Time vampire warning. If you want to read this, it might take you longer to do so, than to actually participate in one of these 10ks, so read on if you will, but at your own risk. If you are bored by it, then you must at least concede contributory negligence on your own part. Absolutely no refunds, no exceptions. Recommended for procrastination purposes or scrolling down for the photos, not recommended if you don’t like long-winded self-centred personal observations. You have been warned. Continue at your own risk and you’ll get my subjective account of having Endured the Dash at Sherwood. Maybe you’ll recognise your own experiences in it too, or maybe you wont. You get to decide.
One day we will all look back on this and laugh. That was what I was telling myself the morning of the Endurer Dash. Feeling cold just looking out of the window at the dark skies and snow covered ground. Did I really pay to put myself through this ordeal – that’s not right. Surely someone should be paying me, A LOT, I can no longer remember what possessed me when I first entered all those many moons ago…. The story goes something like this.
What was I thinking? Awash with the endorphins surge associated with having survived a near-death experience after last year’s Endurer Dash in the Peaks, I misguidedly rushed to re-enter the event for when it came round again in March 2016. At the time of entering I had fondly imagined I’d be better prepared 6 months on. I’d have trained loads, I’d have the advantage of knowing what to expect; I’d have slimmed down to more manageable proportions for the purposes of being carried round by my counter parts. What could possibly go wrong? You can tell how misguided my brain was in the post-run oxygen deprived fug that is common to elite athletes after running ultra marathons, and also to me after running for a bus, by reading my earlier blog post on the Endurer Dash in 2015 In fact, in terms of ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ the answer is it seems: ‘Quite a lot actually, thank you for asking.‘ Right at that moment, I was kicking myself, have I learned nothing from my past mistakes? What hope for me to make new discoveries then? What are these portals of discovery of which others speak?
I did train a bit more in the interim. But is it bad to admit this was partly because of the opportunity to stroke a cat? This incentive is routinely offered by the Abbeydale Sports and Social Club as they have a cat Jerry who regularly pops across from neighbours to hang out in their reception area snoozing on the sofa and caught in a sun trap. Go to a class early, sit nearby and if he thinks you are worthy of such attention, he’ll come and adorn your lap, and give you a good affectionate pummelling into the bargain. It’s very nice. No wonder cat hotels are becoming a ‘thing. Only this tantalising possible feline presence could entice me out week after week to subject myself to the battering of core work sessions with the outwardly lovely Marshal who’s dastardly idea it was to enter this ‘fun’ event in the first place. Whereby ‘fun’ only really works if you inhabit a parallel universe where ‘fun’ is associated with being cold, wet and out of your comfort zone in a disorientating woodland setting in the company of strangers. I’m just saying. Day before, this is what I can see through my window. Not inviting, not one bit…
So the day before, all I could think about was that from my attic window I can see snow. Not nice, powdery, delicate flakes, that would be fun to scamper about in as bright winter sun smiled down on it on the morrow. More wet, anarchic, white out, slushy agitated horizontal waves coming at the window from all direction. I may not be actually a meteorologist or climatologist as such, but it was suggesting to me that it would be very (and unpleasantly) cold come the day of the Endurer Dash. I suppose that should make me glad of my ‘silken layer’ of body fat. It may not be an obvious asset given that I was rather counting on people to carry me round and/or over some of the more challenging obstacles the next day, but could be a boon in the survival situation of potential hypothermia. What’s more, as most of my sporting companions are healthy eating athletic types I don’t think they’ll want to eat me either if we should get stuck somewhere. I’m likely to be way too high fat for their dietary regimes and I’m sure they are too sensible to do anything like Atkins besides which, that eating plan is soooooooooo last year now, surely? People do eat one another in survival situations though, so be careful who your journey with. All in all, if you’d asked me for my thoughts about turning out the following day to do said obstacle course, I think it would be fair I was struggling to find the words to use that would adequately capture my enthusiasm. Draw your own conclusions. I had also conferred with other buddies, to tell them to remind me if I came back all enthusiastic again this time, to talk me down, and not let me put myself through all this agonisingly fearful anticipation ever again!
Angst had in fact kicked in earlier. The day before the day before I went back to said fitness class looking for a pep talk from our tiggerish team leader. What if I break every bone in my body, get buried in snow, or just have a horrible time? I posit to my fitness trainer. She is deaf to my protestations. She is only able to ooze positivity and speak of the joy we will feel overcoming all and surviving as a team with evangelical zeal. In her world, ‘teams’ only thrive under adversity, they do not shatter into toxic self-serving sub-groups, bitter with mutual mistrust and end up eating each other. Clearly she has been self-employed a long time now and has forgotten how relations work in the ‘real world’. She can see no barrier which cannot be overcome, no adventure that we will not enjoy. She has forgotten the bit when I googled last year and came across an account from someone who confessed they spent the whole time on the course ‘crying and telling her team mates to F*** Off’! Good grief, I am coming to think she actually believed my giddy account of last year’s endeavour and has failed to remember it was just the survival endorphins speaking! I was really beginning to lose confidence in her leadership skills. Unfortunately, I am conscientious if not keen (as regular readers will know) so I feel committed. What’s more, she has a list of attendees, this amounts to an attendance register. If I bail out now, I will be forever expunged from her Christmas card list at the very least, and, what’s more, will never be able to show my face at one of her core conditioning classes ever again (every cloud as they say…). Also, I have already paid for my place, plus there is that constant fear of missing out, FOMO is a truly terrible thing. On balance, it is quite probably worse than undertaking an Endurer Dash. So it would seem to me at least…
Who knows where it might lead? In this case to a scary wood in the snow. Basically, I was expecting it to look like this. It might appear to be a winter wonderland, but who wants to be out in that wearing only ill fitting lycra and having to negotiate large obstacles?
