Well. I underestimated that one.
Mud Monsters looks like a pretty small outfit – the tone set by the website created a rather easy-going, approachable, first-timers welcome, it’ll-be-a-laugh sort of vibe. The tickets were incredibly well priced, and I thought, “may as well”. I fully expected it to be a glorified dog agility ring in a farmer’s back garden.
Being open to suggestion as I am, Scott had told me to sign up, not only to the elite wave, but also to the 20k maximum distance, making this the longest race I have run to date.
I wasn’t nervous for this race, as I thought that whilst the distance would be a challenge, the obstacles would be a couple of fallen trees and the mud would be something on a par with the bogs of X-Runner’s wild run.
The warm-up area was pretty small; a few stalls for food and clothes, a tiny little bag tent and a registration desk. The portaloo to person ratio was probably the worst thing about it, as there was quite a queue of nervous poo-ers before the first wave set off. Because I got stuck behind a Sunday driver who didn’t realise that I had somewhere to be, we arrived with about fifteen minutes in which to visit the loo, register, bag drop and warm up. But who cares, right? It’s just a little mud run.
Still lulled into a false sense of jovial security, we completed the warm-up, which was basically an updated version of heads-shoulders-knees-and-toes combined with a hoe down. Then, suddenly, we were off running to the start line.
I settled down into the middle of the pack as we began vaulting silage bales. I kindof hate silage bales because they’re just that little bit higher than straw bales and they’re covered in plastic, so they’re slick. They sap energy, and I didn’t feel hopeful about completing 20k as I bumbled into the forest for my first taste of the muddy trails.
And then there was mud. There was mud from every corner of the world. There was soily mud, there was red mud, there was clay mud, liquid mud, stinky black mud, greasy mud, gritty mud, sticky grey mud and a bog so deep I thought I was going to have to have a leg amputated to escape it. If Calvin Harris were to re-write ‘Girls’ and replace the women with mud, he would be singing about this race. Even from a few hundred metres into the run, we were passed through ditches that left clags of mud clinging to our shoes. There was so much mud that I’m almost bored of writing mud now.
The obstacles were really well spaced, too. I am not one for running 3 or 4 k then having a spate of obstacles – I rather like the idea of one cropping up a bit more often, even if it would mean some queuing in the later waves. As I’d started in the elite wave, I actually found myself quite lonely in my first lap. With only two ladies ahead of me, and none visible at all behind, I felt quite sure of a decent position, and I was racing for a target of a top five place, as opposed to a time or a PB. If I had been racing for a time, I would have been sorely disappointed, as the mud just about halved my pace. I was, however buoyed by the chat and antics of some surrounding lads, and Paul from muddy race shouting at me when it looked like I was flagging. Big shoutout to Duncan, who ran pretty much all of my second lap with me, and also to Dave, who took over the position of man shouting at me from time to time. Having your name on your back works wonders for motivation, because people just shout at you. Even if you’ve never met them before, you all share the same DNA on race day, and the atmosphere was warm and encouraging.
The weather was also warm, which is why the frequent water breaks and jelly baby stop-offs were very welcome. As a result of the hot, sticky weather, I managed to vastly over-hydrate myself and cause a nasty hyponatraemia, which left me intermittently dizzy and nauseous for much of the second lap. That’s something I really need to work on. I have gotten better at taking gels out and responding to my body’s energy needs – it’s just my electrolytes that are a bit deranged.
It was a nice touch to have a snack table at the half-way point, where we could take on water, a banana and some jelly babies, which I carried in my bra for much of the second lap, just in case.
Obstacles ranged from cargo net/wire crawls, to climbing nets, wood ladders, walls, cage crawls and tunnels. There was also a brutal tyre crawl that upset a few people’s shins, as it was horribly uncomfortable. Several small bridges and river crossings had me wondering where the troll was, but catching sight of my own reflection in the water made me realise that I was probably going to pass for one myself. One criticism I had of the obstacles was the use of that crappy blue netting, rather than thicker rope for the cargo nets – the little blue nets make it really hard to manoeuvre your feet, and they have a little too much give in them, which can get dangerous as you’re tired, or if you have feet that you’d rather not leave in a net. The rest were fantastic, particularly the slip and slide and the sections in and out of the river. I couldn’t pick a favourite bit. I just loved it. I’ve never enjoyed a competitive race this much, come to think of it. I felt strong – I don’t know how much of that is a result of my training, or just the lay of the land on this race, but with other competitors talking of how challenging it was, it made me feel pretty good.
I’ve come to realise that this style of obstacle course is the one I like best – the one that works with natural terrain, but also shapes and moulds it to fit a purpose. It’s rustic, agricultural even, but challenging in all the right ways. It doesn’t focus on building monster monkey bars, or other peculiar ways of measuring your strength and grit – it balances tough terrain with solid obstacles and lots of natural water features. Couple that with an RD who is actively on the course with you, watching the race come to life, a crew of fantastically friendly and encouraging marshalls and a great selection of half time snacks, and you’re on to a real winner. The likes of Nuts and Nuclear are not dissimilar in that respect, so I’d really like to see what happens in a winter version of Mud Monsters (which will be happening on the 11th October, so get signed up).
I’m pretty sure I ended up second in my wave, which I am very happy about, however some ladies from later waves must have beasted the 20k to bump me to fourth, but I came for a top five and left with a top five, so I’ve no complaints there. Its worth noting also that the RDs for this include an absolute stand-up guy, who really loves the sport and cares about his customers, and an extremely dedicated and hard working lady, which is so great to see in the sport. It’s a pleasure to have dealt with them, and they deserve every success with future races. Which, by the way, need to get organised for 2016 and on the website so I can book them!
- Salomon Fellraisers (much needed despite the warm weather. Would dread to think what less grippy shoes would have meant with all that mud. Also pleased with the lacing system, as this was a real test of how well it stands up to mud and suction)
- Nike anti-blister socks (I got stones in them, it was awful. No blisters though)
- Nike Pro ¾ tights (I think the elastic is starting to fail as I did have to hoik the waistband a bit. Great grip and strength on my legs. Maybe this is just a hint to develop better abs)
- Team Tech Tee
- Man-Up sports bar (really comfortable, and accommodated gels and jelly babies as well as boobs)
- Mudstacle wrag (obvs)
Goodie bag with snacks, sweets and water on course, a half-time banana for the 20kers, Tech shirt, miserably cold showers, changing areas, chip timing, nice little medal. Absolutely worth the entry fee, without doubt.
This race truly was incredible. I must say that I have been taken utterly by surprise that such an under-the-radar race could stand up to some of the big names that I’ve raced this season. So much so, that we need to start moving away from discussing it as though it’s an established race’s little sister: ‘oh, that bit was like that bit at Nuts where…’ or ‘it’s just like Nuclear in this part’. This race and its crew have done enough to stand alone.
It isn’t a mini-Nuts, or a cute little Nuclear: it’s Mud Monsters, and I genuinely hope it stays that way.