For those of you who are looking for a new challenge, there are a few emerging events that are pushing beyond the structural boundaries of an obstacle course race. You may have heard of the US Spartan Death Race or Go Ruck but the UK now has its own brand of challenge - Primal Events' On Trial. It's hard to describe these kinds of events because each of them are unique and you won't know what challenges you will face until the moment they are presented to you. They generally don't follow a fixed path or structure, so for the computer game geeks amongst us, it's like moving from the "platform game" of a obstacle course race to something a little more like a "first person shooter", where you are free to wander and pick your own path.
On 8th November participants of "On Trial: Frozen" will face a host of random challenges over the course of 24 hours and, in preparation, the Primal Events crew organised a training event last weekend. Our regular writer Lauren went along to sample Primal's vibe before committing to the main event. Here's how she got on...
Where to start? I can honestly say this was a completely unique experience and one which I won’t be forgetting any time soon – even if I wanted to! Sorry it’s a bit longer than the average race review, but there were so many key aspects, I didn't know which to leave out!
On Trial is run by a company called Primal Events. Very little information is released about what On Trial actually involves before the event, however we were given a compulsory kit list:
- Rope or Cord
- 1 Teddy Bear
- 1 Placemat
- 18 inches of tape
- 25lbs sand
- Carry anything else you think you need want or desire.
…so I knew whatever it was going to involve, it was not exactly your standard endurance event. Further preparation involved trying to decide what other kit and food would be needed. In the end I went for mainly sandwiches, a few sweets, water purification tablets and lots and lots of flapjack (thanks mum – boosted me through some low points!).
Rules we got sent out before the event:
- All kit must be listed on a card. If found with additional / missing kit, you may be penalised.
- You may not sleep. Unless we tell you to. In which case you may sleep. Until we wake you.
- Refuse a challenge and you quit from the race. No exceptions.
- You must cover the entire course. You may not accept lifts, public transport or any other form of transport unless we tell you to.
- Don’t complain. If you want to do that, phone your parents, partner, brother, sister, friend, dog. They may listen. We however are unlikely to.
- Course: Its irrelevant. You’ll be outside, we’ll tell you where to go. Make sure you are good with instructions.
We were also told the event would start at 4pm Saturday and finish whenever the organisers decided it was over, which they estimated would be around 12pm on the Sunday. With all this in mind I was left thoroughlyconfused, apprehensive and nervous but enthusiastic about what was to come, despite having little idea about what that actually was!
Friday night preparations saw my living room floor covered with the oddest array of items as I packed and repacked into what I thought was a logical order and wrote down everything on a card that I was planning on taking with me before a reasonably early night with the aim of sleeping in as late as possible to prepare for no sleep the following night…. that went to plan - I was up at 6am!
Me and Pete (who I’ve run a few less-extreme events with before) made it to what we thought was the start point in plenty of time to avoid late penalties. We had no intention of finding out what they might be whilst Ben, a previous On Trial finisher chose to arrive dead on 3.30pm as if teasing the race directors at the possibility of dishing out a penalty before we’d even begun! (he was probably parked up the road and waited until a minute to go).
After a safety briefing and bag weigh in, we got our orange On Trial wristbands that read ‘Pride Honour Commitment’. Taking them off was an act of quitting and we’d only get to keep them if we made it to the end. We were then given a paper map of the Rutland Water area and told we could ‘buy’ a laminated copy from the On Trial shop. Simple? No! Cryptic as ever, the On Trial shop does not trade in money and you do not find out how much you have to ‘pay’ until a later point. Nevertheless, we all ‘bought’ a laminated map and would worry about the consequences later. We were given our first coordinates and guessed it would take 45 minutes to get to it. Within 10 metres of setting off, the RDs swapped our bags round so the very tall Ben was trying to squeeze his shoulders into my rucksack whilst the bag I had was almost dragging on the floor, as I couldn't shorten the straps any further!