My enthusiasm was definitely ebbing. After some robust negotiation, we agree that naturally I will be there, but I reserved the right to throw all her positivity straight back in her face if she finds herself stuck atop a particularly terrifyingly high obstacle, or worse, splattered on the side of it, clinging on by her fingernails. I got from her, her consent to say ‘helpful’ things like ‘It’s fine, you ARE having fun, you are just over-thinking everything. So what if you break one arm, you have two don’t you? You simply aren’t trying hard enough to enjoy the adventure- just get over yourself and throw yourself into it a bit more…. Oooh, ouch, maybe not quite like that though, that looked like a hard landing…. Nevermind, only 49 more obstacles to go and 9.5 km, put on a smile, that’s the spirit!‘ etc. Actually, thinking it through in those terms did cheer me. She may have taken it as good humoured banter, but I filed it in my ‘in case of emergency’ thinking folder for future reference. Plus, she gave a proper promise that we’d stick with it, all for one and one for all. Or was it fall for one and all will fall? I get confused… Bottom line, we would all bring our unique talents to the table, but what could possibly prevent us all from getting round in our own special way? Bring. It. On.
So that was just about my mental state prior to the day of reckoning. It’s complicated isn’t it?
Oh hang on, you still don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, for those of you who like the blah de blah, this is an Endurer events obstacle course, taking place at Sherwood Pines, Nottinghamshire in March 2016, the official blurb says:
Planned to be our biggest Endurer Dash yet, we will be bringing the same passion for exciting trails, challenging obstacles and epic courses to Sherwood. The pines already has awesome climbs, water features and winding trails. We will be supercharging the course with the most obstacles in any Endurer Dash to date, and probably any other obstacle races you have been to!
Expect the return of favourites such as the 8ft walls, monkey bars and epic crawls. But the new additions should really get you excited! The slides will be super-sized, the water will still be cold! And we’re currently working on even more new additions, that you wont have seen anywhere else!
Note, their use of the term ‘favourites’ to describe the 8ft walls, monkey bars and epic crawls is somewhat misguided, but they are tremendously keen these event organisers. You have to give them credit for that. Just as you have to give me and my fellow Marshal’s Mudders slightly distorted credit for being living testament to the power of hope over experience. Seriously, does this look inviting. Is the strap line for their poster ‘Epic weekend of muddy hilly obstacle-fuelled hell’ really welcoming? I repeat, what was I thinking?
So finally it came. The Day of Reckoning… Good oh.
I woke ridiculously early, having had nightmares last night, not about the Dash as such, but some bizarre thing about being pursued by a psychopathic madman whilst staying in a hotel. I don’t know why either. This early start meant I could at least have a pre-dash porridge and coffee (loads of time to digest) and, listen to ‘Hood’ on Radio 4 eXtra (it seems there is in fact a station on the wireless other than Radio 4). This was apt, as it was an adaptation of Robin Hood story, albeit a somewhat unrecognisable one, still, helped for getting me into the Nottingham mood, given that I’d be awf to Sherwood Forest myself in a bit. My weather check (sticking arm out of attic window) confirmed that it was definitely cold, but no actual snow falling, and the roads were clear which was good for safe driving, and bad for using that excuse for get-out purposes
Despite living on my own, and therefore having no residential audience to bear witness to it, I had a major tantrum about which top to wear. I had a PK Fitness one, but it was deeply unflattering, and photographers are promised on the course. Plus, my usual top has little thumb holes so you can hoik the sleeves down which is good for warmth. I know ‘proper’ runners would be horrified at my propensity for wearing too many clothes whilst running in events, but the Endurer although nominally a 10k run, potentially involves a lot of queuing and hanging around at obstacles, especially if you are part of a big team. I didn’t want to freeze out there. Reader I went for thermals under my running gear, I know it’s wrong, but we could be out there for hours. What’s more, writing after the event, I can report this was a good call. Also wore pimple palm gloves and proper grippy off road shoes. Very necessary. The shot was taken after the run by the way, I am quite OCD about cleaning my shoes after running and sometimes even my leggings between runs too, just so you know…
After final paranoiac check of websites for last minute updates (and also in the not terribly subconscious vain hope that it might have been cancelled) I saw that for example – for registration we were advised we only had to remember our name, that should be OK. I double checked the postcode for satnav purposes. Complete change of clothes (including bra and knickers. I am not making the mistake of driving home in wet icy cold underwear after the run again like last time out. Eduring the dash is one thing, enduring that level of discomfort without even the prospect of a medal when you’re done is quite another) – and I was ready for off.
