I should really begin by providing a brief summary of what Brutal Enduro actually involved. Just because I’ve been concentrating on very little else for the past week, that doesn’t mean that other folks were even aware of the event’s existence. For that reason alone, I shouldn’t go racing (pardon the pun) into a rambling description of my weekend without first setting the scene…
In a nutshell, Brutal Enduro is an 18 hour race that started at 2pm on Saturday and continued until 8am the following morning. The course was 10k long and the object of the game was to run as many laps as possible within the 18 hour time frame. Teams consisted of between 4 and 6 runners, some people ran as pairs (crazy) and other hardy souls entered as individuals (crazier).
Before I begin my post-mortem of this past weekend, I feel that I should state the obvious (and pre-empt any potential questions regarding my sanity) by stating that yes, I signed up for an event called Brutal Enduro. I do, therefore, relinquish any rights to rant about it and will do my utmost to ensure that this post is one of my more positive offerings…
So what made me sign up in the first place? Unusually for me, this wasn’t a drunken declaration of intent. I don’t mean it’s unusual for me to be sober, I’m simply alluding to the fact that on more than a few occasions, I have been very enthusiastic in committing to questionable things whilst under the influence: “Of course I’ll give a speech at your wedding! Am I not always saying that females are under-represented in wedding speeches?” “Immersive theatre you say? I’m in! £80 a ticket? Wow, it must be really good for that price. I’m sure I won’t find it remotely awkward! Should I transfer the cash to you now?” “Of course I’ll help you move house tomorrow. 4th floor? No lift? No problem! Another pint?” etc. Only last month, I awoke to a slight hangover and an email saying “Thank you very much for signing up to the Loch Ness Marathon”.
The decision to commit to Brutal Enduro, however, was made whilst in a state of relative rationality and complete sobriety (that’s not to say for one minute that I didn’t have slight reservations the morning after). I’d been complaining for yonks that running was getting a bit anti-social. By this I mean that despite my best efforts – think bribery, blackmail and shameless coercion – I had been unable to convince my friends to pound the pavements beside me. As a result, team-leader Andy’s kind invitation to partake in a social running event (regardless of its rather off-putting moniker) wasn’t one I wanted to turn down.
During the build-up, I mostly heard what I wanted to hear: Andy’s “not too hilly” became “no hills”; “no man-made obstacles” became “really easy terrain”; you get the picture. I focused on mocking the supposed ‘Festival Atmosphere’, spent more time thinking about what I would eat than what I would wear on my feet, and ‘prepared’ myself by running home from work a few times (think one field of recently-mown grass followed by 2.5 miles along a well-tended towpath). Whilst slightly more challenging than the tarmacked routes I normally run, Brutal, it wasn’t and I was massively unprepared for what the race would actually entail….
I got my first indication as to the sheer ‘rural-ness’ of it as soon as we arrived (“I can’t help you carry stuff. I’m wearing heels” stated the lovably impractical friend who’d been kind enough to drive me to the start), but I still wasn’t fully aware of what I’d let myself in for. I think the correct phrase is ‘in denial’…
As the proverb goes, every cloud has a silver lining… Well the sparkling interior of this particular endeavor (for dog-fearing me, anyway – I’m sure it caused disappointment for others) was the fact the Cani-cross was cancelled at the last minute. When I read that it was a Cani-cross event, I focussed on the cross part of the phrase and assumed that this referred to the sort of cross-training crazies who like to partake in triathlons – a ‘we’ll support you if you fancy a wee dip in the lake first and turn up dripping algae-infested water everywhere’ sort of a declaration. But no, in actual fact, Cani –cross means that the event supports people who turn up to run with their canine friends. I cannot think of anything I am less on board with (at least in terms of organised runs). Just thinking about it makes my blood run cold. The type (and size) of dog that would be happy running through the woods in the pitch dark is quite literally the stuff of my nightmares. I’m not sure how it would have panned out if I’d naively meandered over to the start line and seen the snarling pack congregating (I certainly would not have signed up if I’d known what Cani-cross was). I would have either frozen to the spot or burned out completely, overexerting myself lest a rabid beast catch up with me round the next corner… Definitely a bullet well-dodged!
Also, on a more practical note, do the folks running with the dogs carry bags in which to pop their poos (I’m assuming the dogs don’t run sans owner…)? What do they then do with these bags of excrement? Tie them to the toggles of their shorts? Dangle them off their Garmins? Use them as handy hand-warmers during the night-time laps? The mind boggles. And it was with wonderings such as these occupying my mind that I took up my position at the start line.
