Way back when (the previous century!), I took part in a race that involved some rather extreme cross-country running and culminated in a giant assault course. I’d already developed a taste for multi-terrain / trail races and adding the element of obstacles was quite a novelty to me.
Such events are much more common these days and, for one such local event – the Devil Mud Run, near Prescott – volunteers were being sought to hose down muddy finishers, with the promise of a complimentary entry to the race itself. Held twice a year (March and September) and being run on both the Saturday and Sunday, this event takes in approximately 9k of undulations, mud, obstacles, mud, challenges and more mud.
I had entered the Worcester 10k, and had been looking forward to it before a (minor) injury dictated that I would not be able to go at full tilt, so to speak. The Devil Mud Run was held on the same weekend: I decided to help out with the hosing on Saturday and keep my options open for the Sunday.
By the time the weekend came I had opted for the Mud Run – pace would not be a factor! I spent much of Saturday’s event going to and fro refilling the reservoirs for the portable pressure hoses in a desperate attempt to keep supply up with demand – little did I know that all that lugging to and fro would serve as good practice for what was to come. Being there also gave me the opportunity to preview at least a part of the course.
Sunday came and I turned up actually quite looking forward to the event. There was no pressure, no time to aim for – just make the best of the mud and obstacles to come. The runners were being gathered and sent off in 15-minute waves, largely to minimise any congestion. My wave was called forward and we were given a safety briefing (having already signed a disclaimer to the effect that, if you are stupid enough to give this a go, don’t come crying to us if you hurt yourself).
Following that we entered the starting pen to take part in a ten-minute warm-up. This was briefly interrupted by the passing of a steam train adjacent to the venue, so we could give the train a wave and receive a couple of good luck toots in return. We resumed the warm up, which culminated in lying on one’s front and counting down to the off.
We had a gentle introduction to the route; a couple of hay-bale hurdles to vault before stepping across tyres and climbing over a tractor-tyre wall (which would double up as a tunnel near the finish). After that we started climbing, negotiating another vaulting-type obstacle on the way up.
I’d opted for a very steady pace to start with but found myself jogging past several who had chosen to walk. Was I not being sensible, despite a slow pace? I know it’s a tough course but it’s just 9k. I decided to just continue in my own way and, should I suffer for it later on, so be it. In that manner I continued to jog uphill and towards out first ‘obstacle’ – a knee-deep wade through some very gloopy mud.
Climbing out of that we encountered a very steep, and rather slippery! – climb. This was scaled with a combination of grabbing nearby tree trunks, branches, other undergrowth or helping hands. This is an event that brings out a sense of togetherness; everyone helping each other out where necessary.
We snaked our way through some woodland, coming out to scale a tyre wall and stagger / crawl our way across a tyre pit before we were invited to go down a water slide where a nice muddy pool was waiting at the end. Splashing into, and climbing out of, that we climbed to the first of the water stations where I took the opportunity to swill out my mouth (having collected some of the dirty water) and have my eyes wet-wiped (for the same reason!).
Continuing on, and following a nice muddy belly-crawl section, we came across a pallet of bricks with a marshal explaining that we had to carry two of these around a loop that zig-zagged up and down a hill before returning them to the pallet. Sounded pretty straightforward; I should have realised that this was simply a prelude for what was to come. Dropping off the bricks I carried on – upwards again!
Several undulations and a couple of vaulting fences, a tyre carry around a down-and-up loop, a few hay-bale climbs / jumps / crawls, and a further belly-crawl later, we scaled a cargo-netted A-frame, looped through a rather muddy wood section, ploughed our way through a foam pit and found ourselves queuing for another slide – this one more mud then water.
Most people were sliding down on their backsides. I elected to go for a belly-down-front-first approach. It was a slow start; I was having to pull myself along before natural momentum took over. Before long the angle of descent increased, and my rate of descent with it! Wet mud was spraying up in front of me and I was struggling to see where I was going. As a consequence, it was without warning that I hit a pool of gloop, face first, and almost cartwheeled as I did so.
Standing up I, was unable to see – just a wall of brown. Furiously trying to blink the mud away I staggered out of the gloop and tried to get my bearings. Seeing runners heading into another section of woodland, I followed, still blinking away what I could. In a fog (at least, no longer a wall) of brown I scaled another climbing fence and zig-zagged my way over some uneven terrain, climbing over or ducking under fallen trees. A set of monkey bars made a mockery of the gloves I’d chosen to wear; with so much mud absorbed, I had no grip and simply slid off the bars time and time again. Big fail.
Another wade through gloopy mud, loop around a field with a narrow ditch to negotiate, a few climbing fences and the finish was suddenly in sight. We still had more fun ahead though. This started with a series of tyre obstacles, stepping over and crawling under alternately. With the ground under the ‘crawling’ obstacles worn down one could simply throw oneself forward and belly-slide under.
Crossing another muddy ditch (and pulling oneself up a slippery exit), we took on the baggage challenge. Simply, pick up two of the heavy (and unsurprisingly muddy) bags patiently waiting on a pallet, and carry them up and down a short hill. Having carried water reservoirs for pressure washers to and fro yesterday this was one challenge that I was actually able to manage pretty reasonably!
Bags deposited, I fought my way through a tunnel which was criss-crossed with bungee cord before taking on the final challenge: pulling a tractor tyre, on a rope up a slope. Just what you need with tired arms. Once you have managed that you do have to return the tyre before you take on the final 200 metres or so, which include an A-frame and crawl through the tractor-tyre tunnel that we had climbed over, in such happy naivety, at the start of this adventure.
One more hay-bale obstacle (climbing, dropping, crawling, climbing again…) was negotiated before I climbed up to cross a cargo net and ring the bell to signal that the finish is just ahead! Just two pools to wade through – probably designed to clean you off a little but, by the time several hundred bodies have already been through, they more closely resembled the gloop we have already encountered.
I managed to catch my foot on something under the ‘water’ and stumble, for the benefit of a camera operator by the finish line, before climbing out and finally completing the course. I had to wipe the screen of my watch to check that I had indeed stopped it, before collecting a goody bag and medal (t-shirt is to follow in the post, after the organisers were let down by suppliers at the last minute) and having a hose-down courtesy of the pressure washers I had been operating the day before.
I’m not sure I’ve had quite so much fun in one morning for a while! But the fun was not over. Having stripped out of my muddy attire (replacing it with dry clothing, I’ll hasten to add) and headed home, I became aware that my one eye had become quite irritated. I still had some mud lodged and needed to have the eyeball flushed and a (temporary) patch applied – which compromised my plans for a lazy afternoon watching the sports!