Slight delay in car park as I had to remove a lot of snow from the car. In the process I got my nice dry gloves soaked pre-departure, oh well, taste of things to come. I did briefly ponder driving to Sherwood Pines with the windows down and in my running gear, to help me pre-acclimatise to the cold. Note, I said briefly. I quickly decided that if I did so, I’d just increase the likelihood of needing air ambulance to rescue me half way round, and opted instead for full fleece, alpaca scarf, and heating on full blast throughout. Good call. Satnav, was somewhat mysterious. I have no idea why it took me the way it did, but it got me there in the end-ish. The postcode provided actually directed me down a private forestry track, which I did take, but quickly realised was an error. The map supplied on the registration email wasn’t the most helpful I’ve ever seen, but it was easy enough to find the venue, just a few hundred yards on from the expected turning (head for Go-Ape signs if you are going next year).
So, finally some signs, and no actual hail falling from the skies, I started to feel quite excited. I’d never been to Sherwood Pines before, and it is lovely, huge gorgeous atmospheric trees, felt a bit other worldly, quite different from the woodland I usually run in.
Masses of parking – and £4 to park for the day, which wasn’t too bad. I felt gracious thoughts about the venue. Amazingly, I found I didn’t want to cry or throw up in the car park on arrival, which is just as well as I’ve since been made aware that this is very bad for team morale. Anyway, I followed the groups of people silently moving as if hypnotised and guided by some irresistible yet invisible force. Are you old enough to remember Close Encounters film from the seventies? If so, you would have recognised the vacant eyed people being drawn to some mysterious epicentre, a place they’ve never been to, nor seen before, and yet they are compelled to draw near.
En route, you go past Go-Ape – been meaning to do that for years, it is pricey, but it looked fun. Also, by the by, en route to the forest itself there were signs for a steam railway, couldn’t help wondering if that might increase my speed getting round to the finish… Following the flags to the start line, spotted some rather plush conveniences. Was VERY disappointed to be greeted with this sign though:
Seriously? Were we not users of the park? Had we not paid £4 to park? What’s more, presumably the Endurer Dash events organisers paid a hefty sum for the privilege of being there. Very short sighted, and extremely poor PR in my view. Obviously, I ignored the sign completely, and almost felt inclined to crap on the floor in protest. However, I have a bashful bladder as it is, so dirty protest wasn’t ever going to be happening, I just used the facilities in my coy, clean and very conventional way. Yes in the loo cubicle, what do you take me for? Interesting to see that Sherwood Pines parkrun was given a plug on the back of the cubicle doors. I’d be tempted to do that, if they don’t put up anti-parkrun propaganda on parkrun days that is… Not a warm welcome Forestry Commission guys… just so you know. Incidentally, is it weird that I took a photo of this? Hoping people waiting outside didn’t here the camera shutter sound going whilst I was in the loo and jump to erroneous conclusions of any kind!
Ablutions completed, made my way to start. Uh oh – call me over-cautious, but it’s always a worry when the organisers have provided almost as many ambulances as they have portaloos at an event (literally – three ambulances, four portaloos). One of the ambulances was especially fab though, looked like it was designed for use by lego people, I really hope that’s true! The portaloos said ‘tardis’ on them, but that wasn’t true, disappointingly not bigger on the inside, not at all.
So, eventually, the registration area came into view. I always arrive very early for these things, so I’d actually allowed 1 1/2 hours to register. The enormous queues did take me by surprise somewhat. It was all good natured enough, but it was on the shambolic end of the continuum. It just got longer and longer, and didn’t seem to move forward at all. On the plus side, being stationary for so long made it relatively easy to spot other team members making their way to join the heaving masses. Also, first sight of start and indeed the finish. This was encouraging, I was thinking if it was all a bit too much I could think of a B Plan which would be a bit shorter than a full 10k. See the juxtaposition of start and finish, I know, a cunning plan indeed! Plus, not a marshal in sight, easy to pull off.
After over an hour of queuing there was some impatience. The problem seemed to be not enough people and not enough pre-planning. I gave my name, and had my ticket print out, but that didn’t have my number on it, and that is how registrations were actually listed. Then the numbers were all in a big heap (not in piles of say 50 numbers at a time), and, the killer, only when you’d had your name found and number dug out, did a chip get taken out of a box and physically attached to the ankle band. And this process which took a few minutes was repeated for every individual competitor. I felt for the volunteers who were trying to provide patient and cheerful help, but it wasn’t really OK. I was fretting I wouldn’t make the start wave with my team, though in the event it started late anyway as so many people were struggling with the queues. It’s a shame, because there weren’t these problems last year, and it wasn’t a great start to be honest. On the plus side, there were lots of safety pins, so that was good.
