Ignorance can be bliss, it can also be no excuse and get you into a lot of trouble. Believe me, I speak with some authority based on recent personal experience. In this instance it probably gave me the naïve confidence to tackle something that I wouldn’t have attempted if I’d actually looked into it a bit more carefully. To be specific, the 8km Endurer Dash held in the Peak District this September.
For those of you that have no idea what this event is, like me before hand. I now know it to be basically an off-road obstacle course, over a fixed distance. In this case, the ‘fixed distance’ was allegedly 8km, but at the start line the officially cheerily said it was actually 9.6km (don’t know if that was an attempt at humour, or a serious disclosure) oh well, what’s a couple of km between friends. I’m a really slow runner, but I like the scenic trail routes, and I regularly do 5km at Parkrun, so I picked up on the off-trail bit, and the 8km bit and thought that sounded basically doable. A good friend of mine announced she’d be doing it as part of team and I was welcome to join, ‘the more the merrier’ and so that was it I was in. Signed up to join the Magnificent ‘Marshall’s Mudders’ baulked a bit at the cost of the event (most expensive I’ve ever entered to date topping £40 with my entry late and the mysterious ‘administration fee’), but, hey I was in.
I am not entirely stupid, so whilst granted, it never really occurred to me to do any training as such (well, I’d only signed up in the last week, so really I figured all I could usefully do at this point was taper and carb up), I did turn to google in search of some pre-event insights. I found reference to a comment from someone, somewhere, who had done the Endurer Dash last year. ‘Brilliant, this will help me know what to expect!‘ I thought as with gay abandon I disregarded my anti virus ‘whooooaa, are you sure you want to go there?‘ warning in order to access their words of wisdom. (On reflection, the warning may have referred to the event itself, rather than the website, but hey-ho, we live and learn, or not, obviously).
Yep, this was relevant, it was a woman talking who hadn’t done much in the way of similar events before. Someone I could relate to, what could be more perfect? Unfortunately, rather than finding upbeat, gung ho encouragement, I instead found a candid admission from the author that she’d spent the entirety of last year’s event crying and using a variety of colourful expletives to tell her team mates to ‘go away’. I did not read on. I wondered if I ought to share this revelation with others. I thought the better of it, mostly.
So it was that the day dawned, and I drove through gorgeous countryside on a glorious sunny day. I felt pretty optimistic heading out. On arrival though, things started to unravel somewhat. Parking was on a muddy slope in a field. For my £2 I was waved to the first of many inclines of the day. My poor little car (16 year old Fiesta) phutted and tutted just trying to manoeuvre into position. A rather more expensive car started spewing thick black smoke as it tried to reverse up the bank on long wet grass. I then had a growing awful knotted feeling in my stomach as it dawned on me that I didn’t really know what it was I’d signed up to, let alone anything about my team mates. The majority I’d never even met, and I suddenly felt horribly inadequate. I was out of breath just walking up the hill to the registration point, and as I did so various obstacles started coming into view. These weren’t ‘obstacles’ in the cheery apple-bobbing, egg-and-spoon race sense, more ‘obstacles’ in the army assault course assessment what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger regime sense. Oh dear. I’d thought a sense of humour and a bit of feistiness would serve to get me round, now I was having to concede it would take rather more than that to get beyond the first few hundred metres with my weary carcass and already depleted morale…
Mercifully, I soon bumped into a familiar face! The local fitness instructor who had enthused enough of her bootcamp attendees to sign up to marshal a team. I’d only met her the week before, going along to one of her hybrid exercise/dance classes by way of introduction, but she spotted me and quickly introduced me to the fellow team mates. We were quite a motley gang, but all were friendly, positive, laughing (albeit nervously) and welcoming. Granted, I raised the average age of the participants quite considerably, but they reciprocated by raising me (literally) around the course when the time came. We were a fabulous team, I feel I struck gold, together we were invincible. We definitely bonded on the way round, strength through adversity perhaps, but who cares. All I know for sure is there is no way on earth I’d have made it round on my own, but as it was, we all did every obstacle, pretty impressive eh? I’m not going to claim that each obstacle was negotiated with any degree of dignity, but they were all successfully negotiated! Here’s how…
So, the ‘race’ began, donned with face paint, and sticking together off we went. Quickly we were in wooded areas, plunging through streams, up river beds, scrambling up steep banks and navigating tree roots. It wasn’t a fast run, to be honest ‘proper’ runners might be frustrated because it was inevitably very stop start all the way around. You do have to wait at obstacles as others negotiate them, and then of course if you are sticking with your team it takes a while to get say 10 people over each one. That stop/ start suits me, no getting left behind or out of breath. Initially I thought it was pretty straight forwards, off road terrain, splashing through water but nothing too nightmare inducing… but quite soon we hit the first obstacle and it all changed from there. Basically, it’s a huge wooden wall. I’d imagined there would be foot or hand holds to help you get over. How foolishly optimistic… I opted to go first, because I couldn’t bear the thought of watching other faster fitter team mates being splattered before me. Very bad for morale. I was really lucky, because a couple of our team had done this race before and knew what to expect, they quickly got into position, encouraged me to step into their hands, then clamber onto their shoulders and finally hoik myself over. It worked! A. Maz. Ing! Jumping down the other side was a bit scary, it was a long drop, and I was worried about twisting an ankle or worse, but the euphoria of having negotiated the first obstacle was so great the adrenalin surged and I felt (temporarily ) invincible!
