Burghley House, Stamford. It seems to be Rat Race’s ‘thing’ to descend upon quiet, un-assuming villages nestled in the country and unleash the thunder for a weekend. Dirty Weekend is no exception. This weekend 8000 people, men, women, athletes of all ages arrived with one intention – to try and make this event their bitch. 200 obstacles spread over 20 miles, it is quite rightly pipped as the World’s Biggest Obstacle Race. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably the hardest too. The elite come here, the best OCR runners in the world compete. This is no fun run. But it is fun. A LOT of fun.
I signed up for Dirty Weekend back in March, so late compared to most. On the back of Deerstalker (another Rat Race win) I met some people who were in, so fuck it I thought, I’m in too. How hard can it be? Hard. Without a single shadow of a doubt this event is physically and mentally the hardest thing I have ever done. Traveling down on Friday the hype built, I was the only female in our group of 4, two of the boys having completed it previously. Nerves and excitement merged and when we arrived at Burghley House to register it was like walking into a festival. The start zone/bar/music tent is by far the biggest marquee I’ve ever seen, there were food venders everywhere, campers, and a huge structure taller than two double decker buses stacked on top of each other smack bang in the middle. We registered (all in Wave 1), grabbed some food, and wandered around for a bit. One cheeky pre-race beer later we headed to the hotel pumped for what lay ahead.
There’s always nerves on Race Day. I wasn’t running for time or placement, I was there for the experience and the memories. But as we entered the grounds at 7am on Saturday morning there was a hum of nervous excitement you could almost see. Everyone gears up for this, the atmosphere was incredible and contagious. We all set off together, except for Steve who is (marginally) fitter than the rest of us so we can forgive him for that. I had watched video after video online of last years race but until you are there, actually in it, you can’t imagine it. We smashed mile 1 in about 7 minutes, we were pumped and for the first 10 miles that’s how it stayed. Mile 6 was the water part of the race and included a 20ft jump off a platform into water. Normally it would be a no thanks from me, I don’t have a fear of heights as such more a fear of falling or not being in control so this was a BIG thing for me. However when your standing side by side with your running buddy and he jumps first then you sort of feel obliged to do the same. So in I went, and survived with the badass crown still intact. I won’t ever quit anything and you learn very quickly that the word ‘can’t’ just does not feature in something like this. You do it, and you do it all and you don’t quit. The water section was one of my favorites, although most of the participants reminded me of beached salmon whilst trying to get onto the platforms. Salmon and sex chat was how our race went to be honest.
Shit got real around mile 7 when we were presented with a very serious British Military Fitness man who informed us that in order to pass we needed to complete 15 squats, 15 press ups and 15 burpees. Not overly pleasant after a mile of swimming let me tell you. And then we were presented with ‘the pit’ which is as bad as it sounds, and my elbows concur. We crawled/slid down these tubes where you had to lie flat in because, well we’re adults and they were tiny. You came out into a box in the middle and then promptly had to climb back up another tube, which felt like it was on a massive incline but probably wasn’t. We got stuck half way up, my legs decided they didn’t work anymore and I just used my arms to pull myself up which is probably why I couldn’t lift them to clean my teeth this morning. Onwards we went, still absolutely loving life.
Mile 12 for me, the world ended. The brutality of this monster hit me at the top of the water slide and for a split second I doubted my capability. And that is all Dirty Weekend needs to break you. One split second of shit I can’t do this is enough. Honestly? If I hadn’t had Lee there, I wouldn’t have made it. It wasn’t until mile 15 that I mentally got myself back in the zone. Life got hard, I think in hindsight on the back of the water, and the fact we had ran more than half a marathon. People were dropping with cramp, there were aches starting to creep in, the obstacles suddenly seemed that wee bit higher, that wee bit harder than they had been previously. Our min miles were extending, and the chat was significantly reduced. Mentally once we got to mile 15 though, it was back to business, we were on the count down, the end was in the sight. The disco in the hut that was blasting out banging tunes also helped. We stopped and had a dance before we jogged on to mile 16. We were Beyonce, and ‘Becky with the good hair’ for the day and we owned those parts like we were born to play them.
There are so many obstacles, it would take all day to mention them, they are all incredible. But NOTHING beats the fear inducing horror that was at mile 19. The photographic evidence is below but it doesn’t do it justice. Lee climbed behind me, telling me about his first date with his partner, because I was rapidly descending into hell. I got to the top and I panicked. The most amazing marshal I have ever met talked me back from a full blown panic attack and I shuffled my way across the top, and quite rapidly down the other side where I promptly burst into tears. No time for that though, no weak chat here, and in fact an extremely pissed off Lee unleashed a ‘Don’t you fucking cry now bitch, cry at the end, but start fucking running’ at me. It worked.
There was one obstacle left – the ‘Big One’. Built with 17 cargo containers this is the mummy daddy of anything you will have to complete at any Obstacle Course ever. Up a climbing wall, up a cargo net (cried there too), up two wooden ladders to the top (which is higher than the top of the marquee just FYI) and then down. To home, and a curly wurly. Just one more giant water slide to go, which was the easiest thing I did all day. At that point they could’ve made me do anything, just so long as I was finished.
We finished in 5 hours. Tired, sore, but triumphant. Steve (marginally) beat us with an awe inducing time of just over 3 hours and finished 16th overall out of 8000 competitors.
And you would think that would be it. But it’s not. The after party at Dirty Weekend takes you back into Glastonbury mode, and we were treated to the Reverend and the Makers and the legendary Dave Pearce to keep us partying well into the night. Where else will you ever see grown men and women crowd surfing on an inflatable unicorn? It is impossible to be in a bad mood after something like this, and as we sat on the grass with our beers all the chat was about how utterly mind-blowing the whole day had been, from everyone. I didn’t hear a single criticism from anyone all day. What Rat Race also does outstandingly well is organize. This event was run to perfection, the marshals were outstanding, the service was amazing, the food, drink, toilets, music, everything was just exceptional.
Without a doubt I will be back next year, and this time I’ll make sure my Go Pro charges over night so I can watch it back again and again. This has been the highlight of the year so far, and I don’t imagine anything will surpass it. It was absolutely worth the fact I am incapable of walking today. For this is living, not merely existing.
Rat Race you did it again, you nailed it. If you think you’ve got what it takes then entries for next year are now open. But two pieces of advice if you are going to do Dirty Weekend:
- Treat this race with the respect it deserves. Train. Prepare.
- Be prepared for nothing else to compare. This is the quite rightly, the undisputed Queen B of OCR. Everything else will pale in comparison.
Event #10 of 30 done. Onwards to #11 I go, bruised, sore, hungry but never defeated.