It goes without saying that any sort of outdoor running in November, in the UK, will probably include a bit of rain. So if you sign up for a cross-country run in the UK at the end of November then bad weather is practically a certantity. Wildman did not disappoint as those of us who got to registration an hour before the race chose to wait out the
countdown to the start in the warmth of our respective vehicles. The humanrace.co.uk 12/13 off-road series got underway at 10am with around 400 people facing the wet, muddy and hilly course spread out over the MOD’s Ash Ranges.
Getting to the event involved a 4am alarm call and K-Theory driving us up from our holiday cottage on North Devon – a slight geographical miscalculation on my part as I thought Croyde was a lot further East and Aldershot was a lot further West than they actually are. I had mapped out the course in advance to determine the severity of the hills and the likelyhood of running this at a PB race pace. As you can see from the map below, the course was very hilly and after being awake for 6 hours, running this at a PB pace on a dry day would have been a challenge so with the weather where it was.. well. I will leave it to a quote from the website to sum up my thoughts:
the emphasis is on taking on the challenge and surviving the course
They were not kidding.
There were two trail runs on the day, a 10K and a 15K. Everybody did the 10K lap. The hardy 15K’ers turned around at the end of the 10K lap and started a smaller, 5K loop. About 400 people did the 10K lap and the first 2-3Ks were along a narrow woodland track which funnelled the competitors into a tight 2/3 wide snake which meant the first 20 minutes were slow going. After the initial woodland trail the course wound up and down and the hills and across the exposed bracken plains that make up the centre of Ash Ranges. It was as we broke out onto this central plain and I nearly broke my ankle taking a worn track a little too energetically that I had my first “wow” moment. A stream of runners ascending the first of the major hills; sky the colour of TV static, a steady stream of rain slowly water-logging us, deep red bracken spreading out for tens of meters left and right, the reds deepened by the soggy conditions. Streaming from the heads of all the runners, our hot breath, as our small cross-country running engines power us along.
A lot of the trails on Ash Ranges are a mixture of mud and sand – possibly designed to support large army trucks on manoeuvres. Unfortunately, a few inches of rain turn these tracks into energy sapping mud trails which means about 30% of your forward motion is sucked into the ground.
From around the mile 2 mark, I sighted a girl in a furry green crocodile costume. It turns out the girl is some sort of mascot for the event and was encouraging runners to beat her. I spent the next 4 miles determined to catch up because there is no way in hell that I am letting furry beat me. I passed her about a mile from the end but had to power though the 9K split as furry was on my tail and threatening to overtake me.
The 10K was long and hilly but it was nothing compared to the 5. I finished the 10K loop in just under an hour which put me on target for a 90min finish. What I soon learn’t is that the 10K run was the humanrace equivalent of a fun run and that the real strength sapping work hadn’t begun.
The start of the 5K loop was a scramble up a very very steep sandy hill which was more of a climb then a run. About 2K in I encountered a water hazard. Being quite au-fait with water hazards after doing the Spartan 5K and the Muddy Mo I charged in, suppressing the urge to scream like a madman, deviated slightly off course and ended up swimming in 5 feet of water. On the plus side, it turns out my Garmin is quite waterproof, but it meant that I had to run the rest of the course with extra water weight. It may come as no surprise that wet tights and an extra couple of hundred grammes of water tend to suck the energy right out of you. Deciding to take it easy and walk the hills, I was caught up by a girl who I had been using partly as a pacer in the early stages of the 15K race and it turns out she was doing the same thing. We took it gently, running fast enough to maintain a decent pace yet have a bit of a conversation at the same time, mainly motivational phrases such as “not far now”, “you’re doing great” and the such but there was some additional small talk as well. She told me this was her first event – I am not sure if it was her first ever event or the first time she had done a cross country 15K but I told her that this was my first event on this type of terrain at this distance also.
We finished the race together, hamstrings and quads screaming, exhausted, wet, muddy, cold, but very very happy. The end of the course required some orienteering skills as the route was less obvious and eventually I finished in 1hr 38mins with an average pace of 10mins a mile.
The race hits all the points for a genuinely exciting muddy masochist event and if I had some sort of rating system it would be up there as one of the best. Lots of fun, cannot wait for the Iceman on Jan 26th which is the next event in the series that I am around for.