From the local press to your Facebook news feed, you’d have had to still have your head buried in a pile of woodchip in the nutcracker loop to have not noticed that a LOT of people did not finish at NUTS last weekend.
I was so nervous about the event that I cut a section out of the neck of my neoprene because I felt like I was choking every time I thought about the race. Only now, whilst on a train, can I order my thoughts about the race. I have spent the whole week feeling as though I’ve been wearing a phantom wetsuit: the invisible neoprene tight against my throat.
Now I’ve written about NUTS enough times for you to understand the nature of the course; it’s tough, rustic, relentless, largely wood based and doesn’t really open up for a good run. This suits me fine, as I can’t stand running for long periods, and I’m actually fairly terrible at it. The near constant occurrence of obstacles suits me; so this is why I chose to use the course as an attempt to qualify for this year’s OCR World Championships in Canada.
Three laps of winter NUTS was the challenge I set myself. After three in summer, I knew that I have the legs to do four, but with winter being such a different animal, I decided to use the distance as a stepping stone into the four I’ll do at a later date. Looking at the weather forecasts and listening to the OCRA drama unfold, I’m really pleased that I stuck with the three laps.
It was cold. It wasn’t the coldest, but it was cold, windy, rainy, snowy and generally unforgiving. When my mum and I arrived (happy Mother’s Day, Mum, come watch me narrowly avoid hypothermia and cry a bit), I could tell that she was more nervous than me. This was compounded by my friend Aaron turning up in the Mudstacle tent looking like an anaemic yeti, shaking from head to toe having returned from his first lap. His lips were chapped and cut, and he repeated, ‘I don’t know what’s happening’ about four times, as several of us dived on him, taking off his clothes and swapping them for dry things and DryRobes to help him recover. Aaron was not the poster child for reassuring my mother that I was not going to die.
Leaving my terrified mum and predictably nonchalant dog with my kit in the team tent, I didn’t really feel terribly focussed on the task at hand (just get through it, finish in the top ten, go home).
As is usual, my nervousness turned to nausea within about 2km. The first lap felt like an embarrassingly slow slug. I naively thought I was making good time when I had reached the 4k mark, for some reason forgetting that the final few km of the race comprise of repeated insults to your physical state, but, let’s face it, I was not making good time at all. Really happy to have completed some obstacles that I previously struggled with under race conditions, I still felt strong, and had plenty of energy left to go for my second lap. I nipped into transition for a cup of tea (because I actively fantasise about tea in every race), a bite of banana, and to reassure mum that I was not dead yet. My second lap, which really ought to have been stronger now that I knew what was ahead, was pretty much where I lost my mind. But Ami, didn’t you go mad at NUTS on your third lap, last year? Yes, yes I did.
Whenever I am on the NUTS course, I find myself questioning whether I’m actually having a good time. Most sections begin with my internal monologue saying, ‘I hate this section’, and yet, as soon as the races are finished, I’m the first person to say, ‘Oh the course is GREAT, you’ll LOVE it, there’s something for everyone.’
I cannot explain the feeling of despair that descends upon me when I’m plodding through the muddy hills of Dorking, but I can assure you that I end up in a pretty dark place. That said, the course really is excellent; it challenges everyone from the expert to the newcomer, and it often makes my race much more fun when I have to navigate through the various hen parties, work ‘team building’ outings and woefully underprepared, plimsoll wearing masses in the middle lap. I also love that you’ll sometimes have a chance to see the best of the best whip past you whilst you’re slugging away on your first or second lap; it’s great at bringing everyone together, regardless of their different reasons for being there. In short, my second lap should have been more fun than it was, but I developed a headache by the time I hit the nutcracker loop, and I really thought that my race was over. Pain seared through my skull in a Harry Potter-esque fashion every time I lowered my head, bent down, or leaned on anything. I ignored it. Just when it had gotten to the point where every footstep jarred my brain, I hit a water station and drank basically all of it. In my delirium, I called the water marshal an ‘Angel Man’, and proceeded to do the most laborious and ungraceful jaunt across the new ‘Full Monty’ obstacle. (That really is a cheeky little bastard of an obstacle, you know. It is ruinous for almost every part of your body, and becomes just as much of a mental feat as a physical one by the end).
