Finally got around to writing about the recent Dirty Weekend. Not, not that kind of dirty weekend (tsk), this was the Rat Race Dirty Weekend event at Burleigh House in Stamford earlier this month.
20 miles, 200 obstacles. They claim it’s the ‘world’s biggest obstacle course’ and invite people to come and show whether they’re hard enough (similar to that other type of dirty weekend really). I’d heard about this event a couple of years ago when Vic B had suggested we do it (I think we’d not long done the Wolf Run). I think I remember telling her she was a twat and to sod off, like how the hell could I run 20 miles, let alone with 200 obstacles. So, it was with bemusement that I found myself standing in the starting pen for that very race this year, asking myself not for the first time, what the hell I was doing.
When I took someone’s ticket in about October last year it was far enough away to promptly forget all about it. Back then, it sounded like a fun weekend that loads of people from BMF were off to and I’d get FOMO. I basically just wanted to join in the after party really, but I know I’d also not be able to stand by and watch everyone else go running. And besides, I do actually really love throwing myself into mud and over walls. No really, I do. When I used to watch the Krypton Factor as a kid, I’d always want to do the obstacle course. That and the film where you’d have to look out for difference and stuff. Observation round – that was it! Sod the shape sorting thing, get me outside. Me and my brother made various obstacles when we were younger but never a whole course. Think we ran out of spare wood.
Anyway, winter skipped along. Christmas came and went. I went on holiday. Spring started. Work project went live. Easter brought chocolate. My birthday happened. Then, all of a sudden, that weekend was a week away. I think all of us from BMF who were doing it collectively thought “Fuck!”. It crept up, the sneaky little bastard. So, with training consisting of runs when I could, hikes, hitting gym classes and trying to BMF the shit out of the week I was as prepared as I could have been.
First things first, this is not just an obstacle race, this is a weekend. Friday to Sunday with pre-parties and after parties and everything in between. It’s brilliantly organised from start to finish, so hats off to Rat Race for making everything run like clockwork (or at least seem like it). From the booking process online all through the email comms, then parking, registration, facilities, race and marshalls, finish, after party and clear up, it was top notch.
I’m not going to go through everything because that would a) take AGES and b) probably be dull for you. So let’s try and keep it in a . The dirty weekend started on Friday with a ROAD TRIP. Everyone knows a road trip has to involve SHOTGUN and the worlds ROAD TRIP in capitals. We did this with Adam being a sore loser about shotgun, Sian slating my music choices, me trying (and failing) to work Ben’s SD card media thingy and Ben just trying to make sure he’s going the right way.
Arriving in good time (but still later than we’d thought) we parked up and skipped off like four eager beavers to find registration and the campsite, only to realise how fucking far away the car park was. For people that were planning on running 20 miles the next day this seemed unnecessary energy wastage. We got through registration,
felt sick marvelled at the last obstacle (5 shipping containers high) and found the BMF campsite at near full capacity. So with some fence manoeuvring we claimed our corner patch with the same triumph as I imagined Christopher Columbus felt when discovering America.
Most of us had our tents up before Adam had even got his pole out so had time to figure out where all the most important facilities (toilets, showers, bar, waffle truck) were. Elena arrived hoping to smash the record for the smallest tent in the world and actually smashed the quickest tent erection record. We never did try the ‘most people in the smallest tent in the world record’. Next time. Next to the smallest tent was the Mansion Tent, still put up before Adam had finished whatever he was faffing around with. Surprisingly, Bev was not on the cider at this point, preferring to abstain, but we made up for her and had a good luck beverage. Not as many as the Dutch Mud Men and Mudstacle groups though, who presumably had read a study about how getting smashed and staying up late (and being LOUD) the day before a 20 mile ocr is excellent preparation. I’m not sure my body could handle that amount of preparation.
Race morning comes, and we had to get up at something like 6am for our start at some time around 8. I never actually knew what exact time we were starting, instead choosing to do what I normally do at BMF and rely on someone else to know what is going on. It was an exciting morning for me, as I got to try out my new Trangia mini camping stove for the first time to cook my porridge. This was important as this is the stove I’m planning on using if (when) I go on a bike adventure, and needed to test out whether I could work it without setting fire to myself, my tent or someone else. Test passed, hurrah!
