Posts Tagged the whole hog adventure race

Of Birthdays And Near Death Experiences

Melissa, Marie and Me

Melissa, Marie and Me

Yesterday was Wils 29th birthday. If you’d told me a year ago to the day that Wil would be spending his next birthday watching his girlfriend and two other girls one of whom she’d never met before and the other she’d only got to know during an hour each Tuesday over the course of a few months, haul themselves around an assault course laden with swamps, obstacles, swamps, mud, ropes, swamps, diggers, crawl nets….. (did I mention swamps?) in 8 degrees celsius in November all in the aid of FUN I would have laughed in your face and told you to BUGGER RIGHT OFF. But oddly this is exactly what happened and it was all by choice.

I could have entered the race as an individual but after reading the organisers website and looking at the previous years photos I quickly decided that I wasn’t feeling the whole ‘suffering alone’ theme so I began looking for a team of two other girls to join me. This was a little trickier than previously realised since my friends view exercise as that little walk they do to get to their car and upper body strength is holding the straighteners over their head for a few minutes at a time. No, my friends wouldn’t be up for this so I turned to the running club, first off to Marie since during training I’d noticed that we regularly seemed to keep the same sort of pace.

Marie kind of froze when I approached her and winced a little bit like I’d offered her a nice hot slice of worm pie when I mentioned the race. A bad experience during a previous race had sort of knocked her enthusiasm and she wasn’t really up for competing etc. I gave her the website address to have a proper read, did my best to ensure her that I wasn’t into racing to win myself and that I’d only be interested in an enjoyable run with a view to having a good laugh and hopefully finishing the event. HONEST! Marie went away and to my surprise came back with a yes!

Finding a 3rd teamate was a little trickier until Marie enlisted Melissa from the Thursday running group. I’d never met Melissa since I don’t attend the Thursday run and oddly I didn’t meet her until yesterday when we all met up at the registration point.

Runners leaving the start line

Runners leaving the start line

We met, we registered, exchanged a few pre-race nerves and all agreed that we would stick together during the course of the race. Race rules dictated that if your team split up your finish times would be added together and averaged.

The starting siren sounded and the 200 runners stampeded across the start line straight into the first ‘filter’ which was a human 4×4 course. The trail led us over a grassy common, around and down into a sort of bomb hole about 12ft deep. The sides of the bomb hole were loose and collapsed leaving vertical walls of sand to clamber up and down – 200 yards into the race I was already praising my newly purchased Cross Country Spikes as they stuck to the loose soil like velcro! We left the bomb hole and continued down a narrow winding trail through a patch of woodland. The trail was only wide enough for one person at a time to stagger through, ducking and dodging sticks, branches and brambles in the thick bracken before emerging into the open and out through the long grass at the edge of a meadow. The single person width meant that many runners got bunched up and had to wait before they could go through which became both a big problem and a blessing at the same time. The blessing was that for quite a few participants it meant they got a welcome break to catch their breath. It seemed that not all the competitors were fit runners judging by the fact that before the first 1km passed we saw people stopping to walk already! For the rest of us it meant a bit of an annoying wait although during these pauses the anticipation and excited babble from the rest of the teams added a great atmosphere to the event.

Between the first and second kilometers we joined a line of runners all queuing up the side of a muddy bank beside a large tree supporting a wrap around tree house. Over the laughing and cahjolling from the people in the line you could hear splashing and screams echoing from what sounded like a large tunnel. As we made it to the top of the bank we discovered we were waiting for the first and much promised soaking of the race.

Through the leafless trees the queue of people lined up over a small footbridge ending at the other side of a long thin black stagnant muddy ditch. One by one team members were lowering themselves down the steep embankment into the water which engulfed each person up to the tops of their legs enducing a shrieks of terror and shock. From here they had to feel and wade their way through a large tunnel about 15ft in length and 6ft high. At the other side there was another rope to aid your exit back up onto the embankment.

I was first of the three of us to take the plunge. Grasping the rope I gingerly found my footing in the loose soil crumbling into the water. A sharp stench of egg rose from the stale slimey bog as my other foot entered the freezing murkiness. There was no easy way to get around this so I let go of the rope and stepped back into the water involuntarily drawing in a sharp breath as the coldness shocked my limbs and my movement in the water sent up a shower of thick slimy mud which sprayed up my face and neck. With my full weight now on both legs my feet sunk rapidly down to my shins in soft silty mud at the bottom of the pit. I began to wade towards the tunnel stupidly thinking that if I kept to the side it’d be shallower. However, keeping to the side meant the slick algae covered surface of the concrete tunnel cruelly threw you right into the deepest part in the middle where waterlogged branches and soggy leaves brushed against your legs like eery bog dwelling creatures. Marie and Melissa were right behind me and the three of us squealed and groaned our way through the tunnel and out the other side only finding the funny side of our first soaking once we were back on terra ferma squelching along the woodland path in our wet lycra and trainers.