We set off on what we estimated was a 3-4km trek from Egleton to Hambleton up a fairly sizeable hill, considering the weight of our packs (mine was about 24kg) and got loads of inside knowledge and tips from Ben about the previous On Trial and a couple of ways to ‘beat the system’! We also found out at this point that Ben had not only finished World’s Toughest Mudder twice, but his team came second and at this point started to worry we may have bitten off slightly more than we could chew!
The first trek to our coordinates was, in itself, no easy job and we must have missed our first time check by a couple of minutes. The coordinates were for a phone box in Hambleton but there was nobody in sight. We searched the phone box itself for clues when the payphone rang. Pete answered but it went dead as he picked up. Eventually it rang again and Pete answered but it kept ringing and we found a PAYG mobile taped under the shelf! Third call lucky, we managed to answer and get 9 seemingly meaningless numbers scribbled down… were these jumbled coordinates? Code words? Finally we worked out it was a backwards phone number and ringing back, we were given our new coordinates and set off on our next couple of km down to the water’s edge.
When we arrived we were given 2 minutes to empty the entire contents of our bags onto the path for inspection. Ben’s bag still had a couple of tiny items in a pocket and so had a 40 burpee punishment which me and Pete joined in on for solidarity. After topping up water bottles in the lake, the On Trial Fitness Test began. This consisted of maximal effort two minutes press ups, sit ups, burpees, squats followed by 25m mud crawls, bear crawls, crab crawls and 4 shuttle sprints. This was then followed by 200 kettle-bell swings in the fastest possible time; a lot harder than it sounds for those of you who haven’t experienced the joys of a kettle-bells before. By this time we were all drenched and covered in mud due to a torrential downpour. Lastly came the three mile run to end the fitness tests. It was at this point we found out ‘payment’ had been made for our laminated maps; our bags had gone for a little swim in the lake, significantly upping the weight of them!
Bags retrieved we were given our coordinates for the next activity. Walking there with our water weighted rucksacks would have been too easy so naturally we carried the kettle-bells, a bike and a five litre water container back up the hill, over a barrier and back to the Race Director’s cars.
Trekking down a dirt track we arrived at ‘three downed pilots’, also known as three massive logs floating in a pond at the bottom of a large ditch. Our job was to get the pilots out of the ditch and carry them all the way back to the cars, over half a mile away. Getting the logs out the ditch was a job enough in itself and the success was largely due to Ben’s strength. Once all three were out the ditch we eventually decided on a tactic of Ben taking one end and me and Pete taking another. To be honest, me and Pete were struggling with merely having the weight on our shoulders let alone moving it a kilometre! This was really pushing us past our limits and testing what we thought possible. It took a good hour to get the largest log back to the car and on the trailer with several shoulder switches and having to put it down far too many times. The Race Directors then gave us two hours to get the other two logs back to the trailer, while they had a cheeky nap. We had by this time come up with a reasonably successful technique making the it a lot quicker to get back and we even sneaked in a quick 20 minute sandwich stop to make the most of our 2 hour time limit!
Once all three logs were loaded onto the trailer we found out we would be pushing the trailer all the way back up the hill into Hambleton. It was at this point we noticed the tyres on the trailer had all gone magically flat. We had the option of buying a jockey wheel and a pump and we chose the pump; payment of which was our head torches – thank god for the full moon (we found out after finishing, had we chosen the jockey wheel, we’d have lost our shoes). Half way up our trailer push we were made to get in a circle and do press-ups over a hot dominos pizza which had appeared out of nowhere. If we took a bite we failed and had to quit… so just to make it quite clear, Ben spat all over it!
After making it back to the village we were given our next coordinates which brought us to Punishment Hill. Here we had to work our way through a pack of about 50 OS Survey map symbols; every time we got one wrong we all had to run up and down the hill. As a team we were feeling fairly strong at this point and we even had to suggest to Pete he ‘piped down’ with his joke answers so the RD’s didn’t think he was enjoying himself too much and make it harder!
