| 2014 | 05 | 16 | Rat Race Dirty Weekend |

This race is the culmination of 12 months commitment, 4 practice races, 3 pairs of trainers, 800+ miles covered, 4 broken toes, 2 dislocated ribs, enough ibuprofen to last a lifetime and a fair few sulks.

Before I start, this full course took us 7 hours (almost top half I'll have you know), queues included. So. This won't be a short post.

I know that, sitting here right now, this doesn't seem like a big deal - you know what? I don't care. It was the hardest thing I have personally ever done and I will sit and feel a bit smug. Tough Guy broke us, but Dirty Weekend put us both back together again.

Looking at myself in the pictures I'm so proud. Not because I look particularly great (I never will you know?) but because every inch of my being did it. The body that I was told would never run again, the one that doctors shake their head at every time I walk through their door, the one who has a blood pressure supposedly insufficient to stand - well that just did the near impossible. I won't pretend that I didn't struggle though.

Rat Race Dirty Weekend. 20 miles, 200 obstacles and a little bit of mud and pain. 

My fitness
I honestly think this race has had me the most scared. Tough Guy, I'll admit, terrified me because of the sheer cold and fear factor - but 20 miles is a long way, and honestly I doubted my own ability. There's only so far a body can run.

The weekend before I stacked up the bigger of the workouts for this week, 7km ergo, 10 mile bike and 5km run - but I could still feel the weekend before plus my week of illness, so it was a bit iffy. 

Oh, I'd also popped a rib being an absolute idiot (something to do with a pull up bar and acrobatics) so there was pain every time I inhaled too.

I'd also been suffering with general fatigue and a feeling of 'unwell'. I was getting a lot of palpitations and dizzy spells - this had really held back training for the past month or so (and my social life, and revision...). 

The day before
As with Tough Guy my lovely mum was coming to spectate. She collected me from York station and we drove down to our hotel in Cambridge. After a small detour via somewhere unknown we arrived, before heading back up a little northwards to Ross's house. We were going to go out for a nice carb loading meal with his parents. Within that three hours, I managed to eat more calories than I had during the entire week. Food baby alert. Level: twin.

Bed by 11pm. 

The race day.
I woke up naturally at 5.30am. I say naturally. It isn't ever easy.

My mum had asked me to wear something that really stood out, so I chose the below shorts. I don't mind if you think I look silly, they served a purpose. You will also notice that for all my races we wear shorts over leggings. This isn't anything to do with being self-conscious (I'd happily run around half dressed if I was allowed), it's to protect the more expensive lycra from anything sharp we will undoubtedly slide around on. You see a lot of bare bums from less prepared individuals...

I feel like calling it one race isn't really doing the whole thing justice?

Blah blah blah huge breakfast, lots of stretching, protein shake and shoe ritual. My mum now knows what that actually entails. Spoilers though, you have to be there to see it. Registration as always was swift, and we dropped our bags early so we could prepare mentally. Ross is my rock during these physical tests - he's so brave and doesn't let me back down from things that scare me. Ever.

I also had a massive wobble over how many layers to wear, but thankfully chose fewer. You get toasty.

As is my experience with Rat Race, hay bales come before anything else. Three in a row. I hate the damn things. In fact, I don't hate them - what I hate is how easily Ross just hops over them, whilst for me each one is a huge ordeal.

To start was a long run involving the cars (I think it's called the Car Park zone or something). Jump through a lorry, in a car, over a wall and under some things. You know. The usual. Warming up your entire body for the course ahead.

'School Daze' followed, aptly named due to the inflatable obstacles and the rugby team waiting to floor you. Well. That was nice of them. Another long run through the 'Trailblazer' took us through the woodland, along single track trails - all the while navigating a series of fairly demanding obstacles. The 'War Zone' was next; think nettles, mud, and crawling through the thickest, blackest, stickiest muck I have ever experienced. We took a moment to roll around in the long grass to wipe as much off as we could (we weren't the only ones) - everyone knows the perils of running with added weight!

Not long after you had a river swim, dunk included - The River Rat Race. It was actually longer than it first looked - you forget how much trainers and clothing weighs you down. Thankfully, we were both strong swimmers and moved up the pack, clean and ready to run. There was a lot more running, before you hit 'The Mud Run'. Appropriately named, by the end of this stretch everyone was the same colour - brown. You had to crawl, before climbing over the Tyre Wall, into some ditches, balance beams and other physically demanding tasks. It was here where the ground got fairly rocky and precarious - one bad step and that could have potentially taken us out.

Once you'd be covered head to toe in clay, they let everyone loose on the 'Construction Site'. By this point, you could see the sheer quantity of obstacles was taking its toll, arms started looking heavy and the pace of running dropped severely. Scaffolding constituted the main portion of this section, with some heavy lifting of sandbags, all the while navigating huge rocky ditches.

Mile 8 - this is bold because it means business.
This was the Water Zone. You waded and swam through a lake before jumping out onto the bank. A short queue before being handed a buoyancy aid - my favourite aspect of the whole course. The next swim was fairly brutal, clambering out onto a raft before jumping back in, climbing out and doing it again around six times. They meant it when they warned weak swimmers wouldn't make it across - we were struggling. It was hard to avoid full immersion, but thankfully a lovely man took pity on me, hauling me out of the water when I started to flag. Ross had to do it by himself. Hah. My poor knees bore the brunt of this section - I have the bruises to prove it.

Then. The drop.

Looking up at the scaffolding confirmed it was over 24ft high. The top board hung over a man made lake, and even from a distance you could hear bodies smashing into the water. Jumping from that height took guts, and I was scared. As we climbed upwards, my body started to say no. Adrenalin coursed through my veins, and Ross looked how I felt - terrified. As we hit the top deck, I couldn't bring myself to meet Ross's gaze. I knew that if we both saw the reflected fear, we could potentially lose our resolve and back down. We are both famously afraid of going underwater, and I have the added fear of heights. This was a pretty big deal.

Standing on the edge of the platform tested my determination. You could see how far down everything was, it's not natural, and my instincts were shouting 'no'.

'3' said our starter, he moved up behind us.
'2' I looked down, breathing deeply. I tensed up completely. I couldn't do it.
'1' Oh my god. I gave myself no time to think as I pushed forwards. That sensation was unreal. I distinctly remember having time to think 'where's the water, why haven't I hit it yet', before it all went black.

You hit it with some force. The impact winded me, forced water far too far up my nose and left me completely disorientated. The silence was deafening and I was starting to panic because I hadn't reached the surface yet and my body was crying out for air. How far down had I actually gone?! When I finally broke out, I could hear laughter. Wiping my eyes best I could, the cameraman and rescue diver both waved at me, shouting an encouraging 'good effort' before laughing again. I probably won't ever find out why - but the photo above can probably give you a good idea.

Clambering out onto the bank, Ross hurtled full pelt into me - his bear hug almost throwing us to the ground.

'YOU DID IT! I'M SO PROUD OF YOU!' His laughter was infectious, and I couldn't help but stand there grinning, a gormless kind of expression. We skipped along to the water slide and threw ourselves back into the lake, the marshals frowning because we didn't look tired enough. You swam a little more before dropping off the buoyancy aid into some unsuspecting competitors hands - their faces desperately seeking out any hint of what was next.

We were off. Only 12 miles to go.

Buzzing, the next mile of running took no time at all. Around us, others were struggling with the cold and fatigue. We'd stocked up on jelly beans at the rest stop, not needing the foil blankets being handed out, nor the heated tent. Ross handled the 'Parkour North Shore' with a lot more grace than I did, his ability to fly helps quite a bit, with me bumbling along behind.

Quite possibly my favourite zone was the 'Ewok Village'. Still experiencing an adrenalin high we went through the motions of talking crap - much to the entertainment of those around us. Then Ross started singing, so of course, I provided the appropriate obligatory harmonies.

'I'd like to say I was Han Solo but he gets all the girls and I'm covered in mud, so Jabba, because I'm all carbed up. Or Chewbacca'
'Ross. Currently, I am in the treetops navigating balance beams with no safety equipment. I don't have time for this'

It may sound stupid, but we were in high spirits and enjoying it a lot more than 80% of those around us. Grumpy sods.

'Farmer Giles' had laid out the next section, with more hay bales. As always Ross left me behind and I needed a cheeky leg up for the bale run. Thanks team mate. We got to sprint through more woodland, enjoying the chance to open up and get some work down before hitting 'The Mighty Deerstalker' hard. There were a couple more hills here, with some log carrying and crawling. Our comfort zone.

Then the kayaks; requiring more balance that I could ever muster. My first jump ending with me on my bum actually in a kayak, rather than the wooden beam we were to use. Shrugging, I did what came naturally and crawled. I crawled across a river. Again, I'm fine making a fool of myself, as long as I get it done.

'Biggest baddest boldest' - the most industrial section with the infamous monkey bars. You can either attempt the full 150m, or do a slightly shorter one and climb over the fencing. I haven't got a picture of the full length, but there must have been 80 of those fences to jump over. Neither was the easy option.

With tired arms and legs, we were pushed through a massively long, uphill cargo net. 

Oh, and look. More hay bales. To clarify, Ross isn't offering me an outstretched hand, he's laughing at me. After this photo he ran off, leaving me rolling around and having a great time.

Of course, this was followed by yet more running, before a familiar zone 'Men's Health Survival of the Fittest' - with the 8ft wall of Fame (Shame).

I hate walls.

13 miles. the split. We lost half our number as they turned for home, leaving the Full Muckers to trudge it out. 7 more miles, starting with 'Burghley Horseplay'. Such a cruel idea. Some of them were massive. Humans aren't meant to jump horse jumps. Because they are for horses.

