The Elements has come to be known as a clever, innovative event, but one that still remains true to the theme of family fun. This seems to be the way of the more successful races in the UK now. To get an idea of what The Elements is all about, we talked to the fiercely competitive, the reliably fun and community minded and of course, the race director...
Dougal and Lisa Shakespeare are mainstays of the Mudstacle community, so their judgement is pretty golden. Here's what they have to say of the Elements Experience:
This year, the Elements offered 4 distances using their 8km course – Earth 1 lap; Wind 2 laps; Water 3 laps; Fire 4 laps and the extreme challenge of doing all 4 distances over the weekend, a total of 80km!
All the basics for a good event are there, such as clear email communication before the day, directions, free parking, camping and clean toilets. The event village is well set out with a selection of food and merch stools, registration/key drop/bar tent and the epic last obstacle – Mount Smeverest! There was a lovely relaxed, family atmosphere in the village; KGBootcamp provided an energetic warm up, and with the aid of Stuart Amory on the mic, got every wave ready to tackle the course.
Matt and Nick (the race directors) use the natural terrain to their advantage; there are beautiful trails taking you over logs, through mud and down some tricky slopes. As well as natural hurdles, there are also innovative man made obstacles, one such obstacle was their take on overhang ladders. It sounds simple enough: climb up an inverted ladder, over the top and back down the other side, right? Well, yes, until you remember the reason The Elements won Mudstacle's most innovative event 2017! They altered the requirements on each lap (because general fatigue isn't enough); the 1 lap option was fun and doable, the 2/3 lap option was higher, and the 4 lap option which introduced different angles. No chance of getting bored, then.
Overall, the The Elements promotes a sense of fun, with an undertone of respectful seriousness. It's safe to say everyone was in awe of the ladies and lads that stepped up to take on the 80km challenge, detailed by Dan below. Anyone wishing to take this on next year will have to wait and see what sort of challenge will be cooked up, because, in line with it’s innovative reputation, it won’t be the same two years running.
Next up is Dan Heath, who completed the 80km challenge:
I love taking on the longest, toughest and most challenging races I can find which is why I took on The Elements 80KM last weekend.
After a great first night on site, sitting around the bonfire toasting marshmallows and some half decent sleep I was ready to conquer 40KM. The sun was shining, temperatures were rising rapidly and there was a strong smell of sun cream everywhere. The races all started with a very energetic warm up and informative, motivational speech from Matt Smevs. The atmosphere was electric, yellow smoke filled the skies, it was time to get to work.
The first 2Km of the race twisted through some really beautiful trails in the woods, using natural obstacles to break up the running. The route took us up and down some really steep hills, jumping over and climbing under fallen trees and into a chain of muddy ditches full of water. It was great that the start of the race allowed racers plenty of time to open up their legs and space out before hitting any obstacles.
I knew the tranquillity of the forest had to end at some point. As I made my way out of the trees I was greeted by the tyre drag, it was the first real test of strength. 1KM zigzagging up and down the field whilst dragging a tyre behind me. I’d love to say it was enjoyable but it really wasn’t, it hurt and became a real challenge from lap 3 onwards.
Once my arms had recovered I continued on. The remainder of the course was filled with tonnes of obstacles, scattered around in different areas. The terrain was brilliant; sweeping hills, wide trails and a very long river run that helped cool you down. I loved the variety of obstacles and innovative builds that made me think before I took them on. There were the standard obstacles such as walls, balance beams, tyre runs and Irish tables that I would expect to see at most race, but what I loved most was the unique twists the elements added, such as adding an overhanging section to an inverted climbing wall which really tested my strength. I loved the different angles, gaps and heights on the monkey bars making me think about my technique. I particularly enjoyed the cube, a series of traverse walls with different grips and holds that got more challenging on each lap. Another concept that I haven’t seen at any other race that worked really well was the lane changes. Every lap I had to take a different lane on obstacles, which progressively got more difficult.
The final section of the course was the dreaded carry zone. This was the one part of the course that was set up to deplete any energy you had left. Lane 1 was a sandbag carry, a simple relatively easy lane. Lane 2 was a jerry can carry; these were very heavy and really sapped your energy. Lane 3 in my opinion was the toughest lane - the 200KG barrel roll; this completely broke a lot of people: rolling 200KG down a hill and back up was not fun at all. Lane 4 was tyre flips, this was tough but didn’t compare to the barrel. I counted 74 tyre flips from start to finish. This section was in the event village which meant the atmosphere was fantastic, the marshals, spectators and race directors were all there, shouting and cheering. This really helped and really showed off how supportive the OCR community is.
Finishing any race is always a great moment; it’s a chance for athletes to feel proud of their achievements. The Elements really went the extra mile with the finish; both RDs were there giving out medals and t-shirts and Stu was asking finishers what music they wanted to finish their final lap with, making it more personal. It was a fantastic finish to a fantastic race.
Yeah, that's all well and good, but what's the Event village like?
Food, beer and hot tubs. What more could you want at a race? The Event village really catered for everyone. Burgers, a hog roast, vegan food, ice cream, hot dogs and waffles, you seriously couldn’t go hungry with the choices available. Finishers could have their medals engraved, buy new trainers and kit on the various stalls but the highlight was definitely the hot tubs.
I would recommend the Elements events to anyone who asks me about them and will definitely be signing up to future races, providing they get rid of those horrific barrel rolls.
"Between me and Nick we are always coming up with some serious, silly and some stupid ideas." Says Matt, noting that even after obstacle builds start, the final product may not resemble the plan, having changed three times. "We want to be able to incorporate both fun and serious obstacles along the way," which seems to be reflected in racers' experiences.
Despite rave reviews, it is still a big gamble to put on ambitious races like the Elements, though, especially after the recent demise of some top rated events. "There's always going to be a risk, but when you have a great vision for something you can see beyond the gamble, and passion takes over." Realistically speaking, the race is still in its infancy, but that's not stopping next year's planning: "We will keep adding obstacles and challenges for everyone. We try to cater [to all racers] with various distances, so it's great to have seen a lot of runners coming back and take on the next distance in our series." To appeal to the hardcore runners, new segments will be introduced, not to mention next year's "crazy challenge" for those more willing to break and build themselves all in the space of one event weekend. That "creates such a great feeling for us [as] the race directors."
As for those questioning whether they should sign up so far in advance for next year's event on 1st June 2019, Matt advises striking while the iron is hot, and emphasises that long distance challenges shouldn't overshadow the shorter races: "We offer something for everyone: the 8k Earth lap is really for new runners who just want to come and have fun, who can return and add a lap each year to push themselves further." And bring the family, "The Elements is all about the family feel: kids and adults can get involved. We will do whatever we need to do to make The Elements as amazing as we know it can be."
Well, with promises like that, what's stopping you becoming a part of The Elements? Check out their website here: http://www.theelementsocr.co.uk
[Thanks to Dougal Shakespeare, Lisa Shakespeare, Dan Heath and Matt Evans, as well as Epic Action Imagery for photographs]