I had no intention of signing up for this race. Mainly because I’m not stupid: I know when they say 10k, they mean at least 15k, and I also know that camping in Scotland in March is something only lunatics do. Yet here we are. A cancellation of a race I was signed up to meant that I had to transfer to something, hence, yesterday, I saddled up the car and drove one hundred miles, and today, I drove one hundred more. To be that man who drove to Scotland, did a bit of a run/walk up some hills, and camped. In March.
The Deerstalker hadn’t really been on my radar because it seemed like a very difficult trail run rather than a jokey obstacle course race, however the promise of some excellent pals accompanying me made it almost irresistible. I think I was possibly swayed by the fact that fancy dress was encouraged, too.
The day began pleasantly enough. Mudstacle teammates and all-round excellent people Yvonne and Adam joined me at my parent’s house so that we could drive up together in my dad’s car that he had agreed to lend me before he realised that he was trading up for a brand new, ten day old, almost one of a kind, veritable spaceship. I was delighted to drive what was essentially a stormtrooper on wheels up to Scotland, because I knew with wheels the size of a small planet, any race car park would be a piece of cake. I was also confident that with the car being so unbelievably high-tech, that I could probably whistle to it form a mountain top, and it would come and pick me up if I felt too tired to continue. My dad, however stoical he seemed, was probably shitting it that only one of us would return unscathed, and that it would be me.
A couple of hours of me singing Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo, punctuated by an enormous, hearty pub meal saw us into the Scottish town of Innerleithen. We parked approximately twenty million miles away from the campsite, and hauled our (ample) kit and gear over to the registration and start area.
Registration itself was fine, apart from (and I get this a lot with Rat Race), the volunteers were on some sort of spectrum ranging from super duper amazingly helpful and can’t do enough for you, to literally could not give less of a shit. As a result of my registration volunteer falling at the lower end of that scale, I had to return to the desk three times to finally get everything for my registration pack, and that was tedious.
The first camping area had already filled up, but as luck would have it, the secondary site was in a beautiful walled garden, that would protect us from wind and lost drunk people. We set up camp, joined by Alex and Dudders, who are also excellent. Tents up, numbers affixed, tweed donned and shoes squidged on, we were ready to race. Except me, who was rapidly coming down with one of the worst bouts of indigestion I’ve ever had in my life. Why today? I have no idea, but I can tell you I’m becoming mightily sick of having some sort of ailment at every race I attend, and given that this one was digestive, there was probably something I should have done earlier in the week or on the day to prevent it.
Not having time to dwell on my rapidly expanding problem stomach, we lined up at the start and I had my usual whinge about how crap I am at running, and my compulsory apology for whingeing in the first place.
Head torches were mandatory, and the field lit up with hundreds of spotlights as we began our dusk rush into the surrounding, boggy fields. As a pack, we hit a good pace, but I was very much aware that everyone else was a considerably better runner than I, and I didn’t want to hold them all up. Valiantly, everyone stuck together for the first few KM, but we ended up separated on a steep ascent, so Yvonne stuck around for me and we completed the rest of the course together. And I basically chewed her ear off to distract from the fact that my stomach felt like it was housing several angry pygmies with pitchforks, jabbing at me intermittently.
The thing that struck both of us about this run, is that despite it being dark, the views are stunningly beautiful, and as the dark became pitch, the sight of thousands of headlamps trailing around the hilly route was honestly breath taking. The warmth of the night allowed us to stop and gaze at the stars, marvel at the pretty lights of the village below, and really take in the idea that we were part of something special. An impromptu disco on the hill, complete with dry ice, music, and flashing lights, compounded the surreal nature of the event.
Fully convinced that I would bail at the halfway point, I stormed the downhill sections, where, had I been competing, I would have made up plenty of lost ground from where I huffed and puffed up the ascents. Turns out it isn’t good enough to just be good at going downhill, and I might, just might, have to start hill training. Naturally I didn’t bail at the half way point, because I’m an idiot, and also I had dragged Yvonne back, and wasn’t about to be all, ‘SEE YOU IN THE BEER TENT,’ after she had been so patient with me.
After a (frankly needless) detour at ground level to increase the bastardly distance of the event, we waded some fast flowing rivers, which I actually welcomed, as my right foot was sore, and needed the occasional period of anaesthesia. The marshals delighted in telling us how cold and deep the water was, and honestly, after nuts, they all seemed fairly puddle-like in comparison. I loved it, and I marvelled that my hideous £1 brown knee-length socks stood up to the beating they were taking. I may purchase a pair in a less offensive colour and wear them all the time. Needless to say, the Sub-Sports winter leggings were absolutely spot on in keeping my legs warm, and my circulation going.
