Sometimes in life, stuff happens which reminds you that there are things bigger than you.
On the Thursday before my first ever Dirty Dozen Race, news gradually filtered through of a tragedy. The 3 year old son of a prominent OCR figure had sadly lost his life during the night. [It was the son of Rich Pringle - founder of RPCC, one of the UK's first OCR teams and former Race Director of Spartan Race UK]
I can’t say I know the Pringle family myself, but it was difficult not to choke up, such was the outpouring of emotion and love on Facebook for this family. For me, this was epitomised by a video posted by a tearful Doug Spence [Race Director of Dirty Dozen] on Thursday night, asking everyone attending Dirty Dozen Races on Saturday to wear red in honour of little Hughie Pringle.
Race day arrives and a 5.30 alarm call followed by several swear words punctuates the morning air. My plan for the day was to attempt the Dirty Dozen Medal of Honour. Being the only medal Dirty Dozen Races offer, I felt a certain need to earn such an item and having invested in a season pass I wanted to get the best value for money I could. Having been injured for Usk and otherwise engaged at Hole Park, this left me with no choice but to attempt all 3 in a day.
Given the events two days previously the MC, Stu Amory, had announced that there would be a minute of silence followed by a minute of applause in remembrance before the race would commence. The silence itself was deafening. A sea of people, all dressed in red stood arm in arm or with hands clasped together, heads bowed in remembrance. The love and respect shown by the community in that minute and the applause which followed was amazing. A true gesture of solidarity and a very humbling moment I was proud to be a part of.
Shortly after this, the race director Doug took the microphone and had the unfortunate duty of telling us that some of his flagship obstacles needed to be closed due to issues with the water testing. [Check out the interview with Doug here] It was full of nasty bacteria and was therefore unsafe. This rendered the Monkey Bars, Hang Tough and Slackline traverse out of action. Naturally this filled the start with an air of disappointment but in hindsight it’s great to see Doug’s attention to detail coming through. We all knew he would have been agonising over this decision - not wanting to disappoint anyone but it was definitely the right decision. It would have been so much worse had news of serious illness hit the airwaves after the event!
Unfortunately these closures helped to accent some of the obvious drawbacks of this venue. It was clear from a very early point that a lot of the route would be around flat ploughed fields which had been baked hard from a few weeks of sunshine. The pace was hardly searing off the start as many people were terrified of putting a foot wrong and busting an ankle on the rough ground - a theme which continued for most of the race as people were largely confined to narrow tyre tracks creating small channels of flatter earth to run on.
After about 1k of solid running, we looped back to the event village and approached a huge A frame. A nice touch was having the MC giving shout outs as we crossed over. Including sharing the news that the gofundme page for a play park in honour of the small boy who had lost his fight had raised over £23,500!! [NB - the figure is now over £34,000 - ed]
Following some cargo net and barbed wire crawls we could only look on as we passed the closed obstacles at roughly the 5k point. I did notice that sandbags and flags had been posted at each one for penalty loops. I don’t know if I speak for everyone else but in a race which surprisingly didn’t feature a single carry I certainly wouldn't have complained at having to do the sandbag carry anyway!
A quick crawl and Doug’s big Irish table brought us to the lake - a welcome sight at this point as I was starting to regret my choice of a light compression layer. Sadly we weren’t allowed in it yet but we were soon greeted by some really nice sections of stream to run through which were perishingly cold for the middle of August! It certainly helped to cool my legs from the pace I was trying to set! A highlight for me was then climbing out of the stream for the last time to approach a large cargo net which had been hung between two trees. To say it was unstable was an understatement and getting my body weight over the top of it proved a real challenge for my core!
As we approached the back end of the course we were greeted by another barbed wire crawl, a pair of hangover walls and then a true monstrosity. I discovered later that it was called Mother Hubbard and it consisted of three true Irish tables (i.e. getting over a raised ledge without a backboard) of increasing heights. When I got to this point on the 12k lap there were a lot more people really struggling on this obstacle. Such simple design causing so many problems was fun to see!
Upon approaching the lake, we were given very specific instruction that you had to swim. Heeding this advice I managed my reasonably pathetic breaststroke out to the first water obstacle, a pair of full submersion sheep dips. I’m getting more and more used to being in and around water at races and so pinching my nose I got through these. Another short swim then followed as I approached the showpiece of the lake and a Dirty Dozen obstacle I’d definitely seen before - the floating wall!
It took all my energy to haul myself out of the water and over the wall and again was left in awe of the energy sapping nature of such a simple obstacle. I then decided to pencil dive off the other side which turned out not to be such a good idea. Sinking two feet under and still not being able to touch the bottom really caused me to panic... Turns out I'm not as comfortable in the water as I thought I was! Hanging on to the pontoon for dear life I took a few moments to calm my breathing down before starting the short swim to the final pontoon.
Finally making brief work of the 10 foot wall to finish I was greeted by my first ever famous #Doughug and a profuse apology from the man himself. He was clearly disappointed that the race wasn’t up to his high standards but it was good to see that he felt accountable for this and has even offered some very generous discount codes for his 2017 season by way of apology. It’s amazing to see someone that feels that passionately going so far out of his way to please his customers. A quick picture and a firm handshake and I trotted off to change, refuel and grab my first ever Dirty Dozen bobble hat! A truly amazing piece of bling!
It’s at this point I want to mention that despite the disappointing nature of the race - I still had an amazing day out. Several things happened which reminded me that sometimes things happen that are bigger than you or a race. I’ve already touched on the incredible gestures made for Hughie Pringle but a whole other load of incredible stuff happened that day too.
Firstly, as I approached the lake on my second time round I bumped into a pair of people who seemed to be having a great time. As we all climbed into the lake it turned Sarah was not the most confident with the obstacles presented. Between myself and her teammate we talked her through each of the obstacles and the relief on her face as we climbed out of the other side was tangible. That said you could visibly see the sense of achievement was something she very much enjoyed. So when she approached the 10 foot wall at the finish line and went to walk around it I tried my hardest to talk her into at least having a go. Now I don’t consider myself to be one of those people who can easily talk others into doing amazing things but something I said must have resonated as she came back around and between us we again talked her over it. I spoke to her and her friend for a bit afterwards and it helped serve a reminder of the joy in OCR. Sometimes we can all get too wrapped up in the endless training, racing, nutrition and gear chat and lose sight of why we do this - that reason being it feels bloody great to do something you didn’t think you could!
Secondly, a group of people did something amazing for a wonderful lady of OCR. They carried not one but two prosthetic legs around all 38km of the Dirty Dozen Medal of Honour. I’ll let Darren summarise his experiences for you in his own blog post but it was a real privilege to be able to walk the rest of the 6km course with Darren and Keith. Each of us talking in turn about the various aches, pains and cramps we had from a days hard work!
Finally, Doug “The Beard’ Spence decided he wanted to shave his trademark beard off to raise money for a new prosthetic leg for Helen Chapman. It was quite a moment to stand there with a few stalwart members of the community at the end of a difficult day and share a few laughs with these people - all while raising plenty of money for very worth causes. Good on you Doug (+ friends!)
Remembrance for Hughie Pringle, watching a woman achieve amazing things she didn’t think she could, seeing several human beings pull off great feats of endurance carrying legs around an obstacle course 3 times and seeing several good men shaving off their beards for charity all served to make it a pretty amazing day.
Despite the disappointing nature of the race - upon reflection it feels like Dirty Dozen was the right race for these things to happen at. It showed good heart that day and served as a potent reminder that:
Sometimes in life, stuff happens which reminds you that there are things bigger than you.
Thanks to Epic Action Imagery for the pictures.