What I learned from this first obstacle, is quite a lot. To get over an obstacle, you have to first get over yourself. There will be no dignity, but you can prevail. I also had to get over my initial apprehension about breaching social niceties. I don’t consider myself to be particularly socially accomplished or well versed in etiquette, but I know that (as well as not talking with your mouth full) you shouldn’t really scramble over people’s faces and smear them with the contents of a slurry pit on first acquaintance. Now I don’t know about the ‘not talking with your mouth full’ rule, that might be a social faux pas too far, but it seems that despite my initial protestations that I couldn’t possibly clamber all over my team mates for fear of injuring them, I quite quickly moved into a position where I was quite happy to kick them in the face, smother them with excess mud, or stomp on their shoulders if that was what was needed to get me round. Sacrifices had to be made, and I was happy enough to let others make those sacrifices on my behalf, I suppose that’s just the kind of committed team player I am. Idid have brief moments of guilt, but they passed. I took the precaution of not asking about injuries or bruises the next day. Sometimes, it’s best not to know (see reference to ‘ignorance is bliss’ above).
This sort of set the pattern really. There were some obstacles that just required you to grit your teeth and take the plunge (literally and metaphorically) see river crossing and mud/slurry bath. The water was pretty deep at one point. Our nominated team member who volunteered to leap in first, literally plunged completely out of sight when she jumped as it turned out that she was considerably out of her depth. Watching her disappear below the surface of the murky water I did wonder if I was supposed to jump in and rescue her, or whether I’d get away with denying ever having seen her go in if it went to an inquest – it was quite a relief when she surfaced – cold and spluttering expletives, but definitely very much alive. Personally I went for the unceremonious but more cautious climb in. The shock of the cold water was still pretty great, but I managed the miracle of crossing the water without getting my hair wet. Is thatnot incredibly impressive!
There were quite a few more obstacles along the way, that required you to surrender to the support of others. The monkey bars were a case in point. I don’t really have any upper body strength at all, and couldn’t even find the strength to hang on them, let alone progress across with a confident primate swing. Top Tip, smile sweetly at the attending marshal. Generally speaking I am in independent woman who likes to do things by herself. However, needs must. On the day a marshal basically offered to hold me round the legs whilst I approximated moving across the monkey bars whilst he walked forward below carrying my complete weight. I didn’t even break into a sweat, way easier than trying to do it ‘properly’ all by yourself. Then there were the majority of obstacles where I just accepted that my best strategy was to adopt the role of an inanimate, and only marginally sentient object, and allow my team members to get me round much as if I was a log that they had to manoeuvre and heave around with them as part of the challenge. Yes, it’s true, not much dignity, but really, it did work. No tears were shed, and we all got around. Yay!
More posing en route at the Endurer Dash
Team work in action, this is what it takes to get someone over..
The final two obstacles were the straw bales – easy peasy and them the slide, which was basically whooping through suds on a plastic sheet with gravity spinning you towards the finish. It was FAB! The last obstacle did though leave you with a rather unsettling frothy residue that was not only noticeable in all the runners as we hastened to the finish, but persisted despite many attempts to hose myself down at the end. These were suds that could seek out personal orifices in a way I previously thought was only achievable by grains of sand. Yet another example of how this dashing experience was quite an education!
A rare find – smiling mid run, must be because the end is in sight, literally!
We all made it, how awesome is that. I can honestly say I was sad when we got to the finish! (You can see what I mean about the suds though, can’t you?)
So my top tips for surviving and even thriving at the Endurer Dash?
- Get yourself a good team – and learn to trust them fast
- Get over yourself, and you are more likely to get over the obstacles
- Keep your sense of humour with you, and leave any sense of dignity behind
- Some people try training in advance, that strategy could work, but I saygo with plenty of ‘what the hell’ feistiness and chances are you’ll still get around
- Wear gloves
- Embrace the joy of doing it badly, who cares about times, its completion not competition that counts on the day
- and for next time – get yourself a team Haka worked out in advance, that was my only regret, still, there is always next year is there not…
Years ago I used to share a flat with a good friend, sometimes in our youth we would find ourselves of a weekend night at studenty parties, or weird social occasions that were full of embarrassment, angst and uncertainty. The following day would always involve a bleary-eyed, hung-over post-mortem as we struggled to make sense of what had passed the night before. We always reached the same conclusion ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it!‘ So it is it seems with running races, you don’t want to risk missing out, it might be fun, it will certainly be an adventure, and worst case scenario you get to carb up with an easy conscience the night before and maybe a good story out of it by the end. What could possibly go wrong?*
Just do it – what have you got to lose? If you don’t enter you’ll never know
*FYI – things that could go wrong are quite a lot actually, best not read the events disclaimer too carefully, it will only depress and scare you.
This blog was used with the permission of the author - Lucy Marris, If you enjoyed it, please check out some of her other race blogs here.