Race Report: Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2015 (Half Mucker)

The first thing I need to say about this event is that it is ridiculously well organised, which is always a massive relief to me as a runner. The last thing you need when you're taking on an event (especially one that's long distance or one that includes huge obstacles) is a confusing registration process, a lack of portaloos, or plastic cups of water on the course. I learned from my experience at Tough Mudder London West 2014 and signed up for an earlier wave so I didn't need to worry about cut off times. My wave (#14) was due to set off at 11:30 so we arrived just after 10am, which left plenty of time to walk to registration (approx 10min from the car park, which is £10 for the whole day), collect my registration pack and watch the first finishers come in before heading to that start line.

Entry is expensive (I paid £104 for standard entry, and this goes up in stages the closer it gets to event day) but comparable to other big obstacle races and you get a technical t-shirt, medal, rat race bandanna, and a wristband with your wave number on (I thought this was a really nice touch!) Plus your entry includes a £10 donation to Children With Cancer UK.

Waves set off every 15 minutes and they were on time. There was a brief warm up, and an explanation of the signage on the course, then we were off running towards the first obstacles (sets of huge hay bales to jump over, then out into the beautiful grounds of Burghley House. The setting - the grounds of Burghley House, the surrounding fields, woods, and the river - is absolutely stunning, which helps to motivate you when you're trying to cover 13 or 20 miles and up to 200 obstacles!

I was worried about completing the course, as my last long run was the Brighton Half Marathon on 22nd February as I dropped out of of the Hampton Court Palace Half in March due to illness and have slacked off on my long runs since then (10k max). I felt unprepared, so I went into the race with the aim of completing 13 miles, as many obstacles as I could and to try to have fun.

It was amazing! I felt really comfortable until around the 10 mile mark when I started to get cold and tired, but the majority of the discomfort was from bruising from the obstacles (crawling over rocks - ouch!) and the weather/repeated swimming in the river, rather than from the running. I was really pleased at how much I had improved at dealing with the "pulling yourself up on to things" category of obstacles: I managed to get myself up and over hay bales, medium-sized walls, and giant trees without any help at all. I'm nowhere near managing to make pull-ups onto 10 foot walls look effortless, but this is huge progress for me and proof that if I throw myself at walls with enough conviction I have a pretty good chance of climbing over them. My technique was not elegant, but it turned out to be fairly effective.

After some dithering, I conquered The Jump (a 10ft jump off a platform into water). There was also a 20ft platform but I know my limits! The Tough Mudder version (Walk The Plank) was my nemesis last year so I was glad to get this one over with a minimum of fuss. I'm not sure I feel the need to do it again though.

I feel that I aced the Water Zone and it was definitely my favourite part of the whole course. This involved clipping on a life vest, swimming across a river, climbing up onto 3 giant structures made out of plastic blocks (boosting and pulling up other people) and then jumping back into the river. When you finally emerge from the river, you're blasted with a hose, then you tackle The Jump, pull yourself out of the water, across a muddy pit, then climb up scaffolding and wooden platforms to the Kamikaze Water Slide, slide back into the river and swim across to the other side, then edge precariously over wooden platforms to dry land and hand in your life jacket, before running off (slightly dazed and confused) to try and warm up.

Unlike the other obstacle courses I have completed (Tough Mudder and Spartan Race), the Dirty Weekend obstacles are grouped into themed "zones" with a mix of smaller and larger obstacles throughout. These included the Mud Run (muddy pits, mud runs, a giant wall, a wall of tires, and a mud mountain, as well as crawling through muddy tunnels and other obstacles), the Construction Zone (traffic cone carry, scaffolding structures, more muddy pits), and Logathon (climbing over tree trunks, wooden balance beams and see-saws). There were also a few unusual obstacles, including climbing through cars, jumping from plank to plank balanced on canoes over the river, and custom built scaffolding crawls.

There are long stretches of cross country running between the obstacle zones and I heard quite a few people who were surprised about that, so something to bear in mind if you're not keen on the running side of things.

The idea with Dirty Weekend is that most obstacles are "do-able", rather than needing to be completed as part of a team. However, that definitely didn't mean there were no giant, intimidating obstacles (take a look at the picture of Last Orders) or that other Rat Racers won't help you out if you need it. In fact, I found this the friendliest obstacle race I have done which I was extremely grateful for as I was doing it solo!

I also really appreciated the official obstacle guidance, which includes:

Consider bypassing an obstacle if you lack confidence, have appreciable fear or are carrying an injury

While I want a challenge, I don't want to feel pressured into attempting something that I could get seriously injured on because I'm terrified or because don't have the physical strength to complete the obstacle safely. For me, this tends to be the climbs up extremely high walls as I lack upper body strength and am afraid of heights, for you it might be the water obstacles (I saw one Rat Racer exit the river after the shock of the cold brought on a panic attack). It's good to know that you won't be looked down on for bypassing an obstacle or trying and failing. The most important thing for me is to have fun, finish these races uninjured and still able to run. But rest assured that if you want help, someone will offer to boost you up, or encourage you to get through the water.

The excellent organisation continued throughout the race: I came across 3 pit stops across the 13 mile course. Water (with sports caps), food (flapjack square and crisps) and portaloos around 5 miles, more water at 7-8 miles and water, and Haribo at 10 miles (they ran out of crisps and bananas at this stop), and there were due to be 2 more stops if you continued on to 20 miles. I'm not sure how much food or water would have been left if you were in the later waves, which is why I would always recommend to start as early as you possibly can.

At the finish line you're processed smoothly: chip removal, medal, more water and a curly wurly for a much needed sugar boost. Leaving was amazingly easy: no queues for the portaloos, showers and changing rooms were provided (although I just got changed in the car and showered at home), and no queue to leave the car park. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who camped overnight or attended the after party what the facilities were like - I just wanted to get home and get into a hot shower! Race results were available the day after and I completed the 13 mile Half Mucker in 05:48:10 - it definitely did not feel like I was out there for almost 6 hours.

All in all a great experience and I would definitely do the Dirty Weekend again, in spite of the fact that I have serious upper body DOMS today and my legs are black and blue from all the mud crawls. Hopefully I can convince a group of friends to join in next time and try the full 20 miles!

Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2016 is on the 7th May 2016 and entries are now open. Solo entries are at the launch price of £99 so get in there quickly.


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Gemma, 33, runner.

Also sometime triathlete, lifter, Tough Mudder, Spartan.

I like a challenge.

Those things that hurt, instruct.
-Benjamin Franklin.

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