Burghley House, Stamford.
It has been standing since 1587. It has survived the Civil War, it has been around since Napoleon defeated Wellington, one of its Lords even won an Olympic Gold Medal for curling. It’s a pretty magnificent place.
And for one weekend a year its majestic grounds play host to Dirty Weekend, the highlight of the OCR calendar for elite athletes and fun runners alike.
This was my second year at this monster of a race, and having signed up 364 days previously there has been a lot of build up, and a lot of training all aimed at this one race.
Dirty Weekend 2016 left me broken, mentally and physically. I had never taken on something of this magnitude previously and I paid for it massively, hitting my wall a mile from the end and breaking down in tears. But I finished, I conquered the fears, and I claimed my Curly Wurly at the end of the slide. I may have cried and been unable to walk for four days after but I was a Filthy Mucker, and I was proud.
So I was both nervous and excited to stand on the start line again this year. The trepidation that things just wouldn’t quite stand up to last year has been at the back of my mind for a while. Last year was mind blowing, it was life changing in a way. It left me with a complete sense that nothing I would ever come up against again would challenge me the way that this had, and with the exception of the Edinburgh Spartan Beast, nothing ever has. I was almost worried I had created it in my head to be something it just really isn’t.
We were a team three times the size this year, and there was also a couple of Race Fitness elites amongst us as well, with Tim taking on the Double Mucker in order to raise money for two charities close to his heart. He was being supported by Nicola, and together they were a formidable duo.
After our safety brief and warm up, delivered by the BMF trainers we were set off at bang off 8am. This race doesn’t break you in gently and within 400m we were climbing over Hay bails wondering just what we had let ourselves in for. No time to think about that though, another 400m in and we were clambering over a lorry carrying a tyre before promptly being told to roll our tyre under a cargo net. Ditching the tyre for a cone and we were on our second carry of the day, and we were less than a mile in. THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!
I briefly spotted a couple of familiar Instagram faces, before they disappeared into the crowd.
The American Footballers from last year were replaced by a giant Launderette, but thankfully the space hopper race remained and I managed to exact revenge on Lee by dismounting him from his hopper with a perfectly executed body blow. So we were wet, we were muddy, and we were two miles in. Perfect.
I stopped trying to count the obstacles after that point, we turned into the forest and suddenly there were clowns with chainsaws. Good joke Rat Race. Apparently too many people moaned about the nettles last year so of course we were presented with a cargo net suspended about an entire glade of them shortly after the weird clowns.
With a race this size it is inevitable that bits will be forgotten along the way and that was precisely what had happened by the time we got to the War Zone. I just couldn’t remember it at all from last year. But there it was – Mud. All the mud in the world and we had to crawl into it, under fences. Thankfully, Steven was there with his GoPro to catch us all coming through, kidneys stones having rendered him benched for the weekend (sad times indeed).
Now I’m undecided if having previous knowledge of this race is a positive or not, but as we ran on I knew what was coming. Lee knew too, and his hangover was starting to rise to the surface just as we approached the Man v Lakes section. Cue the stomach wobbles and indecisiveness as we were handed life jackets by a very smiley marshal (Rat Race marshals ROCK!). Oh man, that jump. It is high, over 40ft. We weren’t blessed with weather this year and it was cold. In we went anyway, the jump isn’t the worst bit in all honesty.
The water section didn’t seem as long this year, which was just as well I think, it was cold. And we were all pretty shivery when we emerged. Onwards then to easier challenges?
Ha. I present you with The Pit. Four tubes disappearing into the ground all meeting in to a giant container. The only way out? To climb out another tube, emerging back into the daylight. It’s a tough one alright, and one that a lot of people underestimate.
On we went, we were only 7 miles in. Normally 7 miles wouldn’t seem so easy, but when you know what else you have to face it seems relatively like a walk in the park. I remember looking at my watch and realising that most people on a Saturday would still be in their beds.
