Giving anxiety a run for its money: Dirty Dozen 18k

I’d never done a Dirty Dozen before, but my god, had I heard about them. Doug ‘The Beard’ Spence has near legendary status within OCR and a reputation for putting on a good show over a slightly longer distance than advertised. I knew vaguely what to expect, but I didn’t foresee how I would react to the challenges the course presented. That is, to say, I think I had a mental breakdown.

Allow me to elucidate. The final, but my first Dirty Dozen Destroyer (18k) was at Barleylands Farm in Essex. I had a spectacular weekend of pig-sitting my friend’s porcine pals, and I was hosting a RAW sleepover weekend for some team chums. I was so excited. Scott came by and hipstered all over the kitchen by producing a vat of cold brew coffee and we made Mountain Fuel pancakes together like a good husband and wife team. Fran soon arrived with the furry cavalry (Foglia) and we tumbled into bed (separately obvs) ready for the race.

After subjecting them both to some stupendous renditions of Disney classics in the car, I was in good spirits, and the nice mood continued on until the race start. The atmosphere was really lovely, and we had a big team presence.


My lovely new teammate, Louise

Then I started running and, without putting too fine a point on it, everything went to shit. The first section of the 18k was an approximately 5k jaunt around the perimeter of several barley fields. Uneven, ankle-rolling conditions notwithstanding, we all know that I HATE running around fields for no reason. If I can see that we’re just making up distance by circumnavigating a field, I get irritated. I think it’s lazy, and I’d rather be doing something whilst lolloping around them. Even a cargo net or barbed wire crawl couldn’t take the edge off, and I found myself dropping pace rapidly. My teammates asked if I wanted to run with them at a slower pace, and I couldn’t even keep up with their kind efforts to slow down for me. Something was very wrong, and my brain was getting very, very anxious about it.

They say you have to hit rock bottom before you finally start climbing back out of a pit of despair, but I didn’t really expect rock bottom to look like a recently harvested barley field in the middle of Essex. Trundling round it at nigh-on a walk, I started on the spiral of second guessing every single life decision I had made this year; I was going to quit OCR, leave the team, stop the race, give up everything, move away, sell my races and go live in a cave. I honestly think if I had seen my adored friend Kimmy on the sidelines, I would have rolled under the race marker tape, taken off my team shirt and cried into her hair. I had no idea why I had suddenly decided to have an anxiety attack not even a third of the way into the race, but it felt like a personally directed mind-game, where all of my bad thoughts, tiredness and negativity bounced around in my head like errant ping pong balls. I was just gutted. I can barely put into words how dizzy and sick I felt. Every time I inclined my head to duck under a branch or net, my whole world jolted and I stumbled drunkenly. I am not even sure why I carried on running.


Seeing these guys is why I carried on running, I think

Around the 7k mark, after I had had something to drink, and time to ask my brain nicely to shut up, I started to make up a bit of pace, and spotted some of my teammates up ahead. I looked at my watch, and realised that my pace, although slow, wasn’t disastrous and that I could still try to complete the race within a sensible time. It was at that moment where I think I subconsciously decided to have a good time.

And my god, I did. I blitzed through the bitch ditches and fallout and found a very jovial Olivia and Patrick to keep my company. Olivia is fast becoming a secret hero of mine – she is extremely talented and humble and unassuming with it. She seems to take each race in her considerable stride, and is a very gifted racer. It was nice to plod around the log carry with both her and Patrick, before I spotted another pal up ahead, and decided to trot up and harass him. I pretty much pinballed from pack of pals to pack of pals right up until I saw Fran jogging up ahead. Seeing her getting her mojo back and really making a good go at her race was all I needed. I was back in the game.

The rest of my run was pretty much a blur; whether that was due in part to the heat and subsequent dehydration, or the fact that I had stressed myself into numbness was immaterial – I was going to complete this race and smash any obstacle in my way.


Mojo: Reloaded

My favourite obstacle was containment; they had taken the bottom few rungs from the ladder over a shipping container, and it required a decent amount of confidence and technique to conquer. After all of my swingy-leg training, I knew I could nail it. It also came in a section of interesting terrain.

The lake couldn’t have cropped up at a better time, as I was sweltering, and it was so lovely to have Tony Jarvis on the sidelines taking sneaky pictures of us, which really captured just how happy I was at this point. They also showed off my new By Moxy gear that I was reviewing for OCR Europe, and let me tell you; that shit is GOOD.


Confidence level: Twat

At the final slog I was flagging, but thanks in part to a Mr Matt in a Mudstacle tee, the Irish tables were hurdled, and with him standing behind me *just in case*, I scaled the rather daunting ten foot wall before the finish line. (Thank you, Matt – you are an angel in yellow, and I appreciate you looking out for me on those tables).

So, to conclude, Dirty Dozen wasn’t just about the physical obstacles. It forced me to get out of my own head when I felt completely trapped and out of synch with my surroundings. I wish I knew why this happened to me on an otherwise normal day, and I wish that this constant feeling of dizziness would subside, but, I am so glad that I would not allow myself to be beaten by an invisible demon that day. It gives me hope.

The Kit

  • Salomon SpeedCross3 (good choice for hard ground – lots of cushioning)
  • Nike anti-blister socks – my feet were HOT AS BALLS on this course, and they hurt a lot, but they didn’t blister, despite feeling like they had
  • By Moxy muscle support tights (absolutely phenomenal – did not move)
  • By Moxy armsleeves (as above)
  • Team tech tee and Mudd Queens wrag

The Gear

  • Free photographs
  • Bobble hat
  • Cotton tee

The Verdict

 I’m pretty sure I would have gone mental anyway, but I don’t think that daft 5k at the start helped my confidence, stamina or approach to the obstacles very much. I understand that it will have been there to separate out the frontrunners from the rest of the wave, but it felt unnecessarily long. That said, the obstacles were sturdy, big and innovative. I won’t be rushing to pay the big bucks for a DD anytime soon, but it was a nice day out, with an encouraging message.


I really needed that hug


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