After going through some map reading techniques (which was quite hard to concentrate on at 2am), we were given our next set of coordinates, where upon arrival at a lake lit by glowsticks ,we knew that the water submersion was coming, which we had avoided for longer than we originally thought. The task was simple; swim across, get the coordinates of the next location and swim back. Forget them and you go again. I knew for me this would be my hardest task so far. I’m always a complete wimp when it comes to cold water. The boys got straight in and set off swimming and I made the crucial error of stopping at waist height. This was the first (and only) real time I even considered quitting but after a 30 second grump in my head, I got on with it and began swimming, only to be attacked and half drowned by pond weed! We all made it there and back, coordinates remembered and after a change of clothes headed off. At the coordinates we simply found a car and, after searching around, found a new set of coordinates written in the dust on the car and a 25 minute time limit to get there. We then, of course, missed it by a whole hour, having gone the longest possible route; our team’s theme of the weekend I believe.
At this point we were given the task of lighting a fire in the woodland area, which was pretty much soaking wet from all the rain. Again, Ben came to the rescue with his wire wool (as well as lots of cupped hands, blowing and smoke in eyes) which eventually resulted in a reasonable self-sustaining fire. The RD’s then pointed to a package on top of a very high pole that we quickly got down with the combination of me, Ben’s shoulders and a very long stick. Luckily it was nothing breakable – Haribo just in time for dawn.
Next up a bit of wood chopping to keep the fire going and, again, Ben was kind enough to show me the technique which I wasn't even close to mastering but gave it a go anyway (need to practise this for the the main event "Frozen" I think!). All dry from the previous change of clothes and warm from the fire, naturally the next task was to put out the fire… using only water from our clothes from the lake 100 metres away. Trying to be clever I took my waterproof off and collected water in my hood so was sent back to do it properly! Had I known the next challenge, I seriously wouldn't have bothered!
First up were press-ups in the water with our packs on. I particularly enjoyed holding the press-ups at the bottom, face in the water, arms about to snap at any moment. Then it was squats in the lake with some rocks we had acquired. Followed by flutter kicks on our back in the lake. Followed by more flutter kicks. And more. Followed by carrying our rocks a long way through the lake. At this point, our rocks were too small so the RD’s found us one giant rock to carry. In the end we balanced it on Ben’s bag and with the axes through the straps, we slowly shuffled our way down to the end of the rocks. Obviously we hadn’t done enough PT so just to finish us off, back in the lake we had 4 sets of 25 monkey f***ers. Our last task here was to carry and place our giant rock on top of an even ‘gianter’ rock out in the lake and then all climb on top of it.
We were then given our next coordinates back to the car park and didn't want to assume the end was in sight. We thought for our last leg of walking we would actually try and take the short route, just for once, across a causeway to cut off going round the whole lake and up and down a hill. The short cut was technically shorter, although definitely more of a very slippery rock clamber. Although we did make it back before our deadline (well I think, we’d lost our only watch by this point). We made it back to the car park and the Race Directors' had kindly found another log for us to lift up, curl, press, squat and switch arms with, all of while playing some kind of confusing version of Simon Says whereby we were only supposed to follow the instructions of one RD… but that one RD kept changing. Needless to say, due to exhaustion, we got it wrong more than right but it was at this point we were told it was over and we had finished, which we had to check several times that there were no cryptic hidden meanings in what they were saying and we were ACTUALLY finished. Handshakes and hugs all round and beers in hand we all stuck around to talk through all the highlights and the philosophy behind On Trial.
For me, the RD’s did exactly what they set out to achieve. They gave us tasks that at first seemed impossible, but were all achievable, if only just. They made us do things completely out of our comfort zone. The RD’s themselves knew exactly how far to push each of us, testing so many different aspects of our physical strength and fitness, as well as our personality, but were always totally in control of the situation and were very hot on our safety at all times. I thought I would learn quite a bit about myself; some bad some good. I even pre-warned Ben and Pete that I get quite grumpy and snap when I'm tired but I didn't even come close once. I thought my mind would give up before my body did and I’d want to quit several times, but other than a tiny wobble at the water’s edge, (more psyching myself up!) I felt strong throughout – so naturally I've signed up to the full ‘On Trial: Frozen’ in 2 weeks time. I cannot recommend it highly enough. You will get so much more out of this event than your typical obstacle course race, so if you are free the weekend of November 8th-10th, do On Trial Frozen – no excuses!