I had just about forgotten the pain of the first hill climb, so was ready to take the second in my stride, except for this one comprised a lot more crawling over scree, and was definitely not something I was going to complete in an upright position. I made the mistake of looking up and seeing just how far we had to climb, and felt that maybe I should have brought a Sherpa. Nevertheless, the trail was interesting and technical, something that really brings the track to life, and I love that there were so many different textures underneath our feet. The only decidedly rubbish section was the very top ascent on the last hill, which was well worn-tussocks of grass, littered with the moaning and groaning figures of racers having a rest after taking on the first section. The climb was exhausting, my calves were burning, but I was not about to join their ranks and have a sit down, as I knew the wind would pick up on this section, and they were all exposed to it.
Yvonne and I bounced down the springy, spongey mud paths that formed an undulating descent, and we listened for the soft ‘thunk’ of people falling behind us, as sliding people were taking the feet out of the people below them by accident. In retrospect, this was absolutely brilliant fun. You had to trust your feet and roll with the terrain, because leaning back would have proved dangerous. I had an impromptu seat on a little rocky outcrop after losing my balance when someone fell behind me, but I only got a little bruise.
Then it was just a gentle sojourn through the local village to take us back to the event grounds. There were people in the streets shouting, clapping, and bizarrely, playing the drums, and I noticed a house party spilling into the path.
‘I wonder,’ I pondered aloud, ‘If they have Gaviscon.’
Fully overcome by agony and desperation, I decided to crash the party. ‘Excuse me, I know this is incredibly weird, but my stomach is in shreds, and I was just wondering if anyone had any Gaviscon?’ Highly amused, the house-owner invited me in, regaling me with tales of his own adventures in indigestion, but I thought it best to wait on his front step as he rummaged for something to put out the FIRE in my stomach. He only went and bloody found me some Rennie. What a saint. I ate half a pack out of his hand like a hungry dog, and thanking him profusely for saving my life, I could get back onto the road without worrying that I might just explode from the pain. I wish I could remember the house number, because he’d definitely have a thank you card in the post if I did. Thank you SO much, nameless sufferer of indigestion and kindest man in Scotland.
Relief descended on me within about 5 minutes, and I felt capable of doing a little jog. Yvonne’s back was jarred, so we weren’t exactly sprinting, but we weren’t hanging out of our backsides either. The hum of the event village came into earshot, and the last km or so passed without event. Then we remembered we’d have to do that bloody slip and slide. God.
Turning back into the event village was a good feeling – we’d put on a decent pace to look fit and awesome for the waiting crowd, but had misjudged the distance from the entrance to the finish, so I was pooped by the time I reached the top of the slide. No matter, the finish was within spitting distance, so we both chucked ourselves down the slide and ambled across the line into the loving embrace of Adam, our cool medals, and the obligatory Rat Race Curly Wurly.
We did it. We did it in tweed.
The ‘event’ was obviously ongoing, and with a quick change and an emergency cup of tea, we were into the Beerstalker tent to partake in some dad-dancing in wellies, and to redeem our free beers. I was obviously in no state to eat or drink anything apart from tea, so I donated my free beer to a good cause, but still had a great time.
Rat Race really know how to put on a smooth show, and the drink/food prices were certainly not as bad as they could be knowing that we were a captive audience.
Suddenly it was bedtime, and we retired to our secret garden hideaway to wonder how long it would be before someone cracked and had to get out of the tent for a tragic, middle-of-the-night wee. Yvonne was the only one of us that lasted the whole night without having to do the soul-destroying trip from snug-in-a-bug sleeping back to bastard cold portaloo. I have no idea what it is about camping that makes you need to wee at 3am, but it crushes my spirit every time.
After a rude wakeup call from a special kind of pillock on the campsite, we awoke looking good and feeling better. (One of these statements is a lie). Packing up was done with military precision, and after sweet-talking some Rat Race officials; we managed to get our baggage transported from the village to the car park, for which we will remain eternally grateful, because a five-minute walk seems a very long way after you’ve climbed two mountains overnight.
And so it was, to the pub for lunch, and back over the border. Even though I was ill throughout the event, I will remember the weekend so fondly, because it was out of the ordinary, and I had great people around me. Every weekend should be an adventure, and every adventure is that much sweeter with brilliant pals.
Do this race, even if it’s just once. It’s nice to get out of your comfort zone, and it may help you get out of your head, even just for a weekend. After all, the point of all of this is to get out of the Rat Race.