jetty for a 25 metre swim. Within a few feet of getting in, the water became too deep to wade and we were on our own with lifeguards in kayaks circling to ensure our safety. The water was very cold and having my chest immersed in water for that long gave me flashbacks to Winter Tough Guy. This was a great new feature to the BTTT arsenal. Despite the large numbers of people in the wave, there was no queuing. Those first few hills really did the trick of thinning the pack out!
We soon warmed up with more undulating hills covered in think mud, before breaking out into an uphill tyre carry. This was longer than at previous BTTT events, another nod to the fact the course is getting tougher each time, not only by adding distance, but by making individual obstacles more challenging. After another short run, we headed through some tunnel crawls, across the road and back into the familiar sight of the BTTT grounds that we're used to. At this point, racers taking the 6km option would not cross the road but instead complete a 3km run straight to the finish line.
The next obstacle was a running dive through some tractor tyres, which would later act as a bridge for the 12 and 18km runners at the end of the section. We ran up through the grounds and immediately started tackling more killer hills. We had some hay bales and 6 foot walls to scale, before heading further up and tackling the first of the water slides. In previous BTTT events, these have been great obstacles but despite the steep angles, it's been difficult to get a lot of speed up. This time large doses of washing up liquid were added to the water. The results were a very fast slide, scarily fast if you took a good run up with little control of the direction that you went in once you were on it!
Once our heads had stopped spinning, we headed into a wooded section for some cross country running before heading up more hills and plenty of natural obstacles to deal with - steep slopes, fallen trees to jump and crawl under. We were now in the 6km 'loop'- The 12km runners would do a single lap, the 18km runners would do two before heading back across the road for the final 3km run to the finish. Before that however was more familiar BTTT territory; Barbed-wire crawls, hay stacks to negotiate, sandbag and tyre carries and the section of trenches to run through. The terrain varied throughout and the course is blessed with some picturesque views across Surrey, as you climb higher and higher.
The 6km loop finished with a final water slide and, after completing lap two, we aimed for the tractor tyre bridge, climbing over them as racers from other waves were diving through them - a really nice touch. Back across the road and through a second set of tunnels we hit another lake. This one we could wade through and the cold water was nice and refreshing this late in the race. We navigated through another 4x4 section with a few knee-high runs through water before heading to the final four obstacles and the finish line.
We were greeted with a very long water slide with spectator crowds at the bottom. This was great fun and, as before, the inclusion of washing up liquid allowed you to gain quite a pace as you headed towards the bottom of the sheeting, trying to avoid hitting any spectators. Around the corner, through the fire jump and we faced a "grenade throw". In previous BTTT events this has involved lobbing a water bottle at a member of staff, but this time we were treated to plastic grenades and a static target to aim for. Little improvements like this throughout made a huge difference. Finally it was through the electric fences and over the finishing lines. Gaps between the electric fencing were quite big and easy to negotiate without getting zapped, though you still heard the odd blood-curdling scream from someone hitting one.
We were treated to a goodie bag and all new medals, along with showers for the first time (previously the clean up process was a group bath in the lake closest to the car park) as well as a small changing area and some good hot food options. The only gripe with the showers was that the walk back to the car park was quite a muddy one, so those changing at the finish line found their feet quite muddy again by the time they got back to the car park. We thought this might be the case and therefore took to opportunity of having the whole lake to ourselves for a bath in the car park 🙂
Back 2 The Trenches market themselves as a mud run challenge with obstacles and today's event did not disappoint. They may not use the huge structures that you see at some other events, but the natural obstacles of steep hills, thick mud and now deep lakes make this more than a challenge in itself. It's a great team event, well organised and at this price point it's also one of the best value for money events in the UK.
Looking forward to 2014 there are four events lined up:
23rd March OVER THE TOP 5k / 10k
22nd June THE BIG PUSH 6k / 12k / 18k
21st September NO MANS LAND 5k / 10k
2nd November THE BIG PUSH 6k / 12k / 18k
Check out all the details on www.back2thetrenches.co.uk
There are also rumours of four events and possibly some taking place at other venues around the UK. The increase in numbers and new challenges today have made 2014 BTTT events and exciting prospect... Watch this space for news as it breaks!