Lucy brought out the camo paint for the obligatory BMF stripes. Harry, founder of BMF gave us words of encouragement (and a t-shirt). Ibuprofen taken, snacks prepared and various body parts were strapped and taped up. Sian’s head was not complete without the camo buff and Toby got into the beo-uff spirit by making his into horns. Pre-race joviality amongst the slight nervousness (yes, Adam actually admitted he was nervous, but shhh, don’t tell anyone). For anyone who doesn’t know, these races have ‘waves’ where a certain amount of people start the race at the same time. This mean that we are all herded into pens where we all wait, the air tight with anticipation and impatience. There was a pre-race warm up where there is a extremely attractive BMF instructor; which distracts the nerves of most of the women for a short while. And then all of a sudden, there’s some incomprehensible words shouted into a microphone! Some music! A countdown! Air horn! Flares! AND WE’RE OFF! Reach and jump to touch the inflatable start line. Why? Because. That’s. What. You. Do. Running! Into a throng of people, flare smoke, cheering, spectators. And so it begins. “Do not think about it’s 20 miles. Do not think about how tired you are already. Do not think about how little sleep you have had.” says the little voice.
And so you don’t. Not for a while anyway, you try and keep up with the rest of your group and have a laugh jogging, climbing, jumping, crawling and admiring the views. Helping your friends and making sure everyone is through each bit. Making sure Bev is OK when she hits her back and head on a trampette after slipping. Congratulating Elena when she jumps off the top bit of the water jump (it was bloody high, involuntary scream-type high). Cheering Rich on for going on the monkey bars over the water while having a bit of a boogie to the singer. Being helped onto the water platforms by Toby, and helping him through the tyre birth canal. Jogging with Linda on the long stretches and all having a laugh at the food stops, especially the one with crisps where we were all shovelling them in like we’d not eaten for weeks (believe me, the 6am breakfast was a long time ago by that point). We had a combination of serious running, clambering and jumping and then a bit of dicking about. Toby and I enjoyed a gentle float and splash about in the reservoir (while Elena and a friendly chap from Belgium made sure Bev got safely across). I enjoyed doing somersaults over the bars in the forest pretending I was 8 again.
Mile markers were measured against Bev’s garmin, and each time it came out different, but at least it gave us something to talk about and distract from the fact that we were still only at 3 miles. We were carrying a BMF flag, that became as precious to us as a newborn baby, cradled and carried the whole 20 miles (although you probably wouldn’t throw a newborn baby over some of the obstacles like we did).
The weather was pretty fab too. Because YES, weather is important. Not too hot, but warm enough that you didn’t get hypothermia as soon as you hit any water. Sunny enough for strange tan marks and that “been outside all day” look. This also helps conversation afterwards when you’re running out of things to say because you’re tired or drunk and so can just point to body parts instead, and that person knows exactly what you mean.
Elena and I ended up splitting from the rest of our group at some point. Not sure exactly where, but it was before the 13 mile mark, as this was the point you could finish at a half, or carry on for the full 20. There was no question what we would do, but this point was marked with some weirdly shaped box things to clamber over. I tried one but had run out of a energy as it was just before a food stop, so I ended up being pulled up in a most ungracious fashion by one arm and one leg by some Dutch bloke. I ended up sprawled out on the top shouting “thank you” while him and his girlfriend shouted “no problem”, already leaping over the next one like gazelles. The Dutch preparation was clearly working well.
Elena and I made our way over the next 7 miles getting to know each other a bit more, chatting to strangers and realising our previous lives had more in common than we thought, like a secret club no one actually wants to be a part of. Before we knew it, we were on the last mile! That 19 mile marker got a whoop-whoop. We arrived smiling at an obstacle where the incredibly enthusiastic marshall told us there was only one more obstacle to go. Hurrah we thought! But no! That cheery-faced cherub WAS LYING. There was at least 3 or 4. With some last surges of energy (and a rather painful mishap where I fell off one of the obstacles and slid down the wooden battens and onto the floor on my back like a comedy sketch) we emerged down the final straight, running head first into The 5-Storied Beast. That final wall/cargo net/slide. We looked at each other! We could do it! Off we shot, like rockets (as fast as rockets go that have already been let off 20 miles previous), reaching the top like triumphant adventurers. I imagine it was rather the same feeling as Roald Amundsen must have had when he was the first man to reach the South Pole.
Stopping for a quick photo shoot and look around, we threw ourselves down the last water slide with more gusto than you’d expect of people that had just ran 20 miles. Easy to do when you know you’re nearly done.
And that was it. We’d done it. YAY!
A more civilised photo shoot later, with medals is the requisite proof that the event was actually completed, in case you wake up and think it’s all a dream.
Race done, first up was a quick chat with the guys who’d already finished, but most importantly it was then time for a shower. This simple daily task that most people take for granted suddenly takes on the same importance scale of what you’re going to name your first born. It’s one of the Best. Feelings. Ever. Especially if it’s warm.