The First Lap
In retrospect, running first was an enviable position – It enabled me to run two laps of the course in daylight and complete my 3 laps by the time I would usually be heading to bed of a Saturday night. As I waited to begin, I wasn’t feeling particularly lucky. Everywhere I looked, all I could see were Proper Runners. You know the type… They were wearing tee shirts from past events (the runners’ equivalent of going to a gig wearing a band tee shirt from 15 years ago; the not-so-subtle implication being “I’ve been running/listening to your favourite band way longer than you have”) and poking about at their fancy running watches whilst simultaneously stretching and taking about ‘times’ and ‘cadence’ and ‘strategy’ and suchlike). I’d like to say that those few minutes awaiting the starting gun were the longest of the entire day, but that would be a blatant lie (see lap 3…)
Inevitably, the countdown began, we all set off, and I quickly discovered that my preparation had been woefully inadequate. I say quickly, but actually my realisation dawned pretty slowly. My internal monologue went something along these lines:
Okay, I can do this. I run 10k all the time.. I don’t usually find it this hard to BREATHE though….These other people are so fit! They’re running like this is easy! Urgh get away from me with that camera… This is better, starting to thin out a bit… If we could just get past this bumpy ground and onto the proper path I’ll be fine…That’s a bit weird, everyone is running across that field of really long grass… Why are they doing that? Urgh I guess the path must be at the other side, that’s a bit annoying… Hang on, why are they going into the woods? Where’s the path? Why is it so uneven? I wasn’t expecting it to be this bumpy …I guess the trees are in the way, so we’ll just cut through to get to the road. A hill? Nobody said anything about a hill! That hurts! I want to slow down! I want to stop! I can’t slow down, it’s too narrow and those enthusiastic smiley folks behind will get annoyed…What?! We’re going further into the woods? What is with all these stupid tree roots? Arghh! My foot’s wet! I thought this wasn’t meant to be muddy…Why did nobody tell me? Why did I agree to this stupid thing? I should have worn my walking boots. God I wish I hadn’t gone first, that man running up behind me is really annoying… Bet he’s got sensible shoes on. Wish he’d stop saying encouraging things to me. It’s so hard to be cross with nice people… Thank God there are no dogs, if a dog had run past me here, I’d’ve probably gone tumbling down that bank…Seriously, whose idea was it to go ahead with this after the rain, that bit of mud was really slippy! Have they not heard of Health and Safety? I am REALLY having to concentrate on my feet right now…Should I go round that puddle to the left or the right…I thought they said this was a DRY course…Sooo glad I went first, I would have definitely got lost out here without someone to follow…So much for it being a well-marked path! Paul better get back in time to run… I don’t care if his flight was delayed; if they think I’m running an extra lap of this hell, they’ve got another think coming! Slow down, slow down, must slow down, if I don’t slow down my legs won’t stop when I get to the bottom of this horrible hill…Owwwww my knees! Must have a word with the team about this; not one of them mentioned steep hills…Towpath they said. Like an effing towpath. This is like no towpath I’ve ever run along! Rivers don’t run up hills! 2km?! What? That can’t be right! I’ve run at least 6. Hang on a minute, am I in the right race? Isn’t there a single lap race? Maybe I’m in that by mistake. One really hard single lap. Urgh that is exactly the sort of thing that happens to me, but at least it explains why it’s so effing HARD. That can’t be right, that nice lady just asked me how many laps I plan to do. Not sure she understood my gasped reply… This is really, really hard work. No. No it can’t be! Not another hill! I can’t get up there! That’s it, I’m telling them this is my last lap. They can like it or lump it, shouldn’t have told me it was flat now, should they? Will I still get my medal if I only do one lap? I DESERVE a medal…Ah… That’s more like it, a lovely smooth road. No mud! Okay, I can do this. This is more like it…Maybe I won’t tell them I’m only doing one lap after all…Yay running, I like running…Ooh a bit of the Violent Femmes, that’s a good running song…. What’s that? Isn’t that an arrow? Pointing back into the woods? No, it can’t be… It is! Ach, at least it’s not so hot in the woods…At least there are no dogs….Aw people are dead friendly out here, even the ones not breaking a sweat and who ran 52 miles last weekend… ARGHH! That was a freaking PUDDLE! Must concentrate! Oh okay, we’re coming back to the campsite, that means I’m halfway… This must be what it feels like to run a marathon… I’ll be having words! Mmm water, lovely lovely thirst quenching water…Right, off we go again, can’t stop here, people are watching…Past halfway… I can do this… What will I eat when I get back to the campsite? Noooo I need to put my tent up… But I don’t if I’m only doing this lap… Won’t think about the next lap…Mmmm chocolate. I’ll have some chocolate when I get back. Nooooo not another hill! I think I’ll put my headphones back in now… Bit of Springsteen…We must be up in the mountains by now… the rest has to be downhill.. I don’t really like downhill… Downhill hurts my knees… Plod plod plod… 8k? That was quick! I am AMAZING! My breathing is really loud today. My lungs don’t feel right. Is my breathing always like that? Maybe I’m dying. That’d learn them… Plod plod plod… 9k! Yay! And some Rolling Stones. Excellent. Hang on, what the actual hell is THAT?! That’s nearly vertical! What is it? The side of a bridge? Why are the arrows pointing up that bank? What the actual… All fours?! I’ll have to go up it on all fours. All fours.. .Like a dog… I’m sooo glad dogs weren’t allowed… Nope. I take it back, this is definitely my last lap. Ah lovely road. Lovely flat smooth surface. And now a bit of grass…. That’s okay, I can do long grass… And there’s the campsite! This is okay, quite enjoying this now…Look at me running along all smug and sweaty about to finish my lap…Aw and there are my lovely teammates waiting for me… So glad they invited me to do this…10k WOOOP!
