HellRunner Jan 2014
Hell Down South 4th Jan
Having personally ticked off 2 Tough Mudders, 1 Back To The Trenches, 1 Battlezone, 1 Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest 10k, and 1 Zombie Survival Race in 2013 (my team-mates having completed several more events), I should perhaps have been feeling a little more confident than I was. There was however one problem.
I dislike running. With good reason, I’m not very good at it. And Hellrunner is a runner’s event. There are no walls to scale, no monkey bars to swing from, no cargo nets to scramble across and no fire pits to leap over. Nothing to break the grind and pain of mile after mile of relentless, muddy, hilly, wet terrain.
Jon and Dal have no such issues. Dal is an overly modest and gifted distance runner. No matter how fast we go or how far into a run we are she always smiles and manages to exalt a loud and cheery “Good morning” to passing ramblers, dog-walkers etc. I don’t smile when I run. It’s a waste of energy. I would scowl but even that is too much effort.
Jon is a machine. With a beard.
There were however other problems. I was still trying to shake off a chesty cough that I’d had for 5/6 weeks and Dal had picked up a nasty cold just before Christmas. Such human concerns are not for Jon (Superbeard). A quick trim of the ‘tache and an oil change and he was ready to go.
The weather leading up to Hell Runner was suitably hellish. Cold, wet and windy. Previously, weather wise, our luck had always held out as we were always blessed with warm, sunny weather. As we neared Longmoor Camp from the A3, the rain beat down harder and harder. However, we got there in good time and the parking was well marshalled. We pulled up, drew lots as to who was going to make a dash for the port-a-loos first (I won), had the obligatory lost-car-keys-panic and then off to the start line.
The rain stopped and the temperature was a reported 7 degrees. Our meteorological luck was holding. The first quarter mile passed in deceptively easy fashion with the race chip recording vans beeping in our ears. A quick left turn and the race was on in earnest. Well, I say race. I had no intention of racing. People enter these events for, I imagine, varying reasons. One of these being the target of posting as fast a time as possible. Not me. Like I say, I’m not a very good runner. Stephen Hawking with a flat battery can move quicker than I can. However, the terrain and the race in general suited me. What I thought was going to be a long, monotonous slog turned out to be an interesting and varied challenge. The course twisted and turned and ploughing through the mud and puddles never got boring. Because the ground underfoot was so treacherous it was difficult and unwise to thump along at too quick a pace anyway. The puddles were particularly deceptive. Some were just that, puddles. Ankle deep and just the thing to cool hot feet. Others were knee deep, some coming up to mid-thigh (depending on how tall you were of course). They all looked the same though, so you had to exercise a little caution. Although there were no man-made obstacles the terrain itself was obstacle enough and the organisers had done a brilliant job of designing a course that worked not just the legs and lungs, but the upper body and the mind as well. The hills very quickly made an appearance and rather mischievously hung around for the rest of the race. Unlike the Welsh Tough Mudder hills, these were tailored to my liking. In Wales, the hills were long and leg and moral sapping, sometimes just plodding uphill for up to 10 minutes at a time. Here, they were very steep and slippery, but I found that with a deep breath and the mental equivalent of spitting on your hands and hoisting up your trousers they could be sprinted up in about 30 seconds leaving me breathless but somewhat exhilarated at the top. Getting back down though was another matter entirely.
Now you might occasionally get a slightly egotistical 47 year old bounding up the hills, but going down required a much more mature approach. Descending was challenging and the runners seemed to be aware of this and realised that this was no time for egos and care was taken on each descent. This created welcome (to me anyway) bottlenecks at the top of each hill.
At halfway there was a water station and this was where Superbeard gave it the berries and took off. Me and Dal carried on at our own pace. The second half of the course I assumed would hold no further surprises as far as the terrain was concerned. More hills, more mud and a few more water obstacles. There was however the small matter of The Bog of Doom to negotiate. I wasn’t overly concerned. I had done a couple of Arctic Enemas without too much drama. I mean, really. How bad could it be?
