Mud runs have become extremely popular over the last few years thanks to the British Special Forces creating exhilarating obstacles seen in such events as ‘Tough Mudder’, ‘Spartan Race’ and ‘Rat Race Dirty Weekend’. However, it now seems that lots of new events are jumping on this ‘mud’ run band wagon and making a lot of runners very muddy and very wet at a much cheaper alternative!
Having personally experienced and completed a Tough Mudder event last year, I was especially intrigued when I came across a chance to do Hell Runner – A 10-12 mile course of challenging off-road running. I knew that with the recent weather and storms that this race would be exceptionally testing and I couldn’t wait for the challenge!
Now when I talk about off-road trail running I mean running on any imaginable ground you can think of, this makes it a great way to enhance our aerobic and anaerobic endurance whilst offering a valuable testing and adrenaline-charged conquest for all fitness levels. For those of you that are used to trail running then Hell Runner is an absolutely superb test and is by far the hardest off-road running race I have encountered up to date. Not only does it offer amazingly steep hills but these hills will seem like they go on forever and when you think you have time to catch your breath, another hill will be just right around the bend waiting for you to attempt to crawl up. Additional to the joyful hills of mud, sand and rocks, Hell Runner offers some tormenting and for some, horrifically freezing cold water lakes, to swim through – with names such as the ‘Bog of Doom’ runners can exceed to being very startled with the upcoming fear of the unknown miles ahead of them.
Driving to the course – Hell Runner South Longmoor Camp in Hampshire – my stomach was without doubt twisting and turning and creating knots to fuel that anxiety that every new runner experienced. Arriving at the event and striping down to only a few layers in the cold, rainy and blustery morning of which was full of alarmed looking individuals making their way down to the start line, myself and my fellow frightful but eager team mates were raring to go! We managed to get right to the front for the second wave of runners, and at this point we were trying ever so hard to keep heated and equally warm ourselves up for what seemed like an unknowingly fearful course up ahead. 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1! And the gun went and we were off! Off on a fear-provoking and heart pumping race!
300 Yards in and we find our comfortable pace, which equally was banished 1 minute from after setting off. As we face our first hill and look up peering towards the murky, thick and grim looking splurge of mud running down through the forest of bushes and trees, we step up the pace and push uphill whilst starting to feel breathless and overcome with the realisation of the next 11 or so miles are going to be sheer ‘hell’.
Five minutes in and we have already past three mud soaked hills, jumped over several water filled crossings and leaped into what our legs can only perceive as harshly and bitterly cold water. Regardless of the gruelling hills, stress on our muscles and intensified strain on our cardiovascular system, myself and my team mates were loving every second and couldn’t wait for such obstacles as the ‘Famed Hills of Hell’ and the most anticipated one of them all: ‘The Bog of Doom’.
The anxiety hit us 5 miles in with the startling realisation of knowing we were not even half way through and already 50 minutes into the race, we had a figure of 2 hours in our sight, but weren’t prepared for the upcoming struggle we were soon to face.
As the ground got increasing slippery and the weather turning darker, we knew we had to step up a gear and press on further to reach a decent time and to effectively finish the course! The hills were steep and dangerous, we knew we had to keep the pace up and not give in to the eagerly soul crushing hills of hell. Our legs felt heavy, our lungs felt crushed and we were all continuously breathless, but without given in we made it up every hill and down every mud slide that tackled us.
8 miles in of treacherous hills, squelchy sand slides and marshy mud tracks, we reach the illuminous sight of the anxiously awaiting ‘Bog of Doom’. Numerous petrified looking runners were making their way into the freezing, unkind and mud trenched water that was exceeding over their head heights; which could only mean one thing for us to overcome this frightening obstacle we had to go for the plunge and swim through the ~200 yard chilled lake. As we crept in towards the water line slowly and agitatedly, we look at one another with the startling realisation that this was by far the coldest water we had ever been surrounded by. The sheer fear amidst my fellow team mate’s face said it all, pupils fixed and dilated and an emotion that could only be perceived as terrified. Her body was rigid and near to being increasingly ossified with every further step she took into the deep, dark, murky looking brown lake. The second we submerged ourselves under this icy lake, our hearts felt like that had frozen still and we were all struggling to catch our breath. The panic mode that the body goes into felt like we were immobilised and powerless to the shock that we had just received from the ghastly cold water. I had experienced this once before in an obstacle called ‘Artic Enema’ within the Tough Mudder event I completed 6 months prior to this, I knew I had to calm down my body and take deep breathes in and slow breathes out to be able to compose myself enough just to physically swim a few hundred yards. I looked at my fellow team mates and tried to give them the encouragement that I recognised they needed; I then swam a few strokes ahead to give them the confidence of myself being able to move freely and be okay – admittedly I too was panicking – but I knew if I had shown fear I wouldn’t have helped my team mates to successfully achieve this obstacle that had stunned us all. Reaching the end of the bitterly cold lake that had undoubtedly thrown us, we felt almost empowered to continue and strive through; so we pressed on forward knowing now nothing can surprise us.
We surged on towards the next joyful looking hill and knew we had to step up our pace in order to keep warm now that we were totally soaked from head to toe. Running up the steep, stern hills we started to really enjoy every obstacle, every trail block and every twist and turn that we needed to conquer to enable us to reach the finish line. Every hill that confronted us gave us the immense mission of being able to get safely down to the bottom; sliding down on our feet and hands was the only option at times in which made all of us feel like we were children again. It was brilliant to be able to have a laugh along with completing the course to a high standard and it made every struggle, every pain and every second that we were frozen, worth it.
The end was in sight and as we reached the last water station (of which was also a jelly bean stop!) we were told that it was only 2 km till the finish line! We stepped up the pace and the adrenaline started to really kick with the knowing of being so close to finishing, getting warm and having that amazing feeling of relief and happiness of achieving the goal. Dodging what seemed to be endless amounts of immensely vast puddles, dicey sand dunes and risky forestry; we felt exhilarated and began the 800 metre final stretch towards that winning finishing line.
“The finish will bring redemption … but only to successful Hell Runners” – and redemption it brought! We found ourselves sprinting the last few hundred yards and nothing could take away our elated and relieved smiles planted across our faces. We crossed over the finishing line, soaking wet, bitterly cold, exhausted and aching, but nothing could take away what we had just achieved and nothing not even being freezing cold mattered. What mattered was the fact that we were all successful and over the moon in accomplishing the Hell Runner course. Ecstatic and reassured, we had an absolute blast and the first thought that entered everyone’s mind was ‘When can we do another trail running event?’ We loved it – loathed it at times – but nevertheless we achieved a good time of 2hours and 10 minutes and above all found the passion for trail running!
Stay tuned for future trail running training blogs!
Written by Hayley Madigan
Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyMadigan