“A quick health and safety tip”, began the race coordinator as we stood in the starting funnel. “Now, if you decide to have a bit of a pit-stop during the race, and you see something metallic and shiny on the ground. Don’t pick it up. This is an Army training ground and, well… We wouldn’t want you to get blown up.”
So, Don’t stand on the land mines. Advice to live by.
There are 10 (or so) miles of cross country running in Turbo X, but the truly important mile, is mile 9. The Turbo Zone. I had been given tantalising tid-bits as to what the Turbo Zone had in mind for us throughout the race. The first was a mud pit around mile three, a section where Veteran Turbo runners and rookies (like myself) were clearly separated out; the vets took their time and stuck to the edge of the pit while I ran, slid and dived headlong into the muddy pit, splashing around like an excited Labrador in a puddle, and generally got myself and all those around me quite wet. My technique – although sloppy – does require some admiration, I manage to pass about 15 people as I blundered my way through. But this was fine, I’d read about the mile 3 mud pit so was prepared for it, although running with both hands and your right arm caked in god-knows-what for the best part of 6 miles makes wiping ones sweaty face from the excrement of ones very own snot factory – quite tricky.
Of course, I spent most of that 6 miles gaining back the places I had lost when I needed to stop shortly after the first mud pit to deal with a stone which was causing quite considerable discomfort, and left the sole of my foot quite bruised for some days after.
A country mile
There are no mile markers at Turbo X, sure I had my Garmin but I’ve gone cross country before and, from experience, a country mile can be quite different from an actual mile – so the Garmin was more of a pace tracker than an actual mile measurer. The lack of distance markers added to the fun, plodding along at a steady pace admiring the scenery and the occasional bemused dog walker was quite nice. Maybe because of the lack of distance markers or maybe because I spent most of the run on my own, managing to slot myself in between the two masses – but it didn’t feel like a race, just a muddy jaunt through the woods.
The Danger Zone
Ultimately, I arrived at the Turbo Zone – described as a mile of mud, water, and bog. This zone was also timed separately. At this point, I was still maintaining a good pace and if I could manage a similar pace through this section, I might even do the 10 miles in about 90 minutes.I soldiered on, and immediately caught up with the remaining runners who had passed me when I had to deal with the stone in my shoe.
Up to this point, I had managed to keep relatively clean, sure my tights and shorts and right arm were covered in a yellowish gunk but I wasn’t nearly as dirty as I expected to be. This didn’t last much longer.
The runners began to bottleneck at the first of countless bogs – all clinging to the edge of the course and still sinking to at least thigh level into the black sludge.
Fuck this, I thought. I’m on the clock here and I’m on target for a great time. To my right was some poor sod who had decided to traverse the hell swamp from the opposite side of the course route – unfortunately, that side of the course was just more swamp and he was struggling to keep upright – so like that children’s song – couldn’t go left of it, couldn’t go right of it. So I’ll have to go through it. Big mistake.
Quickly, my momentum slugded to a slow ooze of a pace and I was sinking, fast. Every step I reached for the bottom and every time it just wasn’t there. Moving forward vertically was becoming increasingly difficult and the warm mud was only warm up to my waist, my eyes bulged as my slender, 6’2 frame sank below the waist. There was no other way to do it, I needed to get down and dirty. I needed to get horizontal.
I’m glad my Garmin is waterproof, it is even mud proof. What it is not though, is able to maintain a satellite signal when smeared with thick black mud. My Garmin gave one last, desperate vibration and groaning beep of dissatisfaction at the loss of GPS and simply stopped recording. The little tyke did well though, it successfully recorded 13 of the 16 and a bit kilometres, good Garmin.
After 3/4 of a mile of half dragging, half doggy-paddling through deep, think, black, log strewn mud and picking up a number of nasty bruises and cuts which I would gleefully find later-on, the end was in sight, the end of the turbo zone that is. Just one more, relatively small, bog to go. I had just over-taken some guy, another of the few who had passed me just after mile 3 and had plunged, without hesitation into the final black abyss. Over the course of the 3/4 of a mile I had learn’t some things.
- Your balls can only retract so far
- Doing this in anything other than trail shoes would be a really bad idea.
- As soon as the mud goes above the thigh, it is easier to crawl.
- If you are shorter than 5’3 – do not do this event.
The mile of mud has been my own personal hell, my own Apocalypse Now. I am the muddy race equivalent of a warrior monk – blood, blisters and mud, calm, collected and badass.
“Ahh FUCK” I screamed! – that lasted long
“What?” responded a fellow monk of the mud – maybe he thought I stepped on a landline.
Turns out, no matter how much you warm up, no matter how much you hydrate.
Warm body + Cold mud in November = Cramp, really bad fucking cramp.
Bad at the best of times, worse when the sludge you are dragging yourself through does not allow you to stand up and apply pressure to the cramping calf to work it out. I wanted to stop, to get on sturdy ground, to work it out, but the only stable ground was ahead. The mud monk was back, I dragged myself on.
If you think you are getting in my car looking like that. Think again!
I am, normally, a quiet man – but I am not often speechless. At the end of the race, my partner asked me what it was like. I stood there, dumbfounded, speechless, in shock. Why the fuck would you run a course though that. What the fuck was that? What the fuck!!??
Would I do it again, shit yeah! Was I ready for what was to happen next. Not really.
Since taking up trail running I’ve had to do the towel/car door rumba in a car park quite a few times, although having a 2 litre bottle of water poured over oneself while naked and in about 6 degrees C is a new experience. Thank god for washing machines, car heaters, and cheap race entry fees.
Will I be seeing you at the start line of Turbo X 2014 or does all the mud make you want to run away and hide in the bath? Thoughts, comments, advice on a good portable shower. Let me know :).
Happy (muddy) running!