Fortunately though, I have a short memory, and once I had my tag and number, and my running buddy to hand, we could concentrate on taking in the surroundings, and messing about with fluorescent face paint. I squashed my fleece, and scarf into my backpack and dumped it behind the registration tables. There didn’t seem to be an official bag drop, but that was good enough. Then it was fun to notice a bit more the other people about and the stands. Funny how prominent the sign was selling life insurance, and I was curious about the OCR people, but there was no time to really check out the stand. It did look a bit inappropriately red white and blue though, sort of reminiscent of BNP/ National Front though I’m positive that was not their thinking in coming up with their branding. I’m again betraying my age but it’s true to say that when I was growing up the BNP/ skinheads were prominent, coming from that background and context, I can’t really look at the union jack, or flag or whatever it is, and the camouflage gear and shaved heads and not shudder. It might well be a distorted view now, but it’s hard to shake off. Shame, I really would have liked one of those capes…
I was very taken indeed with the cape/ cloaky things. These I’ve never seen before, and whilst they did look a bit, well, wierd (fetishy at best) they also looked roasty toasty cosy, and the idea is that you can change under them and put them on after this kind of obstacle event when you are soaked through and magically be restored to warmth and dryness. I’ve seen horse blankets that claim the same, though what’s wrong with thatching say I? Even so, I concede some clothing envy took root at what I observed:
Face paint on, hugs shared, lots of whooping, found a race photographer (no mean achievement in itself to be honest) and begged them to snap a few shots, what’s more, tracked them down thank you and we had fun posing. I have been accused of looking way too happy in this shot by someone who cannot differentiate between mania (bad) and joy (good). There isn’t a shot of the whole team by the way, other members are/were clearly dissociating themselves from each other at this point. Maybe working on limbering up in anticipation of lugging some of us round. You’ll get some idea of who we were though:
We had a minor emergency when one of our number lost her hair band at the very moment of putting it on. We enlisted a queue full of people to help find it, before realising it had been on her wrist all the time. Oh well, I won’t humiliate her by drawing undue attention to that easy-to-make oversight. I couldn’t help noticing our team leader went to great lengths to add her initials PK) onto each of our faces as well as the fluorescent stripes. I think this might be the fitness instructors equivalent of a dog peeing up a tree or a man in a sink. I’m not sure though. Definitely pronouncing possession. We all acquiesced, way too scared of her to protest. Plus, helped us to spot our own team mate. We didn’t all know each other. As my running buddy was keen to point out a few may have only turned out based on our performance last year. We weren’t exactly inspirational, more a case of ‘if they can do it anyone can’ but it’s still recognition of a sort, I suppose…
It seems there was an OCR photographer about who got some nice atmospheric shots like freeze frame cartoons of the ever growing queue, plus excellent shot of the caped crusaders sporting wondrous outer wear and some of the milling about at the start line. Captures the mood pretty well, so cheers for that Harley of OCR whoever you are (rumour has it he is only 9, but clearly is a David Bailey in the making at the very least, and has caught some lovely natural shots – a stealth lens user, good job!)
It was announced that the start was delayed for 15 minutes, so one of our number disappeared off into the Tardis for what she said was a precautionary pee, but what I know was a desperate attempt to satisfy her curiosity about the time and relative dimensions in space aspects of the constructions. Two of our team had emergency chip issues. Not of the fried variety, but of having misplaced the electronic ones. All sorted, there wasn’t any official warm up, but there was some generic jumping around and good natured cheering and ‘suddenly’ we were off!
A slow and windy start, hah, this is going to be a breeze! You couldn’t really get going because of the crowds, but that didn’t honestly matter, chance to warm up and get your footing, and enjoy the surrounds. I liked listening in on other people’s conversations as they tried to recall how they ended up being here at all. One went ‘so were you drunk when you agreed to do this then?’ ‘Nope, I wasn’t to be honest, though people did keep asking me that, funny…‘ Once we stepped over starting pad, and the continuous electronic hum screamed out that our chips were officially registered my spirits immediately lifted. It was a slow start which may have frustrated some, but didn’t bother me. I had that feeling like you get when the train, plane or auto-mobile on which you are travelling finally starts its engine at the beginning of a holiday – this it is, you are officially under way! Yay. Amongst the mob were the compulsory oompa loompa, half-naked man and a few imaginative team costume efforts. A few are captured below thanks to OCR photography again.
Pleasingly, a few of our very own Marshal’s Mudders were caught up in the start line photos, not me though, you’ll have to take my word for it I was actually there, though for the eagle eyed, I can spot my pony tail in peripheral view at one point – this photo here- see if you can see me (don’t think the guy in the front was looking for me, but maybe now I’m practically a celebrity blogger, that’s exactly what he was up to). I’m just ahead of gnome woman and blondish crescent of head can be seen slightly to right of her – and ahead I might add. I might be over fifty, but I can run-ish when the need arises …
Seeing these shots again I am beginning to wonder if I should maybe have told our esteemed Tiggerish leader that she really did look like a gnome, or maybe an elf, but definitely a niche choice of outfit. I’m quite glad she doesn’t take our core-conditioning classes dressed like this. Oh the day I settled with the cryptic ‘now there’s a look not everyone could carry off!’ and left it at that, I don’t think she suspected a thing…
It was lovely in the forest, the track started OK, but pretty soon muddied up. Fortunately I’ve been doing loads of off-road running in the last few months so no worries for me. What with my Longshaw 10ks, routine yomping out up the valley and other bits and bobs it would take more than a few tree roots to break my stride, this is easy peasy, no worries, might even pick up a bit of …. ooooooooooh hang on, face plant. Full on, face first, mud slide. Honestly, I’m not sure I even tripped over uneven ground, it is just as likely I fell over my own feet. I was covered, we’d not even made it to the first obstacle at this point, and I looked liked I’d accidentally forgotten to take my clothes off before undergoing a mud wrap spa treatment utilising one of the more adhesive and dark of the mud recipe options on offer. On the plus side, getting muddy and soaked early on, means you don’t waste time trying to avoid the inevitable mud bath as you go round. Saves a lot of time as thereafter you can just splosh onwards regardless. Plus, I think that means I win the unofficial prize for first tumble of the day (not like that) and also, amazingly, got my first and only injury of the event. Not a very impressive one, just a bit of a graze on knee and elbow, but good to have the scars to show from the occasion. Bragging rights secured? Tick.
