Occasionally I’m prone to having a moment of madness. I’ll have a stupid idea and then need somebody in my life to slap me around the face and say “Pete, stop being a dick. What are you thinking?”
Actually, to be fair, I do have somebody like that in my life – my Mum – but, of course, when I came up with my latest brainwave I didn’t call her. I spoke to a group of people who are maybe even crazier than I am.
I hatched a plan for this weekend that would involve driving from the south of England to Scotland for a race on Saturday and then driving to Leeds for a Race on Sunday morning before returning home. All in all it would involve nearly 20 hours of driving in two days, with only a couple hours of sleep in a (literally) frozen tent overnight. Only an idiot would want to join me for that. Thankfully I know James Ruckley and Jack Mason.
At times on the trip I felt like the Dad of two teenagers wired on a cocktail of Red Bull and cocaine, but I can’t complain, they’re great company and certainly helped me to stay awake!
Stop one of our road trip was The Mighty Deerstalker in the Scottish boarders, just south of Edinburgh. Being the second event that Rat Race ever organised, it’s got a lot of history, in fact this was its 10th year. To be honest, I’ve never really felt the need to go up and check it out. It’s pitched as a 10km night race where everyone wears tweed. I love a fun run as much as the next person, but Scotland is a little far to travel for one. However, I've heard a couple things in the last year that have made me curious enough to try it.
We arrived at the event village at around midday and had some time to kill, so headed out onto the course with the organisers to get a sneak preview. That experience was eye opening to say the least! We were driven high into one of the two mountains that we would be climbing, from where we could see the majority of the course. Not only did the climbs look brutal, the course definitely seemed to be way more than 10km long!
It hit all of us with a sledgehammer:
This was not a fun run – This was not 10km – This was going to hurt!
Even James’s whiter than white complexion was looking paler than normal.
We headed back to our tent to regroup, discuss clothing strategies and have a bit of a lie down. If anything, that did nothing but make the situation worse, because we were all freezing by the time our 5:45pm wave came around, and we threw on a couple of extra layers to compensate.
The race started at around dusk, in a very typically Rat Race fashion, with a sprint towards and over a set of hay bales. From that point onwards, however, our challenges would be mostly natural. We ran through boggy fields and a river, before meeting the woodland slopes of our first mountain climb. All three of us were already baking and realised that we were wearing way too much. Jack and I slowed our climb for a few seconds, allowing us to slip a layer off and tie it around our waist… but then waited for a further 10 minutes while James arranged his clothing, hair and make-up. Looking gorgeous, he re-joined us and we continued our climb from the back of the pack.
That first mountain was a hard and steady trot, with a couple of sections of very steep woodland that brought us down to a power-walk. The descent that followed was a rollercoaster. James and Jack were off in a flash, and I had no hope of keeping up with them, as we weaved through dense woodland directly down the fall line for over 220 vertical meters. The path was a little narrow, so at points it felt like you could only go as fast as the slowest person, so I dread to think how the other two got to the bottom as fast as them did. I apologise to anyone who may have been trampled by a couple of out of control flashes of yellow!
The next major challenge was a river wade, which was initially very welcoming to our stiff legs, however it got very hard, very fast! We travelled for around 150 meters upstream in fast-flowing knee-deep water, which would have been totally fine if it wasn’t for the river bed. Imagine walking across polished ice boulders, wearing roller-skates – it was significantly less grippy than that! Balance and coordination really isn’t my thing and the last thing I wanted was to be dunked into icy water, so I made agonisingly slow progress along the river. Solid ground and the prospect of another mountain climb was a very welcome thought in comparison.
After climbing and descending a small foothill, the next mountain climb started in earnest, with an ascent up an insanely steep scree slope. If you haven’t experienced scree before, it’s basically an accumulation of broken rock fragments built up from rockslides. Every footstep is uneven and you’re never sure whether your footing will hold or whether the rocks will give way beneath you. I’ve climbed them before when I’ve been hiking, but never to this extent in a race. It was evil - the vertical climb was nearly 200 meters over the space of 500 meters.
That water wade and the scree slope climb were two of the biggest individual challenges I’ve faced in races for a long time and to have them within the space of 2km was brutal.
My legs were shot for the descent that followed and, as much as I wanted to let go and pound down the hill, I knew that I didn’t have enough control and stability left in my muscles. A real highlight of the descent was a rope-assisted drop down a steep, muddy bank. It wasn’t the sort of thing you’d want to get wrong, because it was a long way down, but it was great fun leaning back with the rope and treating it like an abseil.
The trot back through the town of Innerleithen to the event village really lifted our spirits, with residents lining the streets to applaud us as we went through. We high-fived the kids and I was even offered a freshly baked cookie by one very kind lady.
With a final cargo net crawl and sloped wall to climb, we stumbled over the finish line feeling a little worse for wear.
To be honest, this race knocked us for six. It wasn’t at all what we thought it was going to be. It’s time we exposed this event for what it really is! Here’s the truth:
- The “5km” race IS NOT 5km, it’s nearly 10km.
- The “10km” race IS NOT 10km, it’s 15km (and feels like twice that distance).
- This IS NOT an easy fun run – it’s a brutal mountain race, made harder by darkness.
- This IS worth travelling for, if you’re masochistic challenge-addicts like we are.
Although there are a few obstacles along the way (crawls, balances, etc), this is mostly a challenging trail run, so think of it more along the same lines as Man Vs Mountain, Fan Dance, Steeplechase and Man Vs Horse. It may be slightly shorter than each of them but, believe me, it has quite a kick! One thing I would say is that if you're interested in racing it, I'd get yourself into the first wave and head off fairly swiftly because those pathways get fairly narrow at some points.
The fun doesn’t stop at the finish line either, the after party is like a mini version of Dirty Weekend, with a pumping beer tent hosting live bands. Unfortunately we had to go easy on the beers, as we had a lot of driving to do the next day, but it was a cracking vibe and we saw some pretty interesting sights… including crowd surfing horses.
Stay tuned for Road Trip part two! And find out more about the next Rat Race Mighty Deerstalker on: www.mightydeerstalker.com
Thanks to R and R photography for the pictures.