Yesterday a couple of guys from the Mudstacle forum became the first people to check out and play on the Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2014 course. It was a fascinating insight into the construction of one of the UK's biggest obstacle races and, of course, a huge honour to play on the course before the main event.
We were met in the stunning grounds of Burghley House by Rat Race's MD Jim Mee and Marketing Manager Dannii Brodie - who, at 8 months pregnant, is hoping to see out her last weekend at work in a care-free and relaxed fashion - good luck with that Dannii! 😀
Rat Race have been releasing a few teaser photos on Facebook but, for those who want a little more, check out our video recorded yesterday, featuring Jon Salmon and Ray Whiting exploring the virgin course.
Rat Race pitch their 20 mile Dirty Weekend as "The Largest Assault Course On Earth" and they're not just referring to the distance. The scale of their operation is immense. They've had 30 people working on site for a month, putting together some of the UK's biggest, baddest and boldest obstacles. As I approached the huge big top in the event village, I could see several teams slotting scaffolding together in the nearby obstacle zones. Jim informed us that they tend to work on the far reaches of the course first and gradually work their way inwards. He pointed towards the closest obstacle construction, which had a typically Rat Race-esque feel to it, with a mangled combination of scaffolding, plywood and telegraph poles:
"That's the 'Final Furlong', probably the biggest single obstacle at Dirty Weekend this year. It's 30 meters long and 10 meters high (about the height of a two story building) and, for anyone who's taken part in our Men's Health Survival of the Fittest events, it' the equivalent of three 'Walls of Fame' stacked on top of each other. It's a real sting in the tail, as it comes at mile 20, just before the finish line."
Having struggled over one Wall of Fame at the end of a 10km Survival, I can't imagine how I'd cope with three at the end of 30km. It'll definitely be something to look forward to when the legs start to cramp 😀
Anyway, we weren't there to stand around looking at builders all day, so we set off on a tour of the course highlights. First stop was at the RIDICULOUSLY long set of monkey bars. It practically stretched as far as the eye could see... that may be a slight exaggeration, but as I stood at the far end of the bars, Jon and Ray were like dots in the distance. Jim was reluctant to say exactly how long the bars were but, rest assured, they are "significantly" longer than last year's 110m stretch.
Being notoriously bad at monkey bars, I was keen to have a little practice and, surprisingly, I actually did okay. I opted for the "swinging gibbon" technique and, with dry bars, I managed to make it to the first rest stop with relative ease. "Dry bars" is the key though. I know it will be far harder when they're greased up with mud. On a positive note, the bars are relatively thin, so you can really grip your hands around them (as opposed to the thick scaffolding bars that you often face at events). They are monkey bar perfection... just maybe a little long for 99.95% of the people that will be facing them on Saturday!
We then took a trip over to the far reaches of the course to check out some of the largest obstacle zones. In the "Mud Run" and "Construction Site" zones, they've really been putting the diggers to work, with some hug trenches and equally huge mounds of earth. That earth was a little dry for us but we're told, come Saturday, many of the mounds will be filled with water and mud, which will definitely spice them up. Equally it will make the large walls and scaffolding constructions more challenging when you've got a muddy layer on your hands and feet. A quick word of warning though - the earth is fairly rocky on this site, so you will probably find the crawls more comfortable if you cover up your knees and elbows.
Next we took a look at the "Water Wipe Out" zone and its intimidatingly high water jump. The high platform was as big as I've seen at any other events and, I'm told, they will be making it slightly higher before the weekend. Anyone with serious hight problems need not worry too much though because there's a mini jump option at the half way point of the tower climb. I was very happy when Jon volunteered to try out the jump - as I was hoping to leave that little treat until the weekend and, as I was fiddling with camera, Jim whipped his kit of and ran off the jump completely in the nud! Unfortunately my camera wasn't ready in time to film it, which is probably a good thing because I've got no idea how to pixelate stuff out 😀
After drying off we headed to the woodland "Logatron", "Ewok Village" and "Got Wood". Each of these areas really blend and make use of the environment, with loads of natural wooden features to skip over and balance on. They're not to be taken lightly though, some of the constructions are huge and will see you climbing way above the forest floor. It will be familiar to anyone who took part last year, but there have been several new things slotted on... and maybe a few planks taken away from the high structures to increase the fear factor!
With so many large constructions on the Dirty Weekend site it was great to see how seriously they were taking safety. These guys have an excellent track record, which is a no-doubt a necessity at such a mass participation event. We even got to meet an independent health and safety professional who was on site to make final checks and recommendations for the team.
Unfortunately the weather isn't looking too great for the weekend, so Jim was keen to stress that runners be well prepared in terms of clothing and fuel. A lot of us will be on the course for upwards of four or five hours, so will need to wear far more than a t-shirt and shorts. Extra technical base layers may well be needed (even if you tie them around your waist at first) but remember DON'T WEAR COTTON! There will be a few water stops and there might be the odd snack but Jim recommended taking something along with you to keep your energy levels up. A few gels and energy bars will no doubt be a smart move.
As you approach the final stretch, the event village's "Big Top" will no-doubt be like an oasis on the horizon. Thankfully the bar and entertainment area is all undercover this year, which will be perfect for getting cosy and resting your weary legs. I, for one, can't wait for this weekend. Seeing the venue has really whet my appetite, even though I'm a little nervous about the distance. I know that we're all going to have a blast and a lot of laughs along the way though. See you in the mud or at the party afterwards!
Want to chat to other people taking part in Dirty Weekend? Join our forum discussion here.