Then, all dry and cosy (especially if you have a DryRobe) it’s time for food and BEER (or just beer, but I wouldn’t recommend this – see below) and a chat with fellow
survivors team mates about all the best bits, how great it was, who fell off what, who completed what and any funny bits along the way. All this while also shouting congratulations to all the people coming in, looking weary and muddy and tired but deliriously happy. Probably at the thought of beer and that they don’t have to climb over another bit of wood (for at least a few hours until they get drunk and forget there’s an entrance to the campsite).
Then, the party extends to other groups of people (either the wider BMF group or Sian and I infiltrating Mudstacle). Then the Party becomes the Official After Party where we head to a big tent to drink more drink, dance like mad loons (because we are all surprised our legs still work, and feel the need to show this with various high-knee type dancing, facilitated by the Reverend telling us to “fookin bounce”) until it gets late and we are thrown out of the Big Tent and we head back to the campsite where it’s like the race is actually a weird futuristic society-controlling drug that has put everyone into a coma by 12pm.
And so we wake on the Sunday morning, bleary eyed and weary but triumphant, each one remembering what we have achieved, both as individuals and as a team, proud as punch.
We move slowly to pack up, both to enjoy the sunshine some more and also because of stiff legs and sore heads. And after hugs and fond farewells, the road trip back home begins. It is no longer in capitals. There is no shouting of shotgun, just a slightly subdued journey (me with my head out the window but that’s more because of the amount of beer imbibed). The sense of achievement does not need to be spoken about (mainly because speaking takes effort) but is known amongst us all, waiting to be taken home to be shared with loved ones.
As a post on Facebook says [something like] “This was not just an obstacle race. This was a Dirty Weekend”.
As this is a kind of review (it’s not really, but nevermind), here’s a few handy tips for if you’re thinking of doing it next year:
- There are plenty of snacks at the food/drink stops so there’s really not much need to carry extra with you, especially in a running bumbag which either cuts you in half or bulks up underneath a t-shirt making you either look odd or pregnant in photos. It is NOT flattering, although this could just be me. I have yet to find ANY race photos I’d actually confess they were me. Maybe carry gels if you like them, they can be stuck down socks/pants/bras/arse cracks. Apparently. I’ve not tried them but I have tried similar ‘sports’ bar type things when doing London to Paris which well, let’s just say, it wasn’t good. I’ll stick to the bananas.
- The camping is miles away from the car park. Take a wheeled contraption to take over the million and one things you will need for camping. Prepare to completely forget where you park your car, even if it’s right near the front gate.
- Stick with your mates or find someone who is interesting for at least the second half. Towards the end you will need someone to talk to to distract you from the countdown of miles (“seriously, how is it STILL only 17 miles?”) and hallucinations of beer you get from about mile 15 (“mmmm is that beer? Oh, no, it’s a rabbit.”).
- DO NOT forget ibuprofen. It’s useful for EVERYTHING.
- Eat something after you finish, preferably with protein and carbs. The temptation to just hit the beer is overwhelming and WILL result in a massive crash in the days afterwards. I have tried and tested this many times, so take my word for it. These kind of events take so much more out of your body than you realise, even if you feel OK. Be kind to your bod and give it some TLC after, it’s the only one you get (unless your shares in cloning or human robots come to fruition at some point in the future).
- But DO take more booze than you think you’ll need. There is a somewhat frivolous atmosphere requiring a high level of celebration.
- DO speak to as many random strangers as you can. They are interesting and funny and make for a fully rounded experience. Hug them if you can, especially if they are foreign and don’t understand you. They WILL love it.
- Go for a shower as soon as you can after you finish. That shower will feel amazing and having a beer knowing that you’re not sitting with mud up your arse is pretty special.
- Take lots of pictures but don’t forget to stop and look around and up every once in a while. Remember the smiles and look of satisfaction on the faces of the people around you, the constant positive energy of the marshalls, the bright lights of a party done well and the stars in the sky once it’s all over and the world is quiet.
Don’t just take my word for it, oh no. Watch Ben’s most awesome gopro video of the weekend here. It’s bloody AWESOME, has great music and just sums up the whole weekend.
All this is more than just running around outside and getting muddy. It’s about trying something new and pushing yourself. It’s about facing fears and doing it anyway. It’s about seeing what your body is capable of. It’s about doing something different with your weekend and not watching the world through someone else’s screen. It’s about maxing the shit out of life, if this is your idea of fun. But most of all, it’s about the people you do it with. The people that help you over that fence, old friends, new friends or strangers. The people that help you on that water jump. The people that keep you going when you think you’re fading. Being part of a team, a collective. The people that make you laugh. The people that share their prosecco or big tub of rice. The people that you make memories with.
That’s what BMF is so great at. It provides you a ready made team, a set of buddies to do crazy shit like this with. Full of friends from the off, whichever park you’re at.
Give it a go, what you got to lose?