The phrase “The Worlds largest Assault course” instantly grabbed my attention to the Rat Race Dirty Weekend. Falling on my birthday with 20 miles, over 200 obstacles followed by a beer tent and live music it seemed the perfect celebration. They said it would be the toughest thing ever, some obstacles would be nigh on impossible and that many wouldn’t finish. Just the challenge I wanted to prove wrong!
A 3 hour drive on a Friday night led us to the venue, Burghley House in Lincolnshire. There was a straight-forward registration and then a free-for-all in the dark to find a camping spot and one of the seemingly elusive toilets.
Preparing for the off at 8.30 we were up at 6.30 for breakfast to allow for enough time for everything to go down before the big start. It was just as well that we made it out so early as we ended-up spending much longer than we thought possible hunting for and then queuing for the toilets.
We strapped gels to our waists, stuffed flapjack parcels into pockets and took a last drink. keeping ourselves warm until the last moment with down jackets still on we walked up to the start area and dropped extra gear at the handy bag-drop right beside the start line. After a quick group warm up with our wave of around 250 people and some team hi-5’s it was time for the off!
Early sections like the ‘Car Park’ and ‘School Daze’ warmed people up to the obstacles as they were all small and easy to deal with – classics from the ‘Rat Race Survival of the Fittest’ races like crawling through cars, tyre stepping, bollard jumping and the inflatable challenge were all there – plus some excitable rugby players to scrum through!
The sloppy mud of the ‘Warzone’ soon stopped us in our tracks, but then sending every competitor under one narrow mud scramble is going to do that. Standing next to the fetid stinking mud we were about to crawl through did allow for good banter with other runners – especially a lady in a very clean fluorescent pink jacket – it didn’t stay that way for long!!
The ‘River Rat’ was the first really fun section for me. Spectators watched as everyone plunged into the water and negotiated all manner of inflatable objects. We bounced over, under and through big tubes, doughnuts and platforms. Runner camaraderie really started to show – there were leg-ups being given, bums being pushed, arms pulled, faces of shock hitting the cold water and big smiles, laughs and screams of delight everywhere – suddenly the essence of adventure racing was all around us!
I had to smile at people stopping afterwards to remove mud and stones from their shoes – I knew it wouldn’t be long until there’s more to replace it!
Now we had a decent length run in which to warm up again and lose most of the excess water before slipping and sliding around in a farmers field for the mud run! Again here some deep drops and muddy banks made for good runner teamwork with nearly everyone happily helping someone in front then someone behind.
In the ‘Construction Zone’ we pottered up and down muddy banks, dipped in and out of some watery skips, clambered through and over various scaffolding layers and crawled through various tunnels. The ups and downs gave the legs a little to think about, but not quite the imagined difficulty.
The ‘Water Wipe Out’ was up next. First around 300m of swimming with the smell of stink bombs rising from the gloopy mud down below. Then up and over a platform, under an inflatable and all was good as we came out. We trotted along to be given a life-jacket and went back in a bit chillier. The up and over slides proved an interesting problem, only surmountable with teamwork from above and below! It was then out again and a 50m trot to the next obstacle, the cable hang. It was a killer on cold hands, but we successfully slid our way upside down army style back towards the water.
After another 100m pulling ourselves along in the wet it was out again and round to a small platform… so that we could jump back in! It was then out again and along to a feeding station complete with a heater and space blankets, all packed with penguin people all huddling together to ward off hyperthermia…
Heading on it took 25 minutes before I regained all the feeling in my fingers. The ‘Ewok Village’ was where we took to the skies with clambering frames made of felled tree trunks. Impressive pieces of construction definitely not for those that like to keep their feet on terra firma.
The award for most enthusiastic marshall goes to the lady here wearing an amazing furry ‘Ewok’ hat. All the marshals were superb, but her encouraging shout outs were the loudest and best!
More zones passed by; we jumped through skips full of wood chips, vaulted straw bales and carried logs short distances.
Coming back toward the main arena it was time to cross the river again. Now the crowd was huge, loud and highly encouraging, watching later waves going the other way hitting the inflatables while we headed for the kayak crossing. We skipped the queues waiting to walk the kayak catwalk opting to wade through the water, skip the 25 minute wait and push on.
Shortly after the water was the obstacle I was really excited about, the 114m long Monkey Bars. I’ve always loved them since being a kid and as a climber with ‘gibbon arms’ it was something I really wanted to test myself on. There was also a shorter length set for people to have a go, or the option of jumping metal fences for those that didn’t want to tackle them. To the mild disdain of people behind me I waited a little while to form a small gap between me and the people in front, but it wasn’t enough. My incredible simian skills meant that I’d caught up with the slower swingers in front within a couple of swoops. My dreams of a clear run across the bars still remains- next year!
Towards the end of the course things opened out with 2-3 miles of flat running. As each mile sign passed by my girlfriend and I gave each other a high-5 – my dodgy ankle was starting to creak, but seeing the markers and enthusiastic marshals made me smile and spurred me on.
Coming back into Burghley grounds we could see the finish in the distance. The ‘Burghley Bedsit’ was a bit odd and little less like a flat than I’d been led to believe.
Hopping through the shallow water for the final time we hit the ‘Chariots of Fire’ stretch with a great view down to Burghley house in front of us… a couple of hurdles, a quick dip through some knee deep water and then over one very lonely looking hay bale!
After battling through the ‘Final Furlong’ of ups and downs and what was billed as the biggest obstacles on the course we were done. In 4hours 35mins!
After the race it was time to get cleaned up. The website had made quite a fuss about having hot showers, but much like the toilet debacle there were only a handful of them and we spotted the huge queue of people waiting a mile off… thankfully, being used to events like these not having showers we’d come armed with bumper packs of wet-wipes and we were quite happy to have a thorough wipe down in the tent.
We then had a celebration beer followed by cup of tea and enjoyed my birthday cake! The whole reason we were here – my birthday, woohoo!!
Despite a few teething problems, the Rat Race Dirty Weekend was plenty of fun. It may not quite have been the out-and-out test to exhaustion we might have expected and there were some organisational problems that will definitely be ironed out next year (running out of beer, big queues and toilet woes) but, if you enjoy adventure races and want something on a big scale then I’m pretty sure this will satisfy your desire. If you’re a fit runner looking for a different challenge, you’ll get it. If you’ve never done one before, get a friend onboard and do the course together as you will definitely need some help on the way round!
A massive thank you also goes out to all the marshals on the course who were highly enthusiastic and encouraging at every point along the way.
Tickets for the 2014 event go on sale soon!
By Dan Habershon-Butcher