Not us, oh no. We were in full swing by this point and the next few miles fell away. I had a dark point, around mile 8. I had pulled my hip flexor descending a firemans pole and it was hurting badly. I couldn’t really remember why I was even there and I wasn’t having any fun. However it was sorer to walk than it was to run and after some stern words from Lee I was back in the game and on we went. As we passed the 10 mile marker we celebrated that we now had less distance to cover than we had already achieved and so the count down began.
The slide at mile 12 was approaching and this was one of my tipping points last year. I don’t deal with slides well and the only reason I went down was because a stern Swedish man shouted at me. This year however I was ready. I was set. I was a gazelle (last year I was Beyonce, I fell as though I’ve been down graded) and off I slid into the most epic finish of the day. Ok so I can’t prove that but you can ask Lee, it was incredible. As we crossed the water towards the Mens Health zone Lee stopped for a dance on the canoes, I was back in a good head space and life was good. The walls and rigs of the zone proved uneventful really, and even though I didn’t quite manage the 135ft of Monkey Bars that we were presented with we crossed over the ford feeling good.
A brief “should we do the half”? was met with a “Don’t ever swear at me like that again” and so we were committed to the cause. And this is when it got a bit hard. It was cold, we hadn’t dried off from the water, and the obstacles were just never ending. The structures at Dirty Weekend are huge, they are unmatched by anything else, and when you have cramp and you’re tired, and you’ve ran 15 miles and you just want a beer and a burger it can make these 20ft A Frames and 10ft high cargo nets even higher to climb. There really is everything at this race, ditches, ropes, balance beams, you name it – they have it. And then there’s more, always more.
I remember last year that from Mile 14 it was a struggle. My legs weren’t working, my brain was on auto pilot and it was borderline sun stroke time. Not this year, this year Lee and I reached Mile 17 and were still debating why the guy beside us was running barefoot whilst carrying his shoes on his back – shout out to Nathan, you sir are a legend.
The one thing I am VERY glad was removed this year, was the Mile 19 cargo net over the lake. As we approached the very last mileage marker all I could think about was the Travelator that I knew was waiting for us two obstacles from the end. This obstacle ruined me at Men’s Health last year, and it’s not something you really want to be tackling after 5 hours on the move. But tackle it we did, I’m pretty sure the food at the food stations at Dirty Weekend are laced with doses of ‘you CAN do this’ powder, and after only two failed attempts I was up.
One more test. The ‘Big One’. My god. As if it was even possible to make this structure even harder Rat Race have gone above and beyond again and we were faced with the biggest water slide I have EVER seen. But as Lee puts it, its sort of the easier obstacle, the hardest bit is sliding off, then its only 5 seconds until you’re at the bottom, you can only go down.
And so we were done. Victorious again, with our medals and aching muscles. What a day. What a race. The whole team smashed it, with Anna coming in as 8th fastest female, which is just incredible. For me, I achieved what I wanted and I ran faster than last year and I didn’t cry.
Tim was AMAZING. If you think Dirty Weekend is hard once, you should try doing it twice in a day. He finished 11th faster Double Mucker in a very impressive time of 8.5 hours.
And then when you think it’s all over, it’s not. Rat Race throw the BEST after party there is and this year Judge Jules and The Hoosiers took to the stage to entertain everyone. Sadly, having woken up feeling slightly under the weather that morning, I was asleep by 7.30pm after a Lemsip and a hot shower. From what Lee told me when he rolled in at 2am though it was nothing short of incredible, and the pictures don’t lie.
Sunday morning was a struggle, going home felt wrong almost. I just wanted to do it again and I haven’t stopped talking about it since, or watching the footage, or looking at the photos. It’s so hard to be present when you’re there because you’re so focused on the making your legs move part that you almost forget to enjoy it. But it’s incredible. It is the race to do, and if you’ve not signed up or wonder if you should, then you should. Do it.
There might be harder races with more technical obstacles, there might be races with enforced punishments for non completion, there might be longer races. But there is only one Dirty Weekend. Only one. And it is something not to be missed.
Until next time Dirty Weekend…you were magnificent.