“It can’t get any worse than that” I think were my last famous words.

We passed the 3k mark and followed the markers directing us across a freshly ploughed field. Feeling grateful that the field had been drilled and was therefore smooth and not in massive clumpy furrows it became quickly apparent that looks were deceiving. The smoothness of the field did nothing for the firmness of the soil and with every step we took our feet sunk in like running on a bed of marshmallows.

It was somewhere just past the 3k point that we realised the disappearence of the red and white markers that were guiding us around the course. We lost site of competitors up ahead but had a trail of runners behind, all of whom had unfortunately just followed us going the wrong way! I called out to some walkers coming towards us asking if they’d seen any runners further ahead. ‘No’ was the reply, the last runners they’d seen were all ‘over there’ pointing off to our left across a large field. In the distance we could see the trail of people making their way through the trees. We made the executive decision to run across the field to catch up with them – since we’d already run well out of our way and said field was covered with stinging nettles and tall lumpy furrows our guilt from diverting from the marked route of the course was soon replaced with realisation that we had instead issued our own combined time penalty and torture since lashings around the legs from stinging nettles for 500 yards was an obstacle the organisers had clearly not monopolised on.

Marie at the Digger Obstacle

Marie at the Digger Obstacle

Melissa making an exit from the digger!

Melissa making an exit from the digger!

Me crawling out from under the digger

Me crawling out from under the digger

We soon reached the halfway 6km mark where we were directed to crawl underneath a derelict digger. As we ran towards it I heard a welcome voice shouting and cheering us forward. Wil and Maries husband, Kev were there waiting and shouting encouragement which was such a boost for us especially as we’d been told at the start that spectators would have to walk a few miles to get to the halfway point and we didn’t think they’d have time to do it. The dark little hole between the caterpillar treads of the digger was only about knee high. Marie threw herself underneath like action man, I followed closely on her heels and turned around just in time to see Melissa crawling to her feet. We gathered together again and accompanied for a short distance by our excited kids, followed directions across the uneven grassy field to what turned out to be one of the top 3 most horrendous things I’ve ever had to do.

First we had to make our way across three sets of floating pontoons tethered between two wooden jetties. I grabbed the rope and pulled the first one closer only it wouldn’t come close enough so we ended up jumping into the chest high water and then struggled to get up onto the jetty appearing like three sealions lumping ashore on our chests! Following Melissa I scooted across the last pontoon on my back side only to kick both of my feet straight through the brittle fibre glass shell, losing both legs up to my knees inside the pontoon hollow! I ended up jumping into the water and pulling myself out with the help of a rope. Just as I thought we were then off for another running stretch the real torture happened. We were directed back into the water and told to go underneath both wooden jetties before leaving the water at the opposite bank.

I don’t DO submerging myself in murky water.

I also don’t DO freezing cold.

Regardless of what water I’m in I don’t DO putting my legs near objects in the water.

And here I found myself submerged chest high in thick black muddy freezing cold water, stinking of egg, faced with a rickety wooden structure postitioned just inches above the surface of the water where I was supposed to further lower myself to where just my nose and eyes would be visible above the surface under a bridge where I would not be able to properly stand up or CHICKEN OUT.