We were sort of settling into things at this stage, following the mass of people. I think from the air we must have looked like a swarm of those leaf cutter ants. You have a few faster (bolder?) scouts up ahead, who check out the first of the obstacles, then the masses gain on them. Swarming over the first wall, some climbing over, some clinging to the sides, with the odd individual being carried aloft by others, passed from ant to and (or person to person in this case) like some treasured trophy. Or heavy trophy. I forget which. Well, it was the beginning of the event at this point, so there was more care of other team members and less actual lobbing of them as if they were inanimate objects. To be fair, by the end speaking personally I was pretty inanimate as an object, it was the only way to get round.
At the first obstacle (wooden wall basically) there was quite a fracas, lots of people swarming at once, but it was good natured, and at this point our team was upbeat and all together. Everyone made it over, and there was a collective sigh of relief that this was doable. Plus, it helped the team to gel. A big part of this event is learning to trust your team. I got over my angst about being so needy earlier on this time round and surrendered utterly to the idea of just trampling over them, keeping only the very British concession of continuously apologising as I did so, but stomping purposefully on their body parts proffered for climbing purposes all the same. Whatever it takes team. Whatever it takes.
Over and onward. Yay. We were still having a few kit issues – shoe laces to be retied, and more puzzlingly I would swear I witnessed one team member removing a spare panty liner from her shoe and passing it to another. Whilst I am in awe of others who are so prepared, I was a bit perplexed about how the recipient of said offering would be able to insert that in situ en route. I can report I read the situation entirely erroneously. Just shows how careful you have to be about witness statements, I am living testimony to the potential to see something with complete clarity yet have absolutely no grasp at all about what is actually going on. It seems that far from being a panty liner discretely passed as contraband, it was in fact a magical inner sole, that somehow heats up your foot. Only it was a bit too effective, hence was being jettisoned. I’m still a bit doubtful about this explanation in truth, but then google never lies – the product does exist, and whilst the pictures don’t do the similarity of the items justice, you’ll surely get the general gist of the situation.
Can’t remember quite what came next, we yomped on and it was probably the monkey bars. Here we had a rare marshal sighting also. The monkey bars were hilarious. I aborted my attempt as I couldn’t even really reach the bars from the scaffolding and my sodden gloved hands had no chance of gripping on even if I could. Plus, I hadn’t miraculously developed my upper body strength over night. Turns out you need to actually do the training you were planning to do in advance, not just talk about needing to do it at some indeterminate future point. Who knew? It was fun watching others though. Some made valiant but vain efforts, a few did dramatic ape-like confident swings, and some cunning idiosyncratic individuals did a sort of side bar shuffle which was really impressive and very effective. No photos from this, well not when we were there anyway, so you will just have to use your imagination. Imagine that we were as accomplished in our efforts as these guys (though jeez – how did we manage not to get any shots of our team when so many seem to have been snapped I do not know). Maybe we were traversing all the obstacles at the speed of light. Too fast to be caught by the human eye?
Onwards, next notable obstacle was a longish crawl through mud under a cargo net. This is one of the iconic challenges for this kind of event, great for action shots with mud and angst riddled faces. It isn’t technically difficult, you just have to accept you will get ridiculously muddy, as we’ve already established I already was, so quite enjoyed the childish thrill of crawling through inches of liquid mud. I worry sometimes that I am too easily entertained. Amazingly, I didn’t feel cold either, I suppose a mixture of movement, adrenalin and my thermals succeeding in staving off the hypothermia. Only down side here was that some, in my view over competitive individuals, did some serious overtaking through aggressive elbowing on the way through which I thought a bit unsporting, but seen worse to be fair. Here there were some photographers yay. Two! Like buses none for ages and then, well two rather three, came at once. Also, we got to see some oompa loompa action at the wood wall immediately following. Very entertaining. I’m guessing that outfit isn’t going back to the fancy dress hire shop, and what’s more for future events, maybe white isn’t the most practical of options. Hilarious, we were getting in the zone. More begging for photos, just as well we did, as didn’t see any more photographers for the rest of the day, then awf…
At some future time, it may be that I am able to include here some mud crawl photos, but these are not yet findable, and I hate to think of my reader becoming impatient for my tale of the day. So we shall just have to live in hope and carry on regardless (sad face). In the meantime, here is the oompa loompa team so you can appreciate the whiter than white starting point from which he commenced and imagine how well that turned out at the end. Maybe he was not very subtly seeking some Daz sponsorship for future events. It might take more than that to restore his whites to their former glory to be honest, but started hopeful and clad in almost bridal whiteness. Good effort!
