There’s not many races out there where the start line is inside a Big Top tent.
But then again, there’s not many races out there that can match Rat Race events.
Once again, we’re at Burghley House, Stamford for what promises to be the biggest and best obstacle race in the world.
20 miles and 200 obstacles are all that lies between you and an overwhelming sense of achievement, with a hint of muscle fatigue.
It’s been a while since I’ve lined up on a Dirty Weekend start line, and this time I had dragged Fin with me, promising him that it would be the best thing he’d ever done. As we were waiting to go a familiar face appeared through the crowd and I was elated at seeing a female racer who I have spent many a mile with on this course. I don’t know her name, but she was pivotal in my race in 2017 and we shared a hug before the safety briefing started. After being briefed about signage and course markings we were set off. Thankfully the weather had shifted dramatically from the night before and the sun was out as we ran from the tent towards the first of many, many obstacles.
Rat Race are clever and they bunch obstacles together in the first mile or so in order to spread the field out, and by the time we had completed a mile we had scaled hay bails, weaved ourselves over scaffolding, carried cones, dodged rugby players and crawled under the first of roughly 15 cargo nets.
By the time we excited the woods just after mile 2 we were warm and settled into a steady, relaxed pace.
We weaved past the car park, that was getting busier by the second and headed up towards the war zone, which is a heavy woodland section filled with 14ft walls, log vaults and net crawls. And nettles. A LOT of nettles. I had accepted that I needed to be basically naked in order to not overheat and was wearing very short shorts. Turns out very short shorts and 4ft high nettles don’t mix well.
The best thing for nettle stings? Cold, chest high water. And thankfully as we exited the woods we were met with our first river crossing for the day. Not quite warm enough to need a dip in freezing cold water it was a massive shock to the system to suddenly be submerged and asked to navigate over the river but no sooner had our bodies got accustomed to the biting chill, we were out again, running up into vast, ploughed fields with a long running stretch strategically placed to allow blood to return to limbs and bodies to warm up.
The downside to this was that I knew what was coming. Fin on the other hand was blissfully running next to me enjoying the fact he was no longer being asked to swim at 8am on a Saturday morning. Until we rounded the corner and were met by the water jump. This is not for the faint hearted, and looks smaller than it is from the ground. This year they had added planks to the 25ft leap into the unknown which was just enough to make it mentally much harder. There are times when I am very brave, and there are times when I am not. And this was one of them. Fin went first and I was left looking at this plank of wood debating with myself whether I could actually make myself walk off it. After a few minutes of mental back and forth I just decided I was going and walked straight out into it and off without even thinking. 3 seconds later and I was rising from the depths, cold, slightly shocked but elated to have not chickened out.
The water section is by far my favourite part of Dirty Weekend, I always really enjoy it and this year was no different. It’s about half an hour of consistent swimming, with a few obstacles thrown in for good measure. I hadn’t really considered that Fin wouldn’t like it as much and he dubbed it one of the worst experiences of his life, but he did it. And before we really had time to think about it we were out the other side, handing our life jackets back to unsuspected racers who had yet to take on the jump.
The thing about water is, it is cold. And you have to keep moving afterwards or you’re asking for trouble. It’s so very easy to let the cold get you and we saw a couple of runners taken off the course shortly after the water section with hypothermia.
We were at 8 miles now and were at the mud section, which contained mountains of mud hills, barbed wire crawls, and more giant walls. And then we branched off into the forest once again for the Ewok village.
Ewok village is probably the most complicated part of the race, it’s almost one giant obstacle that lasts for what feels like ages. It changes subtly year on year and has cargo nets suspended off the ground that once you’re on you have no choice but to keep going. I categorically do not like things like this, and I get very frightened of falling. Slipping off an obstacle and hurting myself is a big worry for me, especially after knocking myself out at Spartan a few years ago and now I am painfully slow over certain things. Give me a scaffolding obstacle that is wet and covered in mud and I will have to work very hard mentally to get over it. Thankfully, Rat Race have the best marshals in the world and they are always there with a helping hand, kind words and haribos.
We left the woods, completed the second part of the Mud zone and then ran back down towards the event village where we met with yet another epic food station and yet another crossing of the river. It almost seemed colder this time but that may have been the fear at seeing what was in front of us.
The water slide, or the Big Cheese as it is affectionately known at Rat Race. I was absolutely determined I was not being beaten by what is essentially a piece of plastic. However it is very high and it was a vertical scaffolding climb to the top. Which was wet. I got to the top, looked at the slide and defiantly declared that there was “no fucking way” I was going down that. But climbing back down wasn’t an option. So I sat, at the top, for I’m not sure how long. Long enough for Fin to get the rage with me, and long enough that the cold settled into my body. But, once I decided I was going I just went and 3 seconds I was at the bottom, delighted with myself again.
Either fear wins or fun does. And fear can never ever win.
We climbed over the tallest hay bale tower in the world and entered the section in front of Burghley House which is technical and amazing, all the spectators are there and it really is the best part of the race, in fact it almost feels like a festival by this point and not a race. Lots of giant walls, monkey bars, rigs and a giant jump into a pillow steered us back down towards the water. All framed by the beautiful Burghley House, the setting really is incredible.
The other thing that can creep up on you at this point is cramp and cheekily there is a hill at 12 miles with some, what I assume are normally horse jumps that bring cramp right into the forefront of your mind when it’s the last thing you need.
But the overriding feeling with this race is that there is nothing else like it in the world. There are harder runs, there are hillier runs, there are runs with mandatory obstacles. But there is nothing like Dirty Weekend.
It’s almost like if you get round a mile at a time, don’t think about it too much and keep reminding yourself that actually you’re at Dirty Weekend, then you can do it.
And before you know it, you’re at the travelator, which at 19.9 miles isn’t exactly a delight for your brain but once you’re at the top you feel like the king or queen of the world. If you can run up a backwards escalator after 19 miles of torture then you can do anything.
All that is left is the slide, the ‘Big One’ and by gum it’s big. It was too big for me this year and fear one this battle and I didn’t slide. It’s not a decision I regret, another 10 minutes of absolute panic at the top wasn’t something I wanted to buy into and I watched proudly as Fin climbed to the top and slid down into Dirty Weekend history, and glory.
We crossed the finish line together as we said we would and to know that we had achieved something like that together was the best feeling. It was three times as far as he had ever run before and we had both left demons out on the course and returned victorious.
Medals around necks we joined our other Dirty Mucker pals in the beer tent and spent the next couple of hours trading stories and thoughts and war stories from the previous five hours.
And you’d think that would be it. But this is Rat Race. And after a shower and a burger we returned to the same tent that had sent us off into the unknown some 12 hours before and joined 2000 other runners for what is, quite frankly the best after party of any race you will ever go to. The music was loud, the beer was cold and the atmosphere unmatched.
Falling into bed that night we weren’t just Dirty Weekend finishers, we were invincible.
If you ever do a race, do this one. It has to be seen to be believed.
Dirty Weekend, you did it again. Even if your slides give me the fear.
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