Coming out of the wooded section, I had almost decided to pull out of the race. My pace was slowing, and I could not get my head around the idea of putting myself through the whole thing again. I cursed myself for not training enough, for not eating properly this week, and for basically everything I could think of. I knew of the 75% DNF rate from 2 laps on the day before. I also knew that a Sunday race is a whole different one to that on the previous day, as the course is churned up beyond recognition. I was getting tired, stupid and emotional, and my head was about to explode. I felt destroyed as I watched other runners start to skirt the water sections because they were so brain-crushingly cold, but still I flopped through each ditch like a lost salmon. Hamburger Hill loomed, and whilst it seemed so close to home, I knew that just that section was a huge challenge in itself. I hugged my tyre like it was a life vest as I humourlessly trudged up and down that horrible, horrible hill, pausing only to have a little tantrum when I got completely stuck in the cargo net. Face down; fully stretched out on the ground, like a toddler in a supermarket, I flailed underneath the sopping wet ropes that pinned me to the mud. I had had enough of this.The marshals, each as lovely and encouraging as the last, assured me that there wasn’t long to go, but there was: there was a whole other lap, and I couldn’t see the sense in putting myself through it. I smiled my fakest, most pained smile, and sat contemplating my life at the top of the slide, just as I herd a disembodied voice shout my name. It was Pete: fearless leader and all round good chap. He was awaiting the arrival of Andy Parry at the slide, and he had sweet tea in his hand.
I shot down the slide. The tea was mine.
As soon as the tea hit my throat, I was beyond elated. I was going to get through this lap. I was going to beg, steal, borrow or murder someone to get my hands on some painkillers, and I was going to get changed and revaluate my stance on being a big baby.
Maybe not the latter. I started to cry as I hit the transition area. Lovely, friendly people, and also a small clutch of amazing runners who had, for various reasons, pulled out of the race themselves surrounded me. “You don’t have to do this.” They said. I cried and snotted whilst my mum pulled off my gloves, and several people snuggled me whilst I tried to extricate myself from my soaking baselayers. “I don’t want to, but I do.” The DNF rate was so high, I knew there would be no shame in dropping out (well, there’s no shame anyway), but I was worried about my qualification status for OCRWC, so for that reason alone, I donned yet more neoprene, told my mum that I really didn’t want to do it, supped some tea, got some ibuprofen from an absolute HERO, told everyone I didn’t want to do it, then started my last lap.
I felt physically sick to the point at which I started to look for suitable bushes behind which to vom. Then came Andy Parry.
Andy was being filmed by Mudstacle TV throughout his 4 lap challenge. This was to be his final lap, and he was looking very strong considering. But, being the stand up sort of guy that he is, he told me that he was sticking with me. ‘I feel so sick,’ I mumbled, ‘That’s not good’, he affirmed.
No, it wasn’t. I worried about holding Andy up, but felt reassured that he didn’t want to slog out his last lap alone, so I trundled along as best I could. I think we cheered each other a bit – the course can be pretty miserable when you’re alone, and with the wind picking up, it looked pretty desolate out there. A lot of people in my three lap race had jumped the gun by 90 minutes, which I think was desperately unfair, as it cheated the 2pm cutoff point, but whatever – it did mean that the course was practically deserted and devoid of atmosphere in the afternoon. Nevertheless, it was brilliant to have Andy by my side, and when the ibuprofen kicked in, I literally felt my headache melt away. I was back in the game.
Our last lap can only really be described as a ‘bimble.’ I didn’t allow myself the fantasy of having qualified, simply because I knew my times were atrocious, and no reassurance could convince me otherwise. It was very cold, and Andy was starting to freeze up towards the end; but he stuck by me when he was strong and I was sick and miserable, so there was no way that I was going to leave him. I honestly thought that the final water section would do him in. The wind made for an unforgiving environment when you left the water, and the lake was so earth shatteringly freezing that my brain hurts to think of it. I get involuntary shudders when I think about how a simple obstacle like the floating donuts is transformed into a means of torture when the water is cold and the wind is picking up around you. Alas, we both made it through, and leaving Andy to his heroic last hundred metres, I crossed the finish line pretty happily considering my previous crisis of confidence. I was so touched and happy to see that a whole bunch of people (who could have gone home already) were still there to cheer for those of us still on the course. Hearing your name from the sidelines when you’re feeling low really makes all the difference, and I can’t thank the likes of Ginger and Becky enough for screeching at me.
I didn’t look for my time or result until long afterwards, when Ginger brought it up on her phone. I honestly had felt a little dejected about the whole thing, but it just goes to show that you shouldn’t make assumptions, because you never really know what’s going on until the whole race has played out.
Because, GUESS WHO’S GOING TO CANADA?
And GUESS WHO’S SIGNING UP TO NUTS AGAIN?