In terms of sequence of obstacles, it’s all a bit of blur really in terms of what happened when. The general gist is that we headed onward. I think my favourite obstacle came next. It was relatively simple – though daunting at first sight. A wooden wall you had to climb up, and then a plastic slide – which had dried out but was supposed to be soaked with water and foam) which you could whizz down afterwards. With some hoiking from above and below (thanks team) and a bit of physical contortion on my part, I made it up and it was brilliant coming down the other side. Look how much fun these guys are having, that’s what it was like! Joyful.
Well worth getting foam residue into every oriface below the waist just one quarter of the way through the event. Throughout the rest of the run I can report that I lathered up nicely between the buttocks, leaving little dollops of foam that looked like saliva in my wake. It was like leaving behind me a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest. Frankly, it was just as well I did, because shortly after this I think we got very lost. Well, more accurately misdirected.
There was a bridge and a road, and a big sign pointing us clearly in one way. I followed the crowd of other runners following the way signs, but after 500 metres or so they turned back saying the route markers have vanished. We retraced our steps in some confusion – fortunately easy enough to do because of my slime/ saliva trail, and eventually some random guy on a bike waved frantically at us and pointed us in the right direction. In our wake we could see him rehanging red and white tape and moving signs about. I had a brief moment of wondering if all that red and white tape was to mark out crime scenes. Who really knows what goes on under the cover of night in the deep, dark, deathlike solitude* of the Sherwood Pines forest? Best not to enquire too closely what lies beneath perhaps, just run onwards, and don’t look back…
Don’t know if the false trail was the act of vandals, incompetence or maybe last minute route changes. It was some detour though, the signs clearly pointing in one direction, but disappearing, it was just as well some amongst our party had the wit to realise and with not a marshal in sight, lots of potential for going astray. We did find out later that apparently some obstacles had indeed been vandalised, even stolen, so maybe signs were tampered with too. Darned shame, a warning would have been helpful though – still, not the first time I’ve got lost on a trail run, at least I wasn’t on my own this time, thinking I was quietly going mad in the woods, and never to emerge again. Great gang to get lost with on this occasion. All the same not good though, not good at all.
Sequence is all a bit mixed up here, but I have a feeling once back on the track we essentially did a 5km loop of forest yomping. I really like trail running so that was fine, but no marshals or obstacles or photographers to break it up. Though cheerily I thought I heard an ambulance moving ever closer at one point. There was a good long run out on what may in the summer month be a path, but at this time of year was a choice between a gully of actual running water, or treacherous mud. I couldn’t decide whether it was better to splash through the water on firmer ground, or pick over the muddy stuff which was slippery and uneven – I basically hopped between the two depending on whether or not I felt I needed to give way to faster runners thundering through from behind. It is quite funny listening out to the shrieks and wobbles of people behind scrambling about, and the odd screams and whoops ahead as people fall, slide or discover an obstacle, official or otherwise. Builds suspense and creates a sense of occasion. Eventually we turned off this into quiet, springy winding forest trail that was really lovely, and quite social as there was some leap-frogging (metaphorical rather than literal unfortunately) with other runners as we took it in turns to speed up and slow down. A few people did some fairly spectacular skids round here, and one runner overtook me only to then somersault most spectacularly into a tree. Good Work!
Just as we had given up on ever seeing another obstacle again we got to another wall, and a chance for our team to reassemble. Thank you mystery strangers who heaved me from above as my team pushed me from below. They did sterling work before vanishing off ahead. We nearly inadvertently spliced one of our team who having successfully got to the top of the obstacle found herself astride it with her ‘lady bits’ at the mercy of the woodwork beneath. I felt for her, I made the mistake of trying a spinning class once, never again, it was like self-inflicted FGM. I faired a bit better (forewarned is forearmed), by scrambling up and leaning over rather than astride the obstacle I was less at risk of any rearranging of my personal assets. However, I then realised I was actually a lot higher up than I’d have liked. Some of these walls are a lot higher than you might think, especially from the top! I was worried that I would actually freeze and be stuck for ever up there, it passed in moment, but it wasn’t a good time to realise I might have vertigo after all.
Once we’d all got over, some with more grace than others. The better prepared of our party produced mints from nowhere, so that gave us a bit of a lift, and we debated how far we’d come. There hadn’t been an expected water point which might have suggested a half way point. People who complain about lack of water on the course though are overlooking the fact that we were comprehensively soaked throughout so be careful what you wish for eh? Lots of water sloshing around, just mostly as a constituent of mud and not of the drinking variety. Details, details.
Onward, the field had thinned out, and not many obstacles ahead. The next memorable one was a sort of a water jump in equestrian terms. A ditch, of uncertain depth that you couldn’t quite be sure if you’d be able to jump across. I stared at it a while, watching others leap over or in. This was a useful tactic, found out that despite appearances, the ditch was only a couple of feet deep, so it wouldn’t be a total disaster to land in it. Also, there was a technique of launching and landing that enabled the leaper to remain dry if successfully accomplished. At the same time I was carrying out my own assessment of how to proceed a couple of walkers strolled by and looked on with curiosity. I suggested they feel free to have bash themselves as they said they had a brother in Australia who did this sort of thing (bet it would be nice over there). They declined, but cheered me as I did my very own spring across. I did it! Completely cleared the ditch. I have rarely felt such a wave of self-congratulatory triumph. Shame no-one I knew bore witness to it, but that couple did, I could feel the gaze of their collective admiration burrowing into my back as I yomped onwards. Trying to look nonchalant from the rear (I do leaps by this before breakfast most days) but inwardly punching the air with both joy and disbelief!