'Yorkshire Terrier' was another long slog. Fields, mud and general fatigue inducing fun. Some carrying and climbing along the way too. By this point, we were both coming to the furthest we had ever run - and my legs hated me.

'Legends of Sherwood' was fun. More climbing logs and crawling, Ross stacked it showing off, before we climbed up a huge a frame and down the other side. The climbing gives you a break from running - and we were informed that the next three miles would be our longest unbroken run yet. Slog.

Miles 16, 17 and 18 passed in a steady blur. We'd set off from the woods with a quiet determined agreement - we would not stop. Reverting to what we had adorably named 'the shuffle', our team set off at a slow, but steady pace. Heads down. breathing hard, we overtook a surprising number of people, many of whom had sprinted off past us at mile 12. They'd burnt out. It was the longest three miles of my life, but we bounced off each other, alternating taking the lead and picking out the easiest path through the rough terrain. My feet hurt, my knees shot pain upwards and I had the worst stitch of my life. I don't think a word was said for 40 minutes. Then it was the last water stop, accompanied by a couple of slanted walls and big climbs. We were heading home.

By the time we hit 'Burghley Bedsit' I was spent. 19 miles down and we had one more to go. My mum was with us nearly every slow, heavy step that was left, shouting gentle encouragement as I started to break down. I was exhausted. It had only taken one mile to effectively wipe me out, I had slowed right down and even running was becoming difficult. The 20 mile mark seemed so far away.

'The final Furlong'. Turning the corner and seeing that between me and the finish was probably the worst feeling ever. I turned to Ross, tears spilling from my eyes and he turned to me square on.

'No Sophie.'

'You don't get to do this now.'

He firmly grabbed my arm and pulled me forwards, my legs shaking, barely able to keep up the slow jog.

'One day Sophie, you will look back and know what you had to overcome. But you have to get over it first. I'm not letting you give up now.'

Dizzy, shaking and suffering mild exhaustion I could only nod as he pushed me towards the first of three  walls. The first was 8ft, the second 9ft and the third a massive 10ft.

My god. Ross and an incredible tall, strong man pushed me over the first, before getting themselves up next. I had used all my remaining strength hauling myself up and there was very little left.

The second one took a bit more, I couldn't keep my leg straight for the leg up, and two lovely woman grabbed my arms. Ross was struggling by this point too, and the dizziness was overwhelming.

I gritted my teeth, begging myself not to pass out on this final obstacle. My heart rate was through the roof, like a tiny bird in my chest. Please. Please, just a bit more.

The third wall. The last one. Took more than one push. I wasn't the only one struggling here, nearly everyone took at least two attempts before they topped the summit, exhaustion undeniably playing out on all the faces. My legs were spent. My arms were heavy, and the general response from my muscles was just no.


But we weren't done yet.

You see, there was another drop. This time dry, but still over 9ft high. I had no strength. The dizziness had spread throughout my body and there was no chance I could control that fall. So I froze. My mum, our awesome photographer, put the camera down and starting shouting at me. The fear of passing out in awkward places was kind of appropriate here, a bad fall could lead to broken bones. Ross, patiently but firmly told me I had to jump, and eventually I mustered the courage and strength needed to get myself down.

Relief washed through me from head to toe. That was it. I had done it.

The take away.
It hadn't really hit me until a good half hour post-race what had actually happened. A chocolate bar revived me from my hazy stupor and I had a stupid grin stuck on my face.

Obviously in this review, I haven't been able to include everything. I think the most important thing to remember is that even though thousands of people run these kinds of distances regularly - it's still not easy.

I will be re-living this weekend for a long time. I've been slowly flicking through the photos, amazed at how far we have both come since Spartan last year.

I'll always struggle health-wise, and have a long way to go with my self belief but with my adopted big brother doing these with me, I'll be okay.

Training for this race took 4 months of my life away, that I'm happy not having back. Early starts, late nights, runs on bleeding feet, broken toes and sore legs all built up a resilience needed to just keep going. My friends still don't understand this new hobby of mine - they probably never will, but they're learning that as far as sleep is concerned, I have one winner.

My upper body still, and always will, require work. One day I want to be able to make it round entirely independently - I know they encourage team work - but in the future I'd like to be the one handing out leg ups before hopping over myself.

Speed is next. This summer has been reserved for short and sharp races, and the agreement is to hit them as hard and fast as we possibly can, aiming to burn out before the line.

Some people find these races a walk in the park, but we're still new to the whole thing, and have such a long way to go.

The future
Without question, Dirty Weekend is not the last obstacle race (we've got around 8 more planned this year).

We've both kind of hit a low since accomplishing this task, but we're going to take a break until our next big challenge.

Apart from we are currently weighing up whether we want to run the desert or row the Atlantic first. Hmm. big decisions.

I will also be writing a review of the make-up I sneakily splashed on pre-race. It survived the entire course (my eyebrows stayed in place) and I'm genuinely quite impressed.