Those familiar with the works of Dante will know that his first circle of hell was that of Limbo. Whilst I thought that initial lap was hellish, nothing prepared me for the wait that ensued as I mentally prepared for lap 2. Admittedly, a pork pie helped proceedings. Pork pies are something I would never eat in real life, but according to my learned teammate Phil, they are a veritable superfood as recommended by elite athletes, and so on this occasion I happily indulged. I’ll freely admit that I was all kinds of skeptical of his claims, as delicious and perfect as the pie turned out to be. It sounded exactly like the sort of thing people make up to convince themselves that something is a good idea – a bit like me telling myself I’d feel great after running a lap or 2. Despite my cynicism, it turns out it is a true story (obviously, I had to check): http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/target262/asics-training/holly-rush-qanda/12742.html
It would appear that Greggs really need to reassess their target demographic and it’s always handy to know that a mini pork pie fits perfectly in the pocket of your favourite running top.
The Second Lap
No word of a lie, I really enjoyed my second lap which began just over three hours after I completed lap one (I’d been sitting fidgeting and tapping my feet for about half an hour prior). The sun was out, the pack of runners had thinned, even the mud seemed to have dried up somewhat. The course was familiar in parts but there were sections I could have sworn weren’t part of the course previously (including one part of the path littered with gigantic animal droppings – I tried not to think of which gigantic animal from whence they may have come…) Maybe I achieved that elusive ‘Runners’ High’, or perhaps I was just enjoying being out in the countryside, on a beautiful day, with nothing but my thoughts for company (a lot of my thoughts focussing on how utterly amazing I was to have completed even ONE lap of this tortuous course). Either way, I will grudgingly admit that at one point, I even ran across a field of ridiculously long grass with my arms stretched out like wings, appreciating the cool breeze and the sense of freedom in the manner of a complete weirdo. Luckily nobody saw me – I did turn round to check, just as soon as I came to my senses.
I’m not saying lap 2 was easy as such (it was really really hard and I wasn’t exaggerating at all in my earlier description) but as routine things often are, it was a lot less challenging than the unfamiliarity of the first lap. My lovely friends had arrived to greet me at the finishing line (food-bearing friends, the very best kind!), as were my traitorous teammates (towpath, indeed!) who I was beginning to feel something of a grudging affection towards. What’s more, when I returned to camp, I actually had a tent to return to. And the aforementioned food, and good conversation. And the best cup of tea I ever did taste. What more could one ask for? What was that? Not to have to run a third lap in the pitch dark?
The Third Lap
I won’t dwell too long on this – I’ve already described the course in rather a lot of detail. What I will say is that if I ever do this again I will not:
- Underestimate just how difficult it is to run in the dark, alone, with the associated oppressive silence interspersed with strange animal noises, atop terrain you can barely see.
- Have a discussion about genres of crime novels and the various standard opening pages before setting off.
- Roll my eyes when fellow runners say there will be glow-sticks marking the way; this was clearly a necessity, and not a twee allusion to the promised ‘Festival Atmosphere’.
- Mock ‘Proper Serious Runners’ – every single one who passed me during that endless final lap slowed down to ask how I was doing and give a bit of much-needed motivation.
- Assume that the things I am most likely to trip over are tree roots and stop concentrating upon returning to camp – guy lines are LETHAL.
- Store all my stuff from previous runs inside the tent. That tent did not smell good when I stumbled into it post lap 3.
- Make sweeping statements about how I’m going to stretch thoroughly – nay, indulge in some yoga – post lap. Never gonna happen.
- Mock the promise of a festival atmosphere – take it from me, running through the trees adorned with fairy-lights which made up the last kilometre of the night run replicated the high-point of any festival I’ve ever been to (and was also reminiscent of the woods of Bestival, or a random corner of Glastonbury). The pumping bass of the music played at the finishing line added to the illusion, as did the portaloos, the folks with super-dooper camping equipment, the neon clothing and waking up the day after feeling like I’d been hit by a bus…
- Forget that difficulty is directly proportional to sense of achievement!
Well I hope I stuck to my promise not to be too ranty and I’ll finish here as I need to go and paint the bits of skin where my toenails used to be. I’ll maybe even have a quick peruse of the Brutal website… Not that I plan to sign up for anything soon, you understand…It would just be kind of interesting to see what’s coming up, you know, just in case I ever wanted to do something like this again…Hypothetically speaking of course…