The sun was shining. In fact, it is nothing short of miraculous that the weather stayed fair for the most part. It was actually lovely out. Only in the last 20 minutes or so did shards of bitterly cold rain start to throw down, but we knew we were on the home stretch then, so it really didn’t matter. We were on the way back now for sure. A few figures who’d already finished and were adorned with medals were walking back down the course to cheer others home. There was even a scattering of spectators at one point.
The last few obstacles were comforting for the most part. A scramble over some slimy, but easy to negotiate stacked cylindrical straw bales. A tunnel crawl – but short and with daylight at the end – the photo makes it look like some poor woman is running away from an improvised woodland shanty town, but it is in fact one of the tunnels. Some fun tyres strung on a pole which you had to crawl under, that confused me. I was worried I wouldn’t squish through, but it was fine. The tyres get pushed upwards as you crawl so it is a psychological not physical challenge at all. Another wall.
Truthfully, the obstacles were the same in some instances as those we encountered at the Peak District last year, but it was still fun clambering over them. There was a log run, but I cunningly picked one that must have been made of balsa wood as it was extraordinarily light – either that, or, having discovered my own potential with my water jump earlier on, now had tapped my previously latent super-human strength. Just as well, as there was enormous potential for comedic slapstick moments as tired runners carrying logs on their shoulders cornered at the end of the log run, narrowly missing each other’s heads with the end of poles. Some runners missed this obstacle out entirely as it was not especially prominent, but if you are more a slow and steady jogger it was harder to omit. I also noticed one finish line photo of someone crossing the line still carrying the log so they must have thought the run was to the end, (in fact it was just a little loop off the trail). Hilarious. I love this photo by the way, it makes me laugh. Looks like a killer carrying a body to me, but then I’ve been watching Stag on BBC2 and it’s maybe given me ideas about what might happen in the woods.
So we concluded with a loverly yomp through forest, really scenic windy trails, smell and squish of pine needles and autumn leaves, nice and spongy under foot, apart from when actually ankle deep in mud. Towards the very end, skies darkened, and sharp shards of freezing rain started to fall. We got off lightly, as we were all done before the temperature really plummeted, and I was very pleased and relieved that we’d got the finish in our sights. The end though came suddenly. We emerged through the finish with no slide finale as an obstacle, so it felt a bit flat. No photographer, just slightly manic requests for chips and an opportunity to get your medal (yay). Finally water at finish. I do like a bit of bling though, very satisfying. I like the medal a lot, nice and chunky for the collection.
You could also get an immediate print out of your time by keying your number in to some high tech equipment. We weren’t too fussed about times, it was about finishing, but good to know technology all worked well for those who were interested in that. Although there was no photographer to capture our moment of triumph coming across the finish line, it didn’t matter, some of our team have perfected the art of the group selfie -you have to be impressed by this elite group (other team members were available). Thanks to all of you for helping me (well, more than helping to be fair, ‘carrying’ might be more accurate) round. You were awesome. To those team members who I physically crushed en route to the point they were unable to stand and pose for this photo, sorry, still, I tell myself ‘I am worth it‘, hope you agree. I hear a lot of voices telling me things in my head though, so it’s not always easy to differentiate which ones are wise and which are not. Hey ho. Still, we all made it, we are all wonderful! We are ninja, we are all powerful. Get us!
I did enjoy it, I really did, but it was because of my ace team and the great location, plus, it’s a hoot running through the woods with friends you haven’t met yet. Most participants were friendly, funny and helpful. There is inherent slapstick all the way round, mud, water and shared objectives are a great recipe for fun. Watching the contorted faces of your team mates as they try to hoist others over an obstacle before being crushed by you coming next could put some off, but I say hey ho, worse things happen at the seaside, and besides, they were asking for it. The woods were really lovely, and you do get a sense of achievement going round.
Less good, well, you can’t escape the fact that there weren’t anything like as many obstacles as at the last event, not many at all, so it was more like a nice trail run, with a few optional surprises thrown in. I did have fun, but feel maybe it would be good to manage expectations a bit more. The hype emphasised there would be a ground breaking variety of obstacles and plenty of marshals with excellent signposting and presence of photographers throughout but couldn’t deliver. A real shame. Also, because I’d enjoyed the last one so much, and this was promised as ‘bigger and better’ it did suffer by comparison to the Peak District event. I felt a bit sorry for organisers with all the flack on Facebook afterwards, but then again, they perhaps could have shared some of the background (vandalism etc) and maybe things that context setting would have eased frustrations.
Perhaps the other people in my team were cold, maybe they really were trying to avoid me, but but for whatever reason people scattered pretty instantaneously at the end. I concede it is fair enough it the mysterious others had finally taken umbrage at having to carry me round literally as well as metaphorically all day. In any event, it seems the ‘after’ group photo happened without me and my horse box buddy (more of that later). Undaunted, I took a few snaps of my own. Loads better than their boring posed shot, don’t you agree? (Rhetorical question by the way).