Trying to find my soul under that horrid jetty

Trying to find my soul under that horrid jetty

I stood for seconds looking under the edge of the jetty. Sussing out the way the first beam I had to duck under was one of about five supporting beams running lengthwise along the jetty. In between each beam was a space of about a foot where I could rise my face a little higher than the water to catch my breath although at no point would my face be out of the water any higher than my chin. Aware of my teamates behind me shouting encouragement everything in my head went silent except for the sound of my own heartbeat and my internal voices arguing whether or not to do it. I was aware of the water becoming colder and colder in the shadow of the jetty. I was aware of a crowd of spectators standing around the edge of the swampy lake and the thought of this being the kind of body of water you see in movies where the divers pull out the corpse of a murder victim from the tangled roots. Everything seemed to slow down, fade away and become echoey.  I remember thinking I could just take the chicken out ‘piglet’ option here and get out now, just stand on the embankment and incur a time penalty – after all we were only racing for a good time, not a good finishing race time. I think it was following that brief contemplation and the feeling of being a loser, the one to disappoint the team and the pressure of the burgeoning queue of runners mounting up behind me I heard my teammates shout ‘COME ON REN YOU CAN DO IT’ that I suddenly drew in a huge breath and sunk into the water to duck under that first wooden beam. Raising my mouth and nose back out of the water, my abaited breath left my mouth like air from a whales blow hole and I found myself in the confined space between the two rafters looking up at the daylight through the 1/2 inch gaps between the planks forming the surface of the jetty. Runners continued entering the water causing the surface to swell and move about around the sides of my face. I realised that I wasn’t home and dry yet…. I had to repeat that same exercise several more times. I could neither go forward or back without doing it again. And that’s when panic set in. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe in or out fully. I gasped tiny short breaths punctuated with a cry each time. My chest was becoming tight and I thought at any second that gasp of air might be my last. I don’t remember going under the second jetty only the relief of emerging at the other side and grabbing onto that rope to get myself out. And once I was back on dry land my breathing normalised and the three of us ran through a blurry corridor of people to continue the second half of the race.

Trying to get across the pontoons. The guy on the left in the water is about to go under the jetty.

Trying to get across the pontoons. The guy on the left in the water is about to go under the jetty.

There were many more swamps to navigate and ropes to climb before the 7 mile route took us through some woodland and weaved through sweetcorn patches. The final stretch was a trodden path through long grass and hurdles made from fallen trees. After we’d crawled through the rope ‘spiderweb’ the finish line became visible and the applause from the crowd of people all cheering and shouting us on made us sprint the last 100 yards to the finish line to arrive in 1 hour 48 minutes.

There aren’t many fellas who’d give up their birthday for such silliness. We stopped on the way home to have a meal at a pub with Digger. Following that as we got nearer to town Cam I an decided some birthday bowling might be in order! Although I had clean, dry clothes on I had a definite whiff of swamp about me still, lurking from my hair and skin. Still, we wandered into the bowling alley and paid for a couple of games and had good fun for an hour or so before returning home.

I was standing in the kitchen later when Wil and I began pratting about play fighting. I got the last jab into his kidney as he walked into the dining room. I peered around the corner of the kitchen doorway ‘I see you there’ Wil grinned, I darted back behind the doorframe and stood flat against the wall clutching the soggy dish sponge to throw in his face when he inevitably jumped around the corner. But he didn’t instead I heard him coming closer to the door muttering ‘I’m going to get you with this…………. TORCH!’. As he shouted the word torch his hand holding a little hand sized torch appeared around the doorframe and shone in my face to which my reaction was a loud frenzied scream.

We cracked up laughing at the stupidness and Wil took a minute to catch his breath from laughing so hard.

‘So you’ll pull yourself through multiple murky swamps’ he said

‘but you’re scared of a torch!’

(A few more photos will be available on my Flickr site later ——> link in the sidebar to the right)

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Comments (7)

WorkHomeAthlon

Turns out on Sunday I was told to meet at the wrong place to do the cross country training session. Not to worry, I’m well informed for this coming Sunday and will be joining in to do the 5 miles.

I ran with the club on Tuesday evening as usual and did Fartlek training between lamposts. Having scoffed chocolate all day long at work I apparently had a massive store of energy because despite the sprints and recovery jogs I could have run for MILES. When I left, I felt like I hadn’t done anything.

Such is NOT the case today. I biked into work and then this afternoon, leaving everything at work – I ran home! I have self propelled 10 miles today which is a brilliant feeling. Even more surprisingly I seem to have dropped my 10 minute mile pace of times past and made it home today with a 8 minute mile pace.

Also on a running note myself and two other ladies from the club have formed a team and entered The Whole Hog Adventure Race in Wantisden in November. The course is 7-8 mile cross country run with small assault courses and purportedly a lot of mud along the way. We have to think of a team name now so if you creative lot have any ideas please leave me a comment.

Following the Hog Race Wil and I have signed up for the Thetford Duathlon. I’m really looking forward to this as it will give me a chance to compare against the last Duathlon I did and see if I’ve improved having pushed myself through a few more months of good training.

A note on Push-Ups. I am still doing them but I’ve kind of given up on trying to do the 100. I put in 100% for a few months and just could not manage to move past the 28 mark without causing pain in my shoulder. When one of my elbows started to nag I threw the towel in and since then I’ve been doing 3 reps of 20 at least 3 times per week to maintain what I did achieve.

All going well eh?…. Time to catch a cold then!

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