I first realised we were approaching the centrepiece of Hellrunner when I heard shrieks and screams filtering through the woods. As Dal and I drew closer, the clamour seemed to take on (at least to my ears) a less joyous tone. As the trees opened up we could see the obstacle ahead. I had heard a few second hand reports as to what to expect at this point. Thigh deep, cold sticky mud stretching out for approximately 50 metres. Well, the 50 metre bit seemed accurate, but the mud was submerged under nearly 6 foot of water. I gallantly let Dal go first then I stepped in. Knee deep. Not too bad. Thigh deep. Mmm, that’s getting cold. Then in up past my waist and up to my chest. If I could have sworn, I would have, but my breath was completely taken away. The water was colder than I could ever have imagined. It felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to my skin. My insides felt like they had been scooped out and replaced with several buckets of ice. I battled to regain my breath and composure as I tip-toe bounced along, desperately trying to keep my nose above water, hoping that things would settle and I would adapt to the cold.
I never did.
There were tree branches on either side of the 4 metre wide trench and I couldn’t help but grab at them for a bit of support. Normally the crowd would give me a lift, but their cheers of encouragement faded into the background until all I could hear was a distant buzz of white noise. The poor chap in front of me seemed to be having even more of a bad time of it than I was. It looked like he had gone down with cramp and every time he went to clutch his leg, his head disappeared under the water. It seemed quite a dilemma. After a few leg/head repetitions he frantically clutched hold of a branch and held on for what looked like, dear life. I had decided at this point to stop trying to bob along and swim for it. I began to gather my senses and looked up to my left and there was the Devil himself, blasting out music. Periodically smoke, or whatever it was, was pumped across the water reducing visibility and for a few eerie seconds I was completely alone. As the mist cleared I realised with a sinking heart that I was only halfway across. I wasn’t warming up and to make things worse I spotted Dal several metres away ploughing ahead, grinning, giggling and I think conversing with the crowd and generally behaving like a joyful toddler in a warm bath. Obviously there was no question of giving up and trying to clamber out of the side, but when my feet gained a firm footing and I began to emerge from the water I really could not have been more relieved. Having listened to Jon and Dals experience of The Bog of Doom afterwards it seems that a neoprene shortie or top is recommended to make the crossing more ‘enjoyable’.
Hysterically happy to be out of The Bog Of Doom.
We decided the best course of action now was just to keep moving. I began to notice that the sides of the course were beginning to fill up with casualties. People were sitting down with glazed, vacant expressions on their faces. I could quite understand it. The Bog of Doom was a real and unexpected shock to the system. Still, we had got through it, although I had survived with considerably less ‘joie de vivre’ than Dal and could only imagine that The Terminator, (Jon, the man of many nicknames) either did it completely underwater or decided to squeeze in a few lengths just to make it more of a challenge. The course immediately went uphill and halfway up we found a runner sitting by the side with the worst case of cramp that I had seen. His calf looked like it had some kind of living creature under the skin, so bad was the spasming. We decided to stop and give a helping hand and after 5 minutes of massage and stretching he was on his feet again and back in the race. We then quickly came upon a lake crossing, which thankfully wasn’t as cold as The Bog of Doom. Dal disagreed and was adamant that it was colder. We debated for a bit as we ran on, then without reaching a consensus the course u-turned and we were back in The Lake of Indeterminate Temperature.
As we clambered our way up a particularly steep hill, we could hear music, a buzz of crowd noise and see a large tent-like structure. Was this the end? It looked like it. Yep, there was the cheerleaders. There were the massage couches. We had made it.
No we hadn’t. Whether this was a deliberate ploy by the organisers or not I don’t know, but I wasn’t the only one to fall for it. After a quick groan and good natured grumble we got our heads down and surmised that we couldn’t be that far from the finish. We weren’t, but the course had one last trick up its sleeve. The sand dunes. Not particularly sandy or dune-y but certainly heavy enough under foot to drain the last of the strength from your legs. A few more twists and turns, then back on the tarmac and the welcoming sight and sound of the timing vans signalling the end of the race. Me and Dal crossed the line, as it turned out, 15 mins after Superbeard. We picked up our goodie bag which contained the usual sponsor items, a nice medal and a decent quality t-shirt that had the legend ‘I Ran Happy’ emblazoned across it. Although it was agreed that perhaps someone should have had a closer look at the way it was printed as it looked more like ‘Iran Happy’
One bacon roll later we all made our way to the very nice hotel, ate and drank just a little more that perhaps we should have and generally enthused at what a good event it was.