I took my revenge quietly, by taking stalkery shots of the others changing, didn’t mean that to be as seedy as it sounds. They were intended to be more atmospheric. Not sure it worked. At least one looks like a profile shot for a lonely hearts site, you can decide which one if you like, and follow up as you think fit.
It was a bit of an anticlimax at the finish, last time I felt euphoric at the end, this time it was hard to conjure that emotion perhaps because there had been some hiccups, and maybe too obivously you can never recapture the novelty and sense of achievement you get from finishing your first OCR. Maybe that’s why people chase more and more challenging and testing courses in an endless quest to recapture that first high. OCR has become the acceptable face of addiction in some circles. Who knows?
I subsequently heard that the organisers had been beset by difficulties in the last few days leading up to the dash. Sounded like the seven plagues (or however many there were), with vandalism, theft, even some obstacles set fire too! That’s harsh, and might explain some of the circumstances, but I do wish they’d shared that information in advance. Something along the lines of ‘hey all, bear with us, this has happened, but we’ll do our best to bring you a revised event to avoid cancelling blah de blah‘ I think might have generated a wave of supportive understanding. They could even have incorporated say the burning pyre as an extra obstacle, that would have livened things up a bit! As it was, a fair bit of a bludgeoning of the event is currently under way on social media. I don’t know what I think. I suppose bottom line is that they whipped up huge expectations of the biggest most challenging event and so when they couldn’t deliver rather left themselves open to criticism. There is also no denying it is an expensive event to enter, and so that raises expectations too. There are lots of free trail runs locally (parkun/ trust10 series) so most runners can access a 5km or 10km run pretty easily for no cost at all, if you are going to charge then you need to add significant value. On the other hand sometimes things do go wrong, and maybe the organisers did a good recovery to run the event at all in the circumstances, but top tip for next time, communicate to your runners.
Alas, I think many who went to this 10k will hesitate before booking again. Personally, I’d never say never, because I loved the Peak District event last year, and it is hilarious taking it on with a team, plus the forest location was gorgeous. Benefit of the doubt can only stretch so far so we’ll see, jury out. I’d like to think they’ll come back stronger, fitter, better, but then again, that’s what I was hoping for by way of transformation in my own weight and fitness levels between the last event and this one, didn’t happen, not really. Maybe the event team is made of stronger stuff than me. Not hard to be fair… Keep scanning the horizon for a phoenix flying.
Back to the logistics of the day. Suddenly tired and cold I hobbled back to the car park where my buddy had cleverly parked up her horse box. Always handy to have a friend with a horse box on these occasions! Possibly even better than one of those capes. This meant I could change in the privacy of her support vehicle, which, whilst not quite a superstar’s Winnebago or celebrity trailer, was a pretty good approximation. Also, she had a really yummy orange and date bar, so free food as well. I can’t recall quite what I brought to the metaphorical party by way of exchange – can I get away with being team scribe? Providing witness and testimony to history? It’s my best offer to be honest, so will have to do. Will try harder next time. Meantime, note to self, having a support vehicle on hand should be mandatory for all future races and/or events, it is a fabulous accessory. It was a bit of a faff changing but I’m glad I did, wet knickers for the drive home is never a good idea. Take my word for it, please, just do.
Waved farewell, and on my way. Easy drive back, just nipping into Tesco metro on the way home for some post run eating options (Quorn vegetarian shepherd’s pie, lazy choice but I enjoyed it). By the time I headed into there I’d sort of forgotten about my face paint. Nothing was said, but I did notice I’d rather caught the eye of the cashier – turns out I haven’t ‘still got it/ ever had it‘ after all. I just looked weird, not only because of the fluorescent paint, but also because of the extensive pervasive presence of mud in orifices, on body and in hair. Oh well. They must have seen it all in a 24 hour metro, onesies and everything.
Just one thing left to do before post run bath. Final selfie with medal. Get me and my bling. Be inspired. I think my selfies are improving, I am associating with long armed experts more these days, this has helped me evolve my art.
Endurer Dash Sherwood Pines March 2016, Done. Same time next year?
It was nice to run in a new place though – maybe I’ll make more of an effort to do some proactive parkrun tourism, there are some lovely running venues out there. I could run more and run free and for free.
To finish on a positive note, once some of the photographs started to appear online – of others taking part, not just our own team, the glitches on the day were soon forgotten. The event is re-framed with excited nostalgia, animated retelling of the adventures we’d had. After all, no experience in life is ever wasted if you can subsequently re-tell it as an amusing anecdote. Plus my team is awesome, my team were ninjas. Ergo, I am awesome, I am ninja too!
What was it I said at the outset? One day we will look back on this and laugh? Reader, I surely did! Laugh? Thought my knickers would never dry, which is why my top tip for anyone contemplating undertaking this or similar events in future is that you should always bring a change of underwear with you. Always.
’til next time happy running, wherever it may take you.
*deep, dark, deathlike solitude* – niche reference for Bare and Ragged Theatre Leamington Spa/ Frankenstein fans. Hope you enjoy it, don’t have nightmares.