The best things in life are the unexpected.
I signed up to The Gathering under the illusion that it was a night time trail run. That was it, all I had prepared for. I knew there would be some obstacles but what’s an A Frame when you’ve done a Spartan Beast with a slightly severed Achilles?
Alarm bells should’ve started ringing when our pre-race email instructed us that the start time had been pushed by an hour in order to ensure it was dark. They should’ve, but they didn’t.
We arrived and registered and the mood was elevated, everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to just getting out there. There was a small Warrior Fit presence with Jamie and Audrey running, and Abby being back on the racing rosta after being out with injury for the last wee while. It’s always a pleasure to run with these guys, and with Scott, Anna and Niamh making up the support crew it was set to be a good night. It was cold though and I started to question if wearing shorts had been the right thing to do. As it got darker and we hung around waiting to race those thoughts only increased, the temperature dropped really fast within the space of about ten minutes.
As is typical with MacTuff we all started en-mass. Under a blaze of fireworks and red smoke we were sent off into the darkness with what transpired to be absolutely no idea what was about to happen.
Running beside Audrey, we decided we would just just have some fun, something we both struggle with at events normally. And about half a mile in I was very glad she was there.
The mud. Never before have I come across mud like this. We were briefed on the start line that if we came across a floundering participant that we should help them, and approximately 4 minutes after we started I was attempting to do just that, failing miserably to pull a girl from almost neck deep high mud.
Surely it couldn’t continue like this?
It did. The course was exceptionally well laid out and made the most of all of Knockhill’s landscape. It was undulating at the best of times but add in some of the famous mud moguls and ditches that are only spoken of in whispers and it became an energy zapping course that even the most hardened runners had to really work hard to get round.
And that was just the terrain. We were not let off lightly at all obstacle wise, with rope swings and hamster wheels and cargo nets and A frames and tyre crawls thrown into the mix. There was a particular section of running that followed a bank of trees that just zapped the remaining energy that was left in my legs, it was relentless, and the breaks in the long grass just meant more mud – never have I been more muddy after a race than I was last night.
At the 2017 MacTuff ‘Nessie’ was the hardest obstacle, bringing with it the most time penalties given out on the day. Doing it in the dark doesn’t make it any easier let me tell you.
But crossing the finish line and being given the actual glow in the dark medal brought with it a real sense of achievement. This was not an easy OCR. This wasn’t a trail run either. It is mind boggling to think that last year this event struggled to attract 40 entries (this figure was up 500% this year). This race was HARD. It was muddy and wet and challenging and was only half of the actual MacTuff course. It gives a real sobering insight into how hard those guys needed to work in January and only futher highlights why MacTuff is the best thing to be happening to OCR in Scotland.
What is lacking in shiny production and never ending bank balances is made up for with passion and a desire to unite people through OCR and mud, did I mention the mud?
The Gathering was nothing like I expected it to be but turned out to be everything I wanted it to be. I was so prepared for a standard trail run that I had no time to get nervous about a full blown mud run. And finishing in the top 10 has gone a long way to restore some faith in my capabilities and my legs.
Today my legs are covered in scratches and bruises, I still smell like a combination of sheep shit and moss and I have no idea what possesses me to jump into freezing cold water at 9pm on a Saturday night. All I do know is – I can’t wait for the next one!